Thursday, May 21, 2015

Spitfire Pilot

This is an interview with two women who flew for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA)  in WW II. The ATA was the British version of  our WASPs (Womens Airforce Service Pilots). They ferried airplane from the manufacturer to their destinations.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

This Week in Oil and Gas History

May 17, 1882

A well in Cherry Grove, PA flows at an unheard of rate of 1000 barrels per day sending oil price shock waves through the 25 year old industry. What became known as the Pennsylvania 646 Mystery Well caused oil prices to fall to 50 cents per barrel. It's the Law of Supply and Demand in action.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review - Gathering Prey

This follows the last "Prey" book by one year....far too long in my opinion.

Lucas Davenport's adopted daughter, Letty, befriends a female "traveler" in California. Travelers are young homeless who wander the country usually following a rock band. In this case, they are following a group known as the Insane Clown Possee. Their followers dress up with face paint as clowns and are called Juggalos.

Letty is contacted by this girl who tells her that she thinks someone has killed her travelling companion. The suspect is a cult leader called Pilate who has a group of travelers that are into torture murders. She strikes out to follow this group seeking revenge and Letty follows her. Of course, Lucas is not far behind once he finds out that Letty is off on her own.

The plot quickens as Lucas starts chasing this group and it ends up in a massive shoot out. Once they get to the second Juggalo concert, the action is non stop and you will not be able to put it down. Fair not start reading that part late at night.

Definitely one of the better books in the series and it ends with an interesting twist.

Friday, May 15, 2015


The U 166 was a Type IX submarine built in Bremerhaven, Germany and commissioned in March 1942. She had a short life as she was sunk in July of that same year.

The U 166 was the only submarine sunk in the Gulf of Mexico. For decades its location remained a mystery. She was finally located in 2001 during a pre-lay survey for an offshore pipeline. However, controversy still remained about her sinking. Robert Ballard was able to solve that mystery. How he did that is described in the video below.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Save Sealab I

Sealab I was the US Navy's first underwater habitat. It proved the concept of mixed gas saturation diving. In 1964, 4 divers lived at a depth of 200 feet for 11 days. It is now an exhibit at Panama City's Man in the Sea Museum. They have a Gofundme site to collect money to refurbish this piece of diving history. The link is here.

Here is an old documentary about the project.

There were other underwater habitats that followed Sealab I. There was Sealab II and then Tektite but they have all been lost to the scrapyard. Please send something to save Sealab I.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Paris: Then and Now

If you look at the sidebar, you will find a link to Messy Nessy, who writes a really cool blog about Paris. Her most recent is about a photographer who has researched the locations of photographs taken during the liberation of Paris in August of 1944 and then shown them in overlay with a photo of the same location in present time. It's really worth the the few minutes to look at them. And know that several of these same locations now have memorial plaques for those who are "Mort pour France".

Here's the link.....

Monday, May 11, 2015

This Week in Oil and Gas History

May 15, 1911

The Supreme Court orders the break up of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey for violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Standard Oil was broken up in to 34 companies and they have been slowly getting back together ever since.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Last U Boat - U 853

U 853 was the last U boat sank off the east coast. It's final resting place is near Point Judith, RI. The video below has some interesting footage and an interview with the captain of U 853's victim.

Dad was a CPO (Machinist Mate) on one of the destroyers (USS Ericsson) that hunted and killed the U 853. Here is more of the story.

On May 4, 1945, Admiral Doenitz sent a radio message to all the submarines at sea to cease hostilities. The U 853 either never got the message or ignored it because on May 5 at about 5:40 PM , she torpedoed and sank the 1918 vintage collier SS Black Point. Naval Armed Guard Lonnie Whitson Lloyd was killed and became the last USN sailor to die in the Atlantic War.

Meanwhile, a convoy escort task force (TF 60.7) consisting of the USS Ericsson (DD-440), USS Amick (DE-168), USS Atherton (DE-169) and the USS Moberly (PF-63) had finished their work and were on their way back to Boston. The task force commander on board the Ericsson had challenged his ships to a race back to port. He was in the lead and had already entered the Cape Cod Canal when he received orders to return and hunt a submarine. (I suspect he was looking forward to seeing his wife in Boston, hence the race challenge, and his anger at being delayed may have played a part in the destruction of U 853). As he was stuck in the canal, he turned over temporary command to the next senior officer, who ironically was a USCG officer on the Moberly, until he could arrive on scene. They were on site within 2 hours of the sinking and began submarine hunting operations. They were joined later by two blimps (K-16 and K-58) from Lakehurst, NJ.

It appears the U 853 never left the area and was trapped in waters only 130 feet deep. It was all over by noon on May 6, 1945 when the submarine was declared sunk with no survivors. The final indicator of success was the recovery of the captains hat from the floating debris.

This story always intrigued me and I wanted to learn more about the people involved.

The captain of the U 853 at the time of her sinking was Helmut Fromsdorf.

He was born on March 26, 1921 and became an office candidate in September of 1939. He was assigned to U 853 when it was commissioned on June, 1943. He was on board the 853 when she left on her first war patrol on April. 1944, probably the XO. Their mission was to monitor the weather in the North Sea but they were discovered by the USS Croatan (CVE 25) and barely survived a 10 day game of cat and mouse. The US sailors nicknamed their quarry "Moby Dick" because of her elusive character while the Germans called their submarine "The Tightrope Walker"because of their narrow escapes.

I suspect that part of the reason for the extended hunt was to prevent any submarines from getting to Normandy.

The hunt ended on June 17, 1944 when the U 853 was strafed with the loss of 2 dead and 12 wounded. (She must have been in dire straights at this point if she was on the surface and this many crew were topside). Fromsdorf took over command and brought the 853 back to Lorient, France. After this action, the captain (Helmut Sommer) and most of the crew were declared unfit for duty. If you ever had any doubts about the stress of submarine service, this fact should convince you.

During this period, the Allies had invaded France and were rapidly moving west through France. The U 853, with the flotilla commander on board, was the last to leave Lorient and she went to Kiel where she was fitted with a snorkel. She remained in Kiel until February, 1945 when she departed on her last patrol with Helmut Fromsdorf in command.

On April 25, 1945, the 853 sank the USS Eagle (PE-56) off the coast of Maine. She was a WW I era patrol boat and it was not until 2001 before it was realized that she was sunk by a torpedo from U 853. She was thought to be a victim of a boiler explosion.

On May 5, the 853 attacked the Black Point and subsequently met her fate.

The following ordnance was expended in sinking the U 853:

264 hedgehog projectiles
195 depth charges
6 rocket bombs

The captain of the Atherton, Lewis Iselin, said of the battle, "There was no doubt that by this time we knew had it but everyone wanted to get into the act. I don't think there is a hull that took a bigger beating during the war."

A diver inspection of the wreckage a few days after sinking indicated that only 2 hits were made on the hull. Such was the accuracy of WW II submarine warfare.

I suspect that the anger at being delayed from seeing loved ones and that they had to keep fighting, and risking their lives after they knew the war had ended contributed to the level of destruction of the U 853.

So, did Fromsdorf miss the message to surrender or was he a Nazi zealot that decided to go out fighting?

There were 64 U boats at sea at the time of the message. 56 surrendered, 3 were scuttled and 5 were sunk. Also, while I have not been able to find out details, I suspect that the surrender message was being sent repeatedly so it would have been difficult for any boat not to get it.

It's difficult to understand the mindset of Helmut Fromsdorf. He had taken a severe beating in June, 1944. He had to be aware of the numbers of submarines lost (243 in 1943 and 249 in 1944) and of the latest war news - the loss at the Battle of the Bulge, that fact that Russians were 50 miles from Berlin and that the Allies were across the Rhine. Yet he still attacked.

I can't help but think that Fromsdorf was a zealot and ignored the surrender message. He had been born and grew up under Nazi influence. Like most men in their 20s, he probably felt invincible and may have decided to strike one last blow, perhaps as pay back for the beating he took during his first patrol. Finally, Germany was not aware of the anti submarine technology possessed by the Allies. SONAR and magnetic detection made finding the U 853 very easy. Fromsdorf may have thought he could attack and then hide on the bottom but he was severely mistaken. He should have steamed out to sea.

Aftermath and Trivia

  • The propellers from U 853 were salvaged in 1953 and were on display at the Castle Hill Inn
  • The remains of an unknown German sailor were recovered and are now buried in Newport, RI
  • U 853 is considered a war grave but it is a popular dive site
  • Captain Fromsdorf's hat is on display at the Destroyer Escort Historical Foundation in Albany, NY
  • The USS Atherton is still in service as the BRP Rajah Humabon (PF-11) making her one of the oldest ships in the world.
  • Charles Prior, captain of the Black Point, became the president of the Portland Marine Society
  • Lewis Iselin, captain of the Atherton, became a well known sculptor
  • During the battle, the Atherton had a German POW on board. He was put on board in Gibraltar with a ruptured appendix and was treated by the ships Jewish doctor. In 2006, he attended a reunion of the ships crew.
I asked Dad about this battle once. He told me that he was in the engine room the entire time and had no idea was going on topside.

Monday, May 4, 2015

This Week in Oil and Gas History

May 4, 1869

Thomas Fitch Rowland was issued a patent for an offshore drilling concept. The owner of Continental Iron Works of NY, his idea consisted of a 4 legged iron structure with a ship moored alongside for the drilling equipment. It was capable of drilling in water depths up to 50 feet.

Thomas Rowland has other claims to fame - his Continental Iron Works built the USS Monitor during the Civil War and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) named an award after him. It has been awarded annually since 1882.

May 5, 1889

Standard Oil begins construction of the largest refinery in the US near Chicago. Now owned by BP, it is still the largest.

May 7, 1920

Erle Halliburton starts his oil well cementing business. His red cementing trucks are still working.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Head Count

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia continued emptying their prisons by beheading another 15 criminals. Two of them were women. They were imported domestic help who were accused of murdering someone in household. These women are often subject to abuse and they have little protection under the law. The year to date total now stands at 67 and the Kingdom is well on it's way to setting a new annual record.