Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Figure 1: USS Frank Knox (DDR-742) off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, at the conclusion of her FRAM II modernization, 25 April 1961. Note that hull numbers painted on her bow have not yet had countershading applied. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Frank Knox (DDR-742) off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, at the conclusion of her FRAM II modernization, 25 April 1961. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Frank Knox (DDR-742) off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, at the conclusion of her FRAM II modernization, 25 April 1961. Note that variable-depth sonar (VDS) gear has not yet been installed on her fantail. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Frank Knox (DDR-742) off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, at the conclusion of her FRAM II modernization, 25 April 1961. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Frank Knox (DDR-742) underway off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, 25 April 1961, at the conclusion of her FRAM II modernization. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Frank Knox (DDR-742) comes alongside USS Coral Sea (CVA-63), while operating at sea on 2 May 1964. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Frank Knox (DDR-742) aground on Pratas Reef, in the South China Sea, July 1965. Official US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Frank Knox (DDR-742) aground on Pratas Reef, South China Sea, in July 1965. An H-34 type helicopter is hovering over her bow to evacuate crewmen. This was the only safe method of transportation to and from the stranded ship during the rough seas that persisted during most of the several weeks of salvage operations that finally freed Frank Knox. Official US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Frank Knox (DDR-742) aground on Pratas Reef, South China Sea, with several ships attempting to pull her off. She went aground on 18 July 1965. This view was probably taken at about the time she was finally refloated on 24 August 1965. Ships pulling are (from left to right): Grapple (ARS-7), Conserver (ARS-39), Sioux (ATF-75), Greenlet (ASR-10) and Cocopa (ATF-101). Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Frank Knox (DD-742) underway near Hawaii, January 1969. Official US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Frank Knox (DD-742) underway off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii, 15 January 1969. Official US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: The Greek warship HNS Themistocles (D-210), ex-USS Frank Knox (DD -742), place and date unknown. Courtesy Anthony J. Vrailas. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 13: The Greek warship HNS Themistocles (D-210), ex-USS Frank Knox (DD -742), place and date unknown. Courtesy Panagiotis Moschovitis. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 14: Newspaper clipping of the sinking of HNS Themistocles (D-210), ex-USS Frank Knox (DD -742). The ship was sunk as a target by the Greek Navy on 12 September 2001. Click on photograph for larger image. Courtesy Ed Zajkowski. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named in honor of Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox (1874-1944), USS Frank Knox (DD-742) was a 2,425-ton Gearing class destroyer that was built by the Bath Iron Works at Bath, Maine, and was commissioned on 11 December 1944. The ship was approximately 390 feet long and 41 feet wide, had a top speed of 34 knots, and had a crew of 336 officers and men. Frank Knox was armed with six 5-inch guns, 12 40-mm guns, 11 20-mm guns, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, and depth charges, although this armament changed dramatically while she was in service with the US Navy.
After completing her shakedown cruise along both coasts of the United States, Frank Knox was sent to the western Pacific and arrived there in mid-June 1945, just in time to participate in the final carrier air raids on the Japanese home islands as part of Task Force 38. The ship was present in Tokyo Bay when Japan formally surrendered on 2 September 1945 and stayed in the Far East until early February 1946, when she returned to her home port at San Diego, California. Frank Knox completed another two deployments in the Far East in 1947 and 1948 and on 18 March 1949 the ship was re-designated DDR-742 because of her radar capabilities.
After the start of the Korean War on 25 June 1950, Frank Knox set sail again for the Far East on 6 July and joined the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet upon arriving off the coast of Korea. The ship was attached to the Seventh Fleet’s fast carrier task forces which were pounding North Korean targets on an almost daily basis with their aircraft. During this deployment, Frank Knox participated in the amphibious assault on Inchon, bombarded numerous shore targets, patrolled the Taiwan Straits, and on 30 January 1951, was part of a fake invasion of the North Korean coast. This diversion was so successful that communist troops were rushed to protect the coastline, when they could have been used against real allied forces in central Korea. Frank Knox also spent 40 straight days bombarding rail centers on Korea’s east coast, as well as using her guns to cut enemy supply and communications routes.
Frank Knox returned to San Diego on 11 April 1951. The ship patrolled America’s west coast and the Hawaiian Islands until 19 April 1952, when she was sent back to Korea. As was the case during her first deployment to Korea, Frank Knox bombarded shore targets, including spending several weeks in Wonsan Harbor giving fire support to US minesweepers that were in the area. Frank Knox returned to San Diego on 18 November 1952. In 1953, the destroyer was sent back to Korea and her deployment coincided with the armistice that halted the war. But the ship continued patrolling the coast of Korea after the war ended and she was given the unique task of escorting transports carrying former Chinese prisoners of war to Taiwan. Evidently, these prisoners chose to go to Taiwan rather than to return to mainland communist China.
For the rest of the 1950s, Frank Knox deployed regularly with the Seventh Fleet, returning back home to San Diego for occasional overhauls. From 1960 to 1961, the ship was modernized under the “Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization” (FRAM) II program, which gave her updated radars and other new equipment. Frank Knox was based in the Far East from late 1961 until mid-1964, before returning to the United States. The ship’s next deployment occurred in June 1965, when she briefly served off the coast of Vietnam. Frank Knox patrolled off the coast of Vietnam and provided naval gunfire support when needed.
But while steaming at 16 knots in the South China Sea on 18 July 1965, Frank Knox ran hard aground on Pratas Reef, some two hundred miles east of Hong Kong. A major salvage effort was immediately launched to save the ship, with the tugs Munsee, Cocopa, and Sioux, the submarine rescue ship Greenlet, and the salvage ships Grapple and Conserver all coming to assist Frank Knox. Although the destroyer was not severely damaged by the grounding, several attempts to pull the ship off the reef between 20 July and 2 August were unsuccessful. The ship also was pushed harder onto the rocks by the waves from two typhoons that passed through the area. Frank Knox was now severely battered and holed, with machinery spaces flooded and her hull structure weakened.
Conventional hole patching and water-removal methods proved inadequate to help the destroyer, so plastic foam was pumped into the flooded compartments. This pushed out the water and increased the buoyancy of the ship. The weakened hull also needed to be reinforced by welding stiffeners to the main deck. Explosives were used to break up the coral around the ship, but this only further damaged the hull, increasing the need for more foam. Another attempt was made to pull the ship off the reef on 11 August, but this attempt also failed.
The salvage tackle to Frank Knox was re-rigged, more weight was removed from the ship, and pontoons were attached to the destroyer’s hull in an attempt to make her even more buoyant. More foam was pumped into the ship and the destroyer USS Cogswell arrived on the scene to assist in the salvage effort. Another attempt on 22 August to pull the ship off the reef produced some favorable results, but Frank Knox was still stuck. Then on 24 August 1965, Frank Knox was finally pulled off the reef, nearly six weeks after running aground. It was an amazing salvage effort that was conducted in a very difficult environment. But at last the ship was free and Frank Knox was towed to Japan for repairs.
After spending more than a year at Yokosuka, Japan, undergoing some very extensive repairs, Frank Knox was ready to re-join the fleet in November 1966. She returned to the Seventh Fleet and was deployed, once again, off the coast of Vietnam. The ship completed numerous naval gunfire support missions and was given patrol and escort duties as well. On 1 January 1969, Frank Knox was given back her old designation of DD-742 and she completed her final deployment in November of 1970. USS Frank Knox was decommissioned on 30 January 1971 and was transferred to the Greek Navy several days later. Renamed Themistocles, the ship was in excellent shape because of the extensive overhaul she received in Japan a few years earlier. The ship went on to serve another 20 years in the Greek Navy before being placed out of commission in the early 1990s. The old warship was sunk as a torpedo target for the Greek submarine Kyklon on 12 September 2001. This was a sad end to a fine ship that served in three wars, two navies, and endured one of the most incredible salvage operations of all time.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Figure 1: USS Mindanao (PR-8) circa June 1928 undergoing sea trials. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Mindanao (PR-8), date and place unknown. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after the second largest island in the Philippines, USS Mindanao (PG-48) was one of six American gunboats built by the Kiangnan Dockyard and Engineering Works in Shanghai, China. Commissioned on 10 July 1928, Mindanao was part of the US Asiatic Fleet and was built specifically for patrolling China’s Yangtze River. American ships that were assigned to the Yangtze were part of the famous “Yangtze Patrol,” which existed for almost 90 years. The 560-ton Mindanao was approximately 210 feet long, had a beam of 31 feet, but only had a draft of 5 feet 7 inches, making her ideal for steaming in some of the shallower waters of the Yangtze. She was armed with two 3-inch guns and ten .30-caliber machine guns, and had a top speed of 16 knots. Mindanao also had a complement of 65 officers and men.
Although designated PG-48 when she was under construction, Mindanao was re-designated PR-8 when commissioned on 10 July 1928. The gunboat left Shanghai on 28 July 1928 and conducted her shakedown cruise up the Yangtze River and reached Chungking and Wansien before returning to Shanghai on 31 August. Mindanao continued steaming up and down the Yangtze River on convoy and patrol duty until 28 December, when she returned to Shanghai for an overhaul. The overhaul was completed by 21 March 1929 and Mindanao returned to her patrol duties up the Yangtze River, occasionally returning to Shanghai to protect American lives and property in that politically unstable city. On 2 May, Mindanao steamed to Hong Kong and then Canton, arriving there on 14 June. After her arrival, Mindanao was made flagship of the South China Patrol Force of the US Asiatic Fleet. For more than 12 years, Mindanao remained in that area patrolling the southern coast of China while based alternately at Hong Kong and Canton. Her primary duties included protecting American interests in the area as well as fighting piracy, which was a major problem at that time in China. By October 1938, after Japan had invaded southern China and seized Canton, Mindanao’s primary function was to not only protect American citizens, but to also enforce America’s neutrality in China by not taking an active role or choosing sides in the Sino-Japanese conflict.
On 2 December 1941, with the situation in China deteriorating and war between Japan and the United States imminent, Mindanao received orders to leave Hong Kong and sail to the Philippines. This was no small trip for a shallow-draft gunboat like Mindanao, which had rudders and propellers almost at the water’s surface. But the ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Alan Reed McCracken, had to make do with what he had. The tug Ranger, from the Luzon Stevedore Company, was ordered to escort Mindanao to Manila in the Philippines. So McCracken did everything in his power to make the ships ready for the journey. According to an article written by A.B. Feuer for Sea Classics Magazine (September 2006), McCracken stated that:
“Heavy spare parts, which had been stowed ashore, were packed on board the Ranger, along with 800 rounds of 3-inch shells. Other machinery was lashed to the fantail of the Mindanao to help keep her stern down and her propellers underwater. The gunboat was also loaded with a quarter-million rounds of .30-caliber ammunition. We had stored six-months’ supply of food staples in Hong Kong. Half of this amount was brought aboard the ship, while the remainder was left at the disposal of the American Consul General, Mr. Southard.”
The ship also had no life rafts for the trip. Fortunately, a Chinese boat yard, working throughout the night, was able to build four rafts for Mindanao. By the early morning of 4 December 1941, Mindanao was finally ready to leave. Ranger wasn’t ready, though, but it was thought the faster tugboat wouldn’t have any problems catching up to the much slower gunboat.
Once leaving Hong Kong harbor, though, the weather deteriorated rapidly. Heavy seas and severe winds made it almost impossible for the little ship to go anywhere. Commander McCracken stated, “Our course put us in the trough of the water, and the ship tossed so violently that it appeared the engines might loosen from their mountings. Therefore, we turned to an easterly direction, on the assumption that the weather would abate sufficiently in a few days so that we would be able to resume a direct route to Luzon.” Mindanao rode the top of every wave, not daring to plunge her small bow into the sea for fear of sinking the ship. Mindanao’s radio operator tried to contact Ranger and let her know that the gunboat had changed course because of the weather, but no one could be reached. Then the weather got worse, and Mindanao had to make numerous course changes simply to keep the ship from being crushed by the huge waves. After three days of being pounded by the ocean, McCracken decided to change course again, this time to head back to the Chinese mainland and calmer waters.
On Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, Mindanao reached Swatow, China. But by that afternoon, McCracken tried once again to head for Luzon in the Philippines. By this time the sea had moderated a bit, but the ship still had to deal with some heavy rolling. On Monday morning, 8 December, Mindanao received word that a state of war existed between the United States and Japan. McCracken prepared his ship for battle and continued his journey to the Philippines. That same day, Mindanao spotted a 60-foot Japanese fishing boat and decided to board her. After overtaking the trawler, a boarding party was sent on board the vessel to inspect it. The Americans found bundles of military uniforms hidden in the fishing boat’s holds, so McCracken decided to capture the ship as a prize of war. The 10 crewmen of the fishing boat were brought on board Mindanao, the first Japanese prisoners captured during the war. Mindanao took the fishing boat in tow for possible use as a harbor patrol craft, but the Japanese ship wallowed behind them and soon became too difficult to tow. McCracken made the difficult decision to cut the boat adrift, losing their prize.
On 10 December 1941, Mindanao reached the Philippines and anchored in Manila Bay. The Japanese prisoners were quickly placed on shore. Two other American river gunboats, USS Luzon (PR-7) and USS Oahu (PR-6), had already arrived. Mindanao was assigned to inshore patrol duties in Manila Bay and a few days later took turns with the other two gunboats in patrolling the waters east of Bataan at night. But, by the end of March 1942, the severe fuel shortage in the Philippines forced an end to these patrols. Mindanao then was assigned to guard against any Japanese boats or landing barges heading for the American island fortress of Corregidor. On the afternoon of 25 March, the US gunboats intercepted nine Japanese landing barges and turned them back. On the night of 6 April, Mindanao and Luzon intercepted 11 Japanese small boats or barges heading for Bataan. Both gunboats immediately opened fire and sank four of the Japanese boats, while damaging several others.
But on 9 April 1942, American and Filipino forces had given up Bataan peninsula and now a last stand was made on Corregidor. With no fuel left and little ammunition, Mindanao was docked at Corregidor and its crew was ordered to Fort Hughes on Caballo Island to man four large 12-inch mortars that were built around 1912. After a little practice, Mindanao’s crew soon became rather proficient at using the mortars. But the Japanese were preparing a major assault and time was running out for all of the Americans on Corregidor. Mindanao was stripped of any useful gear that was on board the ship for use by the sailors who were still fighting on land. On 2 May 1942, USS Mindanao was badly damaged by some bombs dropped by Japanese aircraft. The tough little ship was allowed to sink rather than let her be captured by the oncoming Japanese. Many of Mindanao’s crew was captured on Corregidor and a few managed to survive the war. One of those lucky survivors was Lieutenant Commander McCracken. He received the Navy Cross for his actions on board Mindanao and he retired from the US Navy a Rear Admiral. As for Mindanao, she received one battle star for her service during World War II.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Figure 1: USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) commissioning ceremonies on the destroyer's after deck, 6 April 1945. Taken at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: The National Ensign is raised during USS Everett F. Larson's (DD-830) commissioning ceremonies, 6 April 1945. Taken at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830), date and place unknown. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Istanbul, Turkey. Sixth Fleet warships anchored off the city during a "good will" visit, 2 March 1950. Note Navy personnel on the landing in left center, with United States and Turkish flags flying nearby. Ships present are (from left to right): USS Glennon (DD-840); USS Charles R. Ware (DD-865); USS Newport News (CA-148); USS Everett F. Larson (DDR-830); and USS Midway (CVB-41). Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Gherardi (DMS-30), USS Kenneth D. Bailey (DD-713), USS Murray (DD-576), USS Benner (DD-807) and USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) in Algiers, 20 May 1954. Courtesy Larry Bohn. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) in August 1957, location unknown. Courtesy Ed Zajkowski. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Everett F. Larson (DDR-830) underway in May 1958. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Everett F. Larson (DDR-830) on 5 October 1960 at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Courtesy Ed Zajkowski. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) comes alongside USS Mispillion (AO-105) to refuel, during operations in the Gulf of Tonkin, October 1967. Photographed by PH1 Don Grantham, USN. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) underway off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii, 16 April 1969. Photographed by PH2 G.W. MacDonald, USN. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: Loss of USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754), 3 June 1969. Frank E. Evans's stern section tied up alongside USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830), after she was cut in two in a collision with the Australian aircraft carrier Melbourne. The ships were participating in Southeast Asian Treaty Organization exercises in the South China Sea when the collision occurred. Photographed by PH2 Robert Green, USN. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: Loss of USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754), 3 June 1969. Frank E. Evans's stern section tied up alongside USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830), after she was cut in two in a collision with the Australian aircraft carrier Melbourne. The ships were participating in Southeast Asian Treaty Organization exercises in the South China Sea when the collision occurred. Photographed by PH2 J.C. Borovoy, USN. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 13: Loss of USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754), 3 June 1969. SH-3 helicopters from USS Kearsarge (CVS-33) join search-and- rescue operations over the stern section of USS Frank E. Evans, as USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) stands ready to offer assistance (at right). A Royal Australian Navy frigate is also present. Frank E. Evans was cut in two in a collision with the Australian aircraft carrier Melbourne during Southeast Asian Treaty Organization exercises in the South China Sea. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 14: USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) fires her forward 5-inch guns while supporting South Vietnamese troops in Vietnam's Military Region One, 1972. Photographed by PH1 C.R. Pedrick, USN. This image was received by the Naval Photographic Center in May 1972. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 15: Republic of Korea (ROK) Jeong Buk (DD-916) (ex-USS Everett F. Larson, DD-830) as a museum ship at the Gangneung Unification Park, Gangneung, South Korea, on 1 November 2007. Courtesy Robert Hurst. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after Everett Frederick Larson (1920-1942), a decorated Marine who was killed on Guadalcanal, USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) was a 2,425-ton Gearing class destroyer that was built by the Bath Iron Works at Bath, Maine, and was commissioned on 6 April 1945. The ship was approximately 390 feet long and 41 feet wide, had a top speed of 35 knots, and had a crew of 367 officers and men. Everett F. Larson was armed with six 5-inch guns, 12 40-mm guns, 11 20-mm guns, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, and depth charges.
Shortly after being commissioned, Everett F. Larson was converted into a radar picket ship and sent to the Pacific in August 1945, several weeks before Japan surrendered. The ship arrived at Tokyo Bay, Japan, on 29 September 1945, after the war ended, and spent the next fifteen months in the Far East, assisting in the occupations of both China and Japan. Everett F. Larson returned to the United States in late 1946 and arrived at San Diego, California, on 21 December. She then was sent to her new home base at Newport, Rhode Island, where she arrived on 19 March 1947 to join the US Navy’s Atlantic Fleet.
While serving with the Atlantic Fleet, Everett F. Larson was re-designated DDR-830 in March 1949 because of her radar capabilities. She made seven deployments to the Mediterranean and was active in numerous Atlantic Fleet operations and training exercises. The ship also participated in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercises off the eastern coast of the United States and in the Caribbean as well.
In June 1956, Everett F. Larson returned to the Pacific and remained there for the rest of her career. She completed four Far Eastern deployments between March 1957 and March 1961. During the last six months of 1962, Everett F. Larson was modernized as part of the “Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization” (FRAM) II program, which replaced her distinctive radar features with a mostly new superstructure that contained a hangar for DASH helicopter drones. The ship also received some new anti-submarine weapons and was once again designated DD-830 after the overhaul was completed.
From 1963 to 1970, Everett F. Larson was sent to the western Pacific on an annual basis. From 1965 until the end of her career, the ship used her 5-inch guns to bombard targets along the coast of Vietnam. During the war in Vietnam, Everett F. Larson also served as a plane guard for aircraft carriers, patrolled in the Sea of Japan for several weeks in January 1968 during the famous Pueblo Crisis, and participated in numerous training exercises involving US warships and those from allied navies in the region. During one such exercise on 3 June 1969, Everett F. Larson came to the rescue of the destroyer USS Frank E. Evans after that ship was cut in two in a terrible collision with the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne. Seventy-four American sailors were killed when the bow section of Frank E. Evans sank after the collision. Everett F. Larson assisted in salvaging the stern section of the ship, which was later brought to the Philippines and sunk as a target in Subic Bay on 10 October 1969.
In 1971 and 1972, Everett F. Larson made two final deployments with the Seventh Fleet off the coast of Vietnam. The ship returned to the United States in July 1972. USS Everett F. Larson was decommissioned at the end of October 1972 and was transferred to the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy. The ship was renamed Jeong Buk (DD-916) and was initially “on loan” to South Korea. But South Korea must have liked the ship, because it remained in the ROK’s Navy for nearly three decades. Jeong Buk was finally retired in 2000 and was converted into a museum ship at the Gangneung Unification Park, Gangneung, South Korea. The ship remains there to this day. It is a fitting tribute to a fine warship that was originally commissioned into the US Navy in 1945.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Figure 1: Polish destroyer ORP Burza before being launched, 16 April 1929. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: Polish destroyers ORP Burza (B) and ORP Wicher (W) at Kiel, Germany, in 1935. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: Polish destroyer ORP Burza in Great Britain in 1940. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Polish destroyer ORP Burza during World War II. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: Polish destroyer ORP Burza during World War II. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: Polish destroyer ORP Burza as a museum ship in Gdynia, Poland, in the 1960s. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: Polish destroyer ORP Burza as a museum ship in Gdynia, Poland, in 1962. Click on photograph for larger image.
ORP (which is the Polish acronym for “Ship of the Polish Republic”) Burza (which means storm or thunderstorm) was a 1,400-ton Wicher class destroyer that was built by the French shipbuilder Chantiers Navals Francais at Caen, France. The ship was commissioned on 10 July 1932, nearly six years after work started on the project. Burza was approximately 350 feet long and 34 feet wide, had a top speed of 34 knots, and had a crew of 162 officers and men. Burza was armed with four 5.1-inch guns, one 76-mm gun, two 40-mm guns, four 13.2-mm machine guns, eight 12.7-mm machine guns, three torpedo tubes, two depth-charge launchers, and two depth-charge throwers, although this armament varied slightly during World War II.
After being completed in France in 1932, Burza officially joined the Polish Navy and steamed to her new home port at Gdynia, Poland. During the next few years, Burza and her sister ship Wicher (namesake of the destroyer class) visited countries in northern Europe, including Sweden, Finland, Russia, Denmark, and Germany. Seeing that the political situation with Germany was deteriorating in the summer of 1939, the Polish government executed the “Peking Plan” on 30 August. Under this plan, the Polish destroyers Burza, Blyskawica, and Grom were ordered to sail to England before they could be either sunk or captured by the German Navy. The ships arrived in England on 1 September 1939, the day Poland was invaded by Germany. The British destroyers HMS Wanderer and HMS Wallace escorted the Polish ships to their new home port at Rosyth, England, where Burza received her new designation number, H 73.
On 7 September 1939, Burza, Blyskawica, and Grom attacked the German submarine U-27 near South Uist, located off the coast of Scotland. The U-boat got away, but this was the first of many attacks on German submarines Burza was involved in. After undergoing an overhaul in October 1939, Burza returned to active duty and for the next few months joined British Royal Navy vessels in patrolling the waters around England. On 4 April 1940, Burza was part of a small British/Polish task force sent to patrol the North Sea. It was later ordered to intercept the German amphibious force that invaded Norway on 9 April. Although they never located the German invasion force, the three Polish destroyers Burza, Blyskawica, and Grom were ordered to join the British destroyer HMS Tartar and escorted Convoy HN-24, a group of 31 merchant ships that escaped from Norway to England, some of them carrying gold possessed by the Norwegian government. The convoy reached Britain without any losses.
Burza continued to participate in the ill-fated defense of Norway against the Germans in May of 1940. On 1 May 1940, Burza reached the Norwegian port of Harstad and participated in the anti-aircraft defense of that port. On 5 May, Burza provided anti-aircraft cover for Allied merchant ships off Skaaland, Norway. Although German planes attacked Skaaland 11 times, few ships were damaged as a result of those attacks. On 8 May, Burza was once again assisting in the defense of Harstad. Two bombs were dropped from German planes which exploded near the ship. No major damage, though, was sustained by Burza. On 10 May 1940, Burza was ordered to leave Norway and steamed back to England.
After the Germans invaded France in May 1940, Burza was assigned to several missions off the coast of that nation. On 24 May 1940, Burza joined the British destroyers HMS Vimiera and HMS Wessex and shelled German positions in the Calais area. While attacking a position just west of Calais, the three destroyers were suddenly attacked by 27 German aircraft. The German planes bombed and sank Wessex and then turned their attention to Burza. Three bombs exploded close to Burza, which inflicted some boiler damage and a reduction in the ship’s speed. But then two bombs made a direct hit on Burza, causing some serious damage. But the ship’s anti-aircraft fire was effective (one of the attacking aircraft was shot down by Burza), so the German planes broke off the attack and returned to base. Fortunately, Burza was able to limp back to Dover, England, for temporary repairs.
After spending several months being repaired at Portsmouth, England, Burza was assigned to escort coastal convoys. On 26 October 1940, Burza assisted in the rescue of survivors from the large British ocean liner Empress of Britain, which had been heavily damaged by a German bomber. Burza rescued 254 men from the ship before it was sunk by a German U-boat. But on 26 October 1940, Burza was involved in a collision with the British anti-submarine warfare (ASW) trawler HMS Arsenal in a very dense fog. Arsenal was sunk in the collision, while Burza suffered some serious damage to her bow. The destroyer was able to make it back to port, but had to undergo substantial repairs over the next few months.
After the repairs to Burza were completed by the end of July 1941, the ship was assigned to escort convoys between England and Canada. Burza successfully escorted numerous convoys and there were many confrontations with deadly German U-boats. On 3 December 1942, Burza was attached to the escort group for convoy HX-217 that was sailing from Canada to Britain. On the night of 7 December, the convoy was attacked by several U-boats, or what was known as a “wolf pack.” Burza managed to attack four U-boats that evening. Using her sonar, Burza attacked the first submarine with depth charges, dropping roughly ten of them on the U-boat. The attack must have scared off the U-boat, because it retreated from the area. Burza spotted the second U-boat not far away steaming on the surface. The destroyer charged at the U-boat, but the submarine, after spotting Burza, dove quickly. Burza dropped another depth charge pattern over the U-boat, but then lost contact with the submarine. Later that night, Burza’s sonar picked up yet another submarine contact. After a brief pursuit, contact was lost. Then, a few minutes later, another submarine was detected, but this time the U-boat was steaming on the surface just a few hundred yards away from the ship. Burza turned toward the submarine and tried to ram it, but the U-boat managed to dive before Burza reached it. Burza again dropped ten depth charges over where the submarine was thought to be, but no official “kill” was scored by the Polish destroyer. During this battle, two merchant ships were sunk and two U-boats were destroyed. The balance of Burza’s convoy reached England on 14 December.
Perhaps Burza’s most famous convoy battle occurred on 22 February 1943. Burza was part of the escort group for convoy ON-166 headed from Ireland to Canada. The flagship of the escort group was the US Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Spencer and commanding the escort group on board this ship was Captain Paul Heineman, USN. Heineman was probably the best escort commander the Americans had and Spencer’s commanding officer, Commander H.S. Berdine (USCG), was one of the best escort captains of the war, credited with sinking two U-boats and damaging several others. This was truly an international escort group. Along with Spencer, there was the USCGC Campbell, one British corvette, four Canadian corvettes, and the Polish destroyer Burza. These eight Allied warships were responsible for escorting 63 merchant ships.
The battle for convoy ON-166 actually started on 21 February 1943, with a German wolf pack of approximately seven submarines attacking the merchant ships late that night. Spencer spotted a U-boat approximately 5,000 yards away and attacked it. The U-boat dove to escape the attack, but Spencer quickly dropped a massive pattern of depth charges on the submarine. The resulting explosions tore the submarine to pieces and U-225 went down with all hands. Meanwhile, Campbell had seriously damaged one unknown U-boat with depth charges and was attacking yet another, U-606. Campbell lost contact with U-606, but then Burza regained contact on the night of 22 February. Burza really took the fight to U-606, dropping a large number of depth charges on the U-boat and severely damaging it. Although Burza then lost contact with U-606, the U-boat was forced up to the surface. Incredibly, the U-boat surfaced not far from Campbell, which was nearby. Campbell’s skipper, Commander James A. Hirshfield, saw the U-boat and gave the order to ram the German submarine as all available guns on board the cutter opened fire on the surfaced U-boat. But the submarine turned just before Campbell could hit it. As a result, the U-boat’s hydroplanes sliced into the Coast Guard cutter, cutting a 15-foot gash in Campbell’s engine room, just below the waterline. Campbell continued pouring 5-inch, 3-inch, and 20-mm gunfire into the submarine. The crew of the now sinking U-boat abandoned ship and U-606 eventually sank. But Campbell was in bad shape, too. Her engine room was almost flooded and the cutter was dead in the water.
Two hours after Campbell’s collision with U-606, Burza arrived on the scene and began patrolling around the stricken cutter, guarding it like a sheep dog guards an injured lamb. Several of the U-boat’s crewmen were picked up by a lifeboat from Campbell and another seven men were rescued by Burza. The next morning, Burza offered to tow Campbell to Newfoundland, Canada, but Commander Hirshfield did not accept the offer. In his opinion, “They would be two sitting ducks rather than one.” Burza radioed for a tug and an escort for Campbell, but was informed that a tug would not arrive for three days. Burza’s captain then offered to take off some of Campbell’s crewmen as a precaution in case the cutter sank before help could arrive. Commander Hirshfield agreed and transferred 112 members of Campbell’s crew to Burza. The Polish destroyer continued guarding Campbell until she was relieved by a Canadian corvette the next day. Burza then left for Newfoundland, along with a number of survivors she had picked up from some sunken merchant ships. There were more than 400 men on board Burza and she was getting very low on fuel. By the time she finally arrived at St. John’s, Newfoundland, Burza had almost no fuel left. Campbell was finally towed to St. John’s by a tugboat while being escorted by two Canadian corvettes. The four ships finally made it to St. John’s nine days after Campbell’s confrontation with U-606.
Although Burza delivered its German U-boat survivors to the Canadian military authorities at St. John’s, some Polish ships may not have been so diligent in their duties. According to Captain John M. Waters’ book Bloody Winter (US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1967, p. 190), he states that, “The Poles were fierce fighters. After the rape of Poland, they had ample incentive. A story circulated among the escort forces about a Polish destroyer that picked up a number of survivors from a U-boat. When she arrived in port, none were on board. The author heard the tale from three different sources at the time. If there is any record to confirm the incident, it is well hidden.” One can only assume that the survivors from U-606 that were on board Burza were very fortunate indeed to not only have survived the battle, but also the trip to Canada.
Burza continued escorting convoys in the Atlantic throughout 1943 and even escorted one convoy to the Russian port of Murmansk. From January to March 1944, Burza was based at Gibraltar. In April 1944, the ship was sent back to England where she was used as a training ship and, in 1945, Burza was used as a submarine tender for Polish submarines. After the war was over, Burza was transferred to the British Royal Navy in 1946. In 1951, at the height of the Cold War, Burza was returned to the Polish Navy and towed to Gdynia in July. Burza was then completely overhauled and returned to active duty in the Polish Navy in 1955. In May 1960, Burza was converted to a museum ship and was docked at Gdynia. Unfortunately, the ship was scrapped in 1977, being replaced by ORP Blyskawica as the new museum ship in Gdynia.
Burza was a fine ship that had a tremendous career during World War II. Even though her homeland was overrun by the Germans, she continued the fight from Great Britain. It was a ship filled with spirit and tenacity and, as the men on board the stricken USCGC Campbell said of her, “She was the fightin’est ship they’d ever seen.”