Second Battle of the Chesapeake Bay: April 19, 1926
After the setbacks of the previous year, the Confederate Navy was reeling and their Army counterparts were in scarcely better shape as the territorial gains of the first two years were being reversed (at great cost) by the US Army, who having embraced the use of both tactical and strategic air combat and armored formations had forced their way across the Ohio River by the end of January and had established beachheads in Missouri and Kentucky, although they were still meeting stiff resistance in Virginia.
The Confederacy had failed to learn from history as they were faltering before the US for the same basic reasons they nearly lost the Civil War – the fact that logistically, they were no match for the United States; who were now on a full war footing and cranking out ships, planes, tanks and armaments at a furious pace the CSA could not hope to match.
Nor were the Confederacy’s traditional allies; Britain and France, willing to assist. The devastation of the Great War was still being felt and nether country was able to provide much in the way of assistance. An appeal to Germany also fell on deaf ears, while Japan did make an effort to open negotiations with the CSA; the latter knew that any assistance from the Far-Eastern powerhouse would have serious consequences down the road.
So in response to its increasingly bleak situation, the Confederate war effort switched gears – moving to a defensive posture in order to try and retain the territory they had left while hoping to drag the war out until the US grew weary of the conflict and became open to a negotiated settlement.
Before this, however, the CSN was tasked with one last offensive operation. If the Chesapeake Bay could be retaken, or at least opened to Confederate forces temporarily, that could relieve the army divisions trying to hold Virginia (and the capital of Richmond) and might even allow Confederate troops to be landed in Maryland, where a drive toward the US administrative capital of Philadelphia would be possible.
Although endorsed by the Admiralty, the plan – codenamed Operation Redoubt – was widely criticized by many of the Navy’s flag officers who, well aware of the USN’s superior position, felt all this would accomplish would be to “give the Yankees more things to shoot at”. But with the naval matters ignorant President Swanson in the Executive Mansion the plan was pushed forward.
Naval Secretary Harrison Eaton resigned in protest and several ranking officers followed suit to avoid leading the mission. The commander eventually selected was Admiral Alexander Saunders – a capable, albeit uninspired, officer previously in charge of the CSN’s Bureau of Supply and Ordnance.
By April 6th, the ships comprising the assault force had assembled in Mobile (although Charleston, SC, would have been a better choice as it was larger and better supplied as well as closer to the target the risk of detection was deemed too great) and after a week of preparation, departed the evening of April 13th. The fleet consisted of the battleship South Carolina (flag), the battlecruisers Gettysburg, Havana, the carriers Vicksburg, Galveston, the armored cruisers Fearless, Conqueror, Formidable, the heavy cruiser Superb, the light cruisers Centaur, Hyperion, Dione, Titan, and the destroyers Bulldog, Dagger, Dragon, Dossier, Energetic, Eclectic, Ethereal, Guardian, Gale, Glacier.
As the Confederate force neared the mouth of the Chesapeake the morning of April 19th, the two carriers launched their aircraft against the US ships stationed in the Bay. Under the command of Vice Admiral Patrick O’Bannon, the US force consisted of the battleships Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire (flag), Maine, the battlecruisers Ranger, Independence, the carriers John Adams, Samuel Tilden, the armored cruisers Lansing, Augusta, Providence, the light cruisers Omaha, Wilmington, Colorado Springs, Huntington, the scout cruisers Lake Tahoe, Clear Lake, and the destroyers Ross, Henley, Keating, Sherrill, Theisen, Hollander, Parnell, Baker, Carson, Pennington, Finley, Anderson, Morgan, Bell, Parks, Steele, Gibson, Vance. The air strike proved to be one of the most successful of the entire war as despite the hail of anti-aircraft fire put up by the assembled ships the battleship Massachusetts was struck by no less than a dozen bombs and at least three torpedoes that tore open the ships port side “like an old tin can”. She immediately rolled over and was nearly on her beam ends when the forward magazines exploded – blowing the ship in half with the loss of nearly her entire crew. The carrier Samuel Tilden suffered two or three heavy bomb hits while prepping aircraft on her flight deck setting off horrific fires than quickly reached the avgas and ordnance stores – the resulting explosion sank the ship within minutes – again with a heavy loss of life.
By this time, however, ground-based fighters as well as aircraft from the John Adams were airborne and succeeding in downing most of the attacking planes and forcing the survivors to retreat. Now alerted to the enemy presence, the US ships worked up steam and set sail for the mouth of the Bay while attack aircraft from the Adams as well as ground-based bombers were launched within an hour to locate and attack the Confederate force.
This counter-strike was less successful as Saunders’ ships were prepared – although the fighters that returned to the carriers were not yet refueled or rearmed. Despite this, only one ship – the old armored cruiser Fearless – was sunk with damage scattered among the other ships – including South Carolina, with the carrier Vicksburg taking the worse of it with a torpedo hit that wrecked a boiler room and caused extensive flooding.
Rattled by the attack, Saunders hesitated on continuing into the Bay itself. This delay allowed the US ships to close on the Confederates and open fire. After over ninety minutes of sustained heavy fire between the forces, Saunders had managed to open the range to around 10 nautical miles and ordered his destroyers to attack at high speed before laying down smoke.
This maneuver was effective and allowed the CS force to slip out of range. Although a tactical victory for the CSN, Saunders had nevertheless failed in his mission of securing the Chesapeake Bay and defeated, set sail for Mobile. In a further indignity, the carrier Galveston was sunk by a US submarine on the return journey. Saunders would be relieved of command on his return. The failure of Saunders mission meant no Operation Redoubt. The CSA had lost its last chance for an offensive against the US and to prolong the war. The clock was now ticking.
Battleship: Massachusetts; battlecruiser: Independence; aircraft carrier: Samuel Tilden; armored cruiser: Lansing; scout cruiser: Clear Lake; destroyers: Theisen, Anderson, Parks.
Aircraft carriers: Vicksburg, Galveston; armored cruiser: Fearless; heavy cruiser: Superb; destroyers: Energetic, Ethereal, Guardian.
Battle of Subic Bay: June 23-27, 1926
As 1926 wore on, the Confederacy saw more and more of its territory lost or under siege. Its protectorates in Central America had been occupied by Mexican troops, Cuba and Puerto Rico had fallen to the US, and its home territory had been invaded along virtually the entire length of its boarder with the US with the furthest advances seeing US ground forces deep into Arizona and New Mexico and making further inroads into Missouri and Kentucky. Virginia was the only border state still largely in Confederate hands, and this was only possible by diverting a disproportional number of both armored and infantry divisions to protect the capital in Richmond.
The situation was even worse at sea. The last remaining Confederate held territory was the Philippines – although it was heavily fortified and had the bulk of the remaining CS Navy’s battle fleet stationed there. It would be a tough nut to crack but the USN was making plans to invade the islands as well as force the last remaining significant CSN fleet to battle.
Operation Crescendo, as the joint Army-Navy effort was called, would be the largest naval operation of the war and involved 61 surface warships, 12 submarines, 16 logistic and re-supply ships, and 16 troopships carrying 1 Marine and 2 Army Divisions (35,000 troops) protected by a group of protected cruisers and older destroyers. It assembled in San Diego over the month of May and departed for the Philippines on May 30th.
Under the overall command of Fleet Admiral Edward Eberle, the US Combined Fleet consisted of the battleships Nevada, Idaho, Delaware, Nebraska, Washington (flag), Maryland, Ohio, Maine (division flag), New Jersey, the battlecruisers Brandywine, Bonhomme Richard, Constitution (division flag), Essex, the carriers Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt (division flag), Thomas Bayard, James Blaine, the heavy cruisers Quincy, Portland, San Diego, Ogden, Butte, Yakima, Aspen, Bellevue, the light cruisers Boise, Des Moines, Cheyenne, Eugene, Billings, Fargo, Wilmington, Tacoma, Philadelphia, San Jose, Huntington, Joliet, and the destroyers Howell, Cooper, Underwood, Atkinson, Stephenson, Conway, Hurst, Pennington, Gates, Harris, King, Stewart, Peterson, Ross, Coleman, Ambrose, Frazier, Holland, Bryant, Jenkins, McKinney, Dawson, Steele, Harrison, Vance, Riley. The main fleet had a scheduled layover June 10th-11th in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to refuel and re-supply before heading out to sea again.
An independent force of submarines was also dispatched a week earlier to patrol the waters around the Philippines looking for targets of opportunity. Supported by the submarine tenders Tang and Mako based out of Guam, the submarine force consisted solely of the long-ranged L-class boats; L-3, L-5, L-6, L-15, L-22, L-23, L-27, L-28, L-29, L-30, L-31, L-32. This force arrived on station early on June 16th.
As for Confederate forces; in addition to the two reinforced CS Army Divisions stationed on the main islands, the CSN Philippines Fleet under Admiral Lawrence O’Halloran consisted of the battleships New Mexico, Tennessee (flag), South Carolina (hurriedly repaired following Second Chesapeake), the battlecruisers Veracruz, Fredericksburg, Surigao Strait, the carriers Birmingham, Richmond, the heavy cruiser Charger, the protected cruisers Cassandra, Juno, Bellerophon, Ganymede, the light cruisers Centaur, Aphrodite, Hestia, Demeter, Hyperion, Minotaur, Odysseus, Titan, and the destroyers Bold, Bastion, Dagger, Domain, Dart, Esoteric, Epitome, Fortress, Ferrier, Fencer, Falchion, Gilded, Graduate, Gentry, Glory, Goldsmith, Gradient. In addition, a submarine force was also present – stationed at Davao on Mindanao and consisted of F.V, F.VI, F.IX, G.II, G.X, G.XVII, G.XX, H.VI.
First blood was drawn the evening of the 19th when USS L-6 torpedoed and sank the cruiser Ganymede off Mindanao. Destroyers were immediately dispatched and for the next three days a prolonged game of cat and mouse played out around the Philippines. This game was nearly a draw as four US subs and three CS destroyers were sunk before the US boats were pulled back to Guam to regroup.
When the US Combined Fleet arrived off the island of Samar on June 23rd they were spotted by Confederate patrol aircraft out of the Macajalar Bay Confederate Air Corps Base on Mindanao and although a message was sent to fleet headquarters at Subic Bay, no action was authorized save to deploy nearby submarines and launch an air attack against the US ships. The air-strike was turned back by heavy AA fire and carrier-launched fighters with little damage inflicted but the submarines had more luck – sinking the heavy cruiser Butte and damaging several other ships. Aggressive ASW conducted by US destroyers claimed six Confederate submarines forcing the survivors to return to their base at Davao where they took no further part in the battle. The following day Admiral Eberle and his Marine counterpart, Major General Raymond Mansfield, decided to land 2,000 troops on the island of Leyte and set up a temporary supply depot at Ormoc.
Although known to modern historians as the Battle of Subic Bay this is something of a misnomer as the battle was in fact a series of three encounters occurring between June 25th and 26th, the first of which occurred shortly after the US fleet left its temporary anchorage at Ormoc. When word of the US force’s departure the morning of the 24th reached Subic Bay aircraft were launched from Macajalar as well as the two Confederate carriers which had been dispatched along with escorts into the Sibuyan Sea.
The land-based aircraft attacked first – 52 CSAC level bombers with fighter escort descended on the US force with little warning. Unfortunately for the Confederate crews the CSAC had done little anti-ship training since the beginning of the war and achieved slim results relative to their losses. For the loss of 41 aircraft they only damaged several ships – the most serious was two hits on the carrier Thomas Jefferson that penetrated the flight deck seriously damaging the hangers and most of her planes. She kept formation, however, and DC crews worked untiringly to repair the ship. Regrettably, their efforts were ultimately futile as the carrier was later racked by a massive internal explosion (most likely avgas storage) and sank.
The follow-on attack by the seasoned pilots from the Birmingham and Richmond was a different story. The 70 aircraft involved quickly sank the light cruiser Cheyenne as well as the destroyers Stephenson, Ross, and Dawson. The big prize, however, was the battleship New Jersey. The newest battleship in the US fleet was singled out by most of the torpedo bombers and although she put up a wall of AA fire was struck by no less than five torpedoes and maybe a dozen bombs before B Turret’s (and possibly A Turret’s as well) magazine exploded – the battered wreck disappearing three minutes later along with nearly fifteen hundred of her crew. Admiral Eberle immediately ordered a counter-strike from the three operational US carriers which launched 120 aircraft against the CS carrier group that was now retreating to the south. Both carriers were hit during the subsequent attack with Birmingham damaged and Richmond sunk – the former rounding Mindanao and making for the open sea soon after – eventually reaching Guaymas. The US force wasn’t finished; however, as Admiral Eberle had detached his carriers with heavy escort as soon as their aircraft were recovered and sent them south to attack the airbase at Macajalar Bay before it could launch a strike against the lightly protected transports and supply ships at Ormoc. In addition to the carriers the group included the battlecruisers Bonhomme Richard and Constitution as escorts (as they were the only available capital ships which could reasonably keep pace with the carriers) and also for shore bombardment duties. This mission was quite successful and devastated the base after repeated air-strikes while coastal targets (including shore batteries) were destroyed by heavy fire from the battlecruisers.
The second encounter took place the following day off Luzon just north of Manila Bay. Assuming the US was en route to attack the main CS anchorage at Subic Bay, Admiral O’Halloran dispatched his entire force to intercept and stop the US fleet. First to depart was the First Scout Squadron consisting of all three battlecruisers with escort. They met the lead elements of the US fleet shortly before noon. The US 2nd Battlecruiser Division (Essex and Brandywine) were outnumbered and out-gunned and prudently turned about to meet up with the main force hoping the Confederates would take the bait. The CS commander, Rear Admiral David Henley, determined to destroy the only available US battlecruisers (coast-watchers in Mindanao had reported that 1st Battlecruiser Division had been sent with the carriers to take out the submarine base at Davao) chose to pursue at Surigao Strait’s flank speed – 32 knots – eventually drawing away from her squadron mates and opening fire at extreme range. A lucky plunging hit on Essex detonated in a boiler room – slowing the US ship dramatically – turning the situation into a gun duel between the powerful, equally matched warships, but allowed the slower Brandywine to escape. By the time the rest of the CS ships had caught up the two battlecruisers had succeeded in pounding the other to burning wrecks. Essex was quickly sunk by torpedoes from escorting Confederate destroyers (although several survivors insisted the battlecruiser was scuttled instead) who also administered the coup de grace to Surigao Strait when it became clear she could not be saved. The survivors of First Scout Squadron then reversed course to join the main CS fleet – leaving hundreds of US and Confederate sailors behind.
The third and final encounter occurred about ninety minutes later and would be the largest naval battle of the entire war After detaching the cruiser Des Moines and the destroyers King and Stewart to pick up survivors of the two sunken battlecruisers, Admiral Eberle’s lookouts soon spotted smoke on the horizon and general quarters was quickly sounded. Forming into a single column led by the battleships, Eberle’s force then turned west-northwest in an attempt to cross the Confederate’s T. Admiral O’Halloran was having none of this, however, and swung his column east-southeast. This resulted in the two fleets passing in near parallel courses, albeit in opposite directions, at a distance of about 22,000 yards. At 1530 hours local, Washington opened fire on Tennessee followed by the rest of the US battleships with the Confederate ships returning fire a few minutes later. There were no hits during this initial exchange of fire so after the two columns had passed each doubled back turning the battle into a tightening circle affair that gradually closed the range to 10,500 yards which had devastating effects. O’Halloran had fallen into the same trap that many commanders had when deploying battlecruisers – placing them in the line of battle – with predicable results. Veracruz was hit several times and Captain Cyrus Vought ordered her to withdraw undoubtedly saving the ship (which didn’t prevent Vought from being court-martialed, however), while Fredericksburg disintegrated under fire from Ohio and Maine along with most of her crew. O’Halloran’s battleships were also hit – Tennessee and South Carolina were both damaged – the latter severely – while New Mexico was reduced to a battered hulk by the US battle-line, capsized and sank. Eberle had lost Maryland, which had come under file by all three Confederate dreadnoughts, while Idaho, Nebraska, Washington, and Ohio had been damaged to varying degrees but still dramatically outgunned the remaining CS ships. At this point O’Halloran, wounded by shrapnel and with only one operational – albeit damaged - battleship, had had enough and ordered a withdrawal back to Subic Bay. As night was falling by this point and Eberle was worried about Confederate subs in the area he called off any further pursuit – instead returning to Ormoc.
At first light on the 27th Eberle ordered an attack by most of his remaining carrier aircraft against the Subic Bay base hoping to finish off the remaining major CS warships – but the air-strike found only a few ships – O’Halloran had taken any ships capable of making the run for Guaymas and left during the night – leaving only the most seriously damaged ships which were all sunk at their moorings. Lost were the battleship South Carolina, the cruisers Aphrodite and Demeter, and the destroyers Bastion, Epitome, and Graduate. Within two hours of the attack Eberle’s battleships began shore bombardments ahead of the troop landings on both Luzon and Mindanao which met stiff resistance from the now-isolated Confederate ground forces. The ground campaign would last another two months before the last of the defenders surrendered.
Battleships: Maryland, New Jersey, Nevada (seriously damaged by CS submarine G.IX while returning to US – not returned to service); battlecruiser: Essex; aircraft carrier: Thomas Jefferson; heavy cruisers: San Diego, Butte; light cruiser: Philadelphia; destroyers: Stephenson, Conway, Hurst, Ambrose; submarines: L-10, L-17, L-29, L-30.
Battleships: New Mexico, South Carolina; battlecruisers: Fredericksburg, Surigao Strait; aircraft carrier: Richmond; protected cruiser: Ganymede; light cruisers: Aphrodite, Demeter, Minotaur; destroyers: Bastion, Esoteric, Epitome, Ferrier, Fencer, Gilded, Graduate; submarines: F.VI, F.IX, G.X, G.XVIII, G.XX, H.VI.
Other 1926 losses:
Aircraft carrier: Matthew Quay (sunk by CS submarine H.VII while ferrying aircraft from Hawaii to the Philippines); submarines: J-1, K-3, K-7, K-10, L-16, L-18, L-34 (all sunk while commerce raiding), J-7 (lost to internal explosion).
Destroyer: Gauntlet (sunk while commerce raiding); submarines: D.IV, E.IV, E.VIII, F.XII, G.XII, G.XIII, G.XVII, G.XXII (all sunk while commerce raiding).
More to come!
Last edited by StealthJester on September 20th, 2020, 10:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.