Tag Archives: Ships

Aircraft carriers on the Great Lakes?

Aircraft carriers on the Great Lakes?

Aircraft carriers on the Great Lakes?

Yep, there were two during WWII. The model in the picture is of the USS Wolverine (IX-64). During the war, the Navy purchased two large side wheel excursion steamers and converted them into aircraft carriers. The ships were used to train pilots and landing signal officers on the intricacies of their crafts. The ships were based out of the Glenview Naval Air Station near Chicago.

Commissioned 2 August 1942 the Wolverine served during the war even though it had a few issues. It had no elevators or hanger deck, so once the flight deck was full the operations were over for the day. Also in low wind conditions, the ship could not generate enough speed on its own to generate the wind needed to successfully simulate the landings. Still, they served their purposes well.

On 7 November 1945, with the war over. The Wolverine was decommissioned and in December 1947 sold for scrap.

Always remember for a brief couple of years we did have aircraft carriers on the Great Lakes. If ever we had the chance to bring Canda into the fold, it may have been then…

The IJN Kongo

The IJN Kongo

The IJN Kongo

Above is a model of the IJN Kongo one of the main battleships of the Imperial Japanese fleet during WWII. It was constructed in 1913 and had a total displacement of about 36,000 tons. She had a max speed of about 30 knots and had a main armament of 8 14″ guns as well as a smaller number of 6in and 5in guns. She was a beast.  One of the most amazing aspects of the Kongo was that it was actually built by Vickers in England having been designed by Sir George Thurston. Yep, one of the main Japanese ships was built by England, someone kicked themselves thirty some years later.

Of course, it was not as if the Japanese were not able to build capital ships of its size, they had already built several but were very interested in finding out how the British were doing it. So they ordered one and when is received used as a template for three sister ships.

Among the battles she participated in during her career are:

Battle of Midway

Invasion of the Aleutian Islands


The Philippine Sea

Leyte Gulf

Battle of Samar

The old girl got around and was a major thorn in the side of the US Navy, but they finally got their revenge on November 16, 1944, when she was attacked by the submarine U.S.S Sealion in the Formosa Strait. Kongo took two torpedoes to the port side which caused flooding in her boiler rooms. Still able to maintain speed the ship limped along until finally, the damage was just too great. The order was finally given to abandon ship.

All things considered a fairly good career for the ship that’s name translates to “invincible”.




The Do’s and Don’ts of a Hospital Ship

Hospital Ship

Hospital Ship, Do’s and Don’ts

The picture above is a US Naval Hospital Ship that was in use during the Vietnam War. The idea of the hospital ship goes all the way back to Ancient Greece and the Athenian Navy. Rome also had at least one hospital ship in their fleet. So they have been around forever.

The modern incarnation of the hospital ship came about during the Crimean War. The British had several steamships that were equipped with facilities comparable to hospitals of the day. Their decedents would be seen through both World Wars and up to today.

Most countries with a Navy have some sort of hospital ship or something designated in that class.  Today there are also several civilian groups that outfit and maintain hospital ships for humanitarian relief.

Treaties Covering The Rules


The Hague Convention X of 1907 covers what designates a hospital ship under article four.

  • The ship must be clearly marked and lighted as a hospital ship.
  • The ship must give medical assistance to wounded personnel of all nationalities.
  • It must not be used for any military purpose.
  • The ship must not interfere with or hamper enemy combatant vessels.
  • Belligerents, as designated by the Hague Convention, can search any hospital ship to investigate violations of the above restrictions.
  • Belligerents will establish the location of a hospital ship.

In 1994 the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea further refined the rules for hospital ships and laid out the rules under which action may be taken against the ships. A non-complying ship may only be fired upon under the following circumstances:

  • Diversion or capture is not feasible.
  • No other method to exercise is available.
  • The violations are grave enough to allow the ship to be classified as a military objective.
  • And if fired upon, the damage and casualties will not be disproportionate to the military advantage.


Old Ironsides

Old Ironsides

Old Ironsides


Yep a twofer today and no this is not a post about a wheelchair-bound detective. (Does anyone actually get that joke?) This is about The USS Constitution or “Old Ironsides” as she was called. In the top picture above, on the plaque is a piece of copper from its hull.

No, that copper is not why it was called Ironsides. Stay tuned for that.

The Constitution was launched in 1797 and was one of the first frigates in the fledgling United States Navy. Named by President Washington for our guiding document, it became the centerpiece of small yet tenacious presence on the ocean.

She was armed with 30 24 pound cannon, 15 on each side, 22 32 pound cannon, 11 on each side, as well as 4 smaller “chase” cannons. She was armed for war and during the War of 1812 she would end up becoming a legend.

On 19 August 1812 the Constitution faced off against the HMS Guerriere, a slightly smaller vessel but with a veteran crew. As the battle was joined several of the Guerriere’s cannonballs bounced off the sides of the ship doing no damage but causing one of the American sailors to shout out, “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!” The name sort of stuck after that. The battle would end with the Constitution victorious and more victories would follow.

She would stay in service until 1853 when she was converted into a training ship where she served as a classroom and barracks for the Naval Academy until 1871 when she was retired, eventually becoming a museum ship, and something you can still visit today and as she never lost her commission, should time get really bad, maybe Old Ironsides will be called on again.

Brown Water Navy

Brown Water Navy

Brown Water Navy


The Vietnam War was fought in every nook and cranny of the country, from the mountains to the cities and most especially on the rivers. The waterways that spread across the country served as highways for the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet-Cong. They could use the ships to move men and supplies faster and  quieter than  over land. In response to this the United States dusted off a concept that had seen little use since the Civil War. The brown-water navy. These were Naval ships designed to operate on the rivers and along the coasts that would extend the reach of the US Navy where ever it was needed.

The concept of the brown-water navy came into its own during the Civil War when the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and other major rivers became the fronts in the conflict and the entire coast of the Confederacy became fair game. Outside of the river and coastal regions, the “blue-water” navy ruled supreme.

The boats in the picture above are PFC (Patrol Craft Fast) class Swift Boats. 50 feet long and made of aluminum these boats formed the base of the brown-water navy in Vietnam. This was a joint venture between the US Army and Navy. It operated in groups of three to five boats. Their missions consisted of patrols, interdiction and inserting special operation forces into their target areas.

Towards the end the focus of the war shifted as the United States military looked to get out.  The South Vietnamese military was to take on the bulk of the fighting.  Besides training and land based equipment, this also included the transfer of several Swift Boats. With the fall of the south many of the surviving boats ended up in the service of the communist regime.

The U-505 On Display

The U-505 On Display

The U-505 On Display


At the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago, Il you will find the WWII German submarine, U-505 on display. The Allies captured her in 1944 and she came to the museum in 1954.  You might expect this post will be about the submarine, with technical specs and telling the story of its capture, but it’s not. That will most likely come later. Today’s post is about something over heard when we were taking in the exhibit.

First off I want to say hats off to the museum on the display. It is breathtaking. As we were moving around from one side of the boat to the other and checking out the various artifacts in the room a young couple was following close behind, parts of their conversation wafted through the hubbub of the cavernous room but plain as day these words were clear, “Why are we looking at a German submarine? We need to get rid of it and all the Nazi stuff…”

Say What Now?

It took a second to realize what she was saying and now fully dropping eaves on the conversation it appeared that the young woman had the impression that anything to do with the Nazi’s needed destroyed or buried deep. Her boyfriend/husband/partner agreed wholeheartedly and as we neared the exit of the exhibit, where a German Kreigsmarine Flag was displayed, they almost ran out of the hall.

Let me get this out there first. The Nazi’s were the bad guys and there is little dispute to that. You can get into the nuances of the politics and such all day but that does not change the facts. If you fought under the Nazi regime, you were not on the side of the angles.

What that overheard conversation brought to mind though is the idea that all traces of the Nazis should be removed, just like some people are looking to remove all traces of the Confederacy. The thing is if you remove or hide all traces of the past, especially the bad things, and bad people or even just things you don’t agree with, you increase the chances of those things happening again.

The Lesson

The U-505 is a reminder of a war that happened. As a relic from the defeated side, we should treated it with the same reverence as an American naval vessel. It is OK to respect your enemy, even if they are “evil”.  Hopefully the couple that came out that day realizes looking into the past does not mean just the good parts. I bet they are the kind of people who jump to the last chapter of a book.  Than judges the entire novel based on the ending. OK, this rant is over, next time you see the U-505 here, we’ll get into the good stuff.

The Five Power Treaty of 1922


In the aftermath of WWI, the world was tired of war. Millions had died for reasons that most people didn’t understand. Secret treaties and insane military build ups were seen as part of the problem, so in the wake of the war a massive demobilization was undertaken. A move was also made to limit the size of each nation’s military. Take away the toys, and no one would want to play. The Washington Treaty, also called the Five Power Treaty, of which the picture above present an actual copy, was designed to limit the size of the Navies of the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan.

Signed in 1922 the treaty set a strict tonnage (displacement) limit for the navy of each power. That tonnage would be counted against their battleships, battle cruisers and aircraft carries based on certain ratios. While much time is spent discussing the actual ratios of the allowed tonnage, the important thing to note is that the US and Great Britain were allowed much more tonnage than Japan and far more than France and Italy.

For the US and Britain the allowance was 525,000 tons for capital ships (battleships and cruisers) and 135,000 tons for Aircraft carriers. With the average displacement of a capital ship at 35,000 tons that would limit each to about 15 capital ships. Aircraft carriers at 27,000 tons would allow for 5. A drastic reduction indeed.

Japan was allowed 315,000 and 8,100 tons (9 and 3).

France and Italy came in at 175,000 and 60,000 (5 and 2-ish).

Size and amount of guns on each ship we also limited as well as a ten-year moratorium being placed on new construction.

Like most treaties that came  out of the Great War, this one left everyone, let’s just say “grumpy”. With the world spinning towards the next great war, Japan realized that the treaty left them incredibly behind the other US and Britain in the Pacific and in 1934 the announced they were pulling out of the treaty. In 1936 the treaty was not renewed.

Japan always felt like the little brother to the West in modern times, they way their contributions in WWI were overlooked, and their subordinate position in this treaty simply brought them to the point where conflict would become inevitable.

Aren’t treaties wonderful things?



CV-1 USS Langley First of Her Kind

USS Langley

CV-1 USS Langley First of Her Kind

The above is commemorative print of the USS Langley or as the picture shows, the U.S. Aeroplane Carrier. Yep, the Langley was our first official aircraft carrier.

In 1920 she was converted from the USS Jupiter, a collier and was one of several planned conversions. These took a different path as the Washington Naval Treaty (Hey! Didn’t we talk about that?) lead to several partial constructed battle cruisers becoming carriers instead, the Lexington and the Saratoga.

She had a carrier pigeon-house built on her stern. While this was not highly unusual as pigeons were used by seaplanes at the time. Of course things did not go as planned. If the pigeons were released one or two at a time, they would always come back as they were supposed to, but once the entire flock was released they went home to Norfolk and never came back to the ship. The coop was eventually turned into the Executive Officers quarters. (Please commence jokes now.)

Early on in WWII she ferried airplanes around the Southeast Asia theater and served as part of anti-submarine patrols.  She was not going to be able to avoid danger forever though. In February 27, 1942 the Japanese had their way with her, causing so much damage that she had to be scuttled. A twenty-two year career and she went out with a bang.

In a tragic foot note, after being scuttled most of her surviving crew was put aboard the USS Pecos for the trip back to Australia. Unfortunately the ship sunk on the journey back.