Welcome to the timesuck that is Iconic Photos.
Duke of Wellington, by Antoine Claudet, 1844.
Dresden after the fire bombing, by Richard Peter from the Rathaustrum.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, on the SS Great Eastern by Robert Howett, 1857.
Gurung honeyhunter, by Eric Valli, 1987.
Now I wish I’d kept some of the contact sheets from the NASA photographers. They don’t do that with digital photography.
Category Archives: history
Welcome to the timesuck that is Iconic Photos.
Somewhat belatedly. Born Eric Arthur Blair, in India, on June 25th, 1903.
It is hardly the man’s fault that his seminal work, written as a chilling dystopian warning regarding the destruction of liberty, has become an instruction manual for the far-Left “Liberal” Secular-Progressive Statists who now hold the levers of power in our once-great Republic.
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”
“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.”
“They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.”
If you refuse to agree that 2 + 2 = 5, you are racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-child, and probably watch Fox News.
The American Revolution kicked off with the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, but the first real battle between the colonials and the British Army took place on this day in 1775 with the Battle of Bunker Hill (which was mostly fought on Breed’s Hill). British forces in Boston were besieged by colonial troops on the hills around the city. To consolidate their hold on the city, and gain control over the entrance to the harbor, the British sought to occupy the hills. The first two British assaults were bloodily repulsed. The third assault carried the hills mostly because the colonials ran out of ammunition. While the colonial forces were defeated and forced to retreat to Cambridge, the heavy losses of the British, about 200 dead and 800 wounded, sent a signal that the colonial forces were every bit the match for the redcoats.
The battle also gives rise to one of my favorite (apocryphal) stories.
An American Marine officer found himself on temporary duty in England, and it came to pass that he was invited to the officer’s mess of one of the regiments that had fought at Bunker Hill. The British Army has a long, proud history, and the messes of the regiments are often repositories of many of the artifacts of that. And the British Army loves to take notice of the long history of many of its regiments, with a fierce unit pride that even the oldest US units can’t quite match.
And so, the British officer is proudly displaying these mementos to the American Marine, and comes across a flag captured from the colonials at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Alluding to the long service of the regiment, the Brit says, “And you’ll notice we still have the flag.”
The American calmly replies, “We still have the hill.”
Some of the most interesting curiosities in the history of naval warfare surround older warships remaining in service long after similar vessels have been retired. Sometimes, the story of such ships is one of tragedy, like the three elderly Royal Navy cruisers sunk in the Channel by a German U-Boat in 1914, or the nearly-helpless Spanish wooden-hulled Castilla, quickly sunk at Manila Bay. Other times, like with Oldendorf’s “Old Ladies” at Surigao Straits or the Iowas in Desert Storm, the veteran ships were found to still be plenty lethal. One such curiosity is the unlikely tale of USS Allen, DD-66.
The rapid advances in Naval technology that spanned the last decade of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th included generational leaps in warship design, hastened further by the outbreak of war in 1914. Nowhere was this more manifest than in the smallest of the combatant ships of the world’s navies, the destroyer. Originally the “torpedo boat destroyer” built to protect larger ships of the battle line from the speedy small craft and their ship-killing weapons, powered torpedoes, soon these “torpedo boat destroyers” became the carriers of torpedoes themselves, then called simply, “destroyers”.
US destroyer construction in the early part of the century followed apace with designs elsewhere. Small, largely coastal craft evolved into the 700-ton “flivvers” and later, the “thousand-tonners” of the O’Brien, Tucker, and Sampson classes. Despite being almost new, these 26 ships of the latter three classes had proven barely suitable for the requirements of destroyer service in a modern war at sea. Among the first US ships to attach to the Royal Navy in 1917, by the end of the war they were hopelessly outdated, as the British W and V classes, and the latest German destroyers, were significantly larger, much faster, far more capable warships.
Following the Armistice, almost all the “thousand tonners” were quickly decommissioned, as they were replaced in service with the “flush-decker” Wickes and Clemson classes, of which an astounding 267 were built (though few were completed in time for war service). A number of the obsolescent “thousand tonners” were given to the US Coast Guard, where they served into the 1930s. Most, however, were scrapped or sunk as targets. Most, but not all.
One unit of the Sampsons, USS Allen, DD-66, was placed back in commission, to serve as a training ship for US Navy Reserve personnel. She would serve in this role between 1925 and 1928, after which she returned to the Reserve Fleet in Philadelphia. Allen was retained even while a number of her younger and far more capable “flush-decker” sisters were scrapped. As war clouds loomed, Allen was selected to be recommissioned, in the summer of 1940. She must have been an exceptionally well-maintained vessel. Even with that, the choice to recommission Allen was a curious one. She and her sisters were designed before the First World War, and still reflected the “torpedo boat destroyer” mission in her layout and systems.
After some time in the Atlantic, Allen was assigned to the Pacific Fleet, which had recently moved to Pearl Harbor. She was present and fired her only shots of the war during the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Lacking adequate endurance and weapons, Allen spent the war escorting vessels between the Hawaiian Islands, helping to train submarine crews by acting as a mock sub chaser, and she made the occasional voyage back to the US West Coast. In the course of the war, Allen had her antiaircraft armament considerably augmented, with six 20mm cannon, and she lost at least one set of torpedo tubes. She gained depth charge throwers, and even a modest air search radar. I could find no reference to her being fitted with sonar of any kind, however. (And if Norman Friedman didn’t say it happened, it didn’t happen!)
Immediately following the war, of course, the worn-out and thoroughly obsolete Allen was quickly decommissioned, in the fall of 1945, and just as quickly sold for scrap. She is shown above, disarmed and awaiting disposal. At the time of her decommissioning, she was the oldest US destroyer in commission, and the last survivor of her class and type. Built to specifications which dated to before US entry into the First World War, USS Allen would serve through the Second, a throwback of four generations of destroyer design. A remarkable record of service indeed.
We’ve written before on the coastal defenses of Puget Sound, mostly focusing on the turn of the 20th century Taft/Endicott period forts such as Ft. Casey. The beginning of World War II saw a massive investment in more modern coastal defenses, along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and such places as the Panama Canal Zones. Bureaucratic inertia being what it is, by the time most of these forts were ready for service, it was abundantly clear, particularly along the West Coast, that no invasion fleet would reach even the central Pacific, let alone Hawaii or the actual continental US.
In 1942, the Coast Artillery Corps decided to upgrade the defenses of Puget Sound with a modern coast artillery battery located a few miles north of the existing Ft. Casey. It was to comprise a battery command post, an SCR-269A fire control radar, and two M1905A2 rapid fire 6” guns mounted on semi-armored barbettes.
Image via Fortwiki.
Image via Fortwiki. 6” gun at Ft. Columbia. Note the older Endicott period emplacements in front of the mount. None are at Ft. Ebey.
A quick look at this image from Google Earth tells us that the fort was well sited to cover any approach to Seattle.
Mind you, this doesn’t even take into account the other batteries, including 16” batteries, along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the entrance to Puget Sound.
The only problem is, the battery wasn’t completed and ready for service until March 1944. By that time, the fighting in the Pacific was taking place in the Carolines Islands roughly 5000 miles away. All the effort to complete the fortifications were superfluous to actually winning the war. The guns of the battery were removed sometime shortly after the war. The concrete support structure was not demolished, however. Turned over to Washington state in 1965, it opened as a state park in 1981, and has been a popular park ever since, with its quaint trails and gorgeous view of Puget Sound.
Growing up in a Naval Aviation family, it was a given that I would know the major exploits of the Fast Carrier Task Force that formed the heart of the US Navy’s striking power in the Pacific. Operating alternately as TF 38 when under Halsey’s 3rd Fleet and TF 58 when under Spruance’s 5th Fleet, the FCTF roamed the Central and Western Pacific, at sea for weeks at a time, supporting various invasions, striking territory the Japanese had seized, and even raiding the home islands of Japan. The FCTF was the powerhouse of the Pacific, making that ocean an American pond for 70 years. Every other part of the United States Navy, from the submarine service, to the stupendous fleet train, to the Seabees to the amphibious shipping and indeed, the entire US Marine Corps, served simply to better enable the Big Blue to rule the mighty Pacific as a wholly American territory.
Of course, the US Navy wasn’t alone in those waters. Britain, with its many colonial outposts, maintained a significant fleet presence in the Pacific. Sadly, the opening months of the war saw them more soundly defeated by Japan than even our own fleet. Eventually, the Royal Navy would retreat to Trincomalee, Ceylon. The bulk of the Royal Navy’s fighting strength would be devoted to operations in the North Atlantic and in the Mediterranean Sea.
However, by early 1944, the situation in those waters was sufficiently in hand that Britain felt it could spare ships and planes for the Pacific. The Chief of Naval Operations, Ernie King, was not exactly an Anglophile, and was not enthusiastic about the Royal Navy returning to the Western Pacific. In this, he was overruled by FDR.
Of course, it was more than mere politics that gave the US Navy pause about a Royal Navy fleet in the Pacific. The RN mostly operated close to its bases in comparatively close waters. Their ships had less endurance, and even less space for food stores. Furthermore, they had little experience in replenishment underway. Worst of all, they had virtually none of the fleet train of ships that the US Navy relied upon to allow the Fast Carrier Task Force to stay at sea for weeks. Any significant RN participation would almost certainly have to receive at least some support from the US Navy.
The RN did amass a sizeable fleet train to support its operations (though they also received quite a bit of help from the USN) and soon amassed a significant fleet of carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and other combatants.
When operating with the US Navy, the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) was under the US command structure, and designated either TF 37 or Task Force 57, depending on whether it was with 3rd or 5th Fleet.
The most significant operations of the BPF were in support of the US invasion of Okinawa, where the BPF conducted raids on Japanese airfields to suppress kamikaze attacks. Of course, that invited kamikaze attacks upon themselves. Unlike US carriers that had wooden flight decks, British carriers had steel flight decks. Generally, a kamikaze hit on them resulted in far less damage.
While some British carriers operated British designed planes such as the Seafire and the Barracuda, many operated US built planes, including the Corsair, the Avenger, and the Hellcat.
No audio, but still an interesting look at British carrier operations in 1944.
As the US Navy developed doctrine for amphibious operations in World War II, one thing it quickly learned was that there simply was never enough suppressive firepower available. The most famous pre-landing bombardment ships were the battleships, of course, with their massive 14” and 16” guns pummeling suspected positions for hours, even days before a landing. Of course, cruisers and destroyers hurled tens of thousands of shells upon beaches as well. And we’ve written about the smaller ships such as the LCS(L)(3) series.
When it comes to suppressive fires, quantity has a quality all its own. But naval guns are heavy, expensive pieces of equipment. And so, early on, the Navy turned to the humble rocket as a way to quickly boost its firepower. The first rockets in widespread use was the 4.5” Beach Barrage Rocket, or BBR.
A simple solid rocket motor on the back end of a 20 pound warhead, the BBR was fired from a simple metal rack. It had a very modest range of about 1100 yards, and wasn’t terribly accurate. But it could be carried in large numbers by even the smallest of ships and craft.
The BBR made its combat debut during the Torch landings in North Africa, and saw extensive use throughout the war. The Navy was generally happy with this simple weapon, but also wanted something with longer range, on the order of 5000 yards, or even 10,000 yards.
Rockets launched from the ground, and using fins for stabilization, are inherently somewhat inaccurate. While the wide dispersion of the BBR was tolerable given its maximum range, a rocket for longer range use would have to be more accurate. And so, the Navy tasked CalTech to develop a spin stabilized rocket. After initial efforts looking at a 3.5” rocket, CalTech soon developed a family of 5” rockets that were spin stabilized by slightly canting the exhaust nozzles of the rocket motor. A variety of warheads were available, such as smoke and illumination, but the two most used were “common” shells with high explosive warheads, one with a range of 5000 yards, and one with a smaller charge, but a range of 10,000 yards.
Among the first ships equipped with the 5” High Velocity Spinner Rocket (HVSR) were PT boats.
The Mk 50 launcher could be installed port and starboard aboard a PT just forward of the charthouse. Stored position had them inboard.
But for firing, they were traversed outboard, so the blast would not impact the relatively fragile wooden decks.
The Mk 50 was fixed in train- that is, the only fired straight ahead. It was, however, fitted for elevation. Varying the elevation of the launcher determined the range of the shot. Aiming was via a reflector gunsight at the helm. Mind you, a bobbing 80 foot boat wasn’t the most stable platform, but the rockets added considerable firepower to boats that already punched above their weight.
The biggest users of the 5” HVSR were the LMSRs, or Landing Ship, Medium, Rocket. The LSM, widely used in the Pacific in the second half of the war, was adapted to carry hundreds of rockets. Early iterations used 5” aircraft rockets on dozens of four rail launchers.
Later versions used the 5” HVSR. But the penultimate rocket ship was an LMSR with the Mk 102 automatic rocket launcher.
The Mk 102 was derived from the powered twin mount Bofors 40mm. A handling room directly below the mount fed rockets to the launcher. The 8 or 10 launchers on an LMSR were directed from a central gun director on the pilothouse.
The Navy was quite pleased with these ships, and kept them in reserve after World War II. They would see further service, even into the Vietnam war.
These ships were, however, wartime expedients, and suffered from some compromises that the Navy sought to overcome. For one thing, their magazines were above the waterline, and thus terribly vulnerable, as the ships were essentially unarmored. Further, the beaching hull meant that their top speed was quite limited. Of course, with a fleet of dozens of newly built LSMRs in reserve, and the war over, there simply wasn’t any money to design a better ship. But the Korean War changed that, making money quite available for a prototype. Laid down in 1952, the ultimate rocket ship wouldn’t be finished in time for that war. But the USS Carronade (IFS-1) would go on to serve in Vietnam for nearly four years. Armed with the slightly improved Mk 105 automatic rocket launcher, she and a handful of recommissioned LSMRs would provide call-fires and pre-planned fire support
Of course, no discussion on naval barrage rocketry would be complete without at least a passing mention of our national anthem. The Star Spangled Banner’s line about “…the rocket’s red glare…” refers to the Congreve rocket, used by the Royal Navy during its bombardment of Ft. McHenry.