six years of wwiiafterwwii / the Dirty Harry aircraft carriers

I neglected to make an intended “anniversary” post for one year of being online, and later two years, and five years, and 100 subscribers, and then finally the number of days WWII ran. As you can tell I am not well with remembering events. So belatedly, this is the sixth anniversary of wwiiafterwwii, now longer than the war itself lasted.

I thank all readers / commenters for the knowledge shared over the years.

While I just write these for general enjoyment, I do try to keep the atmosphere at least plausibly scholarly and thus avoid “silly” or irrelevant topics. So, normally I would not touch on something like the below. But I figure, just once can not hurt, so here is a bit of “lighter reading”.

hull

Years ago, I recall somebody contacting me asking to write about the WWII aircraft carriers in the 1970s movie Magnum Force. I felt it holding no broad relevance and ignored it.

About two years ago, another person made the same request which I thought was odd, that two people would even remember that small part of an old movie. Well, almost as if on cue, just as I started looking into it, the April 2019 issue of Sea Classics magaizine covered this exact topic.

Sea Classics is a general-interest magazine about all things nautical in all eras. It is a quality magazine which I enjoy so I did not want to disrespect the author (Nicholas A. Veronico) by ripping off his idea.

Earlier this year, while researching something else, I stumbled on this topic again. To my amazement it apparently holds huge interest (I found four different online fourms discussing it). Also I believe I found information different about one of the ships than in the Sea Classics article.

Magnum Force was filmed in San Francisco, CA between April – June 1973. The second of five Dirty Harry movies, it stars Clint Eastwood as Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan. In this film Eastwood’s character opposes a rogue extra-judicial “hit squad” within the San Francisco Police Department.

The scenes with the aircraft carriers were actually not filmed in San Francisco, but rather at the Red Rock Marina in nearby Richmond, CA, at a place called Point Castro by locals.

bigmap

This was originally the Richmond-San Rafael Ferry & Transportation Company. From 1938 it provided ferry services across San Rafael Bay.

In 1956 the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge (which today carries Interstate 580) opened, making the ferry obsolete. The terminal was converted into Red Rock Marina.

location

(Looking eastward to the location of Red Rock Marina, where the scenes for Magnum Force were filmed. Beyond is the city of Richmond, CA. The islet is the actual Red Rock.)

When Red Rock Marina opened it was a high-class marina for sailboats and pleasure craft. Further plans, never realized, were for a five-star restaurant as well. Over the years the marina’s business ebbed away and it was more for charter fishing boats, and later still commercial trawlers. By the 1970s a new source of income was being realized: a “half-scrapping” and “parking lot” for condemned WWII warships of the various California mothball fleets.

When a scrapper bought a decommissioned WWII warship from, say, the Suisun Bay mothball anchorage (which was just northeast) the contract specified a “physical custody” date before which the scrapper had to have the hulk off the government anchorage. In the Bay Area, most warship scrapping was done at the former Kaiser #3 shipyard of WWII in the actual city of Richmond (just to the south). Levin owned a graving dock there and besides using it itself, leased it to sometimes-competitor scrappers like Nicolai Joffe Corporation. The “physical custody” date did not usually coincide with a graving dock being available, and Red Rock Marina was a handy place to cheaply store ships for a few months.

It was not necessarily time wasted either, as Red Rock Marina had two boom cranes ashore and a pier sturdy enough for light truck traffic. While they waited for an open graving dock, “half-scrapping” could start with things like brass fittings, topside features, etc cut off to lessen “time on the clock” leased in Levin’s drydock. The ships could be “pre-scrapped” with non-structural bulkheads cut open, etc to also lessen the rented time. When the graving dock opened up, the ship was towed beneath the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge and then south a few thousand yards to its final fate.

This was indeed what was happening to the three WWII carriers used in Magnum Force.

This area of land is sometimes confused with Point Molate, immediately north of it. During WWII the US Navy built a 400 acres fueling station here, with twenty underground fuel tanks holding 40,000,000 gallons of naval fuel oil. The US Navy closed Point Molate in 1998.

dodmap

Above is an old Department Of Defense map showing the Naval Fuel Depot north of Castro Point and Red Rock Marina with its characteristic “V” pier. North of the Naval Fuel Depot was Point Orient Pier, which had been an old cannery later used for handling freight during WWII. At the peninsula’s tip was the last whaling factory in the USA, shut down in 1970. Off the map, to the north would be Mare Island Naval Shipyard and to the east, Concord Naval Weapons Station and the Suisun Bay mothball anchorage. In the lower right corner, Wright Avenue serves the former Kaiser Shipyards of WWII where after the war, many warships were later scrapped – including these three CVEs.

background

For Magnum Force the three aircraft carriers were moored to Red Rock Marina’s “V” pier offshoot. The scene above shows where the main westward pier turned north to the “V”. In the background is the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge and beyond, the Chevron Long Pier which during WWII belonged to Standard Oil.

background2

A spire of the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco is far in the distance by Clint Eastwood’s shoulder. The island of the “third” aircraft carrier is in the foreground.

background1

The three CVEs were parked with the first two having their bows facing the bridge, the other in reversed direction. This scene from Magnum Force shows the stern end of the “first” carrier’s flight deck. Beyond is the WWII Naval Fuel Depot pier (which was still in military use in 1973) and further, the much shorter Point Orient pier.

“Marine Salvage”

The filmmakers changed signage at Red Rock Marina to “Marine Salvage Ship Service Company, Pier 54”.

marinesalvage2

(This scene from Magnum Force shows the bows of two of the three CVEs, with mothballing “igloos” over the forward 40mm AA gun positions of WWII.)

This was a completely made-up company, no such firm existed. The filmmakers did such a careful job however (for example changing signs in the distance only seen for a second) that some Clint Eastwood fan forums today cite it as a real company.

marinesalvage1

However “Marine Salvage” was completely fictitious.

There actually is a municipal Pier 54 in San Francisco, but it looks nothing like Red Rock Marina. The filmmakers likely added this for plot continuity, as Magnum Force was set in San Francisco.

The Long Beach Independent newspaper reported on 1 January 1973 that on New Years Eve “…two WWII-vintage aircraft carriers at Red Rock Marina” broke their moorings and drifted onto a sandbar 200′ away from the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge. The article noted that tugboats quickly secured the WWII carriers.

marina

(Photo via Sea Classics magazine)

The above photo of Red Rock Marina was taken just after Magnum Force filming ended in 1973. Caltrans (the Califirnia state transportation bureaucracy) requested the US Geological Survey take the photo for them, as they were still concerned about having aircraft carriers so close to the bridge. This shows the three WWII CVEs in the movie, nested outboard of the outer leg of the northwards-pointing “V”. Inbetween the legs of the “V” is a work pontoon, and on the lower leg an unidentified ship. Tied to the main pier was the WWII ARD. This also shows the sailboat slips before that area was later filled in, and the many barges and ships sunk as artificial breakwaters.

the ships

All three WWII carriers in Magnum Force were Commencement Bay class CVEs. Of all American aircraft carrier classes, the Commencement Bay class is perhaps the least-remembered today.

The Commencement Bay class was the best and final version of the CVE, or escort carrier, concept of WWII. These were slow, small, cheap carriers to shepherd convoys across the Atlantic. They were built on the lower hulls of merchant freighters. Starting with the one-off USS Long Island (CVE-1) in 1941, the concept proceeded through the Avenger, Sangamon, Bogue, and Casablanca classes.

Besides being the last and largest, the Commencement Bay class differed in that they were the only ones to have geared steam turbines instead of old-fashioned reciprocating steam engines. This gave them a maximum speed of 19 kts, much slower than the 33 kts of the big Essex class CVs but better than the 16 kts of earlier CVEs. The Commencement Bay class carried 30 – 34 warplanes and unlike some earlier CVEs, was big enough to handle later-WWII, high-horsepower types such as the Corsair and Helldiver. Displacing 24,500t, the Commencement Bay class had two elevators and was well-armed for a carrier of this size.

class

(photo via navsource website)

Why the Commencement Bay class is forgotten today, is that they came at the wrong time. When they began to enter fleet service in December 1944 / January 1945 Italy was already out of WWII, Germany was five months away from defeat, and the Japanese navy was reeling.

The US Navy ordered 35. Of these, only eleven were finished by V-J Day and they saw little action. Another five were finished after WWII ended plus two (described below) which were finished but never used. Four more were scrapped incomplete after WWII and the last twelve were cancelled before work began.

After WWII they were too small to use with Cold War-era jets and those kept in service ended their days flying ASW types or helicopters.

The Commencement Bay class were fine ships which never really got a chance to prove their worth.

USS Rabaul

For certain one of the three was USS Rabaul (CVE-121). Of all WWII warships, USS Rabaul (along with sister ship USS Tinian) is remarkable in that it was 100% completed but never used, not even for a single day.

fabaul14july1945

(The launching of USS Rabaul in 1945. Obviously there was still a lot of work to be done and WWII would end about 1½ months after this photo.)

USS Rabaul was still fitting out when WWII ended on 2 September 1945. With WWII now over, and an unwanted surplus of decommissioning CVEs available, work slowed considerably. USS Rabaul ran sea trials during the spring of 1946. On 30 July 1946, the US Navy quietly declared USS Rabaul “accepted” without ceremony. Although fully completed, this ship was never commissioned.

USS Rabaul was immediately assigned for storage in the 19th (Reserve) Fleet at Tacoma, WA. During June 1955, USS Rabaul was reassigned to the San Diego, CA mothball fleet and towed there.

On 1 September 1971, USS Rabaul was struck off the Naval Vessels Register’s inactive ships list and discarded by the US Navy; having not spent a single day on duty.

minneapolisStarTribune10Oct1972

(10 October 1972 clipping from the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. Strictly speaking it is not accurate in that the ship did run one day of builder’s trials under its own power. But the overall theme is accurate; USS Rabaul was an expensive thing to finish but never use.)

Transferred to MARAD (the United States Maritime Administration), the ex-USS Rabaul was put up for scrap auction in 1972. On 25 August 1972, the Nicolai Joffe Corporation’s bid of $133,261 won the auction. The ex-USS Rabaul was already at Red Rock Marina by December 1972.

USS Commencement Bay

USS Commencement Bay (CVE-105) was one of the three ships in the movie. The class leadship, USS Commencement Bay commissioned on 27 November 1944.

commencementbay1945

(USS Commencement Bay near San Francisco in December 1945, a little over three months past the end of WWII. The ship is painted in the Measure 21 scheme and has Avengers and Helldivers on deck.) (photo via navsource website)

During WWII, USS Commencement Bay was a training carrier, qualifying 249 pilots.

During October – November 1945, with WWII already ended, USS Commencement Bay made a voyage to Hawaii and then California. This was as far as the ship ever ventured, returning to the Seattle area in January 1946. With no need for the ship in the fleet, USS Commencement Bay decommissioned on 30 November 1949. Initially assigned to the Tacoma, WA mothball fleet, USS Commencement Bay was towed to San Diego, CA during the 1950s. On 1 April 1971, USS Commencement Bay was stricken off the Naval Vessels Register inactive list and put up for auction by MARAD. On 25 August 1972 (the same exact day as USS Rabaul above) the ship was won by Nicolai Joffe Corporation’s bid of $133,311.

The ex-USS Commencement Bay was already at Red Rock Marina by December 1972 alongside the ex-USS Rabaul.

which was which?

Of the two baseline WWII-configuration CVEs in Magnum Force, there is no distinguishing characteristic to either. To determine which was USS Rabaul and which was USS Commencement Bay, would just be flipping a coin so I will refrain from making a guess.

island1

Above is a zoomed shot of the “first” carrier, the one Dirty Harry and the two pursuing SFPD cops come aboard and which was used for the below-decks scenes. The cylinder on the balcony is a mothballing “can”. The two mothballing “igloos” have holes cut in them, this was for the scrapper to quickly show any inspector that the 40mm anti-aircraft guns were gone and the ship demilitarized. This island has already been stripped to a greater degree than the other two aircraft carriers islands; not surprising as it was the closest to the work pontoon at Red Rock Marina.

island2

Above is a zoomed look at the island of the “second” CVE. It still has a WWII searchlight on the upper balcony with a mothballing “can” covering the one below. Another mothballing “can” is atop the forward WWII searchlight and beneath and ahead of that, a “doghouse” is atop the compass on the bridge, which in the WWII form was semi-open. The square-looking things are WWII A&M Reproducers, which were basically mega-loudspeakers. The US Navy experimented with different locations for these on the Commencement Bay class, sometimes hanging over/under outboard of the island as here and sometimes replacing one of the searchlights.

In the movie, Dirty Harry and the one surviving rogue patrolman only briefly go across this CVE; jumping off the flight deck of the “first” and directly onto that of the “third” CVE, which I believe is USS Rendova.

USS Rendova or USS Badoeng Strait

The identity of the third aircraft carrier is easier to identify. Unlike the other two, which are straightline Commencement Bay class hulls still in WWII form, the third carrier of Magnum Force has identifiable traits visible in the movie.

The Sea Classics article and several other sources identify the ship as USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116). This carrier commissioned on 14 November 1945, 2½ months after Japan surrendered. USS Badoeng Strait later participated in the Korean War, and finally decommissioned on 17 May 1957.

With due respect, I don’t believe this was the third aircraft carrier in Magnum Force. USS Badoeng Strait was mothballed in the Pacific Northwest and was stricken off the Naval Vessels Register inactive list on 1 December 1970. MARAD put the hull up for scrap auction in 1972, and it was won by the $101,278 bid of American Ship Dismantlers in Portland, OR on 8 May 1972. They took physical delivery on 5 June 1972.

Landscape

The above photograph by David Falconer shows “USS Badoeng Strait being scrapped at the American Ship Dismantling Division on the Willamette River, Portland OR, April 1973”. Obviously if the ship was being scrapped in Oregon in April 1973, it is impossible for it to have been in California at the same time, when Magnum Force was being filmed there.

While it is always possible for a photographer to mis-caption a photograph, the Environmental Protection Agency also shows that the ex-USS Badoeng Strait was scrapped in Oregon in 1973. Also it would make no financial sense for a shipbreaking yard in the Pacific Northwest to buy a scrap hull already in the area, but then pay for a tow down the west coast to California to scrap it there.

Instead, I believe that the third carrier was actually USS Rendova (CVE-114). USS Rendova was launched on 28 December 1944 and commissioned on 22 October 1945, about two months after WWII had already ended.

USS Rendova‘s crew was reduced to a caretaker status and the ship served as the flagship for Carrier Division 15, rarely going to sea. During the late 1940s this changed, and the ship was quite active, making voyages to China, Europe, and the Persian Gulf. USS Rendova later participated in the Korean War and then American nuclear tests in the Pacific. USS Rendova decommissioned on 30 June 1955 and was assigned to the San Francisco mothball fleet.

On 1 April 1971 (the same day as USS Commencement Bay above) USS Rendova was struck off the Naval Vessels Register inactive list and transferred to MARAD for disposal. Here, the ship’s history becomes blurry. This is not entirely uncommon as MARAD handled about 10,000 ships between the end of World War One and the turn of the millennium; prior to the late 1970s MARAD’s records were kept on 3×5 index cards, some in pen & ink. Not all of these index cards have yet been scanned in to the MARAD website by 2021, and some may be completely lost by now. None the less, it is logical that the hull would have been auctioned in 1972 roughly the same time as the two other carriers in Magnum Force and since it was already in San Francisco, would have been bought by either Nicolai Joffe or Levin and scrapped in the area.

Beyond that there are definite visual clues in the movie which identify it as USS Rendova.

island2mast

The above scene from Magnum Force shows the rear side of the island of the third carrier. Two things stand out: the UHF “forks” near the top and the IFF antennas.

uhfforks

These “forks” were a WWII item, giving the Commencement Bay class up to ten channels for the Type TED radio, which was used for tactical UHF voice communications during WWII and into the early Cold War period. Both USS Rendova and USS Badoeng Strait had these, however USS Badoeng Strait‘s were rearranged during a mid-1950s refit.

The other very distinguishing clue is the “triangles” of the AN/SRR-4 system.

srr4

Introduced during the Korean War, AN/SRR-4 was an integrated IFF (identification friend/foe) system that combined the previously separate reception and decoding functions requiring separate antennas during WWII.

As can be seen in the movie, the AN/SRR-4 “triangle” mountings on the third Magnum Force CVE are bolted onto a mainmast balcony. This was actually a somewhat unorthodox location (typically they were on stub yardarms) and a limited number of retrofit WWII warships mounted AN/SRR-4 this way, one being USS Rendova.

Another clue disqualifying USS Badoeng Strait and confirming USS Rendova is this item:

waveguide

This is the waveguide for USS Rendova‘s AN/SPS-6 air search radar. On Commencement Bay class CVEs given post-WWII refits, this replaced the SK-2 radar dish of WWII on its aft-facing platform.

island2rear

On the scene from Magnum Force above, this waveguide can clearly be seen. A 90° elbow joint has been removed leaving a small gap. This shot also gives a look at how the base of the Commencement Bay class’s mast was just a hollow vertical passageway for sailors to access the searchlight balconies. This was still an improvement over earlier WWII CVE classes, which had completely exposed lattice masts.

Why the waveguide location matters, is that both USS Rendova and USS Badoeng Strait initially carried AN/SPS-6 on the former SK-2 location, on the aft side of the mast. USS Rendova retained this to decommissioning. However USS Badoeng Strait had the mast arrangement redone in the mid-1950s, with AN/SPS-6 now on a small platform higher and on the front of the mast.

bad1956

Above is USS Badoeng Strait‘s final island & mast layout, with AN/SPS-6 moved to a new platform on the forward side of the mast, a staggered balcony arrangement, no AN/SRR-4, and the UHF forks carried higher up. It can be clearly seen that this is not the same as the ship in Magnum Force.

rendovaisland

And here is the final island & mast layout of USS Rendova, showing AN/SPS-6 still aft of the mast pole, in the same former SK-2 position where the waveguide in the earlier photo leads to.

thirdisland

And finally a shot from Magnum Force showing the lower part of the “third” CVE’s mast. The balcony arrangement matches that of USS Rendova above but not USS Badoeng Strait.

Based on all this, I feel confident that the third WWII aircraft carrier in the movie was USS Rendova and not USS Badoeng Strait. I think the confusion in the Sea Classics article came from the fact that the Oregon shipbreaker was a subsidiary of Schnitzer Industries, which had an office in southern California, perhaps implying that USS Badoeng Strait was physically in that area.

the other WWII ship in the movie

Although it did not factor into the plot, a fourth WWII warship was at Red Rock Marina when Magnum Force was filmed in 1973. Unlike the aircraft carriers, its identity is plain to see.

ard2

In the above scene, ARD-10 is clearly visible beyond the late actor Hal Holbrook, who was already an established movie star by 1973.

The unnamed ARD-10 was a ARD-2 class mobile drydock of WWII, commissioned in 1943.

ard10ww2

(ARD-10 during WWII.) (photo via navsource website)

Normal floating drydocks are just basically a walled barge open on both ends; two sidewalls with a floor connecting them. For operation the drydock ballasts down until the floor is submerged, a ship moves inbetween the sidewalls, and then the drydock ballasts back up so that the ship is resting atop blocks on the floor, inbetween the sidewalls and out of the water. With preparation and careful planning, a floating drydock like this could be towed across open waters, but hopefully not too often.

In 1935, the US Navy experimented with something new. The one-off ARD-1 had a closed boat-shaped bow on the front end and was much more suitable for towing. ARD-1 was a success but the idea was limited by the Great Depression.

When the United States entered WWII in 1941, costs became irrelevant and the ARD-2 class was introduced in 1942. A refinement of the ARD-1 concept, the ARD-2 class measured 482’7″ x 71′ and displaced 4,200t empty. These had a boat-type bow closing off the forward end, with a warship-style superstructure and lattice mast. The ARD-2 class had no engines, but was optimized for repeated fast towing across long distances of open ocean, and was seaworthy under tow even in storms. Although there was no propulsion, these drydocks had their own rudders to aid steering while under tow. The crew was the captain, five other officers, and 125 enlisted sailors. Two 20mm AA guns were carried.

They could be towed hundreds or thousands of miles with no preparation, by anything from fleet tugboats to salvage ships to net tenders. The only limitation was that since one end was blocked, what they could drydock was limited by the size of the bay “carved out” behind the superstructure. All WWII American submarines, subchasers, destroyer-escorts; and some classes of other other types; still fit so this was accepted given the great usefulness of the design. Ten ARD-2 class were built during WWII and the follow-on ARD-12 class was just an enlargement.

ARD-10 was built by Pacific Bridge Company in Alameda, CA; not far from Richmond where Magnum Force was filmed decades later. It spent most of WWII at Freemantle, Australia serving US Navy submarines operating against Japan. After WWII, it served at Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, decommissioning in 1946. ARD-10 was towed from Subic Bay to San Francisco, CA. Although out of commission, ARD-10 was then towed to Mare Island Naval Shipyard (just north of Richmond) for use there. As “command property” vs a formally commissioned ship, this freed ARD-10 from some inspection requirements and paperwork hassles, and was not uncommon after WWII.

ard10574

(ARD-10 at Mare Island, probably in the 1950s, with a GUPPY-rebuilt WWII submarine drydocked. A row of mothballed WWII warships, their radars removed, is behind ARD-10.) (photo via navsource website)

The decommissioned ARD-10 was retained at Mare Island into the Vietnam War era. On 1 July 1971, it was discarded and transferred to MARAD. ARD-10 was already at Red Rock Marina in 1972. The marina may have been renting it from MARAD. Conversely MARAD may instead have been leasing a berth from the marina to store it, to lessen pressure on the nearby Suisun Bay mothball anchorage which was still quite full of decommissioned WWII warships in 1973.

ard10

(ARD-10 in Magnum Force.)

About a year after the movie was filmed, the ex-ARD-10 was towed through the Panama Canal and sold to Bender Shipbuilding in Alabama. Bender later resold it to a Mexican ship repair company in Tampico, where it is still in use, now semi-permanently moored.

may2015

(The former ARD-10 of WWII in Mexico during May 2015.)

not appearing on screen

Irrelevant to the movie, where it was not seen, the hulk of a fifth WWII warship was actually at the site while Magnum Force was being filmed.

hermes

(photo by John C. Driscoll)

USCGC Hermes (WPC-109) was an Argo class cutter commissioned on 7 March 1932, in time to make rum patrols for the final year of Prohibition. During WWII USCGC Hermes operated off the California coast, seeing no combat. Decommissioned by the US Coast Guard on 2 November 1948, USCGC Hermes was sold off by MARAD in 1958 for civilian conversion. In 1970 the ship arrived at Red Rock Marina where it was “half-scrapped”, with what remained being scuttled as the end of the marina’s northern artificial breakwater. The above photo is dated 2006; by 2021 the wooden shed is gone and part of the bow has come off.

inside the first carrier and other scenes in the movie

The “first” of the three CVEs (the one closest to the V-shaped mooring, which Dirty Harry and the two rogue policemen drive their motorcycles aboard) had a few minutes filmed inside including the protagonist rather brutally eliminating one of the corrupt cops chasing him.

cvl1

This shot from Magnum Force shows the “first” of the three CVEs, which the three motorcycles ride up the ramp into. It is either USS Rabaul or USS Commencement Bay. It is tied to the outermost “leg” of the northwards-facing “V” which turned out from Red Rock Marina’s pier. The mothballing “igloos” have holes cut in them for the reason described earlier. The “cans” on the flight deck’s catwalk covered off-mount anti-aircraft controllers, and the skinny pipe leading down from the “can” to the “igloo” was part of a centralized dehumidification system for mothballed WWII warships.

location1

For reference, a WWII photo of USS Commencement Bay showing where the movie’s characters entered the ship.

rollercurtain

During WWII these openings on the hangar deck were called roller curtains. They were metal garage door-type closures, operated by hand with a chainfall inside. When open they allowed cross-ventilation of the hangar, while closed they kept out bad weather.

cvlhangar

Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) inside the hangar deck of the “first” CVE. This is looking forward, towards the bow. The embrasure furthest forward was the forward elevator. A small pit underneath it allowed the elevator to sit flat with the hangar deck when lowered. On the Commencement Bay class, the hangar deck ended at the forward elevator which topside was just forward of the island.

cvlmessdeck

Dirty Harry in the ship’s mess deck. The faintly-visible red arrow in the doorway was not random graffiti. Shipbreakers painted these so laborers unfamiliar with WWII warships could get out quickly in an emergency. The red writing on the bulkhead to left is not legible but probably indicated that the other side was safe to torch into. This is still done in ship scrapping today.

cvlpassageway2One of the corrupt SFPD patrolmen chasing Dirty Harry through the aircraft carrier. Another red arrow can be seen. The pipe on the deck is strap-banded to chunks of 2×4s and was probably not original equipment; but likely installed during the mothballing process. The brackets on the bulkheads held firefighting and damage control gear during WWII; when ships were scrapped these went quickly as the nozzles, wrenches, etc were often brass which is much more valuable than steel. The two antagonists chasing Eastwood’s character fired at him; in real life shooting a pistol inside a CVE’s narrow steel passageway would be deafeningly loud to somebody without hearing protection.

cvlobas

Accompanied by eerie music, one of the corrupt motorcycle cops enters a compartment filled with hanging “gas masks” staring back at him. Dirty Harry then liquidates him in a manner fairly violent, even by Hollywood standards.

obas2

Another look at the “gas masks” which are actually WWII US Navy Type A-1 oxygen breathing apparatus, or OBAs.

TypeA-1obaViaIMA

(WWII Type A-1 OBA) (photo via IMA-USA)

OBAs are used in firefighting aboard ship. For use, the sailor inserts a chemical canister into the chestpiece and pulls up the bail, or handle, to puncture the canister and begin the chemical reaction. The reaction generates heat but instead of smoke, emits oxygen into the two lung-like bags, which feed up through the two hoses into the mask. The mouthpiece is a check-valve which allows exhalation. OBAs in modern US Navy use are only little changed from the WWII concept.

cvlladder

The other rogue patrolman inside the ship. General Quarters, or “GQ”, is called away on US Navy warships for battlestations or any reason at the captain’s discretion. The WWII marking indicated that this stairway was for upwards use only when General Quarters was called, so sailors would not be running into each other.

cvltopside

After eliminating one of his two assailants, Dirty Harry emerges. This was likely filmed in the area underneath the flight deck’s forward lip, behind the bow 40mm AA gun position. The circled “X” on the door is a condition marker. Doors aboard ship are desired to be kept closed as often as possible, but there is a need to balance that with day-to-day life. Condition “X-Ray” is the least restrictive, followed by “Yoke” and “Zebra”. They are sequentially restrictive, for example when Condition “Yoke” is called, both X and Y are shut, and when “Zebra” is called X, Y, and Z are all shut. Condition “Zebra” was typically used in battle during WWII for maximum watertight integrity. This system is still used, in modified form, today in the 21st century US Navy.

cvlisland

This shot from Magnum Force looks down the starboard aft catwalk. During WWII these had several positions for off-mount AA gunnery controllers, and a variety of firefighting and rescue gear for flight deck crashes.

cvlislands

On aircraft carriers mothballed after WWII, elevators were caulked shut as seen here in Magnum Force. Prior to the Midway class, WWII American aircraft carriers had the floor of the hangar deck as their structural upper end. The flight deck was basically a freestanding structure, sheet steel overlaid by 3″ planks of douglas fir wood. For mothballings in the late 1940s, wood decks were painted and sometimes had an overlay of peel-off plastic, which was very expensive. As time went on, these efforts were abandoned as it was just accepted that if the ship was ever reactivated, the flight deck would need to be replanked.

The four ship-to-ship jumps used stuntmen, but for all other motorcycle shots in Magnum Force, Clint Eastwood himself was on the motorcycle. There was no netting or safety barriers around the ships.

thirdship

This is aboard the “third” CVE, which I believe is USS Rendova, with the forward starboard 40mm AA mount mothballing igloos of the “second” CVE visible. One unusual thing is that even though all three were sister-ships, the “third” CVE was sitting lower in the water than the other two. It may have been ballasted for towing, or the other two already lightened from material being stripped off, or a combination thereof. Unusually, the safety lifelines around the aft elevator are still standing. These were used on aircraft carriers when flight operations were not expected and it is unusual that they would have been left up when the ship decommissioned, but as can be seen here, they were.

decklights

The movie is 40+ years old so hopefully nobody’s surprise is being spoiled. The remaining corrupt SFPD patrolman follows Dirty Harry on his motorcycle, jumping from the “first” CVE to the “second”, quickly crossing its flight deck, and off it onto the “third” CVE. However Eastwood’s character dumps his motorcycle to a stop aboard the “third” carrier, and when the pursuing antagonist jumps aboard, he has insufficient room to slow down and goes completely across and falls off the side to a watery death, losing his helmet as seen above. This shot from Magnum Force shows a tanker at the Chevron Long Pier in Richmond beyond the bridge. The protrusion on the flight deck seen above had during WWII, a bolted-on housing for one of the night landing lights.

Nicolai Joffe Corporation

Two for sure, and presumably all three, of the CVEs in the movie were afterwards scrapped by the Nicolai Joffe Corporation. The Nicolai Joffe Corporation was formed in 1960 and primarily dealt in the scrapping of WWII warships and the resale of still-usable items extracted off them. Its headquarters was in Beverly Hills, CA with field offices in San Francisco, CA and New York City, NY. Over the years the company owned or leased graving docks in a variety of industrial ports along the California coast.

1977maritimereporter

(Ad from a 1977 issue of Maritime Reporter magazine.)

WWII aircraft carriers were no stranger to the company, as several had been already scrapped by them prior to the filming of Magnum Force in 1973. Another notable WWII combatant scrapped by the company was the battleship USS Indiana (BB-58).

december1963

(December 1963 labor union newsletter with a feature about the scrapping of USS Indiana by the Nicolai Joffe Corporation at the port of Richmond, CA which was slightly south of Red Rock Marina.)

The company’s fortunes rose and waned with the number of aging WWII ships mothballed at Suisun Bay and San Diego. Nicolai Joffe Corporation continued scrapping WWII warships through the mid- and late 1970s, but by the 1980s a combination of high taxes and greater regulation meant that it was largely unprofitable to dismantle old warships in California. The company was still active in 1988 as evidenced by a $100,000 contract to sell chains, sprockets, and pulleys to the US Navy but it had little future. Nicolai Joffe Corporation went completely out of business on 30 November 1994.

the former Red Rock Marina today

After Magnum Force was filmed in 1973, Red Rock Marina continued in a slow decline. The late 1970s economic recession, combined with newer marinas around the Bay Area, put a crimp in the remaining yacht slippage income. Similar to what had been done with the WWII warships described above in 1973, Red Rock Marina was still being used as a “parking lot” and “half-scrapping” facility through the decade. In 1977, a Korean War-era minesweeper was partially disassembled there, so this type of activity was still going on then.

Red Rock Marina wound down during the 1980s and was more or less derelict and defunct by the 1990s. Between 1997 – 2003, Caltrans used the site as a staging ground for a seismic retrofit of the bridge. During this period everything was razed except two small buildings: an inground vehicle scale and its shack which dated back to the ferry days, and the marina’s office, which is very briefly shown in Magnum Force.

yard

(The building can be seen in Magnum Force by looking directly downwards from the hook on the crane.)

2020caldwellbankerrealty

(The building in 2020. The entire rest of the former Red Rock Marina has been torn down.) (photo via Caldwell Banker Realty)

During the bridge retrofit project, part of the marina’s smallboat slip was filled back in, forming a tiny artificial peninsula.

2157stenmark

(The site at ground level in 2021. A row of pilings which once supported the pier can be seen, along with the infilled peninsula and the bow of USCGC Hermes poking out of the water.)

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(The city of Richmond owns the street along with a small strip abutting it, and the portions on the shoreline. Chevron, which has its massive refinery and tank farm across the road, owns the interior portion and has an easement across part of the city-owned portion. The whole thing is fenced off and closed to the public.)

today

(An aerial view in 2021. The pier from Magnum Force has now completely collapsed into the water, all that remains is a stump on the shoreline (ironically where the car exploded in the movie’s final minutes) and the pier’s pilings, with a very few pilings of the northwards-facing “V” to which the aircraft carriers were moored to in 1973. The infilled peninsula can be seen here, along with the red roof of the last remaining building and the hulk of USCGC Hermes.)

The lot is for sale; in October 2021 it had an asking price of $10,000,000 which speaks volumes to the overheated real estate market in the Bay Area, considering it is not hooked up to the modern sewer system and is still zoned as a marina.

***********

I do not anticipate writing about irrelevant things like this in the future, but for either Clint Eastwood fans or people interested in WWII warships (or both) I hope that it was enjoyable.

12 thoughts on “six years of wwiiafterwwii / the Dirty Harry aircraft carriers

    • I disagree that this is irrelevant. Information is useful no matter what the context. I’ve not seen this movie, but identifying the USS Rendova and giving insight into the scrapping process is interesting.

      Thanks.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. This is AWESOME! I deeply appreciate the incredible research and numbers of rabbit-holes followed down. Although I grew up in the Bay Area, I mistakenly thought the scenes were filmed at Hunters Point, ignoring the obvious bridge clues in the background…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sir,

    I strongly disagree with your comment on Your fine article’s relevance.

    I just watched “Magnum Force” for probably the 10th time in my life and I was very intrigued with the sight of the Aircraft Carriers!
    I wanted to know their names for I love Military and especially Navy ship histories.
    This due to my dad serving in the USN Submarine service and he actually saw submarine combat duty patrol in the Asiatic Pacific theater during WWII.
    He came out of the navy in 1947 as a 2nd Class Petty Officer, Commissary. He later joined the Active Naval Reserve from 1958 to 1978 reaching the rank of Chief Petty Officer and was qualified for Senior Chief Petty Officer rank but there was no billet in Victorio, Texas for one.
    I noticed they were WWII vintage carriers due to non-angled decks and wooden, instead of metal flight decks. So I figured they had WWII battle history. Also, I did not see their numbers painted on the side of the Island nor remnants on the flight decks.
    I decided to search by typing in Pier 54, San Francisco, CA.
    After a few unproductive hits I came upon your article and enjoyed it immensely. Thank You 🙏 Sir, for being comprehensive in your write-up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The article is not irrelevant at all. Expertly documented, beautifully written. It’s a fine introduction to the website, for people who would not have come accross it otherwise. You made my day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent article with all the types of details I appreciate. Since you know so much about this classic film, I wonder if you by chance know where the police shooting range scene was filmed. I’ve not seen it identified anywhere to date. My guess is the range on the west side of Lake Merced, which appears to be briefly shown in the far background, but I can’t be sure. Thanks for the great article.

    Like

  5. I just want to let you know There was at least one person that came here specifically for the most irrelevant part of your writings on irrelevant things. I didnt come here for Eastwood or the carriers.

    I came for the Hermes and that one paragraph and picture were the most relevant thing I could find anywhere on the internet.

    Liked by 1 person

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