Archive for December, 2012

Dec 31

December 31, 1942: USS Essex Commissioned

Monday, December 31, 2012 1:00 AM
USS Essex (CV-9) comes into Norfolk Navy Yard for her commissioning on 31 Dec 1942 as officers and men line the sides.

USS Essex (CV-9) comes into Norfolk Navy Yard for her commissioning on 31 Dec 1942 as officers and men line the sides.

This article was originally published as “Essex: More than a Ship, More than a Class” by Richard F. Cross III in the September 1975 issue of Proceedings magazine.

The Essex-class aircraft carriers are subject to superlatives, and justly so. For some 35 years, they have made a greater contribution to the present state of carrier art, both operational and technological, than any other design, U. S. or foreign.


Much of this record stems from the staying power of the design. It has permitted modifications in equipment and practice to be proven operationally, often in combat. Another reason is sheer numbers. Of 32 ships authorized, 26 were started and 24 ultimately completed. At this writing, three are still in commission even as one of the first, the Yorktown, prepares to become a centerpiece memorial at next month’s dedication of the Naval and Maritime Museum complex in Charleston, S.C. The 24 represent 31% of all fleet carriers (not counting light carriers [CVLs]) which ever reached operational status in the world’s navies. Moreover, of the four nations–Japan, Britain, France, and the United States–which have produced operational carriers during their 60-year existence, only this nation was in a position to support worldwide commitments with them during the post-World War II period. To accomplish this task, the ships of the Essex class had to change, and change they did. There is little resemblance between the Essex (CV-9) of 1942 and the Oriskany (CV-34) of 1975.

Design studies of the CV-9 characteristics began in the late 1930s with the end of treaty restrictions on aircraft carrier tonnage. This led in 1939 to considerable discussion within the Navy, involving the bureaus, the General Board, and various senior operational commands. Of particular interest were the comments of the captains of the Yorktown (CV-5) and Enterprise (CV-6) and their division commander, Rear Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. These two sister ships had been commissioned in 1937 and 1938 and were the Navy’s first truly fleet-capable flattops built from the keel up as carriers. While the Yorktowns had been optimized in 1931 at 20,000 tons standard displacement, this figure grew to an initial 25,000 tons for CV-9, expanding to 26,500 as a result of the discussions. One reason for this increase was the desire to operate four squadrons of aircraft (scout, bomber, torpedo, and fighter), plus spares. Aircraft were growing in size and were expected to reach a maximum gross takeoff weight of 12,000 pounds.

The final CV-9 design, approved in early 1940, had 12 5-inch guns, alternate fire and engine rooms for the four screws, room for 220,000 gallons of aviation fuel, and three inboard elevators. The flight deck measured 870 by 109 feet; 83 aircraft would be carried: 27 fighters, 38 scout-bombers, 18 torpedo planes, and 25% spares. Two catapults were installed, one on the flight deck and one in the hangar deck. Design personnel complement was 2,171, including 632 for aviation. Standard displacement rose during 1940 to 27,100 tons, estimated trial displacement to 33,900. Eleven Essex-class carriers were ordered prior to 7 December 1941. One late design change occurred that year after the initial contracts were let. The midship inboard elevator was replaced by the world’s first full deck-edge design, thus clearing the hangar deck and easing aircraft respotting on the flight deck. The first ships of the class, incidentally, were capable of launch and recovery over either end of the flight deck.

With the coming of World War II, design studies of probable Essex successors were curtailed and the construction of additional ships of the class greatly expanded. Ultimately, two civilian shipyards and three Navy yards built the 24 ships actually completed. Following an accelerated construction period, the Essex herself was commissioned 31 December 1942, and 16 more were commissioned by the end of the war. Arriving in the Pacific, starting in August 1943, these new ships created and perfected-in conjunction with the CVLs and new mobile logistic support forces-one of the most impressive weapon systems of all time, the fast carrier task force.

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Dec 16

December 16, 1907: The Great White Fleet departs Hampton Roads for Circumnavigation

Sunday, December 16, 2012 1:00 AM

This selection comes from The Great White Fleet: Its Voyage Arund the World, 1907-1909 by Robert A. Hart, published in 1965.

By late November most of the battleships were at New York, taking in supplies before moving on to Hampton Roads, Virginia, the port of embarkation. Hundreds of young officers came ashore to look at the new Metropolitan Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the notorious suffragette who smoked a cigar each day at noon in Washington Square. New Yorkers gawked, too, gathering around the men in blue, pounding their backs, paying their bills in restaurants, and taking them to the Metropolitan Opera House to hear Enrico Caruso in Rigoletto. They were national heroes and required no fancies from Roosevelt’s publicists to help them look and act the part. Naval popularity since the victory over Spain had drawn some of America’s best men to Annapolis. The United States Navy’s most valuable asset, Britain’s Spectator asserted, was its young officers – keen, ambitious, intellgent, and handsome. Society pages reported their successes in lower Fifth Avenue, where the daughters of the “best families” clustered around them in a lively competion for signatures in velvet-covered dance programs.

Most of the officers took trains to Philadelphia on November 30 for the Army-Navy football game. The crowd of thirty thousand at Franklin Field was loud in its cheers for Admiral Evans and a Navy halfback’s twisting run for a touchdown. The middies won, 6-0, over the heavily favored men from West Point. “Like good soldiers, they fought the sailors hard,” the AP story read, “but it was no use, for it was the Navy’s day.” Fleet personnel returned to New York in a jubilant mood. The next night at a farewell banquet they shouted hip-hip-hurrahs when Admiral Evans announced that his men and ships were ready for anything, “a feast, a frolic or a fight.”

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Dec 7

December 7, 1941: The Destruction of the Battle Line at Pearl Harbor

Friday, December 7, 2012 1:00 AM

This article was written by Thomas C. Hone for the December 1977 issue of Proceedings magazine.

When aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked elements of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, their primary targets were the seven battleships berthed alongside the large mooring quays which ran parallel to the southeast side of Ford Island. The Japanese aircraft attacked the stationary battleships with aerial torpedoes, 40-centimeter (15 1/2-inch) armor-piercing shells converted to bombs, and 250-kilogram (550­pound) high-explosive bombs. The battleships Oklahoma (BB-37, launched 1914) and West Virginia (BB­48, launched 1921) sank during the attack, and the Arizona (BB-39, launched 1915) was destroyed when an armor-piercing bomb set off an explosion in her forward main magazines. The Nevada (BB-3 6, launched 1914) and California (BB-44, launched 1919), both of which sustained serious underwater damage during the Japanese raid , gradually filled with water and sank, the latter staying afloat until 11 December. The Tennessee (BB-43, launched 1919) and Maryland (BB-46, launched 1920), moored inboard of the West Virginia and Oklahoma respectively and thus sheltered from the torpedo attack, suffered minor damage from armor-piercing bombs. The fleet flagship Pennsylvania (BB-38, launched 1915), which was in drydock number 1, sustained only superficial injuries.

Of the five battleships which the attacking aircraft could reach with bombs and torpedoes, all were sunk. The available documentary evidence suggests that, of those five, the Oklahoma and Nevada were lost because of design defects , the West Virginia was simply overwhelmed by force her defenses were not meant to thwart, and the California was sunk because of the performance of her officers and crew. The Arizona‘s destruction is difficult to explain conclusively because the detonation of the ship’s forward magazines so thoroughly wrecked the vessel that no attempt was made to raise her. As a result, no detailed examination of the Arizona‘s hull was ever undertaken, and the physical evidence needed to demonstrate conclusively any weakness (or lack of it) in her armored decks has never been gathered.

The five battleships attacked by torpedoes in the first stage of the assault had two different forms of underwater defense. The first, worked into the Oklahoma, Nevada, and Arizona during modernizations between 1928 and 1931, consisted of an external bulge or blister and internal compartments backed by a longitudinal torpedo bulkhead of 40-pound nickel steel armor and 20-pound medium steel plates for a combined thickness of 1 1/2 inches. The bulge, or outer defensive layer, was empty. Behind the original shell of the ship was a layer of fuel tanks, and behind that layer was yet another, then the inner, armored bulkhead which stretched vertically from the double bottom to the third deck. The maximum thickness of the protective layer was 14 feet, and the two void layers inboard of the bulge were filled with fuel oil to absorb the blast and pressure of an exploding torpedo.

The second system, originally built into the Tennessee and Maryland classes, covered the center two­-thirds of each ship with a layer of five compartments with a total protective depth of 17 1/2 feet on each side. Immediately behind the shell was a void space 4 feet wide, while the next three compartments–­each 3 feet wide–were wing fuel tanks. The bulkheads of these compartments were designed to be stiff enough to resist compression but resilient enough to bend under the pressure of an underwater explosion. Behind the liquid-filled layers was a void 4 1/2 feet wide; its inner boundary was an unpierced longitudinal bulkhead of special treatment (armor) steel with a maximum thickness of 1 inch. The empty and oil-filled protective compartments were strengthened and subdivided by transverse bulkheads, and the spaces behind the torpedo defense system could be rendered watertight in the event of an attack. Both systems of defense used voids and liquid layers together, but the system designed originally for the Maryland and Tennessee classes was superior because of its greater depth and because it held sudden flooding to a minimum after an explosion.

The evidence suggests that the torpedo defense systems of the Nevada and Pennsylvania classes, even as modernized, were inadequate. On the other hand, the system designed for the Tennessee and Maryland classes–which were not modernized in the 1930s–was far superior; it kept the West Virginia from capsizing and should have kept the California afloat. The Nevada‘s underwater damage resulted from one torpedo and two bomb hits. While still in her berth, the ship was torpedoed

…on the port side between the two forward turrets at about frame 41, approximately 14 feet above the keel . . . . The innermost torpedo bulkhead was opened at seams and butts and compartments below the first platform deck between frames 30 and 43 (on the port side only) began to flood. [See Figure 1]

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Dec 5

December 5, 1843: The Launch of the U.S.S. Michigan

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 1:00 AM

 This article was originally published as “Our First Iron Man-of-War” in 1949 by Captain Frederick L. Oliver in Proceedings magazine.

WHAT is probably the oldest iron ship in the world today, and one of the first iron men-of-war built, is approaching the end of a career that exceeds the century mark by a few years.

In 1841 Congress authorized the construction of a side-wheel steam man-of-war for use on the Upper Lakes, to match the British naval strength in those waters.

The use of iron in shipbuilding at that time was a subject as contentious as the adoption of steam propulsion and the propeller proved to be in subsequent years.

In England the dwindling supply of ship timber had promoted the matter of iron shipping, but in the United States a contrary thought prevailed, and it was not until about the time of the Civil War that the Navy really turned to iron ships.

No record is available of the influence which brought about the adoption of iron for the ship built at Erie, and the construction at Pittsburgh shortly thereafter of a second ship from the same material; but log-rolling was as prevalent then as now, and Pennsylvania politicians probably supplied the incentive.

The construction at Erie of the U.S.S. Michigan involved difficulties quite comparable in some respects to those which beset Oliver Hazard Perry’s shipbuilding efforts at the same port some 30 years previously.

Practically nothing was known at that time in this country about designing an iron ship, or the technique of fabricating the unfamiliar material. Nor were other than the most primitive construction facilities available at Erie.

As a result, the lines adopted for the Michigan were those of the sailing ship of the period, and the frame was designed to afford the requisite structural strength without recourse to the strength available in the hull plating, providing a hull so strong that, despite years of abuse, it is structurally sound today.

I-beams being unknown at the time, the ribs were made from T-bars, and the longitudinals were built-up box structures about 12 inches by 24 inches in cross section. In all there were five longitudinals, the keel being the only one projecting beyond the skin of the ship. Three of the longitudinals ran the full length of the ship and two were beneath the machinery spaces. The hull plates were all shaped by hand, and the rivet holes were punched by the same means.

The hull material was wrought iron made by the charcoal process in Pittsburgh and carted to Erie. The purity of this material is attested by the fact that the metal is still in excellent condition.

It is related that many citizens of Erie considered an iron ship an anachronism, consequently throngs were in attendance on the afternoon of December 5, 1843, to witness the launching and satisfy their curiosity about the ability of the ship to float.

All they saw was a ship that stuck on the ways and could not be persuaded to move. Strange to say, during the night the ship relented of its perversity and was found afloat at daybreak the following day, having launched itself.

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Dec 5

Launching of First Iron-Hulled Warship

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 1:00 AM

December 5th, 1843

America’s first iron man-of-war, the USS Michigan, is launched.

In 1843, the first iron-hulled and prefabricated warship, the USS Michigan, was launched at Erie, Pennsylvania. A little over a century later, in November 1949, Proceedings published a brief article written by Captain Frederick Oliver, USN (Retired), about the ship’s long and peaceful career. In his article, Oliver describes in great detail the history of the Michigan (later known as the Wolverine), from its unique origins to its slow decline in public interest and, finally, to its unavoidable end:

What is probably the oldest iron ship in the world today, and one of the first iron men-of-war built, is approaching the end of a career that exceeds the century mark by a few years. Read the rest of this entry »