S.S. Robert J. Walker – the Man and the Ships

Robert_John_Walker_cph.3a01283
Robert J Walker

Somehow or other, Robert J Walker came up the other day. In one of those fortuitous moments of historical coincidence, I quickly checked the name and found some interesting stories.

Robert J Walker was an early economist and the 18th Secretary of the Treasury of the United States during the presidency of James Polk. This was the period 1845-1849.

He was responsible, amongst other things, with organising the financing of the US Mexican War. One example is seen in correspondence with Major General William Orlando Butler,

“February 23, 1848. Sir, Upon the ratification of a treaty of peace by the Republic of Mexico in conformity with the provisions of the act of the congress of the United States of America approved March 3, 1847 stated ‘an act making further appropriation to bring the existing war with Mexico to a speedy and honorable conclusion’ you are authorized to draw on this department for any sum not exceeding three millions of dollars to be paid in pursuance of the promotion of said act.”

Walker supported the Union Cause during the American Civil War and as a result, the county in Texas that was named initially, Walker County, in honour of Robert J Walker was renamed to honour Samuel Walker, a Texas Ranger.

The US Government however did name a Coastal Survey ship to honour him in 1848. The Coastal Survey Ship USCS Robert J Walker.

robert walker
USCS Robert J Walker

The USCS Robert J Walker was built in 1847. She was iron-hulled and was a side-wheel steamer. on June 21, 1860 she collided with a schooner in rough seas of

The Walker, built in 1847 as one of the first US government iron-hulled, side-wheel steamers, sank in rough seas on June 21, 1860, after being hit by a commercial schooner.

The 40-metre vessel sank within 30 minutes, taking 20 sailors down with it of a total crew of 66. The schooner it collided with has been identified as the Fanny.

The captain of the Robert J Walker at the time was one Lieutenant John J. Guthrie and apparently he was the only naval officer on board. He was an experienced officer but was not on the bridge at the time of then collision. The executive officer, Joseph A. Seawell, who had been dismissed from the Navy on the recommendation of the Efficiency Board in 1855 was the officer on watch at the time of the collision.

The Fanny was loaded with coal so was heavy. The collision occurred about 3:00 am off Absecon, New Jersey. The Robert J Walker was underway from Norfolk to New York.

The officers and surviving crew of the Robert J Walker were rescued by Captain L. J. Hudson of the schooner R. G. Porter and taken to May’s Landing on the coast of New Jersey. The steamer sunk in less than half an hour after the collision, which took place about twelve miles from land.

There is a great report on the Story of the Coast Survey Steamer Robert J Walker on the Internet.

This then leads to the connection between Robert J Walker and Australia. I will admit ahead of time that I did not realise that there were German U-Boats (or at least one u-boat) active off the Australian coast during the Second World War.

There was an American Steamship, the SS Robert J Walker, which was apparently running in ballast towards Australia. U-862, a type IXD2 u-boat was on a second cruise around Australia, having based out of Singapore. U-862 has an interesting history.

U-862 undertook two war patrols under Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Timm (Knights Cross). The first of these was a long cruise, starting at Kiel and from there moving on to Bergen and then Narvik. From Narvik U-862 sailed out into the Atlantic, around Iceland and headed south. On 25 July 1944 in the South Atlantic U-862 sank the US registered steam merchant Robin Goodfellow on-route from Capetown to New York via Brazil with a load of chrome ore. The vessel was lost with all hands.

Turning into the Indian Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope U-862 engaged the British merchant vessels Radbury, Empire Lancer, Nairung and Wayfarer. Most were carrying various ores and coal. All were sunk.

After passing up the channel between Madagascar and the African coast, U-862 was engaged by a Catalina aircraft. The submarine shot the Catalina down and proceeded to sail across the Indian Ocean to Penang then to Batavia.

After refuelling, rearming and restocking food and water in Batavia the U-862 still under Timms, now promoted to Korvettenkapitän , commenced a second patrol. This was south into the Indian Ocean from Batavia then eastwards across the Great Australian Bight, south around Tasmania and from there around the North Island of New Zealand, back to the Australian coast then through Bass Strait, across the Great Australian Bight again and back to Batavia. This was over the period 18 November 1944 to 15 February 1045.

On that patrol U-862 met and sank the Robert J Walker off the coast of New South Wales whilst U-862 was on her way to New Zealand. U-862 also met and sank the Peter Silvester in the Indian Ocean west of of Albany on her return leg to Batavia. Both ships were US registered. Interestingly, as U-862 passed around Tasmania on 9 December 1944 she had a gun duel with the Greek steam merchant Ilissos. U-862 fired three shots that missed, but choppy seas and accurate defensive gunfire from the merchant vessel forced the U-boat to dive and leave the area before firing any more.

After returning to Batavia U-862 then moved onto Singapore on 20 February 1945. on 5 May 1945 U-862 was taken over by Japan at Singapore and became the Japanese submarine I 502 on 15 July 1945. She had no further patrols that I have been able to determine.

At the conclusion of World War 2, I 502 surrendered at Singapore in August 1945. On 15 February 1946 she was towed into the Straits of Malacca, off Singapore, by HM Tug Growler and scuttled there alongside I 501((I 501 was U-181 before being handed over to the Japanese)) by the frigate HMS Loch Lomand((Seven u-boats, namely U-181, U-195, U-219, U-511, U-862, U-IT-24 and U-IT-25 were scuttled in Asia)).

Interestingly the wartime press in Australia all reported the attacks as Japanese submarines. Copies of some of those press reports are shown below.

Canb Times 14 March 1945
from the Canberra Times 14 March 1945

The Argus Melb 14 March 1945
From the Melbourne Argus 14 March 1945
Barrier Miner Broken Hill 13 March 1945
from the Barrier Miner Broken Hill 13 March 1945
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Even More on Aussie Submarines

After our spirited discussion on submarines recently in More on Submarines and then the post Submarines – some more, I came across an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today with a title of Defence to get new supercomputer. It seems that Cray Inc., the company making supercomputers has sold the Department of Defence a $2.2 million supercomputer to help with research for the Future Submarine program.

 

A Defence Department sopkeperson noted that,

The system will be used to undertake computational fluid dynamic studies to increase knowledge and assist the evaluation of technical risks associated with the hydrodynamic performance of future Australian navy platforms.

The capacity of the system will enable large computational fluid dynamics simulations to be performed in the order of days rather than months.’

So, seems the Australian Department of Defence is trying to make the next batch of submarines flow through the water, better – even if they can’t get enough crew to man them.

Personally, I would have thought a $2.2 million supercomputer wasn’t that flash!

The other two interesting bits of news with regards to this is that they apparently are looking at container-housing the computer so that it is portable. Not sure why they want to do that rather than just ensure they have the necessary channel bandwidth to access back to the supercomputer.

The other interesting part of the report was where “client and vendor are expected to run performance tests to see whether the system would qualify for nomination for the biannual top 500 supercomputer list”.

Right! Not very highly I would have thought.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/government-it/defence-to-get-new-supercomputer-20130610-2nzxr.html#ixzz2VtkgBTUH

Online car insurance – how hard can it be?

Mother’s car insurance has came up for renewal. It happens every year and every year Mum asks, “is this the best deal son?”

Every year I then devote the best part of a couple of hours or so out on the InterWebs searching to see what the best car insurance deal is for mum. It’s not like we are insuring a Ferrari or anything, it’s just a harmless old Nissan Pulsar but Mum has grown quite attached to it. Takes her shopping, lets her do her Meals-on-Wheels delivery and generally gets her around.

So, every year I spend a few hours and find her the best deal I can.

Those that know me too know that I hate “dicking” around. Systems should make it easy for me to do things, not harder. They should speed the process up, not make it longer. Right then, let’s have a look at a couple of fun moments from my recent searching.

qbe_captureFirst off though, I should mention that Youi Car and Home Insurance has been her insurer for the past two years. Before that it was AAMI. We had a quote from them already as part of the renewal notice. The first of the failures was QBE Insurance. I spend about 10 minutes stepping through all the questions, identifying the vehicle, recording details of all the potential drivers, recording my mother’s details, what the agreed amount was that we were looking for insurance for and whether we wanted excess protections etc.

When I got to the end of all this and clicked the “get quote” button, the image on the left was returned. Yep, after asking me how much insurance I wanted the system went ahead with the other 50 questions and only when I had completed every question including how much insurance was required, QBE then told me that the amount of insurance requested was below the minimum amount they will deal with. In Twitter terms …. #fail!

Of course, the other thing about this is that there is no link backwards to change any of the information given, like did I want to increase the amount of insurance.

budget_capturehttp://www.budgetdirect.com.au/ was the insurance quote system to annoy me. Again, after answering the 50-odd questions, plugging away to the end the one thing that I had not answered was any amount for the insurance (“agreed value” in Australian terms).  I progressed through and the screen to the right was eventually returned.

The lump sum payment amount was nice – it was about $20 cheaper than Youi. However the issue was that now where did Budget tell me what the insured value was. They mentioned “market value” only which could be any value really. It was not specified. So budget wanted $512.33 of my mother’s hard earned money for an unspecified amount of insurance. #Fail!

The other nasty thing about Budget – look at the instalment option. Pay back over 12 months on a month-by-month basis and pay $599 instead of $512 – and $87 premium for paying by the month on an agreed insurance value that presumably is going to get smaller as the year progresses. Another #fail.

There were some other annoying things as well – GIO Car Insurance for example. After answering the questions they came up with a quote that was around about the same level as Youi. The only problem was it was for about $2,600 over insurance coverage whereas Youi was $4,750.

The other thing I noticed is that same quotation system is used between many insurers. That is not surprising as many of the insurers are owned by the same company, Suncorp.

The good thing from all this? I won’t have to do this for another 12 months 🙂

More on Submarines

A comment was left on the post Singapore Submarines by mhalblaub who appears to be from Germany. I had noted that the the Singapore Navy hqad acquired from Kockums two Archer Class (Ex-Västergötland Class) submarines under the Northern Lights programme. I had also made a comparison to the length of the Västergötland Class and Archer Class to that of the Australian Collins class vessels – noting that the longer Collins class would provide a better platform for crew in long voyages.

mhalblaub noted that:

The enlarged Västergötland-class is also known as Collins-class. Most problems Collins-class has are related to the divorce from the original submarine builder Kockums in 2000 because the Australian government thought they can do it on their own with some help from the US. Until today Australian Submarine Company (ASC) is proof of they can’t even properly maintain submarines.

HMAS Rankin - Collins class submarine at sea in 2007
HMAS Rankin – Collins class submarine at sea in 2007

Australian submarine crews is one area I have some experience with as my brother-in-law for many years whilst he was in the RAN was responsible for drafting crew – trouble was, crew didn’t want to serve on Submarines and it is a voluntary posting. That has been a problem plaguing the Australian submarine fleet for many years now, the difficulty of getting crews together and this is one reason that so few of the Collins-class are at sea at any time.

Whilst there is no doubt that the Colllins class building program was best with many problems – welds not to specification from Kockums, large problems with the weapons systems and the ASC being on a learning curve with submarine construction and maintenance, one of the chief issues was and is still crewing.

During the First World War, the Australian Navy operated two submarines, AE1 and AE2 and their feats are well recorded in Australian naval history.

During the Second World War there were, as far as I am aware, no submarines operated by the Royal Australian Navy. Based in Australia during that war however were may US submarines.

Wikipedia notes about crewing for the Collins class vessels:

During the late 1990s, a combination of low recruitment and retention rates across the RAN resulted in the number of trained submariners falling below 40% of that required. As an attempt to retain submariners, the RAN offered a one-off A$35,000 bonus in 1999. Other measures introduced around the same time included priority transfer of volunteers for submarine training and rotating submariners between sea and shore assignments to relieve them from continual sea service and prevent burnout. A year later, these measures had increased submariner numbers to 55% of requirements.

However, the problem with submarine crewing continued; by 2008 the RAN could only provide complete companies for three of the six submarines.

So, it may not be a case of the inability to maintain the vessels that is the issue, but rather the reluctance of Australians to serve in small metal chambers generally floating around under the sea.

Nuship Canberra

A tour of what will become HMAS Canberra when it is completed and commissioned.

This video gives a good look around the Nuship Canberra at its current state of completion. Nuship Canberra is the first of the Landing Helicopter Dock ships (LHD) and is currently under construction at the BAE Systems Williamstown Shipyard at Port Phillip Bay. The ship is due to commence sea trials in late 2013.

Ski jump flight deck for helicopters? Hmm, apparently she’ll have the ability to operate 18 aircraft but which aircraft?

Oz Citizenship Test

I had cause to spend some time on the Australian Government’s Citizenship website tonight so after checking the information I was asked to check, I thought I would give the citizenship quiz a go. Fortunately I got all questions correct (a great relief I will add). There was one question that threw me a wee bit – it was concerning state governments and whether they have their own constitutions. Logic suggested to me that they do but hey, when has logic ever applied to the Aussie way of doing things?

They do!

That is, they each have their own constitutions. Of course, now I am wondering whether there is any real relevance in them any more?

Old Reynalla Festival of History 2013

imageOld Reynalla in the City of Onkaparinga, South Australia, is the site of a Festival of History over the 9th and 10th of March, 2013.

The festival will include vintage cars on display, model railroading, re-enactment groups, static displays of different artillery amongst other things but perhaps the greatest attraction to the wargamer is the refight of the Battle of Leipzig (it is the 200th anniversary next year after all)

Further information can be obtained by contacting the Old Reynalla Festival Director, Mal Wright, on +61 8 8381 5785 or mgwright@bigpond.net.au.

It is a good opportunity for overseas visitors to take a bit of a holiday in a really nice part of Australia whilst getting in some wargaming as well. There are plenty of other activities in the area to keep partners happy as well.

Australian Book Publishing Rip-Offs – continued

So, I got a nice message from Dymocks the other day offering me Kerry Greenwood’s Cocaine Blues in paperback for AU $22.99. Nice price for a paperback in Australia (although I would need to add on some extra for postage). Maybe when I am back in Sydney later this month I could pick up a copy. I do like a nice piece of crime fiction and the fact that this was set in the period of Wooster and Jeeves, although in Australia, I thought it might be worth a look. The description also sounded good:

The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honourable Phryne Fisher – she of the green-grey eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions – is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.

Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism – not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse – until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street.

Well, I’m sure we all like a hot, steamy Turkish bath in Little Lonsdale Street. Then I noticed the silliness. Recently I’ve taken to e-Books over the paper version, especially for the pulp and historical fiction I enjoy reading. Save a tree, etc etc. There was a link on the page to Google eBooks for a version of this for AU $19.99. OK, not so much of a saving then. What was annoying though was the following:

We could not add this item to your cart. Your computer appears to be located outside of the Australia. Sorry, our Google eBooks catalogue is not available for purchase outside of Australia.

So, it’s not that I am not in Australia but that my computer appears elsewhere in the world. What a crock of s***. If I wait a week, then my computer will be in Australia again and I can purchase it. Or I could start my VPN, select “Australia” as the end point and then purchase it. How idiotic of the publishers and Google (I’ll probably find the Google rank of Thomo’s Hole falling as a result of this).

Just in case you wondered where all this was leading – well, Australian publishers enjoy extra, non-market force protection in Australia which means that Australian bookshops are forced to buy from those publishers first. Australian bookshops are doing it hard as a result because they are no longer competitive against international bookstores. Proof?

The same book from Book Depository published in 2007 costs AU $13.91 delivered to me in either Singapore or Sydney. Big difference isn’t it.

Of course, the annoying thing is that I can’t buy an electronic version of it yet as it is not available on the Kindle, where I am sure it’s pricing would be around $10.

Protectionism sucks – if the book is good it will get published, it doesn’t need price protection. If it’s crap, why should it get price protection anyway, it will just end up in the remainder stores. Let the reader decide, not the fat Australian publishers.

Occupy Melbourne

As readers of Thomo’s Hole would know, I rarely comment on political issues (or indeed bag my employer, my potential customer base and those who may well be my boss at some time in the future, shallow bugger that I am). However, the following from the Melbourne Age kind of amused me in a twisted way:

Assistant Commissioner Fontana said 150 police arrived at the square this morning but the number grew to 400 later in the day.

About 100 Occupy Melbourne demonstrators, who had camped out in the City Square for a week as part of global protests against corporate greed, defied an order to leave by 9am.

Assistant Commissioner Fontana denied police used excessive force in breaking up the protest.

"We don’t really want to engage in this sort of activity but we’re not going to back down either," Mr Fontana said.

"We’re trying to use the minimum amount of force as possible.”

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/protesters-arrested-as-chaos-descends-on-cbd-20111021-1mb07.html#ixzz1bOYY3876

OK, so that’s 400 police (plus horses and I am sure some dogs as well) to remove 100 protesters. That is Victoria’s definition of “minimum amount of force”. It will not be surprising if this grows more in Victoria as a result. Peter Fintan Lalor would be rolling in his grave I am sure.

Stupid Validations – Virgin Broadband – Oz

I went to register and activate my Virgin Broadband service today. Many of you will know that my nickname is Thomo the Lost – that is, “thomo” with a single “m”.

image

I was asked to register a user name that was to be included in yet one more email address for me (why can’t I just use my own bloody email address that I have had for 10 years now and that Virgin already has from my mobile service?).

I went to register variations of “thomo the lost” only to be told each time that the “email address is not available”.

I checked “thommo” and was told that was used, so I tried “thomo54” (no prizes for guessing what the “54” was).

I received the “email address not available”. When I changed it to “thommo54” it all went through.

So now Virgin, you have insulted me. You have prevented me using a nickname I have used for 10 years because it appears as though the problem is the name has the string “homo” in the middle of it. Virgin Broadband is using the same validation tools as Facebook is (where I was similarly prevented from using “thomo”).

Hello people, this is 2011. We have ways and means of determining if “naughty words” are being used in someone’s userid without having to be so bloody simplistic.

How did it end I hear you ask? I used “thommo54” and was told that the backend apparently had a problem that the technicians were looking at (seriously – and after banning “thomo54” as a userid). I was told to please try again later. I did, and guess what – Virgin then told me “Sorry, your service has already been activated. Please contact support if you feel this is an error.?

So, my user experience with Virgin Broadband after one whole hour of involvement – poor. Starting to wonder whether I should just move my mobile service now!