It’s Your Ship Book Review

It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy

By Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

Hardcover in dustjacket, 212 pages

Published by Warner Business Books, May 2002

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-446-52911-7

Dimensions:  6.5 x 1.01 x 9.5 inches

The USS Benfold (DDG-65) is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.  The Burke-class are the most common ship type in the U.S. Navy, with 68 in commission and more building.  They are high-tech state of the art warships with crews of 310.  In June 1997 Commander Michael Abrashoff became her Captain.  Her previous CO was not respected by the crew and morale was low, affecting the ship’s performance.  This is a vicious cycle which can spiral to the point where the ship is unable to excel, or even complete basic requirements successfully.

Commander Abrashoff decided to turn the Benfold around, starting with the basics.  He listened to his sailors, and acted upon their suggestions to improve the operations of the ship.  This improved both morale and efficiency, which in turn led to gains in performance.  An example near to my heart is a sailor questioned why so much time was being spent on corrosion control, specifically chipping and painting boltheads which were a constant source of rust.  The sailor suggested replacing the rusty bolts with stainless steel.  Abrashoff not only acted on the suggestion by replacing Benfold’s bolts, but passed it up the chain of command so other ships could benefit.  The program was extended to replace or coat other rust-prone fittings.  The crew’s time saved by this and other programs was invested in training, and soon Benfold’s crew had the highest rates of Enlisted Surface Warfare qualification in the fleet.  This increased morale, made the crew more knowledgeable and professional, and improved retention.

This book is a management “how to” manual aimed at the cooperate business world, but is also the story of a Captain running his ship based upon first principles.  “Because we’ve always done it this way” is not a good answer when your goal is to do better.  There are many valuable insights here, made all the more interesting because it is set within the story of a ship and her crew.  An enjoyable read, and valuable for leaders in all professions.

A Sailor’s Odyssey Book Review

A Sailor’s Odyssey: At Peace and at War 1935-1945

By Alvin P. Chester

Hardcover in dustjacket, 288 pages, photographs

Published by Odysseus Books, January 1991

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-9631239-0-4

Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.0 x 9.0 inches

Prior to World War Two the way things moved between the continents was by ship.  Crossing the Atlantic between the United States and Europe were several competing shipping lines offering regular service to various ports of call.  The majority of ships carried both cargo and passengers, who often counted diplomats and celebrities among their ranks.  Dining with the Captain was a mark of social status, and the Captain and his officers were held in some esteem by society.

Al Chester entered this world as a cadet in the New York State Merchant Marine Academy in 1933.  Upon graduation in 1935, he began serving on a variety of merchant vessels as a nineteen-year-old Officer Cadet.  He was able to advance by taking on more responsible positions with different ships, often serving alongside former classmates from the NYSMMA. By 1938 it was becoming apparent that war was coming and that the United States would eventually become involved.  When the war came to Europe, Chester’s Naval Reserve commission was made active and he was assigned to the oiler USS Kanawha (AO-1) as her gunnery officer, and as officer in charge of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard aboard the merchant transport S.S. Matsonia as the war came to the U.S. and the Pacific.

With German U-boats ravaging shipping in the Atlantic the U.S. built hundreds of small, expedient escorts, Chester was given command of the USS SC-981, and later advanced to command the USS Cofer (DE-208), a Destroyer Escort.  After some convoy work in the Atlantic, Coffer was converted to an Assault Transport, which gave her the capability to carry landing craft for amphibious assaults at the expense of her torpedo tubes, among other modifications.  As APD-62 she participated in the invasion of the Philippines and faced Japanese Kamikaze attack at Ormoc Bay.

A Sailor’s Odyssey is a very personal story, Chester details the day-to-day life and incidents from a decade at sea.  I found the descriptions of life in the Merchant Marine to be particularly fascinating as there is not much written about that.  His wartime progression and commands were not unique but his previous experience in the commercial shipping trade certainly left him better prepared than most of his contemporaries and even many of his superiors.  He does not gloss over anything he experienced or observed, calling out the good and the bad in equal measure.  This includes his own physical decline when the unceasing demands of command and constant strain impacted his health.  I can highly recommend this book, both for its descriptions of Navy life and insights into the Merchant Marine at the end of an era.

The Ship That Would Not Die Book Review

The Ship That Would Not Die

By F. Julian Becton, RADM USN (Ret) with Joseph Morschauser III

Softcover, 279 pages, appendices, photographs, and index

Published by Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, April 1987

Language: English

ISBN-10‏: ‎ 0-93312-687-5

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0-93312-687-9

Dimensions: ‎ 6.0 x 1.0 x 9.3 inches

The USS Laffey (DD-724) was an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer built for the U.S. Navy during the Second World War.  At 2,200 tons, they were the largest and most heavily armed U.S. Navy destroyers to see combat during WWII, the Gearing-class was a derivative with a 14-foot hull extension amidships to increase range.  Laffey was commissioned on 08FEB44.

The author was Laffey’s Captain from her commissioning through the end of the war.  He was already an experienced officer, having seen combat aboard the USS Arron Ward (DD-483) in the Solomons, where he was with the original USS Laffey (DD-459) when she was sunk during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.  He was assigned to the new Laffey as Prospective Commanding Officer during her construction and the training of her crew.

The Laffey had a busy war.  She first saw combat off Normandy during the invasion, and shelled German defenses at Cherbourg.  From there she sailed to the Pacific, joining Task Force 38 for the invasion of the Philippines.  She first encountered the Japanese Kamikaze there, and was with the USS Ward (DM-16) when she was sunk at Ormoc Bay.  She then escorted the carrier groups during strikes against the Japanese home islands and off Iwo Jima.

The Laffey is best remembered for her ordeal on the radar picket line screening the landings on Okinawa.  On 16APR45 she was attacked by a large formation of Kamikaze aircraft, an estimated twenty-two singling out Laffey.  Ultimately, she was hit by six Kamikaze and four bombs which caused extensive damage and fires, and also jammed her rudder.  With the assistance of salvage tugs she was able control her flooding and was towed from the area.  She returned to the States under her own power and was eventually repaired, but her war was over.  Laffey served until 1975, and is currently preserved as a museum ship in North Charleston, South Carolina.

The book is written in autobiographical style.  Becton describes the day-to-day operations of the ship and makes a special effort to mention as many of his crew by name as possible.  I was surprised to see a number of factual errors which somehow crept into the narrative – some ships’ armaments are improperly described, aircraft mis-identified in a caption, apparent confusion between a Landing Ship, Dock (LSD) and a floating drydock (AFDB), and a US Navy officer said to have survived the sinking of HMS Hood.  Minor issues in their own rights, but they call into question other details.  In spite of that, this is an interesting story and well worth reading.

How to Tell the Iowa Class Battleships Apart

When the Iowa-class battleships were recommissioned during the 1980s they generated a considerable amount of public interest and were very popular subjects with photographers.  The Navy obliged and made them available for access by the media which resulted in a large number of pictures available today.  However, the similarities between the ships have resulted in many of these photographs being mis-identified both on the internet and even by authors who should know better.  In this post I will point out a few of the more easily identifiable differences which will allow battleship fans to make a proper identification.

This photograph is likely the most confusing to observers, and has been identified as all four of the Iowa class in various corners of the internet, if it is identified at all. This is in fact the USS Iowa (BB 61), taken early in her re-activation process. What is confusing to many is the Iowa carried a very prominent American flag painted on the top of Turret One for most of her service in the 1980’s. The flag was painted in June 1984, which dates this picture as being early in her service or a precommissioning trial. Iowa carried non-skid bands atop Turrets Two and Three. The area covered by the non-skid on the fantail for helicopter operations is unique to each of the sisters, on Iowa it extends forward to a line just short of the Turret Three barbette.
Compare the previous photo to this similar shot of USS New Jersey (BB 62). The non-skid on New Jersey’s fantail wraps around Turret Three, with an irregular area of teak decking around the Turret connecting the deck vents. Also note the helicopter deck markings are different, with the landing circle offset to port. The tops of her Turrets and 5” gun mounts are painted in Haze Gray. Also visible on her fo’c’sle are the circular bases for the quad 40mm gun mounts, which are unique to New Jersey, on all other Iowa-class the gun mount bases were removed and planked over with teak.
USS Missouri (BB 63) carried the least amount of teak on her fantail, the non-skid extends all the way forward to the break in the superstructure. Her helicopter pad markings match Iowa’s, and she has her hull number painted atop Turret One.
USS Wisconsin (BB 64) retained the most teak of any of the sisters. Only the helicopter deck and ramps themselves were covered in non-skid. Also note the difference in flight deck markings, with angled stripes painted at the forward corners. Her Turrets and 5” gun mount tops also appear to be painted Haze Gray in this photograph.
New Jersey firing all 21 guns simultaneously off both beams. New Jersey was the only Iowa recommissioned for service during the Vietnam War, and this left her with a uniquely shaped superstructure top to support her electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite. On New Jersey this is two rectangular projections to the beams, all other Iowas received a wrap-around structure. The circular remnants of her 40mm gun tubs are visible on the deck.
Compare the superstructure in previous photograph to this shot of Missouri off Sidney, Australia in October 1986. Missouri displays the rounded upper superstructure and supports for the SLQ-32 ECM common to the other ships. Also of note is the bullwork at the extreme bow to block the wind, this “plain” shielding was common to the Pacific Fleet Battleships New Jersey and Missouri.
The Atlantic Fleet ships had different bow configurations. Here is a shot of Wisconsin (left) and Iowa (right) in mothballs. These were originally tubs for two single 20mm gun mounts and were not removed during their reactivations. Note that they are each different, with the tubs on Iowa projecting further over the beams.
A detail view of Wisconsin’s bow, showing the smaller tub configuration and wind deflector.
Iowa was unique in carrying a large American flag atop Turret One. This was painted on by the crew in June 1984 and is visible in many aerial views of the ship.
This photograph of Missouri working through a heavy swell reveals her hull number painted atop Turret One. Neither New Jersey nor Wisconsin carried identifiers on their Turret tops. The white markings on Turret Two are applied to fittings and trip hazards for the UNREP gear used to transfer stores and ammunition from other ships.

Chance Vought F4U Corsair Mishaps Part II

A Corsair from VF-17 “Jolly Rogers” noses over after encountering the barrier aboard the USS Bunker Hill CV-17 in early 1943. The deck planking shows evidence of earlier repairs, suggesting this is not the only such incident to have occurred.

A hard landing aboard HMS Smiter has mangled the landing gear leg of this Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Corsair II. The wear pattern on the forward portion of the wing at the root is caused by mechanics servicing the engine and was commonly seen on Corsairs. (Imperial War Museum)

The end of the road for this F4U-4 of VA-74, which is missing the outboard section of its port wing. The carrier is the USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) in 1949.

The Landing Signals Officer looks on as this F4U-4 of VMF-322 goes over the side of the USS Sicily (CVE-118) on 14OCT49. (NNAM.1996.253.7157.063)

This F4U-1D was involved in a mid-air collision, but was able to recover aboard the USS Shangri-La (CV-38). However, the jolt of engaging the arresting wire has separated the tail section, leaving the rest of the aircraft to continue on down the deck …

… where it eventually slid into the ship’s island. Deck crews have already strapped a dolly under the fuselage. Note the stripped-down jeep, which were used on several carriers as towing vehicles.

Most Navy aircraft types were capable of remaining afloat for at least a few minutes, giving time for the crew to escape. The US Navy routinely positioned a destroyer directly behind an aircraft carrier to quickly rescue aircrew, designating the station as “plane guard”.

Firefighting crews go to work on a Fleet Air Arm Corsair aboard HMS Illustrious. Fire aboard ship is a serious threat, even with the armored flight decks of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers.

A similar scene aboard USS Bennington (CV-20) on 14FEB45. The hose team is using a spray applicator to knock the flames down. Note that they have approached the fire from up-wind and are using the wing of the aircraft to protect themselves from the flames.

A crane is used to right this F4U-1 on Torokina, Bougainville in 1943, the aircraft is from VMF-214 “Black Sheep”. This Corsair is somewhat rare in that it carries nose art, this is Ed Olander’s “Marine’s Dream”, BuNo 02576.

Chance Vought F4U Corsair Mishaps Part I

A birdcage Corsair of VF-17 “Jolly Rogers” bounces high during a landing attempt aboard the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17). The squadron was working up their new mounts during the first half of 1943, but a high accident rate led the US Navy to initially declare the Corsair unsuitable for carrier operations. Note the ammunition coveres prominent on the wings.

This Corsair has suffered a landing gear collapse and tail separation as the pilot is assisted from the remains of his aircraft. The ammunition covers on the upper wing were interchangeable, and this has led to the white bar of the national insignia being scrambled – a common occurrence and an interesting detail for modelers.

One of several Corsair mishaps aboard the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) is this VF-17 Corsair, showing details of the undersurfaces. VF-17 would deploy from land bases in the Solomons later in 1943, where they fought against Japanese aircraft operating from Rabaul. They went on to become the most successful Navy fighter squadron of the war.

A Corsair misses the wire and noses over aboard the USS Essex (CV-9) in 1945. The paintwork is very sloppy, showing overspray on the tail and runs on the side number. The shuffling of the ammunition covers on the wings has again scrambled the markings and contributes to the disheveled appearance.

A deck crane is used to right this Corsair aboard the USS Bunker Hill. The ailerons appear to be replacements and are much darker than outer wing panels. The position and style of the insignia are standard for the first half of 1943.

A Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Corsair loses its drop tank while recovering aboard HMS Victorious during the Sumatra Raid, January 1945. While the Royal Navy Carriers embarked fewer aircraft than their American counterparts, their armored flight decks proved more resistant to damage.

A bad day aboard the USS Prince William (CVE-31), a Bogue-class escort carrier. The Prince William spent most of the war ferrying aircraft to the combat zone.

CorsairMishap_08_VF-17 on the deck of the USS Charger, May 1943
A Corsair crashes through the barrier aboard USS Charger (CVE-30). Charger operated as a training carrier off the Atlantic coast.

CorsairMishap_09_F4U-7 15F-2 aboard the Bois-Belleau
A French Navy F4U-7 has nosed over aboard the carrier Bois Belleau. The ship was commissioned into the US Navy as the Independence-class light carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24). She was transferred to the French Navy in 1953 and served until 1960.

The Corsair served as the primary US Navy carrier fighter in the years immediately after the war, until new jet aircraft were introduced. Here a F4U-4 goes over the side of the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). Note the twin 20mm Oerlikon mount in the catwalk beneath the aircraft.