Archive for June, 2012

Jun 26

U.S.S. Scorpion Artifact Vignette: Surgical Scissors

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 8:49 AM

“It is no small presumption to dismember the image of God.”

-John Woodall (1556-1643)

The Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) has been conducting a multi-year investigation of a shipwreck in the Patuxent River believed to be War of 1812 vessel USS Scorpion. During the 2011 field season, several artifacts were recovered from the vessel’s hold including a pair of surgical scissors, SCORP-2011-53 (Figure 2). Previous investigation of the shipwreck in 1979 yielded another pair of surgical scissors, 99-69-AE (Figure 1). UAB has been conducting ongoing research to better understand the specific medical uses of these artifacts.

Figure 1: A range of artifacts collected from the suspected USS Scorpion site.

Although both scissors are made of iron, the design of each blade is rather different. The first scissor found in 1979 is a small instrument, measuring 13.2 cm. The blades are short and slender accounting for 5.5 cm of the total length. Each blade terminates in sharp points; they meet the base of the handle at a slight angle. The second pair found in 2011 is a more familiar shape. This scissor is slightly longer, measuring 13.4 cm. The blades of this instrument also terminate in a sharp point, but unlike 99-69-AE, the blade to handle ratio is skewed in favor of the blades as the blades account for 7.5 cm of the total length. Both pairs of surgical scissors (Figure 2) bear the maker’s mark “Nowill”.

Figure 2: 99-69-AE (Left) and SCORP-2011-53 (Right)

In one irony of the war, the marker’s mark on the scissors indicates they were manufactured by Haugue & Nowill, of Sheffeild England. This suggests that Dr. Thomas Hamilton, the assigned surgeon aboard U.S.S. Scorpion, purchased at least part of his naval kit from an English firm. Unfortunately, research on the manufacturer revealed little information related to the specific functions of the scissors. This may be due to the fact that in the 1800s firms did not specifically associate themselves with the production of surgical instruments; instead they were silver firms etc.

 Much information can be learned about the intended use of surgical scissors by analyzing variations in their point, blade length, or angulation. Although there appears to be no recorded medical standard that dictates the specific correlation between scissor dimensions and function, a 1952 inventory compiled by Down Bros. and Mayer & Phelps LTD allows for some clarification. The inventory catalogued 104 pairs of historical scissors of varying types providing detailed measurements, scale drawings, and specific functions. It also suggested that the function of an instrument can possibly be determined by analyzing the percentage of blade length compared to the total length of the scissors. Scissors with a smaller percentage of blade length were typically used to make small controlled incisions while instruments with a higher percentage were used for post-mortem operations.

Based on the Down Bros and Mayer & Phelps LTD inventory, it is possible to posit the function of both pairs of recovered scissors. The total length of SCORP-2011-53 measures 13.4 cm while the length of the blade measures 7.5 cm (i.e. the blade composes approximately 55% of the instrument). An instrument with such a high blade percentage may have been used for post-mortem procedures such as cutting open large lengths of bowel for examination. A pair of scissors with identical shape and blade percentage can be found at the Musée de Histoire de la Médecine in Paris (Figure 3). This particular pair is part of a kit used by Dr. François Carlo Antonmarchi in 1821 during the autopsy of Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Figure 3: Surgical instruments used by Doctor Antommarchi for the dissection of Emperor Napoleon I (1769-1821). Musee d'Histoire de la Medecine, Paris, France / Archives Charmet / The Bridgeman Art Library

The total length of 99-69-AE measures 13.2 cm while the length of the blade measures 5.5 cm, (i.e. the blade composes approximately 42% of the instrument). Based upon this percentage and the angulation of the blade, it is likely that this instrument was used to cut bandages. However, the ends of the instrument terminate into sharp points which would also allow the scissor to enter tight spaces and perform more delicate procedures such as suture removal.

Naval surgeons were outfitted with a standard set of equipment that would allow them to fulfill any possible medical demands that could occur on board. This ranged from amputation blades to apothecary bottles, and would also include several different types of scissors. Although individual surgeons would be given a medical kit upon boarding a ship, it was expected that these supplies would stay with the ship. In the case of U.S.S. Scorpion, the assigned surgeon, Dr. Hamilton, may have not been present at the scuttling of the ship but all of his supplies remained on board. Many of the recovered artifacts at UAB would have been used by Scorpion’s surgeon to treat the men of the Chesapeake Flotilla. The range of artifacts recovered shed further light on the activities of a naval surgeon during the War of 1812. Although these instruments were designed with a particular function in mind, it is likely that the demands of the ship outweighed decorum and were used for a wide range of activities. 

Further Reading:

1. Bennion, Elisabeth. “Surgical Scissors.” In Antique Medical Instruments. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, 1979. 73.

2. Kirkup, John. “Scissors and Related Pivot-Controlled Cutting Instruments.” In The Evolution of Surgical Instruments: An Illustrated History From Ancient Times to The Twentieth Century. California: Norman Publishing, 2006. 247-260.

 
Jun 26

The Navy Sails the Inland Seas

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 7:29 AM
Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the formal opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway to seagoing ships. The Seaway is a 2,432 mile long international waterway consisting of a system of canals, dams, and locks. It provides passage for large oceangoing vessels into central North America, and has created a fourth seacoast accessible to the industrial and agricultural heartland of North America. To celebrate the opening of the Seaway, President Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II, along with twenty-eight Naval vessels, cruised from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes. 1,040 midshipmen, including the entire third class of midshipmen at the Naval Academy, took part in this historic cruise. The November 1959 issue of Proceedings included an article written by Lieutenant Commander Allan P. Slaff, who participated in Operation Inland Seas, and describes the experience of traveling the Seaway.

From Lake Erie to Montreal-369 miles and 552 feet down

The Navy Sails the Inland Seas
By Lieutenant Commander Allan P. Slaff, USN
“This waterway, linking the oceans of the world with the Great Lakes of the American Continent is the culmination the dreams of thousands of individuals on both sides of our common Canadian-United States border.”
So said President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the official opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway on 26 June 1959. The President characterized the occasion as “the latest event in a long history of peaceful parallel progress between our two peoples.” Mr. Eisenhower was joined by the Queen of England, the Prime Minister of Canada, other ranking Canadian and United States dignitaries in a commemoration ceremony at the Saint Lambert Lock, first of seven in the new multi-billion dollar seaway. Read the rest of this entry »
 
Jun 21

Okinawa Operation

Thursday, June 21, 2012 9:51 AM

LVTs roll across terrain on Okinawa from beaches as Amphibious Task Force unloads. April 3, 1945.

The Battle of Okinawa was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War of World War II. On June 21, 1945, after 82 days of battle, the Japanese troops were defeated. This was not intended to be the final major battle of World War II, only the staging ground for the Allied invasion of Japan. The ferocity of the fighting on Okinawa, combined with the massive number of casualties, forced American strategists to seek alternative means for ending the war, as the destruction on Okinawa would surely have paled in comparison to any invasion of the Japanese home islands. The following article, originally published in the January 1946 issue of Proceedings, gives a personal account of the assault on Okinawa.

OKINAWA OPERATION
By Captain E. E. Paro, U.S. Navy
The High councils of war had reached a decision. They were in agreement and a directive was issued for a proposed amphibious operation in the Pacific.
There were many assumptions in the directive and the operation was to accomplish certain very desirable military objectives which later unfolded themselves but which are not discussed herein.
The target selected was Okinawa Shima in the Ryukyus. Information on this island was sketchy to say the least but its geographical location was very clear and definite. It is located 325 miles from the Japanese home island of Kyushu, 400 miles from Shanghai and about the same distance from Formosa. The directive stated that fanatical and determined air opposition by the entire Japanese air force could be expected. It was known that the Japanese had in existence certain paratroop units which would probably be employed, enemy surface naval opposition was a threat, and enemy troop reinforcements could be expected from any of the localities mentioned above. The target was heavily garrisoned and completely ringed by prepared enemy defense positions of great strength and in depth. It had a native population of 440,000 all of which must be assumed to be hostile. The terrain was exceedingly adaptable to defense, particularly in the northern and extreme southern positions of the island. The beaches were few and these were fringed by rough coral heads, and the depth of the water over them was unknown. The weather could be expected to be stormy for at least 20 per cent of the time and the island lay in the center of the path of most of the typhoons, which were frequent and severe. Read the rest of this entry »

 
Jun 18

U.S. Declared War on Great Britain on June 18, 1812

Monday, June 18, 2012 1:00 AM

Today is the 200th anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war on Great Britain. Later known as the War of 1812, it began because of tension between the two nations over commerce restrictions and the impressment of American Sailors into the British Royal Navy. The war was concluded on February 18, 1815 with the Treaty of Ghent, which restored relations between the two nations with no territory loss for either. The following article, originally published in the November 1939 issue of Proceedings, shows the United States’ struggle with Great Britain over the issue of impressment.

An Old French Map of Martinique, Dated 1763

A Chapter From Genesis Of The War Of 1812
By Commander Lucius C. Dunn, U.S. Navy (Retired)

In the long and troubled history of the United States Merchant Marine, no period proved more critical in respect to the demoralization of personnel and devastating losses in ships and cargoes­principally through capture and confiscation-than the two decades immediately preceding the War of 1812.In fact, the war resulted largely from injuries to American shipping in that period, chief among which in point of damaging influence upon personnel was impressment.
Although the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, the outstanding cause of the war-impressment-dates much earlier. Indeed, its genealogy may even be traced to the Anglo-French warfare in the immediate wake of the French Revolution.
Less than three weeks after January 21, 1793-when the Revolution’s bloodstained knife fell in execution of Louis XVI, ­France declared war on Great Britain. Whereupon began in earnest King George III’s maritime campaign of achieving and consolidating Britannia’s power at sea. And while a decade of peace with the United States lay behind her-following the American Revolution-yet there still remained to be gathered the fruits of victory at St. Vincent, Camperdown, the Nile, Copenhagen, and also that exemplifying Nelson’s genius at Trafalgar. In the prosecution of this eminently successful campaign on the sea, however, Britannia was impelled to resort to the highly questionable expedient of impressment in order to man her fleets.
The following paragraphs relating to impressment are extracted from President James Madison’s confidential message to Congress of June 1, 1812, in which he detailed the maritime grievances then current against Great Britain: Read the rest of this entry »

 
Jun 15

Prelude to Saipan: 15 June 1944

Friday, June 15, 2012 1:00 AM

A Marine-packed LCVP bears down upon the beach of Siapan. The Marines hold their fingers aloft with the "V for Victory" sign.

Saipan was an important strategic point for the Americans in the pacific theater. Gaining the island of Saipan, which is 1,300 miles from Japan, brought the war to the Japanese home islands. The May 1947 issue of Proceedings included an article written by Pete Zurlinden describing the atmosphere among the men as they prepared for the amphibious attack.

PRELUDE TO SAIPAN: 15 JUNE, 1944 (A Stirring Hour Relived in History)
By TECHNICAL SERGEANT PETE ZURLINDEN Marine Corps Combat Correspondent
Saipan, Marianas Islands, 15 June, 1944­. This ship sleeps as we plow toward Saipan -just 1,250 miles directly south of Tokyo-­where later today American Marines will begin the struggle for the valuable Japanese­ owned Island.
Below decks, sleeping soundly just as on any night-anywhere-an elite contingent of tried, battle-toughened Leathernecks, most of them stripped of all clothing, are stretched out in their bunks. Read the rest of this entry »