Saturday, September 26, 2020


 26 September 2020: Sorry the for the delay in posting - a few health issues in the office precluded getting this out in a timely manner. This post appeared recently in the NY Times and Navy Historical Foundation. And yes, it's another wreck story - but continuing in the tradition of the amazing number of WWII wrecks that have been discovered this year. 


In the murky waters of the Strait of Malacca, about 90 miles south of Phuket, Thailand, four divers discovered a World War II submarine that was scuttled 77 years ago, now teeming with marine life.

The wreckage, which is believed to be the U.S.S. Grenadier, was first located last October by the divers Jean Luc Rivoire, Lance Horowitz, Benoit Laborie and Ben Reymenants, the team announced this month.


Over the subsequent six months, the men — one of whom, Mr. Reymenants, assisted in the 2018 rescue of the boys’ soccer team that was trapped in a cave in northern Thailand — completed six carefully planned dives to study and identify the submarine, Mr. Horowitz, 36, said on Friday from Phuket.

After taking measurements of several parts of the submarine, including the hatches and capstans, and comparing them with technical drawings from the National Archives and Records Administration, the men felt confident that they had located the Grenadier, he said.

“It was as good as we were hoping for, really,” Mr. Horowitz said of the team’s $110,000 expedition. “I think a lot of people dream of finding, or discovering, or stumbling upon something that has some historical importance to it. It was a very powerful feeling; it was wonderful.”

The Grenadier, named after a deep-sea fish with a long body and a short, pointed tail, is more than 300 feet long and weighs 1,475 tons, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command, which is responsible for the preservation, analysis and dissemination of American naval history. The ship was found sitting upright more than 260 feet underwater, the divers said in a statement, adding that it was partly covered with fishing nets.


The next step for the divers is to have their findings verified by the naval history command. The data associated with each discovery — videos, photographs and measurements — is assessed against archival and historical records, according to Robert Neyland, the head of the command’s underwater archaeology branch. The process to verify this submarine would most likely take a few months, he added.

                                             USS Grenadier off New Hampshire 1941

“Confirming the identity of any potential discovery, as in the case of U.S.S. Grenadier, is a process that is given much weight by the U.S. Navy, as it not only affords legal protections to the site through the Sunken Military Craft Act, but the act can also provide closure to the families of those sailors lost in the line of duty,” Dr. Neyland said in an email.

Before the Grenadier met its demise, it sank six ships, according to the Navy.

On April 20, 1943, the submarine spotted two merchantmen and approached for an attack. The next day, while on the surface, the Grenadier spotted and was spotted by a Japanese plane. As the ship submerged itself for safety, it was shaken by bombs, the Navy recounted, forcing the submarine to plummet to 267 feet below the surface.

While the hull and hatches were badly leaking, a fire had also broken out, causing more chaos, Lt. Cmdr. John A. Fitzgerald and five other men later recounted.

In the early morning hours of April 22, two Japanese ships were spotted in the distance. Robert W. Palmer, one of the sailors aboard the Grenadier when it was struck, wrote in “The Silent Service in World War II” that the men then used several types of firearms, including 20-millimeter guns, rifles, pistols and Tommy guns, to fire at another plane, which ultimately dropped a bomb nearby.

Before scuttling the submarine, the men destroyed a coding machine with hammers, Mr. Palmer said, adding that the torpedo data computer and radio gear were all intentionally damaged by the crew. Documents, he said, were thrown overboard with weighted bags.

All 76 crew members survived the attack, but they faced an uncertain future.

After the skipper ordered all men into the water, they were picked up by a Japanese armed merchant ship, Mr. Palmer said. They were taken to a commandeered Catholic school in Penang, Malaysia, where they were tortured.

“Beating, burning, breaking fingers with bamboo or pencils between them were perpetrated on the men by Japanese soldiers who sneered and joked,” Mr. Palmer wrote. The captives were forced to sit or stand in silence in an attention position, he said: “Any divergence resulted in a gun butt, kick, slug in the face or a bayonet prick.” The crew’s Japanese captors also used tactics like pushing the blade of a pen knife under the fingernails to get the men to talk about their submarine, he wrote.

“This was the beginning of 28 and a half months of similar treatment for most all of the crew and officers alike,” he said. Four Grenadier crew members died in Japanese captivity.


An interesting tale, and sadly not unique in it's outcome. 

Until next time, 

                      Fair Winds. 

                          Old Salt

Friday, September 18, 2020


 18 September 2020: What a week we are finishing up (and no, not yet another 2020 disaster!). Rather, this one is, historically speaking, all good news! So without further ado (as the writers are wont to say) let's jump right in.

Last Monday,  14th September, was the 206th anniversary of the conclusion of the Battle of Baltimore. You may recall hearing, perhaps in a history class, that after the British basically captured and burned many buildings in our capital, Washington D.C., they left and sailed up the Chesapeake Bay to offer Baltimore the same treatment in the hope that a dispirited nation would throw in the towel (so to speak) and quit the war. Well, the folks in Baltimore had other ideas and ferociously defended their city both ashore on North Point and in the harbor at Fort McHenry. So, on the morning of 14 September 1814 following 25 hours of bombardment and sharp fighting ashore on North Point, the British admiral, Alexander Cochrane realized he could not win and withdrew, not only from the Baltimore Harbor, but from the Chesapeake itself. His fleet sailed to Jamaica where they planned their next incursion (into New Orleans) which also ended poorly for them.

 But the big take away from this story is the genesis of the American National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, which was penned by Francis Scott Key, a Baltimore lawyer who was aboard the British flagship, HMS Tonnant, to negotiate the release of Dr. Beane, an elderly medico who the British captured during their departure from Washington. He watched the bombardment of McHenry throughout the rainy night, struggling to see if the American flag still flew above the ramparts. Of course, as we know now, the sun came up, the sky cleared and the flag still flew. His joy was overwhelming and, using the tune to Anachreon in Heaven for his meter, composed a poem he titled "The Defense of M'Henry." He took it ashore and showed it to a few people and the rest is history (as they say). It was two days later that an actor sang it, calling the song "The Star Spangled Banner." It became the National Anthem in 1931.

The second big anniversary this week occurred two days ago, the 16th. In 1830,  a young Boston lawyer named Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a poem which he sent to the local paper for publication. He had heard that the American frigate Constitution was to be scrapped and was outraged by the insensitivity of the politicians of the time who would take the most famous ship (at that time) of the navy and destroy her. His action stirred the populace and swayed the pols and the result sits today, afloat, in the historical Charles Town Navy Yard in Boston, now the American Ship of State.

                               USS Constitution as she looked in 1931

Here is the poem he wrote that saved the ship!

Aye tear her tattered ensign down
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;—
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee;—
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale! 

 And so she was saved and in 1931, made an epic round the world cruise before settling to her berth in Boston.

So, a big week for us historians, and worthy of note.

Until next time, 

                            Fair Winds, 

                                      Old Salt

Thursday, September 10, 2020


10 September 2020: Two hundred seven years ago today - during the War of 1812 - the United States won a signal battle - the largest fleet action of the War - on Lake Erie. Commanded by Rhode Island native Oliver Hazzard Perry, the U.S fleet engaged the British in a sharp contest off Presque Isle, in Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Interestingly, all the ships in the fight were built on the lake by local craftsmen using locally sourced (mostly) materials. The day of the engagement went like this:

On the morning of 10 September, the Americans saw [British admiral] Barclay's vessels heading for them, and got under way from their anchorage at Put-in-Bay. The wind was light. Barclay initially held the weather gauge, but the wind shifted and allowed Perry to close and attack. Both squadrons were in line of battle, with their heaviest vessels near the centre of the line.
The first shot was fired, from HMS Detroit, at 11:45.[21] Perry hoped to get his two largest brigs, his flagship Lawrence and Niagara, into carronade range quickly, but in the light wind his vessels were making very little speed and Lawrence was battered by the assortment of long guns mounted in Detroit for at least 20 minutes before being able to reply effectively. When Lawrence was finally within carronade range at 12:45, her fire was not as effective as Perry hoped, her gunners apparently having overloaded the carronades with shot.[22]
Astern of Lawrence, Niagara, under Elliot, was slow to come into action and remained far out of effective carronade range. It is possible that Elliott was under orders to engage his opposite number, HMS Queen Charlotte, and that Niagara was obstructed by Caledonia, but Elliot's actions would become a matter of dispute between him and Perry for many years. Aboard Queen Charlotte, the British ship opposed to Niagara, the commander (Robert Finnis) and First Lieutenant were both killed. The next most senior officer, Lieutenant Irvine of the Provincial Marine, found that both Niagara and the American gunboats were far out of range, and passed the brig General Hunter to engage Lawrence at close range. 

Although the American gunboats at the rear of the American line of battle steadily pounded the British ships in the centre of the action with raking shots from their long guns from a distance, Lawrence was reduced by the two British ships to a wreck. Four-fifths of Lawrence's crew were killed or wounded. Both of the fleet's surgeons were sick with "lake fever", (malaria),[23] so the wounded were taken care of by the assistant, Usher Parsons. When the last gun on Lawrence became unusable, Perry decided to transfer his flag. He was rowed a half-mile (1 km) through heavy gunfire to Niagara while Lawrence was surrendered. It is said his personal servant, African American sailor Cyrus Tiffany, accompanied and protected Perry during this journey.

(It was later alleged that Perry left Lawrence after the surrender, but he had actually taken down only his personal pennant, in blue bearing the motto, "Don't give up the ship".)
When Lawrence surrendered, firing died away briefly.[25] Detroit collided with Queen Charlotte, both ships being almost unmanageable with damaged rigging and almost every officer killed or severely wounded. Barclay was severely wounded and his first lieutenant was killed, leaving Lieutenant Inglis in command. Most of the smaller British vessels were also disabled and drifting to leeward.[26] The British nevertheless expected Niagara to lead the American schooners away in retreat.[27] Instead, once aboard Niagara, Perry dispatched Elliot to bring the schooners into closer action, while he steered Niagara at Barclay's damaged ships, helped by the strengthening wind.
Niagara broke through the British line ahead of Detroit and Queen Charlotte and luffed up to fire raking broadsides from ahead of them, while Caledonia and the American gunboats fired from astern. Although the crews of Detroit and Queen Charlotte managed to untangle the two ships[28] they could no longer offer any effective resistance. Both ships surrendered at about 3:00 pm. The smaller British vessels tried to flee but were overtaken and also surrendered.[29]
 Although Perry won the battle on Niagara, he received the British surrender on the deck of the Lawrence.    

Perry's vessels and prizes were anchored and hasty repairs were underway near West Sister Island when Perry composed his now famous message to Harrison. Scrawled in pencil on the back of an old envelope, Perry wrote:
Dear General:
We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.
Yours with great respect and esteem,
O.H. Perry
Perry next sent the following message to the Secretary of the Navy, William Jones:
Brig Niagara, off the Western Sister,
Head of Lake Erie, September 10, 1813, 4 P.M.
Sir:- It has pleased the Almighty to give to the arms of the United States a signal victory over their enemies on this lake. The British squadron, consisting of two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop, have this moment surrendered to the force under my command after a sharp conflict.
I have the honor to be, Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
O. H. Perry
 And so it was that O.H. Perry became immortalized by his great victory. It is worth noting, that the flag (the one he flew on Lawrence and transferred to Niagara) carried the words James Lawrence had uttered after his ill-fated (and fatal) meeting with HMS Shannon the year before. That same flag is now on display at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Until next time,  

                           Fair Winds, 
                                    Old Salt