Hidden Treasure


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It can be found in the most unlikely of places.  This haul of pure naval gold came from the little book library that I found next to the gift shop aboard USS Midway in my sojourn to San Diego for the West Conference.  I saw a sign for “book sale”, which, except for “free ammo”, is most likely to make me stop every time.  I was allowed to go into the spaces that had the books for sale, and found this’n.  I decided to have a little fun with the docent who was running the sale.  When I asked “How much?”, he told me “Ten dollars.”  I worked up my most indignant expression, and said “TEN DOLLARS!  That’s highway robbery!  I won’t pay it!” at the same time I slipped a twenty to his elderly assistant, and gave him a wink.   He was a bit flummoxed, but the old fella gave me a smile.  I asked that they keep the change as a donation, which they were truly grateful for.

Anyway, inside the large, musty-smelling book that had likely not been opened in decades, there is to be found a veritable treasure of naval history.  From the advertisements at the beginning pages from famous firms such as Thornycroft, Hawker-Siddeley, Vickers-Amstrong Ship Repair and Shipbuilding, Bofors, Decca Radars, Edo Sonar, etc, to the line drawings of nearly every class of major combatant in commission in 1964, the book is simply fascinating.

What is first noticeable is that a great percentage of the world’s warships in 1964 still consisted of American and British-built vessels from the Second World War and the years immediately preceding.   Former Royal Navy aircraft carriers were the centerpieces of the navies of India, Canada, France, Holland, Australia (star-crossed Melbourne was a Colossus-class CV) and even Argentina and Brazil.   US-built ships comprise major units of almost every Western Bloc navy in 1964.  The ubiquitous Fletchers, of which nearly one hundred were transferred,  served worldwide, and remained the most powerful units of many Western navies into the 1990s.   But there were other classes, destroyer escorts, patrol frigates, minesweepers, and an untold number of LSTs, LCTs, LCIs, Liberty and Victory ships, tankers, and auxiliaries of all descriptions, under the flags of their new owners.   Half a dozen Brooklyn-class light cruisers went south in the 1950s, to the South American navies of Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.  (General Belgrano, sunk by a British torpedo in the Falklands War, was ex-USS Phoenix CL-46).  A surprising number of the pre-war Benson and Gleaves-class destroyers remained in naval inventories, including that of the United States Navy (35).   A large contingent of Balao and Gato-class diesel fleet subs also remained in service around the world, with images showing streamlined conning towers, and almost always sans the deck guns.

Nowhere is there a ship profile of a battleship.  By 1964, Britain had scrapped the King George Vs, and beautiful HMS Vanguard.   France had decommissioned Jean Bart, and though Richelieu was supposedly not decommissioned until 1967, she is not included.  The United States had disposed of the North Carolinas and the South Dakotas some years before, and only the four Iowas remained.  They are listed in the front of the US Navy section, but not as commissioned warships, and they are also not featured.   Turkey’s ancient Yavuz, the ex-German World War I battlecruiser Goeben, had not yet been scrapped (it would be in 1971), but apparently was awaiting disposal and not in commission.

The 1964-65 edition of Jane’s contains some really interesting pictures and facts. And definitely some oddities.

There is a launching photo for USS America (CV-66), and “artist’s conceptions” of the Brooke and Knox-class frigates, which were then rated as destroyer escorts.  In 1964, the largest warship in the Taiwanese Navy (Republic of China) was an ex-Japanese destroyer that had been re-armed with US 5″/38 open single mounts in the late 1950s.  The People’s Republic of China also had at least one ex-Japanese destroyer in service, along with the half-sisters to the ill-fated USS Panay, formerly USS Guam and USS Tutulia, which had been captured by the Japanese in 1941 and turned over to China at the end of the war.  The PRC also retained at least one river gunboat which had been built at the turn of the century.

Italy’s navy included two wartime-construction (1943) destroyers that had been badly damaged, repaired, and commissioned in the late 1940s.  The eye-catching feature of the photos of the San Giorgios is the Mk 38 5″/38 twin mountings of the type mounted on the US Sumners and Gearings.

A couple other oddities that I never would have known but for this book.  In the 1950s, West Germany salvaged one Type XXI and two Type XXIII U-boats, sunk in the Baltic in 1945, reconditioned them, and commissioned them.  While the Type XXI was an experimentation platform, apparently the two Type XXIII boats (ex-U-2365 and U-2367) became operational boats.    The Israeli frigate Haifa had been a British wartime Hunt-class frigate, sold to the Egyptian Navy, and captured by Israeli forces in Haifa in the 1956 war.

The Indian Navy was made up largely of ex-Royal Navy warships, understandably enough.  But one in 1964 was particularly significant.  The Indian light cruiser Delhi had been HMS Achilles, famous for its role as a unit of Commodore Harwood’s squadron in chasing the German panzerschiff KMS Graf Spee in the Battle of the River Plate in December, 1939.

There is much more contained in the pages of this old and forgotten edition.  This book is an absolute treasure trove of naval history.   And was a most unexpected find.    I have unleashed my inner geek!

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20 Comments

Filed under armor, Artillery, China, Defense, guns, history, Iran, israel, logistics, navy, Personal, Splodey, veterans, war

20 responses to “Hidden Treasure

  1. The Pritzker Military Museum and Library had a book sale today. We’ll see if Spill snagged anything for me.

  2. scottthebadger

    The ads in the old Jane’s are always an utter delight! Is my Dad’s ship, the ALDEBARAN (AF-10 ) in there?

    • ultimaratioregis

      Bottom of page 402! Converted pre-war merchantman, 6,500 tons, Parsons geared turbines, 16.4 knots. 3-3 inch guns.

    • When I was on Sylvania, we parked next to Aldebaran. She was loading out to go to the Med at the time. I also encountered Denebola. The entire class, as I recall, was named after the standard Navigational Stars.

    • scottthebadger

      When dad was on board, during the Korean War, she still had her 5″/38. He said that when they would fire it, the shock would trip the ship’s main circuit breakers, and plunge the ship into darkness.

  3. The Brazilian entries are always interesting. I suspect you will find they had a couple of Amazonian gunboats commissioned prior to 1900 still in service. The fresh water duty kept them youngish.

  4. someoldguy

    Ah, the joy of old treasures…

    I have a reprint of [i]Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 1945-46[/i], an extensive and highly detailed compendium, including numerous types I had never heard of, and tons of technical data.

    I once found a May 1943 Mechanics Illustrated in a used book store. (Sadly it was destroyed in a flood years later) The cover showed something like a V-2 being launched on a ramp, V-1 style. In other words, someone in the private sector knew about what was happening at Peenemünde upwards of a year before the first V weapons fell on London, surprising everyone. This issue also had a brief piece on ‘squirt engines’ for aircraft and had an artist’s conception of a prop-less P-38 with holes front and rear on the nacelles.

    That same flood also wiped out my magazine collections of RAF Flying Review / Flying Review International from the 1960s and my Wings/Airpower from the 1970s.

    • someoldguy

      No, that is not it. It was Mechanics Illustrated, not Popular Mechanics, and it was May 1943, not Sept 1943.

      The one I am talking about showed something like a German A-3, smaller predecessor to the A-4/V-2. It was being launched from a ramp from inside some kind of building. A German soldier was standing at a control console BEHIND the rocket exhaust. :-O

      The Popular Mechanics cover you linked shows a Soviet rocket being launched, probably a 5.2 inch BM-13. “Stalin’s Organ”, the generic term for the BM series of rockets because of the sound, was operated only by the KGB for secrecy purposes and was much feared by the Germans. Legend has it that at the battle of Kursk a German infantry battalion was wiped out to the last man by a sustained rocket barrage, but I have never seen the specifics. BTW the trucks used for this purpose were made by Studebaker.

    • someoldguy

      A point I forgot to say. The PM cover suggests a single rocket per truck. In fact anywhere from 16 to 48 rockets were carried on a single rack, the number depending on variant and rocket caliber. These could be fired in rapid succession.

      Also it was not the KGB but the NKVD that operated them. The worst thing about getting old is….what was I saying?

    • someoldguy

      Reset…

      It was the April 1944 issue and the picture was somewhat different from what I described.
      http://blog.modernmechanix.com/mags/MechanixIllustrated/4-1944/cover.jpg

      But not too bad for not having seen it for nearly 30 years.

  5. KenWats

    One of my treasured finds at a garage sale when I was a kid was a Jane’s Fighting Ships from 1955-56. I even got to see my Dad’s ship listed from when he was in the Navy (DD551 USS Hazelwood). I remember looking over the Iowas and all of the other old ships. That sat on my nightstand until I left for college. I wonder if mom kept it or if she got rid of it.

  6. KenWats

    No, dad would have been on her shortly after she returned from Korea. I remember him telling me stories about how beautiful Beirut was back during the Lebanese civil war. He also had a bunch of old movies from his navy days, the most exciting of which to a young boy was footage of an Aircraft Carrier and underway replenishment. Very cool stuff.

  7. I haven’t seen that book since I was last in the Norfolk Public Library in ’74. I was a bit surprised they didn’t have an newer edition, but even in the early 70s it was neat to peruse.

  8. timactual

    Ah, nostalgia. When I was in Jr. High School my public library had Jane’s and other neat stuff. My school library had The West Point Atlas of American Wars, back issues of Time covering the French Indochina War, etc. . I doubt that either institution stocks such “violent” material these days

    “Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.”

  9. Krag

    I spent many an afterschool afternoon copying down information from a Janes ships yearbook at the public library as high school freshmen. I had the grand idea of making a sub sim on my Apple IIE and wanted the best data I could get. A few years later my parents still remembered those hours at the library and bought me the 1988 Janes yearbook – still a prized possession after all these years. For a high school senior still deciding between NROTC, PLC, or Marine enlistment, that was an awesome birthday present. :)