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January 15th: Today's Focus: Operation Drumbeat, Northhampton-class, Dante Alighieri

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Large ships with a significant event on a January 15:


1892 - SMS Kaiserin Augusta - Kaiserin Augusta-class - Launched


1911 - SMS Radetzky - Radetzky-class - Austria-Hungary - Commissioned


1913 - RM Dante Alighieri - Dante Alighieri-class - Commissioned


1914 - HMS Royal Oak - Revenge-class - Laid down


1914 - HMS Royal Sovereign - Revenge-class - Laid down


1914 - SMS Karlsruhe - Karlsruhe-class - Commissioned


1918 - HMS Hermes - Hermes-class - Laid down


1930 - SMS Köln - Königsberg (1925) - Commissioned


1931 - USS Louisville - Northampton-class - Launched


1942 - USS Bogue - Bogue-class - Launched


1943 - USS Manila Bay - Casablanca-class - Laid down


1943 - USS Shangri La - Essex-class - 


1943 - ORP Dragon - D-class - Commissioned


1945 - USS Illinois - Iowa-class - Launched


1945 - HMS Vengeance - Colossus-class - Commissioned


1946 - USS Palau - Commencement Bay - Commissioned




Statistics on surface ships for January 15:


Allies: 46 laid down, 45 launched and 41 commissioned


Austria-Hungary: 1 commissioned (SMS Radetzky)


Germany: 1 launched (SMS Köln) and 1 commissioned (SMS Karlsruhe)


Italy: 1 commissioned (RM Dante Alighieri)







Today a few words about the only battleship named after a poet, the Italian Dreadnought Dante Alighieri, completed on this date 101 years ago.



The Poet



The Battleship (nice model!)


After HMS Dreadnought became known the Italian Navy paused in its building of battleships to assess the new environment. Finally in 1909 the first Italian dreadnought and the first battleship with triple gun turrets (she was designed and laid down first but completed later than the Austrian ship) was begun. She was designed along the principles put forth in an article in Jane’s of 1903 by the famous Italian ship designer General Vittorio Cuniberti . The triple turrets allowed the Italians to better the main gun count of HMS Dreadnought with twelve main guns to Dreadnought’s ten and with all the guns on the centerline the broadside her firepower was 50% greater than Dreadnought.



Gliding smoothly on half her boilers.


Her secondary battery was innovative in having eight of her 4.7” guns mounted in twin turrets. This feature would not be seen again in battleships for some years. The remaining guns of her secondary guns were mounted in the more usual main deck casemates. Like HMS Dreadnought she mounted 3” anti-torpedoboat guns on the main gun turret tops. Very low command for the casemate guns was a common flaw for many battleships of the time though in the Mediterranean this was less of a problem with the calmer seas found there.



A typically Italian ship in some respects, like most of her daughters and granddaughters she gave up a little armor for speed. Her main belt of 10” was light for the time and her designed top speed of 23 knots would have her fast enough to catch most of the world’s armored cruisers and win a race with any true battleship.  Sources seem to differ as to how her engines actually worked for getting her to the designed top speed of 23 knots. One source says 22.83 knots was all she could manage on trials. Another gives a little over 24 knots. She was designed and built with a third of her boiler exclusively oil fired. And regardless of the actual speed reached was counted as the “world’s Fastest Battleship” at the time she was commissioned. A title she was soon to lose to the British Queen Elizabeths.



Computer drawing that shows the layout.


While she was never to fire her guns in anger other than in a shore bombardment or two she gave the Italian Navy a good start into the dreadnought era.  Somewhat active during World War One she was never really in action.

She pioneered director fire control for the Italian Navy but the installation highlighted some of her flaws.

As a “first” she had a host of issues, like not quite reaching her designed speed (perhaps), that lead to her having a short working life, lasting only 15 years from her completion till she was scrapped. Part of the problem was her layout.  Cunibberti did not trust superimposed turrets so the turret layout dictated the internal layout of the ship. From the bow aft the important systems read:


Main gun turret – bridge – boilers/funnels – main gun turret – turbines –main gun turret – boiler/funnels – main gun turret – steering gear


This layout allowed the hull weights to be evenly spaced reducing stresses and there by the need for structural reinforcement. This allowed the large number of guns to be carried on a ship of less than 22,000 tons. However subsequent rapid advances in aircraft, torpedoes, engines, boilers, and more meant that her layout inhibited reconstruction necessary to keep her effective. For example, where does one place anti-aircraft guns so they don’t interfere with the main guns? That combined with significant budget problems in the run down to the world depression of the 20’s and 30’s lead her to the scrap yards in 1928 as the least combat effective battleship in Italy’s inventory. For the some of the same reasons the Leonardo Di Vinci and larger World War I prize vessels were also scrapped in the 20’s as well.

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Alpha Tester
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On January 15, 1931, USS Louisville, a Northampton-class was launched.  She was the third of a class of six cruisers to be commissioned between 1930 and 1931.  Let's go back in time for a moment.


The infamous treaties:

Between 1922 and 1930, a naval war raged, that didn't sink any ship, didn't invade any country, but dictated the (short) future of naval operations.  Give bureaucrats an office, some time, and someone to argue with, and they will come with all kind of definitions and nomenclatures that, they insist, will save the human race for the next thousand years.  So, in 1922, those bureaucrats came with new terminologies, such as what was a "capital ship" and what was not. When a displacement size was set at 10,000 tons for the aforementioned category, and after much arguing, they decided to take care of what was under 10,000 tons.  Admirals and navies would have been probably happy with just the term "cruiser", but it would have been too easy.  So, our masters of definitions decided to create two subdivisions: the heavy cruiser and the light cruiser.  The light cruiser had been present before these gentlemen decided to codify everything, but the concept of heavy cruiser was new.  A heavy cruiser would be a cruiser with guns of a caliber higher than 6.1 inches.  Of course, every nation applied the treaties the way they wanted.  Some respected it to the letter, some pretended to, and some just didn't care.


US heavy cruisers:

The United States waited until the late 1920s to build the first ship labeled as a heavy cruiser, USS Pensacola (CA-24).  I know what you will tell me, if she was the first, how come her hull number was CA-24?  Good question!  Ships with hull numbers below 24 were armored and protected cruisers still in active service.  The first one was USS Rochester (CA-2).  CA-1 was never used and neither were CA-20 to CA-23 (as well as a few other numbers before).



The Pensacola-class cruisers and all subsequent cruisers, up to USS Minneapolis received a double designation.  They first received a hull number starting with CL (reserved for light cruisers) until the London Treaty of 1930, when they were reclassified as heavy cruisers.


Treaty cruisers:

The first class of US heavy cruisers was the Pensacola-class.  Two of them were build, USS Pensacola (CL/CA-24) and USS Salt Lake City (CL/CA-25).  In an era where a ship design was replaced within a year or two, they offered the basis for today's focus class.  They were followed by the Northampton-class.



The Pensacola-class cruisers were laid down in 1925 and 1927, rapidly followed by USS Northampton, lead ship of the Northampton-class, laid down in 1928.  6 ships were built before, again very shortly after, a new class would appear: the Portland-class.


As mentioned earlier, the Northampton-class heavy cruisers were improved Pensacola-class ships.  The first thing that the Navy did was to change the superstructure to accommodate a scout aircraft hangar and to reduce the armament from 10 x 8-inch guns to 9.  Where the Pensacola-class cruisers had 4 turrets (2 x 2 and 2 x 3), the Northampton-class cruisers would only have 3 triple turrets.



Comparison between the two classes



Displacement: 9,200 tons - Length: 600 ft 3 in - Beam: 66 ft 1 in - Draft: 16 ft 4 in

Propulsion: 4-shaft Parsons turbines - 8 White-Forster boilers - 4 screws - 107,000 hp (80 MW) 

Speed: 32.5 knots - Complement: 1,100 - Officers: 105 - Enlisted: 995

Armament: 9 × 8-inch/55 caliber guns (3 × 3) - 8 × 5 inch/25 caliber guns - 6 × 21-inch torpedo tubes - 24 × 40 mm Bofors guns (4 × 4 ) - 28 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons

Armor: Belt 3-inch over machinery with 1-inch deck -- 3.75-inch side and 2-inch deck over magazines -- Barbettes 1.5" - Gunhouses 2.5" face - 2" roof - 0.75" side and rear

Aircraft carried: 2


All Northampton-class ships were fitted as either as Division or Fleet flagships.  USS Northampton, USS Louisville and USS Chester were built as Division flagships while USS Chicago, USS Houston and USS Augusta were fitted as Fleet flagships.


Compared to the Pensacola-class, the Northampton were longer and better armored, but not as well armed, although the Admiralty probably decided that 9 guns were more than enough.  The Northampton-class was originally built with torpedo tubes, which were eventually removed before the start of the war.  The number of aircraft in service was also reduced.  The Northamptons could have carried up to 6 aircraft, but on average, only 4 were on the ships.  The reasons behind that, beside the additional weight, was the capability to carry spare parts for only 4 aircraft.



Aviation platform on USS Houston (CA-30)


Northamptons in operation:

Of the six Northampton-class cruisers, 5 started the war in the Pacific while one, USS Augusta, was in the Atlantic.  


USS Augusta

She had the privilege (loved by Officers and probably hated by enlisted men) to become the President's flagship, and it is on her that he received Winston Churchill, who made his part of the trip onboard HMS Prince of Wales.  Something must have been special about her, as she was again selected to host General Omar Bradley during Operation Overlord and later on, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal.  Later on, she was again selected to carry President Truman during his trip to Europe in August 1945.





USS Augusta (CA-31) 


War losses:

Of the 6 Northampton-class cruisers built, 3 were lost.  I'll focus on their fate.


USS Houston:

The "Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast",  as she was nicknamed, served in the Pacific for the entire duration of her short war career.  Although I would only like to focus on her death, it is impossible not to speak about what happened the days before.


On February 26, 1942, the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) task force, of which CA-30 was part of, was tasked to intercept an incoming Japanese convoy suspected to invade Java.  The flotilla, consisting of HMS Houston, HMAS Perth, HNMS De Ruyter, HMS Exeter, HNMS Java and 10 destroyers was about to clas with Admiral Takagi's force, itself consisting of 4 cruisers and 13 destroyers.  


The two forces met in the afternoon and started with the Japanese cruisers launching a torpedo attack under cover from their destroyers' smokescreen, as was part of their doctrine.  The initial attack didn't product any result and was followed by another attack, this time from the Japanese destroyers, decimating the Allied task force.  Because the main orders were to intercept the convoy, HMS Houston and the remaining ships altered course, only to be intercepted again during the night.  Again, faithful to their doctrine, the Japanese used their cruisers and destroyers to launch devastating torpedo attacks, which resulted in the loss of HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java.  De Ruyters' loss was attributed to IJN heavy cruiser Haguro and Java's loss to IJN heavy cruiser Nachi.


[Note:  It is a pure coincidence dictated by the calendar that this article mentions the effectiveness of heavy cruisers' torpedo attacks a few days after the debate about the subject in another thread]


HMAS Perth and USS Houston, without any destroyer escort, continued their way to find the transport ships, which they reached the next day.  They headed into Banten Bay where they sank one of the transport ships and forced three other to beach themselves, just to find themselves trapped between the Japanese destroyers on one side of the strait and the Japanese heavy cruisers on the other side.  It is reported that during the action, the Japanese launched over 90 torpedoes.


HMAS Perth was the first to perish, followed on May 1 by USS Houston, victim of at least 4 torpedoes.  Survivors were interned into "labor" camps (a euphemism about the harsh conditions to which they were confronted, as displayed in the movie "The Last Stand of the USS Houston (Death becomes the Ghost".



USS Northampton:

On November 24, 1942, Admiral Halsey created Task Force 67 (TF67) around the heavy cruisers USS Minneapolis, USS New Orleans, USS Pensacola and USS Northampton.  To support them were the light cruiser USS Honolulu and the destroyers USS Fletcher, USS Drayton, USS Maury and USS Perkins.


On November 29, 1942, US intelligence reported that Admiral Tanaka was about to perform a supply run the day after.  TF67 was tasked to intercept the Japanese force, which it did on November 30.  Late that night, in what would then be known as the battle of Tassafaronga, the two forces met, first contact being established by the US destroyers.  The US ships were the first to open fire, focusing on the Japanese destroyer Takanami.  After a moment of indecision, the Japanese destroyers reacted and started their conventional torpedo attacks that proved again devastating.  Within ten minutes, three US cruisers were hit and forced to retire, leaving USS Northampton as the only US heavy cruiser to fight.  She soon became a target of choice and was hit by 2 torpedoes.  Despite the advantage of radar, US forces fell to superior Japanese night doctrine and training, losing 1 heavy cruiser and having 3 crippled for only 1 Japanese destroyer lost during the engagement.



USS Northampton next to USS Hornet at the battle of Santa Cruz


USS Chicago:

On January 27, 1943, USS Chicago left Nouméa (French New Caledonia) to escort a Guadalcanal-bound convoy as part of TF18.  Two days later, in what would later on be known as the battle of Rennell Island, she encountered her fate in the form of Japanese aircraft that had been led to the convoy by shadowing Japanese submarines.


The Japanese aircraft circled the convoy until dusk where they could be semi-obscured then launched a coordinated attack.  The Japanese leader divided his forces into two groups, with a first attack by 16 torpedo bombers not producing any result.  Because of obscurity, and despite radar, the US ships didn't pick the remaining 16 other aircraft that waited for their scout aircraft to fly in and illuminate the American formation, taking everyone by surprise.


This time, Japanese torpedoes found their mark, and 2 hit Chicago, stopping her, but not sinking her.  She would spend the night waiting some rescue and hoping to receive some air cover from Admiral Halsey's aircraft carriers.


The Japanese tried again to strike TF18 and were effectively chased away by US fighters, but they noticed that USS Chicago was trailing, almost unprotected.  In the afternoon of January 30, despite the efforts of US aircraft, they finally found their mark, hitting the cruiser 4 more times, who sank in 20 minutes.  Most of the crew was saved, but 62 men perished.



USS Chicago, January 30, 1943

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If you ask what the worst defeat in the history of the United States Navy was, you will usually hear something like Pearl Harbor or perhaps Savo Island. This is incorrect. The worst defeat in the history of the United States Navy took place off the Eastern Seaboard, from January 14th 1942 to late August.


The Germans called it Operation Drumbeat.


Starting with the sinking of the MV Norness off Long Island, 609 ships representing 3.1 million tons of shipping were sunk off the United States Eastern Seaboard, representing roughly a quarter of the entire amount of shipping sunk by the Uboatwaffe during the Second World War. The cost in lost lives, lost material, and lost time was immense. And it happened largely because the United States didn't bother trying to prevent it.


In April 1941, USS Nilblack had depth-charged a German submarine for maneuvering to set up a torpedo shot while Nilblack was recovering survivors from a Dutch freighter; since that point on the United States Navy and the Uboatwaffe had been having an undeclared war in the North Atlantic. The USN took a better sunk than sorry attitude towards German submarines, and the Germans were finally beginning to reply in kind by October; the torpedoing of USS Kearny and the sinking of USS Reuben James reflected the Uboatwaffe's growing frustration with the American neutrality-in-name-only.


Dönitz and his men seethed to strike back at the Americans. Yet as long as Hitler was avoiding war with them, they could not. A further complication was mechanical; only the large Type IX boats had the operational range to operate off the American coast, and only twenty of them were available in late 1941, with many of them committed to operations off Freetown and other parts of Central Africa at any one time. When the news came that Hitler was going to declare war, there was a mad scramble to find Type IX boats to reach the American shores for in the hopes of a “Happy Time” such as the Uboatwaffe had enjoyed against the unprepared British in 1940.


Eins Zwei Drei: U-123 manning her deck gun in January 1942, before her American patrols; while it was uncommon for U-boats to engage enemy ships with their deck guns, Eins Zwei Drei showed some skill with it in American waters.



They could only muster six, and one had to abort with mechanical troubles. That left U-66, U-109, U-123, U-125, and U-130. These were allocated to various areas off the American and Canadian coast. Intelligence was sparse; Reinhard Hardegen of U-123 recalled being given a pair of tourist guides of New York, one of which had a fold-out map of the harbor, as his only information on his assigned target area.


The Americans should not have been caught asleep at the switch. The seemingly-prescient Rodger Winn, across the Atlantic in the Royal Navy's Submarine Tracking Room, guessed the target when six Type IX boats went to sea together. The USN had recalled twenty-five modern destroyers from Atlantic Convoy Escort Command for duty against a possible U-boat offensive off the East Coast anticipating just what actually happened. The US Combined Operations and Intelligence Center warned the responsible commanders that the Germans were coming.


Torpedo Alley: SS Dixie Arrow sinking and afire off Cape Hatteras. She's now a very popular commercial dive site off Hatteras; I've personally been there.



But when the time actually came, nothing was done. The coasts were not blacked out. A convoy system was not instituted. Navigation lights ashore and afloat burned brightly. Hardegan sank the fully-illuminated Norness and lurked off New York attacking ships almost nightly for a week while a half-dozen US destroyers sat around at the New York Navy Yard doing nothing, finally departing the area because of reports of better hunting off the Carolina Banks rather than because the area was unsafe. Only U-125 found credible opposition, as the RCN had copied British practices; bedeviled by fog and RCN antisubmarine vessels, 125 sank only one ship. U-123 sank seven, U-130 sank six, U-66 sank five, and U-109 sank four ships in their stays off the American coast. The second wave and the third wave did equally well.


Torpedo Ally Redux: SS Pennsylvania Sun afire on July 15th 1941, after being torpedoed by U-571 (no really, there was a real U-boat named that). Pennsylvania Sun was saved and returned to service in 1943.



The British, while glad for the respite on the convoy lanes as the Germans began contriving ways for even Type VIIs to get in on the action, were aghast at the losses their ships were taking because of American malfeasance. The Navy managed to get authority to ask for blackouts...and promptly didn't. Admiral Earnest King himself resisted the mobilization of civilian aircraft and vessels to act as spotters or scare-tactic escorts and resisted the establishment of a convoy system using the means to hand, creating an odd reversal where the Royal Navy had to convince the United States Navy to implement convoys: a situation exactly the opposite of World War I. In the event, they very nearly did it without the USN: 24 ASW trawlers and 10 corvettes of the Royal Navy were sent to American waters in part to force Admiral King to stop claiming he did not have the ASW assets to hand to safely convoy ships. The Army Air Force resisted assisting the Navy mightily and it took intervention from George Marshall and through him the President to get them to cooperate.


Small ships and stout hearts: USCGC Icarus arriving at the Charleston Navy Yard on May 10th 1942 to offload survivors from the U-352, which she sank the previous day.



In April, a limited convoy system was introduced; losses in shipping immediately dropped. In May, USCGC Icarus, a 160-foot cutter, forcibly proved the value of small combatants by sinking U-352, and the convoy system was expanded. Civilian aircraft and small craft were mobilized as spotters or given light armament as scare-tactic escorts in direct reversal of previous policy; yacht clubs were all but drafted to man the new wooden-hulled subchasers that began coming off the ways; and a “dimout” (but never a full blackout) was finally ordered.


What the Uboatwaffe referred to as the Second Happy Time or the American Shooting Season finally ended around August, when Dönitz threw his effort back into the convoy battles. During the intervening months 22 U-boats had been lost off the Americas, a very small number considering much of the action had taken place off the Carolina Banks in water barely deep enough to submerge, much less avoid depth charging, in.


Dixie Arrow as she is today; like I said, the wreck is a very popular dive site.



The worst from the Royal Navy perspective was still to come in March 1943. But that is a story for another day.

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Stupid quota of positive points.  I'll hit you whenever I have one available, Capcon.


Fixed. +1

Edited by Ariecho

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