Saturday, February 16, 2019


16 February 2019: Paul Allen is dead, but his legacy lives on and his research team continue to astound with new discoveries. Following is the latest report from R/S Petrel, Allen's research vessel which you may recall, discovered the wreckage of USS Indianapolis, USS Lexington, and the Japanese battleship Musashi. The continuing work by his team have illuminated naval history and ensures that the sacrifice of those who gave all is not forgotten. Following is the description of their most recent find, USS Hornet.


The late Paul Allen’s research team discovered the wreckage of World War II’s USS Hornet (CV-8), the aircraft carrier that launched the Doolittle Raid and participated in the Battle of Midway before being sunk in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands by Japanese dive bombers, torpedo planes and ship-launched torpedoes.

“Wreckage of the USS Hornet was discovered in late January 2019, 5,330 meters (nearly 17,500 feet) below the surface, resting on the floor of the South Pacific Ocean,” announced the team on Petrel.
 “We had the Hornet on our list of WWII warships that we wanted to locate because of its place in history as a capitol carrier that saw many pivotal moments in naval battles,” Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Vulcan, said in the announcement. “Paul Allen was particularly interested in aircraft carriers so this was a discovery that honors his memory,” Kraft said of Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen, who died last year.

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran, a naval aviator himself, said Tuesday morning that “Naval aviation came of age in World War II and American sailors today continue to look to and draw inspiration from the fighting spirit of ships and crews like USS Hornet (CV 8). Although her service was short-lived, it was meteoric. In the dark days following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, she and the Doolittle Raiders were the first Americans to punch back at Japan, giving hope to the nation and the world when things looked bleakest. 

She was there when the American Navy turned the tide in the Pacific at the Battle of Midway, and she was there when America started the long drive to Tokyo in the Solomon Islands. Mortally wounded during the vicious campaign at Guadalcanal and abandoned after all attempts to save her failed, she was finally sent below by the Japanese destroyers Akigumo and Makigumo. As America’s Navy once again takes to the sea in an uncertain world, Hornet‘s discovery offers the American sailor a timeless reminder of what courage, grit, and commitment truly look like. We’d be wise as a nation to take a long, hard look. I’d also like to thank the crew of Petrel for their dedication in finding and honoring her sacrifice.”

The crew of Allen’s ship, R/V Petrel, earlier this month announced the discovery of Japanese ship IJN Hiei on Feb. 6. Hiei was found near Hornet, both in the southern Solomon Islands. Petrel goes on expeditions and searches multiple known or expected wreckage sites in the same at-sea period, often announcing a cluster of discoveries in short succession. Last spring, the billionaire and his research team announced the discovery of carrier USS Lexington (CV-2), cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52) and cruiser USS Helena (CL-50) in March and April.

According to the Vulcan announcement, “The 10-person expedition team on the 250-foot R/V Petrel were able to locate the Hornet’s position by piecing together data from national and naval archives that included official deck logs and action reports from other ships engaged in the battle. Positions and sightings from nine other U.S. warships in the area were plotted on a chart to generate the starting point for the search grid. In the case of the Hornet, she was discovered on the first dive mission of the Petrel’s autonomous underwater vehicle and confirmed by video footage from the remotely operated vehicle, both pieces of equipment rated to dive down to 6,000 meters.”

In April 1942, just months after Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor, U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Doolittle launched the first retaliatory air raid on the Japanese homeland. Sixteen B-25 bombers launched from Hornet’s deck, hitting targets in Tokyo, Yokosuka, Yokohama, Kobe and Nagoya. Most of the aircraft crash-landed behind Japanese lines in China.
Hornet sank months later, in October 1942 in the Battle of Santa Cruz Island in a fight to push Japanese forces out of the southern Solomon Islands. Japanese dive bombers and torpedo planes fired heavily upon the carrier, setting fire to the ship and irreparably damaging the hull. Other nearby U.S. Navy ships attempted to rescue the crew, and destroyers USS Mustin (DD-413) and USS Anderson (DD-411) tried to scuttle Hornet with torpedoes and gunfire. Hornet still wouldn’t sink, and with more Japanese warships approaching the American destroyers fled the burning carrier. Japanese destroyers finally sank Hornet about 24 hours after the initial bombing of the carrier began.

A great story, pictures, and detective work! I am sure Petrel and her crew of committed men and women will continue to discover significant wrecks going forward.

Until next time, 

                                 Fair Winds, 
                                          Old Salt

Thursday, February 7, 2019


7 February 2019: It was in 1794 - tomorrow in fact. A convoy of 58 merchant ships of a variety of rigs, sailing ability, and managerial skill left Port Royal - yes, that den of piratical iniquity of which we were all made aware by Johnny Depp (Cap't Jack Sparrow) - under the escort of a single Royal Navy (British) frigate, HMS Convert. Their destination ultimately was the United Kingdom, but a few, bound for ports in the United States, had planned on leaving the convoy before it started to cross the Atlantic.

To collect all the ships, Convert made a couple of stops while still in Jamaican waters - some had come round the island from the north side - but finally, about the 6th of February, 1794, they were underway, having actually left Port Royal on 28th January.
The weather was not great, the convoy was spread out over literally miles of ocean, and delays were rife. Captain Lawford of Convert was frustrated with his charges but, nonetheless, shepherded them onwards, giving them strict instructions that no one was get ahead of Convert. To their ultimate undoing, several ranged ahead during the night of 7-8 February and with the help of an underestimated current running to the north, hit the reef off the East End of Grand Cayman Island. A very unforgiving bit of coral.
East End today does not look very different than in 1794
 One after the other, including the escorting frigate, HMS Convert, they fetched up "on the hard" at around 2 AM 8th February. When the sun rose that morning, it lit a truly melancholy sight: 7 ship rigged vessels (3 masts, square sails), 2 brigs (2 masts, mostly square sails) and Convert (ship rigged). None were salvageable. The spot they went on the hard was off one of the only sandy beaches at that end of the island; most of the shoreline is what is called "ironshore" - fosilized coral which is as unforgiving as the reef and really tough on one's feet, shod or otherwise. 
Of course, boats, both from the stricken ships and the island, carried the crews and passengers ashore and the ships, in the worsening weather, pounded themselves to matchwood, ultimately sinking. Part of Convert  washed over the reef where the water is only about 15 ft deep (the outside of the reef drops off to 8,000 ft). Islanders were as helpful as they could be to the folks ashore and helped in salvaging what could be salvaged from the wrecks. Amazingly, only a few people - less than ten - were lost.

The lagoon has been dived by archeologists who picked up some artifacts, now displayed in the Cayman Heritage Museum in George Town. Locals 100 years ago grabbed what they could, mostly cannon for display. Sadly, none were properly conserved and hence, are disintegrating little by little.

 The cannon shown here is marked as
1781 because that was when Convert was built. She was French and had been captured by the British only a few months before the convoy left Jamaica for England.

A monument, dedicated by Elizabeth II of England on the 200th anniversary of the disaster, stands on the bluff overlooking Gun Bay. Set in a stone monolith, here is the plaque commemorating the event.

Now I am sure you are all dying to learn more about this hallmark event in the history of the Cayman Islands, and I am pleased to tell you: you are in luck! There is a book out, available on Amazon in both physical form and digital form which tells the story of this tragedy in novel form. 
 Yep, that's it, right there to the left. And while I am being commercial, here's the link to Amazon where you can actually buy this fine piece of sea-faring literature:

     GUN BAY

OK, that's enough of the commercial. 

In any case, today, 8th February, is the anniversary - the 225th anniversary - of the Wreck of the Ten Sail, as it is still called today.

Until next time, 

                             Fair Winds,
                                 Old Salt

Sunday, February 3, 2019


3 February 2019: Here we are in February already! What happened to January? Seems like just last week it was Autumn with cool crisp days and bright skies! And then the reality of last week with the Arctic Vortex descending on North America vanished that image in a flash! 
Most people probably think the greatest maritime tragedy - in terms of lives lost - was the 15th April 1912 sinking of the Titanic following her run in with the iceberg. Yes, that was dreadful and 1600 men women and children died. But trumping that horrible tragedy was the sinking of a German cruise liner carrying civilians in the Baltic on 30 January 1945. From Cathryn Prince's 2013 book, Death in the Baltic, we offer a [somewhat edited] glimpse at that horrific event. 


On Jan. 30, 1945, history’s deadliest maritime disaster in peace or war occurred in the Baltic Sea. An estimated 10,000 people perished in the little-known incident that saw a Soviet submarine torpedo the German cruise ship Wilhelm Gustloff off Leba, Poland.

A Ship Named Gustloff
When Adolf Hitler launched the Wilhelm Gustloff from the seaside city of Hamburg on May 5, 1937, hundreds of German workers and Nazi party officials gathered to witness the spectacle.
Flags and swastika banners festooned the quay and arms raised in the notorious Heil Hitler salute as the ship sailed forth showing an uneasy world the full industrial might of Nazi Germany.
The 200-foot long, 25,000-ton vessel was named for Wilhelm Gustloff, the late head of the Swiss Nazi Party who was gunned down a year earlier by a Yugoslavian Jew named David Frankfurter. The Third Reich chose to pay tribute to one of its foremost leaders in the form of the 25-million Reichsmarks flagship for Nazi Germany’s Kraft durch Freude (KdF)  or “Strength Through Joy Fleet”.

The KdF was a subsidiary of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront or German Labor Front. Nazi trade union chief Robert Ley, who also had a liner named for him, helped establish the KdF as a means to provide amenities to the German working class and their families.
The Wilhelm Gustloff, like the Robert Ley and other liners in the fleet, was equipped with 22 lifeboats and featured 12 watertight transverse bulkheads. These measures were supposed to make the ship “absolutely secure.” (After the loss of the Titanic in 1912, no ship builder dared call any vessel, especially a cruise liner, “unsinkable.”)

Human Cargo
By January 1945, civilians living in Eastern Prussia were growing increasingly frantic. The Red Army was coming and few expected the invaders to offer any quarter to Germans. Fearing the Russian onslaught, Nazi admiral Karl Dönitz commanded his vessels to evacuated as many civilians and military personnel from the region as possible. It would prove to be one of the Kriegsmarine final major efforts of the war. Virtually every available surface ship in the German navy participated in the mission, dubbed Operation Hannibal. Even the Reich’s merchant fleet joined in the boat lift.

The Wilhelm Gustloff was just one of 800 vessels, from mighty cruise liners down to small fishing boats, assigned to carry passengers from the Gulf of Danzig that January. Eventually, more than two million civilians were taken off the Courland, East and West Prussia, Pomerania and parts of Mecklenburg between Jan. 23 and the end of the war in May. Aside from the large ports – Danzig, Gotenhafen, Königsberg, Pillau – throngs of civilians tried their luck from smaller ports and fishing villages.
On Jan. 30, more than 10,000 refugees had been crammed aboard Wilhelm Gustloff in Gotenhafen. They hoped the ship would take them to safety in Kiel, a German Naval Base across the Baltic Sea. Shortly after midday, the liner put to sea.

Surprise Attack
At around 8 p.m. that same evening, Hitler delivered a speech commemorating the 12th anniversary of the Nazi party’s rise to power. Radio stations throughout the Reich broadcast the event. On board the Wilhelm Gustloff, crewmen transmitted the speech live over the ship-wide PA system.
A short distance away, the commander of the Russian submarine S-13 had spotted the slow-moving liner and moved in for the kill. 

At 9 p.m. local time, just as the Fuhrer reached the end of his fevered address, Captain Marinesko ordered the S-13 to fire all four of her tubes at the German vessel. One of the torpedoes became lodged in the launching tube, its primer fully armed. The slightest jolt threatened to detonate the warhead, destroying the submarine. The crew gingerly disarmed the weapon, which had marked with the words “For Stalin”.

The other three torpedoes found their target. The first punched through the bow. The second blasted a hole near the swimming pool where 373 members of the Women’s Naval Auxiliary had taken refuge — most of the young women died instantly. The third torpedo struck the Wilhelm Gustloff amidships, near the engine room. The blast disabled the engines and cut the ship’s power. It also extinguished the lights and silenced the vessel’s communications system.
Over the next 90 minutes, the ship sank.

A 1996 Russian postage stamp commemorating the S-13. The sub’s captain, Alexander Ivanovich Marinesko, was posthumously made a hero of the Soviet Union in 1990 for his role in the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Death Toll
Today, the Wilhelm Gustloff lies on the sandy bottom of the Baltic Sea. Although the tally of dead and living wouldn’t come until years after the war, it’s now known that fewer than 1,000 survived. Almost six times as many men, women and children perished in the attack than were lost during the April 15, 1912 sinking of the Titanic. And so on Jan. 30, 1945 the Wilhelm Gustloff became the worst maritime disaster in history.

Truly a somber note, with so much on so many levels, to turn one's stomach....

Until next time, 
                                    Fair Winds. 
                                          Old Salt