Archives For Pacific Ocean

Danmark

“We have decided to send the Corvette Galathea to the East Indian Islands and particularly the Nicobar Islands, over which We hold Sovereignty, in order to perform scientific Survey of the natural Products of this Group of Islands and their use for Cultivation and Trade.” ~King Christian VIII

 

In the early 1840s Danish King Christian VIII decided to embark upon an ambitious expedition of discovery and scientific research. King Christian ordered the Danish Navy to outfit a ship for an around the world adventure which would be part vanity project, part scientific voyage and part geopolitical gambit. On June 24, 1845, the 43 meter corvette Galathea departed Copenhagen on what would become a nearly two year voyage. Stuffed aboard the Galathea were 36 cannon, provisions for a year and 231 sailors, scientists and officers. Incredibly, the voyage cost the Danish treasury ~3% of its annual expenditures – by comparison NASA’s Apollo project was ~4% of the US federal budget.

Sailing south, the Galathea rounded the Horn of Africa and visited the Danish colonies at Tranquebar on the west coast of India. The expedition then called at the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean southwest of Sri Lanka. After a stopover in China to improve Sino-Danish trading ties, the Galathea headed for the Sandwich Islands (modern day Hawaii). Departing the Sandwich Islands, the Galathea and her crew made a couple stops in South America before sailing around Cape Horn for home.

During the course of the expedition, the Galathea’s science team gathered 93 boxes of organic and inorganic specimens as well as 21 boxes of local material culture and a large collection of objects from Java. Among the collection were 368 dragonflies from 107 different species with 37 of these unknown to scientists of the day. Sadly, the expedition’s royal sponsor perished shortly after the voyage returned in 1847 and Prussia and Denmark descended into conflict. These two events stifled the processing and publication of the expedition’s results and many of the boxes of specimens remained unopened for several years.

Advertisements

New Zealand Shipwreck

On May 4, 1866, the American built barque General Grant departed Melbourne, Australia for London with 58 passengers and 25 crew. Among the passengers were several miners returning home and the cargo manifest listed an official load of 2,576 ounces of gold. Nine days out of Melbourne, the General Grant came upon the Auckland Islands, however, weather conditions prevented the ship’s crew from rounding the islands. Late in the evening, the ship collided with the island’s cliffs and drifted into a large cave where it eventually sank from the main mast being driven through the ship’s bottom from being tossed into the roof of the cave.

Despite the ship’s being beaten against the roof of the cave by a rising tide, the passengers and crew chose to spend a perilous night aboard the vessel and try to escape in the morning. Only fifteen souls of the 83 aboard were able to leave the vessel safely and they soon found themselves on the aptly named Disappointment Island before rowing on to Port Ross. For the next nine months the survivors watched and waited for a passing ship to rescue them, but none came. Exasperated, four of the fifteen attempted to sail for New Zealand but were never heard from again after leaving Port Ross on January 22, 1867. Nearly eight months later the survivors were finally rescued by the brig Amherst.

The General Grant was not done taking lives, though, as 29 salvors died in their vain attempts to locate the ship and its cargo of gold. To this day the ship remains undiscovered with her $3,000,000+ gold cargo lying somewhere at the bottom of a treacherous cave on Auckland Island.

Taiwan missile corvette

Tuo Jiang

Late last week the Republic of China launched the first of a new class of stealth missile corvettes. Christened Tuo Jiang, the vessel is designed to operate with a low radar signature and is aimed at countering the threat of the People’s Republic of China’s growing aircraft carrier capability. The Tuo Jiang’s armament has not been fully publicized, however, Taiwanese news sources are reporting that it will be outfitted with a battery of Siung Feng III (HF-3) ramjet-powered supersonic anti-ship missiles. Combined with the stealth of the Tuo Jiang, the missiles give Taiwan’s navy a formidable indigenous option to discouraging and/or defeating an attack by the People’s Republic.

Despite the United States’ “Asia Pivot,” the new US policy of “leading from behind” has justifiably worried Taiwan and other Pacific nations. As such, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines are prescient to increase their indigenous options to defending their sovereignty in the face of an increasingly belligerent People’s Republic of China. With reports of hesitation in the Chinese economy, saber rattling in the Diaoyus/Spratlys/Senkakus/South China Sea will most likely increase much like Argentina and the Falklands in the ’80s and more recently under Christina Kirchner. If the People’s Republic’s saber rattling ever becomes more than mere noise, then the stealth missile corvettes of the Tuo Jiang class will allow Taiwan’s navy to punch above its weight class much like Israel’s missile boats did in the Yom Kippur War.

Royal Navy

HMS Exeter Sinking

In the months following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese juggernaut swept through the Pacific in an all out quest to secure natural resources and eliminate its opponents. A prime target in the Japanese crosshairs was the Dutch East Indies – modern-day Indonesia. In February 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy dispatched a task force consisting of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 14 destroyers to escort an invasion force of ten transports. Opposing the IJN task force was a motley assortment of Dutch, US, British and Australian naval assets including two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and nine destroyers.

The Allied force was outmatched in numbers and firepower as the Japanese heavy cruisers possessed more heavy caliber guns than their Allied equivalents. Additionally, they were also hampered by communication and coordination issues stemming from trying to integrate ships from four navies into a single task force. In a desperate attempt to destroy the Japanese invasion force before it offloaded its troops, the Allied force sailed into the teeth of the Japanese task force late in the afternoon on February 27, 1942.

The Allied force tried vainly to close within gunfire range of the Japanese transports, but each time they were rebuffed by a hellish rain of gunfire from the Japanese escorts. As the afternoon progressed the Japanese advantages began to tell with Allied ships succumbing to torpedo attacks, gunfire and even mines. By midnight, three destroyers and two cruisers, HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java, had been lost along with the Dutch admiral in charge of the Allied task force.

Later the next day, two of the surviving three cruisers were annihilated in a follow-on battle in Sunda Strait. Only a day later, on March 1, in the Second Battle of the Java Sea, the remaining Allied cruiser, HMS Exeter, and her two destroyer escorts were sunk. In just three days, the Allies had lost five cruisers and another six destroyers while the IJN had suffered the loss of only a few escort vessels and transports sunk or damaged.

With Allied naval power in the region either destroyed or driven off to Australia, the Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies was virtually assured. Not only did the battles of the Java Sea and Sunda Strait represent a stinging defeat for the Allies, but it also signaled the beginning of the end of Dutch colonial power in Indonesia.

The UK Telegraph is reporting that a fisherman from El Salvador, Jose Salvador Alvarenga, has landed in the Marshall Islands, ~8,000 miles from his starting point in Mexico. Supposedly, Mr. Alvarenga and a 15 year old, Ezekiel, departed for a day long fishing trip 13 months ago and only just now reached land. Alvarenga survived by eating birds, sharks, turtles, fish and other wildlife while Ezekiel perished only four months into the trip as he refused to eat. While tales such as this exist, it is still yet to be proved whether Alvarenga’s account is true. It is also still unconfirmed whether Gilligan or the Skipper were aboard at any point during his epic voyage.

japanese submarines

Operation Storm by John J. Geoghegan relates the obscure story of Japan’s last ditch effort to launch an attack on American soil in the closing days of World War II. Geoghegan, the executive director of The SILOE Research Institute’s Archival Division, devotes much of his writing to white elephant technology and thus his choice of subject matter is quite apropos. Over the course of ~400 pages, Geoghegan introduces the reader to the Japanese naval officers and designers who helped craft a Hail Mary strategy of launching an airstrike on the Panama Canal from the largest submarines of the war. Each submarine was designed as an underwater aircraft carrier to carry two or three specially developed strike aircraft and the path of their development makes for incredible reading.

Geoghegan also tells the backstory of the USS Segundo (a sub that often operated in conjunction with USS Razorback) which captured one of the subs in the uneasy days following the capitulation of Japan. Relying on extensive archival research as well as interviews with survivors of the Japanese program, Geoghegan provides readers with a highly readable account of this overlooked aspect of World War II history. In addition to the strength of his research, Geoghegan integrates the story into the continued development of America’s submarine program in the years following World War II. Finally, readers are brought full circle to the present day via two modern points of reference. First, one of the subs (I-401) was re-discovered in 2005 off the coast of Hawaii where it had been used for torpedo practice by the US Navy after the war. Second, the Smithsonian Institution displays the only surviving example of the subs’ Seiran attack planes at its spectacular Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia near Dulles Airport. Operation Storm is highly recommended for anyone interested in obscure technology, warfare or a non-traditional history of World War II.

USS Samuel B. RobertsIn his latest book, For Crew and Country, historian John Wukovits recounts the incredible story of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts and her rendezvous with destiny in the Philippines at the Battle of Samar. Building off James Hornfischer’s excellent The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors which recounted the larger tale of the Battle of Samar, Wukovits focuses exclusively on the Roberts, her crew, construction, shake-down and foray into the Pacific theater. Divided into four parts, the book deals first with the molding of both the vessel and her crew, then moves on to early cruises in the Atlantic and Pacific, segues into the Battle of Samar and concludes with the aftermath of the battle.

While the back story is intriguing and important to subsequent events, For Crew and Country shines brightest in Wukovits narration of the Battle of Samar. Wukovits expended hours conducting interviews and poring over first-hand accounts and correspondence between crew and family members to piece together a gripping minute by minute account of the battle. Wukovits’ narrative technique is so effective that as readers burn through the book’s pages, they can smell the sulfur of battle, hear the ringing echo of the Roberts’ five inch guns pounding away at Japanese warships and taste the sea spray that douses the crew with each near-miss from Japanese salvos.

Although some readers may find Wukovits usage of vernacular history a bit tedious and slow, especially in the telling of the backstory prior to the battle, the technique is fascinating when applied to the battle itself. Unlike some texts which focus on big events and big actors, For Crew and Country eschews this approach to present readers with a moving narration of what a World War II naval battle was like for the common sailor. In sum, For Crew and Country is an excellent read and Wukovits has done much to honor the memory of the brave and intrepid crew of the Roberts.