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The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast a Ghost no more! The USS HOUSTON is found!

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 19 2014

The US Navy announced today that a wreck in the Sundra Strait is indeed the USS HOUSTON.  The “Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast” is found after 72 years.

If you’ve ever wondered how she got there, and her gallant crew’s impossible fight for survival, read on.

February 1942:

The Japanese empire is spreading with terrifying rapidity.  Pearl Harbor was just the first move in a terrifying campaign.  Within hours, Wake, Guam, Manila, Singapore, Siam among others, were attacked.  Just over two months later, Japan’s military controlled a massive portion of the Pacific.

The cruiser HOUSTON had been assigned to Manila’s Naval yard but on the morning of December 8 (December 7 in America, over the International Dateline) she was patrolling near Borneo–thus missing the attack.

The next few months were in disarray.  The American Navy quickly retreated to what they believed to be more defensible ports, but the Japanese were faster than anyone had dared dream.  And with the American, British, Australian, and Dutch forces in various stages of disarray, retreat, and damaged vessels and planes, their collective defensive positions couldn’t match the Japanese juggernaut that had been planned for years.

The HOUSTON, now one of a small collection of ships which had not been destroyed in December 1941, fought in the Battle of Makassar Strait, and many smaller skirmishes, while escorting and evacuating ships and troops out of soon-to-be-conquered territories.  She survived ships exploding next to her while at anchor under air raids.  The Japanese reported her sunk so many times, the crew nicknamed the HOUSTON “The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast”.  No sooner had the Japanese declared her destroyed than she appeared miles away, causing havoc for the enemy.

Then came the Battle of the Java Sea.  The Allies had built a new base in Surabya, on the coast of the Java Sea.  Any further south, they would have to retreat to Australia, or worse, even India of Hawaii.  Thousands of miles from the active front, the Allies would be at a disadvantage–patrols would have to be several hundred miles and weeks longer, just getting from base to the front.  Supply lines would be stretched longer, and longer lines were, by nature, thinner, and more vulnerable.  Therefore, the newly formed American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Command, were determined to hold the Malay Line.

But the Japanese, with no oil fields of their own, needed to control the Dutch East Indies with not only oil fields, but rubber and metals the Japanese required to build their ever larger military that had to cover an area much bigger than ever before.  They couldn’t afford the Allies controlling those resources, nor having a base so close to their desired empire.  And here, in these weeks, the Japanese finally proved the point of Aircraft Carriers as dangerous weapons compared to the battleships and cruisers most other militaries had spent millions of resources and time building.   Air raids destroyed ship after ship, pre-war bases, and even, on February 19, the city of Darwin Australia.

One of the last photos of the USS HOUSTON and several other ships in Darwin just days before the Japanese attack.


As the closest Australian port to the Malaysian Islands, Darwin’s harbor was now so choked with half-sunken hulks and her infrastructure so utterly burned that if the Japanese pushed the Allies out of Malaysia, they would HAVE to retreat thousands of miles to south Australia, India, or even Hawaii or the American West Coast.

Then the Japanese took Bali–the Malay barrier was starting to fall.

Taken less than a month before her loss, the HOUSTON at anchor in Tjilatjap, Java. Her flag is at half mast as the crew buries men who were killed during an air strike that disabled HOUSTON's turrets a few days earlier. Photo credit: Naval History Association, National Archives


February 24: Allied Intelligence learns the Japaneses are preparing a force apparently headed to Bali.  Unable to intercept with surface ships, the Allies send in their few older submarines that had escaped the carnage at Manila.  They are successful at tracking and sinking a few of the ships, and reporting movements of the enemy.  That’s when the submarines discovered this initial convoy was only one of THREE.  Two more were sailing from the north and northeast.

Admiral Helfrich ordered all available ships and submarines to gather in the Java Sea.  The surface attack fleet woudl be under the command of Captain <SOMEONE>

He had three Dutch Submarines (O-19; K-8; K-10) One British (HMS TIRANTE), and two American boats (USS S-37; USS S-38) that weren’t already attacking the lead force available.  In addition, he had two Heavy Cruisers (USS HOUSTON ans HMS EXETER) three light cruisers (HNLMS De RUYTER, HNLMS JAVA, HMAS PERTH) and nine destroyers (HMS ELECTRA, HMS ENCOUNTER, HMS JUPITER, HNLMS KORTENAER, HNLMS WITTE de WITH, USS AIDEN, USS JOHN D EDWARDS, USS JOHN D FORD, and USS PAUL JONES)  .  Twenty ships in total from four different navies.

And coming was the Japanese Heavy Cruisers NACHI and HAGURO; Light Cruisers NAKA and JINTSU; Destroyers YUDACHI, SAMIDARE, MURASAME, HARUSAME, MINEGUMO, ASAGUMO, YUKIKAZE, TOKISUKAZE, AMATSUKAZE, HATSUKAZE, YAMAKAZE, SAZANAMI, and USHIO.   Twenty-eight ships.  One Navy.  One coordinated, trained goal: conquer the Malaysian Islands.

The Allies fought bravely over the seven hour battle, but it was, in the end, a rout.   The Japanese jammed radio frequencies, preventing the Allies from coordinating with each other.   Two of the light cruisers (De RUYTER and JAVA) and three destroyers would eventually be lost due to this battle (KORENAER was lost, JUPITER hit an Allied minefield in the chaos and sank, WITTE de WITH was severely damaged and sank a few days later.)  2,300 sailors died in those seven hours.  By contrast, the Japanese only suffered 36 casualties, and one damaged destroyer, the ASAGUMO.

HOUSTON went into this battle already damaged, two of her eight guns had been damaged in an air raid (see photo above). When the ABDA forces finally were forced to flee in the early hours of February 28, she an the Australian ship PERTH, following the last orders of Admiral Doorman before he went down on the DeRUYTER, fled to Tanjung Priok in Jakarta.  The remaining surviving ships headed east and skirted between Java and Japanese-held Bali, heading south.

The efforts of the Allies did not stop the Japanese, but it did delay the Java invasion by a day, a day that allowed many to flee to Australia or to the highlands of Java itself.

HOUSTON and PERTH limped into Jakarta at 1:30 pm on February 28.  They pulled in near the Dutch Destroyer Evertsen, who had been docked there for a few days  .  As the captains of the PERTH and HOUSTON quickly disembarked to warn their respective Naval Officials of what had happened the HOUSTON sailors desperately moved ammunition from their damaged turrents to the remaining working ones. The work stopped at one point, as a Japanese bomber bombed a patrol at the harbor’s entrance.  It missed, but it was a horrible reminder of how close the enemy was.

The HOUSTON in her short-lived WWII Configuration Source: National Archives


Despite this, the HOUSTON’s own crew reported everyone was in high morale:

“…The morale of the ship’s company was excellent .  The ship had been continually engaged with no opportunity for rest since the opening of hostilities with Japan…These duties were carried out under conditions wherein normal supply and repair facilities were entirely lacking.  Operations under the command of an in company with ships of other Allied Navies rendered the normal peacetime traniing and doctrine inapplicable.  Admiration for the Captain and Executive Officer, and the intense pride of each individual in the performance for the HOUSTON in preceding engagements overcame all adverse influences to morale and spirit through the ship was maintained at an incomproably high level.  In contrast, with the high state of morale, the physical condition of both officers and men was poor and in some cases treatment for exhaustion was necessary…Meals had been necessarily been irregualar and inadequate…”   USS HOUSTON Report

At 1930 (7:30 pm local time) the HOUSTON and PERTH, with only six hours to get few supplies or fuel, were ordered to return to Java, to Tjilatjap to help evacuate the many civilians trying to flee the invasion from the north.  It is also possible that HOUSTON and PERTH had been selected to evacuate Admiral Glassford and his staff from the temporary Allied Headquarters there.   The Dutch Destroyer EVENSTEN, which they had docked near, was to join them, but needed another hour before departure.

And, only by chance, PERTH and HOUSTON ran into the main Japanese invasion fleet heading, not for north and northeastern Java, as was believed and reported, but WEST Java, directly in the small convoy’s way.  Twenty Japanese warships and fifty-eight Japanese troop transports against three damaged and depleted ships from three different Allied countries.

Today, it’s called the Battle of Sundra Strait.

(The Above movie includes survivors accounts of what happened in this battle and later)

It was dark, only 45 minutes from midnight.  The battle was lit by the full moon and the flares of the massive guns from all sides.  PERTH,  already in the lead, took lead and soon vansihed in the smoke from the gunfire.  When HOUSTON saw her again, she was already sinking, just 30 minutes into battle.  HOUSTON was now alone.

She fired all her batteries at the enemy which attacked in small groups of ships at a time, while the troopships tried to land and disembark their cargo.  HOUSTON’s gunners and pointers, half blinded by the flashes and constantly shifting battle groups in and out of the smoke, found it hard to keep a target in sight for long.  But while the HOUSTON could fire at anyone and everyone, the Japanese had to be much more careful–at least three of their own ships were destroyed by friendly fire.

High above in the superstructure,  the Japanese scored a hit, sending the superstructure into flames for twenty minutes before it could be gotten under control.  Down below, a torpedo ripped into HOUSTON’s after engine room, destroying it.  Rescue parties had to turn back, the steam was burning everything in sight–no further communications were recieved from the engine room.  The venting steam and heat however, blinded t he Anti-aricraft director and forced temporary evacuation from the aft guns.

Then another torpedo took out the Communications and Plotting Room.  The fire and heat forced what few survivors there may have been to abandon and seal those sections–each man on the HOUSTON was now their own fighting unit, independent of each other, but on one floating platform.

Ten minutes later, a direct hit blue the powder magazine in Turret Two, forcing the Conn to evacuate.  Over the radio, survivors remembered heare “Fire in Turret Two’s Magazine”  “Flood Turret Two’s Magazine”  “Fire in A-415-M”   “Flood A-415-M”  “Fire in A-410-M”  “Flood A-410-M”

to this day, no one knows how these fire stared.  But flooding Turret Two’s magazine, left Turret One with no more ammunition.

Fire broke out in lifejacket storage.  With flames licking out of her, HOUSTON became a glowing target, one which the JApanese could not miss.  She took hit after hit.

Five minutes after Turret Two was hit and encircled by enemy ships in point blank range, Captain Albert Rooks announced “Abandon SHIP!”  Moments later, a shell struck the communications deck, and killed him.

Another Torpedo hit on HOUSTON’s Starboard side brought HOUSTON to a halt, dead.

A survivor later recalled:

“..The Japanese had encircled the Houston, illuminated it with searchlighst and were raking the HOUSTON wiht shells and machine gunfire.  And exploding shell killed Captain Rooks.  Then some shrapnel hit me.  I entered the water with the goal of distancing myself from the ship.  The Japanese contined to rake the survivors.  I’d swim under for as long as I could, surface, glance at the HOUSTON and submerge.  Finally, the HOUSTON adn the Japanese vanished….”-David Flynn

The men scrambled to their stations to abandon ship.  The Executive Officer, now Captain was last seen going aft to make sure the men could get into lifeboats.  Moments later, that section took a severe shelling and he was not seen again.

Twenty minutes after ABANDON SHIP had sounded, an hour after PERTH had sunk, ninety minutes after the battle had started, HOUSTON listed Starboard, rolled, and sank.

Of HOUSTON’s 1,061 men, only 368 were ever found.  All of these men were captured.  of PERTH’s crew of 681,  328 remained, all but four (who died after reaching shore) were captured.

The end of the HOUSTON, as painted by a Japanese propaganda postcard. From via Arnold Putnam


In the dark, none saw the Dutch Destroyer EVERTSEN.  Warned by the flashes and flares far ahead in the night, EVERTSEN sailed around the PERTH and HOUSTON’s battle, heading south to warn those expecting them.  Then she suddenly encounted two more Japanese destroyers, who chased her through the night.  AFter a few hits, and with her stern aflame, EVERTSEN tried to beach herself.  her crew escaped into the Javanese forest, where the survivors were taken prisoner.

Three ships were gone, with them, their crews, and no one in the Allied bases evacuating Java or establishing themselve in Australia knew what had happened.  Altogether, 1,071 Allied had gone down with their ships, and 675 survived.   And they had fought hard: sinking or forcibly grounding four troopships, damaging one cruiser, killing ten men and wounding 37 (and another minelayer had been sunk in friendly fire in the confusion.)

The survivors were taken to Jakarta, now, only a few days later, in Japanese hands.

It wold be 1945 before the fates of these ships would come to light in the faces and collective memories of the surviving POWs.  Meanwhile, the city of Houston Texas, learning of their namesake’s ship missing status, raised enough funds to build a second HOUSTON in her honor–and a second ship, the small aircraft carrier SAN JACINTO. (and now  a third HOUSTON, submarine SSN-713 serves in the Navy).


But the resting places of these ships would take longer.

PERTH was found earlier, and by 2013, it was noticed that she had been so stripped by salvagers that her superstructure is largely gone.  As neither Indonesia or Australia are part of the international pact that criminalizes such slavage, there is not much to be done but guard her for the future.

diagram of the wreck of the HMAS PERTH, who lies close to the HOUSTON. You can see the severe damage she took in the course of her short 30 minute fight in the Sundra Strait. Photo credit:


And today, after nineteen underwater surveys and years over documentation, the confimation of HOUSTON’s resting place has been announced.  Sadly, her wreck proves that people have also been salvaging from her for a long time, but now that her identity has been confirmed, the Navy can better preserve and protect this ship and her gallant crew.  Her resting place has been fiarly well known for years, but only now, with the documentation, can the NAvy confirm her, and claim her as a war wreck and grave. And as a certified graveyard, she is protected from further intentional damage by our international pacts.

USS Houston final resting place

The US Navy lays a memorial wreath at the site of hte HOUSTON's grave on June 11, 2014, before the news is publicly announced. Photo Credit: MC Christian Senyk of the Associated Press from this article.

(Wreck footage begins at 50 second mark)

Thank you HOUSTON, PERTH, EVENSTEN and your men for performing beyond the call of duty.  May we never forget.



Office of Naval Intelligence: The Java Sea Campaign, Combat Narrative. 

USS Houston, Senior Survivor (former Gunnery Officer) US Archives,

The Ghosts that Died at Sundra Strait by Walter Winslow, HOUSTON survivor.  (Google Books)

A Survivor’s Story: David Flynn USN

USS Houston Survivor’s Association


USS PERTH AND USS HOUSTON WRECKS (one of the documenting phtoographers was Kevin Denlay, who helped find and document the USS PERCH, a US Submarine whose wreck was found in 2006.)








The Griffon hunt heats up: First a “bowsprit” and now a debris field–has Griffon been found at last?

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 24 2014

Last summer, I covered the search for “Le Griffon” (or le Grifon, Griffen, Griffin, non-standard spellings of the 17th century are so much fun) in Lake Michigan.

The Griffon is the holy grail of Great Lakes Shipwrecks.  While it’s highly unlikely that it’s the oldest shipwreck out there (there have to be some native vessels like canoes resting down there too, after all) it’s the oldest named boat known to be in the Upper Great Lakes, and even more interestingly, it is the first ship built by Europeans on the Great Lakes using native timbers.  Her discovery, if confirmed, could shed light on the very earliest shipbuilding in the New World, and even more interestingly, a ship built on temporary shipyards constructed because no one could get around Niagara Falls!  (The “shipyard” was destroyed shortly thereafter.)

Back in 2001, Steven Libert found a timber jutting out of the sandy Lake Michigan bed, one that was obviously squared off with wooden pegs embedded within it. He believed that it was a portion of the Griffon, hopefully, the bowsprit or the mast and the rest of her was buried beneath.

But the archaeological laws in Michigan are complex.  The shipwreck barely lies within the Michigan property lines that run through Lake Michigan.  The Michigan laws state that all archaeological finds beneath Lake Michigan belong to the state itself.  This is in part to prevent salvage or destruction or theft before scientific study.

The side effect, however, is that discoverers, like Libert, can often be pushed out of any subsequent explorations, and he wasn’t about to let that happen. In a twelve-year-long negotiation, Libert kept the location of the suspected “Griffon” a secret while he negotiated with the state to be part of the exploration.

But, in another twist, the French government, claiming that the Griffon, or any remains thereof, having been built by a Frenchman in French-claimed territory at that time, belongs to France.  It lead to an international exploration last summer.

The French archaeologists on the exploration declared that the exposed beam shared many characteristics with French bowsprits from the late 17th century.

But the Griffon was not beneath the “bowsprit”.  After digging around the base, the bowsprit came free, revealing nothing but sand and bedrock below.  It was a disappointment, and a huge question: where was the Griffon? IF this “bowsprit” was her, where was the rest of her?  If it wasn’t the Griffon, and the initial core tests which indicated it was from the late 17th century were accurate, what on earth was this thing?

As the permitted time to explore closed, the “bowsprit” was taken to Michigan State University for further tests, the results to be shared with the state archaeologists and the French team.

Samples were sent to be carbon-14 dated in Florida, and a CT scan in a Gaylord Hospital allowed for tree ring analysis without having to take a sample and thus potentially destroy some other evidence.

The “bowsprit” inside the CT scanner from Ostego Memorial Hospital in Gaylor MI. “Please hold your breath and remain as still as possible” Betcha that was easy this time around.

Nothing came back definitive, but at the same time, nothing came back excluding the “bowsprit” from potentially belonging to the “Griffon”  That is to say, the carbon dating suggests that the beam could be as old as the Griffon is supposed to be [1](the most recent carbon-14 test suggests the tree was cut down between 1680 and 1740, well within the margin of error for a 1679 “Le Griffon”) but in order to exclude a more modern date, different tests will be needed.

And there were 29  clear tree rings documented in the CT scan done by Otsego Memorial Hospital’s CT scanner. These were sent to Cornell University so Carol Griggs, an expert at the Tree Ring Laboratory at Cornell, can compare it to other trees of the same location and time period in Cornell’s database.  The hope was she could match these tree rings to another tree of the same region and species to “date” the bowsprit to a specific time period.  But in the end, she concluded at least 50 tree rings are needed to make a definitive match to a specific time period, so this test, too, fell through.

So nothing has yet said, “Nope—this is too young to be part of the Griffon”, which really, is the best you can hope for at this point. Of course, nothing has definitively said, “Yes this IS the Griffon!” either. What role this “bowsprit” will play in history’s future depends on what happens next.

Is it the Griffon?  There are now two camps about that.

In the “yes/it’s possible” camp are Steve Libert, its discoverer,  and the three French archaeologists headed by Michel L’Hour, director of the Department of Underwater Archaeological Research,  who joined the expedition last year.

Evidence that this is the Griffon’s bowsprit includes the beam’s general length and width, and shape of the buried end of the post.

Keep in mind, wood does not rot in the same manner in Lake Michigan as it does in the salt water of the oceans.  The cool water of the Lake keep wood in better condition for much longer.  While 19th century wooden shipwrecks are often mostly disintegrated by the 21st century, in Lake Michigan they are mostly intact.

So the buried end of the “bowsprit” shows signs of being beveled to an edge, but not sharpened to a point.  Buried as it was, this beveled edge is most likely deliberate, and original to the “bowsprit”.

A photo from the French Ministry of Culture showing the beveled, buried, end of the “bowsprit”. From this article.


This beveling on the end is consistent with how bowsprits were shaped to be fitted to the ship itself.  The other end, with the two man-made holes and pegs could be the attachement the “elbow” used to belong to, which would then attach to the flagpole.  This type of bowsprit is at least consistent with the “La Belle”, built by La Salle five years after “Le Griffon”.



Among the individuals in the “no” camp is state archaeologist, Dean Anderson, and two scientists who were on the 2013 expedition: Misty Jackson and Ken Vrana.  They believe that the “bowsprit” is most likely a stake from a “pound stake net”.

What’s a “Pound Stake Net”?

A pound stake net is a net strung among a number of submerged, vertical stakes pounded into the sandy Lake Michigan bed 35 or more feet below the surface.  Shaped like nested hearts, or hearts in bowls, these nets allowed large schools of fish to swim inside in large numbers, but few could find the way out.

These diagrams of Atlantic Pound Stake Net designs show how such things worked. Schools of fish could easily enter the large opening of the “Heart” end of the nets, but them swim through the small opening at the end of the heart into the “bowl” where they would be unable to find their way out again. From here, it’s easy to retrieve your catch. The locations of the poles are also easily seen on the left and center diagrams. If the “bowsprit” really is a pole from this method of fishing, others may be nearby, or records of recovered poles may exist. Diagram from NOAA.  Click to see larger resolution.


A diagram from this article which better shows how a pound stake net works, and what it looks like from the surface.


These nets were so successful at capturing fish that whole populations of fish, especially the prized lake Whitefish, disappeared in the Green Bay region, where the “bowsprit” was recovered.

During the summer 2013 expedition, no one mentioned the Pound Stake Theory, because none of these recovered stakes had the type of cross-way pins that the “bowsprit” did.

But a modern fisherman, Bob Ruleau of Wisconsin, submitted a photograph of a pound stake his nets had recovered years earlier.  His recovered artifact revealed that pound stakes had, at times, been spliced together using cross-wise pins. (see the photo here)

Moreover, each pound stake was pounded in deeply once, using a pole driver, a method that would lead to a single erosion ring right at the surface of the lake bed.

A Pole driving boat in Lake Erie. According to the caption, this boat would both drive the stakes, using a pile-driver set up, and remove them at the end of the season. Makes sense in a way–winter is brutal on such semi-submerged objects, so may as well remove them, and reuse the following season. Photo from NOAA

Photograph supplied by Bob Ruleau who also supplied documentation on the splicing of the pound stakes, this photo more clearly shows how the floating pile driver would pound the stakes in. You can also see the stakes also protrude from the water by about 5 feet. If the “bowsprit” is one of these stakes, it must have broken off some time ago.

The “bowsprit” has this type of fairly clean erosion line, leading many to believe that whenever and however the “bowsprit” was driven into the lake bed, it was driven extremely forcefully.  How could the ship-side end of the bowsprit be driven so forcefully that there is only one clear cut erosion line, but no remains of the ship?

The erosion line on the “bowsprit”. Photo taken by Laura Herberg from IPR for this article

Is it possible that the “bowsprit” broke off, and embedded itself in a small amount of sand, and thus created a catalyst for a dune to form around it within afew days?  The storm that sank the Griffon was four days long, and very violent, so such a thing would be possible.

Or is is a partially spliced pound stake left over from 19th century fishermen looking to make a large catch?

Only one way to find out.

Libert went back to the site and began to search around. Now, he’s announced that there is a large field of debris about 120 feet (36 meters) south-west from the original “bowsprit”, and hopes to gain the archaeology permits in time for another exploratory excavation in September of this year.

While the new “debris field” has yet to yield any definitive artifacts like cannon marked with the correct French seals, it does, apparently, have a partial ship’s pow, several kinds of nails and hand hewn boards.  The nails within the debris field are consistent with a known La Salle shipwreck from the Gulf of Mexico, the “La Belle”.  If this is the case, it’s a circumstantial point to this “debris field” potentially being the Griffon.

If all goes well, this fall could be a very exciting year for Michigan archaeology!

Maybe I should do an entry on the “La Belle” and how what we’ve learned about her by studying her shipwreck could impact the search for the Griffon.


More information:

Bowsprit or Pound Stake Net remains?

Wooden Beam Gets CT Scan (This article supplies great photos of the “bowsprit” in the CT machine–really gives nice views of the formerly exposed end with the cross pins and holes)

Article about the new debris field from MLive, the Michigan digital paper cooperation.  They follow this story closely

 Daily Mail’s article about the new debris field; great photos

70 years after D-Day, May We Pause to Remember…

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 06 2014

When my kids bounced on me this morning, it was already past 7.  My brother lives in Germany, and has told me that they’re six hours ahead, likely five hours ahead in Normandy.  It struck me, on this 70th anniversary of D-Day, that for those families at home, getting up this morning 70 years ago, the invasion that would come to be one of the seminal moments of history, was already secure.

It was 1 am here in the Midwest, when the boots of Americans, Canadians and Englishmen hit the beaches and parachuted out of the skies, and glided in on wooden gliders (that tended to break on impact).  By 7 am here in America and Canada’s eastern regions, the German stations were silent, manned by the dead that remained when the prisoners were taken.

An Aerial view of Omaha beach taken June 6, 1944. This is only one beach of five, and I think gives a glimpse of the massive scope of this part of the operations. Wikipedia.


As I’ve been watching documentaries and reading articles and papers about D-Day the past two weeks, I’m amazed at what went wrong, (a lot!), what went right, what the Germans had done that we didn’t expect (steel rebar-reinforced bunkers crossed with paranoid over-engineering), and what we did that the Germans didn’t expect (The Ghost Army and Operation Bodyguard), and how that all played out on the actual field of battle.  As one military tactician said, “No battle plan survives reality”. All sorts of improvisation moment-by-moment on June 6, saved the day.

A unique color photograph showing some of the ships getting ready to sail for the Normandy invasion. The Higgins boats that will deliver the infantry men to the beach are in the foreground off to the right. Wikipedia commons.

The reality was, Hitler didn’t expect the Allies to land at those beaches.  There were two main reasons for this.  The first was he and his advisors knew that any invasion would need to be reinforced by supply ships and more troops, and therefore, the Allies, when they landed, wherever they landed, would need to land in a place that had a deep-water bay and port that those ships could use.

He didn’t forsee that the Allies were already working on floating, pre-fab wave breakers to make an artificial bay, and floating pre-fab docks for an instant port.

The other reason was simple: Hitler expected us to land at the port city of Calais…because we told him so.  All sorts of tent cities, and inflatable (not a typo—inflatable) weaponry and vehicles were stationed all around Dover where the German submarines and spies could easily see them, all ready to head to Calais. All sorts of double agents reported the movements of phantom troops heading to Dover with orders for Calais.  Lots of radio traffic was intercepted all saying the same thing, Calais…Calais…Calais.  Hitler built up Calais and the surrounding area, leaving the rest of France, including the soon-to-be-famous Norman beaches 150 miles away, relatively undefended.

But that didn’t mean that it was going to be easy.  Hitler and Rommel had built “The Atlantic Wall” to keep the Allies out—a massive string of bunkers shielding massive guns and machine guns nests intended to drive out any invaders.  Submarines spent the spring and summer of 1944 quietly watching the targeted beaches, looking for positions, landmarks, painting the landscape to help teach the coming troops, many still on their way from Canada and America, where they were and where the Germans were going to be.  Whoever stepped foot on the beaches first, regardless of when or where, was going to face a hailstorm from even the few Germans left to defend it. The troops, from Eisenhower on down, knew it.

A photo of one of the bunkers the Allies were up against on June 6, 1944. The Germans had, unknown to us, invented steel rebar reinforced concrete structures, making them much tougher to destroy than we were expecting. This bunker still exists off of Normandy's beaches, still structurally sound 70 years on. Photo Credit "Bunker" by strengthsofcow., Creative Commons License.

Due to the top secret nature of D-Day, known that day as Operation Overlord, the men involved couldn’t inform their families.  Many wrote letters to be sent if they didn’t return, and the first groups to hit the beaches had more than 90% fatality rates, so many of those letters did find their ways home.

Beginning at midnight, the invasion quietly began with paratroopers and minesweepers, and by dawn, the largest naval invasion force ever assembled and coordinated, swept into the narrow lanes cleared through the minefield surrounding France, disembarking troops to re-take the captive nation.  Many of these troops had been in school on December 7, 1941, when America entered the war.  And too many wouldn’t make it past the beaches.

Just hours later, the engineers sank their artificial floating blocks to form the sheltered bay and linked the pre-fab floating docks for the ships together.  LST ships, specially designed for this type of landing, hit the beaches (literally), discharging their cargoes of tank and trucks safe from the massive guns and machine gun nests now silent along the ridge.

A rare photo of the pre-fabbed docks that were created for this invasion. one of them was destroyed by a storm a day later, but by then, it didn't matter as much, the beach head was secure and most of the supplies that needed to come off of the ships down these docks had already done so. Source: US Archives via Wikipedia.

So much had gone wrong.  The Aerial bombs intended to destroy the German positions had missed by three miles due to fog, the naval bombardment hadn’t accounted for the steel skeleton within the concrete German bunkers, preventing their destruction, and the floating tanks designed to come in before the troops and demolish what remained of the German positions, could not withstand the rough water, and sank in the bay.  When the troops ran down the ramp of their Higgins boats, they faced the full fury of the nearly unscathed German positions.

And yet…yet…the insistent constancy of the brave men continuing to run across the hedgehog-studded beach through the hail of gunfire had won the day.  Despite what the Germans threw, the men kept coming, running, improvising attacks that took the Germans from their vulnerable side—from behind.  By noon, the worst of the initial landing was over.

Another view that gives an idea of hte scope of the landings once the beach was secure. Wikipedia Commons.

Now the fighting would take place hedgerow by hedgerow, fighting through the ancient stone walls and bushy fences built by a millennia of farmers.  Many would consider this much more dangerous than the beach landing, but that was still largely in the future by noon on June 6.

The cost had been high: over four thousand Allied dead that morning[1], and they had to be take care of.  With no access to embalming or means to take the dead home to their families, the names were recorded and the dead were interred in unofficial cemeteries.  The English, Canadians, and Americans took care of their own, and also the Germans who had fallen in the battle and retreat.  Still, a fifty-mile long battlefield was extensive, and many were missed for days, and then many were unable to be identified.

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery. You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to Omaha beach. Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated. Photo Source:

After the war, everyone returned.  Wounds had to be bound up, and the dead collected.  The country of France gave land, in perpetuity, free of taxes or fees, to France, America, Britain, Canada, and even Germany, to allow them to inter the dead.

This is La Cambe Cemetery. On June 5, 1944, it was two adjoining farm fields. Following June 6, it became a dual cemetery. On one side, (I'm guessing the right) was the American dead. On the other side, German soldiers rested. After the Americans chose the Omaha Beach site for their official cemetery, they disinterred their dead from La Cambe, leaving the German dead behind. France then allowed Germany to take full possetion of this property, creating LaCambe German War Cemetery (see below). Source:

As an American, when I think Normandy Cemetery, I instantly picture the row upon rows of white crosses set perfectly within a carpet of green at the Normandy American Cemetery.  As vast as it is, however, when you go to the Normandy cemetery, you only see ONE-THIRD of the casualties in Normandy.  When the remains of the men who died in Normandy were recovered in the years following the war, their families were given the choice to have their loved ones returned home or allowed to remain with their brothers in arms there in Normandy.  Nearly two-thirds of the families asked for their sons and brothers and husbands to come home.  In addition to those who died on or after June 6, a number of airmen who were shot down and died as early as 1942, were also returned by the French people who had buried them in honor within their own cemeteries.  Despite all the records, there were still over 1,500 missing men, and their names were inscribed on a wall near the entrance to the cemetery.  As the years have passed and more remains from this time were recovered, bronze rosettes were set next to those names whose remains were identified.  Many names, however, remain unmarked.

The walls upon which the names of the American missing are inscribed at the Normandy American Cemetery. There is a bronze sculpture in the center entitled "Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves". Photo from Wikipedia


The truth is, however, there are thirteen cemeteries honoring the dead of just the Norman invasion of WWII.

The Americans have the one Normandy American Cemetery.

The crosses of the Normandy American Cemetery. Wikipedia.

The Canadians maintain two cemeteries: Bény-sur-Mer Canadian Cemetery and Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery.

Teh Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Cemetery. Wikipedia Commons.

There are four British Cemeteries: Bayeux War Cemetery, Ranville War Cemetery, Banneville-la-Campagne and St. Manvieu War Cemetery

, have now set free the Conqueror's Native Land." In addition, there is a German section, where 466 German soldiers rest, their graves also maintained by the same Commonwealth War Graves Commission that maintains this cemetery.   Wikipedia Commons."”]And the Germans needed six cemeteries for their dead: La Cambe German War Cemetery; Champigny-St. André German War Cemetery, Marigny German War Cemetery, Mont-de-Huisnes German War Cemetery, Orglandes German War Cemetery, and Saint-Désier-de-Lisieux German War Cemetery.

The German La Cambe cemetery. Of the 12,000 German soldiers buried here, most fell between June 6 and August 20, 1944. The soldiers here originally rested in 1,400 unofficial or quickly organized battlefield cemeteries all over northern France. The youngest men here were 16. The oldest were 72. The large hill to the right topped by the cross is a mass grave for 296 German men, most un-identified. (It may be the site of that circular path in the 1946 La Cambe photo above). The tombstones here are low and flat, you can see them behind the large basalt crosses in the foreground. Wikipedia Commmons.

Today, as many heads of state gather over those bluffs, remembering that day when young soldiers charged through blood-soaked sand to re-take a tiny piece of France, may we all pause.  So many young people, from the infantry men who faced near certain death, to the paratroopers landing behind enemy lines, to the doctors and nurses who had to treat horrific injuries in field hospitals and ships at sea, chose to re-enter the war, and take down the Nazi regime because they believed in a good beyond themselves, and greater than their individual lives, that had to defeat the evil the Nazis wanted to take world wide.  They chose to face death and the death of those around them, in order that those left behind them at home could continue to live free, and those living under enemy rule could re-gain the freedom lost.

The cost lies under so many “white trees” along that fifty-mile beach, and all over Europe and the Pacific, and within America’s borders.

Freedom truly isn’t free.  And that proud tradition continues today with our men and women in uniform.

To those who gave their all and sleep beneath stones, thank you for giving it all up for me, and my family, and us all.

To those who continue to serve, thank you, and I pray that you do not need to lie beneath a tombstone for my sake, but thank you for being willing to do so.  May we honor your service now and always.

And to those who lived through hell, who question, “why me?  Why did I survive when so many good men and women did not?” I say, “I don’t know.  But tell me about them and what happened.”  May those of us who come after, listen to the cost, remember those who passed, and know that we stand on the shoulders of those willing to see and live beyond their own small world.


Thank you.


For more information:
The 607th Quartermaster Graves Registration History.  These personal photos taken in the aftermath of D-Day and the subsequent weeks and years show how the temporary cemeteries were created and later consolidated.  Warning, these are personal, uncensored photos.  Some may find the visual records of how these dead soldiers wer interred disturbing, but they are a unique view into this part of American military history.

[1] As a comparison, in the eight years of fighting the Revolutionary War, the Americans had lost about 8,000 soldiers.  Half of that number fell in just a couple of hours on June 6, 1944.

Horace Hunley and the Civil War Underwater Experiment Part 2: The AMERICAN DIVER submarine

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 22 2014

Summer, 1862:

The South is being squeezed by the North, but the war is nowhere near finished, or even, as things turned out, half over.  The Union had the advantage in numbers of people, industries, railroad connections and the military/government complex already made and tested.  The Confederates, forced to create and develop everything from Constitutions, capitals, governments, military complete with command structure and resources, on the fly or on the run while defending their boarders,  had nonetheless had a number of early, major victories.

Though eleventh in chronological battles, the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas, is considered the first major engagement between the Confederate and Union troops.  Less than 20 miles from Washington DC and connected by good roads and rails, the Battle of Bull Run/Manassas, was a complete rout, with Union troops breaking and running, with some civilian observers, back to Washington DC in a near-panic.  (It was a 10 hour carriage drive, so we’re not talking a complete gallop the entire way)


Painting "Capture of Rickett's Battery" by National Parks Painter, Sydney E King. Now on display at Manassas National Battlefield. Wikipedia.

According to the common warfare of the time period, many on the Union side believed that the Confederates would follow and attempt to capture Washington DC the next day or two. DC residents scrambled to gather their personal effects, important government papers, artifacts, and abandon town before the Confederates 1812’d the place and “White House III” needed to be re-built–again.  Certainly President Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States, there on the field of Manassas, urged his generals to do just that, capture DC, sue for peace, and put this war behind them.

But it never happened. The Confederates rested their troops, the Union regrouped, and the war dragged on.  And the weaknesses of the South’s economy began to show.

The South’s economy was based on agriculture, specifically “King Cotton”.  Prior to the invention and patenting of the cotton gin in 1793,[1] cotton was a laborious crop, requiring so much work to raise, pick, process, and weave that the resulting cloth was a luxury good only the rich could easily afford. The South primarily grew tobacco, which was losing popularity. By the end of the 1780’s ,the large plantations and the slavery on which they depended, were slowly dying away. Then the cotton gin eliminates one of the most problematic and labor-intensive parts of cotton’s cycle from plant to fabric: removing the seeds.  (Seriously, one pound of cotton needs 10 hours to de-seed by hand.  The early 19th century gins can handle 50 pounds a day.)

Suddenly, cotton cloth is cheap and there’s a whole new market for cotton all over Europe and America. They couldn’t get enough of the stuff.  The South churned out millions of bales a year to feed that appetite, increasing plantation size, numbers of slaves, and wealth.  But that means they develop industry only in so far as it helps increase cotton production, and transportation thereof to sea ports.  The North develops industry, including manufacture of steam engines, laying of railroads, mining metals, and growing grains and foods in fertile valleys that are too cold to support cotton.  Many of these things take up land that could be used for cotton, so the South’s economy benefited the most from selling as much cotton as they can produce and purchasing anything they might need from the North and Europe.

But when push comes to shove, and suddenly you can’t ship your product out, you discover….cotton’s USELESS.  You can’t eat it.  You can’t use it.  You can’t make it into weapons to defend yourself, you can’t build with it, you can’t do anything other than trade for stuff you can use.  You can make cloth and tents and clothes with it…but the looms for these things were in the North and Europe.  Cotton was shipped out in bales, not bolts. So long as the Union blockade remained and grews, millions of tons of cotton bales built up in warehouses and sea ports [2], but the economy of the Confederate States teetered  on the brink of collapse. [3]

Taken in June 1862, these are part of the Confederate fortifications of Yorktown. You can see what they used to buttress the fortifications and absorb gunfire. Well, when you have MILLIONS of bales of the stuff lying've got to do SOMETHING.... Photo credit: "Secondary Education: Confederate fortifications at Yorktown"

There are blockade runners, but they have to be built for speed to outrun the Union ships, so they can’t carry enough freight to balance the ships which are still being held hostage.  The South HAS to break the blockade to survive.  And despite having to sink her, the PIONEER proved to be one of the most promising ships that could blow up, sneak around, or break the phalanx of Union ships that kept Confederate frigates in, and European frigates out.

Now in Mobile Alabama, Hunley, McClintock and Watson need a new place to build their next boat, and they found it, and two new partners in the bargain: Park and Lyons Machine Shop, the business of Tom Parks and Tom Lyons.

Taken about 100 years later, in 1960, this shop would have been one of the centers of technological industry in Mobile during the Civil War.

This new boat was supposed to advance on the PIONEER in a few ways: she would have a longer hull with more room for men.  Her knife-like bow come to a vertical blade rather than a point, which would allow her to cut through the water easily, while giving vertical stability.  But most importantly, Hunley and his team hoped to revolutionize underwater navigation with a new engine propulsion system.

Even into the twentieth century, underwater propulsion had a central problem: combustion engines required air, and anything that’s watertight is also airtight.  Within seconds to minutes, the engine sucks all the air out of the vessel and your lungs start to take issue with this idea.  That’s why the diesel submarines of WWII were not diesel boats in the strictest sense, they were diesel electric.  Submarines would run the engines on the surface with special induction valves allowing air in, the engines would run generators, the generators would charge batteries.  Once charged, the engines could be shut down, the intakes closed, and the submarine, now running solely on electric batteries, could take to the depths. Until battery power ran out, the submarine could remain underwater. (Modern subs also function on this principle, but nuclear plants do not require air to function, so modern subs remain underwater as long as food stores and crews’ patience holds out.)

But that innovation was still thirty-five years or so in the future.  Hunley and his team of four had a lot to work through, and no time to screw up.

File:American Diver.jpg

You can see in this cross-sectional diagram, allegedly done by McClintock, that AMERICAN DIVER was meant to have only one crewman provided the engine idea worked. (engine off to the left). Wikipedia.

The original engine idea was a electric-magnetic engine.  Sadly, there are no specifications beyond this description, so no one knows how they were going to design or rig this thing in any configuration.  The only thing we know is the engine, once fitted within the hull of the PIONEER II (now called AMERICAN DIVER), was not powerful enough to propel the submarine fast enough to overcome even the simplest current.  With no documentation of the engine, or the tests used before the engine was removed and destroyed, we’ll never know how close we could have come to a unique engine propulsion system, or how much earlier the NAvy could have used submarines.

With the electric-magnetic engine abandoned, the group turned to a custom built small steam engine.  Any engineer is going to see the problem with this idea–same as the combustion engine idea-fire needs air and air in a submarine is in short supply.  The best historians can figure, this engine may have been designed to build up significant pressure, then, once the fire was doused, the crew could dive the boat, and function on the graduated release of the built up pressure.  An interesting idea, but didn’t work well enough again.  We’re back to a few strong men turning a crank.


A second diagram of the DIVER, mislabeled the Hunley, but most assuredly the DIVER. Here you can see the hand crank for the propeller is now incorporated (on the right).

It was now January, 1863.

The Great Ironclad MONITOR and MERRIMACK had already fought each other to a draw.  The Battle of Bull Run/Manassas (no. 2) had happened with another Confederate victory, but things were slowly turning against the South.

AMERICAN DIVER however, was a bright spot.  she handled, she turned, she seemed to be ideal to drag a contact mine behind her and take out the ships blocking Mobile’s harbor.  This links to the best drawing I’ve seen about how her crew were positioned and worked within AMERICAN DIVER.  (Couldn’t get permission to post in time, so the link is the next best thing)

By February 1863, the Confederates decided to try the DIVER against the blockade.  The crank was physically hard on the men of the DIVER, and Mobile was over twenty miles from the mouth of the bay. So, the DIVER was towed from Mobile to Fort Morgan, located on a little spit of sand guarding the harbor’s entrance.  Between Fort Morgan and Fort Gains, across the way, the DIVER and any of her targets would be in closest proximity until a target was close enough for a mission.  Here’s where the story of the DIVER differs slightly, though the ending is the same.

In the first version, as DIVER was approaching Ft. Morgan, a storm, which had been building as DIVER and her tow reached their goal, swamped the DIVER.  The tow ship was soon forced to cut the t0wline, lest DIVER take on water and draw her tow down with it.  With her prospective crew on the towing ship and safe, DIVER went down alone.

In the second version, the DIVER made it to Fort Morgan, and out and back on her first mission, but the attack was unsuccessful. A second attack was planned, and it was at this juncture, heading out on her second mission, that the DIVER was lost in the storm. [4]

This 1861 map of Mobile Bay shows how small and up-river Mobile is compared to modern day, and also how far the AMERICAN DIVER had to be towed to get to her operational area. Despite continuing as a busy and well-mapped port, Mobile Bay still hides the secret of AMERICAN DIVER's resting place. Image is larger than it appears, click for full details.

Whatever happened, the DIVER was gone, and with it, the time, money and resources the Confederates had put into her.  None of those where easily replaceable, not any more.

But both the PIONEER and the DIVER had been so promising, Hunley and his team were determined to try again.  With money and materials scarce, in order to build her, they were now going to have to sell shares of any future loot this next submarine, called “The FISH BOAT” or “PORPOISE” on paper, would someday capture.

Try, try, again.

 [1] Archaeological evidence shows that the ancient Indians (as in, subcontinent of,) had a type of cotton gin as far back as 500 AD.  There were also types of roller cotton gins in the Bahamas in the 19th century.  In addition, there are claims that Eli Whitney was not,  technically, the first inventor of the cotton gin–just the first one to try and patent it for mass-production.  Whatever the truth (which is usually tangled), Whitney did not make much money on his gin…later he invented the rifle with inter-changeable component parts for easy assembly and repair.  THERE’s where the money was!

[2] Ironically, in 1861, after the South started to secede, but before the North decided to blockade the ports (see note [3]) the South decided to economically force the North and Europe (actually, England, or if all else fails, France) to either sue for peace (North) or intercede and mediate for peace (Europe).  They did this by voluntarily refusing to ship cotton out of the South, devastating the European and Northern cloth shipping, weaving, textile, and clothing markets.   Or so they thought.  The North wasn’t interested, and thanks to the South’s extreme sucess at growing cotton, they’d actually grown more than could be USED in the past year.  (The English also had seen this war coming and had stocked up…just in case)  So warehouses were bulging with cotton on both sides of the Atlantic.  The 1861 crop was not, strictly speaking, needed.  Moreover, England didn’t want to upset the North, putting trade for grain and corn and goods at risk, and they most certainly didn’t want the North invading Canada in retribution…again (War of 1812).  There was some economic fallout, see “Lancashire Cotton Famine” in Whikipedia.  But it wasn’t bad enough for the English to risk jumping in the middle of this mess.  France didn’t want a divided America, they wanted a strong America who could balance the English in trade and military naval might in the Atlantic. So, they didn’t interfere and hoped for a Union success.  And then Egypt and the Bahamas said, “If you’re looking for cotton…we’ve got plenty!”  So this failed on a catastrophic level. (Let that be a lesson, unless you have ABSOLUTE 100% control of a good or service and there is NO substitute, more often than not, hoarding stuff only provides others the opportunity to fill the market you vacated!)

[3] Ironically, (there’s just too much irony!)  by “blockading” the Confederate States, the Union States were tacitly acknowledging the Southern states HAD the right to secede and form an independent nation, and thus, this isn’t a rebellion, this was a war against a seperate nation that used to be part of their own.  After all, you block someone else’s ports.  You simply close your own to trade.  By “blockading” the South rather than closing her, the North showed that despite rhetoric, they, on some level, believed it was true the South had the formed a second nation.  (Another little known fact: NEW ENGLAND came within a hairs-breadth of seceeding from the union during the War of 1812, when Federal policies de facto prevented trade with France and England both–killing New England’s economy.)

[4] Clive Cussler, the novelist of the Dirk Pitt adventures (love ’em!) was part of the team which located and helped raise the HUNLEY in 2000.  He’s now searching for the AMERICAN DIVER in Mobile Bay.  I do hope he someday finds her, and the HUNLEY and DIVER can be exhibited together.

Shirley Temple and her (short) Submarine History

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 11 2014

Saw the news this morning of child actress Shirley Temple-Black’s passing. Another golden age icon gone.

While I’m reading all these news reports about Temple, I’m noticing that one of her many accomplishments that’s being (I’m sure inadvertently) overlooked is her support for the military, before and during WWII.  It’s not surprising really, as many stars at that time did anything they could, and many did it quietly, with no press releases or announcements.  The only reason I stumbled across it was from a tiny photo.

USS Flier’s Chief Radioman was Walter Joseph “Bud” Klock, originally from St. Paul, Minnesota.  He joined the Navy to get training and work, but also support his single mom and little brother.  The Submarine Base in Honolulu was a far cry, in distance and environment, from his mother’s little apartment, and Klock wrote her frequently, sending all sorts of accounts of this things he was doing. (Two years into his hitch, he wrote home complaining that it was a cold 60 degrees in Honolulu that winter’s day.  I wonder what his mother, still in St. Paul, thought of that!)

Prior to WWII, servicemen like Klock, even aboard submarines, were allowed to take photos aboard, and write home talking about what they were doing and where they were serving, and Klock, armed with his old camera, sent dozens of photos home.  Sometime while he served on the massive ARGONAUT, Klock got to see a performance by Shirley Temple, and snapped a photo of her being escorted across the deck of his boat to send home.

After WWII started, letters from Klock became fewer and shorter.  Fewer because he could only send letters when he was in port, and shorter because the Navy had all sorts of rules against mentioning place names, ship and boat names, personal names of other servicemen, any information that could identify military tech in case a spy intercepted the letter (which, in the submarine force’s case, the entire boat was the latest technology, so nothing to see here!), and on and on and on. Some men complained that the only thing you could do was write, “As of today’s date, I’m somewhere in the world, doing something I can’t tell you, and I’m still breathing and healthy.  How are you?”

Klock sent his last letter home in mid-July, 1944, and died with the Flier on 13 August, 1944.  His mother and wife Velma, kept all of the letters, which were passed on to Klock’s nephew, whom Walter never had an opportunity to meet.

Klock’s nephew allowed me to see and transcribe these letters before their donation to the USS Silversides Submarine Museum in Muskegon, Michigan. While sorting them and putting them in chronological order, I found that fun little photo of Shirley Temple, in the late 1930’s (August 11, 1937: see update below), visiting the USS Argonaut (likely in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu).

Taken in the late 1930's when Temple was between 8 and 11 years old, then submariner Walter Joseph "Bud" Klock took this photo of Shirley visiting the USA's largest submarine at that time, the 358 foot Argonaut. To the left, the Argo next to a "standard" sized (between 207 and 240 feet) S-boat. The Fleet Boats of WWII were still largely in the planning stages, but would still be a good forty-six feet shorter than the Argo. Argo was lost with all hands on 10 January 1943. She would retain her "largest submarine" record until 1959 when the USS Triton (SSRN-586 ) and USS George Washington (SSBN-598) were commissioned, coming in at 447 (Smashing Argo's record) and 381 feet long, respectively. Photos courtesy of the family of Walter Klock.


Temple was thirteen when WWII began for the USA, and seventeen when it was over.  As an established celebrity, and moreover, a celebrity associated with positive, feel-good movies, she was valued as a morale booster for the country and the military. She worked for War Bond Drives, in both America and Canada, in her movies, making personal appearances, and serving and performing at the famed Hollywood Canteen.

The Canteen was a restaurant/entertainment venue for servicemen regardless of race (this was a segregated time period in American History, so a racially integrated venue, even for working servicemen, was extremely unusual) that was staffed and headlined by Hollywood’s best and brightest.  Chaired by Bette Davis, who had no problems calling personal celebrity friends from all over Hollywood, including from multiple studios (something that got her in trouble once, but as usual, she quickly pointed out that if the Hollywood head’s had trouble with their stars working together, doing their bit for the boys in uniform, she’d have no choice but to follow their wishes…and then call a press conference!  Studio heads promptly decided they had no problem with it!) celebrity chefs, anything and everything to entertain the boys. At one point, apparently, when meat rations were too scarce for The Canteen, Davis even called DC to inform them that as the Canteen served servicemen, she should be allowed to get better rations to serve them.  DC made that happen. Temple was one of her regulars, holding signs pointing the way, serving punch or cake, and performing. (Check out the link for tons of pics and a great story about the Canteen.  It was really something!)


A Teenage Shirley Temple serving cookies to the troops at the Canteen ca. 1942-43. The Canteen would close in 1944. Photo from


After the war, she married two WWII servicemen (the first marriage ended in divorce) which, all things considered, wasn’t all that uncommon.  She later became one of the first women to publicize her battles with breast cancer, and even became an American ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

A truly remarkable women, who, when she was a child, brought smiles one day to a submariner who snapped a picture for his mom, far away in St. Paul. Let this desire to serve men and women in uniform, also be a part of Shirley Temple’s remembered legacy.

(BTW, if anyone can help me date the Shirley Temple submarine photo, please contact me at  I’d love to be able to add some more context to the photo for its records)

The Argonaut’s story on this website (includes more candid photos courtesy of Walter Klock and his camera)


UPDATE:  Talking to another person who inherited another photograph of Shirley that same day on the Argonaut gave me some new ideas for web searches.  Thank goodness for online archives and newspaper archives.  We now have a date!  Shirley Temple visited the Argo at Pearl Harbor on August 11, 1937, when she would have been 9 years old (and a six-year veteran of the movie industry already!)  A sailor wrote an account of the visit and sent it to the Chicago Daily Herald, which printed it!  It’s an interesting little article, though as a writer, I had to laugh a little bit towards the end when he describes Temple.  It’s also an interesting note in that Temple was given an officer’s dolphin pin during her visit.  This almost NEVER happens.  I know of only a few times a civilian has been bestowed with a dolphin pin, and here one.  Enjoy!

Chicago Daily Herald, Friday, September 10, 1937, pg 8 column 2

“Bronco Forszen helps Entertain Shirley Temple

“Merlin (Bronco) Foszen, who is a member of the US Navy and is stationed at Pearl Harbor Hawaii, has written an interesting account of the recent visit of Shirley Temple to Pearl Harbor and the Submarine USS Argonaut, which gives a first hand picture of the most popular juvenile star of the movies.  Mr. Forszen’s story follows:”

“On Wednesday, August 11, 1937, the officers and enlisted men of the Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, T[erritory of] H[awaii]  were honored with a visit by Shirley Temple.

Miss Temple was due to arrive at 10:30 a.m and all Navy Children were invited to be present.  Several house before Miss Temple was scheduled ot arrive a strained and somewhat tenseness wrapped itself around the base.  Every sturdy man O’Warsman tried hard to conceal the fact that he was just a little thrilled at the thoughts of seeing the little star.  And as could be expected, most of them were down on the dock fully three quarters of an hour before she came.  At 10:35, she arrived, her car stopping a few yards from the gangway of the USS Argonaut, the submarine she was to visit.  She was immediately swarmed by move photographers, autograph hound, and ardent admirers.

Due military honors were bestowed on the little Colonel, as the boatswain piped the six side boys to a “hard salute” as she came across the gangway.  Genial Lt. Commander L.C. Walton, skipper of the Argonaut, on receiving his honored guest, presented her with a gold submarine insignia.  Following this came an informal inspection of the ship’s crew, and the topside.  Points of interest were explained by Captain Wilson, Miss Temple’s Naval Aid, and skipper Walton.

On leaving the ship Shirley gave each of the side boys a snappy salute, and walked fearlessly into the surging crowd of women and children.  She was quickly freed and slipped in to an official car.  The car pulled away and the crowd quickly broke up.  But the little ray of sunshine and happiness hadn’t left as everyone one thought she had.  The reason for this was that she wanted to see the big submarine shove off and go to sea.  As the mechanical fish grew small in the distance, Miss Temple was taken to the Submarine Officer’s quarters.  Once there she had to go through the trying and tiring experience of being hostess to approximately seven hundred small children.  They touched her golden curls, felt her white silk dress, crowded around her, inspired by her presence, and no doubt longing and praying to trade places with her.

No amount of descriptive words can adequately describe the splendid character, vivacious personality and cool nonchalance that this internationally famous little girl possesses.  She could receive pompous military men, celebrated statesmen, pious clergymen, and stately demigods and still predominate the setting with her spakrling [sic] blue eyes, winsome smile, golden hair and above all, her outstanding, electrifying personality.

Miss Temple’s visit here made many children happy and relieved many men of heavy hearts and spirit.  No one could be dull or unhappy with an enchanting bundle of humanity like Shirley Temple around. 

I would like to thank both Mr. and Mrs. Temple for the honor and privilege they bestowed on the Naval Service by this visit.

Loose ends: Griffon, Miami, and more

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 08 2013

Lots of new information coming to light on a number of topics:


First, the submarine MIAMI, having hung in there for so long, will hang no longer.  Late last year, the Navy announced plans to repair and put MIAMI back out to sea, even if, as many supposed, they would have to partially cannibalize her decommissioned sister MEMPHIS, also in Portsmouth’s Shipyard, to do so.  MIAMI’s arsonist, Casey James Fury,, set the fires so he could go home due to anxiety about his girlfriend.  While he set the initial fire in the Crew’s Quarters, it soon spread to the Torpedo Room, Control Center, Auxiliary Machine Room, and Sonar Room.  These rooms are highly complex with thousands of components and interrelated and interconnected systems.  Fixing her would amount to gutting the MIAMI and rebuilding her most central and sensitive rooms.  That being said, MIAMI still had at least ten years left on her nuclear fuel, and until the fire, was in fairly good repair.  Moreover, submarines are under more demand than ever, but new boats cannot be built at the same rate as the older girls are scheduled to be decomissioned.

Cross section of an LA-class submarine (like Miami) with the fire damages highlighted. This may or may not reflect all the damage Miami suffered since some damage might be classified. Still, it’s a decent schematic of where most of her damage likely lies. It’s a large graphic, so click on it if you want to see it full-size.

So back in 2012, shortly after the fire, the Navy weighed the extra costs of repair against the cost of scrapping, against the personnel costs of keeping other submarines at sea longer while MIAMI holds her place in a drydock long after she was supposed to…on and on and on.  The submarine force is a thing of precision, in more ways than one.  Each sub’s crew, schedule, maintenance is all based on the movements of her sisters worldwide, all of which has to dovetail with the surface fleet as well.  MIAMI’s longer tenure in her drydock affected the next submarine scheduled to have maintenance in that drydock, which affected her mission schedule, which may have forced other shipyards to pick up extra jobs, or shuttling extra jobs, also forcing another submarine to pick up MIAMI’s future missions, while screwing up maintenance, crew rotations, and missions all over the place.  It was a nightmare, and each ripple of change had costs.

But submarines form a good portion of the backbone of the Navy, and many believe we need as many submarines as we can safely keep afloat.  All things considered, MIAMI was best put back to sea, and plans went forward.

Then this little thing called the sequestration happened.  MIAMI times ten.

Now the Navy had to reconsider MIAMI’s status in light of less money.  Then, more news came in–cracking.  In a highly controlled environment, like a submarine underwater, the slightest crack in any part of hull, piping, or componenent can end a submarine’s life, and that of her crew.  In 1963, a faulty pipe in the THRESHER likely lead to her sinking and the loss of her crew.  In MIAMI, cracking was now reported in pipes in air, hydraulic and cooling systems which run through the torpedo room and an auxiliary machine room.  More repairs.  More time.  More money.  More potential problems yet to be uncovered.  For every day MIAMI was in drydock, another surface ship or submarine may have to wait longer for necessary repairs and crew rotation.

According to the Navy, it was a hard choice, but now, instead of repairing a submarine, Portsmouth Shipyard will now scrap her, a process that requires fewer workers, so layoff processes are now in consideration.  The money that had been earmarked for her repairs, both this year and next, will be re-allocated to the standing fleet for their maintenance and upgrades.

After a long and respectful career, most of which is still buried under Top Secret classification, the MIAMI will be scrapped where she stands, in the dockyard where she burned.

She becomes the first submarine as well as the first nuclear powered naval vessel to be lost in a naval shipyard.

Godspeed MIAMI, you and your crew served your country well, and we thank you.


Following in MIAMI’s footsteps are nine submarines in various stages of construction: form the MINNESOTA, due to be commissioned in less than a month, to the ILLINOIS, WASHINGTON, COLORADO, INDIANA, SOUTH DAKOTA, and DELAWARE….all ordered and named, but whose keels are not yet laid.  Currently, construction takes sixty-five months, start to finish (Construction has likely started on some of these submarines, if not all, but the keel has yet to be laid), and is soon due to constrict further to 60 months.  (Way down from the 84 months a Virginia-class sub used to take!). Still, that’s five years from start to finish. MIAMI’s loss will be felt.


As I’m trying to tie up loose ends, I’ll touch on the Griffon’s “wreck”.  After delving 20 feet through Lake bottom, the surface sonar detected and was thought to potentially be the Griffon was…bedrock, so no ship there.  That doesn’t mean she’s not out there, nor that the “bowsprit” is fake.  It may indeed be a part of the Griffon, and the rest of her may be nearby–or may be broken up.  It’s possible, if she really did sink in that general area, that she broke up, either in the process of sinking, or over the intervening centuries.  So she may be found yet.

The “Bowsprit” had to be taken care of.  The archaeologists had two choices: take it or leave it.  Taking it would be problematic, as the State of Michigan claims ownership of the “bowsprit” and issues 30-day “leases” on it for research purposes.  Leaving the legal nightmare that is likely coming up behind, the bowsprit itself will need highly technical conservation to prevent its decomposition, and allow for study.  (See Development’s in the Griffin’s Dig, near the photo of the Mary Rose’s conservation for more information of what conservation will entail) Leaving it, however, was also problematic, as the bowsprit could be stolen by someone or even lost once again under Lake Michigan’s sands.

Not shockingly, they took it.  I hope we’ll hear more about any forthcoming tests or results on it.  Preliminary tests already suggest it’s the right age.  If more tests are done that can conclusively prove it’s from the late 17th century, then whatever that big stick is, it’s most likely part of the Griffon.  A small step forward, is a step forward!

Below, see a half-hour documentary made on-the-ground as it were about the recent Griffon dig and what they found.  Really interesting.  Locally produced.

Shipwrecked: The Search for Le Griffon

That’s all for right now.  But news is still forthcoming: MINNESOTA is due to be commissioned soon, the submarine command has transferred, and underwater archaeology is always changing and revealing new things!

Military Times Article about Miami’s scrapping decision

Article about Miami’s new damage

Developments in the Griffon Dig, the ‘Bowsprit’ came down…

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 19 2013

Update: Wednesday, June 19, 2013.  With the initial excavation permit (the first underwater permit in Michigan’s history!) due to expire on Friday, and the French archaeologists scheduled to leave the USA shortly thereafter, time is running out at the Griffon site.

A map showing Griffin’s last days in the blue (any route taken by Griffin is pure speculation, though the dates of her ports of call were recorded by Hennepin.As before, click image of larger image.

Initially, the sonar scans done last year suggested a large object, around 40-45 feet long, consistent with the Griffon’s descriptions, was buried only about 2 feet below the surface.  So this week’s excavations have involved dredging around the alleged bowsprit sticking out of the mud, hopefully uncovering the deck of the Griffon.  Unfortunately, what they found first was a near impenetrable layer of quagga mussels, and what the Sonar was picking up earlier seems to be much, much, much, further down. At least another 8-10 feet, if not further.  The extra depth forced the Griffon Excavation Team to bring in new excavation equipment that could handle this new depth.

Then, Tuesday night, as they were working near the “Bowsprit”, it suddenly began to wobble.  Divers realized that if it had once been connected, it wasn’t any longer, just deeply stuck in the mud.  Archaeologists decided to lower it to the lake bed, before it became a safety hazard.  So now we have a nearly twenty-foot long…something.

This is both good and bad news.  The bad news, obviously, is we’re still no officially closer to the Griffon if they’re excavating the right spot.  The good news, however, is multi-fold.

  • With the “bowsprit” down, they can now start excavating wider and with…well, one hates to say “with less care” but they certainly can explore a wider area faster than when they were concerned about the “bowsprit” and its stability.
  • The “Bowsprit” is now eligible to return to the surface and be fully examined.  This will include some really extensive conservation, but would allow it to be examined in controlled conditions.
  • The “Bowsprit” has been examined underwater by French archaeologists, who are convinced that it came from ship, and it a bowsprit, though the top, exposed ten feet are eroded from three centuries of sand and water (ya think?).  And therefore, SOMETHING interesting is in the area.  If she sank in a storm, the Griffon could have broken up, leaving this “bowsprit” where it is, and other items in the area.  Even broken up, she would still be archaeologically very valuable

The Bowsprit is the long, needle-like projection that extends from many (but not all) sailing ships’ bows. Of the four drawings of the Griffon done by Dr. George Quimby based on contemporary descriptions, this is the only one that shows any bowsprit at all, surprisingly. If the Griffon is only 45 feet in length as most scholars believe, I have a hard time believing her bowsprit is nearly half that length, but then again, 17th century sailing ships are not my specialty.

Now, the sand they’re sucking up is being sucked to the fishing vessel “Viking” which is the home base for this expedition.  The sand is filtered and checked, before being put back in the Lake.  This far, one or possibly two artifacts have come to light: a “cultural artifact”, with no further description, and a 15-inch long slab of blackened wood that shows signs of hand shaping.  These artifacts, could, of course, be one and the same.

Ideally, what they’re looking for is a French artifact from the 17th century, which could definitively prove that this place is the site of the Griffon, warranting a larger excavation this year, or a return next.  The perfect artifact would be one of Griffon’s guns, as these would be emblazoned with the arms of Louis XIV, proving beyond doubt that the Griffon settled near here.

Three days down, two to go, and of course, what happened today is not yet known—that’ll hit the papers tomorrow.

What happens to the bowsprit now?  Who knows?  There are two real options: leaving it near the site, and bringing it to the surface.

The exact site of “the Griffon” is a closely guarded secret (in fact, the discoverer, Steve Libert sat on that piece of information for nearly a decade as the rights to this expedition were dragged through court after court after embassy, after court as his trump card. ), but the general location is known.  To prevent theft or vandalism, the “bowsprit” may be buried nearby, and they’ll hopefully return next year.

Or, they could bring the Bowsprit to the surface and return with it to shore.  The problem here is that wood is full of natural oils. What does oil do in water?  Float to the surface.  Carbon-dating tests and archaeological surveys already suggest that that “bowsprit” is centuries old whatever it is and wherever it comes from, and over the hundreds of years, most of the oil in the original wood will have seeped out, up and away.

If it’s brought to the surface and allowed to dry out, the wood will essentially crumble to dust.  Another 17th century shipwreck, the Swedish Vasa, had to be kept damp until it can be sprayed with polyethylene glycol, which filled and the spaces the oil used to and stabilized the water-logged wood.  The Vasa had to be sprayed for seventeen years and dried for nine to allow for full penetration and stabilization, while the Mary Rose was sprayed for sixteen, and is currently drying (the earliest it will be considered “conserved” and ready for visitors will be 2015.).  Being one piece of wood, of course, the process for the “bowsprit” here will be faster, but it’s a long journey from the Lake to the nearest place that would be equipped to do that sort of work, and it would have to be kept wet and stable the whole time.

The Mary Rose undergoing the glycol treatment. If the bowsprit is brought to the surface, it’ll undergo something like this–though obviously, not at this scale! Image from Wikipedia.

The other good news, is the mud surrounding the “wreck” appears to be thick and possibly anaerobic, meaning no oxygen penetrates and therefore, anything that could eat the wreck can’t do anything.  She could possibly be whole down there…I’d say that’s asking too much, but the name Richard III rolls around in my head and reminds me that, yes, every so often, you can strike the Archaeological equivalent of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But as I was thinking about the bowsprit, it got me to think about some possibilities about the wreck:

If that is the bowsprit, the wreck, if the bowsprit didn’t break at the beginning, could be tilted as much as this. Still, the final dimensions of that “bowsprit” are close to 20 feet, and again, a bowsprit that’s half the length of her ship seems very unusual to me.


A set up like this, where the “bowsprit” is actually part of the main or other mast makes a little more sense to my point of view. It at least would explain why the original staff was between 10 and 11 feet high and the hole was reportedly around 8 feet deep when it started to tumble, but sensors indicate the ship, if she’s there, is still several feet further down. It would also explain why we haven’t come across many artifacts yet.


Or even this idea. The top right sketch of Quimby’s Griffon drawings shows no bowsprit at all, but a main mast that appears to be two masts joined roughly half-way to two-thirds the way up. If this upper portion came loose and that’s what has just been excavated, (The “mast” to the right would indicate its original position)  that would also account for why no ship was attached to the lower end of the spar, and why sensors show a mass of something several feet down. Of course, there are any number of other possibilities: she could be broken up, she could be on her side, she could be scattered everywhere. Still, it’s fun to wonder…


Some of the best from today’s articles:

The Associated Press Article about the mast separating

One of the more detailed articles I found researching today

Another article about the bowsprit coming loose

Grand Haven Tribune article with a map of the area on which I based the one above

Has La Salle’s Legendary Griffon been found?

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 18 2013

One of the most unique shipwrecks in the world may be on the verge of coming to light.  And being a native Michigander some four generations back, I’ve always heard about “The Griffin” and her wreck.  Part legend, part haunted ship (she’s the “Flying Dutchman” of the Great Lakes by some sources), part wild goose chase, it now appears there may be an end to her story.

In 1679, the Great Lakes region looked much different.  The area was known as “New France” or “Louisiana”.  French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle was sent by King Louis XVI to explore the New World and formally claim part of it for France.  He’d been doing this for a number of years, exploring parts of modern New York, Michigan, and possibly down as far as Kentucky.

Satellite view of the Great Lakes Region as it appears today. The Great Lakes region, or Louisiana, part of New France, as it was called them, would appear very different. It was under these raw conditions that the first cobbled-together shipyard would produce “The Griffin” the first European decked, sailing ship to appear on the upper Great Lakes.

Of course, the native peoples of the Great Lakes region were welcoming of Europeans as long as there were few of them and they were eager traders, but as more colonists came desiring land, things got a little more uneasy.  Some tribes were welcoming and some were openly hostile, yet others allied with other tribes against the Europeans or with the Europeans against their own enemies. (Of course, individuals have unique agendas, further blurring these lines.)

Setting out to map the Great Lakes, and discover if the rumored Ohio River did lead to the Mississippi and eventually the Gulf of Mexico, de la Salle took a ship up Lake Ontario, but was stopped by a little obstruction called Niagara Falls, and had to figure out what to do next.  He couldn’t go around Lake Erie, as the local peoples, the Seneca nation, did not want him in their territory, so he had to continue on ship…and the only one he had was stuck at the base of the falls.

He had two choices, use the large canoes used by the native peoples of the Great Lakes, or build a new, European style ship.  Guess which one he went with?

Named “Le Grifon” or “The Griffin”, this ship, only about as long as one of those canoes, but much higher and more heavily armed, was built between January and June 1679.  But think for a second: the Griffin’s men first had to build their own lodgings, and guard against attacks from the Seneca and Iroquois, who did not approve of this new ship.  They had to fell great, virgin trees, likely hundreds of years old, cut them to length and width, plane them down, shape them, and set them in the ship on-site, while a blacksmith would first have to build a forge, then create all of the metal fastenings to hold Griffin together.

Thankfully,  de la Salle had a priest along on this expedition, a Louis Hennepin, who chronicled the entire journey, including Griffin’s short life.  It’s his writings that give us the clearest and one of the only first-person accounts of the build to loss of this unique ship.  He records that one master carpenter, one blacksmith, and ten other workmen built the Griffon in five months (January – May 1679).  The only pre-made items for her construction were the cannons, guns, rigging, chains, sails and anchor.  She had a griffon on her bowsprit, and an eagle carving as well.

Griffin’s possible appearances based on Hennepin’s period descriptions, other French ships of the time, and the research of Dr. George Quimby, Field Museum curator. Only finding the wreck will prove which, or any, of these designs are accurate.


The map below shows where Griffin’s only voyage went.  All things considered, she was very fast for her time.


Griffon’s Voyage, based on Quimby’s research and Hennepin’s accounts. Click on the map for a larger image. To read the Griffon’s account in Quimby’s book for yourself, go here:  (Link on the right).

In September, De la Salle, wanting to continue down Lake Michigan and find a river that could lead to the Gulf, but also needing to return to settle debts and acquire more supplies, decided to divide and conquer.  The priest Hennepin wrote what happened next:

“M[onsieur] la Salle, without asking anybody’s Advice, resolv’d to send back his Ship to Niagara, laden with Furrs [sic] and Skins to discharge he Debts: our Pilot [Luc the Dane, by all accounts] and five Men with him were therefore sent back, and ordere’d to return with all imaginable speed, to join us toward the Southern Parts of the Lake…They wailed the 18th of September with a Westerly Wind, and fir’d a Gun [cannon] to take their leave. was never known what Course they steer’d, not how they perished; for after all the Enquiries we have been able to make, we could never learn anything else but the following…

The ship came to an Anchor to the North of the Lake of the Illinois [Lake Michigan] where she was seen by some Savages, who told us that they advised our Men to sail along the Coast, and not towards the middle of the Lake, because the sands [shoals, bars, islands] that make navigation dangerous when there is any high Wind.  Our Pilot as I said before, was dissatisfy’d and would steer as he pleas’d, without hearkening to the Advice of the Savages, who, generally speaking, have more sense than the Europeans think at first; the ship as hardly more than a League from the Coast, when it was toss’d up by a violent Storm in such a manner that out Men were never heard of since and it is suppos’d that the Ship struck upon a Sand as was there bury’d.”

The Griffin was never seen again.  De la Salle later heard some rumors that the pilot, Luc the Dane, and his men had scuttled the Griffin, and made off with his supply of furs worth £49,830 (in 2005 values) or $90,689.73 (2005 values)[1].  Another rumor that floated around was the local peoples had boarded the Griffin, then burned her to the waterline, where she sank.  Of course, the most common conclusion was the Griffin had sunk the four-day storm that Hennepin noted in his diary from September 19 to September 24, 1679.

The only European built ship in the Upper Great Lakes for nearly another hundred years, the Griffin is unique for several reasons: she’s the first European style ship built on the Great Lakes, using mostly native materials.  She may have utilized unique construction techniques due to this construction.  She’s from a time period that few examples survive, even few accurate plans.  As a wreck, she would be a time capsule, allowing an unpolluted view into this elusive time period of North American history, when the lines between the native peoples and the European settlers was constantly shifting, the concept of the USA and Canada was not yet born, when a French Flag flew over most of modern New York, Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and the whole place was called “Louisiana” (And now you know where the name “Louisiana Purchase” officially originated.)  But most important, she seems to have sunk in a relatively deep, cold place in Lake Michigan, and possibly was completely covered in sand.

Why is that important?  Because unlike the ocean, where wooden ships quickly rot away, leaving their outlines in weaponry, metal fastenings and other stable cargo, wooden shipwrecks of the Great Lakes can remain whole for decades, if not centuries.  Many 19th century shipwrecks in Lake Michigan and Huron still bear their riggings, and hold cargo in perfect condition.  The Griffin, if found, even raised, could change our concepts of this time, much as the Mary Rose did Tudor England, or the Vasa about 17th century Sweden.

To give an idea of the excellent condition the Griffin could be found in, if she reached the bottom relatively intact, check out this video of the HMS Ontario, which sank in Lake Erie in 1780, during the Revolutionary War, or the American War of Independence.  Outside of some zebra mussels, she’s in such perfect condition, her discoverers said even two windows are still intact.

Or look at these 3D  models of shipwrecks from Thunder Bay, most of which sank in the 19th century.  Many of them look as though they sank a short while ago, still standing some with masts and some rigging intact.

The Griffin could indeed tell us much of the earliest written history of the Great Lakes.  But if the site that’s been investigated now is Griffon, who owns her and what happens next?  Heck, her discovery is a story in and of itself.

That’s another post.

For More Information:


This movie was put out by the Great Lakes Expedition team which is heading the Griffin expedition:

And this one is a highlight reel of the excavations taking place this summer (June 2013) Apparently, this spar of “the Griffin” was 10 feet, and they’ve excavated another 8 feet down to find, more spar! If this is the Griffin, I’m wondering if it’s the mast, not the bowsprit as previously thought, but then again, I’m not on site, and 17th century sailing vessels aren’t my specialty!

Great Article on the Griffon’s possible wreck, including photos and film footage of the bowsprit/mast spar:

Information Provided by the Great Lakes Exploration Group, who are leading the exploration of the wreck

 More information about the shipwreck and the progress of the preliminary dig taking place this summer (2013)



[1] Calculations based on “Money and Exchange Rates in 1632” by Francis Turner; “Currency Converter: old Money to new” from the British National Archives online:; and X[change] Rates: Great Britain Pound to US Dollar 2005 Exchange Rates:


Submarine News: The Past: Discovery of the U-486 and her tale.

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 27 2013

Several months absence can put you far behind on submarine news–even of the historic kind.

Breaking news: a new U-Boat wreck has been identified in Norway.  The U-486’s remains, split by a British torpedo, has been found in 820 feet of water off of Norway.

She was only on her second patrol.  Her first had been amazingly successful, especially given that it was late 1944, and Germany was operating from a defensive position, with many experienced submarine hands already having been lost.

U-486 at sea, likely 1944 or early 1945. Original Image from The Local.

U-486 departed for her maiden patrol on November 26, 1944, out of German-occupied Norway, to circle the British Islands.  Armed with acoustic torpedoes, she also sported a new skin: rubberized tiles coated her hull, designed to counter the Allied sonar.  She circled the north of Scotland and down the western coast of Ireland, approaching her assigned patrol area, the English Channel.  She quickly found and sank the cargo ship SILVERLAUREL, who was en route to Hull from Falmouth, carrying tons of supplies, but only a small crew, most of which was saved.

But on Christmas Eve, she’d strike a greater blow: the LEOPOLDVILLE.

The Leopoldville in her passenger days of the 1930’s

By 1944, the old Belgian passenger ship has an old hand on the Southampton to Cherbourg run.  She’d transported over 120,000 men in 23 runs, and now took 2,235 more Americans plus some British troops aboard.  Unknown to them, they were destined for the Battle of the Bulge.

As per usual, she and another troop transport, the CHESHIRE, departed with three escort destroyers, BRILLIANT, ANTHONY, and HOTHAM, and the free French ship, CROIX de LORRAINE.  The trip would be quick, less than 12 hours, and the men aboard, who had abandoned their Christmas celebrations in England, would celebrate in France instead.

But there were some differences for the LEOPOLDVILLE.  For the first time, the entire convoy was ordered to zig-zag, a standard anti-submarine move designed to make it more difficult to aim a torpedo accurately.  The reason? U-Boat activity seemed to have picked up recently, though no one had seen any.

Of course, what no one would know until the war’s end, is the German’s had invented the Snorkel, a specialized pipe that allowed a submarine to draw in the necessary air to run their diesel engines without having to surface.  Now, U-Boats could operate relatively safely even in the heavily patrolled and defended British waters, and they were taking full advantage of that.  Snorkels were soon standard equipment, the U-486, watching the convoy, had one aboard.

Aboard the LEOPOLDVILLE, things were a bit in disarray.  For the fifth time, an incomplete and, as it would turn out, highly error-filled passenger list had been delivered before she left the dock.  Inside, the men were ordered to sit in benches in the former cargo holds and cabins, anywhere they could find room.  This lead to some groups being split up.  A lifeboat drill was called, but due to a faulty loudspeaker system, not everyone heard.  Those that reported were not trained in how to lower lifeboats, or the proper way to wear and enter the water while wearing LEOPOLDVILLE’s life jackets.  A minor oversight that would have severe repercussions.  But one wrinkle that may have initially saved lives: the December sea was rough, forcing many of the men in the hold to make a dash for the heads and rails on the upper levels as soon as LEOPOLDVILLE hit open water.

By 1745 (5:45 pm local time), the LEOPOLDVILLE had already been stopped twice, as the BRILLIANT’s sonar made a submarine contact (which may actually have been the U468).  The alert and depth charges didn’t bother the traveling troops, most of whom had suffered similar alerts on the trans-Atlantic trip the month earlier.

Now five miles from the French coast, the U-486 took aim and fired one torpedo, hitting the LEOPOLDVILLE in the starboard stern.

The U-486 headed for the bottom again to dodge the depth charges that quickly came raining down, while on the surface, the men in the depths of the LEOPOLDVILLE struggled through the debris and newly dead to clamber to the higher decks.  Stairs had been blown away, some debris sank, injuring the flailing men, others floated and became their own obstructions.  The men already on the higher decks reached down and hauled as many men to safety as they could, even those severely injured.

Still, as many as 300 died in the initial attack.

The LEOPOLDVILLE’s deck was now flooded with the passengers. Those in the forward sections knew exactly what had happened, and the commanding officers quickly ordered the men to spread out as evenly as possible, to prevent a capsize.

Everyone was quiet and calm. Three of the escorts were actively hunting the U-boat, while the BRILLIANT was trying to raise help from Portsmouth via radio, or Cherbourg, by signal light.  The CHESHIRE stood off at a distance, unable to risk her passengers to save the LEOPOLDVILLE’s.

As the initial minutes passed, LEOPOLDVILLE looked like she might, despite her wound, be able to be towed to shore.  But complications were starting to show, and the disarray of earlier that day was about to be costly.

Portsmouth and Cherbourg were, for security reasons, on different radio frequencies and codes, forcing BRILLIANT to spend a lot of time switching back and forth.  In addition, being Christmas Eve, everywhere was lightly stationed, giving as many as possible the night off.  The many small vessels that crowded Cherbourg’s harbor and normally would have raced to help at the initial strike, were dark and cold, their owners and crews celebrating in town.

LEOPOLDVILLE began to drift in the current, towards a minefield.   Her captain, Charles Limbor, ordered the anchor dropped, a sensible action which would not pay off later.

Ten minutes after that, about 40 minutes after LEOPOLDVILLE was hit, Limbor ordered all non-essential crew to abandon ship, an order not fully understood even today.  With those men gone, few remained who knew how to raise the anchor, lower lifeboats, or safely evacuate the ship in an emergency.

At the same time the crew was rowing away, HMS BRILLIANT finally managed to get a message to Fort L’Ouest, near Cherbourg, which had noticed the drifting LEOPOLDVILLE.  L’Ouest tried to signal the LEOPOLDVILLE, but BRILLIANT answered: “LEOPOLDVILLE hit, need assistance.”  L’Ouest asked what kind of assistance, but BRILLIANT didn’t reply.

The HMS Brilliant at sea. Undated photo.

At that moment, probably one of the bravest and insane rescues started.  With no one coming and the LEOPOLDVILLE in rough seas, BRILLIANT’s captain decided to take a risk and save some of the trapped men if he could.  Sidling his own, smaller but more heavily armed ship next to the LEOPOLDVILLE, he made his ship available for anyone who wanted to…jump.

This was no mean feat.  Even with LEOPOLDVILLE’s scrambling next hung down her side, the seas were tossing the two ships back and forth and up and down.  The BRILLIANT’s deck, one moment was 12 feet below LEOPOLDVILLE’s deck, another moment, twenty feet, yet another, forty.  Then the ships would yaw apart for one moment, before crashing together the next.  Jumping took nerves of steel, and those that didn’t make it…

Blood soon smeared the sides of both ships.

On the BRILLIANT, the survivors broke bones as they landed.  BRILLIANT’s crew grabbed their hammocks, laying them in the “landing zone” to cushion the falls, and evacuated the injured as quickly as possible.

Five hundred men later, the little BRILLIANT could not physically hold many more, and drew away, leaving hundreds still trapped with no way out.  It was 90 minutes after the LEOPOLDVILLE had been hit, but help was finally coming from For L’Ouest and Cherbourg.  The tug ATR-3 was on her way, as were a number of smaller boats, ready to stand by and help as needed.  BRILLIANT’s commanding officer, noting that even now, there was not much on  LEOPOLDVILE, believed that most of the passengers could still be saved. [1]

The Tug ATR-3 threw tow lines to the LEOPOLDVILLE, but too few on board knew how to tie them, or raise the anchor so LEOPOLDVILLE could set underway.  A Coast Guard cutter tried to sidle up beside LEOPOLDVILLE as BRILLIANT had done, but the sea battered her too badly, and she pulled away before many could get on board.

Lifeboats were lowered, or cut away, with many of the injured on board, as the men started to improvise evacuations.  Captain Limbor marched through the masses, officially ordering “Abandon Ship” in French and Flemish, as the ship’s loudspeakers had died, but few understood him.  Some lept overboard with improperly secured life jackets.  If not secured snugly enough, the front and back halves of these jackets “clapped” together as the men hit the water, breaking necks.

Suddenly, between 2020 and 2040 hours (10:20 pm – 10:40 pm), approximately five hours after she had been hit, two explosions were heard deep within the ship, blowing hatch covers and men into the water.  LEOPOLDVILLE keeled over and sank in moments.  Those left aboard scrambled over the side and into the water, or simply stepped into the sea as the ship fell beneath them.

Drawing of the Leopoldville sinking, done by Richard Rockwell, nephew of Norman Rockwell, for the book , “SS LEOPOLDVILLE DISASTER” by Allan Andrade.

The water was 48 degrees, and the waxing gibbous moon low in the sky, giving little light.  Some of those thrashing tin the water were still in their full gear and were dragged down by it.  Others managed to drop what they had quickly enough to re-surface.  The small vessels that had stood by now rushed in to grab the living and the dead.  In the dark, it was sometimes difficult to tell which was which.

Captain Limbor went down with his ship, as well as four crewmen from Belgium and the Congo.  Due to the error-filled, incomplete passenger list, it would take days for the British and the US to figure out who and how many had been lost.  No number has yet been released by the British government (even nearly 70 years later) but it’s probably less than 10.  The American number officially stands at 763, though unofficial numbers frequently reach as high as 802.  It was the second worst loss of infantrymen in the Atlantic Theater.

To finish the LEOPOLDVILLE’s story quickly, the men who survived, nearly 1,400 of them, were re-routed away from the Battle of the Bulge, and most survived the war.  They were, however, forbidden to talk about the LEOPOLDVILLE’s loss, and their letters were censored to make sure.  A highly erroneous story about the loss of LEOPOLDVILLE was released to the official press to confuse any German spies (some said LEOPOLDVILLE was a hospital ship, others said it sank too quickly to help the passengers.)  Some in the Navy believed that the LEOPOLDVILLE’s loss reflected so poorly on them (Christmas Eve, for example, should not have been an excuse to half-staff ports when a convoy was expected, communication should have been more coordinated in case of emergency, especially since U-boat attacks were rising, a lifeboat drill should have been done, records kept accurately) that the story was buried, and the families given few details.  The loss of the LEOPOLDVILLE was little known for decades.[2]

Painting of the Leopoldville wreck, as she’s seen today.

In the chaos, the U-486, simply waited until Christmas Day dawned.  No one found her, and she spent a quiet Christmas in the same general area she had been on the eve.  On December 26, as the French people were recovering the bodies of those lost on LEOPOLDVILLE from the beaches formerly known as Omaha, U-486 struck again in the same area.

Two frigates, the HMS AFFLECK and the HMS CAPEL, were hit by acoustic torpedoes, the CAPEL sinking with the loss of eighty-five men.  The AFFLECK, having lost 9 in the initial strike, was stable enough to be quickly towed to the over-crowded Cherbourg harbor, and left as a total loss until the war’s end.

Map showing the location of the three known attacks of the U-468. Both LEOPOLDVILLE and CAPEL went down near the now-famous Normandy beaches that had been taken only six months earlier.

With four kills under her belt, U-486 returned to Norway.  After three months, she was sent out again on April 9.  Three days later, the submarine HMS Tapir, patrolling near Bergin, heard the U-486.  Nineteen minutes later, U-486 surfaced for Tapir’s periscope.  Four minutes after that, Tapir fired 6 torpedoes, one of which hit the U-486.

From the Taipir’s log book:;

0755 hours—One hit was observed on the enemy submarine, which blew up and was seen to disintegrate.  A huge column of brown smoke arose some 500 feet in the air. Breaking up noises were heard on the Asdic  [British equivalent of Sonar] and after the smoke had cleared nothing more could be seen.”

No more was ever heard of the U-486 until now.  Found by accident by Statoil company while seeking a oil pipeline route underwater, U-486 will be left alone with her crew of 48.  Her wreck confirms what Tapir saw, she disintegrated into two pieces.

Sonar image of the U-486’s wreck. Her bow has been severed, and she lays on her starboard side. From The Local.

Hopefully, though her wreck location is known, she will be left in peace there.

Some other submarine wrecks haven’t been so lucky this year.

U 486’s conning tower, with the periscopes still attached at the top. From the Local


For more information:

First, my favorite:  a unique telling of the sinking of the SS LEOPOLDVILLE:

The first ship U-486 sank, the Silverlaurel:

An account of the LEOPOLD’s sinking:

LEOPOLD’s Sinking from a survivor and what happened to the men after:

An account of the LEOPOLDVILLE sinking seen from the BRILLIANT:

Another personal account from that convoy:

An announcement of U-486’s wreck discovery:


UPDATE  6 Nov 2014:  Thanks to Mr. D. Becker for alerting me to the fact I used U-468 and U-486 almost interchangeably in this entry.  That’s been fixed now (I think I got them all at least).  The U-boat discovered near Norway is the 486.  The U-468 was sunk by a British Bomber off the western coast of Senegal, Africa on 11 August, 1943.  One of the British aircrew which sacrificed themselves to destroy the 468 was Mr. Becker’s uncle.  The wrecks of The U-468 and the wreck of the British B-24 Liberator Bomber that destroyed her  have apparently not been found, but the story is still an important one.   Intriguingly, the pilot of the Liberator was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross…based solely on the testimony of the surviving U-Boat submariners who were later captured.  It’s the only such incidence of enemy testimony being the basis of a Victoria Cross award.



[1] The BRILLIANT made directly for Cherbourg’s port, which was already filled with the half-sunken, scuttled ships the Germans had attacked earlier.  There was one quay left open, and a Jeep had to pull the BRILLIANT in and tie her up.  By the time BRILLIANT’s LEOPOLDVILLE passengers were unloaded, she turned and headed back for more, but it would be too late.

[2] The wreck of the Leopoldville, in 820 feet of water, was discovered by author Clive Cussler in 1984.  She rests on her side, her stern severed and laying beside her.

USS Miami Fire Update-Arson?!

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jul 24 2012

Well, I expected to hear quite a bit about the Miami weeks ago, but all was quiet for a long time.  Then this morning, that story took an abrupt and strange turn.

My specialty in submarines lies in their development up to WWII.  That’s not to say I’m not interested in Cold War submarines or modern submarines, but it’s SO MUCH EASIER to get direct information about that time period (when most classifications have been dropped) than the modern time period (where they’re nice and healthy and in place–and from the scuttlebutt I’ve heard strongly hinted at, likely to be for many decades, if not, “Ooops!  A match just fell into this box of sensitive documents.  What will we do?”)  But to my knowledge, there’s been no arson aboard a submarine.

Until now.

The story about the vacuum was on its way to being a freak accident in the annals of submarine history, when a second fire happened in the Miami’s dry-dock cradle on June 16.  It was quickly extinguished, but got investigators thinking that this was one fire too many, so started looking deeper into every aspect of the fire.  And at the bottom of it, they found a very anxious young man.

A drydock worker, named Mr. Casey James Fury, has been arrested and arraigned in federal court this morning with two counts of arson. (Since the Miami is federal property, causing damage to her is a federal offense) He was initially questioned about the small fire in the drydock and soon confessed to that, but denied any involvement in the large fire on May 23.  It was only when investigators told him he had failed the lie detector test that the whole story came out.

It seems that Mr. Fury clocked in for his shift at the Miami on 4 pm on May 23 and reported to work as a painter and sandblaster in the forward section of the torpedo room.  This is deep in the belly of the submarine, seen in the diagram below.  According to the Navy paper, that day, Fury was needle gunning in the torpedo room, or blasting paint and/or corrosion using a pneumatic or electric tool called a needle gun, which is used on irregular surfaces.  At 5:30, he claims he suddenly felt really anxious, grabbed his lighter and cigarettes and went one deck up to the Crew’s Quarters (some articles say “stateroom” which normally would imply an officer’s cabin, but this area is not listed among the damaged compartments, so that could be a misstatement).  Spotting a bag of rags and a vacuum on a top rack, set the rags on fire, leaving when the flames were about two inches high.  The vacuum therefore, had nothing to do with the fire, other than proximity.  Fury then went back to his assigned location and waited for the fire alarm to go off.

All so he could get out of work for the day.  Twelve hours later, dozens of firefighters at risk from three states, seven injured, this fire was finally out.

And the vacuum was eventually announced as the culprit in a truly bizarre accident.

But then Fury had another bad day.  in the early evening of June 16, Fury had a text conversation with an ex girlfriend which worried him, and he felt he needed to get off of work.  Ironically, he was assigned to be “safety watch” that day in Miami’s drydock cradle.  From what I can find, the safety watch’s job is just what it sounds like, to keep everyone safe.  Part of that involves making sure flammable materials and sources of fire are kept separate, extinguishing fires if they start, fighting fires or hitting fire alarm for evacuation if necessary, and making sure, at the end of a shift, that there are no embers, or fire sources still active.

According to the investigator interviewed for the Navy Times, after Fury decided he had to leave early, this is what he did:

“Fury explained that he became anxious over the text conversation with his ex-girlfriend and wanted to leave work,” Gauthier said in an affidavit. “At around 6:30, he started pacing in the area of the [Main Ballast Tanks] and eventually walked aft toward a cut out in the hull near the back of the boat. His mind was racing.”

Fury grabbed some alcohol wipes, setting them on wood in the dry dock cradle. He ignited the wipes with a lighter and walked back to his work area, when the fire alarm sounded and the workers left the boat. The flames were put out before they reached 18 inches high.”

Soon, someone reported seeing a drydock employee in company jumpsuit and hard hat in the area of the fire moments before it was noticed, and soon the investigation apparently settled on Fury.  He was interviewed on July 18 about the June 16 fire, and eventually admitted to it, while denying the Mat 23rd fire.  It wasn’t until July 20, just four days ago,when the full story came out.  To test him, the investigators asked him to retrace his steps on May 23rd aboard the USS Pasadena, an identical submarine to Miami in dryddock there in Portsmouth, then again aboard the Miami herself.  However he explained himself, it was apparently enough to arrest Fury on Friday and arraign him yesterday.

Fury has apparently had his share of problems.  On four different medications for Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia and Allergies, he claims he initially didn’t come forward because of is fuzzy memory of that time.  To his credit, he did check himself into a mental health facility on June 21, six days after the second fire, and checked himself out two days later on June 23rd.

Now he faces life in prison, and a steep fine, as well as potential restitution.

And the story is still not done.  The fate of the Miami still hangs in the balance.  The official estimate of her repairs, for whatever reason, has not been announced, and the Navy is facing budget cuts this year and next.  How deep those cuts will be still hangs on either passing a budget in Congress or raising the debt ceiling.  The only thing that has been announced regarding her repairs, is that if they’re done, they’ll be done there in Portsmouth.

Sources for this blog post and more information:

Stars and Stripes (military paper) about the Miami fire and how it happened

Navy Paper on the same fire

Daily News article on Miami arson and arsonist

Foster’s Daily Democrat Article about Miami Fire and Fury–some interesting details