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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Embarked Security Teams for Maritime Security in Gulf

Reported here:
Embarked Security Teams (EST) based at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain continue to make up one of the most critical elements of maritime security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation.

Created in June 2004 under the umbrella of Operation Vigilant Mariner (OVM), the 11 12-man teams provide protection for Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships and their civilian crews as they ferry food, equipment and other supplies to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A typical EST escort consists of meeting an MSC ship in the Mediterranean Sea, embarking for the remainder of the ship's transit, and disembarking in the Persian Gulf or remaining with the ship as it returns to the Mediterranean Sea.

Lt. Edward Young, force protection operations officer for Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), and OVM program manager, said ESTs provide protection not only to MSC ships, but also to maritime prepositioning ships, fast combat support ships and bulk fuel carriers.
It reminds me that in proposing responses to the pirates of Somlia, several people have been suggesting the use of "Q-ships" as a tool for combating the pirates of the Somali coast ((some of these comments have come from submariners, which I find surprising, given the somewhat unsuccessful career of Q-ships against submarines. See this Wikipedia Q-ship history for details). A Q-ship, if you are unfamiliar with them, is bascially a merchant or trawler hull that appears to be a harmless commercial vessel, but which, in fact, is a well-armed war ship. By use of deception, a "bad guy" is lured into attacking an apparently defenseless ships and, in return, gets a a stream of gunfire.

Some of you may recall in the movie Master and Commander that Captain Aubrey manages to disguise HMS Surprise as a whaler and -uh- surprise his French opponent (who had a superior ship in the Acheron) with an onslaught of fire power and carry the day. Such ruses were not uncommon in the age of sail and the use of "false flags" was a part of the tactics of the times.

It was also not uncommon in such times that merchant ships were themselves armed, and if not capable of defeating a stout pirate vessel, were capable of providing some self-defense capability. This tradition of armed merchant ships continued into World War ll with the Naval Armed Guard:
When officers and enlisted men completed their basic training they were assigned to one of three Armed Guard Centers. These were located at Brooklyn (Atlantic), New Orleans (Gulf), and Treasure Island (Pacific). From the Centers the men were assigned to ships. The final complement for a ship armed with a 5"/38 dual purpose stern gun, a 3"/50 AA gun, and eight 20mm machine guns was set at one officer and 24 gunners, plus normally about three communications men for a total of 28 Armed Guards. This armament was accepted as standard for ships which were going to combat zones in World War II. It goes without saying that many ships went out in the early days with less than the armament desired and with smaller Armed Guard crews. Shortages in officers and men were met by rapid increases in the training program and at times by sending petty officers out in charge of the smaller gun crews on ships operating in the less dangerous areas. Not until early 1945 was the shortage in guns entirely overcome. But the Navy made every effort to give every ship the best possible protection...
...Figures complied by the Maritime Commission and by the Arming Merchant Ship Section in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations give a comprehensive picture of the importance of the Armed Guard in World War II. When the war began the United States had only about 1,340 cargo ships and tankers. When the war ended the fleet of merchant ships controlled by the War Shipping Administration numbered 4,221 with a deadweight tonnage of 44,940,000 tons. Up to VJ day 733 merchant ships of over 1000 gross tons were lost, according to figures of the Maritime Commission. The Navy armed 6,236 to the end of World War II. Of this number 4,870 were United States flag ships; 244 were United States owned but under foreign flag; the rest were foreign owned and foreign flag ships. Armed Guards were placed aboard nearly all of the 5,114 United States owned and United States flag ships. They were placed aboard a few allied ships which were foreign flag and foreign owned but only in exceptional circumstances. Of the United States flag or United States owned ships which were armed (and most of which were supplied with an Armed Guard crew) 569 were lost. The total losses of all merchant ships armed with Navy guns ran to 710. These figures are substantially complete as of August 12, 1946. It will be seen that of the ships which were supplied with Armed Guards a little better than ten percent were lost from all causes...
...Armed Guards won glory for themselves on every ocean. Up to the time this was written (August, 1946) 8,033 had received decorations or commendations. This figure includes 5 Navy Crosses, 2 Legions of Merit, 75 Silver Stars, 24 Navy and Marine Corps Medals, 54 Bronze Stars, 563 commendations by the Secretary of the Navy, 2,778 commendations by the Bureau of Naval Personnel, and 4,533 entries in service records. About 36,240 operation and engagement stars have been authorized for Armed Guards to date and this figure may run even higher eventually. In addition, 9,882 men have been authorized to wear the Philippine Liberation Ribbon and 4,031 have been authorized to wear stars on this ribbon...
...The war took a terrible toll of merchant seamen and Armed Guards. But the situation was never as bad as the "Sighted Sub, Glub, Glub" slogan would indicate. The Maritime Commission indicates that 5,638 merchant seamen and officers are dead and missing from World War II and that 581 were made prisoners. Armed Guard dead and missing out of 144,970 in the service numbered 1,810, of which 1,683 were definitely killed and 127 were missing. Prisoners of war numbered 27, of which 14 were recovered.
I suppose that, considering the threats they are facing, the Embarked Security Teams are the Naval Armed Guards of our time. They carry on proud tradition.

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