Recently people have been joining me on my Sunday Walks in Downtown Albany. Typically, I walk in Albany when I'm scheduled as a tour guide on the USS Slater. A slide show and a map are detailed at this blog entry. I plan on walking on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27. You can contact me at: dedocent@gmail.com.

More on the USS SLATER (www.ussslater.org).

Monday, December 17, 2007

12/17/2008, Christmas on a U-Boat

I'm a bit surprised how many U-Boat video segments are available on You-Tube. This one details Christmas, on a U-boat in the Caribbean. After watching I had a few questions - What Year was it - 42, 43? What was the number of the U-Boat? And in the video they torpedoed a merchant ship - what was the name of the ship? Did the merchant mariners survive the ordeal?




A quick Google search for "German Newsreels" turned up this site that details German WWII Newsreels and their publication date: "....Volume 54 ca. 50 min. ....... Newsreel 658 (14 April 1943), ........U-boat in the Caribbean, off-duty activities, a torpedo barrel is fixed and a torpedo loaded, the cook makes a Christmas cake, a Christmas greeting from Admiral Doenitz is read, and gifts are exchanged, through the periscope, Curacao is visible, a steamer is sunk. ....."

If the newsreel was published in April of 1943, then it was Christmas, 1942. The Uboat Archive web site contains most of the war diaries (daily operating reports) of Admiral Donitz, the U-Boat Commander (F├╝hrer der Unterseeboote). In the news reel the depicted U-Boat reaches it's operational area near Curacao (island in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea off the north coast of Venezuela, and a Dutch Colony). By reviewing Admiral Donitz's war diary for early January 1943 I should be able to pinpoint the numbers of the U-Boat (or U-Boats) operating near Curacao. One problem - the War Diary doesn't reference geographic coordinates but it uses the German Naval (Kriegsmarine) Grid system. A U-boat operating near Curacao would be in operational grid EC (or on either side - EB and ED).

The specific diary - (F.d.U./B.d.U.'S War Log. 1 - 15 January 1943, PG30315) notes that there were two U-Boats operating in the area near Curacao (Grids EB, EC, ED): U-105 and U-214. The entry for January 8, 1943 notes: ".....U 105 and U 214 have been ordered to return to their former attack ares (U 214 Curacao, U 105 Trinidad) after they have met and transferred gyro-sphere. They are to operate off these harbors according to the moon. They have been informed of convoy traffic and favorable possibilities of night attacks because of inexperienced patrolling. ....." Based on this entry it appears like the U-Boat detailed in the newsreel was most likely U-214.

The war record for U-214 is summarized on the ubootwaffe.net web site. On December 30 U-214 sunk the Polish merchant ship Paderewski. However, there are a few inconsistencies with the newsreel. 1st the Paderewski was sunk before the New Year not after. And 2nd, while it was torpedoed it was ultimately sunk by naval gunfire. It is possible that the newsreel was altered for security reasons. The 12 week patrol to the Caribbean ended on February 24, 1943. In July 1944, U-214 was sunk by a Destroyer Escort in British Service (Captain Class) HMS Cooke K-471. Ships of the Captain Class were very similar to the USS Slater, but the hull was shorter.

The war record for U-105 is also detailed on the ubootwaffe.net web site. During this cruise U-105 sunk four merchant ships: on 14th Dec 1942, the British 6,578 ton Orfor; on 11th Jan 1943, the British 67 ton Sail Boat CS Flight; on 24th Jan 1943 the British 8,093 ton British Vigilance; and on 27th Jan 1943 he sank the American 5,106 ton Cape Decision. In June 1943, U-105 was sunk off the coast of Africa by a rather unique airplane, the French prototype flying boat Potez-CAMS 141.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

12/1/2007, Radio 1943 - "Battle Stations"

1943 was the turning point of the Battle of the Atlantic. And, it was also the zenith of Radio. Today it's referred to as "Old Time Radio", but during the war it was one of the main news channels, and a ajor source of entertainment.

Battle Stations was a Four-part NBC radio show which aired in August 1943. In each 1/2 hour episode, the US Navy discussed the progress of the Naval War. Each show was a dramatization. The 1st and 2nd shows dealt with the Battle of the Atlantic. Destroyer Escorts are specifically mentioned in Part 2. The last two shows focused on the carrier war in the pacific.



Listen to "The Battle of the Atlantic, Part 1:"



Listen to "The Battle of the Atlantic, Part 2:"

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

11/30/2007, Slater Closed for Season

The Slater is now closed for the season. Every year, for protection from ice, the Slater moves across the Hudson River to it's protected winter berth in Rensselaer. Slater shipmate & Blogger - mechanic for hire details this move in this excellent blog entry.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tour 11/17/2008, USS Ahrens (DE-575)

This Saturday I gave two tours to small groups of visitors. Both tour groups were very knowledgeable about the USS Slater and Destroyer Escorts. The people in the first group were repeat visitors. They appeared to be very impressed with the progress of the restoration effort since their last visit (approximately five years ago). The Slater's crew is always trying to improve the state of the ship and expand the tour experience. There's also a lot of restoration effort that goes on behind the scenes. Because of accessibility reasons many of these areas are not included on the standard tour. I recommended that they consider the USS Slater's Hard Hat Tour so they could explore areas of the ship that they haven't seen before. Some of the more interesting areas are the Flying Bridge, the Engine Room, and the Motor Room. While these spaces are not open to the public because of accessibility, there have been significant restoration efforts in them.



USS Ahrens (DE-575)


The father of one of the visitors in the second tour group served as a ship's baker on the USS Ahrens (DE-575) in WWII. The USS Ahrens was a member of Destroyer Escort Division 60. One of the big roles that DEs performed was to rescue sailors from stricken ships. The USS Ahrens performed this task on two arduous occasions. The first involved the USS Block Island (CVE-21). And the second involved a collision between a gasoline tanker and a liberty ship in a North Atlantic convoy.



USS Block Island - Final Moments



The USS Block Island (CVE-21) was an escort carrier. In 1944, the Block Island, along with four Destroyer Escorts (including the Ahrens) formed a Hunter-Killer Team (TU 22.11). Hunter-Killer teams would actively search an area for U-Boats. Radio Activity and decoded U-Boat messages (from Bletchley Park) would direct the Hunter Killer team to a region. Since a U-Boat would spend most of the time on the surface, patrol planes from the small carrier would narrow the search. Once a U-Boat was found a pair of Destroyer Escorts would be dispatched to finish the U-Boat. Two DEs would continue to escort the Carrier.


In response to the Hunter-Killer Groups, in 1944 the German U-boat command started to arm U-Boats with Acoustic Homing Torpedoes. They also implemented an offensive strategy to sink the escorts: "......Offense is the best defense...... If the enemy bears down on you, do not blind yourselves by going to great depths, but in the daytime remain at periscope depth and fire. You still have enough time after firing to dive. The same applies at night, first fire, then dive. Offense is the best defense. Act accordingly...... "



On May 29, 1944 the USS Block Island was torpedoed by three torpedoes from U-549. The USS Ahrens and the USS Robert I. Paine (DE 578) assisted the USS Block Island. Two other Destroyer Escorts in the group, the USS Barr (DE-576) and the USS Eugene E. Elmore (DE-686) attacked the U-549. The U-Boat was equipped with the newly developed Acoustic Homing Torpedoes, and managed to cripple the USS Barr. The Ahrens and the Paine were stationary during the rescue, and they would have been an excellent targets. It was probably a race, would the Elmore get U-549 before another DE was hit. This survivor's account details the action: ".....At 2040 Captain Hughes ordered all hands to “Abandon Ship”. By 2100 most men went over the starboard side, either jumping or sliding down knotted 40-ft. Rope ladders. As the ship sank the planes spotted on deck slid into the sea like toys, the TBM’s depth changes exploding deep under the surface. Block Island took her final plunge at 2155. We were equipped with various types of life belts / jackets as well as cork supported rope nets. ........... The USS Ahrens DE 575 stopped engines and drifted to a stop in the Atlantic swells, recovering the Block Islanders from the sea. With Ahrens’ engines now stilled, her sonar almost immediately detected U-549. Ahrens skipper radioed the USS Elmore DE 686 coaching the sister ship to where the German submarine lay. Three projectiles from Elmore’s hedgehogs slammed into the U-549’s hull at 2127. A great, grinding internal explosion audible to the monitoring ships destroyed the U-boat a moment later.


A postscript to this story - it appears that the Ahrens was being stalked by U-549. An Ahrens crew member, Maury Gamache was given credit for spotting U-549. Perhaps his sharp eye saved DE-549 (and many of the Block Island survivors): ".....I normally was assigned to the depth charge and K gun area but while we were picking up survivors I was sent to the 101 gun mount, along with an ensign. While I was there he told me to keep a close look out to the opposite side where the survivor activity was taking place, which I did with an occasional look in that direction. After a while, I think it was just after dusk, I saw a periscope on the left side of the ship and I was so speechless that I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed and he saw the same periscope. He immediately notified the bridge and that is when the Ahrens had to break off the picking up of survivors and make emergency speed to avoid being sunk also. ...."




Part of the Block Island Crew in Casablanca


The Ahrens was credited with rescuing 673 sailors from the USS Block Island. The small Destroyer Escort, with it's own crew of 213, had 886 sailors on-board. About a month ago the Slater hosted an open house and had several thousand visitors, but I doubt that 886 were aboard an any given time. I'm pretty sure that a ships baker had his hads full feeding this many sailors. The account from rescued Block Island sailors continues: ".......The next morning, 30 May, Elmore with the damaged Barr under tow, and the two DE’s laden with the CVE survivors, cleared the area for Casablanca, arriving 1 June. The personnel of the two DE’s, did a commendable job of making all hands as comfortable as possible, some giving up bunks for others to catch a few winks. The task of feeding this large number, aboard the Ahrens and the Paine, was without parallel. While we were lined up on the main deck, waiting turns to go below to eat our two meals. Sometimes, from the bridge came the order for some men to shift from one side or to the other to maintain an even keel. The odor of diesel fuel oil was everywhere that we touched. My what a mess! However, we were SAFE. ....."



Other interesting links regarding the USS Block Island & the USS Ahrens:




When ships are packed into convoys of 50 plus ships accidents are bound to happen. The worst ones occur when one of the ships is carrying a highly explosive cargo. On the 13th of October, 1944 the Liberty Ship Howard Gibson and the British gasoline tanker George W. McKnight collided. The USS Holton (DE-703), USS Cronin (DE-704), and the USS Ahrens (DE-575) were involved with the rescue. Once again, Lewis Andrew's excellent book, Tempest, Fire and Foe gives an excellent account on page 58.






This will be my last duty weekend until April 2008. In early December the USS Slater will move to the east bank of the Hudson River to protect the ship from winter ice. It will be closed for tours until she returns to the Albany-side in April. During the winter I'll continue to post to the blog. If anyone has a topic request concerning Destroyer Escorts e-mail me.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tour 11/11/2007, Depth Charge Magazine

I stood my tour guide watch this week on Sunday, instead of my typical Saturday. I had a little help during a tour from RPI University Midshipman (NROTC). During the last year the NROTC students from RPI have been a great asset.



On one tour I was asked - "How many depth charges were stored on board?". I thought that this would be a relatively easy question to answer, but I was wrong. One week later I still don't have a definitive answer. The Destroyer Escort Sailor's Association noted that - "...A DE carried about 100 depth charges." USS Slater personal told me that they believe that the ship carried enough Depth Charges for 14 patterns. On the USS Slater, a typical pattern uses 12 depth charges (8 from K-Guns, and 2 charges each from 2 Depth Charge Racks). However, it should be noted that not every pattern used 12 charges. Fourteen Patterns of 12 Charges would equal 168 Depth Charges. Since each K-gun has a ready storage rack of 5 charges, and each rack can contain 8 charges, then the total number of charges in on-deck storage is 56. If the 14 patterns (of 12 charges) is correct, then an additional 112 depth charges would have to be stored in the magazine. During the week we checked the dimensions of the depth charge magazine, and determined that mathematically (1), the USS Slater Depth Charge magazine could hold over 300 charges. However, at 300 pounds a piece, it was felt that the weight would cause stability problems. Most likely, the USS Slater carried approximately 168 Depth Charges, but the number could be any number between 100 and 300.

For a good general description of Depth Charge patterns check out:

Historic Navy Ship Association
Gene Slover's Fire Control Page

(1) Details on math - The magazine is 24' x 10' by approx. 5' high. (2,073,600 cubic inches). A Mk. 6 charge is 17" x 28" (6,370 cubic inches). Using those numbers, the magazine could mathematically hold 325 charges.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tour 11/03/2007, Magazines & Jacks

Another cold October Day but at least it wasn't raining. I noticed that a few visitors were shivering. I gave two tours, and I also had an opportunity to chat briefly with a WWII vet from the USS Bostwick DE-103.



Like the USS Slater, the Bostwick was a cannon class Destroyer Escort. Both ships were very similar in construction. During the war the two ships operated differently. The Slater was often deployed as a convoy escort, while the Bostwick usually served as a member of a hunter-killer team. A WWII U-Boat hunter-killer team was comprised of a small Escort Carrier and a group of Destroyer Escorts. While a convoy seeks to transit the ocean avoiding U-Boats, a hunter-killer team actively hunts them. The Bostwick participated in the sinking of three U-Boats: U-709; U-233; and either U-548 or U-857 or U-879. In the latter case of U-548/U-879, this link which describing the mystery of the U-869, goes into detail regarding difficulties of identifying sunken U-Boats.

On one of the tours I was asked about ammunition magazines, and how many 3" rounds the USS Slater held (it's approximately 750 3" rounds). For safety reasons a Destroyer Escort's magazines are on the lowest deck. The USS Slater has a virtual tour that includes a layout of all ship compartments. The 2nd Platform layout details the magazines (they're are detailed in red). A magazine is basically a small, unvented room with storage racks and a heavy duty sprinkler system. There's also a thermometer. At least once a day a gunner's mate will visit every magazine and ammunition ready storage space and log temperature readings. Sparking is a danger. Electric bulbs are sealed in a special globes. When I worked in magazines, I used a special set of tools that were made of a non-sparking copper alloy.


Magazine safety is a big issue. After WWII one Destroyer Escort, the USS Solar DE-221,was destroyed by an accidental magazine explosion.




On another tour I was asked about the little flag on the front (called the bow) of the USS Slater. This little flag is called a Jack, and it flies from a staff (called a jack staff). I was specifically asked, if it was a modern Jack, or a WWII era Jack? The correct answer is that the Slater's Jack is WWII Era (one with 48 stars). In the recent edition of Slater Signals, Tim Rizzuto (Executive Director) goes into detail about obtaining WWII era flags and Jacks for the USS Slater.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Tour 10/27/2007, Hospital Corpsman

It was a cold and rainy October day. Not just a drizzle, it was coming down in buckets. Accordingly it wasn't very busy. I gave one tour to a small family group. Their son was a marine on active duty and their daughter was in the process of joining the US Navy as a Hospital Corpsman. Instead of focusing the tour on the Slater's equipment, and the historical context I tried to discuss Navy Life in general. Unfortunately as a Gunner's Mate who left active duty over 35 years ago, my knowledge was somewhat dated. To compensate, I introduced the visitors to as many navy vets as possible to give them a broad perspective on Navy life. Luckily, the Capital District Chief Petty Officers Association was on board with a birthday cake (celebrating the 10 anniversary of the Slater's arrival in Albany NY). They also had an opportunity to meet Rear Admiral Paul Czesak. We have one regular volunteer who's still on active duty at Navy Nuclear Power School in Malta NY (aka Mechanic For Hire) unfortunately he wasn't on board that day.



Because of the rain I kept the tour below decks (indoor) as much as possible. And, I tried to focus on hospital corpsman related items. During the course of the tour we encountered an uniform with a 1st class rating badge with a red Geneva Cross instead of the Winged Caduceus (which is used today). In 1948, the Navy changed the names and insignia of the Hospital Corps. They also changed the rating name from Pharmacist Mate to Hospital Corpsman.

I know that the Navy places VERY BIG emphasis on technical competence. I did a little research relative to the technical knowledge required for a Corpsman. Here's a few links:

Hospital Corpsman Basic Training Course

www.hospitalcorpsman.org/ (check drop down boxes on top of page for links to reference materials)

Integrated Publishing - Corpsman Manuals

While it isn't included on a regular tour I made it a point to visit the USS Slater sick bay. Since it's off the guided tour I didn't have any good historical background material. A little Google search afterward found this interesting story by the USS Slater's Museum curator, Pat Perrella. It concerns the USS Atherton (DE-169), a Destroyer Escort that had the distinction of sinking the last U Boat during WWII (U-853).

".......Ironically, while U-853 was under deadly attack, with ATHERTON rocking amidst the tremendous noise and force of the exploding ordnance, a life-saving drama was taking place below deck in ATHERTON’S “Sick Bay” and photographs bear witness to the unprecedented event. A German POW was being tenderly attended by Jewish Lt. Maurice Vitsky (Dr.) USN, Surgery, following an emergency appendectomy. Pvt.1/c Franz Krones, German Army POW #31G668894, had been transferred by breeches buoy to ATHERTON from M/V 2-1 on 20 April 1945, while the convoy (GUS-84) was forming near Gibraltar in the Mediterranean. Krones was critically ill with a ruptured appendix and Dr. Vitsky, as Division Medical Officer aboard ATHERTON, operated immediately with the assistance of 20-year-old Pharmacist’s Mate 3rd Class, Thomas J. Ciaccio. The prisoner was helpless and desperately ill. Dr. Vitsky and Phm. Ciaccio compassionately nursed their patient throughout the Atlantic voyage and U-853 attack to drain his infection, administer penicillin and provide whatever nourishment he could sustain. Capt. Iselin was also concerned for his charge and frequently took time to inquire about the status of the patient. The ATHERTON crew never forgot Krones and always wondered about his fate after he was transferred to a military hospital when DE-169 finally reached Boston. ...."

More about this story and an interesting postscript is available at this link.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tour 10/13/2007, Port of Albany 75th Anniversary

I started early this Saturday and I still had problem with parking. October 13 was the 75th birthday of the Port of Albany. A big celebration was planned that included a free tours of the USS Slater. We estimate that between 2,000-3,000 visitors toured the ship. During a normal Saturday we might have a 100 visitors. While it was great open up the ship to a large number of visitors, the tour experience was dramatically different. Instead of the normal guided tour, the docents manned different areas of the ship (stations). Visitors followed a guided route that moved them them from one station to another. During the day I manned the 40mm gun mounts, the boat deck, the radio room, and the forward 3" gun mount.

On a normal tour a docent will personally guide visitors to different stations. At each stop the docent would discuss the station from three basic perspectives: a technical overview; insight into the personal who manned the station; and provide a historical context. When moving from station to station safety is paramount. This is especially true when some of the visitors have physical limitations, or with younger children. Sometimes the tour route will be modified based on safety concerns. Because the USS Slater gives guided tours, we also have the opportunity to display valuable artifacts from WWII in their original context. This Saturday, when faced with a large number of visitors, basic crowd control, safety and security become the overriding concern of the docents. Unfortunately, minimal attention was spent on other docent-educational related activities. At times I had to advise people to mind their children. On one occasion a parent argued with me and noted that another docent at a different station had turned a blind eye to similar behavior. I thanked the parent for pointing out the safety lapse at the other station and asked them to tell me were it was so I could report the situation. After that they decided to stop arguing and adjusted their children's behavior.


When a group of visitors would arrive at a station that I manned I would try to give them an abbreviated explanation of the station and answer their questions. Sometimes the volume would be too large and I would simply have to move the visitor to the next session. I was surprised with the number of ques tons concerning the hedgehog projector. When we give a normal tour, it's preceded by a "seven minute" video. Included in this video is a short segment on the hedgehog projector (perhaps 15 seconds). Clearly with regard to the hedgehog projector one short video clip is worth many minutes of discussion. More info on hedgehogs here.

The USS Slater is a non-profit organization. The primary source of funds to operate the museum is tour fees, gift shop sales and contributions. Other then a few modest grants the museum receives no government support. The interesting thing about this event is that even though the tour fees were zero, the level of donations and museum sales resulted in a financial success. The USS Slater's October Newsletter goes into more detail.





Sometimes those cell phone cameras are priceless! Early in the day, before the big crowd, I manned the 40mm gun mounts. A high-line chair is also on display in this area. A young mother with two very cute young ladies (approximately 4-5) was an early visitor. One little girl asked about the high-line chair, and as I started to describe it. Mom jumped in and noted that a great grand dad (or uncle) had the adventure of riding one in WWII. Immediately, the two young ladies sat on the chair and were all smiles (big smiles). I turned to mom and said, "where's a camera when you need one!". Suddenly, mom had an eureka moment! Out came the cell phone, and the priceless pictures were taken.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tour 9/29/2007, USS Burrows (DE-105)

Once again, another beautiful September Day. Great for tours. This Saturday we had our annual recognition award dinner for Slater Volunteers. At the same time the "Michigan Crew" also reported aboard for their semi-annual visit. For many years, the Michigan crew comes aboard twice a year to tackle different restoration projects. They do a great job and their help is greatly appreciated. I was a little surprised! After talking to a few members of the "Michigan crew" I found out that these volunteers weren't from "Michigan", but they were from Pennsylvania. I'm confused! Are there members of the "Michigan Crew" who aren't from Michigan? Or are there two crews, a "Michigan Crew" and a "Pennsylvanian Crew"? I'll talk with Tim Rizzuto (USS Slater Superintendent) for clarification.



The first tour of the day was loaded with a group of very enthusiastic kids. I must have answered a few hundred questions. I really didn't have to give a tour, but just walk to a part of the ship. As soon as I stopped, I was bombarded with a half a dozen questions. On the Bridge, I remember answering questions at three levels (based on the height of the child): one kid pointed to things at the three foot level and lower; another at the three to five foot level; and a third to things over the five foot level. Overall it was fun, and I think the parents were happy to have a Q&A respite.



The last group was a small one. Unfortunately, it started right near 4:00 pm. Since the USS Slater closes it's doors to the public at 5:00 pm, I had to keep to a strict timetable and talk fast. With a small group, that's able to navigate the ladders reasonably well, it's possible to do a complete tour in the time. I think I finished in exactly one hour.




At the start of almost every tour I try to ask if anyone is a navy vet, or if they knew anyone who was. One person noted that his dad served on the USS Burrows (DE-105). The interesting thing about the Burrows, is that it's a sister-ship (basically the same make and model) of the USS Slater. Not only was the Burrows a sister ship, but both ship's war record were very similar. Destroyer Escorts were organized into teams called Escort Divisions (in official Navy terminology - a cortdiv). DEs in the same cortdiv usually sailed in the same convoys and basically performed similar functions. The USS Slater and the USS Burrows were both members of cortdiv 35. More DE-105 photos here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tour 9/22/2007, 40mm Bofors

Another beautiful fall day, not too hot and not too cold, and perfectly clear. Tour-wise it was pretty slow day. We had plenty of guides and only a few visitors. I only gave one tour to a small group. From a visitor's perspective a small group is great. You get to go at your own pace and get details on any topic you want. After six years I can answer a lot of questions, but I still have a lot to learn.





During the tour, while sitting on a 40mm gun mount (trainer position), a young visitor pointed to an instrument dial and asked what it was for? I was stumped (while on active duty I worked on 5" mounts and had limited exposure to 40mm mounts). I asked a few other Slater volunteers, and they appeared to be stumped as well. Finally, Eric Rivet (Education Coordinator) told me it was used to measure the deviation that occasionally occurred between the Mark 51 Fire Control Director and the 40mm Gun mount.

Each 40mm could be aimed automatically by a Mark 51 Fire Control Director. The pointer (the sailor who sat on the left side of the mount and moved the gun up and down) and the trainer (the sailor who sat on the right side of the mount and moved the gun right and left) would raise a control lever to the remote position and the 40mm mount would track automatically based on input from the fire control director. It appears that sometimes the 40 mm mount would lag from the intended aiming position that was transmitted to the mount by the Mark 51 Fire Control System. In extreme cases the mount could drop the signal altogether. The gauge in question would measure the lag and would be monitored by the pointer and trainer for obvious safety reasons.


Links:

Wikipedia 40mm Bofors
USS Slater 40mm Page
DE 220, Destroyer Escort Fire Control
Navy Weapons - Mark 51 FCS
Navy Weapons 40mm Bofors
Swedish web site regarding Bofors
Photo Site - source of 40mm Gage Picture

On the next week, 9/27 I managed to do a little more research. The proper name for the instrument is a 40mm lag meter. This text is from the WWII-era 40mm technical manual (page 161):

"The lag meter is primarily a milliammeter which operates in automatic control to indicate if the gun is in or out of synchronism with the director (i.e., the error). The pointer and trainer both have lag meter units (as shown on figure 130). Only early mods have the rectifier circuit.

If the pointer's meter reads to the left of zero, it indicates that the gun is elevated higher than the gun order. Conversely, if the meter reads to the right of zero it indicated gun elevation is less than gun order. When the gun position corresponds exactly with gun order, the pointer of the lag meter is stationary at the zero mark. The meter pointer may be adjusted for zero position by inserting a screw driver through an access hole in the case and turning the zero adjuster screw. ......."


This weekend I also had an opportunity to talk with John - Mechanic For Hire, the other USS Slater Blogger. It seems like his next project may be a cut away depth charge detailing the firing and safety mechanisms. This would be a great prop and it would add a new dimension to the tours. I'm looking forward to this addition.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tour 9/15/2007, USS Hurst (DE-250)

It was a beautiful sunny day, mid 70s. But, it rained in the morning so attendance was on the light side. During the last tour of the day, the daughter of a WWII veteran (who served on the USS Hurst, DE-250) brought her dad aboard for a visit. After 62 years (1945-2007), some Destroyer Escort (DE) vets have a little trouble with the Slater's steep ladders, so the tour takes a little longer. The other members of the tour didn't mind since we were treated to a few sea stories.


One sea story of interest didn't involve Destroyer Escorts but Nazi spies who landed on a Maine beach in 1944: ".....It was 20 degrees and snowing late in November 1944 near the resort town of Bar Harbor, Maine, some 4,000 miles from Nazi Germany. Two men made their way along the beach, slipping through snow and tripping over exposed tree roots. Erich Gimpel and William Colepaugh would have looked like any other men but for the heavy suitcases they lugged and their light topcoats, which were no match for the northeastern winter. As they moved toward the cover of the thick coastal woods, two other men stood by, dressed in Nazi navy uniforms...." click here for more info on nazi spies.


After the tour I did a little checking to see what Internet Resources were available for the USS Hurst (DE-250). One of the other Hurst crew members, Frank Jones, recorded a very detailed oral history account. The full account is available in the Library of Congress Veteran History Project (Link: Frank Jones Account). After VE Day (Victory in Europe), but before VJ Day (Victory in Japan) the Hurst was escorting the USS George Washington. Here's an excerpt: ".....Following the London Liberty we went back to our ship. Our Atlantic Fleet assignment was a flotilla of six DEs (Destroyer Escorts). We were advised that we were to be split into pairs enroute back to New York, and eventual reassignment to the 7th fleet in the Pacific. In our dispatch we were assigned to escort a passenger ship which was like a former cruise ship, the USS George Washington, which was a hospital ship. The DE-249 (our sister ship), and our ship DE-250, escorted her and the military wounded back to New York without any encounter...." .


Sometimes Internet Accounts cross reference one another. My web search came across another account of the Hurst's return trip from Liverpool to New York by Don Hyerdall (a B-17 Bombardier and Repatriated POW): ".....We had to be in Liverpool in the morning, when 6 destroyer escorts were leaving at six in the morning. I said, "Don, I'll bet a bunch of these guys are going to back out - I'm going with you! Let's have a drink, and leave a note downstairs that we want to be awakened at about one o'clock, because the train leaves at two for Liverpool. We'll get over to the station (which wasn't far), and we'll hop on the train and go!" At one o'clock, they woke us up, we got dressed, went down to the station, got the train, and arrived in Liverpool about 5:15. We started walking about a mile and a half to the quay. We saw these beautiful, U.S. Coast Guard destroyer escorts. It was their first time over to England. We looked up and saw a guy, "Can you take us to the States?" "Sure! Come on up!" (USS Hurst, DE 250) Now, I have no orders, and neither did Don, so Don and I and a couple of other guys, and Lt. Col. Griswold (of the OSS [now CIA]- in charge of putting airfields in France after we liberated them - P-51s, B-26s and all that) boarded the boat, and we had a ball. We ate the best food! (We were escorting the USS George Washington on the way back.) To make a long story short, after I got back, I received a bill from the USS Hurst (DE 250) for $9 for 6 days of food. So, we're starting to approach Pier 6 in the Brooklyn Naval Yards, and the colonel had a little bit of power with the commander. "Say, is there any chance of you dropping me off here in Prospect Park, in Brooklyn? I have to make a phone call to Washington, DC." The commander thought it no problem to drop a little dinghy. I went with him. They dropped us off in Prospect Park - we could have been spies, for God's sakes - and we head to downtown New York....."


After escorting the USS George Washington, the USS Hurst was transferred to the Pacific Fleet. Regarding the USS Hurst in the Pacific, Frank Jones notes "...our mission from there was to search the islands of the South Pacific, 76 to be exact. .....". In November, 1945 (three months after VJ Day) the USS Hurst was given R&R in Tahiti.


Eventually, the USS Hurst (DE-250) was transferred to the Mexican Navy as the ARM Manuel Azueta (D-111). As far as I can tell the ship is still on active duty. The picture above was taken several years ago in Cozumel (More photos are available). Just my opinion, but Cozumel would be a great place to home port a museum ship.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tour 9/4/2007: Desa, Engine Room

The Tuesday the Slater was host to the national convention of the Destroyer Escort Sailor Association (DESA). Instead of giving tours, my primary duty on this occasion was to show videos concerning Slater Restoration and Educational Efforts. I also escorted Desa members to areas of the ship which are not routinely open to the public. The USS Slater web site offers a virtual tour of these areas, including: the Flying Bridge; the Aft Motor Room (B-4); and the Aft Engine Room (B-3).


I enjoyed the tour of the Engine Room and the Motor room. In Navy slang sailors who work topside are referred to deck apes or (in my case) cannon cockers. Sailors who work in engine rooms are referred to as snipes. While on active duty it was only on rare occasions that a cannon cocker would venture into the work of snipes. Furthermore, the ships that I served on were driven by geared steam turbines, instead of the diesel-electric combination used on the USS Slater. So, I welcomed the rare opportunity to learn about a the Slater's Engine/Motor Rooms.


An often asked question is if the USS Slater's engines work? The short answer is that two have been restored to working order. The Slater has eight diesel engines: four used for main propulsion and four used to generate electric power. Currently two of the diesels which generate electric power have been restored. Ultimately, the main propulsion diesels may be restored for cosmetic purposes only. It's very doubtful that they can be restored to operational usage because of cost and environmental concerns. If the USS Slater is going to move under it's own power some of the engineering spaces will probably have to be retrofited with a modern power plant.



Tuesday, September 4, 2007

USS Forster (DE-334) in Vietnam

During a lull between tours, I was discussing Destroyer Escorts and Vietnam with another docent. DE's in Vietnam was the topic of last weeks blog post. He related the story of the USS Forster (DE-334) that was transferred to the Republic of Vietnam's Navy (South) and, was eventually captured and integrated into the Vietnam People's Navy (North). Another Destroyer Escort, the USS Camp (DE-251) also served in the South Vietnamese Navy but managed to sail to the Philippines in 1975. It appears that both of these DEs are no longer on active duty.

One side story of interest, in 1974 the Forster (as the RVNS Tran Khanh DU, HQ-04) played a major role during the Paracel Island Naval engagement with China. From the account: “.......The battle lasted from 10:25 AM to 11:00 AM. When HQ10 fired on the island, HQ4, HQ5, and HQ16 together fired at the enemy ships. HQ4, with two 6,000-horsepower engines, ran at full speed and fired cannons, heavy machine guns non-stop. Most of the cannons on board were rapidly firing capable. HQ4 was about 1,600 yards from the nearest enemy ship. Therefore, most of its shots hit the enemy ship. The first 5 or 6 minutes of the battle would decide the fate of engaging ships. Enemy ships sank, our ship sank. Two enemy ships and our HQ10 were put out of action during this short period. ......”

Monday, September 3, 2007

Tour 9/1/2006, Mogadishu

This Saturday I had a diverse group of visitors with ages ranging from mid-2 to perhaps 50+. With a wide range of ages, the compromises necessary can lead to a long tour that makes everyone unhappy. Topics of interest for the older groups are often considered boring for younger members (who require hands-on interaction). Safety is always paramount for a tour guide, but irrelevant for a hyperactive two year old who's interested in exploring the world. Luckily I was blessed with a pair of very attentive parents. Every time I was distracted by a darting 30” blur a young parent was there putting my concerns at ease. Just my opinion, but I think everyone had a good visit.








After the tour I was asked if I heard of the USS Rich. The visitor noted that she had grown up in Mogadishu, Somalia (during a more peaceful time) and remembered a visit of the USS Rich in the mid-1960s. I was familiar with a Destroyer Escort named the USS Rich (DE-695), but it wasn't the same ship as the one that visited Mogadishu. The USS Rich, DE-695 was sunk on June 6, 1944 off of Utah Beach. The Official Loss of Ship Report is available at the USS Rich (DE-695) web site.


After the loss of the USS Rich (DE-695) the Navy built a new Destroyer named USS Rich. The second USS Rich (DD-820) was commissioned in 1946. The 2nd USS Rich did visit Mogadishu in February, 1966. Sometime. after a deployment, a ship would publish a cruise book that contains highlights and ports of call. The USS Rich published one following the 1966 cruise to the Red Sea, and it's available on-line. Several pages relate to the Mogadishu visit. The Rich's Captain (L.K. Fenlon, Jr) also sent a letter (Familygram) to the USS Rich's families about the deployment. Here are links to these references to the Mogadiscio visit (the Italian spelling of Mogadishu) on the USS Rich (DD-820) website:

Cruise Book Page 54
Cruise Book Page 69
Captain Fenlon's Familygram

It appears that the USS Rich has a very active reunion group and a great web site. It's my guess that the web master would be interested in hearing reflections about the USS Rich's visit from a Mogadishu resident (webmaster@ussrich.org).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Destroyer Escorts & Vietnam

This weekend, while giving a tour of the USS Slater, I was asked about the role that Destroyer Escorts (DEs) had during the Vietnam War. This question underlines a few of the reasons for this blog. Many times during a tour I've was presented with a question that I couldn't do justice within the time limits allowed. During the typical tour you have a diverse mix of ages and interests. On a busy day tour groups can become queued (stacked) if too much time is spent at a single tour station. Because of these constraints it's important to keep answers terse.


During the tour I gave the quick answer to the question “What role did Destroyer Escorts have during the Vietnam War?”: Off the cost of South Vietnam Destroyer Escorts provided Naval Gunfire Support, and participated with Operation Market Time. Operation Market Time was the inspection of coastal vessels like trawlers and junks for contraband. The Destroyer Escorts fitted with advanced radar (DERs) were especially well suited for Operation Market Time. In WWII a few Destroyer Escorts were specialized for a high speed transport role (called APDs). During the Vietnam War these ships supported UDT, Seal Teams and Marine Units. In the mid-1960 new classes of Destroyer Escorts were built. These modern ships operated in the coastal areas near North Vietnam. These operations included PIRAZ, SAR and Yankee Station escort. Piraz was the modern evolution of Radar Picket duty. SAR was pilot rescue. Yankee Station was the operating station in the Tonkin Gulf for Aircraft Carriers.


Sometime I offer to provide additional details once a tour is over. However, by using a blog to fill out an answer, you can keep the tour moving and use the resources of the world-wide web to provide in depth answers. Rather than go into detail on the Naval Mission during the Vietnam War, I can provide a link to the US Navy History Center's detail account: By Sea, Air and Land. I can also link to specific ships that are representative of the DE's Vietnam Missions. The USS Whipple (DE-1062), a modern (post WWII) Knox-Class Destroyer Escort was deployed to the coast of Vietnam in 1972. It's duties included Piraz, C-SAR and Yankee Station Escort. The USS Haverfield (DE-393), a WWII-era Edsall-class, Destroyer Escort, was retrofitted with additional radar equipment and re-designated as a Destroyer Escort Radar Pickett (DER). Off the coast of Vietnam this ship's primary role was with the Market Time Operation. The USS Weiss (APD-135) was a support ship for UDT and Seal Teams. Regarding Naval Gunfire Support (NGFS), the National Archives maintains a database of NGFS missions off of Vietnam. A search for DE related ships will return over 3,000 missions.


The term Littoral referrers to coastal waters. Since WWII DEs, because of their lower draft, were often deployed in these waters. Based in part on these experiences of the US Navy is constructing a modern ship the Littoral Combat ship. In large part, the DE mission in Vietnam was similar to the roles outlined for the Littoral Combat Ship.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Docent? What's a Docent?













Wikipedia has an entry on Docents: .....Museum docents are are educators, trained to further the public's understanding of the cultural and historical collections of the institution. In many cases, docents, in addition to their prescribed function as guides, also conduct research utilizing the institution's facilities. They are normally volunteers.

A Destroyer Escort (like the USS Slater) is a small ship that was mass produced during WWII (ultimately 573 were built). Because it's a small ship a visitor could get a quick walk-through tour in 20 minutes. If we geared the Slater Experience as a quick walk-through tour we would have to restrict the route for safety reasons. We would also have to secure (hide or cover in plexiglass) numerous artifacts that were used on the ship.

The USS Slater is representative of hundreds of similar Escort-type ships. Quick walk-through tours would focus on hardware, and (by and large) deprive the visitor of experience relating to these ships, and the thousands of sailors who served on them.

The USS Slater Tour Guide Manual explains this in more detail:

.....The primary mission of the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum is to utilize the SLATER as an education platform to teach our youth and visitors about the contributions of the destroyer escorts in World War II and the postwar Navy, and to keep alive the history spirit and technology of these vessels and the men and women who built and manned them.

To accomplish this we collect, maintain, display and interpret artifacts and documents relating to the role of the destroyer escorts in the United States Navy during World War II and the postwar years. The primary emphasis is the authentic restoration and display of the destroyer escort USS SLATER DE766 in her 1945 configuration with all the equipment and artifacts she would have carried at that time.

Visitors to the USS SLATER come to learn what life was like aboard a Destroyer Escort during World War II. Our restorers have been devoting their time and talents to restore the ship, and have done a remarkable job to make the ship what it is today. But that work is meaningless without a core of equally dedicated and knowledgeable tour guides to interpret the SLATER to the public. It is you who interact with the public that have the greatest influence on our reputation and the greatest responsibility for fulfilling our educational mission. To put the best possible impression of the SLATER to the public we ask that you present yourselves in a professional manner at all times, be conscious of the attention span of the members of your group, and ask you to present a sharp appearance so that our visitors, civic leaders and members of the media recognize us as a first class team. We want our visitors to step back in time and get the flavor of what Navy life was on a destroyer escort sixty years ago. You are the key part of that experience. ....

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What is a DE?











DE refers to type of Naval Ship - the Destroyer Escort. The design is based basically scaled down Destroyer of the 1940s that was optimized for North Atlantic Convoy Duty. More information is available on the USS Slater Web Site and on the Wikipedia Entry for Destroyer Escorts.

Traditionally, in navy slang a Destroyer is referred to as a tin-can. Earlier this year I gave a tour that included a Destroyer sailor who served in WWII who referred to the Destroyer Escort in navy slang as a half-can. This is accurate in a simplistic sense.The Destroyer Type was originally called a Torpedo Boat Destroyer, and it was always characterized by high-speed and practically no armor (no armor -> tin-can slang). A full scale destroyer in early WWII had steam turbine power plant with approximately 60,000 horsepower, and a top speed of 38 knots. The cost was approximately 6-7 million. The DE design is based on British experience with specialized convoy escorts that were developed to deal specifcally with the U-Boat menace (Corvettes and Hunt Class Frigates). Since merchant ships of the day rarely exceeded 15 knots, and convoys (which could only move as fast as the slowest ship in the convoy) typically moved at 5-10 knots, the high speed capability was largely wasted. By designing a ship to match the U-Boat surface speed of 21 knots, the construction cost could be trimmed in half (to 3 1/2 Million). The savings came largely by using a smaller power plant, instead of 60,000 HP the USS Slater has four 1,500 HP diesel engines.