A Thousand Shipsearcher satellite views launched, and some highlights!

The Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe, in his celebrated play, Dr. Faustus, wrote of a mythic age, when a thousand warships were launched to grab back Helen, the most beautiful woman. Here at Shipsearcher, the Ship Identification Section (SIS) can’t tell you if any of that happened in distant antiquity – satellite imagery of the Trojan War is poor, to say the least! We can tell you that we’ve now launched over a thousand warship views and loaded these in our Google Earth satellite imagery database!

With the recent pages for the Norwegian, German, Danish, and Dutch navies, we have now found more than 1,100 warships using open satellite imagery! A project that began as a quick look at active and retired United States Navy carriers has now documented 27 World navies, from the largest carriers to museum and sail training ships.

The resource has a total of 198 pages: Navy index pages (found under shipsearcher menu above) and sub-categories of warships. This includes the stand-alone pages for supercarrier scrapping and Chinese island fortress construction, and the page on terms of use and sources for our images, which also explains how we go about trying to identify ships. Using the search window at right can trawl up some interesting results across pages. For example searches for unique ship types such as hydrofoils, museum ships or wrecks will guide you to the relevant pages. Just do a “control F” search in the page to get to the ship.

So what are some of the most interesting or odd captures we’ve located out there in the wild World? Check out below, where we’ve loaded captions with links to posts and pages to keep exploring the database. It’s a hyperlink-rich environment, folks, so click often and please share!

Olympias trireme Palaio Faliro 2016
The commissioned Greek warship HS Olympias, a reconstruction of an ancient Trireme. We couldn’t read her pennant number or deck code letters…but we’re pretty sure about this ID!
Typhoon_class_submarine
The largest submarine yet, a Typhoon class nuclear ballistic missile submarine, captured by US satellite in 1982 alongside at Severodvinsk, the main Russian site of submarine construction and repair, in the days of the Soviet Union, and today. US Government, released 2012 by the National Reconnaissance Office / Public domain
Typhoon TK208 Severodvinsk 2019
And the same spot almost 37 years later, with the last active Typhoon, Dmitry Donskoy TK-208.
img_0241
It used to be that the Chinese carrier program involved training mock-ups, fake carriers in amusement parks, and buying Soviet missile cruisers to use as hotels and casinos. That all changed when they bought the dead carrier hulk Varyag from Ukraine, and retrofitted it as the Liaoning. The facility above helped plan for the new naval program. A new carrier, a new class of amphibious assault ship, and massive building programs of surface combatants is transforming the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Riga class wreck Boyuk Zira Island, Azerbaijan 2012
We stumbled across these Riga wrecks by complete accident…but they seemed relevant, and were added to the Russian / Soviet frigate page.
Santissima Trinidad Puerto Belgrano ARG 2013
ARA Santissima Trinidad, a British designed Type 42 Argentinian destroyer, capsized at Puerto Belgrano after long inactivity. The destroyer was supposed to have become a museum ship dedicated to the Falklands War, which she participated in.
SS United States Philidephia 2019
The SS United States appears in our post on the visible shipwreck of the SS America, as a comparison and product of the same naval architect, William Francis Gibbs. Classy lady, classy shadow!
Expeditionary Mobile Base San Diego 2017
And now for something different, we have this new type of ship, made from converting a design for an oil tanker. We don’t know what it is, or what it does…but if an oil tanker wants to be some version of an amphibious warfare ship…then good for you, USS Lewis B. Puller!
USN 4-stackersSF1938-2
A highlight of the extensive USN retired destroyers page was this 1938 view of a four stacker USN destroyer at San Francisco…and we found more!
Scrap Saratoga CV60 TX 2015-01
Four months along the scrapping process near Brownsville, Texas, former USS Saratoga, CV-60, shows the stages a massive carrier is “broken”. We explored the scrapping of US supercarriers in our most popular single post and a more extensive stand-alone page a while back.
HM Monitor Chatham Kent SWW
Second World War views of Chatham Royal Navy Dockyards provided by the Kent County Council, allowed us to document some unanticipated views of Royal Navy ships, including this monitor, which looks like HMS Erebus, and another view that can be found on the RN page of HMS Argus.
USS Iowa BB-61 Suisun BayCA2007
The fate of most ships in inactive status at a “warship boneyard” like Suisun Bay, California, is not a happy story. USS Iowa BB-61, Iowa class Battleship, by contrast, had groups bidding to preserve her as a museum ship. Since 2012 she has been moored at the Pacific Battleship Center, Los Angeles.
VOC Amsterdam 2018 wreck Bulverhythe Beachdistance
Wreck and Replica of Dutch East India Company VOC Amsterdam (1748) together! Composite view with 2017/05 Amsterdam view of Netherlands Maritime Museum replica overlaid onto 2018/05 Bulverhythe Beach, UK, capture, from our new page on the Royal Netherlands Navy.
USS George Washington CVN-73, Nimitz class nuclear-powered supercarrier, is displaying her powerful air complement. In our experience we see the aircraft surprisingly rarely in views of these ships in their home-ports.
USS LST-480 wreck HW 2015
The wreck of LST-480 (Landing Ship – Tank), sunk during the West Loch disaster, Pearl Harbor 21 May 1944, which resulted in the tragic loss of at least 163 lives. Shipsearcher staff have tried  very hard to track down many surviving LSTs.
INS Vikrant IAC-1 Error
In the category of best Google Earth splicing errors: Two overlapping images gives the future INS Vikrant another 270′, making it fictitiously a 1,130 foot, double-islanded behemoth! HMS Queen Elizabeth beware!
USS Inaugural wreck St Louis MO 2012
A wrecked museum ship, the former USS Inaugural minesweeper, makes of an oddly beautiful capture with the corrosion and tidelines patterning the hull.
usns mercy san diego 2013
If you don’t love giant hospital ships, there may be something perverse about you. USNS Mercy, and sister-ship USNS Comfort, on the Atlantic coast, were not hard to find, and have been in the news quite a bit lately about the COVID-19 response. Stay safe and watch for U-boats!
HMS Victory 1765 Portsmouth 2014
We all need more HMS Victory in the World, and we said as much in a post.

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.*

USS Westpoint - SS America NHHC detail 80-G-K-5783-A
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.

1280px-Shipwreck_of_the_SS_American_Star_on_the_shore_of_Fuerteventura
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 Strangest Wreck on Sable Island?

A lifesaving Bren Gun carrier wrecked on Sable Island?!

Sable Island is frequently called “the Graveyard of the Atlantic,” because of centuries of shipwrecks that have piled up on its shoals. This island, a remote sliver of dunes and scrub far off the Nova Scotian coast, is Canada’s newest national park. Recently I became aware of a curious relic on the island, close to the West Light.

Sable Island UC from AT2
“Lifesaving” Universal Carrier, Sable Island. (courtesy of A. Taylor) note inventive “barrel” some wag has stuck in the front armoured plate where the Bren Light Machine Gun would have been fitted!

Familiar with Second World War vehicles, the photo, sent to me by a relative currently on the Island, clearly showed the low silhouette of a Universal Carrier, a light tracked-vehicle used for many roles by the Canadian Army from the early years of the War until the mid-1960s. My first reaction was astonishment, but there was an image or two online of the wreck, and a “Motor Museum” enthusiastic online article about building a miniature of this vehicle which explains: “Our model represents a Universal carrier which was used to tow lifeboats, a job previously been done by horses, up and down the coast to launching positions suitable for the crisis at hand. Little is known about it but it is our tribute to the brave souls who saved countless lives and to a weapon of war that ended it’s days saving lives not taking them.”

A fan of Sable Island lore, I decided to see what I could find out at Library and Archives Canada. At least some of the story comes out in 1946-1952 Department of Transportation reports about the equipment on the Island.  Shortly after the War, the DOT, then responsible for the facilities on the Island, was evaluating new lifeboats for the Humane Establishment, the lifesaving and shore patrol facilities.  Up to this point, horses or oxen had been used to help haul the boats (on a wheeled cradle) out from the station boathouses to launching sites. The file details tests of US Coast Guard designs for modern lifeboats. An idea was put forward that mechanical transport would be preferable to animals, and using surplus carriers seemed an inexpensive solution.

CWM_Universal Carrier no.2MkII
One of the Canadian War Museum’s carriers, painted with markings for the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, Royal Canadian Armoured Corps  (author’s photo)

There were mixed opinions of the suitability of a carrier, with some parties (including the Chief of Aids to Navigation) thinking it would soon be immobilized in the sandy dunes. Attempts at procuring a test vehicle were frustrated when a vehicle offered up from War Assets stocks in Debert, N.S., was found to have over 2,000 miles on it (DND ordnance personnel had advised the transportation officials this was too much to guarantee reliability). The eventual 1942 Ford carrier was shipped all the way from Longue Pointe Ordnance Depot, near Montreal, to Dartmouth, N.S., and sent out to the island in the usual steamer resupply on Canadian Government Ship LADY LAURIER, accompanied by a Willys MB Jeep (I have no idea what happened to this). After a lot of casting about online, I located this tweet and image:

Using the carrier to tow a trailer and boat-crew, early 1950s. You’d think pneumatic tires may have helped! (photo credit: Ernest O’Hara, permission graciously granted by Our Sable Island Home)

Whatever the trials and tribulations of this carrier on the Island, the era of modern navigation made shipwrecks (mostly) a thing of the past, and the stations were all abandoned in 1958. The carrier, like much else, became derelict. Today, it is a conspicuous wreck from the last phase of the Humane Establishment’s Century-and-a-half of life-preserving efforts.