Sep 1

On Our Scope

Tuesday, September 1, 2015 10:37 AM

Scope-F1-SO-15

“Our New Cruisers” was how the U.S. Naval Institute announced the news in 1883. The ten-year-old organization had been founded by a group of naval officers concerned about the stagnant state of the Navy. But now the service was taking a huge leap forward by building its first modern, steel ships—three cruisers (the Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago) and a dispatch vessel (the Dolphin).

The Institute’s Proceedings recognized the momentous occasion with a special issue whose sole article was written by a participant in the nautical resurgence: Assistant Naval Constructor Francis T. Bowles. An 1879 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who’d earned an advanced degree from Britain’s Royal Naval College, the young officer served as secretary of the advisory board responsible for the new shipbuilding plan and is often credited with designing the Atlanta and Boston.

Bowles’ in-depth examination of what became known as the “ABC cruisers” was complemented by numerous foldout drawings that profiled the ships down to their boilers. Also included were charts of other navies’ 1883–84 “Ships of War Building,” which highlighted how far along they were in constructing modern armored vessels. During the previous 17 years of tight budgets and unimaginative leadership, the U.S. Navy generally had made do with wooden ships that mainly relied on sail power. Read the rest of this entry »

 
Aug 27

Monument of the Month: The Naval Academy Skyhawk

Thursday, August 27, 2015 6:00 AM
A4D-2 Skyhawk

A4D-2 Skyhawk BuNo. 139968 on display at the Naval Academy, viewed from the Observatory.

One chilly December night in 1976, nearly the entire Naval Academy Cass of 1980 gathered in front of the Halsey Field House, dressed in their white works and sweats. It was the week of the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia, and spirits were running high after the 38-10 trouncing the team had given the Army’s squad. They were a class with a purpose. The object of their mission: the A4D-1 Skyhawk on display by Worden Field.

The Skyhawk was a high-visibility target, having been placed by the parade grounds specifically for its visibility. One midshipman produced a saw, and soon the stanchions anchoring the plane in place were done away with. With nothing but their brawn, the class pushed the now-mobile aircraft through the streets of the Yard, carried it up two steep sets of stairs, and placed it square in the center of Rickover Terrace by the Nimitz Library. Another year’s prank well-done — though, reputedly, their class recreation fund would take a hit to remove the Skyhawk back to its home.

Many classes that have passed through the Academy have had their fun with the aircraft, but few know of its history.

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Aug 24

The Union Navy’s Stubby Gun

Monday, August 24, 2015 9:00 AM

By Spencer C. Tucker

Adapted from “Armaments and Innovations,” Naval History, April 2014

 

Early in the Civil War, specially built boats mounting 13-inch mortars were active on the upper Mississippi. But numerous problems with the raft-like craft led their commander to report that their "services have not been near equal to their cost." (Battles and Leaders of the Civil War)

Early in the Civil War, specially built boats mounting 13-inch mortars were active on the upper Mississippi. But numerous problems with the raft-like craft led their commander to report that their “services have not been near equal to their cost.” (Battles and Leaders of the Civil War)

The 13-inch Civil War sea mortar was a formidable weapon. But the use of this type of gun was not new; since the 17th century, high-trajectory mortar fire from special vessels known as bombs or bomb ketches had been used for shore bombardment. Heavy ordnance was more easily moved about on ships than on land, and the large sea mortars were mounted on strong beds turned on vertical pivots. Their explosive shells, fired at high angle, easily cleared the walls of forts to strike the targets within.

The 13-inch weapon weighed 17,250 pounds and rested on a 4,500-pound bed, or carriage. With a 20-pound charge of powder and the mortar at a 41-degree elevation, it could hurl a 204-pound shell loaded with 7 pounds of powder more than 2¼ miles. At that distance the shell was in flight for 30 seconds. The range could be adjusted by altering the powder charge or changing the mortar’s elevation. Read the rest of this entry »

 
Aug 20

The Posterity of the Ganges

Thursday, August 20, 2015 6:00 AM
Portrait of Thomas Macdonough, who served aboard the Ganges. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Portrait of Thomas Macdonough, who served aboard the Ganges. Courtesy Library of Congress.

It is frequently the case that a ship is given the name of an individual as a honorarium. Names such as Campbell, Fletcher, Porter, and many, many others are accepted in kind. So when individuals are given the name of a ship, suddenly we take notice that something very remarkable is afoot. Such is the case of the surname Ganges. The story of how a family came to be named after a 26-gun sloop-of-war is one that upholds the finest traditions of the U.S. Navy.

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Aug 18

‘The Stern Hit the Water with a Jar’

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 9:53 AM
Literally a flying aircraft carrier, the USS Macon (ZRS-5) featured a hangar that accommodated four scout planes.

Literally a flying aircraft carrier, the USS Macon (ZRS-5) featured a hangar that accommodated four scout planes.

For the first time since 2009, undersea explorers, with support from the NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, today are investigating the secret wreck site of the U.S. Navy airship Macon (ZRS-5). Remote-controlled vehicles from Robert Ballard’s exploration vessel Nautilus are mapping the site, located within Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and evaluating the condition of the remains of the airship and her F9C-2 Sparrowhawk scout planes.

The future of the Navy’s ambitious rigid-airship program was uncertain even before the 785-foot Macon crashed on the night of 12 February 1935. The USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) had gone down in 1925, and 73 crew members and passengers—including the head of the Bureau of Aeronautics, Rear Admiral William Moffett—lost their lives in the 1933 crash of the Akron (ZRS-4). The loss of the Macon therefore effectively ended the program and the Navy’s hopes of using the great airships as fleet scouts.

What follows is an account of the crash of the Macon from the mid-March 1935 issue of Our Navy magazine.

When the USS Macon plunged into the water of the Pacific a few miles off Point Sur, California, late on the afternoon of February 12, it probably ended, for some time to come at least, the Navy’s experiments in the use of lighter than air craft in connection with Fleet activities. The loss of the Macon following so closely upon the heels of the Shenandoah and the Akron disasters gave opponents of the dirigible a chance to vent their feelings in an “I told you so” manner. . . . Read the rest of this entry »

 
Aug 14

Landing the Planes

Friday, August 14, 2015 11:12 AM

An excerpt from “‘The Big E’ Leadership Factory,” by Barrett Tillman, in the October 2015 issue of Naval History.

Lieutenant Robin M. Lindsey, USS Enterprise landing-signal officer, epitomized leadership on the flight deck. (USS Enterprise CV-6 Association)

Lieutenant Robin M. Lindsey, USS Enterprise landing-signal officer, epitomized leadership on the flight deck. (USS Enterprise CV-6 Association)

Leadership also was evident on the Enterprise’s flight deck, never better demonstrated than during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands at the height of the Guadalcanal campaign. The ship’s landing-signal officer was Lieutenant Robin M. Lindsey, assisted by the air group LSO, Lieutenant (junior grade) James G. Daniels. Lindsey had been on board since July 1941 and learned the “paddles” trade under the tutelage of prewar LSOs. Daniels had survived Fighting Squadron Six’s debacle in the night sky over Pearl Harbor on 7 December when panicked Navy and Marine gunners shot at anything, killing three Big E aviators.

During the carrier battle of 26 October 1942, the Enterprise’s sister, the Hornet (CV-8), sustained fatal damage from Japanese aircraft. The Big E had to accept the Hornet’s orphaned aircraft, but her flight deck began to fill up. She had taken a bomb hit that jammed the forward elevator full up, leaving only the number two elevator available to take planes to the hangar deck while room remained topside.

Standing on the LSO platform, Lindsey and Daniels brought plane after plane aboard. Eventually the “pack” moved steadily aft until only the last few arresting wires—closest to the stern—were available. Daniels bet Lindsey a dime for every plane he “cut” onto the “one wire,” which planes hardly ever snagged. Read the rest of this entry »

 
Aug 13

Restoring the US/C-3 Infrared Signalling Telescope

Thursday, August 13, 2015 2:15 PM
Bottom view

Bottom view of the US/C-3 Infrared Signalling Telescope. Collection of Tom Cutler.

In Greek Mythology, the prophet Tiresias was blinded by the gods as punishment for revealing their secrets. He begged the goddess Athena to restore his sight, but she could not. Instead, she gave him the gift of foresight, and Tiresias spent the remainder of his days spouting prophesy.

Tiresias had seen too much and had paid the price for it. Such too may be the case of a battered US/C-3 infrared signalling telescope that came into this writer’s care for restoration.

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Aug 10

The Dropping of the TURDSID in Vietnam

Monday, August 10, 2015 7:00 AM
TURDSID

A TURDSID with most of its plastic camouflage covering and battery pack removed, showing the electronics package and copper shielding. Courtesy of Jonathan L. Hoppe.

Electronic warfare and surveillance are increasingly becoming topics of discussion. The nature of that type of warfare (and indeed combat itself) calls for a certain amount of creativity. To see, but not be recognized or seen oneself, begs for innovation and novel solutions to life-threatening problems. But even the most brilliant plans can be rendered moot if one builds an idea on a false assumption.

Such is the nature of the ingenious yet flawed TURDSID.

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