Dec 18

Swift Boats Were Workhorses of Brown Water Navy in Vietnam

Thursday, December 18, 2014 12:34 PM
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Swift Boat PCF-1 is on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy located at the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast D.C. PCF-1 was a training boat at the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, Calif., until April 1975 when it left for Panama to patrol the Panama Canal where it was utilized in Operation Just Cause—the removal of Manuel Noriega and his regime in 1990. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood (released)

By Laura Hockensmith, National Museum of the United States Navy

Not since the end of the Civil War did the U.S. Navy have a need for a riverine force, or Brown Water Navy. But that all changed as the United States got deeper and deeper into conflict between North and South Vietnam. Due to the nature of the fighting and supply lines in Vietnam, the Navy needed fast, strong, reliable boats that could patrol the waterways and stop the Viet Cong infiltrated into South Vietnam from receiving guns and ammunition from the Communists in North Vietnam.

At first, they borrowed ships from the Coast Guard, cutters and river patrol boats up-armored for combat with a .50-caliber machine gun and 81-mm mortars installed on the forecastle and four .50-caliber deck guns on the fantail.

The U.S. Navy found what they were looking for in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil rig workers off the coast of Louisiana and Texas were shuttled to and from the rigs in strong aluminum boats built by Seward Seacraft Company of Louisiana. The taxi boats were sturdy, quiet and with a draft of 3 ½ feet, powered by two diesel engines with twin screws and speeds up to 28 knots. With the addition of weapons and living amenities, they were the perfect craft for patrolling the waterways of Vietnam.

On Dec. 18, 1965 the U.S. Navy formalized a Brown Water Navy, commissioning the water taxis as Patrol Craft, Fast, or swift boats. From the Cau Mau peninsula in South Vietnam to the western inland waters at the border of Cambodia, the Sailors patrolled the brown water.

The PCFs were not given names, only numbers, unlike the Navy’s larger blue water vessels. The Sailors who navigated the PCFs through murky waterways and manned the .50-caliber machine guns were soon recognized for their courage and actions on the battlefield.

Swift boats patrolled the waterways, interrupted enemy supply lines, and participated in complex insertion and extraction operations, while enduring monsoons, riverbank ambushes, mines laid by the Viet Cong, and difficult nighttime operations. Swift boat Sailors brought the naval fight inland and had a decisive role in the fight against the Viet Cong.

Following the Vietnam War, PCFs continued to have a role in the Navy in various ways, such as coastal patrols and anti-piracy campaigns throughout the world. One swift boat, PCF-1, is on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy located at the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast D.C.

PCF-1 was a training boat at the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, Calif., until April 1975 when it left for Panama to patrol the Panama Canal. Because of its Sailors’ intimate knowledge of the Panamanian waterways, PCF-1 was utilized in Operation Just Cause—the removal of Manuel Noriega and his regime in 1990. It found its permanent home at the Navy Yard in 1998. Its bow faces the Anacostia River, and in the words of then-Sen. John Kerry, “May she always be a shining example of Navy ingenuity and creativity, Navy commitment and courage…and may she stand here in constant vigil guarding the memory of those who served on Swifts but did not return.” Kerry, the current Secretary of State, was a former officer-in-charge of Swift boats during his service in Vietnam.

Forty-nine years ago the Brown Water Navy was born. With that came a class of Sailors with undeniable courage and commitment to their duty and their fellow Sailors, navigating waters deep into hostile territory to interrupt the shipping pipeline bringing supplies to the enemy.

 

 
Dec 16

Washington Navy Yard Warehoused Artifacts Arrive at Richmond Collection Management Facility

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 12:01 PM
An information graphic illustrating the move of Navy artifacts to the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Collection Management Facility (CMF). The CMF is a 300,000 square foot warehouse with facilities for administration, conservation and curation of historic artifacts. NHHC is consolidating its collection of historic artifacts, some dating back to the founding of the republic, into the facility located in Richmond Va. (U.S. Navy photo illustration by Annalisa Underwood/RELEASED)

An information graphic illustrating the move of Navy artifacts to the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Collection Management Facility (CMF). The CMF is a 300,000 square foot warehouse with facilities for administration, conservation and curation of historic artifacts. NHHC is consolidating its collection of historic artifacts, some dating back to the founding of the republic, into the facility located in Richmond Va. (U.S. Navy photo illustration by Annalisa Underwood/RELEASED)

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The curators of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) completed the transfer of artifacts previously warehoused at its facility on the Washington Navy Yard NHHC officials announced Dec. 16. The artifacts are now at their new home in Richmond, Va.

It’s part of an ongoing project transferring more than 300,000 artifacts, part of its headquarters collection, some dating back to the founding of the Republic, from warehouses at three different locations to their new collection management facility (CMF) in Richmond, Va.

WASHINGTON (Dec. 5, 2014) -- Lea Davis, Naval History and Heritage Command curator, keeps track of the information on a pallet of cannon balls for the bill of lading, as a contractor from McCollister's Transportation Group secures them for transport. The company is moving artifacts from the command's warehouse and Cold War Gallery to a new facility in Richmond. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Tim Comerford/RELEASED)

WASHINGTON (Dec. 5, 2014) — Lea Davis, Naval History and Heritage Command curator, keeps track of the information on a pallet of cannon balls for the bill of lading, as a contractor from McCollister’s Transportation Group secures them for transport. The company is moving artifacts from the command’s warehouse and Cold War Gallery to a new facility in Richmond. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Tim Comerford/RELEASED)

The consolidation, projected to last a total of 18 months and now in its third month, allows the Navy to centrally locate the overwhelming majority of its artifacts. The consolidation will translate to improved care, management, accountability and oversight of the collection. The refurbished building in Richmond provides improved environmental controls for high risk artifacts, proper shelving and storage, and an area for conserving and preserving the artifacts.

NHHC officials say the artifact relocation is a massive undertaking that demands the entire team of curators focus its time and energy on the move.

RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 2, 2014) -- Karen France Naval History and Heritage Command’s head curator, give NHHC Acting Director Jim Kuhn a tour of the new Collection Management Facility (CMF). The CMF is a 300,000 square foot, warehouse with facilities for administration, conservation and curation of historic artifacts. NHHC is consolidating its collection of more than 300,000 artifacts, some dating back to the founding of the republic, into the facility located in Richmond Va. (U.S. Navy photo by Jim Caiella/RELEASED)

RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 2, 2014) — Karen France Naval History and Heritage Command’s head curator, give NHHC Acting Director Jim Kuhn a tour of the new Collection Management Facility (CMF). The CMF is a 300,000 square foot, warehouse with facilities for administration, conservation and curation of historic artifacts. NHHC is consolidating its collection of more than 300,000 artifacts, some dating back to the founding of the republic, into the facility located in Richmond Va. (U.S. Navy photo by Jim Caiella/RELEASED)

“We have literally tons of material, some of which is priceless, and nearly all of it irreplaceable. But the work is well worth it if it means in the long run our Sailors and our citizens can better appreciate what the Navy has meant to our country since its inception,” said head curator, Karen France.

NHHC’s Curator Branch will continue to service existing artifact loans, currently numbering in excess of 1,500, but their ability to accept new donations and respond to inquiries will be slowed. The curators have suspended processing requests for new artifact loans as they tackle the project, which requires significant travel in support of preparing and managing the shipment of the vast holdings.

WASHINGTON (Dec. 5, 2014) -- Hundreds of bells from former U.S. Navy ships lay under wraps on pallets, preparing to be transferred from Naval History and Heritage Command's warehouse on the Washington Navy Yard to a more than 300,000 square-foot facility in Richmond where the command moving a large portion of their quarter of a million artifacts. The facility will provide a place for the artifacts to be more accurately cataloged, stored and, in some cases, made ready for display. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Tim Comerford/RELEASED)

WASHINGTON (Dec. 5, 2014) — Hundreds of bells from former U.S. Navy ships lay under wraps on pallets, preparing to be transferred from Naval History and Heritage Command’s warehouse on the Washington Navy Yard to a more than 300,000 square-foot facility in Richmond where the command moving a large portion of their quarter of a million artifacts. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Tim Comerford/RELEASED)

For information about the move, please see a Navy.mil story entitled “Navy Artifacts Getting New Home” at http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=81633 and follow NHHC on social media.

To view photos of some of the historic naval artifacts in the NHHC collection, check out the command’s Flickr page at https://www.flickr.com/photos/navalhistory/sets/.

As massive as the move may be, it doesn’t affect the National Museum of the U.S. Navy, which remains at its current location at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. The museum recently opened its Cold War exhibit and another featuring the War of 1812: From Defeat to Victory.

The museum did, however, recently cut its weekend hours, but is open to the public 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for most holidays. The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Tours can be arranged for schools or other groups by calling 202-433-6826.

To enter the Washington Navy Yard and visit the National Museum of the United States Navy, visitors must have a Department of Defense Common Access Card, an Active Military, Retired Military or Military Dependent ID, or an escort with one of these credentials. All visitors 18 and older must have a photo ID. Contact the museum for help accessing the facility at (202) 433-4882.

The Display Ship Barry, which is a separate entity from the museum, is closed for the season and its 2015 schedule has not yet been released. Information about the ship may be found on the museum’s website at http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/org8-1.htm. To contact the ship, call (202) 433-3377 or (202) 433-6115.

The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy’s unique and enduring contributions through our nation’s history, and supports the Fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services.

NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.

For more information on Naval History and Heritage Command, visit www.history.navy.mil or its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/navalhistory. For a video about this event, please click here: http://youtu.be/gv7cy9Uetlo

 
Dec 16

Operation Desert Fox: 4 Nights, 100 Targets

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 9:00 AM
With its afterburners blazing, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet launches from the flight deck of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) for a night-time strike against Iraq on Dec. 17, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. The Hornet belongs to Strike Fighter Squadron 105, Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Fla. Enterprise and its embarked Carrier Air Wing 3 are operating in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Fox. DoD photo by Airman William R. Crosby, U.S. Navy. (Released)

With its afterburners blazing, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron 105 launches from the flight deck of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) for a night-time strike against Iraq on Dec. 17, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. Photo by Airman William R. Crosby, U.S. Navy. (Released)

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

The dust had hardly settled in the Middle East following the end of Desert Storm in 1991 before factions within Iraq fractured, creating uprisings against the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein.

Seven years of the Iraqi president using his Republican Guard to quell uprisings by Shiite Muslims in the south and Kurdish rebels in the north, threatening his border neighbor Kuwait, and his consistent rejection of weapons inspections in his country, culminated in a massive air strike 16 years ago, Dec. 16, 1998, called Operation Desert Fox.

In the Persian Gulf, the Navy was already providing a number of rotating carrier strike groups to enforce no-fly zones north of the 36th parallel where a coalition of allied countries – United States, Great Britain and France – created a safe haven for Kurds, and another along the 32nd parallel to protect the Shiites.

Aviation ordnancemen ready bombs for loading onto various aircraft on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) for a third wave of air strikes against Iraq on Dec. 18, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. Enterprise and its embarked Carrier Air Wing 3 are operating in the Persian Gulf in support of Desert Fox. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael W. Pendergrass, U.S. Navy.

Aviation ordnancemen ready bombs for loading onto various aircraft on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) for a third wave of air strikes against Iraq on Dec. 18, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael W. Pendergrass, U.S. Navy.

Tensions flared again in 1997 after Hussein expelled members of the United Nations inspection team, claiming they were spies. As Allied countries built up military forces, Hussein backed down, but stated sites designated as “palaces and official residences” would be off limits, places U.N. officials suspected were being used to conceal possible weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was threatened with renewed economic sanctions.

Although an agreement is hammered out between Iraq and the U.N. to continue inspections with the accompanying lift of economic sanctions, Hussein abruptly ended the inspections in August 1998, claiming there had been no lifting of the economic sanctions.

After several weeks of “will he or won’t he,” a renewed military build-up began again in the Persian Gulf. After several weeks of threats, on Dec. 15, a U.N. report accused Iraq of a repeated pattern of obstructing weapons inspections by not allowing access to records or inspection sites and by moving equipment and records from one site to another.

With no response from Hussein, on Dec. 16, 1998, the coalition of U.S. and Great Britain began a massive air campaign against key military targets.

Lasting four nights, the coalition bombs hit 100 Iraqi military targets.

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (left) listens as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton (right), U.S. Army, answers a reporter's question at a Dec. 16, 1998, Pentagon press briefing on the attack of selected targets in Iraq as part of Operation Desert Fox. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel. (Released)

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (left) listens as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton (right), U.S. Army, answers a reporter’s question at a Dec. 16, 1998, Pentagon press briefing on the attack of selected targets in Iraq as part of Operation Desert Fox. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel. (Released)

Defense Secretary William Cohen said in a press conference at the Pentagon on Dec. 19: “We’ve degraded Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical and biological weapons. We’ve diminished his ability to wage war against his neighbors.”

According to a Desert Fox fact sheet, besides “degrade and diminish,” a third goal was to show Hussein there would be consequences for violating international agreements.

The initial strikes consisted of approximately 250 Tomahawk cruise missiles, as well as 40 sorties launched from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and her Carrier Air Wing 3.

USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Battle Group and its Carrier Air Wing sent out 11 aircraft on 14 airstrike missions, using 20 precision-guided and 60 laser-guided munitions, hitting nearly 50 targets at a half-dozen Iraqi military sites in the southern part of the country.

USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) acted as the staging platform for Combat Search and Rescue Operations in case an American or Coalition plane was shot down during the four-day operation intended to neutralize Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. She also provided support for the 31st MEF ashore in Kuwait.

Other ships providing support included mine countermeasure ships Ardent (MCM 12) and Dextrous (MCM 13).

Air traffic controllers in the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center on board the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) assist in guiding the strike aircraft in and out of Iraq on Dec. 17, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. Enterprise and its embarked Carrier Air Wing 3 are operating in the Persian Gulf in support of Desert Fox. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael W. Pendergrass, U.S. Navy. (Released)

Air traffic controllers in the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center on board the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) assist in guiding the strike aircraft in and out of Iraq on Dec. 17, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael W. Pendergrass, U.S. Navy. (Released)

For the second night, Air Force B-52s stationed on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean launched cruise missiles, while the B-1 bomber made its combat debut by striking at Republican Guard targets. Air Force and British aircraft based at Kuwait also participated.

By Dec. 19, U.S. and British aircraft had struck 97 targets, and Secretary of Defense William Cohen claimed the operation was a success. Supported by Secretary Cohen, as well as United States Central Command commander General Anthony C. Zinni and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry H. Shelton, President Bill Clinton declared “victory” in Operation Desert Fox.

In total, the 70-hour campaign saw U.S. forces strike 85 percent of their targets, 75 percent of which were considered “highly effective” strikes. More than 600 sorties were flown by more than 300 combat and support aircraft, and 600 air dropped munitions were employed, including 90 air launched cruise missiles and 325 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAM).

Rear Adm. Robert C. Williamson spoke on the Navy’s response in Desert Fox during an appearance before the Subcommittee on Seapower of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 24, 1999. At that time, he was the director of the Navy’s Office of Program Appraisal. He retired a month after his appearance before the subcommittee.

“The purpose of our Naval forces is to directly and decisively, influence events ashore from the sea, anytime, anywhere. Since 80 percent of the world’s population and 80 percent of capitals are within 500 miles of an ocean, our Navy-Marine Corps team is uniquely situated to project power from the sea,” he stated. “We recently demonstrated the value of ready, forward-deployed naval forces during Operation Desert Fox and continue that effort today in the sky over Iraq, on the ground in Kuwait, and in and under the Arabian Gulf…In the dawn of the 21st century, the Navy-Marine Corps team, forward-deployed and ever-ready, is preparing to meet the challenges of an uncertain future. With your support, we always have been, and always will be, there for America.”

Operation Desert Fox inflicted serious damage to Iraq’s missile development program, although its effects on any WMD program were not clear. Nevertheless, Operation Desert Fox was the largest strike against Iraq since the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War, until the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom just five years later.

Information on the Desert Fox chronology timeline came from the Defense Department.

Desert Storm Fact Sheet information was prepared by historian Air Force Capt. Gregory Ball, Ph.D., Air Force Historical Studies Office, Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, Washington, D.C.

 

 
Dec 15

Fleet’s First Radar Celebrates a Birthday

Monday, December 15, 2014 8:00 AM
View of USS New York (BB-34)'s forward superstructure, with the antenna of the XAF radar atop her pilot house, circa late 1938 or early 1939. A cropped version of this image, emphasizing the radar antenna, is Photo # NH 77350-A Note the battleship's foremast, with its gunfire control facilities; her armored conning tower; and the rangefinder atop her Number Two gun turret. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

View of USS New York (BB-34)’s forward superstructure, with the antenna of the XAF radar atop her pilot house, circa late 1938 or early 1939. A cropped version of this image, emphasizing the radar antenna, is Photo # NH 77350-A Note the battleship’s foremast, with its gunfire control facilities; her armored conning tower; and the rangefinder atop her Number Two gun turret. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

By Claire Peachey, Technical Information Services, Naval Research Laboratory

The Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) XAF radar, fondly known as the “flying bedspring,” was the prototype that showed the Navy what this new radio detecting and ranging system – not yet called radar – was capable of doing.

On Dec. 15, 1938, the XAF radar was installed aboard USS New York (BB 34) in preparation for Fleet exercises in the Caribbean in early 1939. During the at-sea exercises, the 200 MHz XAF system successfully spotted aircraft at distances up to 48 miles, and ships at 10 miles. It could even follow 14-inch shells in flight and detect and pinpoint destroyers making nighttime simulated torpedo attacks.

Robert M. Page, Naval Research Laboratory physicist, was one of the developers of the XAF radar system. NRL photo

Robert M. Page, Naval Research Laboratory physicist, was one of the developers of the XAF radar system. NRL photo

NRL physicist Robert M. Page, one of the developers of the XAF system and inventor of many other radar technologies, was aboard New York and later described the reaction after the mock attacks: “These performances were at night, with no possibility of seeing the destroyers. Their lights were out. That really impressed the officers. From then on they were sold on the stuff and they would give us anything we wanted.”

Adm. A.W. Johnson, Commander, Atlantic Squadron, reported after witnessing the demonstrations: “The equipment is one of the most important military developments since the advent of radio itself. Its value as a defensive instrument of war and as an instrument for avoidance of collisions at sea justifies the Navy’s unlimited development of the equipment.”

XAF’s capabilities resulted in the recommendation for immediate procurement of “10 to 20 of the devices in their present form” for installation on Fleet vessels.

XAF Radar (Transmitter and Receiver) which was installed on USS New York (BB-34) by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in late 1938. While mounted on that ship, this experimental 200 megacycle radar was tested at sea during the first months of 1939. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

XAF Radar (Transmitter and Receiver) which was installed on USS New York (BB-34) by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in late 1938. While mounted on that ship, this experimental 200 megacycle radar was tested at sea during the first months of 1939. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The NRL system went rapidly to production by RCA as the CXAM and CXAM-1 models, and by the time the United States entered World War II, these radar units were installed on 20 Navy vessels, mainly heavy cruisers, carriers, and battleships.

Radar surged in importance, and NRL, which had a wide-ranging program of radio research, developed prototypes of air and submarine radars that were also used during the war. Radar of this type contributed to the victories of at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal.

NRL continues to be a leading center for research and development of radar systems. Today, NRL’s Radar Division conducts research on basic physical phenomena of importance to radar and related sensors, investigates new engineering techniques applicable to radar, demonstrates the feasibility of new radar concepts and systems, performs related systems analyses and evaluation of radar, and provides special consultative services. The emphasis is on new and advanced concepts and technology in radar and related sensors that are applicable to enhancing the Navy’s ability to fulfill its mission.

The National Museum of the U.S. Navy, located at the Washington Navy Yard has the original XAF radar on display in the Atlantic section of its World War II exhibit. U.S. Navy Photo by Shejal Pulivarti.

The National Museum of the U.S. Navy, located at the Washington Navy Yard has the original XAF radar on display in the Atlantic section of its World War II exhibit. U.S. Navy Photo by Shejal Pulivarti.

The National Museum of the U.S. Navy, located at the Washington Navy Yard has the original XAF radar on display in the Atlantic section of its World War II exhibit. Devoted to the display of naval artifacts, models, documents and fine art, the museum chronicles the history of the United States Navy from the American Revolution to the present. Interactive exhibits commemorate the Navy’s wartime heroes and battles as well as peacetime contributions in exploration, diplomacy, navigation and humanitarian service.

 
Dec 14

Fleet Admirals are Elite Band of Naval Brothers

Sunday, December 14, 2014 8:00 AM
Fleet Adm. William D. Leahy. Portrait photograph taken circa 1945, while he was Chief of Staff to the President of the United States. Naval History and Heritage Photograph from the Collection of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy.

Fleet Adm. William D. Leahy. Portrait photograph taken circa 1945, while he was Chief of Staff to the President of the United States. Naval History and Heritage Photograph from the Collection of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy.

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Leahy. King. Nimitz. Halsey.

One of the most exclusive collections of men ever in the history of the Navy. This band of four Naval officers are the only ones to have worn five stars during their service in defense of freedom during World War II.

The 20th century rank of Fleet Admiral was created in the on Dec. 14, 1944 — along with General of the Army — during the second session of the 79th Congress.

(For those looking for a great trivia question here’s a little tidbit: When the Fleet Admiral rank was created, it was named very deliberately with the intent of making the rank subordinate to the rank of Admiral of the Navy – no word on corresponding number of stars – once held by Admiral George Dewey.)

Fleet Adm. Ernest King Portrait photograph, taken in 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Fleet Adm. Ernest King Portrait photograph, taken in 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

But back to Dec. 1944 when four-star admirals William Leahy, Ernest King and Chester Nimitz were promoted. A year later, Adm. William F. Halsey Jr. joined their ranks.

Fleet Adm. Chester A. Nimitz, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas Photographed circa early 1945. Naval History and Heritage Photograph from the Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

Fleet Adm. Chester A. Nimitz, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas Photographed circa early 1945. Naval History and Heritage Photograph from the Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

It was quite the departure from when America’s forefathers chose to eschew the title of admiral.

Back in 1775, still under the rule of imperialistic Great Britain, those in charge of deciding ranks felt the titles of admiralty in general were hallmarks of aristocracy. Since the fledgling republic was rebelling against royal rule, they didn’t want the Navy to become a mirror image of their old masters. Captains who commanded squadrons or more than one ship gained the temporary title of commodore.

Not everyone agreed. Lt. John Paul Jones was among those who thought a naval rank equivalent to an Army general should exist. When the Navy expanded to more than six ships, he also thought a senior officer should be promoted to settle disputes among captains.

Another issue was foreign relations among navies. American senior officers were “often subjected to serious difficulties and embarrassments” when dealing with British or Ottoman or French admirals. Congress, however, didn’t understand the problem. Since admirals were the highest ranking officers in those navies, and captains were the highest ranking officers in their Navy, clearly they were on equal ground, Congress thought. That thinking was in direct conflict with the opinions of various Secretaries of the Navy, not to mention Navy captains.

The American admiralty was eventually created, though. During the Civil War, the Navy rapidly expanded, and Congress authorized nine rear admirals on July 16, 1862. Two years after that, David Glasgow Farragut was promoted from their ranks to become the first vice admiral. Farragut eventually was promoted again to the newly created rank of admiral on July 25, 1866. When Farragut died in 1870, David Dixon Porter fleeted up to Farragut’s position and rank.

Until 1915, only four officers had been promoted above rear admiral — Farragut, Porter, and Stephen C. Rowan, plus the one officer who rose above them and remains to this day the most senior naval officer in American history.

George Dewey’s accomplishments during the Spanish-American War were recognized by Congress, authorizing the president to appoint him as “Admiral of the Navy,” a rank he wore until his death in 1917. Nobody since has held that title.

The ranks of vice- and full admiral were revived shortly after the outbreak of World War I, with one of each rank assigned to the Atlantic, Pacific and Asiatic fleets.

As the storm clouds of a second world war formed once again, the U.S. Navy began to expand after its post-WWI drawdown. In between June 1938 and December 1944, ships in the fleet grew from 380 to 6,084—a 1,501 percent increase. And with the expansion of the fleet and the enormity of responsibility, even the rank of full admiral was not enough. So, in December 1944, the admiralty increased too.

But another reason may be that the admirals were echoing claims from the previous centuries, according to E. Kelly Taylor, author of the book America’s Army and the Language of Grunts, “several American commanders found themselves in the awkward position of commanding Allied officers of higher rank.”

Congress came together and passed an act “to establish the grade of Fleet Admiral for the United States Navy; to establish the grade of General of the Army, and for other purposes.” Leahy, King and Nimitz were appointed to this new grade of Fleet Admiral.

The act set some rules: “Appointments to said grade shall be made by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among line officers on the active list and retired line officers on active duty serving in the rank of admiral in the Navy at the time of such appointment. The number of officers of such grade on the active list at any one time shall not exceed four.”

And the seniority of each was also established: “The officers appointed under the provisions of this Act shall take rank among themselves while on active duty according to dates of appointment.”

Fleet Adm. William F. Halsey Jr. portrait photograph, dated Feb. 6, 1946. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Fleet Adm. William F. Halsey Jr. portrait photograph, dated Feb. 6, 1946. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Their dates of appointment were separated by two days: Dec. 15, 17, and 19, 1944 for Leahy, King and Nimitz respectively. Generals of the Armies George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower were promoted in between on the 16th, 18th, and 20th respectively. A fourth Army general Henry H. Arnold was promoted Dec. 21, 1944. Halsey was promoted on Dec. 11, 1945. This made Leahy the ranking five-star.

In a brief introduction to the four Fleet Admirals, the Naval Historical Foundation said, “It is interesting to note that each of the naval officers promoted to the five-star rank followed different career tracks. […] They served as younger officers when the Navy was making its expansion in aviation and submarine development.

“[Halsey] began his career as a destroyer officer, and transitioned to the aviation branch with only one short tour of duty ashore in Washington. [Nimitz] was a submariner whose assignments included duty in Europe studying diesel propulsion, duty on board capital ships and an assignment ashore as Chief of Naval Personnel. [Leahy] had almost all his sea duty in large commands, with the exception of one tour, with all assigned shore duty in Washington, including tours as the chiefs of two bureaus. [King] had a seagoing career that encompassed all three communities, surface, submarine and aviation branches; as part of his shore duty he was the head of the Postgraduate School and the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics.”

Their broad backgrounds were clearly an asset during a war fought in both hemispheres and all warfare areas.

Afterwards, on March 23, 1946, Congress passed another Act authorizing the Fleet Admirals to retire as such with full pay. Since then, no other admirals have been further promoted.

The original promotions of the four were done by law. That same law also provided for their termination. “This Act shall be effective only until six months after the termination of the wars in which the United States is now engaged as proclaimed by the President, or such earlier date as the Congress, by concurrent resolution, may fix.”

In a sense, the magnitude of World War II created the grade. Since then, no other war has mandated its return.

 

 
Dec 13

Frigates, Brigs, Sloops, Schooners, and the Early Continental Navy’s Struggle for Success

Saturday, December 13, 2014 9:00 AM
Continental Frigate Boston (1777-1780) Painting by Rod Claudius, Rome, Italy, 1962. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Continental Frigate Boston (1777-1780)
Painting by Rod Claudius, Rome, Italy, 1962. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

In 1775, Americans were no strangers to the ways of the sea, either in peace or in war. In the years immediately before the outbreak of the rebellion, Americans demonstrated their growing disenchantment with British rule by taking action against ships collecting revenue or delivering tea in Boston Harbor. Once the revolution began, Americans recognized that events in the Atlantic Ocean theater would have a major, and potentially decisive, impact on the course of the war in North America.

In the fall of 1775, Americans initiated a privateering campaign against British commerce, and on Oct. 13, the Continental Congress, after some difficult political debate, also established a small naval force, hoping that even a diminutive navy would be able to offset to some extent what would otherwise be an uncontested exercise of British sea power. The seven ships included 24-gun frigates Alfred and Columbus, 14-gun brigs Andrew Doria (Andrea Doria) and Cabot, and three schooners, Hornet, Wasp and Fly.

The Continental Congress had a very limited role in mind for the navy. It was not expected to contest British control of the seas, but rather to wage a traditional guerre de course against British trade, in conjunction with the scores of privateers outfitting in American ports.

The Continental Navy’s ships were to raid commerce and attack the transports that supplied British forces in North America. To carry out this mission, the Continental Congress began to build up, through purchase, conversion, and new construction, a cruiser navy of small ships–frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners.

On Dec. 16, 1775, Congress approved the purchase of 13 frigates: Five with 32-guns: Raleigh, Hancock, Warren, Washington and Randolph; five with 28-guns: Providence, Trumbull, Congress, Virginia and Effingham, and three with 24-guns: Boston, Montgomery and Delaware.

Things did not go smoothly. Congress wanted construction complete by March 1776, but builders struggled to find the armament to outfit them and even more so to get the Sailors to man them. The pay was greater for privateers who could also raid British merchant ships and split the spoils among themselves.

Several of the ships never made it to sea: Washington, Congress, Effingham and Montgomery were either scuttled or burned between October and November 1777 to keep them from the British.

Delaware, while attempting to slow down British forces coming after American troops was caught by an ebb tide and stranded on Sept. 27, 1777. She was captured and destroyed shortly afterward.

Virginia ran aground March 31, 1778 near Hampton Roads while attempting to outrun the British blockade of the Chesapeake Bay.

Frigates Raleigh

A model of the frigate Raleigh, which was commanded by Capt. John Barry, for the Continental Navy.

The remaining frigates had mixed success. Raleigh captured three prizes while under the command of Capt. John Barry, but was run aground Sept. 27, 1778, and scuttled.

Commodore John Barry, USN (1745-1803), who commanded Continental frigate Raleigh. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), circa 1801. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Commodore John Barry, USN (1745-1803), who commanded Continental frigate Raleigh.
Portrait by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), circa 1801.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Hancock, too, captured three ships, but July 8, 1777, while being pursued by a British squadron, the American frigate was captured by HMS Rainbow and turned into the man-of-war Iris.

Frigates Hancock and Boston capturing HMS Fox. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Frigates Hancock and Boston capturing HMS Fox. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

The 32-gun Randolph had captured five prizes under the command of Capt. Nicholas Biddle. While escorting a convoy of merchantmen on March 7, 1778, Randolph attempted to fend off the British 64-gun HMS Yarmouth. As the smaller American frigate fought the British ship, a magazine on Randolph exploded, destroying the ship and killing all but four of her crew. But the aftermath of the explosion also damaged Yarmouth and the convoy got away.

Model of the Continental frigate Randolph

Model of the Continental frigate Randolph

The frigates named for their New England heritage, Providence and Boston, had the most success in their service of the Continental Navy. Boston had 17 prizes, plus a special mission carrying John Adams to France in early 1778. Providence, under the command of Capt. Abraham Whipple, tallied 14 prizes. But both frigates were captured May 12, 1780, following the American surrender to the British after the Siege of Charleston, S.C.

The 28-gun Trumbull launched in 1776, only to find her deep draft would keep her from getting over a sandbar in the mouth of the Connecticut River as it flowed into Long Island Sound. After three years, Trumbull was finally freed in 1779 after casks of water were lashed alongside port and starboard. When the casks were pumped out they rose and lifted the ship enough to get over the sandbar. Although Capt. James Nicholson received command of the frigate on Sept. 20, he didn’t get cruising orders until the spring.

It was a short cruise.

On June 1, 1780, Trumbull spotted a ship that would prove to be the British 32-gun letter-of-marque Watt. After being challenged by Watt, Trumbull ran up British colors, but the captain grew suspicious of Trumbull’s movements and soon after gave “three cheers and a broadside” to begin what historian Gardner W. Allen considered “one of the hardest fought naval engagements of the war.”

For 2 ½ hours, the two ships traded shots in a range that was never wider than 80 yards, and at times, while locked together. Both ships caught fire, and with the British ship’s hull, rigging and sails shot to pieces, she was taking on water.

Trumbull hardly fared better. Captain of Marines Gilbert Saltonstall noted: “We were literally cut all to pieces; not a shroud, stay, brace, bowling or other rigging standing. Our main top mast shot away, our fore, main mizzen, and jigger masts gone by the board…”

Both ships broke off action to assess their damage. Trumbull suffered eight killed and 31 wounded, while Watt had 13 killed and 79 wounded. Nicholson was eager to pursue his foe, in better condition with one remaining mast. Already battered beyond belief, the frigate had to weather a gale on its return to Connecticut. Nicholson was congratulated on the “gallantry displayed in the defense” against Watt. But lack of money and men kept the ship inactive until the first part of 1781.

It was Aug. 8, 1781, when Trumbull sailed again with a 24-gun privateer and a 14-gun letter-of-marque to protect a 28-ship merchant convoy. Twenty days later, three British ships spied the convoy and two broke off to give chase. The shapes of the ship might have seemed familiar to Trumbull’s little squadron: They were former Continental ships, the frigate Hancock and privateer General Washington, now known as HMS Iris and General Monk.

Trumbull’s luck continued to worsen after an evening rains quall carried away the frigate’s fore-topmast and her main topgallantmast. Soon the frigate was trapped by Iris and General Monk. While Nicholson was ready to fight, his crew was not – only a quarter responded to the call to quarters. After battling Iris for 95 minutes, General Monk moved into finish the battle, and Nicholson, after “seeing no prospect of escaping in this unequal contest,” struck his colors. Five of his crew were killed and 11 wounded.

Although HMS Iris towed Trumbull to New York, the battered frigate, the last of the original 13 frigates approved on Dec. 13, 1775, was not placed into the Royal Navy and her final fate remains unknown.

Many of the failures of the early Continental navy were directly attributable to the uneven and uncertain quality of the highly politicized officer corps. Mediocre officers vied for rank and privilege. Many commanders lacked drive, and others, while perhaps excellent seamen, were simply incompetent warriors. Nevertheless, whatever the shortcomings of the Continental Navy, the course of the war demonstrated to Americans the importance of sea power.

The control of the Atlantic by the Royal Navy allowed Great Britain to transport a large army to North America and to sustain it there, which is what contributed to Washington’s crushing defeat during the Siege of Charleston.

But just two months after Trumbull was towed into oblivion, French sea power, allied with the American cause after 1778, enabled Gen. George Washington to isolate and destroy the British army of Lord Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown Oct. 19, 1781.

 
Dec 12

30 Goats Later: A Unique Heritage of Football

Friday, December 12, 2014 11:45 AM

By MC1 Tim Comerford,

 Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication Outreach Division

Tomorrow, two giants meet on the gridiron. Both will strain inordinately to show itself master of the pigskin. But no matter who wins the day, the winner of game is really the service that the giants represent – the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army.

The first game came about from a challenge to the Army and was played 1890 at West Point to a blowout 24-0 victory for the midshipmen.

Army-Navy football game, 1916. (Source: Library of Congress)

 

Since then, the games’ outcomes have been pretty even overall. Navy’s record currently stands at 58 wins, 49 losses and seven ties, with 12 of those victories in a row since 2002. Regardless of the outcome, the build-up to the game tends to be a main focus between the institutions – midshipmen and cadets spending weeks to months developing the posters, banners and paraphernalia used during the games, in addition to spirited exchanges between the “squids” and the “woops” the week prior.

For more than a century, the Army-Navy football game has captured the attention of officers and enlisted alike from both services and Americans in general. The preparation for the rivalry of the game itself is an amazing occurrence, with military units deployed around the world offering recorded verbal encouragement to the team of their choice. Check out this year’s round of spirit videos.

But there has been one form of encouragement to the midshipmen that has been there since the first game – their mascot.

“On the train to the Army-Navy game, [the players] were discussing the Yale bulldog, somebody said, ‘oh well we need a mascot,’” said James Cheevers, senior curator at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. “They borrowed a goat from a farmer in Highland Park, N.Y., and they won the game, so they considered the goat lucky.”

Army-Navy football game, Nov. 28, 1908. (Source: Library of Congress)

 

Since that first game in 1890, the U.S. Naval Academy has been through more than 30 of the mascots, many named Bill. Though, there is one, which was stuffed after his passing and remains on display at the Naval Academy, with something of a strange name, Three-to-Nothing Jack Dalton. The goat was named after a famed field goal kicker in the 1910-1911 seasons who won two games against Army three to nothing.

“Jack Dalton kicked the field goals for the win. They renamed Bill IV, who was the goat at that time, Three-to-Nothing Jack Dalton,” Cheevers said.

With more than a hundred meets in the series, it’s hard to fathom that there might not be an Army-Navy game, but there have been 10 times when the game was not played. What could ever cause these two powerhouses not to meet?

Spectators, including President Woodrow Wilson, watch the Army-Navy football game played at the Polo Grounds in New York City, 1913. (Source: Library of Congress)

The first time was four years after the rivalry began and lasted five years.

“The game of football was getting a lot of bad press, because a lot of kids were getting injured and actually dying. The games came to an end for a little while. One of the presidents, Grover Cleveland, agreed that the game should be ended,” Cheevers said.

A more colorful version of the story says that a reputed incident between a Navy admiral and an Army general, which nearly led to a duel after the 1893 Navy victory, had President Cleveland calling a Cabinet meeting in late February 1894 to diffuse the situation. Later, Secretary of the Navy Hillary A. Herbert and Secretary of War Daniel S. Lamont issued orders to the respective academies stating that other teams would be allowed to visit Annapolis and West Point to conduct football games, plus the Army and Navy football teams were “prohibited in engaging in games elsewhere.” So the teams could not meet.

Eventually cooler heads prevailed and the game resumed in 1899 until 1909.

The game that year was not played out of respect for an Army football player who died earlier in the season in a game against Harvard.

The games were again suspended in 1917 and 1918.

“In World War I the games were suspended once again due the war,” Cheevers said.

The last time the game was not played was between 1928 and 1929.

“There was a dispute between the schools over the rules,” Cheevers said. “They couldn’t get together on the rules of the game.”

U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen take the football field for the 113th Army-Navy Football game at Lincoln Financial Field, Dec. 8, 2012. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge/Released)

 

Through the years, Navy footballers have achieved varying degrees of fame. Everyone has heard of Roger Staubach, Class of ‘65. But even he never achieved a level of notoriety to merit being memorialized on the academy grounds in glass as did one member of the Class of 1927.

“Tom Hamilton became a major football hero and they made a board game named for him, and is a figure in the stained glass window of the Naval Academy Chapel,” Cheevers said.

This storied rivalry can also take credit for giving the U.S. Navy its own theme – Anchors Aweigh.

According to the Navy, Lt. Charles A. Zimmermann was selected as the bandmaster of the Naval Academy Band in 1887, where he started the practice of composing a march for each graduating class. In 1906, Zimmerman was approached by Midshipman First Class Alfred Hart Miles with a request for a new march. As a member of the Class of 1907, Miles and his classmates “were eager to have a piece of music that would be inspiring, one with a swing to it so it could be used as a football marching song, and one that would live forever.”

Supposedly, with the two men seated at the Naval Academy Chapel organ, Zimmermann composed the tune and Miles set the title and wrote to two first stanzas for “Anchors Aweigh” in November 1906. This march was played by the band and sung by the brigade at the 1906 Army-Navy football game later that month, and for the first time in several seasons, Navy won. Anchors Aweigh was subsequently dedicated to the Naval Academy Class of 1907 and adopted as the official song of the U.S. Navy.

A complete listing of every game in the series is available here.

Kick off for tomorrow’s game is 3 p.m. EST. Check your local listings to find out where you can see the game and cheer: Go Navy! Beat Army!

Who do you think will win?

 
Dec 9

Grace Hopper: Navy to the Core, a Pirate at Heart

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 12:15 PM
Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper was born Dec. 9, 1906. After joining the WAVES at age 37, Hopper's achievements in the computer industry is legendary. NavyLive image

Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper was born Dec. 9, 1906. After joining the WAVES at age 37, Hopper’s achievements in the computer industry is legendary. NavyLive image

By Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

The typical career arc of a naval officer may run from 25-30 years. Most, however, don’t start at age 35. Yet when it comes to Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, well, the word “typical” just doesn’t apply.

Feisty. Eccentric. Maverick. Brilliant. Precise. Grace Hopper embodied all of those descriptions and more, but perhaps what defined her as much as anything else was the pride she had in wearing the Navy uniform for 43 years. Ironically, Rear Adm. Grace Hopper — “Amazing Grace” as she was known — had to fight to get into the Navy.

Grace Brewster Murray was born into a well-off family in New York on Dec. 9, 1906. She could have followed what many of her peers did during those times: attending college for a year or two, getting married then devoting their lives to their families and volunteer work.

Instead, Grace’s path would be less traveled. Encouraged to explore her innate curiosity on how things worked, a 7-year-old Grace dismantled all of the family’s alarm clocks trying to put them back together again. Rather than banishment from the practice, she was allowed one to practice on.

A favorite story oft-told by the adult Hopper was published in the book Grace Hopper, Admiral of the Cyber Sea by Kathleen Broome Williams, Ph.D. The tale has young Grace in a sail canoe on Lake Wentworth at her family’s summer home. A gust of wind capsized the canoe, dunking her into the lake. Her mother, watching from the porch, picked up a megaphone at her side and called to her daughter: “Remember your great-grandfather, the admiral.” With this stout admonition not to give up the ship, Grace hung onto the canoe and kicked it to shore.

WASHINGTON (Dec. 5, 2014) -- An exhibit celebrating Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, a pioneer Computer Programmer, waits in Naval History and Heritage Command Curator Branch's uniform room for transportation to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. These early computer components, including central processing units, circuit boards, and microchips, relate to the electrical circuits within a computer. Each piece was used by the Naval Data Automation Command, where Rear Adm. Hopper worked from 1976 until her retirement from the Navy in 1986. Hopper, born on Dec. 9, 1906, joined the Naval reserve in 1943 and was commissioned to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. She worked for the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University where she became the first programmer on the Navy's Mark I computer, a mechanical miracle of its day. Hopper co-invented COBOL [Common Business Oriented Language) which made it possible for computers to respond to words rather than numbers and is still used today. Hopper died January 1, 1992 . U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford

WASHINGTON (Dec. 5, 2014) — An exhibit celebrating Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, a pioneer Computer Programmer, waits in Naval History and Heritage Command Curator Branch’s uniform room for transportation to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. These early computer components, including central processing units, circuit boards, and microchips, relate to the electrical circuits within a computer. Each piece was used by the Naval Data Automation Command, where Rear Adm. Hopper worked from 1976 until her retirement from the Navy in 1986. U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford

 When she arrived at Vassar for her undergraduate education, Hopper chose both mathematics and physics as her majors. As an undergraduate, Hopper often tutored other students, helping them understand how abstract concepts worked in the real world. For a left-handed classmate, Hopper reversed T-squares and triangles allowing him to complete his assigned work. Years later, while trying to help flag officers understand the speed of light, she carried pieces of wire cut to 11.80 inches to show the distance of a nanosecond, compared to a coil nearly 1,000 feet long as a microsecond. Eventually packets of pepper would turn into an aid for picoseconds.

Hopper began her post-graduate work at Yale University, earning both her master’s and doctorate degrees in mathematics by 1934. She then returned to Vassar to teach math. For her calculus classes, she substituted rockets for the ballistics problems, unaware her future would have her computing such calculations for a real war, according to Williams.

When Congress authorized the Navy Women’s Reserve and its accompanying WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) program in June 1942, Hopper was intrigued. That great-grandfather, the admiral, had fought at Mobile Bay and Vicksburg in the Union Navy. So she chose to join the WAVES. But she had three strikes against her: At age 35, she was considered too old for enlistment, at 105 pounds she was 16 pounds underweight for her 5-foot, 6-inch frame, and as a mathematics instructor, her profession was considered crucial to the war effort.

Hopper argued being in the WAVES would allow her to more directly help the war effort than in a classroom and she was naturally lean. After more than a year, she finally persuaded Vassar to give her a leave of absence and then got the Navy to give her waivers for her age and weight.

“She loved being in the WAVES and her midshipmen’s training at Smith College,” Williams said Sunday evening from her Oakland, Calif., home. “She loved the discipline, although she wasn’t keen on the black (cotton) stockings. It just suited her to perfection. She had a precise mind, even though she could be eccentric.”

When she joined the WAVES in December 1943, Lt. j.g. Grace Hopper was 37 years old. Williams noted that after graduating at the top of her class of 800 officer candidates in June 1944, Hopper paid homage to Alexander Wilson Russell, her great-grandfather, the admiral who apparently took a “dim view of women and cats” in the Navy and laid flowers on his grave to “comfort and reassure him.”

Hopper was sent to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University under the guidance of Howard Aiken. The Harvard physics and applied mathematics professor helped create the first Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), better known as Mark I. He ran a lab where design, testing, modification and analysis of weapons were calculated. Most were specially trained women called computers. “So the first ‘computers’ were women who did the calculating on desk calculators,” Williams said. And the time it took for the computers to calculate was called “girl hours.”

What happened next put Hopper on a new path that would define the rest of her life, according to a passage in the book Improbable Warriors: Women Scientists in the U.S. Navy during World War II also by Williams.

On July 2, 1944, Hopper reported to duty and met Aiken.

“That’s a computing engine,” Aiken snapped at Hopper, pointing to the Mark I. “I would be delighted to have the coefficients for the interpolation of the arc tangent by next Thursday.”

Hopper was a mathematician, but what she wasn’t was a computer programmer. Aiken gave her a codebook, and as Hopper put it, a week to learn “how to program the beast and get a program running.”

Hopper overcame her lack of programming skills the same way she always tackled other obstacles; by being persistent and stopping at nothing to solve problems. She eventually would become well-versed in how the machine operated, all 750,000 parts, 530 miles of wire and 3 million wire connections crammed in a machine that was 8-feet tall and 50-feet wide.

The First "Computer Bug" Moth found trapped between points at Relay #70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, Sept. 9, 1947. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found." They put out the word that they had "debugged" the machine. From the Collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command

The First “Computer Bug” Moth found trapped between points at Relay #70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, Sept. 9, 1947. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: “First actual case of bug being found.” They put out the word that they had “debugged” the machine. From the Collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command

During one of her shifts, she traced a glitch back to a moth that was caught in a relay wire. After “debugging” the relay (and taping the moth to the report), the system worked. And from then on, a problem with a program would be referred to as a bug.

When mathematicians claim they are lazy, as Hopper said she was, that’s code for “life is too short to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again.” So rather than tediously repeat programming codes, innovators like Hopper and Aiken created shortcuts. For Aiken, it was the Mark I, so he wouldn’t have to keep figuring out mathematical calculations for his doctoral dissertation.

For Hopper, it was turning a math-based coding language into the more user-friendly English-based FLOW-MATIC programming language, which was part of the foundation of Common Business Operating Language (COBOL), soon to become one of the universally-accepted coding languages of that time.

Another Grace Hopper legacy is her oft-quoted statement: “If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”

“Grace had a stock of stories that related to a number of her phrases, all put on note cards — she never had a written speech,” Williams said. “She would tell her stories in different orders, and that was one of the expressions she would use a lot. I don’t know of the first instance where she credits that phrase or even if she knew herself.”

That phrase might have come to her during a time when Hopper worked in the basement of the Pentagon, where her office was decorated with a clock that ran counter-clockwise and, perhaps even more aptly, the Jolly Roger pirate flag.

Because Hopper’s team would run their programs at night when no one was using the computers, “she had her crew go out and liberate equipment they needed that they had no budget for and bring them into their offices,” Williams recalled.

Hopper’s career in the Navy was hardly a straight path. She was released from active duty in 1946, but she remained in the Naval Reserve and worked as a contractor on the Mark II and Mark III computers. In 1949, she then joined Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation in Philadelphia (Sperry Rand) where she developed a faster computer called UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer).

Cmdr. Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve in 1966, but was recalled back to active duty months later in Aug. 1967 for a six-month assignment for the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy for Automatic Data Processing. That six month assignment turned into 19 years. Along the way, she earned the rank of captain in 1973 and was appointed special advisor to Commander, Naval Data Automation Command.

Capt. Grace M. Hopper takes the oath of office from Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, during White House ceremonies promoting her from the rank of Captain to Commodore, Dec. 15, 1983. President Ronald Reagan is looking on, at left. Photographed by Pete Souza. From the Collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command

Capt. Grace M. Hopper takes the oath of office from Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, during White House ceremonies promoting her from the rank of Captain to Commodore, Dec. 15, 1983. President Ronald Reagan is looking on, at left. Photographed by Pete Souza. From the Collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command

In 1983, a bill was passed in Congress to promote Hopper to the rank of commodore, and in 1985, when that rank became rear admiral (lower half), Hopper was among a select few female flag officers.

In 1986, at age 79, Hopper retired “involuntarily,” Williams stressed, ending a 43-year career that put her among the longest-serving officers, behind Rear Adm. Charles Stewart’s 64 years (1798-1862), and Adm. Hyman G. Rickover’s 63-year active-duty service. Fleet Admirals William Leahy and Chester Nimitz remained on active-duty for life due to their 5-star fleet admiral rank.

It was fitting her retirement ceremony was held on the 188-year-old USS Constitution, the longest-serving commissioned ship in the United States Navy. Her speech reflected her interest in teaching young people.

“Our young people are the future. We must provide for them. We must give them the positive leadership they’re looking for…You manage things; you lead people.”

“Grace Hopper was way ahead of her time,” said historian Regina Akers, Ph.D., with the Naval History and Heritage Command at the Washington Navy Yard. “She excelled in a male-dominated profession and literally helped develop the Navy’s first computer at a time when women weren’t getting advanced degrees. She did these things during a critical time for the country and the Navy.”

Despite her success, Hopper never forgot her first avocation – teaching.

“She understood the importance of encouraging young people to consider the hard sciences; she was advocating STEM before there was STEM (the National Science Foundation’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program),” Akers said.

Williams added Hopper always “took great joy when young people were gathered around her during her speaking engagements. She mentored a lot of young people, and her reason for doing that was helping to get them interested in science and technology. She was really ahead of her time. She immediately took to the idea that computers would one day fit in a small box and not take up a whole room.”

Upon Hopper’s death Jan. 1, 1992 at age 85, a collection of papers from her voluminous stash went to the Smithsonian Institute. Williams said Hopper kept every record and paper she produced, including magnetic computer tapes, stacked floor to ceiling across three apartments in her apartment complex, as well as a collection of Hummel figurines, dolls and a childhood doll house with wallpapered walls and dormer windows.

In 1996, the destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70) was named to honor her as a pioneer in the computer industry.

“Amazing Grace wasn’t ‘bigger than a minute,’” Akers said. “But she was a real giant in the field of computers.”

–NHHC–