SS America / USS West Point shipwreck

SS America NHHC L45-304.03.02

SS America before the US entry into the War. L45-304.03.02. Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The SS America, completed in 1939 for the United States Lines, was a beautiful ocean liner. Graceful sweeping curves and two flared funnels with small winged caps gave her an art-deco styling, like other great liners of the era. Until the construction of the SS United States, in the early 1950s, she was the biggest and best of US domestically-built liners, at 723-feet long and 35,400 tons displacement.

SS America NHHC 19-N-24561

SS America undergoing conversion to a troopship-USS West Point AP-23- in June 1941. The United States Lines livery and neutrality markings are being painted over by wartime grey. 19-N-24561 Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Center.

Requisitioned as a troop ship from 1941-1946, named USS West Point AP-23, she was reconfigured to take as many as 7,600 troops at a time. Over the course of her military service, she transported 350,000 soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen, and other passengers to and from service overseas.*

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USS Westpoint with returning soldiers, New York City July 1945 [Detail of]. 80-G-K-5783-A Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

In 1946, she was refitted for transatlantic passenger crossings and ran a glamorous service. Her long career followed the ebbs and flows of the last great age of the liners. The transatlantic crossings became uneconomical as travelers opted for air travel, and she was sold in 1964 to Chandris Group, renamed Australis and moved to the Southampton – Australia route. There were numerous attempts to modernize or convert the ship to some other use, including cruising, as a floating hotel, and even a plan to convert her to a prison ship.

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A scheme to convert her to a hotel in Thailand led to an attempt to tow the old ship, now named American Star, from Greece, during late 1993. In January 1994, the ship broke free of the tow in heavy weather, and eventually grounded on the coast of Fuerteventura, Canary Islands. Days later the vessel’s keel broke amidships and she was declared a total loss. She became a popular and much photographed shipwreck. The separated stern section quickly fell away and sank out of view by the mid 1990s. As for the bow section, from 1994 to 2007, the 380 foot section from bows to remaining aft funnel only gradually deteriorated. Views of the wreck from the nearby shores show the sublime and spectacular quality to the American Star’s end.

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The wreck of the American Star as it looked in 2004. The stern quickly sank away in the mid-1990s. The missing section near the waterline hints at the deterioration of the whole bow structure, after many years of relative stability. The forward funnel had been removed years before, and replaced by a lower cap. Wollex / CC BY-SA

Although the America is now mostly gone, the SS United States, which is still in existence, shares many similarities with America. Both were designed by naval architect William Francis Gibbs. The significantly larger United States, designed more than a decade later, repeated the clean lines, twin funnels with caps, king posts for lifting cargo to the hold in the bows, and general massing of the superstructure of the America. USS West Point and other wartime transports can be found at the page for US Navy Retired Auxiliaries and Other Ships.SS United States Philidephia 2019

*For additional history of the ship during military and civilian careers, see http://united-states-lines.org/u-s-s-west-point/

 

The Chinese Militarization of the Spratly Islands

In a word, what is going on in the South China Sea is shocking. At the same time that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is building modern aircraft carriers, China is creating bases to project military power far from the mainland. Satellite imagery offers a startling record of this transformation from submerged reef to island military base.

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Shipsearcher staff came to this realization in roundabout way – we were looking for PLAN frigates and heard one had been hanging around some place called Mischief Reef. This isolated spot in the Spratly Islands disputed territories went from being a reef to an island fortress in a few years of feverish construction:

Mischief Reef 2004 DISPUTEMischief Reef 2018 DISPUTE.jpgHere and at several other sites, dredging and dumping fill radically transformed mostly submerged chains of reefs into new territory, which was quickly militarized – complete with port facilities, substantial airstrips, and missile defences. A new shipsearcher page explores the history of PRC island building, and compares it with Vietnamese, Philippine, Taiwanese, and Malaysian efforts to stake claims on this same patch of disputed ocean real estate. We hope it will encourage readers to further investigate island development and overlapping claims to territory!

 

 

Last views of the Indian Navy Aircraft Carrier Vikrant

Having explored the dismantling of US aircraft carriers in a recent post and more detailed page, we thought we would provide a recent comparative example: the scrapping of India’s first aircraft carrier, the former INS Vikrant (R-11). Check out this slideshow for satellite views of the dismantling:

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INS Vikrant commissioned into the Indian Navy 4 March, 1961. At 700 feet long and 19,500 tons full displacement, she represented a capable entry for India into the field of naval aviation. She had a crew and air complement of 1,100. The ship had been left unfinished by the British government at the end of Second World War. Visually, the vessel was similar to other updated sister ships in the 1942 Light Fleet Carrier class, such as HMCS Bonaventure, HMAS Melbourne or the Brazilian NAeL Minas Gerais (found under the shipsearcher Royal Navy carriers page). From 1957-1961 the wartime design was given upgrades, such as an angled flight deck, which enabled her to perform missions with a new generation of aircraft. Originally embarking a mixed complement of British Hawker Sea Hawk jet fighter-bombers and French Alizé Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft (turboprop), she was updated many times and eventually operated Sea Harrier STOVL (Short Take-off and Vertical Landing) jets, and Sea King helicopters. During the late 1980s, in order to operate the Harrier, she was refitted with a prominent “ski jump” at the leading edge of the flight deck.INS Vikrant Mumbai 2010After a long career, she was retired in 1997 and opened to the public three years later as a museum ship, near the main naval port in Mumbai, meters away from the more modern carrier, INS Viraat. For views of the two carriers together, see the pages for Indian Navy. In 2012, she was assessed to be in a state of ill repair, and closed to the public. Despite a popular outcry, she was sold to a nearby ship breaker’s yard in 2014, and run up on a point of land south of the dockyards.

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ex-INS Vikrant being scrapped in Mumbai, from top deck down bow to stern. Adam Cohn / CC BY-SA

Some of the US carriers scrapped around the same time had been on donation hold for possible transfer to a museum organization. The disposal of Vikrant represents a different category of scrapping – museum ships that were deemed not worth the effort or money to continue to preserve. It is not all a sad story, though: At the same time as this Vikrant was taken apart, the name and traditions will live on in a new, larger ship. When commissioned, this will also be a first for India – the first domestically built carrier.

104 year old Russian Salvage Ship found to be doing just fine!

Kommuna rescue ship, Sevastopol, 2009. George Chernilevsky / Public domain

The Komunna has been salvaging Russian subs since the time of the last Czar, Nicholas II. She was loosely modeled on the Imperial German ship, SMS Vulkan. Shipsearcher staff located the catamaran-style vessel, with four enormous connecting trusses, in a bay near Sevastopol, in the Crimea. This specialized ship is the oldest operational warship in the World. Entering service in 1915, “Volkhov” (her name from 1915-1922), salvaged submarines from the First World War.

During the Second World War, at the Siege of Leningrad, crews worked tirelessly to help Soviet defenders salvage and raise tanks and other vehicles that had fallen thru the ice bridge resupplying the beleaguered city. Russian regimes have come and gone, but Kommuna has remained active salvaging submarines, other shipwrecks, and even advanced aircraft on the seafloor. A 1999 refit saw her outfitted as a submarine rescue ship, with modern equipment. Recent additions include a British Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), the Pantera Plus, and other rescue submersibles. Visit the page for Russian naval auxiliaries and other vessels for Kommuna and other unique Russian warships!

New page – Scrapping the Supercarrier

If you have ever had questions about how the World’s largest warships are dismantled, this new page may help answer some of these: Scrapping the Supercarrier. Shipsearcher staff have gone into more detail than the world navies pages, and we hope you’ll find this interesting!

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2020 – The Next Navy in our Sights!

A powerful fleet is emerging from the mists of the South China Sea. Led by a pair of carriers, in line ahead, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, amphibious assault ships, landing ships and other units are being systematically identified and logged in the Shipsearcher Database by Ship Identification Directorate (SID) staff.

The People’s Republic of China-where even the theme park attractions scare the hell out of naval observers.

The last of the large shipsearcher pages will be the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The PRC fleet was once viewed as an out-dated adjunct to the massive land forces. These days, the furious pace of naval construction is setting China on a path to become the World’s penultimate naval force, second only to the USN. In the meantime, please check out any of the other 13 navies on the site!

The entire Russian Northern Fleet has sortied and they are searching for YOU!!

Comrades, this is your captain. It is an honor to speak to you today, and I am honored to be sailing with you on the maiden voyage of our motherland’s most recent achievement. Once more, we play our dangerous game, a game of chess against our old adversary — The American Navy. For forty years, your fathers before you and your older brothers played this game and played it well. But today the game is different. We have the advantage. (Captain Marco Ramius – Hunt for Red October)

Introducing Russian Surface Units – Current and Retired. It joins the Soviet / Russian submarines page to document many classes of Russian warships, from the massive Kirov class battlecruisers to new stealth frigates. Among the strangest of naval vessels, near the end of the list, are the Ekranoplans: These are the daughters of the “Caspian Sea Monster.” You will have to visit the page to untangle that shipsearcher statement!

Navies Down Under!

Two new pages explore the past and present surface warships of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN). For shipsearcher staff, it was particularly challenging to locate imagery of these vessels, as they were all loaded upside down (we hope you enjoyed that truly elevated piece of imagery-related humour)!

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HMAS Vampire D-11 ca. 1959 © Australian War Memorial 301609 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/au/

Some of the more interesting features of these pages include the RNZN 1963 views of Devonport Naval Base, Auckland’s major naval facility. The aerial views make identification of early Cold War and long-service Second World War-built warships possible. As for the RAN, the range of ship classes depicted speaks to a diversified, potent force capable of undertaking a range of missions. As always, we have taken pains to track down long out of service or preserved warships.

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Loch Class frigate and Bathurst Class corvettes, 1963 view of Devonport near Auckland, NZ

These posts complement pages on some of the other Commonwealth navies: Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy

Royal Navy Shipsearcher page now up!

“Heart of Oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men, we are always ready; Steady, boys, steady, We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again”…so goes the chorus of Heart of Oak, the official march of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, and several Commonwealth navies [Youtube rendition here]. The oldest ship on this new shipsearcher page – Royal Navy Surface Units – Current and Retired – is the HMS Victory.

HMS Victory portsmouth 1945

HMS Victory, raising the yards in August 1945 © IWM (A 30810)

This first-rate line of battle ship was being built when Heart of Oak first appeared on the London scene to commemorate the victories of 1759. Our Royal Navy page starts with Victory and spans 260 years to the newly commissioned and largest-ever British carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

HMS Queen Elizabeth R08 Halifax 2019

HMS Queen Elizabeth R-08 in Halifax NS, Sep. 2019

Another unique feature of this page is the use of the Kent County Council Archives historical aerial mosaic photos (provided to Google Earth), which allow for Second World War-era captures of ships in Chatham Royal Dockyard. These views make ship identification of famous RN ship classes, such as County Class Cruisers, and aircraft carriers possible. For the first time, we also have a category for monitors, which during the first half of the twentieth century were tubby, short vessels that mounted a few battleship-sized guns! As always, we hope you appreciate the listing, and would be happy to hear about issues with any identification: help us identify our views of unknown ships!HM Monitor Chatham Kent SWW

Soviet / Russian Subs Spotted on the Surface!

Shipsearcher staff have been busy looking into the inlets around Murmansk and Vladivostok for large Russian submarines. We’ve found some nice satellite captures of boats to share in a new page on Russian submarines.

Oscar II Pacific Fleet 2018 test

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Oscar II class submarine, showing the wide breadth, 1994 NARA: 330-CFD-DN-SN-96-00408

Many, like the enormous Typhoon Class of Hunt for Red October fame, are resurrected dinosaurs of the Cold War, while some are new and terrifying breeds.Typhoon TK208 Sevmash 2018

Featured in the page are nuclear boats that have been the subject of media speculation, such as the World’s longest submarine, the special mission heavily modified Oscar II class Belgorod, and the Losharik deep submergence mini-sub. These are some of the biggest and scariest subs active today. We hope you enjoy these views, just remember, in Soviet Russia, submarine submerges YOU!!

Shipsearcher launches!

The first pages of Shipsearcher have now been released. This summer, a break-away faction of Warsearcher staff began honing their ship identification skills. It started as background research for our R & D programs, but it quickly snow-balled to absorb resources from war trophies research and postcard collecting sections.

Could the new Ship Identification Directorate (SID) identify warships from various captures of satellite imagery? With the amount of contextual information and photographs proliferating online, we believe the current pages, and those to come, are an interesting, original record of warships. As of October, 2019, there are pages up for US Navy current surface units, US Navy retired/historic, Royal Canadian Navy. The imagery in this post is a sneak peak at some that will appear in pages still building. We also have a page up about sources and the ID process.

Updated Lozenge Camouflage fabric on CASM Fokker DVII

With Spring comes the budding out of blossoms, and bright hues to succeed the drabness of a long Ottawa winter. At the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, the German First World War Fokker DVII biplane is wearing a new motley coat of distinctive camouflage.

New lozenge camouflage fabric on Canadian Aviation and Space Museum’s Fokker DVII. (author’s photo)

To revisit some relevant posts, the only other complete Fokker DVII in Canada is at the Brome County Historical Society in Knowlton QC. That aircraft is in 4-colour lozenge camo, (called “Knowlton” pattern or Vierfarbiger), while this Fokker wears a 5-colour (“Canberra” or Fünffarbiger) scheme. The CASM now has the AEG German bomber in night lozenge camouflage, this Fokker in daytime lozenge, and the Junkers J1 in junky lozenge!

(editor’s note – the contributing author of this piece thought a lozenge camo joke was appropriate here, despite the editorial board’s recommendation otherwise)

Private G.L. Price, Last Combat Death – 11 November 1918

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Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorative certificate for Pvt. G.L. Price.

Pvt. George Price, “A” Company, 28th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Northwest) is reported as the last CEF soldier to die before the 11AM Armistice that ended the First World War. Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force had been ordered to resume the advance, and keep pushing German forces beyond Mons, Belgium. By mid-morning most soldiers knew of the Armistice coming into effect at 11. The 28th Battalions “A” and “B” Companies were pursuing a retreating enemy East of Mons, through the woods and village of Havré. George Price, a 25 year old originally from Kings County, NS, who had been working in Saskatchewan, had just crossed the canal into Ville-sur-Haine.

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G.L. Price draft form, conscripted under the 1917 Military Service Act. Library and Archives Canada CEF Service File, RG 150 1992-93/166, Box 7974.

While other units were standing-to, his small team were working their way into the village, with Germans units withdrawing to the North-East. Pvt. Price was struck in the chest by a rifle or machine-gun bullet. Help from his comrades and Belgian civilians could not save him. At his death, church bells in Mons and the surrounding villages were ringing out in celebration of the end of hostilities.

GL price McMaster Trench
Modified detail of Sheet 45, Edition3. Series: GSGS 2743. H.B. Stuart Collection, McMaster University. This shows rough locations, as referenced in records below. The location stated for his death accurately maps to the location of a plaque at Ville-sur-Haine.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s site shows that, although Price was the only CEF soldier killed-in-action advancing in Belgium that day, 38 others, and one soldier from the Dominion of Newfoundland, died at various locations in France, Britain and Canada, on this last day of the Great War. Here is a small selection of documents that help tell the story of Price and the events of a hundred years ago:

Detail_report on ops 28 CIB NOv 1918

Library and Archives Canada 28 CIB War Diary Report on Operations Nov. 1918 RG9-III-D-3. Volume/box number: 4936.

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G.L. Price Circumstances of Death form on his CEF file. Library and Archives Canada CEF Service File, RG 150 1992-93/166, Box 7974.
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G.L. Price Circumstances of Death register entry. Library and Archives Canada RG150, 1992-93/314, Vol. 230.
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Plaque marking the place Price fell at Ville-sur-Haine, courtesy of http://www.visitmons.co.uk.

Lest we Forget.

Lost War Trophies of Canada – 8 August 1918 – Amiens to Richmond QC

On this centenary of the first day of the Amiens Offensive (8-12 August 1918), I focus on 15 cm Howitzer no. 813, captured by the 43rd Canadian Infantry Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) a hundred years ago this morning. Canadian units made astonishing gains this day, and captured thousands of enemy prisoners and a whole range of German weapons.

Detail of Richmond QC view of War Memorial, Warsearcher Postcard Collection

Early on the morning of the 8th, the 43rd Battalion, 9th Infantry Brigade, was making progress south-eastwards having just cleared out Dodo Wood, along the Amiens – Roye Road, south of Demuin. “C” Company was tasked with taking Hollan Wood on the right. Mk V heavy tanks of “A” Company, 5th Battalion, Tank Corps (British), lumbered alongside Canadians, providing support and attacking fortified defences.

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Canadian units and British tanks advancing in a similar situation during the Amiens advance, Aug. 1918. Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/ PA-003668

At 07:30 “D” Company pushed on over open ground towards Vignette Wood, with a major objective being the elimination of a battery of guns that were known to be sited there.

McMaster University Trench Maps: Demuin, Intelligence Log Target Map July 1918, scale 1:20,000 Great Britain. War Office. Geographical Section, General Staff (Detail)

On the southern boundary of the wood, four “5.9s” (15cm howitzers) and another nearby battery of “Whiz-bangs” (77mm field guns) opened up on the advancing units. In short order the guns knocked out the British tanks. “D” company, led by Capt. J.D. Verner, M.C., managed to advance along a cut in the road, and brought the battery under accurate enfilading fire, with the gun crews promptly surrendering and the guns captured intact. The Battalion rested in Vignette Wood as the 7th Battalion came up and continued the advance.

Modified Google Earth 3D view showing direction of advance of 43rd CIB to Vignette Wood.

Gun 813, along with many other trophies, was eventually shipped on to Canada, in a process I describe elsewhere. Visual evidence suggests this was a 15cm sFH 02 Howitzer.

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Warsearcher Postcard Collection
It was allocated to Richmond QC and shipped there Dec 8th, 1920 by Grand Trunk Railways. It wound up on display in front of the new community War Memorial. I have no further information on its fate. You can see my other posts about surviving captures by searching this site by “Amiens,” or visiting the newly upgraded database loaded at this link. The 43rd Battalion’s advance is described in the unit War Diary for August, 1918, and in the associated Report on Operations, Library and Archives Canada, RG9-III-D-3 vol. 4939, available online here.

The Lost War Trophies of Canada – From Vimy to East Angus QC

This is the much-anticipated debut of a new series of posts! The extensive Warsearcher postcard archive has been mined to restore a visual record of military artifacts that have been lost from communities across Canada. Why? Because we can’t let the non-existence of an artifact hamper our interpretation of it!

Detail of postcard, East Angus QC Post Office and War Memorial. Warsearcher postcard collection

German 15 cm Howitzer no. 249 was captured by the 29th Canadian Infantry Battalion, at Station Wood, near Vimy. This gun was likely one of the four “5.9 inch” howitzers (the British name for these guns) captured by Lt. E.C. Corbett (service file hyperlinked) and a patrol of D company late in the day of 9 April 1917. This action, and accurate map references, appear in the War Diary.

29th Canadian Infantry Battalion War Diary entry for 9 April 1917. Library and Archives Canada RG9-III-D-3 Vol. 4936.

29th Canadian Infantry Battalion War Diary entry for 9 April 1917. Library and Archives Canada RG9-III-D-3 Vol. 4936.

Detail from sheet 51B 1:10,000 scale, McMaster University Trench Map collection. Map reference 51B.1.d.9.6., near Station Wood, Farbus, France, indicated.

Rough location using Google maps.

One of a vast collection of captured German trophies sent by the government to Canada, It was shipped to East Angus via Grand Trunk Railways 10 December 1920;

Extract of War Trophies Allocation Ledger, War Trophis Commission, Library and Archives Canada, RG37D vol.388

Here is a late 1950s postcard view of the East Angus Post Office and War Memorial, which shows what looks like the 15cm schwere Feldhaubitze model 13:

Warsearcher postcard collection

Though it seems to have survived the scrap drives of the Second World War, its later fate is unknown. Any readers with information on this trophy are welcome to comment!

2018 Google street view of same location.