Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Summer Cruise in Wisconsin - The Battleship that is - Circa 1955

In traditional naval parlance you serve in a ship, not on board. As a regular NROTC Midshipman at Princeton University, I spent my “plebe cruise” during the summer of 1955 in the USS Wisconsin (BB-64), along with several hundred other midshipmen. Wisconsin was the late of five Iowa Class battle ships commissioned by the United States Navy during World War II, and a sister ship to the USS Missouri (BB-63). All of the internal photographs shown here have been taken in the USS Missouri. She (the USS Missouri) currently resides as a maritime museum at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, guarding the memorial and remains of the hull of the USS Arizona (BB-39). See; http://arnhemjim.blogspot.com/p/military-strategy.html . The USS Wisconsin is also a museum ship at the Port of Norfolk (her former home port), Virginia.

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) last of the Iowa Class Battleships
commissioned 16 April 1944

Another view of 58,000 long tons full load
displacement (post 1980's) moving at 35.5 knots

The forward main battery of Number 1 and 2 Turrets of
16"/50cal. Naval Guns

USS Wisconsin - A broadside salvo from Number 1 and 2 Turrets

My General Quarters station was in the powder handling room of No. 2 Turret of her battery of nine 16”/50 cal Mk 7 guns. It was the modern version of a “powder monkey” deep in the barbette. Each of the 6 bags of propellant required for the projectile of a single gun (3 guns to each turret) weighed 110 pounds (white silk bags in the photograph). Suffices we didn’t have to move them very far without electro-mechanical assistance. That’s 660 pounds of powder charge for one projectile with it’s weight ranging from 1900 to 2700 pounds, depending on type. See; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16%22/50_caliber_Mark_7_gun. and for those interested, an in-depth technical article on the design, development and employment of the gun; http://navweaps.com/Weapons/WNUS_16-50_mk7.php (please cut and pass this URL). We could only hear a low muffled roar when the turret fired, but sure as hell felt a massive shake as the entire ship rolled in recoil.

An inert 16" projectile and 2 dummy propellent charges, again
110 pounds apiece 

The breech and Welin interupted-screw breech-block of a
16"/50 cal Naval Gun Mk 7; noting the close tolerances
between massive moving surfaces

Another view of the breech, observing the open breech-block
almost centered deep below in the photograph, as gun is in
the nearly maximum elevated position of 45 deg

Typical Midshipmen's berthing quarters; It's certainly not the
 Ritz Carlton, but it was warm (sometimes too warm) and dry

All Hands on Deck, Captain's Inspection - Midshipman
Cruise, Summer 1955 (I was somewhere on deck, you
can tell the Midshipmen by the visored combination caps) 

Main Battery Plot - Firing Panel for all three 16"/50cal Mk7
gun turrets and the Main Fire Control Computer Mk IA

United States Navy Gun Fire Control Computer Mk IA;
fundamentally an electro-mechanical analog computer

"Broadway" ran nearly the full length of the ship, was the top of
6 inches of the second steel armored deck, and about midships
provided hatches and ladders, port and starboard, to the four
 firerooms (boilers) and the four engine-rooms

One of the armored hatches (at top of photograph) passing to
 the lower decks from "Broadway"

That's not a hatch, THIS IS A HATCH! Hatch (door) into the
armored conning station on the bridge of the ship, manned and
secured during General Quarters (don't want to be claustrophobic)

One of my assigned duties was to stand “Admiral’s Flag Watch” on the 011 level at night. Someone, never identified, had “purloined” the flag as a souvenir, so a 24-hour watch was established, comprised solely of midshipmen. Unfortunately, no one had seen fit to provide a set of sound-powered phones for the watch station, and after my designated four hours in the dead of night in the Danish Straits (cold even in the summer). I had to wait a further two hours before someone realized the error, and sent up a relief. During that same passage (not the same time) we passed a Soviet Navy Sverdlov Class Light Cruiser. Given the displacement, speed and armament of an Iowa Class Battleship, I’m certain they were a little bit more impressed with us, than the other way around.

The Mikkhal Kutuzov, a Sverdlov Class Light Cruiser -
now also a museum ship

Another view of the Mikhal Kutuszov

The 011 level and the "Admiral's Flag Watch" straight
up from here

We had paid a port call to Edinburgh, Scotland, with additional liberty, and an overnight train for a multiple day visit to London. Being of Scottish ancestry, and already having developed an interest in the history of the British Armed Forces, it was a magnificent adventure. I was able to acquire a set of used bagpipes (very plain service issue) at the famous firm of J.& R. Glen Highland Bagpipes, 497 Lawnmarket, close to Princess Street in Edinburgh. See; http://www.thebagpipemuseum.com/Glen_History.html (please copy and paste this URL). Glen’s finally closed their doors in 1979. They hang this day in a place of honor in our family room closely guarded by “Lt. Col Angus Smyth - Gordon MC” of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders.

The premises of J. & R. Glen - Highland Bagpipe Makers
since the mid 1800's, Edinburgh, Scotland

A set of Great Highland Bagpipes made by
J. & R. Glen - properly displayed and guarded

Between visits to the sights of London, including the Imperial War Museum (National Army Museum hadn’t been established), I made my first of many visits to Laurence Corner Army Surplus Store which stood at the same location from 1953 to 2007. Will never forget rummaging around the literally open barrels outside the store loaded with all manner of genuine surplus British Army cloth insignia, on sale for literally half pennies or at the most pence each. They were standing on the sidewalk directly under the white sign seen in the photograph. These insignia were the genesis of a lifetime collection of British Armed Forces uniforms, equipment, and armament.

Laurence Corner, Patch Collector's Paridise in its day

From Edinburgh, we set sail out of the Firth of Forth for Copenhagen, Denmark. The ship’s boats for both visitors and liberty parties in Copenhagen landed at a quay that was within a very short distance of the famous little mermaid statue inspired by Hans Christen Andersen’s story.

Copenhagen's enchanting "Little Mermaid" looking out sea

While there one day in the duty section I drew the task of being a tour guide for visitors to the ship. I was assigned to accompany a Soviet Navy Captain Second Rank and his wife (rather dour as I recall) on the standard cursory visitor’s tour of the ship. I knew that he had to be far more knowledgeable than I of the ship’s characteristics and armament. Additionally in retrospect realized that because he was obviously stationed there as part of their Naval Attaché’s staff to Denmark, that certainly he, and probably his wife, were both GRU (Fleet Intelligence suborned to the Fifth Directorate) agents. For those who may not be familiar; Гла́вное разве́дывательное управле́ние, translated, Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie (Organization of the Main Intelligence Administration) of the then Soviet Union.

The next day was to prove even more interesting, and a lot more enjoyable. Returning to the ship from a half day ashore, when I boarded the liberty boat to return to the ship, I noticed a middle-aged couple accompanied by an absolutely stunning (classic), statuesque blonde Danish teenager (18 or 19) in a beautiful bright yellow summer dress, who turned out to be their daughter, as suspected. Mustering every ounce of courage, I was smart enough to initially introduce myself to the older couple. They spoke fluent English having immigrated to the United States, owned a flower shop in New York City for a period of time, and for certain reasons decided to return to Denmark. It was a bit of a ride back to the Wisconsin, and by the time we arrived, had been introduced to their daughter Else, and invited them to allow me the opportunity to act as their tour guide. They readily accepted, as I truly think they were trying just as hard for their daughter to potentially meet a future United States Naval Officer. As we all reached the top of the accommodation ladder (gangway), the poor midshipman who had the tour guide duty that day had his bubble burst, when I told him that they had asked me to be their tour guide. What a chagrined and abject look on his face, as Else was really quite striking. Her parents invited me for dinner at their home, left us alone for quite some time, and another day we all visited Tivoli Gardens together. I took them a box of Hersey’s Chocolate bars (still a precious gift in Denmark even in the mid-50’s), and when I left, I gave her one of my gold anchor collar devices. A very sad and emotional parting. Else had learned to read and write fluent English, and we corresponded for quite some time. As best as I can recall she became a highly successful hairdresser’s model (use the search term "Danish hairdresser's female models" on the Internet to get some idea of today's competition, and she could match or surpass anyone of them). I’m not sure exactly what happened after that, just too great a distance, and three more years of university, then at least three years in the Navy, at the time. As you can tell from the length of this segment, I reflect occasionally on what might have been? At my age I'm allowed.

A colorful part of the restored older portion of the
waterfront in Copenhagen

Same scene, Magnificent "Wonderful Copenhagen" by night

A portion of Tivoli Gardens by night

Another view of Tivoli Gardens by night
A broad variety of themes
Still another part of Tivoli Gardens at night

Tivoli Gardens opened its gates in 1843. The very next year the Tivoli Youth Guard, the world’s first youth guards were formed as a “Lilliputian Military”. The band and contingent of guards , who’s uniforms are patterned after Den Kongelige Livgard (Royal Life Guards) of the King of Denmark, have been performing ever since.

It was a magnificent, almost idyllic summer, ending with a brief visit to the U.S. Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before returning to home port in Norfolk, Virginia. Really tough duty, even considering the "holystoning" of the Wisconsin's teak main deck, but someone had to do it.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Detailed and Annotated Order of Battle and Table of Basic Allowances of the British 1st Airborne Division Circa 1944

Having written the previous article on the arms and equipment of a World War II British Airborne Division, this author reviewed the orders of battle for those divisions available on the Internet. There are some very good ones, and I have listed one of the best in the Links section of this blog, however it seemed as though all of them lacked certain elements of information.

Early in my evolving interest in the British 1st Airborne Division at the battle of Arnhem I compiled an expanded and annotated Order of Battle (OOB)/Table of Basic Allowances (T B/A) of the Division. Given my then very limited knowledge of the battle, I submitted my preliminary efforts to the staff of the Airborne Forces Museum, which was co-located with their Headquarters and Depot, Aldershot, Hampshire. It's reasonably comprehensive, and although far from perfect, it does incorporate some features not found elsewhere. Where there are identified errors or incompleteness, hopefully they have been identified.

It was 1974 and the epic film adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s book “A Bridge Too Far” was yet to be produced, however the book had become a best seller. Maj Geoff G. Norton, the then curator of the museum, was gracious enough to personally respond to my request to review and correct my efforts to that point in time. I think that because the query was coming from a “colonial”, and a reserve naval intelligence officer of senior rank, must have captured his interest and attention. At the time he was a busy man, also serving as Second-in-Command of the Depot of the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces. In addition, he himself had already authored a book in the “Famous Regiments” series, “The Red Devils”, in 1971. See; Norton, G.G., The Red  Devils (The Story of British Airborne Forces), Leo Cooper Ltd, London, 1971, ISBN 0 85052 045 2.  Given his detailed knowledge and encouragement, I continued to expand and refine my efforts.

As already pointed out in the immediately previous blog article, http://arnhemjim.blogspot.com/2017/07/detailed-list-of-arms-and-equipment-of.html, there is a disparity with regard to quantities of items in allowance as given in Lt Col H.F. Joslen’s book, Orders of Battle, Second World War,1939 -1945, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1960. When compiling the list of arms and equipment I was not aware of Lt Col Joslen’s book. Nor do I know whether Maj Norton had access to the book. In his correspondence Maj Norton cites as his source British Army Staff Tables (1944) for an Airborne Division’s weapons. Two of the principal differences in the two lists is in the increase of anti-tank weapons (6 pdrs and PIATs) and jeeps. Given the significantly improved capabilities of German armor late in the war, combined with the combat established need to improve ground mobility for the paratroops, the author would give more credence to the higher numbers. The author personally concludes that the higher numbers are more likely to be correct. An attempt to reconcile all the discrepancies has been attempted, and is included in addition to the original analysis developed in 1974.

Keen eyes will also discern the author’s limited knowledge at the time, such as the
erroneous inclusion of the Inglis Browning 9mm pistol and Wireless Set, No. 38 in
the equipment list, the omission of the Morris artillery tractors for the 17 pdr anti-tank
guns, and the lack of personnel numbers for the 6080 and 6341 Light Warning Units of
the RAF (at least I was aware of their existence). Suffices the author has learned quite a
bit since those early efforts, and hopefully that knowledge has been conveyed in this and
other articles contained in this blog.                                                                                             

To the best of my knowledge all the other names and numbers are correct to the extent of known official archives. Having diligently attempted to edit the tables for alignment of the columns, if there are any remaining ambiguities, please advise the author in the Comments.