Archive for 2010

Oct 7

A Good Boatswain Is Hard to Find

Thursday, October 7, 2010 12:01 AM

The available pool of qualified warrant and petty officers fell well short of the needs of the navy during the Tripolitan War (1801-1805). Commodore Edward Preble complained that “wages are so high in the merchant service that the best men will not ship with us.” Still, the navy recruited many worthy men to serve as warrant and petty officers, including some excellent boatswains. Boatswain’s Mate John McFate, appointed acting boatswain in Constitution on 25 April 1805 to replace another one found incompetent, received his warrant on 2 January 1806. Master Commandant John Dent believed McFate to be one of the navy’s best and requested him for his command, for “the service on which we are going makes it proper if not necessary to have the best Officers of the kind our Navy possesses.” Boatswain Evan Jenkyns, of Gunboat No. 6, while in the Mediterranean, proved his mettle by proposing stout resistance to a British boarding party in search of British sailors to press. Jenkyns implored the midshipman in temporary command, “he hoped he would not suffer the Men to go and said if he was in his place he would not. There were plenty of Boarding Pikes and Cutlasses at hand and could have Kept the boat off with ease.” Because of gallant conduct in the attack on Tripoli Harbor of 27 August 1804, gunner’s mate Edmund P. Kennedy earned a midshipman’s warrant. “It is with regret I have to inform you of the loss of No. 8, which was blown up by a hot shot from the enemy,” Captain Stephen Decatur, wrote in his report of the action.

After the smoke cleared off, I found all abaft the mast was under water; the gun and bow being the only part out. Mr. Spence, midshipman, was the officer superintending the gun, who, at the time of the explosion, was in the act of loading her: after which accident, he, and the brave fellows left, completed the loading of the gun before she sunk, and then swam to the nearest boat, where they assisted during the engagement.

Conspicuous among those firing the last shot as the gunboat sank below the waves was the gun’s captain, Edmund P. Kennedy. Kennedy eventually rose to captain, the highest naval rank attainable in his lifetime.

 
Oct 6

The Battle of Vella Lavella, October 6-7, 1943

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 12:01 AM

On the morning of October 6, 1943, a force of 9 destroyers and assorted landing craft under the command of Rear Admiral Matsuji Ijuin set sail from Rabaul headed for Vella Lavella to evacuate that island’s approximately 600-man garrison. In an early example of “leapfrogging”, American forces had bypassed Kolombangara and landed with little opposition at Vella Lavella on 15 August.

On the Afternoon of October 6th, search planes sighted the Japanese force and six American destroyers in the area sailed toward the evacuation point at Marquana Bay. A group of three destroyers, Selfridge (DD-357), Chevalier (DD-451), and O’Bannon (DD-450), under the command of Captain Frank Walker arrived at their rendezvous point ahead of the other three destroyers commanded by Captain Harold Larson. Knowing that a Japanese scout plane had denied him the element of surprise, Captain Walker decided not to wait for Larson’s group before he engaged the much larger Japanese force.

Shortly before midnight, American torpedoes and gunfire turned the Japanese destroyer Yugumo into a flaming wreck, but the long odds soon asserted themselves. Chevalier had to be abandoned and only heroic damage control saved Selfridge from the same fate. The appearance of Larson’s destroyers convinced the Japanese commander to retire toward Rabaul. The Japanese had successfully evacuated the garrison at the cost of only one destroyer. However, Captain Walker’s daring and initiative underscored the certainty of eventual victory as the Allies wrested control of the Solomons Islands from the Japanese.

 
Oct 6

Lights and Liberty: Naval Discipline of an American Character

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 12:01 AM

Establishing a version of naval discipline that suited the character of Americans posed one of the earliest challenges facing the United States Navy. Americans’ egalitarian ways worked against customary forms of military subordination. During the 1790s, when the United States Navy was established, the clash between egalitarianism and military subordination intensified, for this was an era in which republican ideals, based on the American Revolution’s assertion that “all men are created equal,” were challenging traditional habits of deference of social inferiors to social superiors. In looking to European models of naval discipline, founded on rigid social separation of officers from ratings, commissioned officers of the fledgling American navy ran up against the general American desire to eliminate all vestiges of special privilege and aristocratic pretense.

An incident during Captain James Sever’s command of Congress in 1800 illustrates the difficulties that resulted from the disjunction between rising notions of liberty and equality among American seamen and traditional concepts of due subordination held by naval commanders. This episode took place hardly two years after the first U.S. Navy ships entered commission. Captain Sever’s shipboard rules required the seamen to eat their meals on the berth deck. Without lights it was too dark for the seamen to see their victuals on the deck on which they slung their hammocks, given that it was below water level. The men, therefore, ate their meals by candlelight, that is until one day, acting on Sever’s orders, the master at arms went through the deck extinguished the candles while informing the men that burning candles on the berth deck without special permission was against regulations. The next morning, a delegation consisting of two seamen, Ansel Robinson and acting armorer’s mate John Carter, requested an audience with the captain. Hats in hand, they asked that the crew be allowed candles during meals, or, failing that, that they be allowed to eat their meals on the gun deck, where natural light was sufficient. They suggested to Sever that his denying them candles “was different from the practice in every other ship in the service.” Informing the men that he would not be dictated to by them, Sever denied both requests. After the delegation had returned to the spar deck, the officers heard from among the crew on the forecastle cries of “light and liberty!” Apprehending that the crew’s mood was growing ugly, Sever ordered the men below decks. Once below deck, some thirty or forty of them shouted, “huzza for liberty!” With the marines armed and drawn up on the quarterdeck, Sever ordered the seamen back above decks. As Carter was coming up the ladder, admonished by Sever for tardiness, he replied, “If this is liberty, damn such liberty.” Sever placed Carter, Robinson, and five other men he considered the instigators of the trouble under arrest.

The transcript of the subsequent court-martial opens a window on the viewpoints of both the seamen and their commanding officer. Whereas the seamen asked for the use of candles by which to eat their meals not as a favor, but as a right, Sever denied the request because the men asked it as a right and not as a favor. Some of the men, from having served previously in U.S.S. Constitution, where they had been allowed candles at meals, believed that such was the Navy’s established practice. Asked during the trial, “was the application for candles a demand or a requisition,” Sever answered, “It was clearly a demand. The word was not ‘I demand,’ but that they had a right.” And asked if messing on the gun deck was a demand or a requisition, Sever stated, “The words were ‘if you will not let us have candles you will not object to our messing on the gun deck.’”

In their defense, the accused submitted an apology, pleading that their disgruntlement arose only because they had thought the refusal of their request was “a denial of what we imagined the rules of the navy gave us a right.”

The court acquitted one of the accused and convicted the other six, sentencing four to seventy-two lashes with the cat-o-nine-tails. Carter and Robinson, identified as the ringleaders, the court condemned to death by hanging from the fore yard arm, while recommending them to clemency. Commodore Thomas Truxtun confirmed the sentences of seventy-two lashes, referring to them as “mild,” and mitigated the hangings to one hundred lashes and dismissal from the service.

Eventually, an American version of discipline emerged out of the rough and tumble shipboard friction between officers and men, a version more compatible with the American egalitarian ethos, but still firm and maintaining a measure of social distance between ranks. More relaxed and less draconian than that of European navies, discipline in the nineteenth-century U.S. Navy made the American the more attractive service.

 
Oct 5

David Takes On Goliath: 5 October 1863

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 7:27 AM

On the night of 5 October 1863, David faced Goliath. It would not be the epic showdown of biblical times during the American Civil War, but one of explosions, iron, and rushing water under the moonlight of Charleston.

USS New Ironsides, a casemate ironclad steamer boasting fourteen eleven-inch smoothbores, was at the time considered the most formidable warship in the world. It proved to be nearly impenetrable to the Charleston harbor defenses. The Union “Goliath” and its Captain, S.C. Rowan, waited for any answer the Confederates had to test the mighty ship. Little did they know its “Davidian” foe would pack such a punch given its comparable size.

The Confederate semi-submersible ship David did not have rocks and slings. Instead, its armament consisted of a single spar torpedo attached to its bow. As the cigar-shaped vessel was designed to operate in shallow water, its five foot draft allowed her to sneak up on enemies seemingly undetected. Around 9 p.m. on the 5th, CSS David slipped into Charleston Harbor unnoticed, avoiding the blockading monitors as it sailed toward the pride of the Union fleet. It was not until the David was 50 yards from the Union ship that a sailor spotted her. David successfully rammed its spar torpedo into the starboard quarter of the New Ironsides, exploding seven feet below the water line. From the account of New Ironsides Captain S.C. Rowan:

“At 9 p.m. discovered a very peculiar looking steamer which at first appeared like a boat standing toward our starboard beam from seaward; hailed her rapidly four times, and she making no reply, fired into her with musketry; she returned fire, dangerously wounding Ensign C.W. Howard in charge of the deck [. . .] the steamer struck us near No. 6 port, starboard side, exploding a large torpedo, shaking the vessel and throwing up an immense column of water, part of which fell on our decks.”

The blast threw water on the deck and the smokestack of the David, which put out a fire in the engine. The explosion knocked down armory bulkhead and store rooms aboard the New Ironsides in the wake of the torpedo’s explosion. Amidst the confusion, David floated attached by her spar, unable to reverse without steam power. As a result, Union sailors rained down rifle and pistol fire onto their aggressor. The Captain of the David ordered to abandon ship, and the crew set out swimming for nearby Morris Island. As they headed toward the shore, Assistant Engineer J.H. Tomb swam back to the wounded ship and got its engine working again. David limped back to safety in Charleston, picking up her remaining crew along the way.

Although the attack caused a large fissure into the side of the New Ironsides, the damage was superficial. One Union sailor died, and two others suffered minor injuries. Two of David’s crew were captured from the attack. Yet if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of Tomb, David’s story would begin and end in 1863. Remarkably, New Ironsides left the blockade for Philadelphia for repairs. Its damages were superficial. CSS David went on to unsuccessfully attack USS Memphis in March 1864 in the North Edisto River and the USS Wabash the following month. Although the ultimate fate of the David is uncertain, several similar vessels were captured in Charleston after its capture in February 1865.

Today marks the 147th anniversary of the event.

 
Oct 5

David Takes On Goliath: 5 October 1863

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 1:30 AM
On the night of 5 October 1863, David faced Goliath. It would not be the epic showdown of biblical times during the American Civil War, but one of explosions, iron, and rushing water under the moonlight of Charleston.

USS New Ironsides, a casemate ironclad steamer boasting fourteen eleven-inch smoothbores, was at the time considered the most formidable warship in the world. It proved to be nearly impenetrable to the Charleston harbor defenses. The Union “Goliath” and its Captain, S.C. Rowan, waited for any answer the Confederates had to test the mighty ship. Little did they know its “Davidian” foe would pack such a punch given its comparable size.

The Confederate semi-submersible ship David did not have rocks and slings. Instead, its armament consisted of a single spar torpedo attached to its bow. As the cigar-shaped vessel was designed to operate in shallow water, its five foot draft allowed her to sneak up on enemies seemingly undetected. Around 9 p.m. on the 5th, CSS David slipped into Charleston Harbor unnoticed, avoiding the blockading monitors as it sailed toward the pride of the Union fleet. It was not until the David was 50 yards from the Union ship that a sailor spotted her. David successfully rammed its spar torpedo into the starboard quarter of the New Ironsides, exploding seven feet below the water line. From the account of New Ironsides Captain S.C. Rowan:

“At 9 p.m. discovered a very peculiar looking steamer which at first appeared like a boat standing toward our starboard beam from seaward; hailed her rapidly four times, and she making no reply, fired into her with musketry; she returned fire, dangerously wounding Ensign C.W. Howard in charge of the deck [. . .] the steamer struck us near No. 6 port, starboard side, exploding a large torpedo, shaking the vessel and throwing up an immense column of water, part of which fell on our decks.”

The blast threw water on the deck and the smokestack of the David, which put out a fire in the engine. The explosion knocked down armory bulkhead and store rooms aboard the New Ironsides in the wake of the torpedo’s explosion. Amidst the confusion, David floated attached by her spar, unable to reverse without steam power. As a result, Union sailors rained down rifle and pistol fire onto their aggressor. The Captain of the David ordered to abandon ship, and the crew set out swimming for nearby Morris Island. As they headed toward the shore, Assistant Engineer J.H. Tomb swam back to the wounded ship and got its engine working again. David limped back to safety in Charleston, picking up her remaining crew along the way.

Although the attack caused a large fissure into the side of the New Ironsides, the damage was superficial. One Union sailor died, and two others suffered minor injuries. Two of David’s crew were captured from the attack. Yet if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of Tomb, David’s story would begin and end in 1863.

Remarkably, New Ironsides remained on duty without repair until May 1864. Its damages were superficial. CSS David went on to unsuccessfully attack USS Memphis in March 1864 in the North Edisto River and the USS Wabash the following month. Although the ultimate fate of the David is uncertain, several similar vessels were captured in Charleston after its capture in February 1865.

Today marks the 147th anniversary of the event.

 
Oct 5

The Herreshoff Brothers

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 12:01 AM

In the middle of the Civil War, two brothers in Bristol, Rhode Island started a ship yard that would make their name, Herreshoff, one of the most respected engineering names in the world: the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company.

John Brown Herreshoff was completely blind at age 15. He managed his own sail-boat building company until his brother, Nathaniel, joined him in 1878. John’s blindness did not prevent him from receiving commissions for boats that were renowned for their seaworthiness, speed and beauty. He used hull models and full hull models to make suggestions to improve the performance of the vessels.

Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, John’s brother, was known as the “Wizard of Rhode Island.” Nathan had worked long at building boats, and through photographic memory, he could help his brother correct ship designs. The brothers’ clean design and efficient engines captured the attention of the U.S. Navy. They were asked to place bids for new Navy torpedo boats.

The Herreshoff steam generator boilers were a significant breakthrough in small steam powered boat design. Their extremely light boiler design enabled them to fire up to a full head of steam in minutes. Not only were these water craft light, they were also fast.

The “Lighting” a double ender craft, was ordered by the US Bureau of Naval Ordnance, to be built at a cost of $5,000.00. The entire boat was so well built and so light that it could be stopped within her own length, while moving at full speed. She was a great test bed, and just too small to be a torpedo boat.

The brothers built the high-speed motor yacht, Stiletto and included a new engine design that gave her a remarkable speed of a sustained 20 knots and top speed of 26.5 knots, which was unheard of at that time. The hull was light-weight, wooden with five watertight bulkheads, and large compartments for engine room and crew. She had a forward conning tower that would earmark the outward design of all torpedo boats for years to come.

The Stiletto was purchased by the U.S.Navy on March 3, 1887, then ordered to the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport Rhode Island and later designated by the Navy as Wooden Torpedo Boat No. 1. This ship fired a torpedo from a deck mount in 1892. Thus she was the U.S. Navy boat to launch a self-propelled torpedo.

The Herreshoff company built six torpedo boats for the U.S. Navy from 1890 to 1897: (Cushing, TB-1, Porter,TB-6, Dupont,TB-7, Morris,TB-14, Talbot,TB-15, and Gwin,TB-16). All of the boats served in the Spanish American war.

The brothers experienced great difficulty in dealing with the federal government and naval officials. They faced a constant battle to receive funds and complained about hundreds of hours negotiating with clerks. Like many, the brothers actually lost money on government orders. After the Gwin was completed, they turned their talents to building racing and pleasure yachts.

These two remarkable men left their mark on American and world maritime history. The Navy was wise to recognize these American innovators at a time of rapid naval development. The problem of government machinery, however, has always been with us.

 
Oct 4

Navy-Marine Corps Photo Reconnaissance Over Cuba

Monday, October 4, 2010 10:51 AM

As Fidel Castro worked furiously to build an offensive missile capability in the Caribbean in the fall of 1962, the Navy/Marine Corps team utilized his folly as an opportunity to demonstrate its inherent synergy.

Navy Light Photographic Squadron Sixty-Two (VFP-62), stationed at Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Florida, received the warning order in early October to have 8 camera-ready RF-8A Crusaders ready to launch from Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West on short notice. The mission was treacherously simple: confirm the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Shortly thereafter, the Second Marine Aircraft Wing (2d MAW) at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina received tasking to augment VFP-62 with Marine photo Crusaders. After a monumental effort to update the camera suite on the aircraft, a Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron Two (VMCJ-2) detachment of four Crusaders linked up with VFP-62 at Cecil Field on 21 October and flew with them to NAS Key West the following day.

Marine photo reconnaissance pilots flew their Crusaders along side the Navy aircraft for the duration of the crisis. The joint service unit documented the operational state of the Russian missiles and confirmed their dismantling during the crucial last week in October. They then documented the retrograde of the Russian ships as they carried the missiles back across the Atlantic.

With one exception, the Marines flew their own aircraft as wingman or lead in section with Navy aircraft. On 10 November Commander Ecker, the squadron Commanding Officer, authorized an all-Marine mission to commemorate the 187th birthday of the Marine Corps. President Kennedy attested to the effectiveness of this powerful Navy/Marine team by personally presenting it the Navy Unit Commendation.

 
Oct 1

Wings for the Doctor: Naval Flight Surgeon

Friday, October 1, 2010 12:01 AM

This 1971 U.S. Navy film describes the role of the Naval Flight Surgeon.

 

 
« Older Entries Newer Entries »