Unraveling the USS Killen story

The post-WWII career of USS Killen (DD-593) is an interesting example of how the USA’s Cold War atomic tests, along with sloppy record-keeping and the unavoidable passage of time, resulted in a public relations mess at the turn of the millennium.

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(USS Killen at sea in the Pacific during WWII)

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(Wreckage of USS Killen on the Caribbean seafloor in the 21st century)

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1980s drug war: WWII gear used

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(The WWII-veteran USCGC Cherokee on a 1980s narcotics patrol.)

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(A demilitarized WWII-veteran C-46 Commando which crashed while in use as a smuggling plane during the 1980s.)

The US Coast Guard was formed (as the Revenue Cutter Service) on 4 August 1790. The Posse Comitatus law of 1878 restricts use of the American military in law enforcement. However the US Coast Guard is specifically exempted from any restrictions, and in fact law enforcement is one of it’s core missions.

During the Cold War the US Coast Guard’s funding came from the Department Of Transportation, not the Pentagon, and money just to buy fuel was at a premium, let alone new construction. The fleet during President Carter’s term was in a bottleneck; as all Prohibition-era cutters were gone, but new modern hulls were not being launched fast enough to replace them. Some aged WWII ships were pressed into service as cutters.

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Twilight of catapult aviation after WWII: pt.1

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(A Kingfisher scout plane catapults off the cruiser USS Detroit (CL-8) during WWII.)

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(Abandoned Kingfishers lay in a US Navy storage lot in 1946, a year after WWII ended)

Because most photos of battleships concentrate on the inter-war and WWII era, it’s generally assumed that catapults and seaplanes were always a fixture on them, but this isn’t accurate.

If one considers the “battleship era” starting with the Spanish-American War in 1898 and ending with the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 , it was only half a century that that this type of warship ruled the seas. Of that, seaplanes aboard battleships had an even shorter run, about 24 years. For context, there were US Navy sailors who enlisted before battleship catapults existed and retired after they were already gone.

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WWII CVEs into AKVs: Korean & Vietnam wars

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(USS Card departs San Francisco, CA with a load of F-102 Delta Dagger fighters on the wooden WWII flight deck. The supersonic F-102 was based at home, at overseas airbases in Japan, West Germany, and the Philippines; and during the Vietnam War in South Vietnam. It was also exported to Greece and Turkey.)

After WWII, some of the US Navy’s escort carriers were converted for aircraft ferry use. While not the most glamorous mission, they filled an important niche in the use of American airpower during the Cold War.

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Cleaning up after WWII

Since starting wwiiafterwwii, I receive from time to time suggestions for topics. These are wide-ranging but two in particular seem very popular: WWII weapons in the Vietnam War, which has been touched on several times; and a general question of how the world “cleaned up” WWII battlefields after the war. For the latter, I was surprised at how very little is written about it so perhaps this will be of interest.

One of the reasons WWII battlefields did not remain littered with vehicles for long was that, with the lone exception of the USA, all of the major warring powers made some official level of combat usage of captured enemy arms during WWII. The most formal was Germany’s Beutewaffe (literally, ‘booty’ or ‘loot’ weapon) effort, which encompassed everything from handguns to fighter aircraft with an official code in the Waffenamt system; for example FK-288(r) (the Soviet ZiS-3 anti-tank gun), SIGew-251(a) (the American M1 Garand rifle), and Sd.Kfz 735(i) (the Italian Fiat M13/40 tank). Captured gear was assembled at points called Sammelstelle and then shipped back from the front lines for disposition.

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Postwar advertising legacy of WWII

The defense industry is a business like any other, and just like any other industry, advertising is a part of it. After WWII’s end in 1945, many wartime weapons systems remained in Cold War use and required upkeep, upgrading, resale, integration with newer systems, and eventually disposal.

Some of these advertisements ran in general-interest magazines and newspapers. Others were limited to niche defense journals and trade gazettes, and were typically unseen by the mass public.

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Above is a 1971 newspaper ad for the disposal of USS Hazard (MSF-240), an Admirable class minesweeper of the WWII US Navy. Typically, smaller mothballed WWII ships like this were bought cheaply in lots by brokers, then parceled out individually to scrapyards for a profit. USS Hazard was bought by a group of Nebraska businessmen and is today a museum ship in Omaha, NE.

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Ethiopians in the Korean War: WWII gear used

Sixteen nations sent forces to fight in the Korean War on the allied side. One of the lesser-known contingents was Ethiopia’s Kagnew battalion. It was equipped almost entirely with surplus American WWII gear.

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(WWII-era Willys jeep of the Kagnew battalion in Korea.)

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(Ethiopian soldiers in the Korean War. All of their kit – M1 steel pot helmet, OD green fatigues, web belt, M1911 sidearm – is WWII American gear.)

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