Archive for December, 2010

Dec 24

Guest Post by David F. Winkler: Two Centuries of Catamarans

Friday, December 24, 2010 12:01 AM

The Navy’s experience with catamarans goes back nearly two centuries.

It was Christmas Eve in 1813, the War of 1812 had entered its second year, and despite some notable victories on the high seas by Constitution, United States, and Essex, an increasingly effective British blockade choked off American commerce along the eastern seaboard. Robert Fulton hosted a group of distinguished civic and military leaders at his New York residence to address the challenge.

Having an established reputation as a designer and builder of vessels propelled with steam-driven paddlewheels, Fulton unveiled plans for a maneuverable floating battery that employed this new technology. In unveiling his plans, Fulton also addressed the vulnerability of exterior paddlewheels to enemy gunfire by proposing a catamaran that placed the paddlewheel between the two hulls.

The genius of the design was readily apparent to the onlookers. During periods of protracted calm off America’s port cities, such a vessel could wreak havoc upon the sail warships of His Majesty’s Navy.

The British naval threat, combined with effective lobbying, led Congress to pass a bill on 9 March 1814 authorizing construction of “one or more” of Fulton’s vessels. Responding to an inquiry from Secretary of the Navy William Jones, Fulton stated the vessel would be 138 feet in length and have an overall beam of 55 feet with two twenty foot hulls split by a fifteen foot “race.” To accomplish her mission, the vessel would carry two-dozen 32 pounder long guns.

After reviewing his budget priorities, Jones authorized the letting of contracts for the construction of Fulton’s ship on 23 May 1814. Quickly built at an East River yard owned by Adam and Noah Brown, the vessel was launched on 29 October 1814 and then taken to Fulton’s Hudson River facility for installation of the engine and guns.

Despite the war’s end in late 1814 and Fulton’s untimely death in early 1815, the Navy decided to finish the project. Through the summer and fall of 1815, the catamaran underwent builder’s trials. The Navy accepted delivery of the ship in June 1816 and immediately placed her “in ordinary” – the term used at the time for mothballs. She was placed into service just once – on 18 June 1817 – to embark President James Monroe for a short demonstration cruise. After that, she was once again laid up and eventually used as a receiving ship. Her days of service tragically ended on 4 June 1829 when a gunpowder explosion gutted the vessel and claimed 24 lives.

Having never received an official name, the vessel is listed in the American Dictionary of American Fighting Ships under the entries for “Demologos” and “Fulton.” Along such vessels as Bushnell’s Turtle, Ericsson’s Monitor, the nuclear submarine Nautilus, the Aegis cruiser Ticonderoga, and Joint Venture, Fulton’s vessel illustrates the Navy’s willingness to seek out and employ new technologies.

Dec 23

Remember Wake Island

Thursday, December 23, 2010 12:00 PM

69 years ago today, the gallant defenders of Wake Island surrendered to a numerically superior Japanese force. 

This wartime poster depicts Marines of the 1st Defense Battalion manning an M1917A1 machine gun during the defense of Wake Island in December 1941. USMC Poster.

Dec 23

First Navy Officer sent to Flight Training

Thursday, December 23, 2010 1:00 AM

16 December, 1910 – LT Theodore G. Ellyson of the submarine service asked to “be assigned to duty in connection with aeroplanes as soon as such duty may become available.” On December 23rd,1910 Ellyson was reassigned becoming the first naval officer sent to flight training.




Early flight training in New York

Dec 20

The Challenges of Fighting Piracy

Monday, December 20, 2010 12:01 AM

Captain David Porter, U.S.N. (1780-1843)

On 20 December 1822, Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson appointed Captain David Porter to command the West India Squadron. A veteran combat officer whose bold 1812 exploits in the Pacific had earned him national fame, Porter seemed the ideal choice to lead American naval forces in a campaign to suppress piracy in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. To the Navy Department and the public, Porter embodied the warrior qualities (courage, aggressiveness, tenacity) necessary to hunt down and eradicate a murderous and elusive foe. On the eve of his departure for the West Indies, Porter vowed to seal “the pirates’ doom,” exterminating “those enemies of the human race.”

As Porter was to discover, this objective proved easier said than done. Disease, shortages of ships and men, and the arduous conditions of service in the West Indies severely hampered the Squadron’s day-to-day operations. But the greatest obstacle to Porter’s success lay in the fact that buccaneers enjoyed privileged sanctuary ashore on the Spanish-controlled islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico. The American commander was under strict orders to respect the sovereignty of Spanish soil when conducting antipiracy operations. But without the ability to pursue his quarry ashore, Porter stood little chance of permanently eliminating the pirate menace

The impatience and frustration Porter felt over such legal restrictions may have led him to act intemperately in November 1824, when he landed 200 Sailors and Marines at Fajardo, Puerto Rico, to avenge the rough handling of a Squadron officer by town officials. For this violation of Spanish sovereignty, Porter was court-martialed and suspended from duty for six months, upon which he resigned his commission. The experience of David Porter and the West India Squadron in the 1820s is a reminder of the complex political and legal challenges naval officers have had to face in fighting piracy for over two centuries.

Dec 18

Ens. Donald W. Lynch: The Scars of War

Saturday, December 18, 2010 12:02 AM

“War should not be glamorized,” wrote Donald W. Lynch long after his service as Chief Engineer in destroyer Mugford (DD-389) during World War Two. He had purposefully put much of his wartime experiences out of his mind but later, in an undated letter to a Mugford reunion group, he described why that was so.

Lynch joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor and, after four months of intense steam and electrical engineering training at the Naval Academy, received his commission in May 1942. Three months later he was serving in Mugford during the invasion of Guadalcanal in August 1942. As he put it, this was “quite a shock for a Montana farm boy with a Master’s degree in Forestry.” This is a feeling not unknown to Navy Reserve Sailors today, who suddenly find themselves mobilized to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The war arrived quickly for Mugford and Ens. Lynch, when four Japanese carrier bombers (2d Kokutai) attacked the destroyer on 7 August, scoring three near misses and one hit just forward of the No. 3 gun mount. Four Sailors died, three suffered mortal wounds and another ten were blown overboard. Lynch tried to help “in the midst of complete confusion…”, the deck “covered in debris, lots of black soot, men lying amidst the clutter, blood, and torn clothing.” He came across a wounded Chief Boatswain’s Mate, who ordered an officer to stop cleaning the blood off his face, “Forget my face,” he said, “Check my leg!” Lynch later wrote he looked at the Chief’s leg, “My God, there were only some stringy pieces of skin below the knee, blood-soaked, very dirty, and no sign of ankle or foot.”

Like so many times before and since, confusion and chaos is the stuff of war, particularly but not just for those manning battle stations outside of the CIC. People only make sense of it afterwards, as time molds and shapes the interpretation of events. Two days after the air attack, Mugford steamed in the warm waters in the Solomon Islands as the Battle of Savo Island took place off in the distance. Lynch wrote, “It was a very dark night, with low clouds, rain, no moon or stars – pitch black! We heard heavy gun firing and saw flashes of explosions on the horizon. There was utter confusion as to where we were, where are allies, if any, were, or where the enemy ships were.”

The following morning Mugford proceeded to Savo Island to rescue survivors from the cruiser Vincennes (CA-44). “We began pulling bodies and living men aboard the ship. The mid-section of the deck was soon covered in men – mostly half-naked, some with torn clothing, and all in critical condition. Our doctor, Lt. Bruce McCambell, was very busy administering first aid. Blankets were placed on the shivering, suffering men; on others, blankets or sheets simply covered their dead bodies… We then proceeded to the tender and discharged our pitiful load of dead and wounded men. What more is there to say?”

In November 1944, Mugford, which had spent the long intervening years in combat operations off New Guinea and the central Pacific, ran partially out of luck during operations in the Philippines. While patrolling in Surigao Strait, a Japanese kamikaze dove through intense anti-aircraft fire and crashed Mugford in her port uptakes, wiping out a gun crew and gutting No. 1 fire room. Seven Sailors died instantly and another fourteen were wounded. Later, with the fires out and the clean up begun, the question arose, “Where is Tony?” A Firemen 3d class, Tony was stationed in the fire room and had never come out. Lynch, by then Chief Engineer, volunteered and searched the pitch-black still smoldering smoke filled room. “With a flashlight I began the search. Finally, way at the back of the compartment, crouched in a sitting position, with his skin very dark and swollen, was poor dead little Tony.” They later discovered Tony had lied about his age and was only fifteen years old.

Lynch survived the war but never forgot it, carrying the invisible wounds with him always. The scars fade only with difficulty, as is known by anyone who comes home with the stress of war about them. For Lynch they never faded, who ended his letter by writing “This is about all I’m able to write. Thank God WWII was finally over – and I hope to forget as much of it as possible.”

Dec 17

Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three and the Rescue of Survivors from the Steamship Corregidor, 17 December 1941

Friday, December 17, 2010 12:01 AM

Circumstances sometimes compel officers and enlisted people of the U.S. Navy to perform missions of mercy in the midst of war, with means not designed for that purpose. These actions fulfill mariners’ long-time practice of rescue at sea. One such occasion occurred just before Christmas of 1941 in the Philippines, with World War II less than a fortnight old.

The venerable steamship Corregidor, crowded with about 1,200 people fleeing Manila in advance of the invading Japanese, set out for Mindanao. In the dark, however, she fouled a mine off Corregidor, sinking with heavy loss of life. Motor torpedo boats PT-32, PT-34, and PT-35, from Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three, got underway from their base at Sisiman Cove and proceeded to the scene. The sailors worked to exhaustion hauling wet and oily survivors on board. Eventually, the three boats distributed the rescued between the island of Corregidor and the requisitioned French steamship Si-Kiang; seven of those picked up died of injuries suffered in the tragedy. When those entrusted with the responsibility of tallying the totals reached their final figures, they discovered that the PT-boaters had picked up 282 people, with PT-32, a 77-foot plywood craft with a crew of 11, having picked up 196 herself!

Dec 16

USS Charles R. Ware – On Navy TV

Thursday, December 16, 2010 8:38 AM

Now on NAVY TV – The story of the USS Charles R. Ware (DD-865).

USS Charles R. Ware (DD-865) was named for Lieutenant Charles Rollins Ware, a hero of the Battle of Midway. She sailed the seas for 36 years until the Navy scuttled her on November 15, 1981. This is her story as told by the men that sailed her and remember her as they gather annually at the ship’s reunions. Produced by John Bailey

Take a tour of the ship, and listen to the sea stories of her days at sea.

Dec 16

RIP Chief Bob Feller

Thursday, December 16, 2010 8:22 AM

The Naval History & Heritage Command joins a greatful nation in mourning the passing of our shipmate Chief Bob Feller, the Ace of the Greatest Generation. When asked once what was his most important victory, he replied, “World War II.”

Dr. Ed Furgol of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy has prepared a short vignette about Chief Feller’s naval service which originally appeared on Naval History Blog on 9 December 2010 – the 69th anniversary of his enlistment in the U.S. Navy. It is reprinted below:

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt, asking him, “What do you want [baseball] to do? . . .We await your order.” The President replied, “I honestly feel it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” With this recommendation, the league began a massive effort to support the war. However, some players chose a more patriotic path. Waiving his draft deferment as the sole provider for his family, pitcher Robert Feller enlisted in the Navy on 9 December 1941, becoming the first Major League player to join the service.

Already a national star, Feller was first assigned as a physical training instructor. However, his desire to go into combat led him to volunteer for gunners’ school in 1942. Chief Petty Officer Feller was placed in command of a 40mm antiaircraft mount aboard USS Alabama (BB 60), and served through the campaigns in the North Atlantic and throughout the Pacific theater. In March 1945 he reported to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Illinois, where he managed the baseball team. In August he returned to the Cleveland Indians and resumed his Major League career.

Feller got his nickname, “The Heater from Van Meter,” due to his lightning fastball and his hometown, Van Meter, Iowa. Some baseball experts have credited him as being the hardest throwing pitcher in history. An 8-time All-Star and a World Series champion, Feller’s number 19 was retired by the Cleveland Indians, for whom he played his entire 18-year career. He retired from baseball in 1956, and in 1962 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Bob Feller also holds two other great distinctions: he never played a game in the minors after being signed by the Cleveland Indians, and he is the only pitcher in Major League history to throw a no-hitter on opening day.

Chief, you stand relieved. We have the watch.

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