Winston Churchill

Richard Freeman’s latest publication, ‘Unsinkable’, is a critical look at Winston Churchill’s role in the Great War. Freeman advances the position that Churchill is given less credit than he deserves for his role in Great Britain’s victory in World War One. The book follows Churchill from his initial days in the Admiralty to his time in Flanders as an infantry officer to his ultimate role as Minister of Munitions at the end of the war. Freeman makes a very compelling case based upon historical evidence and documents not declassified until after the war that Churchill was made the scapegoat for the Gallipoli disaster and that he was the victim of political infighting and poor political choices on his own part.

The book’s 240 pages fly by as Freeman, in writing ‘Unsinkable’, has delivered a highly readable book, even for those not necessarily interested in the inner workings of British politics during World War One. Overall, Freeman should be credited with producing an excellent addition to the vast array of literature about that indefatigable lion of late 19th and early 20th century British life, Winston Churchill.

aircraft carrier

USS Wasp Ablaze – 9/15/1942

On September 15, 1942, a powerful task force of US naval vessels steamed towards Guadalcanal Island in the South Pacific. Consisting of the aircraft carriers USS Wasp and Hornet, the battleship USS North Carolina and ten other vessels, the task force intended to land a regiment of US Marines on Guadalcanal to reinforce the US troops already vying for control of the island. As mid-afternoon approached, a Japanese submarine, I-19, maneuvered within firing range of the squadron and loosed a volley of six torpedoes at the Wasp. Despite attempting to outmaneuver them, three of the torpedoes slammed into the Wasp while a fourth missed and struck the North Carolina. A mighty conflagration quickly ensued as the torpedoes had detonated close to the ship’s fuel stores and magazines. Damage control efforts and maneuvering into the wind proved fruitless and within 35 minutes of the torpedo strikes, the order for abandon ship was given. When the Wasp finally slipped beneath the Pacific Ocean’s waves, 193 souls followed her leaving approximately 1900 survivors with 366 of them wounded.

Unfortunately for the Wasp and her crew, the Wasp had been built on the tail end of the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. As a result, the ship had minimal armor and suffered from a poor design for ammunition and gasoline storage in order to fit the ship into the tonnage restrictions left to the US Navy under the treaty. Sadly, the US Navy lost 193 good men, 45 aircraft and a valuable ship to the good intentions of a treaty designed to prevent conflict – a treaty which proved to do nothing but force allied naval forces to fight with one hand behind their back for the first years of World War Two.

Sinking_of_the_emigrant_ship_Austria_on_13th_September_1858The 19th century witnessed a wave of emigration from Europe to the Americas and the creation of an entire industry focused on catering to the needs of European emigrants. The sailing of the SS Austria on September 1, 1858 should have been just another trans-Atlantic voyage, however, twelve days later one of the worst maritime disasters of the 19th century would strike the ship and her passengers and crew. Departing from Hamburg with 548 passengers and crew, the ship was only a year old and one of the most modern steam ships in the service of the Hamburg American Line.

Around noon on September 13, the crew began to fumigate the steerage passenger area. A handling mishap of the fumigation equipment by a member of the crew led to a mariner’s worst fear – fire aboard the vessel. The vessel was a veritable tinderbox between its wooden construction and highly varnished and flammable décor. The fire quickly spread throughout the Austria and when the helmsman abandoned the bridge, flames raced down the entire ship as the ship turned into the wind. With nowhere to go but the sea, the passengers and crew flung themselves to the mercy of the waves. Two vessels, the Maurice and Catarina picked up 65 survivors, but, sadly, the remainder of the 538 original passengers and crew perished.

Underwater imagery by Jim Kennard

Underwater imagery by Jim Kennard

Great Lakes shipwreck explorers Jim Kennard, Roger Pawlowski and Roland Stevens recently announced the name of their latest shipwreck discovery. Back in July, the three explorers discovered a wooden dagger board schooner in the depths of Lake Ontario and have been working to identify the wreck in the intervening weeks. The wreck has now been identified as that of the Three Brothers, lost in 1833.

Traveling from Pultneyville, NY to Oswego, NY, a journey of only an hour by car, the ship was laden with a cargo of apples, cider and 700 bushels of wheat. The ship, her captain, two crew and a passenger never arrived in Oswego and it was assumed the ship was lost when flotsam and jetsam from the ship washed ashore several days after she set sail. The ship isn’t the only Three Brothers to rest at the bottom of the Great Lakes – a timber steamer by the same name sprang a leak and sank on September 27, 1911 and was re-discovered in 1996 after shifting sands uncovered her wreckage. The Three Brothers is yet another feather in the cap of Kennard, Pawlowski and Stevens who have discovered multiple wrecks in the Great Lakes. Ranging from a USAF plane to wooden schooners to British warships to steel steamers, the team has racked up an impressive number of discoveries.

CC Image Courtesy of Bernard Grua on Flickr

CC Image Courtesy of Bernard Grua on Flickr

French officials announced today that the Vladivostok, one of two Mistral-class amphibious warships ordered by the Russian Navy, will not be delivered to the Russians as previously planned. The announcement is quite surprising as the French had insisted for several months that the ship would be delivered as planned despite protests from Ukraine, France’s NATO allies and other international actors. The decision is also surprising given France’s infatuation with supplying military and dual-use items to authoritarian regimes – i.e. the sale of a nuclear reactor to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s. This is the same France that prohibited the Middle East’s only functioning liberal democracy, Israel, from taking delivery of missile boats it had ordered. The news comes only a days after rebels shelled and sank a Ukrainian coast guard vessel.

The Vladivostok is one of four contracted for by the Russian Navy and would be highly useful for power projection in a crisis such as that in Ukraine. As operated by the Russian Navy, the ship would most likely embark 16 attack helicopters such as the Ka-50/52 as well as 4 landing barges or 2 medium hovercraft. In short term operations, Mistral-class vessels can carry 700 troops and any combination of 60 wheeled armored vehicles, 46 vehicles plus 13 tanks or 40 T-90 tanks. A Russian task force with this kind of aerial, armored and over the horizon seaborne delivery ability would be a potent weapon deployed against an already depleted Ukrainian naval force.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mistral-class_amphibious_assault_ship

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2014/09/03/france-backs-off-sending-mistral-warship-to-russia-in-1-7-billion-deal

http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/Russia-to-Order-French-Mistral-LHDs-05749/

CC Image Courtesy of UK MOD on Flickr

CC Image Courtesy of UK MOD on Flickr

Yesterday the Royal Navy decommissioned its last Invincible class aircraft/helicopter carrier, HMS Illustrious, better known to her crew as “Lusty“. Laid down in 1976, Illustrious was the second of the three Invincible class carriers with her sister ships being HMS Invincible and HMS Ark Royal. While the ship was being fitted out, the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands and the carrier was rushed into service – so rushed in fact that she was commissioned at sea on June 20, 1982 as she sailed to the relief of the occupied Falklands. The Falklands War also changed the role the Invincible class carriers were originally conceived to fulfill. Instead of operating in a primarily ASW role, the Falklands forced the Royal Navy to adapt the carriers to embark a larger fixed-air complement in order to provide air cover for both land and sea operations.

Illustrious served not only in the Falklands, but also supported British and Coalition forces in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. The ship will avoid the fate of being scrapped like her sisters. Plans are being made for preservation in some form as a tourist attraction, museum, or floating hotel/conference center much like the plans in consideration for the SS United States. While the Royal Navy’s floating fixed wing capability was scrapped several years ago with the retirement of its Harrier fleet, the decommissioning of the Illustrious truly ends, for now, the Royal Navy’s ability to field a floating fixed wing airstrip. Until the commissioning of the HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2017, the Royal Navy must rely on its sole aircraft carrier HMS Ocean for air support of both maritime and land operations.

SS John Barry

August 28, 2014 — Leave a comment

John Barry

On the night of August 28, 1944, the American Liberty ship SS John Barry silently glided through the waves on its way to Saudi Arabia loaded with a secret cargo of silver. Unfortunately for the Barry and her crew, the Nazi U-boat U-859 detected the ship and successfully torpedoed her, sending her to the bottom of the Arabian Sea along with millions of silver riyal coins (shown above). Rumors quickly arose that the ship had not only been loaded with 3,000,000 silver riyals for ARAMCO, but also with tons of silver bullion destined for the USSR via India.

Due to the ship’s depth (8,500 feet) the wreck was left undisturbed until a consortium of Americans assembled a hodgepodge of recovery components primarily scavenged from the oil and gas industry. After winning a bid to recover the wreck from the US government, the consortium, dubbed “The John Barry Group” successfully located the Barry in 1994 and used a grap to bring up 1,300,000 (17 tons) of silver riyals before they ceased operations. Although no sign of the Soviet silver shipment was found, some experts still believe there is a high likelihood the Soviet silver is aboard the vessel and was not located due to the primitive technology employed by The John Barry Group. Stalin’s Silver, by John Beasant, presents a well-written account of both the recovery and the rationale for why more silver may be located aboard the Barry. Sadly, due to bureaucratic intransigence, the US government has not re-opened the vessel to a recovery bid process and, until then, neither will the mystery be solved nor the American taxpayer enriched by the recovery fees paid to the US government by a successful salvor.