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USS Harding (DD-91)

USS Harding (DD-91)


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USS Harding (DD-91)

USS Harding (DD-91) was a Wickes class destroyer that had a brief interwar career, mainly as a seaplane tender, before being decommissioned in 1922.

The Harding was named after Seth Harding, an American sailor who served during the French and Indian Wars and the War of Independence, where he has some success against British shipping.

The Harding was built by the Union Iron Works of San Francisco. She was launched on 4 July 1918 and commissioned on 24 January 1919, with Commander Henry D. Cook in command.

The Harding was allocated to the Atlantic Fleet. In February 1919 she escorted President Woodrow Wilson on the last stages of his first journey back to the United States from the Paris Peace Conference (he returned to France three weeks later).

In May 1919 the Harding was one of the ships that supported the attempted transatlantic flight of three Curtiss flying boats. Their role was to provide lights and smoke to mark the route to the Azores, and to rescue any aircraft that got into trouble. Aircraft NC-1 and NC-3 had to make forced landings on their way to the Azores. The NC-3 managed to taxi to the Azores, but NC-1 sank. The Harding helped rescue her crew before she sank. This left NC-4, and the Harding was used to provide radio compass signals to help her across the last stretch. The NC-4 reached Lisbon, and then completed the flight at Plymouth on 31 May. The Harding visited Brest and then returned to Newport, Rhode Island, on 18 June 1919.

On 13 December 1919 the Harding entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where she began to be converted into a seaplane tender. The process was completed at Charleston and on 20 May 1920 she departed for her new base at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. She was briefly diverted to Vera Cruz, Mexico, taking bubonic plague serum to the American Red Cross. She then reached Pensacola on 13 June 1919.

The Harding operated from Pensacola from 13 June to 4 August, then moved to the Caribbean, where she operated until 23 February 1921. She then moved to Hampton Roads, where she took part in a series of bombing tests against various surplus warships, starting with U-117. She also observed the sinking of the former German battleship SMS Ostfriesland on 21 July 1921.

The Harding spend most of the rest of 1921 training along the US East Coast. On 27 December 1921 she moved to Charleston, then in the spring of 1922 to Philadelphia, where she was decommissioned on 1 July 1922. She remained out of commission until 29 September 1936 when she was sold to the Schiavone-Bonomo Corporation of New York to be scrapped.

Displacement (standard)

1,060t

Displacement (loaded)

Top Speed

35kts design
34.81kts at 27,350shp at 1,236t on trial (Kimberly)

Engine

2 shaft Parsons turbines
4 boilers
27,000shp design

Range

2,500nm at 20kts (design)

Armour - belt

- deck

Length

314ft 4.5in

Width

30ft 11.5in

Armaments

Four 4in/ 50 guns
Twelve 21in torpedo tubes in four triple mountings
Two 1-pounder AA guns
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement

100

Launched

4 July 1918

Commissioned

24 January 1919

Sold for scrap

29 September 1936


USS Harding (DD-91)

USS Harding (DD-91) was a Wickes-class destroyer in the United States Navy during World War I. She was the first ship named in honor of Seth Harding.

Launched in 1918, she undertook training exercises off the East Coast of the United States sporadically for several years. In 1919, she escorted a major transatlantic flight of Curtiss NC seaplane. Later that year, she was selected to be converted into a seaplane tender, and was then used to support naval aviator training off Naval Air Station Pensacola. She took one trip to Veracruz with emergency medical supplies, and was also on hand during aircraft bombing tests against decommissioned German ships, including the sinking of the SMS Ostfriesland. She was decommissioned in 1922 and sold for scrapping in 1936.


U.S.S. Harding (DD-625)

The second USS Harding (DD-625) was launched on June 28, 1942, by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation and commissioned by the United States Navy on May 25, 1943. The Harding served as a ship destroyer responsible for antisubmarine patrolling and escorting battleships in the Atlantic earlier during World War II before transitioning to the Pacific in the later part of the war. The Navy decommissioned the ship on November 2, 1945, and was sold for scrap on April 16, 1947, by the Luia Brothers Co., Inc. of Philadelphia. Harding received three battle stars for World War II service.

A notable crewmember was George Downings Jr. (1925-1946). Downings was born and raised in St. Johns County, Florida. Before joining the military, he lived in Saint Augustine, Florida. On March 4, 1943, Downings enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve in Jacksonville, Florida. Downings served as a Navy Messman, later called a Steward. In his duty, Downings was responsible for feeding and cleaning up after Navy officers. He eventually reached the rank of Steward’s Mate First Class. Downings served on various vessels, including the U.S.S. Harding, the U.S.S. O’Brien, and the U.S.S. Moale. Downings continued to serve in the Navy until December 25, 1945. He passed away on July 5, 1946, at the age of 21. He is buried in Saint Augustine National Cemetery in Section D, Plot 57.

In 2017, the University of Central Florida was one of three universities selected to launch the National Cemetery Administration’s Veterans Legacy Program Project. The program engaged a team of scholars to make the life stories of veterans buried in the Florida National Cemetery available to the public. The project engages UCF students in research and writing and fosters collaboration between students, faculty and local Central Florida schools to produce interactive curriculum for K-12 students. The corresponding website exhibit uses RICHES Mosaic Interface to create a digital archive of related data. The public can use the project-developed augmented-reality app at more than 100 gravesites at the Florida National Cemetery, where they can access the UCF student-authored biographies of veterans.


Tjenestehistorikk

Harding ble lansert 4. juli 1918 fra Union Iron Works. Hun ble sponset av kona til George A. Armes, og la ut under kommando av kommandør Henry D. Cooke . 3. februar 1919 ble hun tildelt USAs atlantiske flåte og seilte til Newport, Rhode Island via Santa Cruz, California . Gjennomgang av Panamakanalen ankom hun 18. februar. To dager senere flyttet hun til Boston, Massachusetts og stod ut av havnen 21. februar for å eskortere George Washington som fraktet president Woodrow Wilson fra Versailles-konferansen . To dager senere deltok hun i seremonier i Boston havn for å feire ankomsten av skipet.

Deretter la hun til reparasjon i Norfolk, Virginia til 8. mars, da hun dro for flåteøvelser i nærheten av Cuba . Etter dette dro Harding til New York og ankom 14. april. 1. mai reiste hun som en del av en gruppe destroyere som fungerte som guide for en flytur med Navy Curtiss NC- sjøfly over Atlanterhavet . Harding ga søkelysbelysning om natten i løpet av den første delen av flyet NC-1 og NC-3 gjorde tvangslandinger nær Azorene, og Harding ga NC-1 assistanse før den sank. NC-4 , det gjenværende sjøflyet, ankom Ponta Delgada 20. mai, og da hun tok av for siste etappe av reisen, kom Harding i gang for å gi radiokompasssignaler til sjøs. Etter at sjøflyene landet i Plymouth , England , for å fullføre flyet 31. mai 1919, besøkte Harding Brest, Frankrike og Azorene før de returnerte til Newport 18. juni. I flere måneder var Harding basert på treningsøvelser fra Newport og Norfolk.

Etter slutten av første verdenskrig begynte den amerikanske marinen å konvertere overskuddsskip for å støtte det voksende anbudsprogrammet for sjøfly . Flere damper og minelagere ble valgt i 1919, men Harding var den eneste ødeleggeren, fordi det ble bestemt at hun ville kreve minimale modifikasjoner. Etter denne suksessen, og etter hvert som hangarskipdesignene avanserte, ble flere skip designet spesielt for å støtte marin luftfart . Fjorten Clemson- klasse ødelegger ble omgjort til anbud for sjøfly i 1938 da det ble bestemt at flyproduksjonen overgikk utviklingen av disse skipene. Under konverteringen av Harding ble hennes tre .30 maskingeværer av kaliber fjernet og mannskapets komplement ble redusert til 100 offiserer og vervet menn. Torpedorørene hennes kan også ha blitt fjernet. 13. desember 1919 rapporterte hun til Philadelphia Navy Yard for konvertering til et anbud for sjøfly. Hun fullførte konverteringen ved Charleston Navy Yard og 20. mai 1920 seilte hun til tjeneste ved Pensacola Naval Air Station . Umiddelbart etter dette ble Harding imidlertid lastet med medisinsk utstyr fra Det amerikanske Røde Kors og ble beordret til Veracruz , Mexico , hvor et utbrudd av bubonic pest nødvendiggjorde serum og andre forsyninger. Hun nådde Veracruz 9. juni 1920 og lastet forsyningene sine. Hun dampet deretter til Pensacola, Florida , stoppet ved Tampico på vei, og ankom Florida den 13. juni.

På Pensacola ble Harding tildelt et opplæringsprogram for sjøflypiloter. Hun ble der til 4. august 1920, hvoretter hun opererte i det karibiske området og passet sjøfly til 23. februar 1921. Hun stoppet kort i Philadelphia før hun dro til Hampton Roads for å støtte bombetester på overgitte tyske skip, og forlot Norfolk 21. juni. Hun var til stede under bombeprøvene på SM U-117 og forble tildelt prøvene til senkingen av det tyske slagskipet SMS Ostfriesland 21. juli 1921. Harding ble løsrevet fra denne plikten dagen etter.

Harding gjennomførte deretter treningsøvelser fra Newport og andre østkysten til 27. desember 1921, da hun ankom Charleston, South Carolina . Hun ble der til 3. april 1922 og seilte til Philadelphia hvor hun avviklet 1. juli 1922. Harding ble deretter solgt for skrot 29. september 1936 til Schiavone-Bonomo Corporation i New York City.


The Unexpected Death of President Harding

Born on a farm in Ohio, Warren G. Harding purchased a struggling local newspaper soon after graduating from college and turned it around financially. He then steadily moved up the political ranks, serving as an Ohio state senator for four years, as lieutenant governor for two years and as a U.S. senator for six years. 

Only a failed campaign for governor in 1910 marred his resume. As luck would have it, the delegates to the 1920 Republican National Convention deadlocked during the presidential nominee balloting and therefore turned to Harding as a compromise candidate. Promising a “return to normalcy,” he went on to win the general election against Democratic opponent James M. Cox in a landslide, garnering about 60 percent of the popular vote and 404 of 531 electoral votes.

As president, Harding signed bills that reduced taxes for both individuals and corporations, set high protective tariffs, created a federal budget system and limited immigration, particularly from southern and eastern Europe. He also hosted a disarmament conference, at which the world’s largest naval powers agreed to reduce their arsenal of warships. 

It is for wrongdoing, however, that Harding’s administration is best remembered. During his time in office, several prominent officials took bribes, including his interior secretary, who granted favorable leases to oil companies in what became known as the Teapot Dome scandal, and his Veterans Bureau director, who, among other things, sold government hospital supplies at artificially low prices. 

“I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends … they’re the ones that keep me walking the floor nights,” Harding reportedly complained to a journalist. Harding himself was never personally implicated in these affairs, but he faced his own allegations of drinking alcohol in the White House during Prohibition and of extramarital affairs. A woman 31 years younger even claimed to be the mother of his only biological child.

President Calvin Coolidge (seated third from left) alongside other members of Warren Harding&aposs Cabinet shortly after his death in 1923.

Library of Congress/VCG/Getty Images

In early 1923, just before the first whiff of scandal began hovering, Harding came down with the flu. He also apparently had trouble sleeping. Nonetheless, he decided to go ahead with his so-called Voyage of Understanding, aimed, perhaps with a second term in mind, at explaining his policies and getting a feel for the pulse of the nation. 

On June 20, Harding’s 10-car presidential train left Washington, D.C., for St. Louis, where he gave one of the first presidential speeches to be broadcast live by radio. In it, he toed the line between isolationism and internationalism, advocating for U.S. membership in the Permanent Court of International Justice but not the League of Nations. 

The train then continued on to such cities as Kansas City, Denver, Salt Lake City, Helena and Spokane. Besides giving speeches and meeting with official delegations, Harding engaged in photo ops, including driving a wheat binder, visiting a mine, touring veterans’ hospitals and participating in an Oregon Trail dedication. 

The president also took time out to explore Yellowstone and Zion national parks. At the later, he took a horseback ride, only to aggravate his hemorrhoids and become sunburned. “Warren, you look just like a great big Indian,” his wife, Florence, unceremoniously scolded upon his return.

Some observers along the route later claimed that Harding looked tired, and a journalist described him as having swollen lips and puffed eyes. But his personal physician, Dr. Charles E. Sawyer, a close friend of the Hardings who practiced homeopathy, remarked that the president was �ling fit and in splendid physical trim.” On July 4, Harding boarded the USS Henderson for the four-day voyage to Alaska, accompanied by his wife, his staff, reporters, three cabinet members, 460 sailors, 21 officers, 72 Marine guards and a Navy band. 

According to Commerce Secretary and future President Herbert Hoover, Harding insisted on playing the card game bridge all day and night. “There were only four other bridge players in the party, and we soon set up shifts so that one at a time had some relief,” Hoover later wrote. 𠇏or some reason I developed a distaste for bridge on this journey and never played it again.” Harding also apparently asked Hoover, “If you knew of a great scandal in our administration, would you for the good of the country and the party expose it publicly or would you bury it?”

While in Alaska, Harding toured a number of coastal towns and traveled by train as far north as Fairbanks. He then sailed back down to Vancouver, Canada, where he gave a speech to some 40,000 people at Stanley Park. He also tried to play a round of golf but only had the strength for a few holes. 

The next day, July 27, the Henderson collided with another ship in a heavy fog. More ominous signs came later that day, when, as he delivered a speech to over 60,000 people at the University of Washington, Harding referred to Alaska as “Nebraska,” dropped his manuscript and grasped the podium to keep his balance. Following an appearance at the Seattle Press Club, he went to bed early complaining of upper abdominal pain.

Dr. Sawyer attributed the illness to bad seafood and began administrating laxatives. But another White House physician, Dr. Joel T. Boone, believed that Harding had an enlarged heart. As a result, Boone helped arrange to have Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, the president of both Stanford University and the American Medical Association, and Dr. Charles Cooper, a leading cardiologist, meet them in San Francisco. When the train arrived there on July 29, Harding declined the offer of a wheelchair and walked to a waiting limo, which whisked him to the Palace Hotel in the city’s Financial District. 

President Harding along with his wife, Brig. General Sawyer and Secretary Christian, leaving a train on their way to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where the president died the next day.

Underwood Archives/Getty Images

The next day he had a fever of 102 and was diagnosed with pneumonia, prompting the remainder of his California appearances to be canceled. This was followed, however, by a slight recovery. On August 1, his temperature was back to normal, his lungs were clearing up and he was capable of sitting up in bed, reading and eating solid food.


USS Harding (DD-91) - History

Seth Harding was born at Eastham, Mass., 17 April 1734. He went to sea early in his life and commanded several merchant ships during the French and Indian War. At the beginning of the American Revolution, he offered his services to Connecticut and was commissioned commander of the state brig Defence. Harding captured many British ships while in command of this and two other vessels In September 1778 Harding accepted a Continental commission and took command of Confederacy. He cruised along the coast in company with Deane during 1779, taking three prizes and performing convoy duties. He was ordered to take John Jay, newly apointed minister to Spain, to Europe in September 1779, but the ship was dismasted 10 days out. Harding, through skillful seamanship, sailed his ship to Martingale for repairs, his passengers continuing on another ship. Con federacy raided British merchantmen" and guarded convoys until 18 April 1781' when she was forced to surrender to two British ships, Roebuck and Orpheus. Harding was subsequently exchanged, commanded the letter of marquee Diana, but was captured again. After this release the fighting captain volunteered to serve as First Lieutenant to John Perry in Alliance, and was wounded on board during the last engagement of the revolution, off the coast of France. Harding spent his last years as a merchant sailor and in retirement in Schoharie, N.Y., where he died 20 November 1814.

(DD-91: dp. 1,060, 1. 315'5", b. 31'8" dr. 8'6", s. 35 k. cpl. 100 a. 4 4", 3 .30 cal. mg., 12 21" tt. cl. Wickes)

The first Harding (DD-91), a torpedo-boat destroyer, was launched 4 July 1918 by Union Iron Works, San Francisco sponsored by Mrs. George A. Armes and commissioned 24 January 1919, Comdr. Henry D. Cooke in command.

Assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, Harding sailed 3 February 1919 for Newport, R.I., via Santa Cruz and the Panama Canal. Arriving 18 February, she shifted to Boston 2 days later and stood out of the harbor 21 February to escort George Washington, carrying President Wilson back to the United States from the Versailles Conference Harding participated in the ceremonies in Boston harbor following the berthing of George Washington 23 February.

After repairs Harding departed Norfolk 8 March for fleet exercises in Cuban waters, then steamed to New York, arriving 14 April. She departed New York again 1 May as part of the destroyer group acting as guide for the historic flight of Navy seaplanes across the Atlantic Harding and the other destroyers made smoke by day and provided searchlight illumination by night during the first long leg of the flight NC-1 and NC-3 made forced landings near the Azores and Harding rendered assistance to NC-1 before it sank. NC-4, the remaining seaplane arrived Ponta Delgada 20 May and as she took off for the last leg of her journey, Harding got underway to provide radio compass signals at sea. After the seaplanes landed at Plymouth, England, to complete the flight 31 May 1919, Harding visited Brest and the Azores before returning to Newport 18 June.

For the next few months Harding trained out of Newport and Norfolk, reporting to the Philadelphia Navy Yard 13 December 1919 for conversion to seaplane tender. She completed the conversion at Charleston Navy Yard and sailed 20 May 1920 for duty at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Before she could take up her new duties, however, Harding was ordered to Vera Cruz, Mexico, with urgently needed medical supplies for the American Red Cross. Reaching Vera Cruz 9 June 1920, she unloaded her precious bubonic plague serum and other supplies, touched at Tampico, and returned to Pensacola 13 June Harding's fast response had helped to save many lives.

Hardings role at the burgeoning Pensacola Naval Base was a key part of the training program for seaplane pilots. She remained there until 4 August, after which she operated in the Caribbean area tending seaplanes until 23 February 1921. She then arrived Key West, and after a short period at Philadelphia proceeded to Hampton Roads to take part in the bombing tests on U-117. Steaming from Norfolk 21 June, Harding spent the next month witnessing the important experiments that gave much valuable information on the effects of bomb explosions on warships. The tests came to a climax with the controversial sinking of ex-German battleship Ostfriesland 21 July 1921, and Harding was detached from duty 22 July.

Harding subsequently trained out of Newport and other Atlantic ports until 27 December 1921, when she arrived Charleston. Remaining there until 3 April 1922, she sailed to Philadelphia where she decommissioned 1 July 1922. Harding was sold for scrap 29 September 1936 to Schiavone-Bonomo Corp., New York City.


American History: June 󈨧 Letters To the Editor

Having served in Korean waters, I found the article on the USS Missouri (“The Last Battleship,” February 1999) especially interesting. Had it not been for ships such as the Missouri and many others, including two ships I proudly served on, the USS Helena and the USS Princeton, the United States would have had many more casualties during the Korean conflict than the approximately 137,000 it suffered. The navy not only gave fire support and helped with invasions, it also helped evacuate thousands of military and civilian personnel.

I was particularly interested in the photograph of ships from the 7th Fleet in Sasebo Harbor featured on pages 20 and 21. I wonder if the other ships in the photograph could be identified?

Editor’s note: The photograph’s caption supplied only the name of the lead ship, the USS Missouri. We contacted Paul Stillwell of the United States Naval Institute in Annapolis and the author of our Missouri article. Mr. Stillwell pulled out his magnifying glass and checked the original print of the photo, but the numbers on most of the ships were too indistinct to identify. He discerned that the two aircraft carriers are the Valley Forge (45) and the Philippine Sea (47). Just astern of the Missouri is either a repair ship or destroyer tender. Farther back in the line are a couple of heavy cruisers and a light cruiser. In the background, closer to the shoreline on the right side of the photo, are some amphibious warfare ships.

The Warren G. Harding article (“The Dark Side of Normalcy,” April 1999) emphasized the negative aspects of his presidency, with only one paragraph at the very end noting the accomplishments of his administration. Please allow me to add a few more: the China Open Door Policy, formation of the Budget Bureau, the signing of the peace treaty ending World War I, the unemployment conference, development of the Federal Radio Commission, the reduction of the 12-hour work day to 8 hours, the United States’ request for membership in the World Court, and vice presidential presence at all cabinet meetings.


USS Leviathan aka SS Vaterland


(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command via Stephen Harding)


A drawing of the dazzle camouflage pattern devised for Leviathan, used for reference in painting up the actual vessel. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command via Stephen Harding)


While troops board from one side, a coal barge loads fuel aboard Leviathan. Until mechanical lifts were available, coaling it by hand was the dirtiest job on the big ship. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command via Stephen Harding)


An infantry regiment, each man carrying his own entrenching tool, bayonet and canvas-wrapped Model 1903 rifle, boards Leviathan in 1917. Usually occurring after coaling and provisioning, embarking troops took about 24 hours. (U.S. Army via Stephen Harding)


Leviathan’s after deck, already strewn with ventilators, hatch covers and winches, also accommodates lifeboats, cardboard-like floatation devices, cargo-handling equipment and boxes of various supplies. (U.S. Army via Stephen Harding)


A view of Vaterland’s interior structure beneath the outer skin. (Library of Congress)


The world’s largest steamship when built, luxury liner Vaterland boasted elegant architecture and furnishings. It featured a winter garden, swimming pool and therapeutic spa rooms, smoking rooms, and a glass-roofed social hall with theatrical stage. The 800-seat dining room (above), a replica of New York City’s Ritz-Carleton’s, was finished with mahogany, walnut, gold, and bronze. (AKG-Images)


In 1917 Vaterland’s once sumptuous interior was converted to carry up to 7,250 fully equipped soldiers, accommodated in rows of four-tier bunks under relatively claustrophobic conditions. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command via Stephen Harding)


Lifeboat drills were constantly practiced aboard Leviathan, whether bound for France or home to the United States. Fortunately for all concerned, no evacuation emergencies occurred during the troop ship’s wartime career. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command via Stephen Harding)


A view of the area forward of the bridge includes a look at Leviathan’s massive anchor chain. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command via Stephen Harding)


Refurbished at great expense to ocean liner configuration after the war, Leviathan sports the red, white, and blue smokestacks of the new United States Line as it resumes its civilian career in the 1920s. (Library of Congress)

Service history

Harding was launched on 4 July 1918 from Union Iron Works. She was sponsored by the wife of George A. Armes, and embarked under the command of Commander Henry D. Cooke. On 3 February 1919, she was assigned to the United States Atlantic Fleet and sailed for Newport, Rhode Island via Santa Cruz, California. Transiting the Panama Canal, she arrived on 18 February. Two days later she moved to Boston, Massachusetts and stood out of that harbor on 21 February, to escort George Washington which was transporting President Woodrow Wilson from the Versailles Conference. Two days later she participated in ceremonies in Boston harbor celebrating the arrival of that ship. Α]

Next, she put in for repairs at Norfolk, Virginia until 8 March, when she left for fleet exercises near Cuba. Following this, Harding left for New York, arriving there on 14 April. On 1 May, she departed as part of a group of destroyers acting as a guide for a flight of Navy Curtiss NC seaplanes across the Atlantic Ocean. Ε] Harding provided searchlight illumination by night during the first part of the flight NC-1 and NC-3 made forced landings near the Azores and Harding rendered assistance to NC-1 before it sank. NC-4, the remaining seaplane, arrived at Ponta Delgada 20 May and as she took off for the last leg of her journey, Harding got underway to provide radio compass signals at sea. After the seaplanes landed at Plymouth, England, to complete the flight on 31 May 1919, Harding visited Brest, France and the Azores before returning to Newport 18 June. For several months, Harding was based out of Newport and Norfolk on training exercises. Α]

After the end of World War I, the U.S. Navy began to convert surplus ships to support its growing seaplane tender program. Several steamers and minelayers were selected in 1919, but Harding was the only destroyer, because it was determined that she would require minimal modifications. Following this success, and as aircraft carrier designs advanced, more ships were designed specifically to support naval aviation. Fourteen Clemson-class destroyers were converted to seaplane tenders in 1938 when it was determined that aircraft production was outpacing the development of these ships. Ζ] During the conversion of Harding, her three .30 caliber machine guns were removed and her crew complement was reduced to 100 officers and enlisted men. Her torpedo tubes may also have been removed. Η] On 13 December 1919, she reported to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for conversion to a seaplane tender. She completed the conversion at Charleston Navy Yard and on 20 May 1920, she sailed for duty at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Immediately after this, though, Harding was loaded with medical supplies from the American Red Cross and was ordered to Veracruz, Mexico, where an outbreak of bubonic plague necessitated serum and other supplies. She reached Veracruz on 9 June 1920 and unloaded her supplies. She then steamed for Pensacola, Florida, stopping at Tampico on the way, and arrived in Florida on 13 June. Α]

At Pensacola, Harding was assigned to a seaplane pilot training program. She remained there until 4 August 1920, after which she operated in the Caribbean area tending seaplanes until 23 February 1921. She stopped briefly at Philadelphia before heading to Hampton Roads to support bombing tests on surrendered German ships, leaving Norfolk on 21 June. She was present during the bombing tests on SM U-117 and remained assigned to the tests until the sinking of the German battleship SMS Ostfriesland on 21 July 1921. Harding was detached from this duty the next day. Α] Η]

Harding subsequently conducted training exercises out of Newport and other East Coast ports until 27 December 1921, when she arrived at Charleston, South Carolina. Remaining there until 3 April 1922, she sailed to Philadelphia where she decommissioned 1 July 1922. Harding was then sold for scrap on 29 September 1936, to Schiavone-Bonomo Corporation in New York City. Α]


This Vietnam War bridge raid was a lesson in adaptive air combat

Posted On January 28, 2019 18:45:02

It was like trying to hit a needle in a haystack, kill a fly with a sledgehammer, or whatever analogy you prefer for using brute force to apply surgical precision in the middle of a swirling ambush.

By analogy and history, the attack on Dragon’s Jaw is a bizarre mismatch of weapons to mission. It is another hard lesson for U.S. air power in the 󈨀’s. Several decades of evolving doctrine and aircraft development have led the U.S. Air Force in a different direction from how air wars will actually be fought in the future. Instead of long range strategic nuclear attack, tactical precision anti-insurgent strike is the emerging mission. The U.S. will continue to learn that hard lesson on this day.

By any measure this is an impressive air armada: Sixty-six advanced supersonic fighters and strike aircraft from America’s “Century Series”. The main strike package is 46 Republic F-105 Thunderchiefs with massive bomb loads. The defensive escort is 21 North American F-100 Super Sabres holstering a covey of air-to-air missiles. The strike and escort fighters are supported by an enormous number of tanker, surveillance, rescue and reconnaissance planes. They all have one objective: to kill “The Dragon”.

The Dragon is the Thanh Hóa Bridge, near the geographic center of North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese nicknamed the bridge “Hàm Rồng” or “Dragon’s Jaw” since its massive steel and concrete construction seem like a row of sturdy teeth set in the mouth of a deadly dragon. The Dragon itself is made up of one of the most sophisticated integrated air defense networks on earth modeled closely after the most sophisticated, the Soviet Union’s.

Ironically, if this same task force had been attacking the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons their results would have almost certainly been better. That is the mission these aircraft were actually designed for. But the Dragon is a small, critical target, and an elusive one. Even though it’s not an all-out nuclear war with the Red Menace, the Dragon must be slayed in the ongoing proxy war that is Vietnam.

The Thanh Hóa Bridge would be a tough target to hit even without an advanced, integrated network of radar guided anti-aircraft guns, SAMs and MiGs surrounding it. The bridge has only a single one-meter wide railroad track on its deck. It is 540 feet long and 54 feet wide at its widest point. From the attack altitude of about 10,000 feet it is difficult to see well at high-speed.

The flight of F-105 Thunderchiefs break into sections of four aircraft each. Today they are armed with 750 pound “dumb” bombs. The day before a nearly identical strike also failed to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw when the Thunderchiefs attacked with crude AGM-12 Bullpup guided missiles and 750 pound dumb bombs. The AGM-12 missiles, an early attempt at “smart” weapons, failed significantly. Remarkably, even though some of the 750 pounders did hit the bridge, they had little effect. The first attempt at breaking the Dragon’s Jaw on April 3rd failed spectacularly. The bridge proved sturdier than expected, the weapons less precise than hoped.

Front view of the F-105. (US Air Force photo)

Having abandoned the AGM-12 Bullpup missiles from the day before the F-105 Thunderchiefs would strike with only dumb bombs today.

The F-105 was originally designed to carry a nuclear weapon enclosed within its streamlined fuselage using an internal bomb bay. It was supposed to attack a target from low altitude at Mach 2, “toss” the nuclear weapon at the target in a pop-up attack, and escape at twice the speed of sound.

Today the big F-105 “Thuds” lug a junkyard of dumb bombs under their sleek swept wings and below their sinewy Coke-bottle curved fuselage. The yardsale of external bombs and bomb racks creates enormous drag on the needle-nosed “Thud”, slowing it to below supersonic speed and making it vulnerable.

As predictably as a firing line of advancing redcoat soldiers facing off against Native American insurgents in the Revolutionary War, the Thunderchiefs returned the very next day, marching across the aerial battlefield in broad daylight. The North Vietnamese had been ready the day before. Today they were angry, battle hardened and ready.

According to historical accounts ranging from Air Force Magazine to Wikipedia, four of eight lightweight, nimble, subsonic MiG-17s (NATO codename “Fresco”) of the North Vietnamese 921st “Sao Do” (Red Star) Fighter Regiment led by North Vietnamese flight leader Trần Hanh visually acquired an attack formation of four F-105Ds at 10:30 AM.

The Thunderchiefs were just starting to drop their bombs and already committed to their attack run. Flight leader Trần Hanh ordered his wingman, Pham Giay, to cover his attack on the F-105s. Hanh dove in through light cloud cover, achieving complete surprise. He opened fire on the F-105 with his heavy 37mm cannon at extremely close range, only 400 meters. Having attacked from above and behind in a classic ACM (Air Combat Maneuvering) scenario, Hanh preserved energy and positioning. The hapless F-105, piloted by USAF Major Frank E. Bennett of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, was pummeled by the MiG’s cannon shells. It erupted in a comet of plunging fire and hurtled downward toward the Gulf of Tonkin. Major Bennett did not survive.

North Vietnamese MiG-17 pilot Tran Hanh shown after the war.

A small, nimble, lightweight fighter had just gotten the better of a large, heavily loaded fighter-bomber despite having a substantial escort from F-100 Super Sabres. The Super Sabre fighter escort was out of position to respond to the MiG-17 ambush. A brutally hard lesson in the future of air combat was in session.

The melee continued when another North Vietnamese MiG-17 pilot reportedly named “Le Minh Huan” downed a second F-105D, this one piloted by USAF Capt. J. A. Magnusson. Capt. Magnusson reportedly radioed that he was heading for the Gulf of Tonkin after being hit. He struggled to maintain control of his heavily damaged Thunderchief as he tried to escape North Vietnam. Capt. Magnusson was forced to eject twenty miles from the island of Hon Me, and was eventually listed as missing in action, then killed in action after a 48-hour search turned up nothing.

Painfully, the U.S. Air Force confirmed they had lost two F-105s and pilots in the second attack on the Dragon’s Jaw. Even worse, the bridge remained intact, a straight, iron grin at the futile attack of the Americans.

After the failed F-105 strikes and aircraft losses the Americans were desperate to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw bridge. Author Walter J Boyne wrote in Air Force Magazine that the U.S. developed a bizarre, massive pancake-shaped bomb weighing two and a half tons and measuring eight feet in diameter but only thirty inches thick. The gigantic, explosive Frisbee was dropped from the back of a lumbering C-130 Hercules transport and was intended to float down river toward the bridge where it would be detonated by a magnetic fuse. Several of the weapons were actually dropped, one C-130 was lost.

The bridge remained intact.

Early laser guided bombs were also employed against the Dragon’s Jaw with modest success. An attack on May 13, 1972 by a flight of 14 F-4 Phantoms used early “smart” bombs and actually knocked the bridge surface off its pilings, briefly rendering it inoperable and forcing repairs.

But the bridge still stood.

Attacks on the Dragon’s Jaw continued until October 6, 1972. A flight of four Vought A-7 Corsair attack aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) was finally successful in breaking the bridge in half. They used the AGM-62 Walleye guided bomb and 500-pound Mk.84 general purpose “dumb” bombs. The bridge was finally severed at its center piling.

Author Walter Boyne wrote about the final strike, “At long last, after seven years, 871 sorties, tremendous expenditure in lives, 11 lost aircraft, and a bewildering array of expended munitions, the Dragon’s Jaw was finally broken.” The key lesson from the brutal campaign to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw was that tactics and equipment need to be adaptable and precise in the modern battlespace.

USAF reconnaissance photo of the Thanh Hu00f3a Bridge in North Vietnam. (US Air Force photo)

The F-105 Thunderchief was an impressive aircraft, but was forced into a brutal baptism of fire over Vietnam during an era when air combat was in transition. As a result, the F-105 suffered heavy losses. The history of the aircraft went on the include an unusual accident with the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds. On May 9, 1964 Thunderbird Two, an F-105B piloted by USAF Captain Eugene J. Devlin, snapped in half during the pitch-up for landing at the old Hamilton Air Base in California. The Thunderchief only flew in six official flight demonstrations with the Thunderbirds.

Interestingly, and perhaps ominously, the U.S. Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II shares a remarkable number of similarities with the Republic F-105 Thunderchief used in the raid on the Dragon’s Jaw in 1965.

According to author Dr. Carlo Kopp, the F-35A dimensions are oddly similar to the F-105. But among several critical differences is the wing surface area, with the F-35A having larger wing surface area and the resultant lower wing loading than the F-105. Other major differences are the F-35A’s low observable technology and greatly advanced avionics, data collecting, processing and sharing capability. Finally, the F-35A is purpose-built for a wide range of mission sets, whereas the F-105 was predominantly a high-speed, low-level nuclear strike aircraft poorly suited for conventional strike.



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