Ships sunk in port by aircraft attacks

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Keith Enge
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Ships sunk in port by aircraft attacks

Post by Keith Enge » Tue Oct 04, 2011 3:18 am

I was doing some data-mining in my database the other day and found something that surprised me. Aside from Pearl Harbor, the US Navy lost only one warship, frigate-sized or larger, to an air attack while in port. This was the old four-stacker destroyer Peary lost in the Japanese carrier plane attack on Darwin, Australia.

I would have thought that, with such a large navy and Japanese planes with long ranges that attacked Allied ports often, the US would have lost more ships in some exposed port. I realize that part of the answer is that, unlike other navies, US homeland ports were out of the reach of enemy aircraft. However, many of the in port losses by other navies were in forward ports, not homeland ports (for the Germans, Norwegian and French ports; for the Royal Navy, Malta and various North African ports). The US Navy, however, didn't lose ships in its forward ports.

I can think of three reasons for this anomaly. The first is the US island-hopping doctrine (also applicable in New Guinea with its very limited in-land movement). After conquering a new island, the Seabees immediately constructed an airfield and port facilities. Then, only when that airfield with its radar, AA, and planes was operational did the port become active. US forward ports, therefore, always had a formidable defense against enemy planes.

The second reason is damage repair. When US ships in port were damaged, damage control was good, repair ships were available nearby, and floating drydocks weren't too far away. Therefore, US ships were saved which in other navies might have been abandoned and lost.

The third reason is the ship's AA guns. US ships had better AA suites than any other navy; destroyers in many navies were especially vulnerable because they lacked dual-purpose main armament. Therefore, her ships were more difficult for enemy aircraft to sink.

What am I missing? Are there any other reasons for this difference between navies?

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Re: Ships sunk in port by aircraft attacks

Post by lwd » Tue Oct 04, 2011 7:39 pm

Well the IJN naval air component had been seriously attritted by the end of the Gaudalcanal campaign. So not only were US defences on the heavy side in the Pacific there wasn't a strong offensive airforce facing them. Much the same can be said of Europe I believe, by the time there were many US warships there the LW had all it could do holding it's own and responding to allied offenses. Note that the US did loose or have a number of heavy warships damaged off invasion beaches so the picture changes if you consider them to be ports.

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RF
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Re: Ships sunk in port by aircraft attacks

Post by RF » Tue Oct 11, 2011 5:44 pm

Keith Enge wrote: What am I missing? Are there any other reasons for this difference between navies?
Would it not be the case that geography is a key factor - the US being shielded from air attack by the expanse of two oceans. The main risk of losing ships in harbour would be the Philippines in early 1942, but here again after the PH attack most of these vessels would be at sea anyway. Post Midway I believe that the US had air superiority over all their forward bases as they advanced through the island hopping campaign.....
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Re: Ships sunk in port by aircraft attacks

Post by Byron Angel » Thu Oct 20, 2011 11:14 am

Keith Enge wrote:I was doing some data-mining in my database the other day and found something that surprised me. Aside from Pearl Harbor, the US Navy lost only one warship, frigate-sized or larger, to an air attack while in port. This was the old four-stacker destroyer Peary lost in the Japanese carrier plane attack on Darwin, Australia.

I would have thought that, with such a large navy and Japanese planes with long ranges that attacked Allied ports often, the US would have lost more ships in some exposed port. I realize that part of the answer is that, unlike other navies, US homeland ports were out of the reach of enemy aircraft. However, many of the in port losses by other navies were in forward ports, not homeland ports (for the Germans, Norwegian and French ports; for the Royal Navy, Malta and various North African ports). The US Navy, however, didn't lose ships in its forward ports.

..... Just bumped into this post. There is one other USN warship that was (technically) lost to aerial attack while in port - the old four-stacker USS STEWART, which was bombed in Cavite drydock (IIRC) and abandoned.

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Re: Ships sunk in port by aircraft attacks

Post by RNfanDan » Tue Oct 25, 2011 4:48 pm

The USN did not employ forward ports nearly as much as the Royal Navy, for example, did. The USN was NOT a global empire instrument of service and protection, unlike the RN, whose home nation operated and maintained commonwealths, colonies, protectorates and possessions at distances far, far away from its homeland. Hence, it was a much greater risk for "global" powers --including the Dutch-- of having their naval units exposed to such attacks, in almost diametric opposition to the US situation.

While it is true that the USN had a considerable extension of its Pacific naval forces at Pearl Harbor, that location --in and of itself-- was a naval base in the fullest sense. Compare this to the European global powers. Where was a full-scale, occupied naval base for the Dutch in their east Indies possessions? Even in the important Philippines, the actual presence of USN units was quite minimal, in comparison with its land-based aircraft strengths.

Since the US had no real dependency on globe-wide resources, nor the number and importance of remote possessions requiring naval defense, it should come as no surprise that her warships, wherever present, were simply not exposed in the same way.

Just my thoughts, others' may vary....


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Re: Ships sunk in port by aircraft attacks

Post by culverin » Mon Dec 10, 2018 8:26 pm

10th December 1941. USS Sealion SS 195. Cavite.

On this date the first US warship after the carnage of Pearl Harbour had subsided was sunk in the conflict when the USA and Japan became belligerents.

Others between the 8th and 10th had also been lost either scuttled or captured but Sealion became the first US total loss by any method, air attack in her case. Her subsequent fate is itself somewhat surreal, ultimately being raised and scuttled post war.
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Re: Ships sunk in port by aircraft attacks

Post by aurora » Sun Feb 03, 2019 5:52 pm

At 5.15am on 10th April 1940 sixteen Skua aircraft from 800 and 803 Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm took off from Hatston in the Orkneys to make the 300 mile trip to Bergen, Norway. Each plane had one 500lb semi armour piercing bomb. The round trip of 600 miles was just within the range of the Skua. Earlier reconnaissance had revealed that the Konigsberg was to be found alongside the jetty, having been damaged by Norwegian shore batteries. On a bright clear morning with glassy flat calm the Skua’s arrived over Bergen at 7am and climbed to 8,000 feet in line astern. Captain R.T. Partridge, Royal Marines, was leading 800 Squadron:

The ship was very clear and plain in my sights and the only opposition was one AA gun on the fo’c’s’le manned by a very brave crew that continued firing throughout the whole attack. Down now to 4000 feet and still in that beautifully controlled dive that the Skua with its huge flaps could give. AA gun still firing and the tracer bullets were drifting up towards us like lazy golden raindrops going the wrong way. Now 2,500 feet, no fear or apprehension, just complete and absolute concentration; mustn’t drop too high and must watch going too low and blowing myself up with my own bomb blast. Very disturbed water round the ship, and water and oil seemed to be gushing out amidships. Still the fo’c’sle gun continued to fire and at 1800 feet I dropped my bombs and was away towards the sea at nought feet. My observer reported that we had had a near miss on the ship’s port bow.
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