Monday, December 30, 2013

The Attack on Rifle Wood (Part 1)

Moreuil Wood from the Bois de Senecat
The Canadian Cavalry Brigade was not yet in for a rest. After the brutal battle at Moreuil Wood, the Brigade bivouaced at Bois de Senecat, on the hillside west of Moreuil across the Avre River. 
The next day, March 31st, 1918, they stood to, returning to their bivouac at 2100, with reveille at 0300 on April 1st. In the saddle at 0400, they once again crossed the Avre on the bridge at Castel. 
 Sam Williams, author of “Stand to Your Horses”, took part in the battle at Rifle Wood. He later read with some amusement a newspaper’s article about the battle, submitted by a war correspondent who gave an “eye-witness” report as follows:
“We swept up the slope with our sabres flashing in the sunlight, swept through the wood and on beyond to take a battery of guns.”
Williams later commented ruefully that he wished such had been the case, given the heavy casualties inflicted on the brigade by the enemy batteries, still very much in evidence.

Next entry: Sam Williams’ part in the attack on Rifle Wood.
(The preceding Battle of Moreuil Wood is dealt with in my historical novel, "Soldier of the Horse".)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Canadian Cavalry Brigade Regroups, April 1918

April, 1918. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade had been terribly battered and bloodied at the Bois du Moreuil and Rifle Wood. Now the survivors were licking their wounds, some formations barely recognizable. Corporals stood in for dead or wounded sergeants-major, sergeants for lieutenants as troop leaders. After the battles at Moreuil and Rifle Wood, the line stabilized about where the Canadian Cavalry Brigade had helped stop the German push close to the line of the Avre River.
The Canadian Cavalry Brigade would next see action in August, but in the meantime there were many gaps to fill in the ranks of men and horses. Also to come was a change in leadership, with Galloper Jack no longer in command.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Future Posts--Saddles and Periscopes

2013 is drawing to a close, it’s time to reflect on all the positive feedback I’ve received for my first novel, Soldier of the Horse, and my blog. Soldier made a Bestseller list, and a gold medal for wartime/historical fiction from the Independent Publisher organization in the United States. Sales have been very rewarding, but just as satisfying have been the many comments about the book including of course some excellent reviews.
Another activity I’ve been working on is the content of this blog. Followers and casual readers of my blog will know I’ve been concentrating on entries about submarines in general and Cold War and Canadian submarines in particular. I am going to do a quick pivot, as they say in military and naval circles, and spend some time touching bases once again with the Canadian cavalry in the last few months and weeks of the Great War.
Having said that, though, I’ll intersperse some submarine lore and developments. I’ll be looking for feedback, so don’t hold back! 
And, speaking of submarines, my manuscript about a Canadian submarine during the Cuban Missile Crisis is now on the publisher's desk. I'm very excited about that.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Salty HMCS Grilse Story (Part 2 of 2)

 For Part 1 of Hal Zerbin's story about a risky time aboard HMCS Grilse, click here.

This is the last bit of Part 1:
" we had to unsnap ourselves from the safety railing and move right over the sound of escaping air. And we proceeded to do that."
(Hal, who is Gilse's Chief ERA, and the Engineer Officer are looking for a leak in the boat. Grilse is surfaced somewhere in the Pacific.They are crouched on the casing/upper deck, with six-foot seas running.)

Part 2: 

     We then had to unsecure a couple of lock bolts to enable us to open a small access hole in the decking. That made the air noise (escaping through the leak) louder and we were certain we were on the right track. We could then see there was air escaping from somewhere under the #1 main engine outboard exhaust, above the pressure hull. Taking turns we upended ourselves and wriggled into the small access hole as best we could, and felt, by hand, under the exhaust valve casing itself. Sure enough, there was this little line, just a short piece, blowing air thru a long split in its side. 
     We came out and had a conference, there on the aft deck, Charlie with his back to the aft end and myself facing aft, both of us sort of crouching/sitting. 
     Then I happened to look up and saw this much larger breaker heading towards our stern, quite a number of feet higher than our deck. Without thinking I grabbed Charlie and flattened him onto the deck and threw myself onto him, digging my fingers, both hands, thru the gap between the teak stringers that formed the deck. I managed to get a good grip and squeezed for all I was worth. Not a second too soon, either, as the wave was on us and covered us for what seemed like hours (actually perhaps 15 seconds). It was quite green and almost pleasant under the water, and soon the wave receded and left us still holding on for dear life, sputtering and thoroughly soaked. Charlie pried himself free of my death-grasp and gave me a dirty look.
     “Jeez, did you have to squeeze so hard!” 
     I thought I had done him a favour!
     Anyway, the CO aborted any further searching and we headed for home and the dockyard for repairs. On searching further thru the blueprint book, we found the little line quite clearly identified as a “tell-tale” drain, meant to let you know that you had a leak between the inboard group exhaust and the outboard exhaust!  The only thing the builders had not forseen was the corroding of the line till it leaked full bore into the engine room, thru the pressure hull, with no means of shutting it off. 
     This was the same line that just about cost the life of the Burrfish, during one of her last WW II patrols.
     When I was in Ottawa, in 1996, I think, I got together with Charlie for a drink or two. He still insists, in the Chinese custom way, that I owe him!!!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Salty HMCS Grilse Story (Part 1 of 2)

This all-too-believable story was supplied by Hal Zerbin, who spent years in Royal Navy A-boats and, later, HMCS Grilse. (Much of Grilse’s previous years were in the guise of USS Burrfish—see earlier blog posts.) I have, with Hal’s permission, edited slightly. For the conclusion, stay tuned!

We were not too far off the west coast of Vancouver Island, on our way to Pearl Harbour,(I think), and had completed a couple of days of snorkeling runs with the Air Force, when the For’d engine room watchkeeper noticed a higher than usual level of water in the bilge after the completion of a snorkeling run. No one was really excited about it, we all thought it was just one of those things, but, after a prolonged run, the water level was noticeably high and we all “got serious”. A small, about 1 1/8 inch line (pipe) at the for’d outboard end of the for’d Engine Room became suspect but we could not identify it and we could not even find it on the book of blueprints supplied with the boat. 
So we initiated another snorkel  run and sure enough, water came out of the suspect line, and, stranger still, it did not stop coming out when we stopped snorkeling, and only stopped when we surfaced. We then decided to pressurize, (with low pressure air), the external exhaust trunking for #1 main engine and proceeded to do this, however, to find the external leak, someone had to go out on the after deck and listen and try to identify just exactly where it was coming from. 
The engineer, Charlie Gunning, and the Chief Engine Room Artificer, (Me), were the likeliest people to go so we prepared ourselves and the boat hove to. There were 5 to 6 foot swells running, sometimes slopping over the deck but they did not look dangerous and we proceeded to the aft deck, with the Captain and many others gathered on the cigarette deck (part of the external superstructure) to watch the proceedings. Charlie and I snapped our safety line on to the safety railing and ventured out on to the deck, with the boat gently rolling under us. It was not hard to identify the general area of the leak as we soon heard compressed air as we approached the #1 exhaust valve. 
But it was impossible to tell where, exactly it was coming from as the area below the walking deck  was quite crowded with piping and other components so we had to unsnap ourselves from the safety railing and move right over the sound of escaping air. And we proceeded to do that.

To be continued...

Monday, December 9, 2013

USS Burrfish aka HMCS Grilse--A Two-Navy Warrior (Part 8)

The storied career of the American submarine USS Burfish continued after her sterling World War II patrols. Immediately following the end of hostilities in 1945, she was consigned to the Reserve fleet, but in 1948 she took on new life as a radar picket submarine, and redesignated SSR-312.
Her complement then included 12 officers and 82-90 chief petty officers and crew. Her armament had been reduced to 4 21"torpedo tubes and one 40 mm antiaircraft gun. In addition, she now boasted a snorkel mast, and so able to charge her batteries without surfacing.

From 1950 to 1956, Burrfish performed as a radar picket, often in the Mediterranean, as well as in the waters off the east coast of the US and the Arctic.

Nineteen sixty was a momentous year for Burrfish. She had recently emerged from another extended stay in mothballs with the reserve fleet, Once again undergoing conversion, she reverted from radar picket to fleet-type submarine, at the bargain-basement cost of $900,000. In January 1961 her designation changed form SSR-312 to SS-312, officially becoming once again a diesel-powered attack submarine.

Five months later, on May 11th 1961, USS Burrfish decommissioned and became Her Majesty's Canadian Submarine Grilse, SS-71, in the Royal Canadian Navy.
Great years lay ahead, for her and her Canadian crew.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

USS Burrfish aka HMCS Grilse--A Two-Navy Warrior (Part 7)

USS Burrfish continued her hectic wartime activities with her sixth and final patrol from March 25th to May 4th, 1945. She was a member of a wolfpack in the Luzon Straits. She was forced to dive in a hurry by an aircraft, and later was forced down again and strafed, fortunately without incurring damage.
During this eventful patrol she avoided damage from a floating mine, and, finally, attacked a shore radio station on Bataan with gunfire. Burrfish proceeded to Saipan, then to Pearl Habour, arriving there on May 13th.
Sent home to Portsmouth Navy Yard for a major overhaul, she arrived on June 19th, where she remained until the war ended on September 2nd.

USS Burrfish would never again fire a shot in anger, but she had much more history to make.

Monday, December 2, 2013

USS Burrfish aka HMCS Grilse--A Two-Navy Warrior (Part 6)

USS Burrfish's fourth war patrol was from 18 September 1944 until December 2nd. She was part of a picket line with seven other submarines, north of Saipan, where she fired six torpedoes at enemy vessels. They all missed, but shortly after, she and USS Ronquil got into a surface gun battle with a heavily-armed Japanese patrol boat. The submarines won the engagement, but not without damage, as two of Burrfish's crew were wounded.

After a month in Pearl Harbour, Burrfish embarked on her fifth war patrol. She was on lifeguard duty, and on two occasions fired torpedoes at surface targets. Once again she missed, but suffered retaliatory attacks during which she suffered some damage. She was ultimately able to elude the harrying ships and aircraft, in spite of forty depth charges and twenty bombs coming her way. This patrol ended in Guam, on February 24th, 1945

Future posts in this series will cover the battered and bloodied Burrfish's final war patrol, her Cold War career in the US Navy, her time under the White Ensign with the Royal Canadian Navy, and her arrival at her final resting place.