Sunday, June 29, 2014

Winning the War on a Tide of American Oil

Whatever your politics or the state of your scientific literacy it's fairly easy to see WWII as an "oil" war. Suddenly everything was mechanized and everywhere you went everyone wanted a little slice of the oil-pie. It was a war about burning gas: tanks, airplanes, trucks, diesels, ships with bunkers full of unrefined sweet Java crude . . .

Somewhere someone once said that the Allies "floated to victory on a tide of American oil." I've heard it attributed to Churchill, but googling about isn't really helping much here, so I won't worry so much about who said it. The truth of the matter  is, I think, more or less self-evident.

But getting that Texas, Pennsylvania, or California distilate to the fronts where it was needed was a a complex matter, and that's where tankers and oilers come in. Some of the first merchant ships I bought were oilers: a pair of German tankers repurposed to serve as Cimarrons and two Shiretokos, one of which was apparently converted into a seaplane tender (the subject for a future conversion, no doubt.) But these early efforts were remarkably crude and unsophisticated. (And the "Cimarrons" were later rebuilt into civilian tankers.) I've gotten a little better at the game since.

Like most naval developments of the twentieth century, fleet oilers found their genesis in the Royal Navy and matured rapidly in the U.S. Navy. One of the earliest U.S. offerings was a class of oilers named after rivers (as would become standard practice) called the Kanawha class. I've chosen to depict USS Maumee, AO-2.



AO-2 differs identifiably from AO-1 in engineering plant, among other things. Where Kanawha was a conventional steamship of her age, AO-2 Maumee was one of the first U.S. ships of her size fitted with diesels. Not surprisingly, the funnel arrangements of the two ships are visibly different. Maumee carries hers farther aft. More about Maumee later.

Next up we have a trio of Cimarron class oilers from as many sculptors. The farthest, Kaskaskia, is from Viking Forge, though with considerable interference by yours truly. This is an older model that I include only for comparison. Second from the front is Platte, from a casting of a Seabattles original. In front is the GHQ model I used for Cimarron herself. The front two are a little closer to manufacturer's original, but both have aftermarket booms and radars, and the GHQ ship also has new masts. 


If you've spent much time studying auxiliaries, you'll no doubt have noticed that the armament was both inconsistent across classes and quite flexible over time. The Cimarron class is a nice example. Encyclopedia articles will tell you the "class" sported four 5"/38 DP rifles and a Mk 33 FC director. On paper the US Navy wished this to be true. In reality the armament varied considerably and tended to consist of whatever was available and more or less appropriate at the yard when the ships were taken over. (Though I suspect they all did have the FC set.) The careful viewer will note that all four of these are different. The REALLY careful viewer will say that this is quite appropriate. The EXTREMELY careful viewer will tell me where I have screwed up and exactly what each ship ACTUALLY sported in mid-1942. I hope that this viewer is an ordinance officer from the USN in 1942, which means, sadly, that he probably can't correct me anymore. (Which isn't to say I don't make mistakes, just that I hope they're pretty small.) If corrected I will GLADLY fix my mistakes. (Very gladly for vets of the ships depicted.) In the meantime, I'm doing my best. Please forgive any mistakes you see and feel free to offer corrections (with footnotes please). I want them to be right, but I will accept "close enough." (And I confess to certain artistic liberties to make them look better from a scale mile away.)

Anyway, in spite of their varried and colorful origins, I think they make a fairly convincing class. The forward two are beamier and more detailed, but not beyond comparison with the other (after appropriate refitting).

Of course in reality, much more crude traveled in civilian bottoms. Below are two that flew the red ensign.


Well, more or less. To starboard (from the ships' perspective, of course) is a ship I'm calling Inverarder. In reality this was a demilitarized version of an oiler ordered by the RN and intended to be War Hagara that British Mexican Petroleum was using as a tanker. Trouble is, while the model is about the right size and apparent age (it was a Viking Forge collier Mars) the arrangement of the War class oilers appears to have been quite unusual: engines amidships in a three island structure, much like a conventional freighter and not at all like an engines aft tanker. (Or collier.) Oops. Well, ignore that. I was having a devil of a time finding a tanker of about the right size and age still in service in Britain by 1941 (searching the 1942 E. B. Talbot-Booth, Roger Jordan's The World's Merchant Ships: 1939, and sundry places online), so let's just play pretend and ignore the defects on that one.

The ship to port is perhaps closer, but also rather fanciful. She's meant to depict (approximately) a British coastal tanker called Lunula operated by Moss and Co. I was able to find one picture of her online . . . afire and sinking after striking a mine in the Thames. The ship was already awash amidships and going down by the bow, so everything forward of the mainmast is pure speculation. (Given that there was no foremast sticking out of the water I assume she had none, but even that is far from a safe bet.) Still, the funnel colors are correct, and the hull was at the least dark. (Though many things look dark when below clouds of roiling black smoke.)

Where the two ladies above both sank, both the girls below took torpedoes and lived to tell the tale. These are somewhat better depictions of two tankers from one piece of the grandly dismembered Standard Oil, Standard Oil of New Jersey or Esso.



The rear ship, a C in C T-2, depicts a ship called Esso Bolivar operated by an offshore subsidiary called the Panama Transport Company. That in the foreground approximates John Worthington, which served Esso directly. Esso Bolivar took a torpedo in the early days of the war while carrying a shipment of water, which may well have saved her from a firey death. After being hit she apparently soldiered on towards Guantanamo, suffering the indignity of continued shelling until the captain ordered her abandoned. Fortunately, the cavalry had heard her distress signal before the radio was shot out. A minesweeper found the U-boat still shelling the abandoned ship and scared her off before picking up the crew. The next day a rescue party went aboard, restored power, and sailed the ship to Gitmo.

John Worthington was slightly less lucky. She survived the attack, off the coast of Brazil, put in to Trinidad for temporary repairs, and ultimately made Galveston for overhaul, but the damage was deemed to great for economic repair. She was ultimately abandoned and sank in shallow water where she lies to this day.

Thus concludes the present edition of the NIFTI miniature naval gazette. We'll talk more about building Maumee, transporting dry(ish) goods, and escorting these large floating targets through sub-infested waters in the next issue. As always, thank you for your indulgence.

1 comment:

Iván said...

Awesome models, got a nice Navy.