Friday, April 1, 2016

Battlewagons

USS WISCONSIN (BB-64) followed by the amphibious assault ship USS TRIPOLI (LPH-10) (Source)
I saw my first battleship in 1987. I was TDY (temporary duty) to Biloxi, Mississippi. I was able to bring the family so we lived just up the road in Long Beach, literally across the road from the Gulf of Mexico. As The Missus Herself had a sister living in Fort Walton Beach over Florida way, we did get a chance to go over and visit.

On the way there we had seen the signs for the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, which piqued my interest, a lot. As we rolled east on I-10 I just happened to notice, off to the starboard side, a rather large, gray warship. I was awe struck, an honest to goodness battleship, queen of the seas. The Naviguesser expressed some interest in seeing that wondrous sight again, perhaps up close and personal.

"Let me find a spot to turn around and we can..."

"Eyes front Mister! Maintain course and speed!" commanded The Missus Herself.

"Maintaining course and speed AYE!" I barked in my most manly voice.

"MOM!!!" sayeth my son, the future black shoe, er, the future Professional Surface Warfare Officer I mean, of course.

Now the matriarch of our little clan explained to the male members of the tribe, in no uncertain terms, that we were going to Florida, to visit Uncle Smitty (yes, that Uncle Smitty) and we would by God enjoy ourselves. Perhaps, if all and sundry managed to exhibit good behavior, we could maybe, possibly, stop at the park on the way back to Mississippi.

Maybe.

Needless to say, the progeny behaved as angels all weekend. Even I managed to maintain a certain decorum and "kept my nose clean." The beach was fun, the visit was grand and...

"MOM!!! We need to leave now so we can see the battleship!"

So off we went and there I was able to walk the decks of the mighty USS ALABAMA. She is...
a South Dakota-class battleship and was the sixth ship of the United States Navy named after the state of Alabama. She was commissioned in 1942 and served in World War II in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. She was retired in 1962. In 1964, ALABAMA was taken to Mobile Bay and opened as a museum ship the following year. The ship was added to the National Historic Landmark registry in 1986. W
USS ALABAMA, BB-60, today. (Source)

There's something about these big gray ladies. Whether tied up to the pier or on the high seas, battleships inspire awe.

I remember the opening scenes from the movie Under Siege, not a bad film, not a great film, but that opening was breath taking. (Fast forward to the 0:31 mark and, yeah, go full screen.)




That's USS MISSOURI, BB-63, in the opening scene. From what I understand most of the exterior shots in the movie are of MISSOURI, but the interior scenes were done on ALABAMA. No doubt there were other sets involved but at least they had real battleships on hand.

One battleship with which I have a fairly close relationship is not too far from Chez Sarge. Murphy and I paid her a visit on a beautiful fall day last year. That would be the ship over at Battleship Cove over in the Bay State. The USS MASSACHUSETTS of course. Now it hit me the other day that I had never shared the photos I took on board Big Mamie. Their website has this to say (in part) about the old girl -
Battleship MASSACHUSETTS was built in Quincy, Massachusetts at the Fore River Shipyard of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. The ship was launched on September 23, 1941, the heaviest ship ever launched in Quincy. “Big Mamie”, as her crew knew her, was delivered to the Boston Navy Yard in April 1942 and commissioned the following month.

Battleship MASSACHUSETTS went into action on November 8, 1942 as part of Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. While cruising off the city of Casablanca, Morocco, the Battleship engaged in a gun duel with the unfinished French battleship Jean Bart, moored at a Casablanca pier. In this battle, Massachusetts fired the first American 16″ projectile in anger of World War II. Five hits from Big Mamie silenced the enemy battleship, and other 16″ shells from Battleship MASSACHUSETTS helped sink two destroyers, two merchant ships, a floating dry-dock, and heavily damaged buildings and docks in Casablanca. The ship’s battle flag, holed by a shell from the Jean Bart, is on display in the Battleship.
------------------------ 
Big Mamie’s 16″ guns pounded Iwo Jima and Okinawa before their invasion in 1945, and by July of that year she was off Japan with the Third Fleet. The Battleship bombarded the Imperial Iron and Steel Works at Kamaishi, and then sailed south to bombard a factory at Hamamatsu. Returning to Kamaishi, Battleship MASSACHUSETTS fired the last American 16″ projectile of the war. With peace achieved, “Big Mamie” returned to the United States and operated with the Pacific Fleet until mid-1946, when she was ordered deactivated. 
You can still see shrapnel damage from her fight with Jean Bart near the ship's bell on the quarterdeck -




She's an awesome warship, it's nice having the old girl nearby.



I tried to get a few people into some of the shots to give you an idea of how big these ships were. The guy in the red shirt above is obvious. I didn't realize there was anyone in the next photo until I got home. So in the shot immediately below I drew you an arrow. The one after that, he's not so obvious.




These next three shots were taken inside the number one main battery turret. (Any battleship sailors can correct me on that terminology if I got it wrong. I'm only used to modern destroyers, the
Arleigh Burkes only have a single turret, Mount 51 = 5 inch gun, most forward mount. Zumwalts have two, both forward, Mount 61 and Mount 62. She has 6 inch guns.)



Powder charges on the loading tray.

Inside the turret isn't
that claustrophobic, though it's not that roomy. Getting into the turret was an adventure. The hatch is underneath the aft overhang of the turret. Ya gotta get low, ya gotta get small. Going in was kinda easy. Going out, not so much. I should have taken a picture, I was just too excited about being able to get into the gun mount!
The deck is in rough shape in spots.






Yup, that's a BIG anchor.


Get Seaman Schmuckatelli out here on the double. I think he missed a spot when he was scraping and painting.

View from the bridge.
Dude, you can't sit there!
East German corvette alongside, prepare to repel boarders!


Man, that was a good day!




50 comments:

  1. Visted Battleship Cove with the Hot Chick from Philly, had to be quite a while ago as we were using film for photos. (note, dropping film camera onto deck from inside of battleship turret is not a good idea. Testimony to toughness of Nikon is that the camera body still kinda worked.)
    Because of the generosity of the caretakers, part of the water end of one of the bilge pumps on the J.P. Kennedy was donated to replace a damaged pump on my ship, and that part of the Kennedy served on two US ships, and then served the ROK Navy for a lot of years.
    Another battleship is the North Carolina. Good tour and I got to show my wife the parts of the ships where I spent my career. Or, as she says, "Lots of pipes and big things painted grey and white." She has been at see on a gas turbine frigate, and during the trip she was on the fantail when they briefly went to full power. Quite the rooster tail!

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    1. Change "been at see" to "been at sea"

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    2. Getting parts from ships being decommissioned I've heard of, my son had to go up to Philly from Norfolk seeking parts for his Spru-can, dropped his cell phone in the engineering spaces from a ways up. Went all the way down into the bilges. No, it didn't work after wards.

      I think I need to get down to Wilmington and see the Showboat.

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    3. I gnu what you meant.

      (Tee hee)

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  2. Very cool pictures Sarge! I've only been on Missouri and they didn't allow anywhere near the level of access you had. Lucky Dog!

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    1. I think there is some law, policy, "hope" in place so that the Iowa Class battleships be in a state where they could be refurbished and reactivated in the event of a national emergency. Which might explain why access is limited.

      Or maybe I just dreamed that. I would love to see the battlewagons on active service again.

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    2. Congress passed Pub. L. 109-364, the National Defense Authorization Act 2007, requiring the battleships be kept and maintained in a state of readiness should they ever be needed again. Congress has ordered that the following measures be implemented to ensure that, if need be, Iowa and Wisconsin can be returned to active duty:
      1.Iowa and Wisconsin must not be altered in any way that would impair their military utility;
      2.The battleships must be preserved in their present condition through the continued use of cathodic protection, dehumidification systems, and any other preservation methods as needed;
      3.Spare parts and unique equipment such as the 16-inch (410 mm) gun barrels and projectiles be preserved in adequate numbers to support Iowa and Wisconsin, if reactivated;
      4.The navy must prepare plans for the rapid reactivation of Iowa and Wisconsin should they be returned to the navy in the event of a national emergency.

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    3. Thanks Cap'n, it's good to know that my memory isn't completely shot.

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    4. I was gonna blame the lack of access on the Department of the Interior and National Park Service
      ...just because I can.

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  3. Still hard for me to believe that building one of these Queens would not be a value added asset to our Navy. Nuke power, modernize controls and weapons. For many of our wars including and since Vietnam these would have been valuable.

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    1. In my book, three words justify their return to active service: Naval Gunfire Support.

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    2. The problem, Ron, is that a battleship might make 30 knots all-out, meaning it has to be within 400 miles of a location to reach there in a half-day.

      An F-16 can get there in less than an hour, drop four 2000-pound bombs (or eight 1000-pounders), and do it more accurately using "smart" technology. If there are any misses, the F-16 can be back in a couple of hours to finish the job, or it can hit another target 500 miles away--while the battleship's still near the original location.

      With 2000 men needed to keep it up and running, a battleship's impressive but pretty inefficient on today's battlefield. Those 2700-pound shells are scary, but they're limited to 20 miles from the ship. It the target's too far inland or behind a mountain, those guns are useless. Adding a homing device to the shells would help, but it would have to survive a zero-to-1500 mph acceleration. That's doable, but my experience with electronics tells me that even in the solid-state age there would probably be a fair number of failures and you'd still need somebody (a ground spotter or an aircraft) to designate the target.

      The main advantages of airpower are that it's cheap and flexible. Even at $20M, an F-16 offers a lot more potential use per dollar than a battleship could ever hope to return. The biggest battleship to ever see combat, Japan's Yamato, took four years to build but just two hours to sink at the hands of U. S. Navy planes. We lost ten aircraft and twelve crewmen in that attack. The Japanese lost 3000 sailors and the pride of their fleet. In the economics of war, it's obvious which was the better investment. Things haven't gotten better in the 70 years since.

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    3. Only problem I see Bruce is that the F-16 needs a land base. Naval aviation needs a carrier to get their air wing close enough to do the job. While Naval Gunfire Support isn't useful for long range attacks (typically we use Tomahawks if we don't have air within range, the Iowas were upgraded to carry Tomahawks) there have been a number of recent innovations with projectiles which can stretch the range out to upwards of 80 miles.

      Forcing our way ashore with Marines is still a tool we need in the toolbox. The battleships are useful there.

      Air power is useful but it has its limits.

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    4. Sure, Sarge, planes need bases, but with aerial refueling you can pretty much go anywhere you want to. As long as the pilot's got a functioning piddle pack, that is. B-1s and B-2s hit Iraq from U.S. and European bases in the last two wars, I believe. Besides, ships need bases, too. We've always got one or two carriers in dry dock at any particular time.

      Subs and cruisers can launch Tomahawks as easily as a big boat can, and can reach firing position more quickly.

      That said, I think the problem with our air units today is what you put your finger on: the need for a base. Instead of supersonic jets that almost always fight in the transonic or subsonic range, we should go for STOL (not VTOL) capabilities in our ground-support aircraft, and make them able to land on any paved road. That would mean a beefy airframe, high-lift wings, big wheels, strong (carrier-type) landing gear, and intakes high on the body to prevent foreign object ingestion. Today's planes are too base-bound.

      Sadly, our military is too enamored of "faster, higher, bigger" to go that way. The one plane in our arsenal that went (somewhat) the way I suggest was the A-10, and the Air Force HATES that plane: not sexy enough. I had a troop who cross-trained from being a foreign observer for the airborne, and he told me that when he went into Grenada in 1983 the head AF mucky-muck on the scene banned A-10s from participating. They orbited offshore until everything was over and went home without firing a shot.

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    5. You raise some good points Bruce.

      In Korea many of the major highways can also serve as runways. The ROKs have operated from those during exercises. We did as well with the F-4 (nice high intakes, remember, not like the F-16's vacuum cleaner intake). The Soviets and Warsaw Pact did the same. I remember seeing some footage not that long ago of Polish MiGs operating from a highway.

      Air refueling works for the big bombers, barely. I'd hate to have to make a critical decision in bad guy country after a trans oceanic flight with a full bomb load in a fighter. I think Juvat has mentioned the perils of over ocean flight from time to time.

      Still it is do-able. Cheaper than a battleship, sure. War is complex, I wouldn't rule out any weapon system. Affordability is nice, if you're not fighting for your life.

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    6. And I don't want this to be taken as "dissing" one service over another. I can't think of a time when an F-16 or B-1 held a city. There's a role for everybody.

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  4. The JP Kennedy, the last of the Gearing-class destroyers, has some parts which came from my old tin can (William M. Wood DD-715), so the Wood lives on, at least in spirit. The rest of her is an artificial reef.

    Also: if you want to sound like a real salt, and not just a visitor from the USAF (grins), that unpainted/unscraped spot, in shipboard lingo, is referred to as a "holiday". As in, "You took an holiday from painting & didn't finish the job." :)

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    1. A "holiday"? Love it and will remember it.

      It vexes The Nuke when I get "salty." I wonder if she knows that one?

      Thanks Rev. :)

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  5. Number One Turret contains Mount 161, Mount 162, and Mount 163
    Gun Captain, Left Gun: Mount 161, Manned and Ready
    Gun Captain, Center Gun: Mount 162, Manned and Ready
    Gun Captain, Right Gun: Mount 163, Manned and Ready
    Turret Officer: Main Plot, Number One Turret, Manned and Ready.

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  6. It is interesting how availabilities, rather than who would make the best use of something determines who gets it. On her foremast MASSACHUSETTS has an SK2 radar antenna. The parabolic SK2 antenna gave mush better resolution than the square SK, which was of value in determining the make up of an incoming raid. The SOUTH DAKOTA and NORTH CAROLINA classes, while their 27 knot top speeds were a huge improvement over the earlier classes of BB, were pretty much running flat out when operating with the Fast Carriers, while the 32 knot IOWAs loped alongside the CVs.

    During the War, only IOWA and MISSOURI received SK2s, while NEW JERSEY and WISCONSIN had to make do with SKs. WISCONSIN was apparently known for her shooting, particularly her AA fire. That is why, at the Surrender, MISSOURI was the surrender platform, IOWA, which was set up slightly different than her sisters, as she was intended as a Fleet Flagship, and enormously powerful radios, acted as radio relay ship, NEW JERSEY was with a Fast Carrier Task Force under Spruance, off Okinawa, ( just to be on the safe side ), WISCONSIN was out to sea, in case gunfire support was required, should thing go awry.

    The extremely famous photo of a Zero slamming into MISSOURI is usually claimed to be a Kamikaze, but in fact, that Zero was in the process of crashing, after being shot down by The Big Badger Boat. So, the only successful attack on an IOWA class BB during WWII, was made by USS WISCONSIN!

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    1. You really are my battleship "go to guy" Scott. Love the details you add!

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    2. I heard it that Missouri was the surrender platform because HST wanted it that way, but I like your explanation.

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    3. Heh. I still lean towards the HST explanation. But ya never know.

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  7. The gun mounts fascinated me in that I was happy to be elsewhere.
    Regarding the speed at which the BBs traveled through the water.
    Even if the South Dakota class had an identical power plant and drive train, they wouldn't be able to travel as fast as the Iowa class.
    The size and shape of the hull is also a determining factor, having something to do with the surface tension and all kinds of other nautical stuff.

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    1. Oh, yes, the extra 207 feet give you a much better shape for cutting through the water. By allowing a more gradual flare to the hull, you cut through the water, rather than plow. But even so, it took 212,000 shaft horsepower, rather than the SOUTH DAKOTA's 130,000 SHP. 82,000 horses provide a lot of push!

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    2. Skip, I didn't know that the Iowas had that kind of speed advantage over the South Dakotas.

      Gun mounts also fascinate me, whether it be on ships, planes, or armored vehicles. But the inside is pretty noisy, not to mention dangerous. I mean one would be servicing a machine, and machines bite if you're not careful!

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    3. One thing I like about the footage in that clip above is that MISSOURI looks like a sea-going greyhound as regards the shape of the hull. (Seeing the dolphin pacing her was pretty awesome).

      The Iowas are kind of like a Rottweiler with a greyhound's speed!

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    4. I know this is a family blog but I'd offer that the scene where Erika Eleniak pops out of the cake runs a close second to the opening footage. Just sayin'.

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  8. Inside the gunhouse didn't bother me claustrophobia-wise, but I got a little itchy in the projectile-handling rings, directly below the turret proper. Primarily because the only way in to those areas is to climb way down inside the ship, and then way back up again, inside the giant steel coffee can (barbette). I guess you'd get used to working in a certain-deathtrap if you did it enough?

    Also probably a lot different with a full complement of sweaty dudes instead of a couple dopey tourists like me.

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    1. Working anywhere below the turret where the projectiles and powder bags are handled would worry the crap out of me. I guess if anything bad happened in there, well, it would be an awfully quick way to go!

      Heh, full complement of sweaty dudes, describes it quite well I think!

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  9. Hey Guys;

    I took the kid to the U.S.S Alabama a couple of years ago. It was awesome to see an actual WWII battleship that was in the same configuration. The actual sea time or "hours" on the hull are actually pretty low. The time on the hull is far less than the active duty ships and I always wondered how they could modernize them for active service. And having a battleship making a call is more forceful than some of the modern ships.

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    1. Yes, a battleship off the coast makes a big statement!

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  10. When BTM was still in high school and dreaming of becoming a SWO, we went to Boston, in part, to visit Battleship Cove. We were not disappointed, especially with access to areas of the ship such as the main turret. Years later we visited Mobile from Pensacola (when BTM was no longer an aspiring SWO) - we enjoyed the Massachusetts tour more than the Alabama visit for sure. Great photos Sarge.

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    1. BTM dreamed of being a SWO? Guess it was rough having to settle for being a pilot. :)

      Best thing about Battleship Cove is the nearly all-access pass to many areas on the ships.

      Thanks Big E!

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  11. Being from the Cape and a Submariner, I've spent a lot of time there. I was a docent for Lionfish for 10 years. Sadly ALL the ships there are suffering from lack of proper care. Less so in the case of the BB, more so on the DD, SS, and Hiddensee. All, or at least most $ is alloted to the BB. Understandable as it is the main draw. The others,,,,,,,,Lionfish, importantly, is badly neglected. Many ex boat sailors were involved in trying to properly maintain her nd were blocked at every turn by the museum brass. We had plans to bring 2 diesels back to life, restore control room electronics and much more. All money and labor no cost to them. Nope. Lionfish will either soon sink at her mooring or will be reclaimed by NAVSEA due to her condition. Gotta go, I need a tissue.

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    1. I didn't know that Glenn. That would be a crying shame.

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    2. Hence, the tissue(s). Lionfish, one of few Cramp built boats, is a jewel. Left very close to WW2 configuration. We had 2 WW2 crewman until recently helping to preserve her. They were treated horribly by the Muckymucks, and we following boat sailors were only used to feebly do our best. Blocked at every turn from helping the old girl. Haven't been back in 4 years. Just want to not see her dying.

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    3. People in suits no doubt. MBAs no doubt.

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    4. Bean counters, aye! Crap! I'll be in my rack.

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  12. Great post and superb pictures Sarge.

    I remember when they were bringing the Iowas back into service in '81 and all these old retired dudes in their 40's (!) were rolling in for return to active duty physicals. Nobody else knew how to turn 'em on and make 'em go.

    I watched Iowa shoot from the flight deck of Coral Sea on April 18, 1989. From 6 NM the concussion of a single gun rattled your chest; the whole broadside was literally beyond description. Unfortunately I was back aboard her the next day providing medical support after turret two blew up.

    I had a hard time suspending enough disbelief to enjoy Under Siege. I can think of a zillion better vehicles for undressing Ms. Elaniak.

    The real BB travesty though, IMO, was the music video shot on BB-63 featuring the artist formerly known as Mrs. Allman.

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    1. Dang, so you were there when Number Two Turret had the explosion. That must have been horrible.

      Concur with most of your thoughts on the movie. Best bit was in the opening showing the old girl slicing through the waves. As for the rest? (How would Gary Busey ever get a Naval commission? Talk about suspending belief!. Oh yeah, there was a music video wasn't there? How soon one blocks out painful memories!)

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    2. I remember thinking "this must be what those WWII guys in the Pacific dealt with." Exceedingly grim. Later, I couldn't believe the crap investigation. Still can't. Have no inside dope, but the whole thing reeked of politics and I couldn't believe they would dishonor the memories of those men that way and for those reasons.

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    3. All politics all the time.

      It's what's wrong with the country.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)