Monday, July 16, 2018

Greyhounds Guarding the Sheep

The hunter and the hunted. The wolf, the sheepdog and the flock. In my last blog, we explored the USS Cavalla (SS-244), who in this context was the "wolf," prowling about in search of vulnerable prey. In this blog, we'll take a virtual tour of the USS Stewart (DE-238), one of the "sheepdogs" tending the flock of merchant ships, or "merchies" as they made their way across the Atlantic. Since both the Cavalla and Stewart are part of the American Undersea Warfare Center in Galveston, Texas, my original plan was to write about both of these warhorses in a single blog as part of my "living history" series. Once I started writing about the Cavalla, though, I knew I would do better by splitting these virtual tours into two blogs. Each ship deserves its own blog to adequately tell their story. 

USS Stewart (DE-238)


For my new readers, clicking on any blue link will open a webpage in a new window that will expand on what I'm referring to. Clicking on any photo will display a larger format of that photo. This page will still be here. Go ahead and give it a try on any link above.

The USS Stewart was an Edsall-class destroyer escort built in 1942 at the Brown Shipbuilding Company in Houston. She is now the only surviving ship of the Edsall-class in existence. The destroyer escort was mass-produced in WWII as a cheaper antisubmarine warfare (ASW) alternative to the larger fleet destroyers. Much like the escort carrier (CVE), the destroyer escort's primary job was escorting convoys of merchant ships and protecting them from both submarines and aircraft. The destroyers, on the other hand, were fast enough to keep up with the larger capital ships like fleet carriers and cruisers. In 1975, the US Navy reclassified destroyer escorts as frigates. It's ironic, really, that while I primarily write my blogs for the sheer pleasure of writing, I also write to share discoveries such as these museum ships with others. If I'm able to educate any of my readers about the particular topic I'm writing about, fantastic! What I've found, though, is how much I learn when researching my next blog. 

I mentioned the escort carriers for a specific reason and will come back to them later in the blog after we've had a chance to explore the Stewart. Trust me, it'll all make sense when we get there. Here's a hint, though. Size really does not matter.

One entrance fee at the American Undersea Warfare Center will give you access to both the USS Cavalla and the USS Stewart. While my wife and I had the good fortune to have a retired submariner give us a guided tour of the Cavalla, we had to rely on an audio guide provided by the center to give us details on the Stewart. This device would play audio clips explaining certain features of the ship. I liked the personal touch better, though.


Entrance


After paying your entrance fee and parking, you'll follow the sidewalk through the gate and into a small gift shop. From here, it's your choice of which vessel you want to tour first. Since we've already toured the Cavalla, lets head over to the Stewart and take a look around. Remember to keep at least one hand on the rails of any stairs ("ladder" in Navy parlance) at all times.


Looks cool already!




3"/50 deck gun



Welcome aboard



We are greeted by the sign above as soon as we board the ship. From here, we are free to tour the ship as we wish. There is no specific route to take, unlike the Cavalla. We decided to go deck by deck, starting at the bow and working our way aft. 



Stewart's "pointy end"


Just aft of here, we will find the Stewart's hedgehog launcher. This was one of two ways to attack a submerged submarine. These were fired from the front of the ship and landed in an elliptical pattern to either side. They only exploded on contact with something, and statistically had a higher kill rate than depth charges.


Read all about it


Hedgehog launcher


Closeup of the hedgehogs


I can see how these critters would definitely ruin a submariner's day if they got caught in the middle of one of these patterns. We'll take a look at the other weapon when we get to the back of the ship. Turning around, and looking aft, the ship's bridge is visible just above the 3"/50 gun mount. 


Stewart's bridge


Who's hungry? Let's step inside and check out one of the mess areas. I'm always up for something to eat, be it an actual meal, a snack or even a good cup of coffee. Yes, those three links will take you to blogs I wrote on the subject. If you are a foodie like I am, I think you'll enjoy reading what I have to say. Come on, it's right through this hatch. 

Limited seating available


Watch your elbows!


In the above photo's background, to the right of the ladder, is a red 208. That is for the audio guide. When you get to a numbered sign like this, key in that number and the audio guide will explain what you are looking at.


Do y'all serve breakfast tacos?


Reminds me of Luby's



Can I get a clean tray?


Hey, what's this? Oh, yes! This is the perfect way to finish a meal! Who doesn't love a bowl of ice cream? I sure do! You can read what I have to say about it here. Go ahead and click that link. You know you want to. I'll wait here with a bowl of Blue Bell ice cream, topped with warmed salted caramel sauce.



Critical equipment


Looking around in this space, you'll see some bunks ("racks") stuck here and there. See what I mean about the ice cream machine being "critical equipment?" If you had to eat and sleep in the same place, a bowl of ice cream would definitely help you adjust.

Square those racks away!

Just forward of this space is the forward crew quarters for the enlisted sailors. On the Stewart, this area is viewable through clear plexiglass. 


Forward berthing space


Where's my rack?


No snoring zone


From enlisted berthing, we'll head into "officers' country." Even on a small ship such as this, there was still a clear delineation between the officers and enlisted personnel. When we visit the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) in a later blog, this delineation will be even more obvious. 


Officers' Pantry



Where are the breakfast tacos??

Oh, come on! This ship was built in Houston, as in Texas. Breakfast tacos are a staple. I can eat breakfast tacos for, well, breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or a combination of the three. Ok, I get it, if you don't care for those, I don't know what to tell you. I guess you can have the "SOS" or other delicacies. I wonder how many Texans that ended up as CO of a naval vessel had their cooks prepare good ol' Tex-Mex for the wardroom. "Cookie, instead of SOS, here's a recipe for carne guisada. Learn it, love it, do it!"

Officers' Country



Wardroom


Notice the door in the background of the above photo? That's the entrance to some of the officers' staterooms. Let's take a closer look, shall we?


Officers' staterooms




Officers' racks


If you noticed the brief description of my blog, I refer to myself as a "finicky foodie." There are plenty of things I don't care to eat, but the stuff I do like to eat, well, let's just say you better watch your fingers around my plate. Having said that, I always make it a point to check out the galley on these ships. From the closet-sized galley on the Cavalla to the huge galley on the Wisconsin, it's always interesting to see where all the grub was prepared.



My favorite sign


What's for dinner?



How much gravy did you make?



Still no tacos!

I guess we just won't get any tacos, breakfast or otherwise, on this tour. I wonder if I should take this up with the CO or XO? Moving on, let's see what makes the Stewart move through the water. A short walk down the passageway and we find several hatches leading to lower compartments. At the time we toured the ship, these spaces were closed to the public. I hope they will be open for future tours. 


B-1: Fwd engine room


Hatch to B-1


This hatch was right next to the sign above, so my guess is it leads to that space. Notice the "Z" on the hatch? For those not familiar with naval vessels, this sign designates what must be done with the hatch during general quarters ("GQ") or battle stations. Any hatch with a "Z" like this must be closed and dogged shut during GQ and can only be opened with permission from either the bridge or damage control officer. This is called "material condition" and clicking that link will take you to a very informative page on the subject.

Just down from this hatch is another hatch leading to the B-2 space containing auxiliary equipment. 

B-2: Fwd auxiliary equipment room


Hatch to B-2


Like the B-1 space, this area was closed to the public. As restoration continues, these areas may become accessible to the public. It would definitely enhance the experience. Now don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic tour as it is. I'm one of those people who want to explore every nook and cranny of a ship or airplane if I can.

We'll continue down the same passageway and find ourselves at the ship's store. This small room stocked day-to-day items a sailor needed while at sea.


Wal-Mart of the seas?


Do you have Dapper Dan pomade?


I'll take a pack of Camels


Close to this room is the engineering office. Both the store and the engineering office were protected by plexiglass, so the photos aren't the best quality. You'll get a good idea of what the spaces look like, though.


"Log Room"



Engineering Office


We'll visit one more interior space before heading back outside and exploring that area. We saw just how tiny the heads were on the USS Cavalla. I think a phone booth had more space than the officers' head on the Cavalla. On the Stewart, the heads were definitely more spacious. 

Crew's head


Showers


Sinks


I hope these are varnished!



Those that know me can attest that I showed remarkable restraint by not making any sophomoric bathroom jokes here. Don't think the thought didn't cross my mind, though. 

For any tin can sailors reading this, was the stokes basket seen in the background by the sinks actually supposed to be stowed there, or does it just happen to be there on this ship?

We've seen just about as much as can see inside the Stewart. Follow me back outside and we'll look at some other weapons the Stewart had. The Field Artilleryman in me insists we start with the deck guns. The Stewart had two forward and one aft mount 3"/50 deck guns, primarily for surface and antiaircraft use.


Good explanation



Forward gun mounts



Aft gun mount



Ammo "ready racks"

The Stewart also employed a pair of twin 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun mounts, port and starboard. 

Interesting info


40mm gun mount


While both the 3"/50 and 40mm guns could be employed against surface or air targets, they couldn't target submerged contacts. We looked at the hedgehogs up forward, and now we will examine the other weapon the Stewart had to kill submarines, the depth charge.

Depth charges explained


There were two ways the Stewart could attack with depth charges. They could be fired from a "K" gun or rolled off the back of the ship from a rack.


"K" Gun description


"K" Gun racks

All my life I have enjoyed watching "war movies," and have seen many scenes of a ship dropping depth charges, usually from the stern. For some reason, the depth charges looked much bigger than what I saw on the Stewart. In my mind, I always imagined them to be about the size of a 55-gallon barrel. When I actually saw them on the Stewart, they were much smaller than I thought they'd be. Logically, I should've known they didn't need to be that large, given the physics of what happens in deep water. 


Starboard depth charge rack



Port depth charge rack


Since the Stewart had two ways to attack a submarine, who decided which type of weapon to use? I asked this question to some retired "tin can sailors" and determined that it was based on standard operating procedure ("SOP") from sonar control. The Captain fought the ship from the bridge. Modern naval vessels have a Tactical Action Officer (TAO) that coordinates all attacks for the Captain. 

We'll visit one more place and our tour of the USS Stewart will be complete. I mentioned that in WWII, the captain fought the ship from the bridge. The Stewart has a smallish bridge that like the engine room was closed to the public. I was able to take a few photos through the portholes, though. 


View from front porthole


View from port side


View from port bridge wing


View from starboard bridge wing


So that, dear readers, is your virtual tour of the USS Stewart. I hope you enjoyed tagging along with me as we explored this warhorse. I encourage to visit both it and the USS Cavalla the next time you are in Galveston. 

As promised earlier, I mentioned that "size doesn't matter" when it comes to both the destroyer escort and escort carriers. Let's take a closer look at a pivotal battle in the Pacific during WWII. I'm referring to the Battle of Leyte Gulf and specifically to an action in that battle referred to as the Battle off Samar. The USS Stewart wasn't a part of this battle, but her class of ship, the DE, had a prominent role in it. The link I provided gives a good "Cliff Notes" version of that battle, but I encourage you to read author James Hornfischer's book The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. He gives a masterful description of this battle and I highly recommend it. 

Destroyer escorts averaged 306 feet in length, and their largest gun was the 3"/50. The USS Cavalla, by the way, is actually a few feet longer than the Stewart. Besides the deck gun, DEs had torpedoes they could launch against surface ships, but they had to get relatively close to their target. 

What makes this action truly astounding is how a group of destroyers, destroyer escorts and escort carriers found themselves facing off against Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers! This small group, called "Taffy 3," consisted of six escort carriers, 3 destroyers, and 4 destroyer escorts. They stood toe to toe against four battleships (the largest, Yamato, was 862 feet long, and her largest guns were 18"), six heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers. Rather than turn tail and run, this group of intrepid sailors took the fight to the enemy. Taffy 3 sustained heavy losses, but their aggressiveness stopped the Japanese from exploiting a weakness and wreaking havoc on other American forces. Do yourself a favor and read Mr. Hornfischer's book. You'll be glad you did.

As I explored the USS Stewart, I kept thinking of that battle, and what it must've been like to be on a destroyer escort facing such a huge opponent. Granted this was an isolated event, but even the thought of escorting merchies across the Atlantic and wondering when the next submarine contact would be only increased my respect for these sailors. The "greyhounds of the seas" definitely earned their place in history. 

To all the tin can sailors who stood into danger, you have my thanks and respect. Thank you for your service. Special thanks to a Facebook group of tin can sailors, without whose help would've made writing this blog much harder. Thanks, guys, y'all rock! Any factual errors in this blog are mine and mine alone. If anyone sees something wrong, please let me know in the comments below and I'll fix it with my thanks.

Did you serve on a naval ship? I would love to hear your tales. Please leave a comment in the comments section below and share your stories. Did any of y'all catch a subtle movie reference I threw in? Bonus points to the first person who correctly answers below with the reference.

For your convenience, here are links to the other "living history" blogs I've written so far:



Coming up in my next few blogs, I'll write about some other games we've played, another interview and some more living history. 


Until next time.....


carpe cerevisi