The Last "Thousand Tonner"

USS Allen

Some of the most interesting curiosities in the history of naval warfare surround older warships remaining in service long after similar vessels have been retired.  Sometimes, the story of such ships is one of tragedy, like the three elderly Royal Navy cruisers sunk in the Channel by a German U-Boat in 1914, or the nearly-helpless Spanish wooden-hulled Castilla, quickly sunk at Manila Bay.  Other times, like with Oldendorf’s “Old Ladies” at Surigao Straits or the Iowas in Desert Storm, the veteran ships were found to still be plenty lethal.  One such curiosity is the unlikely tale of USS Allen, DD-66.

The rapid advances in Naval technology that spanned the last decade of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th included generational leaps in warship design, hastened further by the outbreak of war in 1914.  Nowhere was this more manifest than in the smallest of the combatant ships of the world’s navies, the destroyer.  Originally the “torpedo boat destroyer” built to protect larger ships of the battle line from the speedy small craft and their ship-killing weapons, powered torpedoes, soon these “torpedo boat destroyers” became the carriers of torpedoes themselves, then called simply, “destroyers”.

US destroyer construction in the early part of the century followed apace with designs elsewhere.  Small, largely coastal craft evolved into the 700-ton “flivvers” and later, the “thousand-tonners” of the O’Brien, Tucker, and Sampson classes.   Despite being almost new, these 26 ships of the latter three classes had proven barely suitable for the requirements of destroyer service in a modern war at sea.  Among the first US ships to attach to the Royal Navy in 1917, by the end of the war they were hopelessly outdated, as the British W and V classes, and the latest German destroyers, were significantly larger, much faster,  far more capable warships.

Following the Armistice, almost all the “thousand tonners” were quickly decommissioned, as they were replaced in service with the “flush-decker” Wickes and Clemson classes, of which an astounding 267 were built (though few were completed in time for war service).   A number of the obsolescent “thousand tonners” were given to the US Coast Guard, where they served into the 1930s.  Most, however, were scrapped or sunk as targets.  Most, but not all.

One unit of the Sampsons, USS Allen, DD-66, was placed back in commission,  to serve as a training ship for US Navy Reserve personnel.  She would serve in this role between 1925 and 1928, after which she returned to the Reserve Fleet in Philadelphia.   Allen was retained even while a number of her younger and far more capable “flush-decker” sisters were scrapped.  As war clouds loomed, Allen was selected to be recommissioned, in the summer of 1940.  She must have been an exceptionally well-maintained vessel.  Even with that, the choice to recommission Allen was a curious one.  She and her sisters were designed before the First World War, and still reflected the “torpedo boat destroyer” mission in her layout and systems.

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USS Allen 9

After some time in the Atlantic, Allen was assigned to the Pacific Fleet, which had recently moved to Pearl Harbor.  She was present and fired her only shots of the war during the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.  Lacking adequate endurance and weapons, Allen spent the war escorting vessels between the Hawaiian Islands, helping to train submarine crews by acting as a mock sub chaser, and she made the occasional voyage back to the US West Coast.  In the course of the war, Allen had her antiaircraft armament considerably augmented, with six 20mm cannon, and she lost at least one set of torpedo tubes.  She gained depth charge throwers, and even a modest air search radar.   I could find no reference to her being fitted with sonar of any kind, however.  (And if Norman Friedman didn’t say it happened, it didn’t happen!)

USS Allen 10

Immediately following the war, of course, the worn-out and thoroughly obsolete Allen was quickly decommissioned, in the fall of 1945, and just as quickly sold for scrap.   She is shown above, disarmed and awaiting disposal.  At the time of her decommissioning, she was the oldest US destroyer in commission, and the last survivor of her class and type.   Built to specifications which dated to before US entry into the First World War, USS Allen would serve through the Second, a throwback of four generations of destroyer design.  A remarkable record of service indeed.

Centennial of ANZAC Landings at Gallipoli

Today marks another significant centennial of the Great War.  (Yesterday marked the centenary of beginning of the Armenian Genocide.)  The ANZAC landings at Gallipoli took place on 25 April 1915.  It is a very special ANZAC Day.  From last year:

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Today is the 25th of April.  It is ANZAC Day, commemorating the 99th anniversary of the landings of 31,000 men of The Australian Division, and the Australian-New Zealand Division (reinforced with two batteries of mountain guns) on the crescent-shaped portion of beach known as Ari Burnu, forever after known as Anzac Cove.

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The ANZAC landing began before dawn on 25 April 1915, and was initially unopposed,  By mid-morning, however, Turkish troops under LtCol Mustapha Kemal had reacted strongly and taken the landing beaches and the precariously shallow Dominion positions under rifle, machine gun, and artillery fire.  Unable to move forward, and hanging onto hillside rocks and scrapes, ANZAC Commander MajGen Sir William Birdwood asked to have the beach-head evacuated.

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The Royal Navy argued that such an evacuation, particularly under fire, was impractical.   So Birdwood was ordered to stay, with the advice given by General Sir Ian Hamilton to “dig, dig, dig!”.  It is from this message, many conclude, that the ANZACs became known as the “diggers”.    Despite herculean efforts and near-suicidal courage, including the tragically costly landings at Sulva Bay in August of 1915, the stalemate was never broken.  Unable to advance, with no evacuation possible, the ANZACs remained locked in their initial positions, enduring conditions even more horrendous than those on the Western Front, until finally pulled out as a part of the general evacuation of the Gallipoli Operation in December of 1915.

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ANZAC Day has become a day of remembrance for all Australian and New Zealand war dead, but remains especially poignant for the nearly 13,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers who gave their lives in the foothills of the Bari Sair Mountains, in the eight months of hell on Earth that was Anzac Cove.

At the going down of the sun,

and in the morning,

we will remember them.

General Mattis Speaks to Veterans

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From remarks at the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco, April 16th, 2015:

Our country gives hope to millions around the world, and you – who knew that at one time your job was to fight well – kept that hope alive. By your service you made clear your choice about what kind of world we want for our children: The world of violent jihadist terrorists, or one defined by Abraham Lincoln when he advised us to listen to our better angels?

I searched for words to pay my respects to all of you here tonight and had to turn to others more articulate than I to convey what our service meant. Someone once said that America is like a bank: If you want to take something out, then you must be willing to put something in.

For the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – poorly explained and inconclusive wars, the first major wars since our Revolution fought without a draft forcing some men into the ranks – the question of what our service meant may loom large in your minds. You without doubt have put something into the nation’s moral bank.

Rest assured that by your service, you sent a necessary message to the world and especially to those maniacs who thought by hurting us that they could scare us.

No granite monuments, regardless of how grandly built, can take the place of your raw example of courage, when in your youth you answered your country’s call. When you looked past the hot political rhetoric. When you voluntarily left behind life’s well-lit avenues. When you signed that blank check to the American people payable with your lives. And, most important, when you made a full personal commitment even while, for over a dozen years, the country’s political leadership had difficulty defining our national level of commitment.

You built your own monument with a soldier’s faith, embracing an unlimited liability clause and showing America’s younger generation at its best when times were at their worst.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., arguably the most articulate justice in the Supreme Court’s history and himself a combat-experienced infantry officer in our awful Civil War, said: “As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”

You, my fine veterans, are privileged that you will never face a judgment of having failed to live fully. For you young patriots were more concerned in living life fully than in your own longevity, freely facing daunting odds and the random nature of death and wounds on the battlefield.

So long as you maintain that same commitment to others and that same enthusiasm for life’s challenges that you felt in yourself, your shipmates, your comrades and buddies, you will never question at age 45 on a shrink’s couch whether you have lived.

Veterans know the difference between being in a dangerous combat zone and being in close combat, seeking out and killing the enemy. Close combat is tough. Much of the rest of war is boring if hard work. Yet nothing is mentally crippling about hard work in dangerous circumstances, as shown by generations of American veterans who came thankfully home as better men and women.

Close combat, however, is an “incommunicable experience” – again quoting Holmes. Then there was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Union general, who spoke of war’s effects, distinguishing the impact of close combat from military service in general. He said that such combat is “a test of character, it makes bad men worse and good men better.”

We are masters of our character, choosing what we will stand for in this life. Veterans today have had a unique privilege, that of having seen the tenacious spirit of our lads, like those young grunts preparing for a patrol by loosely wrapping tourniquets on their limbs so they could swiftly stop their own bleeding if their legs were blown off. Yet day after day they stoically patrolled. Adversity, we are told, reveals a man to himself, and young patriots coming home from such patrols are worth more than gold, for nothing they face can ever again be that tough.

Now, most of us lost friends, the best of friends, and we learned that war’s glory lay only in them – there is no other glory in warfare. They were friends who proved their manhood at age 18, before they could legally drink a beer. They were young men and women taking responsibility for their own actions, never playing the victim card. Rather, they took responsibility for their own reaction to adversity.

This was something that we once took for granted in ourselves and in our buddies, units where teenagers naturally stood tall, and we counted on each other. Yet it is a characteristic that can seem oddly vacant in our post-military society, where victimhood often seems to be celebrated. We found in the ranks that we were all coequal, general or private, admiral or seaman. We were equally committed to the mission and to one another, a thought captured by Gen. Robert E. Lee, saying his spirit bled each time one of his men fell.

Looking back over my own service, I realize now how fortunate I was to experience all this and the many riotous excursions I had when I was privileged to march or fight beside you. And a question comes to mind: What can I do to repay our country for the privilege of learning things that only you in this room could have taught me? For today I feel sorry for those who were not there with us when trouble loomed. I sometimes wonder how to embrace those who were not with us, those who were not so fortunate to discover what we were privileged to learn when we were receiving our Masters and Ph.D.s in how to live life, and gaining the understanding and appreciation of small things that we would otherwise have never known.

How do we embrace our fellow citizens who weren’t there? America is too large at heart for divisions between us. If we became keenly aware of anything at war, it was what is printed on our coins: “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one.

We veterans did our patriotic duty, nothing more, certainly nothing less, and we need to “come home” like veterans of all America’s wars. Come home stronger and more compassionate, not characterized as damaged, or with disorders, or with syndromes or other disease labels. Not labeled dependent on the government even as we take the lead in care of our grievously wounded comrades and hold our Gold Star families close. We deserve nothing more than a level playing field in America, for we endured nothing more, and often less, than vets of past wars.

For whatever trauma came with service in tough circumstances, we should take what we learned – take our post-traumatic growth – and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to bear, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear. And, most important, we should deny cynicism a role in our view of the world.

We know that in tough times cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up simply as forms of cowardice. No matter how bad any situation, cynicism has no positive impact. Watching the news, you might notice that cynicism and victimhood often seem to go hand-in-hand, but not for veterans. People who have faced no harsh trials seem to fall into that mode, unaware of what it indicates when taking refuge from responsibility for their actions. This is an area where your example can help our society rediscover its courage and its optimism.

We also learned the pleasure of exceeding expectations. We saw the power we brought when working together as a team. We learned alongside one another, in teams where admired leadership built teamwork, where free men and women could change the world.

Now having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world and having worked with others of many cultures, having worked in one of the most diverse teams on earth – that of the U.S. military – and having faced down grim circumstances without losing our sense of humor or moral balance under conditions where war’s realities scrape away civilization’s veneer, we have learned that nothing can stop our spirit unless we ignore Lincoln’s call to our better angels.

American colleges and businesses know your pedigree for commitment, reliability and loyalty. This is why so many corporations and startups aggressively recruit veterans. As San Francisco-based Uber sums it up: Veterans deliver higher value. Bellwether companies like Microsoft, Uber, Starbucks and more act on that premise.

I will close with words again borrowed from others.

From Alexander Dumas: You should be satisfied with the way you have conducted yourselves, “with no remorse for the past, confident regarding the present and full of hope for the future.” When you retire to bed you should sleep “the sleep of the brave.”

If Jackie Robinson, a sparkling ballplayer and veteran of World War II, could write his own epitaph on leadership by saying “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” then you who are fortunate to have learned so much living in the greatest country on earth while making an impact so young – you should recognize that our country needs your vigor and wisdom. It was gained at great cost to our comrades and to our Gold Star families, who need to see their sons’ spirits live on in your enthusiasm for life.

I am reminded of Gen. William Sherman’s words when bidding farewell to his army in 1865: “As in war you have been good soldiers, so in peace you will make good citizens.”

Salient Visible Characteristics of Fighting Ships

from Fahey’s “Ships and Aircraft of the US Fleet

I have a knack for finding interesting militarily historical artifacts and after reviewing my purchases at the second annual Pritzker Military Museum and Library booksale, this is a lesson I keep having to relearn. I had that feeling I should purchase that copy of Fahey’s  “The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet“, in this instance, available there as a 5 volume set, which already having a tendency to listen to feeling, I purchased.

I found a document from the Office of Naval Intelligence dated 11 March 1942 titled: “Salient Visible Characteristics of Fighting Ships.” It provides an interesting glimpse of what the US Navy was like during World War 2. Thusly:

Hesitation caused by the uncertainty as to whether a vessel is friend or foe may lose for the aviator his opportunity to attack, and for the naval officer may result in the loss of a ship or failure to discharge a mission or destroy an enemy vessel.

Heady and still very relevant stuff especially for those currently deployed.

Below you’ll see my pictures of some of the document. Enjoy:

 
 

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

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One hundred fifty years ago today, March 4th, 1865.  It is a speech that could NEVER be given today, because of the President’s reference to faith, and to God, and the Bible, and scripture.  However, it remains one of the most moving and eloquent speeches ever given by an American, astounding in its sentiment, given in the middle of a war that had already claimed two-thirds of a million souls, with no end yet in sight.  It is part of American scripture.

Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope–fervently do we pray–that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Thirty-five days later, the American Civil War would end, at Appomattox Court House.  Forty days after his speech, Abraham Lincoln lay dying of a bullet in his skull.  After a century and a half, some of those wounds have still not fully healed.  And some of the descendants of  those whom Lincoln sought to emancipate have re-established racial divisions, to the detriment of our nation and its people.  Yet, we do remain One Nation, under God, despite the efforts of the secular progressives on the far-left to render us otherwise.

What a Statesman Sounds Like

The contrast with our President is stark indeed.  A clear and rational petition for the safety and existence of his nation and his people.

Small wonder that Obama and the far-left Democrats objected so much to Netanyahu’s appeal for the survival of Israel.  We get the Cairo speech, and “don’t insult Islam”.

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What’s some of the reaction to Netanyahu’s speech from the Arab world?

Tzvi Yechezkieli, the Arab affairs expert of Channel 10, said that many Arab commentators supported the content of Netanyahu’s speech. He cited a commentator on Al-Arabiya TV, who had said that he could have written a large part of the speech.

Yechezkieli said that the Arab countries are convinced that Obama will not safeguard their security interests in the current negotiations with Iran and will not protect them against Iranian aggression.

The above is not isolated opinion, either.  There was this on Bibi’s speech at AIPAC:

Yesterday, Faisal J. Abbas, the powerful Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, published an editorial under the headline: “President Obama, listen to Netanyahu on Iran.” Abbas’ editorial was a reaction to Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC yesterday.

He wrote: “In just a few words, Mr. Netanyahu managed to accurately summarize a clear and present danger, not just to Israel (which obviously is his concern), but to other U.S. allies in the region.”

The Saudi Daily Al-Jazirah published an article written by Dr. Ahmad Al-Faraj, who supported Netanyahu’s decision to speak to the U.S. Congress against the upcoming deal with Iran. He called Obama “one of the worst American presidents” and said that Netanyahu’s campaign against the deal is justified because it also serves the interests of the Gulf States.

Barack Obama and his fellow travelers seem to be the only ones, aside from Iran, that were critical of the Prime Minister’s address.

He's Dead, Jim. Leonard Nimoy, 83

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Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played the iconic Star Trek character Spock, has died at age 83.  His was a remarkable life and career.  He appeared in countless television and movie roles, including in Combat, The Twilight Zone, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and even Get Smart.  He narrated In Search Of, which was a great program.  He also had a sense of humor about himself, voicing his animated self on The Simpsons a couple of times.  Nimoy was also a Veteran, serving as a Sergeant in the US Army in the late 1950s.

He lived long, and he prospered.  RIP Spock.

Suribachi

Four days after the bloody struggle to come ashore on Iwo Jima’s fire-swept black volcanic sand beaches, a patrol from 28th Marines was ordered to the top of the sullen volcanic lump that dominated the six square miles of sulphur and rock.  The seven-man patrol under the Executive Officer of Easy Company, 28th Marines raised a small flag.  The flag, difficult to see from the beach, was replaced by a larger one retrieved from one of the LSTs offshore supporting the landing.  Five Marines and one Navy Corpsman labored under fire to plant the larger colors into the rocky ground. The raising of the second, larger flag was captured by Joe Rosenthal, and became the most iconic and reproduced image in the history of photography.

Iwo

Many commonly believe that the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi signaled the end of the fight for Iwo Jima.  In reality, twenty-two more days of relentless and ferocious savagery lay ahead.  It was not until 26 March 1945 that Iwo Jima was declared secured.  Of the six men who raised the flag on Suribachi, three, Sgt Mike Strank, Cpl Harlan Block, and PFC Franklin Sousley, would die on the island, along with more than 6,800 others, mostly Marines.  A fourth flag raiser, Second Class Hospital Corpsman John Bradley, was among the more than 19,000 wounded.   The man who took the motion picture footage from the same vantage as Rosenthal, Marine Combat Cameraman Bill Genaust, was later killed in one of Suribachi’s hundreds of caves.

Bradley received a Navy Cross for his actions in combat on 21 February, and Strank a Bronze Star.  Bill Genaust also received a Bronze Star.

The above movie is the approximately 20 minute production called “To the Shores of Iwo Jima”.  Well worth the time, as it is a grim and unvarnished look at the titanic struggle for Iwo.  Seldom have the words of a senior officer been so accurate, or heartfelt, as when Admiral Chester Nimitz described the fight for the island.

Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue