Archive for March, 2014

Mar 28

The Story Continues: Capt. David Porter, USS Essex and the War of 1812 in the Pacific

Friday, March 28, 2014 3:52 PM
Sailing frigate USS Essex (1799), from port side view, as a stylized illustration of the ship, with cannon ports visible, in configuration at the Galapagos Islands. Artist: Joseph Howard (1789 - 1857) U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection

Sailing frigate USS Essex (1799), from port side view, as a stylized illustration of the ship, with cannon ports visible, in configuration at the Galapagos Islands.
Artist: Joseph Howard (1789 – 1857)
U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection

From Naval History and Heritage Command

 When we last checked in with legendary Capt. David Porter, he had successfully sailed on USS Essex around Cape Horn Feb. 14, 1814, in shorter time, in worst weather, and with less support than any of his naval heroes had done before him.

 Porter and his crew spent the next year whupping up on the British whaling and merchant industry in the Pacific. At least that was how Porter himself described his success in his Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean.

Map of USS Essex's cruise where she rounded Cape Horn Feb. 14, 1813, the first American warship to sail into the Pacific Ocean.

Map of USS Essex’s cruise where she rounded Cape Horn Feb. 14, 1813, the first American warship to sail into the Pacific Ocean. It also shows all of the ports where Porter and Essex sailed for the next year.

 “I had completely broken up the British navigation in the Pacific; the vessels that had not been captured by me were laid up and dare not venture out. The valuable whale fishery there is entirely destroyed and the actual injury we have done them may be estimated at 2 ½ millions of dollars, independent of the expenses of the vessels in search of me.”

Capt. David Porter

Capt. David Porter


 Porter gleefully goes on to say how the provisions coming from the ships taken by Essex and her entourage had provided his crew with “sails, cordage, cables, anchors, provisions, medicines, and stores of every description – and the slops on board them have furnished clothing for the seamen. We had, in fact, lived on the enemy since I had been in that sea; every prize having provided a well-found store ship for me.”

 Porter wasn’t stingy with the largess, paying “considerable” advances to his officers and crew, among them a midshipman who was his 12-year-old adopted son, David Glasgow Farragut, who would become the first admiral of the U.S. Navy.

 But Porter longed for more glory. “I had done all the injury that could be done to the British commerce in the Pacific, and still hoped to signalize my cruise by something more splendid before leaving that sea.”

 In early February 1814, Porter heard the British sloop of war Phoebe and an escort ship Cherub were being sent to stop Essex’s harassment of the British whaling industry. Porter was familiar with Phoebe’s captain, Commodore James Hillyar, from when they both served in the Mediterranean. He has even at times shared dinner with his British counterpart.

 So Porter decided to sail for Valparaiso, Chile to meet up with his frenemy Hillyar. “I therefore determined to cruise about that place, and should I fail of meeting him, hoped to be compensated by the capture of some merchant ships, said to be expected from England.”

 Phoebe and Cherub were formidable opponents. Phoebe was loaded with 30 long 18-pounders, 16 32-pound carronades, one howitzer and six 3-pounders for a total of 53 guns with a crew of 320 men, along with Cherub’s 28 guns and 180 men.

 Based on armament, Essex was inferior to Phoebe. The frigate’s original long-range 12-pounder cannons had been replaced with short-range 32-pounder carronades, leaving only six “long twelves.”

 When accepting Essex as his command, Porter wrote to the Secretary of the Navy to have the frigate returned to her original armament, pointing out “a ship much inferior to her in sailing, armed with long guns, could take a position out of reach of our carronades and cut us to pieces.”

 And Porter loved nothing more than to be right.

 Polite and Honorable Warfare

 Porter only had to wait a few days before Phoebe and Hillyar arrived Feb. 8 at Valparaiso’s harbor, traveling a bit fast for Porter’s liking. Phoebe was “approaching nearer than prudence or a strict neutrality would justify me in permitting,” he wrote. As Phoebe’s jib-boom came across Essex’s forecastle, Porter noted Essex could have taken the more powerful ship in 15 minutes.

 But that didn’t happen. The two captains exchanged pleasantries by letter, with Porter warning Hillyar there would be “much bloodshed” if Phoebe attempted to board Essex in the neutral harbor. Wisely, Hillyar protested that was not his intention. Porter admitted to being “disarmed” by Hillyar’s assurances, and ordered his men to stand down, and later commented: “No one, to have judged from appearances, would have supposed us to have been at war, our conduct towards each other bore so much the appearance of a friendly alliance.”

 Porter’s failure to take down an enemy ship when he had the opportunity was justified by him as being the more honorable person for respecting the neutrality of the port at Valparaiso and he would “scrupulously continue to do so,” even though “Captain Hillyar was incapable of a similar forbearance.” And despite the outcome, Porter still felt his decision was correct, that “at no time during the engagement that took place afterwards, or since, would I have changed situations or feelings with that officer.”

SS Essex versus HMS Pheobe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, 28 March 1814. . Artwork by Captain William Bainbridge Hoff. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2254.

USS Essex versus HMS Pheobe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, 28 March 1814. . Artwork by Captain William Bainbridge Hoff. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2254.


Six Weeks of Sassy Songs and Flippant Flags

 So while Porter was patting himself on the back for his honorable manners, Hillyar was back out into international waters. And then just as quickly, Porter was the one trapped. With Phoebe and Cherub stalking outside the harbor, Porter had to be content to wage a war by song and fabric.

 Essex was flying a flag that stated the ship’s motto: “Free trade and sailors’ rights,” to which Phoebe responded with the motto “God and country; British sailors’ best rights; traitors offend both.”

 “Whenever I hoisted that (Essex’s) flag, he should not fail to hoist the other. I told him my flag was intended solely for the purpose of pleasing ourselves, and not to insult the feelings of others; that his, on the contrary, was considered as highly insulting in the light of an offset against ours; and that, if he continued to hoist it, I should not fail to retort on him,” a peevish Porter wrote in his journal.

 So when Phoebe raised its flag the following day, Porter’s flag responded with a new motto: “God, our country and liberty – tyrants offend them.”

 At times, the sailors aboard Cherub could be heard singing songs as they worked, appropriate to their situation, of their own composition and almost always a dig at the Americans. And Essex’s Sailors would loudly sing Yankee Doodle Dandy.

 The ever-fair Porter admitted “the songs from the Cherub were better sung, but those from the Essex were more witty and more to the point.”

 While the sailors sang, Porter and Hillyar battled with hilariously polite letters, mostly over the nefarious comments made by a British prisoner of war who escaped Essex and sought safe refuge on Cherub. The POW spoke of being chained and treated miserably, and so Hillyar requested Porter to liberate the rest of the British prisoners. Porter defended his actions stating the Brit and his mates tried to poison members of the crew.

 “I have not perhaps, had as long a servitude as Captain Hillyar; nor was it necessary I should, to learn honor and humanity,” Porter sniffed in his reply to Hillyar’s letter accusing Porter of chaining his prisoners. Pointer added of the many prisoners, British and otherwise, none were confined or punished except when “they deserved it.”

 Concerned about how the public might perceive a captain who would mistreat prisoners of war, Porter did “the honor” of sending over letters from the Department of the Navy and British Adm. Sir John Duckworth that made note about prisoners of war who had spoken of Porter’s humane treatment of them.

 “I have been induced to do this, from a wish to remove certain impressions that have been made on the public mind, highly prejudicial to the character of an American officer; and I assure you, although I have endeavored to perform, and shall continue to do, my duty to my country, to the utmost of my abilities, I disdain a mean and dishonorable act, whatever advances may result from it.”

 Hillyar was having none of it. “The letters from your prisoners must be highly gratifying to your personal feelings – and I hope the individuals who have benefited by your humane attentions will feel themselves bound in honour to rescue your character from every unjust and illiberal aspersion.”

 On Feb. 25, Porter sent a note to Hillyar that he had “immediately liberated on parole, the British prisoners” under his command. “My feelings have been greatly roused by the scandalous reports that have been circulated respecting my conduct. Yet I hope I shall always have sufficient control over myself, to prevent any change in my conduct towards those whom the fortune of war may place in my power; for, though such a change might be just, it would not be generous.”

 When he wasn’t trying to salvage his reputation, Porter was plotting his escape and possible battle with Phoebe. On a day with a calm sea, Essex towed the prize Hector out to sea and set fire to her within reach of Phoebe’s guns. Essex managed to get back to the neutral harbor, despite the British ships’ attempts to cut them off.

 Then came a series of flags-up-man-ship between the British ships and Essex, with each raising, lowering and raising another flag in response to each other like three demented cheerleaders trying to do the wave across a football stadium.

 The war of words and prose continued, with Porter complaining to Valparaiso’s citizens on how Hillyar’s crew were writing nasty notes about Essex’s crew, and even more shocking, those nasty-grams appeared not only to have the approval of their captain, but were written by Hillyar.

 Incensed, Porter wrote to Hillyar, pointing out the style of the papers, which were encouraging Essex’s crew to abandon ship, proved they were not written by a “common sailor.” Despite credible sources confirming the deed was done by Hillyar, Porter wrote “my knowledge of the character of Captain Hillyar will not permit me to believe him capable of so base an expedient to effect the object of his cruise…”

 Porter assured Hillyar that his letter-writing campaign would not shake his men from their mission: “They have given me innumerable proofs of their readiness at all times, to die in support of their country’s cause: They have my unlimited confidence – I have theirs.”

 On Feb. 27, the stalemate between the two captains escalated from snippy missives. Phoebe sailed toward Essex in the harbor, hoisting her “God and our country” flag and then fired a gun. Taking the challenge, Essex immediately chased after Phoebe, raising her “God, our country and liberty” flag and fired her gun. As she closed in on the British sloop of war, Essex fired two shots across her bow to bring her to for the one-on-one battle Porter so desperately wanted, but Phoebe continued sailing.

 After chasing her as far as was prudent, Porter returned to the harbor, and observed to all who were within earshot, both on and off the ship, that he deemed Hillyar’s conduct “cowardly and dishonorable.”

 Incensed, Hillyar sent on March 16 an emissary to confirm the scandalous words were coming from Porter. Hillyar’s lieutenant assured Porter that the hoisting of Phoebe’s flag and firing her gun was not a challenge to Essex.

 Unrepentant, Porter said his use of the word “cowardly” was justified given Hillyar’s actions, but if his British cohort said it wasn’t a challenge, then Porter “was bound to believe” the captain. He then warned the emissary that if Phoebe or Cherub ever committed a similar maneuver, Porter would consider it a challenge.

 After that, Phoebe and Cherub stayed close together to avoid a confrontation with Essex unless they could both engage the American frigate. They didn’t have long to wait.


USS Essex battles HMS Pheobe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, March 28, 1814. . Artwork by Captain William Bainbridge Hoff. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2254.

USS Essex battles HMS Pheobe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, March 28, 1814. . Artwork by Captain William Bainbridge Hoff. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2254.

Fickle are the Winds of War

 “To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.” Sir Oliver Wendell Homes Sr.

 For a frigate like Essex, the wind was often a blessing or a curse. But after six weeks of being cooped up in Valparaiso’s harbor, Porter had waited long enough. With Phoebe and Cherub blockading him, Porter knew of at least four other ships in pursuit of his frigate.

 On March 28, Porter noted a southward wind had blown in, giving his ship the necessary speed to get past the blockade. He ordered sails up, but while rounding the point, those winds turned deadly as a heavy squall carried away the ship’s main top-mast, along with the men setting the sails.

 Prudently, Porter gave up on his plan and sailed to the east side of the harbor for repairs, but Phoebe and Cherub closed in, despite the neutrality of the harbor.

 “The caution observed in their approach to the attack of the crippled Essex was truly ridiculous, as was their display of their motto flags, and the number of jacks at their mast heads,” Porter said.

 As the Essex crew worked feverishly to repair the ship and prepare for battle, at 3:54 p.m., the two British ships hemmed Essex in under her stern and starboard bow, raking her with fire.

 Porter’s men responded with the three long 12-pound cannons they were able to secure on deck, forcing Phoebe and Cherub to pull back.

 With a deck-filled with wounded and dead crew from the first British assault, Porter’s worse nightmare was about to come true. Phoebe and Cherub placed themselves on the starboard side out of range of Essex’s carronades and where the ship’s three stern-side 12-pounders were useless.

 As the British ships shot away Essex’ sails, sheets and jib, the “decks were now strewed with dead, and our cock-pit filled with wounded, although our ship had been several times on fire, and was rendered a perfect wreck, we were still encouraged to hope to save her,” Porter believed, after Cherub pulled away from the battle.

 But that might have been a strategic move to give Phoebe the honor of sinking Essex. The British sloop of war “kept a tremendous fire on us, which mowed down my brave companions by the dozen. Many of my guns had been rendered useless by the enemy’s shot and many of them had their whole crews destroyed.”

 One gun in particular, Porter noted in his journal, had been manned by three crews – 15 men killed in action – yet the captain of the gun was only slightly wounded.

 With winds picking up again, Porter still hoped to avoid capture by running his crippled ship the short distance to shore and destroying her. But yet again, as they limped to within “a musket-shot” of land, the fickle winds shifted, pulling Essex back to within range of Phoebe’s cannons.

 Briefly, Porter entertained the thought of just pulling Essex close enough to Phoebe to board her, but she stalled in the water.

 With “flames bursting up each hatchway” and no hopes left of saving the ship just three-quarters of a mile from shore, Porter ordered his crew to save themselves before the ship blew. Some did get away, while others were either captured or drowned. Of those who stayed with Porter, they “entreated me to surrender my ship to save the wounded, as all further attempt at opposition must prove ineffectual.” At 6:20 p.m., Porter “gave the painful order to strike the colors.”

 Yet Phoebe continued firing. With his “brave, though unfortunate companions” were still falling about me,” Porter ordered an opposite gun to be fired to show they would offer no further resistance.

 “But they did not desist; four men were killed at my side, and others in different parts of the ship. I now believed he (Hillyar) intended to show us no quarter, and that it would be as well to die with my flag flying as struck…”

 Porter was about to hoist the flag again when Phoebe finally ceased firing, 10 minutes after the flag had been lowered.

 Porter was understandably furious.

 “We have been unfortunate, but not disgraced – the defence <sic> of the Essex has not been less honourable to her officers and crew, than the capture of an equal force.”

 And even though defeated, Porter considered “my situation less unpleasant than that of Commodore Hillyar, who, in violation of every principle of honor and generosity, and regardless of the rights of nations, attacked the Essex in her crippled state, within pistol shot of a neutral shore. The blood of the slain must be on his head, and he has yet to reconcile his conduct to heaven, to his conscience, and to the world.”

 Essex lost 58 crew members, another 39 were severely wounded, 27 injured and 31 missing for a total of 154 casualties. The British suffered five killed and 10 wounded between both ships.

View of Valpariso Harbor, Chile, after the capture of USS Essex by HMS Phoebe and Cherub, 1814. Unknown artist. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 55431.

View of Valpariso Harbor, Chile, after the capture of USS Essex by HMS Phoebe and Cherub, 1814. Unknown artist. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 55431.

 Porter took issue that Hillyar “thought proper to state to his government” that Phoebe’s victory over Essex took only 45 minutes, but the “thousands of disinterested witnesses, who covered the surrounding hills, can testify that we fought his ships near two hours and a half; except the few minutes they were repairing damages, the firing was incessant.” He credited “nothing but the smoothness of the water saved both the Phoebe and Essex.”

 Well, that and because Essex was held to the use of only the six long 12-pound cannons, “our carronades being almost useless.”

 Porter’s desire for “something more splendid before leaving that sea” proved fruitful for Hillyar and Great Britain, with the capture of Essex and Essex Junior, plus the British recaptured three of Porter’s prizes before they reached safe haven in the United States.

 Porter grudgingly admitted Hillyar had “shown the greatest humanity to my wounded and had endeavored as much as lay in his power to alleviate the distresses of war by the most generous and delicate deportment towards myself, my officers and crew.”

 That deportment would be another craw for the proud Porter to chew: Hillyar ordered Porter’s prize Essex Junior to be disarmed, offering the ship to Porter and his surviving crew to return to the United States with a “passport” to prevent her recapture. Although in true “gift-horse-in-the-mouth” fashion, Porter pointed out Essex Junior was “small and we knew we had much to suffer.”

 In his report to the Department of Navy about the affair, Porter noted it cost the British nearly six million dollars in their pursuit of Essex, and yet, “her capture was owing entirely to accident; and if we consider the expedition with which naval contests are now decided, the action is a dishonor to them.” He also got another dig at his adversary, adding if Hillyar had been bold with a force so superior, they should have captured Essex and Essex Junior in “one-fourth of the time they were about it.”

 Before Porter and his crew sailed back to the United States, the American captain took one more shot of telling Hillyar that he had cheated.

 “I seized the opportunity to tell him, that though I should take every occasion to do him free justice in that respect, I should nevertheless be equally plain making known his conduct in attacking me in the manner he had done.“

 “My dear Porter, you know not the responsibility that hung over me, with respect to your ship. Perhaps my life depended on my taking her,” Hillyar responded with tears in his eyes, Porter recalled in his journal.

 Porter said Hillyar still had it in his power to clear up the affair to the world, “…and if he can show that the responsibility rests on his government, I shall do him justice, with more pleasure than I now impeach his conduct. Until then, the stigma rests with him.”

 Despite his defeat and capture, Porter hoped “our conduct may prove satisfactory to our country, and that it will testify it by obtaining our speedy exchange, that we may again have it in our power to prove our zeal.” Porter achieved that goal. He and his crew were hailed as heroes upon their return to the United States.

USS Essex versus HMS Phoebe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, 28 March 1814. Drawn by Captain David Porter, USN. Engraved by W. Strickland. From journal of a cruise made to the Pacific Ocean in the frigate Essex 1812-14, Vol. 2. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2047.

USS Essex versus HMS Phoebe and HMS Cherub off Valparaiso, Chile, March 28, 1814. Drawn by USS Essex Capt. David Porter, USN. Engraved by W. Strickland. From journal of a cruise made to the Pacific Ocean in the frigate Essex 1812-14, Vol. 2. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 2047.

 Careers After the Surrender

Porter’s sense of justice and vengeance continued later into his career. He gave up his post on the Board of Navy Commissioners in 1822 to fight piracy. While commanding an expedition in the West Indies in 1825, Porter approved the invasion of a small Puerto Rico community after an officer from his fleet was jailed. But the United States did not sanction such an action, so Porter was court-martialed upon his return. He resigned from the U.S. Navy, but became the commander-in-chief for the Mexican Navy from 1826-29.

 Following his return from Mexico, Porter was appointed U.S. Minister to the Barbary States. While ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Porter died at the age of 63 on March 3, 1843.

 The “stigma” that Porter believed would follow Hillyar ended when he got to England. After service on HMS Revenge and HMS Caledonia during the Napoleonic Wars, Hillyar was knighted the first time in 1834 and promoted to rear admiral in 1837. In 1840, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. He died at age 73, on July 10, 1843, four months after his old foe, Porter.

 After Essex’s capture, the British commodore sent the frigate to England, where she

was repaired as a 42-gun ship and renamed HMS Essex. By 1819, she served as a troopship, then turned into a prison ship at Cork in 1823 and 1824-34 at Kingston, Ireland. Essex was sold for 1,230 pounds at public auction in 1837, 23 years after her surrender.

Mar 28

#PeopleMatter – The Rebirth of the U.S. Navy and the Legendary Exploits of the Original Frigate Sailors

Friday, March 28, 2014 11:21 AM
USS Constitution fires a 21-gun salute toward Fort Independence on Castle Island U.S. Navy

USS Constitution fires a 21-gun salute toward Fort Independence on Castle Island
U.S. Navy

 From Naval History and Heritage Command

The Naval Act of 1794 brought the U.S. Navy back to life after it was disbanded following the revolutionary war. The Act provided for the building of six frigates, ConstellationConstitutionUnited StatesCongressChesapeake and President. They were among the most sophisticated warships of their time. As is the case with the 21st century Navy, so it was in the Navy of 18th and 19th centuries: our great ships are nothing without great people to bring them to life. The exploits of the Sailors who took these ships to sea are the stuff of legend. Here are a few examples.

Commodore Edward Preble
On the evening of Sept. 6, 1803, USS Constitution having left Boston encountered an unknown ship close to the Rock of Gibraltar. She was there to work out a deal with Morocco whose Sultan was holding American ships hostage during the Barbary Wars.


In the dark, Constitution’s commander had made several attempts to hail the unknown ship’s commander. The only response to Constitution was to obnoxiously repeat Constitution’s hail. The impatience of her commander grew, and he bellowed a final warning, “I am now going to hail you for the last time. If a proper answer is not returned, I will fire a shot into you.

A return threat and order was made, warning Constitution’s commander she would encounter return fire from a British ship with 84 guns, the order further directed Preble to report to the British commanding officer via boarding party.


The frigate Constitution wouldn’t stand a chance against 84 guns, but that didn’t faze her commander’s growing rage. He climbed the mizzen shroud and made the following reply, “This is United States ship Constitution, 44 guns, Edward Preble, an American commodore, who will be damned before he sends his boat on board of any vessel.

The American commander even ordered his crew, “Blow your matches, boys!” Thankfully, before anything escalated, the British commander apologized for having ignored the hails, claiming Constitution had been so quiet there was no time to respond. Oh, and by the way, the British ship turned out to only be 32-guns.

But Preble’s reputation for fearlessness from this incident quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean.

Commodore Edward Preble NHHC

Commodore Edward Preble

Edward Preble’s temper was something already well known to those who served with him, and they understood where it came from: the British had burned his father’s house during the American Revolution, an act that would drive him to join the Navy. Then the British held him prisoner aboard the infamous prison ship Jersey where more than 10,000 Americans died with eight dying per day from starvation over the course of ten years. Preble survived and with him an understandable bad temper which would serve the Navy well.

Among his exploits in the Mediterranean, planning the blockade on Tripoli and ordering Lt. Stephen Decatur to recapture and burn the captured USS Philadelphia. The ship had been abandoned by its Capt. William Bainbridge who found himself on the wrong side of Preble’s judgment for having done so; Preble, it is said, believed Bainbridge and his crew should have chosen death over slavery.

After preventing Philadelphia from falling into enemy hands, Preble laid siege to Triploi in August of 1804. From Constitution, his Third Squadron flag ship, Preble forced many Tripolitans to move further into the countryside. Still, Tripoli showed no signs of surrender.

In addition to his temper, Preble was also relentless. He renewed the attack on Tripoli on Aug. 24, 1804 even though President Jefferson had failed to send reinforcements. Still, Preble had no fear. Preble’s persistent attack on Tripoli worked, forcing the Bashaw [ruler] of Tripoli to surrender to the Navy on June 4, 1805 and return all American prisoners of war including Capt. Bainbridge.[PT1] 

Lt. Stephen Decatur
On Feb. 16, 1804, Lt. Stephen Decatur burned the frigate, Philadelphia, in Tripoli Harbor. British Adm. Horatio Nelson called it, “the most bold and daring act of the age.” It was an event that established the reputation of the young Naval officer and set him on a path of continued outstanding naval service.

As a commanding officer, the high point of his career came when he commanded one of the six frigates, USS United States.


After having been laid up with President, Constellation, Congress, and Chesapeake, United States rejoined the fleet on June 10, 1810 sailing from the Washington Navy Yard for Norfolk for refitting under Decatur’s command. Coincidentally, Decatur had served in United States as a midshipman more than ten years earlier.

While at Norfolk, British Capt. John S. Garden, of the new British frigate HMS Macedonian, wagered Capt. Decatur a beaver hat that his vessel would take United States if the two should ever meet in battle.

The opportunity to settle the bet came sooner than either officer expected, as the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 19, 1812. United States, the frigate Congress, and the brig Argus joined Commodore John Rodgers’ squadron at New York and put to sea immediately, cruising off the east coast until the end of August.

The squadron again sailed on Oct. 8, 1812, this time from Boston. Three days later, after capturing Mandarin, United States parted company and continued to cruise eastward. At dawn on Oct. 25, five hundred miles south of the Azores, lookouts on board United States reported seeing a sail 12 miles to windward. As the ship rose over the horizon, Decatur made out the fine, familiar lines of Macedonian.

Both ships were immediately cleared for action and commenced maneuvers at 9:00 a.m. Capt. Carden elected not to risk crossing the bows of United States to rake her, but chose instead to haul closer to the wind on a parallel course with the American vessel. For his part, Decatur intended to engage Macedonian from fairly long range, where his 24-pounders would have the advantage over the 18-pounders of the British, and then move in for the kill.

United States vs. Macedonian NHHC

United States vs. Macedonian

The actual battle developed according to Decatur’s plan. United States began the action at 0920 by firing an inaccurate broadside at Macedonian. This was answered immediately by the British vessel, bringing down a small spar of United States.

Decatur’s next broadside had better luck, as it destroyed Macedonian‘s mizzen top mast, letting her driver gaff fall and so giving the advantage in maneuver to the American frigate. United States next took up position off Macedonian‘s quarter and proceeded to riddle the hapless frigate methodically with shot. By noon, Macedonian was a dismasted hulk and was forced to surrender. She had suffered 104 casualties as against 12 in United States, which emerged from the battle relatively unscathed.

The two ships lay alongside each other for over two weeks while Macedonian was repaired sufficiently to sail. United States and her prize entered New York Harbor on Dec. 4 amid tumultuous national jubilation over the spectacular victory.

Wherever they went, Decatur and his crew were lionized and received special praise from both Congress and President James Madison. Macedonian was subsequently purchased by the U.S. Navy, repaired, and had a long and honorable career under the American flag.

Capt. James Lawrence
James Lawrence was second in command under Decatur during the burning of Philadelphia in one of the most daring acts of the young U.S. Navy. But history was not finished with Lawrence who had joined the Navy as a midshipman with a background mostly in law. 

Roughly five years after the Barbary Wars, America was closer to going at it again with Great Britain. When the war of 1812 began, Lawrence had already been in command of the sloop of war, Hornet for two years.

From the beginning Lawrence was a thorn in the side of the British navy, capturing the privateer Dolphin in July 1812. Early the next year he blockaded the British sloop Bonne Citoyenne at Bahia, Brazil on Feb. 24, 1813. Then, Lawrence captured the Brig sloop, HMS Peacock and reduced it to a sinking ship in fifteen minutes. This is exactly the kind of behavior the British didn’t like. Most especially annoying to the British was the embarrassing fact that of the one-on-one naval battles fought so far, Americans had won almost every time.

Captain James Lawrence NHHC

Captain James Lawrence

Once Lawrence was promoted to the rank of Captain and given command of the frigate Chesapeake, one of the original six frigates, the commander of the British HMS Shannon wrote to him challenging the U.S. Navy’s ability and offered a fair one-on-one fight before British reinforcements came. Shannon’s commander appeared to delight in literarily poking Lawrence in the eye writing, “… after all, these single-ship actions are all that your little navy can accomplish.”

On June 1, 1813, Chesapeake battled Shannon off Boston. Lawrence would lose, but it was the manner with which he kept fighting that echoes to date. In full officer dress uniform, he fought alongside his men without fear. Conspicuously standing out, Lawrence was first shot in the leg with a pistol ball. Later he received his fatal blow from Shannon’s swivel gun. Although dying, he reiterated the same order even as his men carried him below, “Don’t give up the ship!” Even when his surgeon told him the British were boarding Chesapeake, he ordered the ship be blown up.

Boarding of The Chesapeake NHHC

Boarding of The Chesapeake

The British navy was so impressed with Lawrence’s temerity and courage, they buried him with full military honors in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Accounts vary, but from paintings and testimony, it is remarkable that the British opted not to strike the American flag even upon entering Halifax. Instead, they flew the British ensign above it.

Naval forces in Lake Erie under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry named the flagship Lawrence upon hearing Lawrence’s remains were transferred from Nova Scotia to Trinity Churchyard in New York in September 1813.

Oliver Hazard Perry by Gilbert Stuart

Oliver Hazard Perry by Gilbert Stuart

This banner would have an impact on American Sailors against immense odds. The Navy defeated the British at the Battle of Lake Erie on Sept. 10, 1813. In fact, the book War on the Great Lakes Essays Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie notes this was the first time an entire British squadron would surrender and every captured ship would be returned.

And it’s worth noting that Perry’s victory occurred under a blue flag embroidered with the words that still serve as a rallying cry for Sailors in today’s Navy, “Don’t give up the ship!”


Mar 27

#PlatformsMatter — The Rebirth of the U.S. Navy: A Fleet of Frigates to Equal None

Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:46 PM

By Joseph Fordham, Naval History and Heritage Command


Yesterday, we outlined how piracy was the catalyst in getting the leadership of the young United States on board with creating a national naval force.

 As the Barbary Coast pirates continued to either break or try to renegotiate their treaties with the U.S., Congress finally authorized the construction of six frigates at the cost of $688,888.82, which was signed into law March 27, 1794.

 Piracy is a battle that continues to be fought today. Modern Sailors have at their disposal agile ships with the most advanced technology used to, among other things, deter, disrupt and suppress piracy in order to provide maritime security and secure freedom of navigation.

 And that is exactly what the first Department of War Secretary, Henry Knox, wanted this fleet of six frigates to be: “equal, if not superior, to any frigates belonging to any of the European powers.”

Henry Knox Secretary of War U.S. Army

Henry Knox
Secretary of War
U.S. Army

 That was 1794. It had been nine years since the Navy sold its last warship, so the task was to build a fleet nearly from scratch.

 Joshua Humphreys, a shipbuilder from Philadelphia who had turned merchant ships into warships during the Revolution, was chosen as the designer for America’s first Navy. Construction of the ships would take place at several different seaports simultaneously: Norfolk, Va., Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Portsmouth, N.H., and Baltimore.

 Three would have 44 guns – Constitution, President and United States — and three would rate between 36 and 38 guns – Chesapeake, Congress and Constellation.

USS Constellation National Archive

USS Constellation National Archive

 Humphreys had specific ideas about the ships to be constructed, he wanted to build frigates as big as any built in that day, heavily armed yet built in a way so that even in a modest wind, they would have the speed necessary to elude a squadron.

 The ships would be 20-feet longer than British ships and 13 feet longer than the 40-gun French frigates. Their longer, but more-narrow design gave the ships their speed and agility, which was evident when the British nicknamed USS Constellation the “Yankee Racehorse.”

 A combination of white oak and live oak made up the 3-layered hull, spaced just two inches apart compared to 4-to-8-inches for the British and French ships. Live oak, which at that time grew only in the southeastern U.S., was five times denser than other oak woods. The live oak chosen for the hull construction came from Georgia. This hardened external shell helped fact become legend as cannon balls seemingly bounced off the planking of USS Constitution, which earned her the nickname Old Ironsides.

 The planks were held together with copper pins made by a Boston coppersmith named Paul Revere, along with 150,000 wooden pegs. The hull was 25-inches thick at the waterline, and then plated with copper sheets imported from Great Britain with tarred paper called “Irish felt” placed between the hull and sheeting.

 Six curved timbers ran from keel to the gun deck allowing for equal distribution of weight by the ship’s 24-pound armament. Other innovative elements to give the ships their edge included diagonal riders, lock scarfing (notched planking on the deck) and standard knees.

 One of the frigates remains afloat today: USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat.

USS Constitution in Boston Harbor June 11, 2005 - Navy Office of Community Outreach

USS Constitution in Boston Harbor June 11, 2005 – Navy Office of Community Outreach

 The frigates were the most advanced ships of their time and as the young nation embarked on one of its first major procurements, there were challenges during the construction process. Of immediate concern during the construction was the signing of a peace treaty with Algiers in 1795. According to section 9 of the Naval Act of 1794, a peace treaty with Algiers would negate the need to build the six frigates, of which work had already begun on Constellation, Constitution and United States.

 But President George Washington, perhaps knowing the tenuous nature of treaties with the Barbary Coast nations, urged Congress to continue building the three ships. Sure enough, as the treaties were violated, the remaining three ships – Congress, Chesapeake and President – were built as well.

Eventually the ships were launched between 1797 and 1800.

 The frigates were born of necessity, and, necessity, being the mother of invention, resulted in a project to construct the most technologically advanced warships of their time. But as Ben Franklin once quipped, “Necessity never made a bargain.”

 In the Naval Act of 1794, Congress set aside $688,000 to build the ships six frigates, a significant percentage of the nation’s $8 million budget. The building of just three of the frigates — Constellation, Constitution and United States — consumed nearly all of the original funding allocations. That required several more budget increases from Congress. First $172,000, then another $200,000, followed by an additional $115,833 for a total of $1,176,721 million, a cost overrun of 70 percent, and using more than a fourth of the 1795 defense budget of $5 million. The prior year’s defense budget? $1 million.

 There were rumblings through Congress of fraud, waste and abuse, treaty delays, issues with logistics in acquiring the desired ‘live oak’ for construction, bad weather, a plague of yellow fever and even fires all thwarting the progress of attaining the sea power the country so desperately needed.

 Bookkeeping proved sloppy, an admitted issue for the War Department, resulting in the establishment of the U.S. Department of the Navy on April 30, 1798.

 But eventually all six of the frigates would come to fruition, with the last ship launching in 1800: Constellation, Constitution, United States, Congress, Chesapeake and President. Four were designed to be larger ships at 175-feet, with two rated at 36-38 guns at 164-feet. A design dispute between the overall designer Joshua Humphreys and the Chesapeake’s master constructor Josiah Fox, resulted in the Chesapeake coming in at just 152-feet and downrated to only 38 guns. Humphreys later would disavow the ship’s design.

USS President and HMS Endymion Buttersworth, Sr., Thomas

USS President and HMS Endymion
Buttersworth, Sr., Thomas


So how did these ships, born of necessity, change the world for America?

 The six frigates served with distinction. Constellation was one among many that tallied victories during the Quasi War from 1798-1800, after the new Republic of France was a bit put out America quit paying its debt to that country. America claimed the debt was owed to the newly deposed and beheaded crown monarchs of France, not the French revolutionaries.

 From 1798 through 1815, United States took part in a variety of wars and skirmishes: Quasi War with the French in 1798-1800, two Barbary Coast Wars and then the War of 1812.

 During the Barbary wars, Congress and Constitution formed blockades off the coast of Tripoli and assisted in the capture of other vessels. It was Congress that brought the Tunisian ambassador to Washington, D.C. helping end the piracy of American cargo for the first Barbary War.

USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere - NHHC

USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere – NHHC

 During the War of 1812, Constitution captured 14 ships, including five British ships, with eight of them being burned or scuttled. The British blockade of American harbors kept Constellation out of the fight. But the four other frigates – President, United States, Congress and Chesapeake – together captured, sank or burned dozens of ships. The news of United States capturing Macedonian, and Constitution capturing Guerriere and Java, shocked Europe and the world and damaged the reputation of the Royal Navy’s inherent superiority.

H.M.S. Shannon Leading American Frigate Chesapeake into Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia John Christian Schetky 1830 Canada Library of Archives

H.M.S. Shannon Leading American Frigate Chesapeake into Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia
John Christian Schetky
Canada Library of Archives

 The British would eventually capture both President and Chesapeake before the war was over. Chesapeake went down infamously in 1813 as her mortally-wounded commanding officer, Capt. James Lawrence, ordered “Don’t give up the ship.” President was taken three days after the treaty was signed in 1815 and renamed HMS President.

Flag of USS Chesapeake, exhibited in London, 1914 - NHHC

Flag of USS Chesapeake, exhibited in London, 1914 – NHHC

 The remaining frigates were engaged in the Second Barbary Wars and returned to Tripoli and Tunis, then continued to protect the Gulf of Mexico against further piracy from 1816-1817. Congress went to South America in 1818, and from there to China, the first U.S. vessel ever to go to that country.

USS Congress National Archives

USS Congress National Archives

 Since those first six frigates, the U.S. Navy has continued to launch the latest and greatest technology in the defense of freedom. In 1862, the clash of two titans, the ironclads — Monitor and Merrimack — in the narrow straits of Hampton Roads, made all the rest of the navies in the world seem obsolete. The Great White Fleet of 1907 was meant not only as a great show of force and a display of American ingenuity, but also as a physical manifestation of President Teddy Roosevelt’s diplomatic foreign policy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” On Nov. 14th 1910, Eugene Ely flew off the deck of Birmingham, launching a new era for naval aviation around the world. This was followed by achievement after achievement, including examples such as the launches of the first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus and the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise. All these breakthroughs in technology resulted from the need for more presence, increased capability and greater survivability.

 In 1794 the architects of the Constitution recognized that the nation needed a naval force to operate continuously in war and peace. Today our nation continues to face risks, challenges and threats from afar and the need for a Navy is even greater.

 “Whether facing high-end combat, asymmetrical threats or humanitarian needs, America’s maritime forces are ready and present on Day One of any crisis for any eventuality,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus March 25, 2014 during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee. “In today’s dynamic security environment, the forward presence of naval assets serves to reassure the nation’s partners, and remind potential adversaries that we are never far away.”


Ship Name Cost Launched Final Destination/Destiny

Constellation $314,212 1797 1853 (broken up)

Constitution $302,718 1797 Still in service

United States $299,336 1797 Abandoned in 1861; CSS United States abandoned 1862; reclaimed by U.S. and broken up in 1865.

Chesapeake $220,677 1799 Captured by British in 1813, sold for timber 500 pounds

Congress $197,246 1799 Broken up in 1834 (trip to China in 1819)

President $220,910 1800 Captured in 1815, by British, broken up in 1818

 As is the case with the 21st century Navy, so it was in the Navy of 18th and 19th centuries: our great ships are nothing without great people to bring them to life. Tomorrow we’ll wrap up this three-part series with a look at some of the Sailors who took these ships to sea and their legendary achievements.

Mar 26

#PresenceMatters – The Rebirth of the U.S. Navy and the Scourge of Piracy

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 10:20 AM


USS Constitution fires a 21 gun salute U.S. Navy photo

USS Constitution fires a 21 gun salute
U.S. Navy photo

Salutations with a Bang! The Military Gun Salute


By Joseph Fordham, Naval History and Heritage Command

It was 220 years ago this week when the 3rd U.S. Congress received a committee report suggesting the young nation build six frigates to fight against Algerian piracy and then set aside the money needed to maintain them.

It would be the forbearer to the Naval Act of 1794 that was approved two months later.

The report requested a resolution to create a naval force to consist of four ships with 44 guns and two ships of 20 guns, to be provided for the protection of the commerce of the United States against the Algerian corsairs.

The next resolution defined ho

w to pay for the ships requesting permission to tax upon all goods, wares and merchandise, imported into the United States, an additional duty of one percent on top of the already levied 7.5 percent. Marble, slate, stone and tile were taxed an additional five percent, while salt, at 56-pounds per bushel, were nicked three cents per bushel.

The taxing didn’t stop there: ships made in the U.S. or employed in foreign trade were levied six cents per ton. The “not-made-in-America” ships were taxed 25 cents per ton.

The resolution also requested a separate fund be created to begin to build up the $600,000 expected to pay for the naval armament, including six months stores and provisions and three months’ pay to the officers and seamen, and $247,960 for the annual expense.

When the final resolution was approved two months later, March 27, it bumped up the two 20-gun frigates to 36-guns and left out the tax levy language. The final resolution did include guidelines on how to man each of the vessels, their salaries (captain at $75 a month, six rations per day; boatswain at $14 a month plus two rations a day), and the type of food they could expect for those rations: A pound of bread, a pound and a half of beef and a half-pint of rice for Sundays; one pound of bread, a pound of pork, a half-pint of peas or beans and four ounces of cheese for Monday. Added to that was a half-pint of distilled spirits, or one quart of beer per day.

Sailors know that the Navy celebrates its birth date as Oct. 13, 1775. So what happened to the Navy of the revolutionary war? After gaining her independence in 1783, the new nation’s leaders disbanded its Continental Navy, claiming a national military would be too costly to maintain, and besides, Congress had no authority to raise the money to pay for it.

But as piracy began to impede the young country’s economy, discussions arose in Congress about bringing back its navy as a means to protect the commerce flowing in and out of the fledgling nation’s sea ports.

By 1789, the U.S. Constitution was finally ratified and it gave Congress the authority they needed to “provide and maintain a navy.”

It was Ben Franklin who said “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and in this case, the need to protect the country’s economy from piracy and possible future invasion conceived the approval of the Naval Act of 1794. That decision didn’t come without much debate, funding challenges and politics. The same can be said 220 years later of today’s Navy, but as was the case then so it is today: America needs a Navy; presence still matters.

In this first of three parts, we’ll touch on the main challenges faced by America’s leadership as they attempted to re-create its naval force.

USS Enterprise Battling Tripolitan Pirates National Archives

USS Enterprise Battling Tripolitan Pirates
National Archives

Piracy and plunder hit profits

The arguments for a navy came from the systemic problem of piracy, and not just in continental waters, but also on the high seas abroad. The early republic had no capable response to these threats because it had no people, partnerships, power nor, as mentioned earlier, platforms. After winning their freedom from Great Britain, the Continental Navy had been disbanded, with the last of its warships sold by 1785.

In his book “Six Frigates,” Ian W. Toll explains early American leaders managed the problem of Barbary piracy “with a combination of flattery, promises, bribes and occasional threats.” Yet American ships would still be hijacked, taken to Barbary Coast ports, their cargo confiscated as tributes to the Ottoman régime and their crew held for ransom, in one case, for more than 10 years.

Six Frigates by Ian Toll

Six Frigates by Ian Toll

Attempts to lean on former allies fell flat for the young nation. As a colony of Great Britain, the Royal Navy protected merchant ships from piracy. But the former motherland was hostile to American merchant ships and suspected them of aiding and abetting France during the Napoleonic Wars. British ships intercepted American merchant vessels, commandeering cargo and impressing their sailors into the British Navy, as many as 15,000 between 1793 and 1812.

In fact, English merchants appreciated having fewer nations compete for goods coming from the Barbary Coast as it gave them more of the market share, a sentiment Ben Franklin heard in London and then repeated: “If there were no Algiers, it would be worth England’s while to build one.”

France, which had been America’s ally through her independence from Great Britain, also declined to provide safe passage through the treacherous waters of the Barbary Coast because they had their own interests to protect.

While the United States got no love from Great Britain or France, Portugal provided some protection to American ships when that country began blockading Algerian ships from entering the Atlantic.

Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat NHHC

Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat

Shortly after the warship Alliance, was sold, two American merchant ships were attacked by Algerian pirates in 1785, the survivors forced into slavery or offered to be returned for a ransom. Rumor got back to the U.S. that Ben Franklin, who was returning from peace talks in Europe around that time, may have been on one of the ships. He was not, but that just fueled the flames for a naval force to protect American interests.

In an effort to appease the pirates, the United States entered into its first treaty with Morocco in 1786.

But then Portugal signed their own treaty with Algiers in 1793, and that left American merchant ships vulnerable again. By the end of that year, 11 U.S. ships had been seized by pirates.

That was enough for President George Washington, who stood Jan. 2, 1794 before the House of Representatives for the 3rd Congress. He asked to have six frigates built for the protection of American commerce.

The House of Representatives approved the request and asked a committee to create a bill. Just 18 days later, on Jan. 20, 1794, that committee presented its recommendation for building, manning and maintaining the six frigates.

After the Senate heard and approved the bill two months later, Washington signed it into law March 27. But the bill had a clause that would later confound the construction of the frigates. In order to appease those against building a navy, Section 9 stated “…that if a peace shall take place between the United States and the Regency of Algiers, that no farther proceeding be had under this act.”

That treaty came about in 1795, and soon to follow would be treaties with Tripoli and Tunis in 1797. All involved some sort of payment, or tribute, to the Ottoman regime. For the anti-navy proponents, paying bribery and protection fees was cheaper than the cost of funding a real navy. Despite the clause, Washington asked for the three ships nearly completed to be finished, especially since trouble was brewing with their former ally, France.

Tomorrow, we’ll address the challenges of building a navy from scratch.  

Mar 25

#PeopleMatter: Office of Naval Intelligence Celebrates 132 Years Service to Navy and Nation

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 11:53 AM


Rear Admiral Elizabeth L. Train

Rear Admiral Elizabeth L. Train

Rear Adm. Elizabeth L. Train, USN, Commander, Office of Naval Intelligence

  On March 23, 1882 Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt signed General Order 292 establishing an “Office of Intelligence” in the Bureau of Navigation to support the modernization of the U.S. Navy in an era of rapid technological change. As our nation’s oldest intelligence agency, ONI has experienced and catalyzed significant change over the course of its long history.

Office of Naval Intelligence in the Bureau of Navigation State, War, and Navy Building, corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and 17th Street NW

Office of Naval Intelligence in the Bureau of Navigation
State, War, and Navy Building, corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and 17th Street NW

It has adapted and innovated to provide effective and efficient intelligence support to the Fleet, the U.S. Navy acquisition community, government decision makers, and U.S. allies and foreign partners responding to a dynamic and dangerous global strategic environment. ONI laid the foundation for today’s globe-spanning network of naval intelligence organizations and operations ashore and at sea supporting the front lines of our nation’s defense.

Adm. Ernest J. King 1942 NHHC

Adm. Ernest J. King 1942

  At the turn of the 20th century, ONI provided the technical data that helped build the “New Steel Navy,” heralding America’s arrival on the international scene as a naval power. ONI trained hundreds of operational intelligence officers and language officers during World War II to serve Fleet and theater commands. Its Special Activities Branch supported Admiral Ernest J. King’s wartime Tenth Fleet organization to defeat Nazi Germany’s U-boat threat in the Battle of the Atlantic and turn the tide against the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific. Over the course of the long Cold War, ONI developed a deep understanding of Soviet naval capabilities and operations, which underpinned military deterrence and political containment strategies. The post Cold War era and the rise of international terrorism in the 21st century created demand for intelligence to address and counter transnational maritime issues and threats, encompassing the enforcement of international sanctions, disrupting maritime weapons and narcotics smuggling networks, maritime piracy activities, and denying violent extremists the use of the sea as a means of logistical support and attack.

Yalta Conference - Adm. King Behind Churchill - DoD

Yalta Conference – Adm. King Behind Churchill – DoD

In 2009 ONI stood up four subordinate Centers of Excellence to deliver tailored intelligence to war fighters and decision makers: Farragut Technical Analysis Center, Nimitz Operational Intelligence Center, Hopper Information Services Center, and Kennedy Irregular Warfare Center.

As part of a larger naval intelligence community, ONI strengthens our Navy’s mission effectiveness in defending our nation at home and abroad. Today we are working collaboratively with our counterparts in the Navy’s cyber, meteorology, oceanography, and electronic warfare disciplines toward achieving Information Dominance from the depths of the ocean to cyberspace.

The men and women of ONI can reflect on their heritage with pride and anticipate the future with confidence. The outstanding work you are doing today will be the history of tomorrow.

Mar 20

America’s First Aircraft Carrier – USS Langley (CV 1) #Warfighting First, #Platforms, #People

Thursday, March 20, 2014 11:34 AM


USS Langley in Pearl Harbor May 1928 NHHC

USS Langley in Pearl Harbor
May 1928

By Naval History and Heritage Command

The aircraft carrier. Without a doubt, one of the most impressive ships to sail the sea, a floating city loaded with aircraft that can be launched to attack ships or shore, from nearly anywhere in the world.

As with many great things, the origins of the aircraft carrier came from a more humble beginning. When the keel was laid for the Proteus-class collier named Jupiter, she was already more than just a bulk cargo ship used to carry coal to keep other ships in fuel. She was designed to be the first turbo electrically-propelled ship, an experiment to improve safety on ships where fire from coal dust could quickly turn deadly. The interest in this experiment had President William Taft attend the keel-laying ceremony Oct. 18, 1911 at Mare Island Shipyard in California. While USS Jupiter (AC 3) was commissioned April 7, 1913, it was her rebirth March 20, 1920, as the nation’s first aircraft carrier, for which this ship will be remembered.


 Serving the fleet in two wars

After USS Jupiter (AC 3) was commissioned, she saw active service in the Pacific Fleet at Mazatlan, Mexico during the Veracruz crisis in 1914. She was then the first vessel to transit the Panama Canal from west to east on Columbus Day, 1914. During World War I, Jupiter provided coal to ships in France from 1917-18. A hint of her future may have been revealed as Jupiter transported the first U.S. naval aviation detachment to arrive in Europe. The detachment consisted of seven officers and 122 men commanded by Lt. Kenneth Whiting. 

After World War I, in which USS Jupiter earned the World War I Victory Medal, the ship that was already the first electrically-powered, would be transformed into another first: the nation’s first aircraft carrier. After sailing into Norfolk, USS Jupiter was decommissioned March 24, 1920. Work began to transform the collier into the nation’s first designed aircraft carrier, renamed USS Langley (AC 1) on April 11, 1920.

Lofty goals for naval aviation

It was only fitting that Langley be named in honor of Samuel Pierpont Langley, a former assistant professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and later Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute. Like other aviation pioneers, Langley was obsessed with creating a working “heavier-than-air-aircraft” for the Navy. He ended up spending the rest of his life competing against those other titans of aviation, Orville and Wilbur Wright, who won the patent. Langley didn’t win the patent for his “aerodrome”. Also, Langley’s repeated attempts at launching aircraft from a ship never succeeded. The famous English poet, Rudyard Kipling, wrote accolades of him for his persistence and commented: 

Through [President Theodore] Roosevelt I met Professor Langley of the Smithsonian, an old man who had designed a model aeroplane…it flew on trial over two hundred yards, and drowned itself in the waters of the Potomac, which was cause of great mirth and humour to the Press of his country. Langley took it coolly enough and said to me that, though he would never live till then, I should see the aeroplane established.

Samuel Pierpont Langley Courtesy The Smithsonian

Samuel Pierpont Langley
Courtesy The Smithsonian

Langley died in 1906 without having successfully flown his “aerodrome,” but he succeeded igniting the Navy’s desire to launch and land aircraft from ships at sea. The Navy took up where Langley left off.

Transforming collier into carrier

As a collier, Jupiter had seven 50-foot tall A-frame towers mounted on the upper deck to load and unload coal. The A-frame bases were used to support another deck and a platform elevator to carry aircraft from the hanger to the flight deck. Since the ship was built primarily for testing and experimentation for “seaborne aviation,” there was no control tower or what, on more modern carriers is called the “island.” Her flight deck, supported by heavy steel girders, covered the entire ship from bow to stern, earning her the nickname “Covered Wagon,” because the deck resembled a giant canopy. Langley’s insignia even conveyed the image of a ship with a loop canopy cover, invoking the American pioneer days when settlers moved west in Conestoga wagons, known as “prairie schooners.”

She was recommissioned March 20, 1922. Her first executive officer felt right at home on the new ship: Cmdr. Kenneth Whiting, a former submarine commander turned aviator who had been transported to England by the collier Jupiter. Whiting, who earned the title “Father of the Aircraft Carrier,” was the last naval aviator to take training personally from Orville Wright.  

Naval Air Station, North Island, San Diego, California, with a Douglas DT-2 airplane taking off from her flight deck. 1925. NHHC

Naval Air Station, North Island, San Diego, California, with a Douglas DT-2 airplane taking off from her flight deck. 1925.

On Oct. 17, 1922, Lt. Virgil C. Griffin, launched Langley’s first airplane from her deck, a Vought VE-7. Nine days later, Lt. Cmdr. Godfrey D. Chevalier made the first landing on Langley’s deck near Norfolk, Va., on Oct. 26, 1922. Once those wheels skidded on the flight deck, the Navy had finally gained the capability of launching aircraft from and safely returning them and their pilots safely to a ship. A month later, on Nov. 18, 1922, Cmdr. Whiting became the first aviator to be catapulted from a carrier’s deck.  

USS Langley off Christobal, Canal Zone March 1930 NHHC

USS Langley off Christobal, Canal Zone
March 1930

Langley served as an unarmed test bed for flight deck and flight operations throughout the 1920s. During this time, the Navy would learn from its experiences on Langley how better to park and launch aircraft more quickly, which set the stage for the fleet aircraft carriers that followed, such as Ranger, Lexington and Saratoga, all ships built with flight decks that were wider, longer and sturdier.  

Planes in USS Langley's Hangar During The 1920s NHHC

Planes in USS Langley’s Hangar During The 1920s

Not everything to do with flight managed to make it successfully onto the new aircraft carrier. Since carrier pigeons had been used for communications during World War I, a carrier pigeon house was planned for the transformed aircraft carrier. Apparently carrier pigeon training was lacking at Naval Station Norfolk. While the pigeons would return to the ship if only a few were released, once the whole flock was released, the birds flew back to the shipyard rather than to the ship to roost. So the pigeons were fired and the pigeon coop became the executive officer’s office.

With newer aircraft carriers being built based on lessons learned from USS Langley, the ship was decommissioned Feb. 26, 1937. She was reclassified and converted into a seaplane tender with the hull number AV-3.  

USS Langley After Conversion to A Seaplane Tender, 1937 NHHC

USS Langley After Conversion to A Seaplane Tender, 1937

Post-carrier career

During World War II, Langley was assigned to the Aircraft Scouting Force in the Pacific, where she assisted the Royal Australian Air Force on anti-submarine patrols. On Feb. 27, 1942, Langley was rendezvousing with destroyers USS Whipple and USS Edsall off the coast of Indonesia as part of the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDACOM) Command. At about noon she was attacked by nine Japanese dive bombers. Although the destroyers did all they could to protect her, Langley’s speed didn’t exceed 10 knots, slowing down her escape. She survived the first two strikes owing to Cmdr. R. P. McConnell, her skipper, and his skill at hard rudder turns, and avoided two bomb waves. But on the third, she took five hits, and her engine room quickly flooded. At about 1:30 p.m., Cmdr. McConnell gave the order to abandon ship. Langley’s crew then watched from the decks of Whipple and Edsall as the destroyers fired shells and torpedoes into the former collier and aircraft carrier so she wouldn’t fall into enemy hands. 

USS Langley Being Abandoned Feb. 27, 1942 NHHC

USS Langley Being Abandoned
Feb. 27, 1942

Langley helped train the Navy’s first aircraft carrier pilots, and they proved invaluable for the Navy on Lexington (CV 2) at the Battle of Coral Sea and on Saratoga (CV 3) at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons during the Guadalcanal Campaign. There Navy airmen successfully helped damage and sink enemy aircraft carriers. Of those navy aviators who served aboard Langley, five became rear admirals, four became vice admirals and four became four-star admirals.  

USS Langley (CV 1)

A Brief History of U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers -Part I – The Early Years

Mar 20

#PeopleMatter: “Yeomanettes” Paved the Way for Women of All Ratings Today

Thursday, March 20, 2014 9:41 AM


Rear Adm. Victor Blue (left center), Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, inspects Yeomen (F) on the Washington Monument grounds, Washington, D.C., in 1918. NHHC Collection

Rear Adm. Victor Blue (left center), Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, inspects Yeomen (F) on the Washington Monument grounds, Washington, D.C., in 1918.
NHHC Collection

 By YN1 Silvia Raya and YN2 Waltesia Crudup, Chief of Naval Personnel

 In order to fill severe clerical shortages caused by World War I, the U.S. Navy approved the enlistment of women in 1917. The Naval Reserve Act of 1916 made no specific gender requirements for yeomen, enlisted personnel who fulfill administrative and clerical duties.

So either by deliberate omission or accident, the act opened the opportunity to enlist women 97 years ago this week. One of the first through the door on March 17, 1917 was Loretta Perfectus Walsh, who became the first active-duty female in the Navy who wasn’t a nurse. Four days later, March 21, 1917, she was the first female to be named a chief petty officer. On April 6, 1917, Congress approved President Woodrow Wilson’s request to declare war against Germany.

 The newly-enlisted Sailors were given the rating Yeoman (F), with the “F” designating female. More popularly referred to as “yeomanettes,” the majority worked in clerical positions, but they also served as translators, draftsmen, fingerprint experts, ship camouflage designers and recruiting agents. 

Military and civilian personnel in a Navy Department office in the Main Navy or Munitions Buildings, in 1918 or early 1919 in Washington, D.C. Many of the women present are Navy Yeomen (F). There are two male Chief Yeomen at the first two rows of desks and typewriters on most desks. NHHC Collection

Military and civilian personnel in a Navy Department office in the Main Navy or Munitions Buildings, in 1918 or early 1919 in Washington, D.C.
Many of the women present are Navy Yeomen (F). There are two male Chief Yeomen at the first two rows of desks and typewriters on most desks.
NHHC Collection

Nearly 600 Yeomen (F) were on duty by the end of April 1917, a number that had grown to more than 11,000 by December 1918, shortly after the Armistice.

 After the war, many “yeomanettes” continued in their positions during the post-war naval reductions. By the end of July 1919, there were just under 4,000 left in service, and all were released from active duty to return to their more traditional roles before the war.

Yeomen (F) continued on inactive reserve status, receiving modest retainer pay, until the end of their 4-year enlistments, at which point all women except Navy Nurses disappeared from the uniformed Navy until 1942.

 Many honorably discharged Yeomen (F) were appointed to Civil Service positions in the same navy yards and stations where they had served in wartime. Entitled to veterans’ preference for government employment, they provided a strong female presence in the Navy’s civilian staff through the decades after World War I.

 Chief Walsh served all four years of her enlistment, getting out in 1919. After contracting the flu in 1918, she developed tuberculosis. Walsh died six years after leaving the Navy, Aug. 6, 1925, at the age of 29.


In this photo taken May 8, 1919, "Yeomanettes" stationed in Washington, D.C. assisted in Navy recruiting and in putting the Victory Loan drive "over the top" in New York City. NHHC Collection

In this photo taken May 8, 1919, “Yeomanettes” stationed in Washington, D.C.
assisted in Navy recruiting and in putting the Victory Loan drive “over the top” in New York City.
NHHC Collection

Today, nearly a century later, there are 4,644 yeomen, of whom 1,602 are women. We have faced similar experiences when it comes to balancing family and work, as did our predecessors nearly 100 years ago, but we are proud to be among the Navy’s first rating opened to women. Female yeomen today are no longer trivialized with the term “yeomanettes” or designated specifically as females. Thanks to the groundwork of those in 1917, women today are accepted in nearly every rate within the service.

Raya: I joined the Navy only six months after arriving in the U.S. from Brazil at the age of 26. I faced a lot of obstacles due to language barriers, but with determination I overcame them. It has been a journey of ups and downs – and I’m growing personally and professionally from this journey. I have faced things that I’ve never faced before, such as racism and sexism, which many times made me want to give up, but I didn’t let it deter me. Instead, the challenges made me want to make things better for others like myself. I advise people to search for help and learn from people who have experienced similar obstacles. I know that the women who joined this rate before me faced more difficulties – but because they persevered and kept charging forward, I am here today, able to serve in equality.

YN1 Silvia Raya

YN1 Silvia Raya

Crudup: I also believe that being a woman in the Navy definitely has its ups and downs – just as any man in the Navy experiences challenges, I would think. I came into the Navy as an undesignated airman. In 2008, I decided to take the test for yeoman and made third class on my first try. In 2011, I advanced to YN2 and finally settled into being a yeoman. 

Both of us walked different paths in our careers, but we faced similar experiences. 


YN2 Waltesia Crudup

YN2 Waltesia Crudup

Crudup: In October 2012, I found out I was pregnant with my third child, while on sea duty at a squadron. My commanding officer was very supportive and decided to keep me attached to the squadron until I transferred to shore duty shortly after. This was very beneficial because it allowed me to continue my sea duty time while still being a major asset to the command, lending support while the squadron was away on detachments. I know the timing of my pregnancy was not optimal – and not what I was planning – but I continued contributing to the mission. Many people at the command looked down on me because I got pregnant on sea duty, but I kept my head up and didn’t allow my pregnancy to determine my value as a Sailor.

Raya: I also faced difficult times, the most difficult being when I left my family behind while on deployments. I always think about my children and how much I’ve already missed in their lives I know that as a woman in the workforce, I need to learn to manage family, professional life, and goals to ensure I can reach a healthy equilibrium between them I’m thankful to have the support of my husband, who is also in the military, to make it easier for me to achieve this balance. 

 We both believe that being a woman in the Navy requires sacrifices, just as it does for women in the civilian workforce. We know we are not the only ones facing these challenges. 

 We both understand that life gives us opportunities to succeed. As a part of the three-star staff for the Chief of Naval Personnel, we feel as though our careers have truly taken off. We see things from a different perspective now. Here we are an essential part of the beginning process of every personnel action (instructions, NAVADMINs, executive correspondence) that takes place in the Navy. These are things that you can only experience as a yeoman. We are all here to do a job, no matter what gender we are. We feel that we are treated as equals and that our job matters.

 We can finally say with certainty that we are two yeomen, learning how to lead, with the main goal in mind of making a difference for people in the service now and the ones who will join our Navy family in the future. We are here to stay and make a positive impact in the life of many Sailors that will come after us. We are “the relief” for the warriors before us. We are taking charge of this post and we accept the responsibility that comes with it! #People Matter

 Raya is the Assistant Leading Petty Officer for N1 Secretariat. She manages a team of Yeomen in the administrative process involving executive-level taskers and correspondence enhancing manpower, personnel, training and education programs and policies for Sailors Navy-wide. Raya has earned the COMNAVEUR DET MAST FY-12 Junior Sailor of the Quarter, 3rd Quarter and CHNAVPERS FY-13 Junior Sailor of the Quarter, 4th Quarter.

 Crudup is the Scrolls Manager for the Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP) N1 Secretariat. She manages the daily tracking, setting up, editing, closing out and forwarding of all scroll packages for signature by the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations and acts as a liaison for scrolls with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, NPC PERS codes and medical offices in Bethesda, Md. Crudup also serves as an administrative assistant on the edits team ensuring that correct format and grammar are being used in all TV5 tasker packages for CNP’s review and signature.

Mar 11

Operation Market Time Challenges North Vietnamese Resupply Efforts

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 1:17 PM
The U.S. Navy fast patrol craft PCF-38 of Coastal Division 11 patrols the Cai Ngay Canal in South Vietnam. Fast Patrol Craft PCF-38 on Cai Ngay canal 1970 National Archives

The U.S. Navy fast patrol craft PCF-38 of Coastal Division 11 patrols the Cai Ngay Canal in South Vietnam.
Fast Patrol Craft PCF-38 on Cai Ngay canal 1970
National Archives

From Naval History and Heritage Command

Most of the blogs that appear on this space are tributes to the Blue Water Navy, those Sailors and Marines who fought their enemies in magnificent warships, impenetrable ironclads, stealthy submarines and a whole fleet of aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and their flying machines.

Not this blog. This blog is a tribute to the Coastal Surveillance Force that produced some of the greatest naval successes during the Vietnam War, the black beret-wearing Sailors of the Brown Water Navy.

Communists, coastlines and Viet Cong

When the Geneva Accords divided Vietnam into South and North, it provided a loophole that gave Communist leader Ho Chi Minh’s supporters an edge: A period of free movement between the two countries. With thousands of his supporters left in the South, Ho Chi Minh recruited thousands more to bring to the north and train for later insertion.

As a result, the communist-led National Liberation Front had a ready army of Viet Cong in the heavily-infiltrated provinces along the Mekong Delta. Since the Vietnamese army and navy were outnumbered, they rarely patrolled the rivers and coastline to stop clandestine movement of supplies to the Viet Cong. At the time, the U.S. Navy patrolled mostly in the deeper waters, with helicopters and patrol planes providing surveillance for American and Vietnamese ground troops.

A PBR in action in Vietnam. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

A PBR in action in Vietnam.
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

It was Feb. 16, 1965, when Army Huey pilot Lt. James Bowers flew over the South China Sea near the Vietnamese coastal village of Vung Ro and saw something that didn’t look right. An island seemed to be moving. As he moved in for a closer inspection, the “island” fired back. It was a trawler covered with plants around its frame and deck, filled with a boatload of weapons and ammunition headed toward the Viet Cong.

U.S. Navy River Patrol Boat (PBR) of River Patrol Force 116 moves at high speed down the Saigon River, Republic of Vietnam, November 1967. Photographed by JOC R.D. Moeser, USN. National Archives photograph, USN 1142259.

U.S. Navy River Patrol Boat (PBR) of River Patrol Force 116 moves at high speed down the Saigon River, Republic of Vietnam, November 1967.
Photographed by JOC R.D. Moeser, USN. National Archives photograph, USN 1142259.

After capturing the trawler, the U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam decided to stop the supply route to the Viet Cong. It was PBR-time, and by PBR we don’t mean beer, but rather Navy nomenclature for “patrol boat, river.” Navy leadership quickly created task forces of river patrol boat squadrons, some in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard.


Crewman of a River Patrol Boat (PBR) scans the river bank during patrol on the Alfa Canal, February 1969. Photographed by PHC D.S. Dodd, USN. National Archives photograph, K-68020.

Crewman of a River Patrol Boat (PBR) scans the river bank during patrol on the Alfa Canal, February 1969.
Photographed by PHC D.S. Dodd, USN. National Archives photograph, K-68020.

So it was on March 11, 1965, 49 years ago today, that Task Force 115 stood up, the Coastal Surveillance Force. Made up of three squadrons — two Navy and one Coast Guard – it conducted operations under the code name Market Time.  

It’s Market Time for river patrol boats

While the Navy had plenty of deep water ships in the area, what they needed were quick and agile boats. At first, they borrowed ships from the Coast Guard, cutters and river patrol boats pimped out for combat with .50-caliber machine gun and 81-mm mortars installed on the forecastle and four .50-caliber deck guns on the fantail.

But even more agile boats were necessary, and for that, the Navy turned to Sewart Seacraft of Burwick, La., purchasing more than 100 fast patrol boats (PBF). The “Swift” boats drafted but 3 ½ feet, powered by two diesel engines with twin screws and speedy at 28 knots. For armament, they sported twin .50-caliber machine guns forward and a .50-caliber machine gun/81 mm mortar combination aft.

Swift boats on patrol lead a group of monitors and armored landing craft. Naval War College

Swift boats on patrol lead a group of monitors and armored landing craft.
Naval War College


The operation was named Market Time as a reference to commercial and marketing ships that would ultimately fall under their jurisdiction. All were suspect. When they weren’t stopping, boarding and inspecting ships that ranged from trawlers to fishing boats, the crews provided naval gunfire support for troops on shore, transporting troops and evacuating civilians and providing medical outreach to the communities. They also put in aids to navigation for unchartered waters.

Market Time Forces NHHC

Market Time Forces

The squadrons used a variety of boats and ships, from destroyers and minesweepers that patrolled in deeper water to shallow water vessels like fast patrol craft, Coast Guard cutters, gunboats and even air cushioned patrol vehicles. More backup came from observation aircraft like P-2 Neptunes and P-3 Orions in international waters. The area of responsibility stretched across approximately 1,200 miles of coastline from Da Nang in the north to Phu Quoc Island in the south, and 40 miles out to international waters

Within a year, Operation Market Time virtually halted the Viet Cong’s resupply line from the north. For example, the seven-day detailed reports showed a steady decline in the number of ships detained for contraband. From April to May, 1966, the numbers reflected 18 junks detained along with 110 people after searching 4,686 vessels and 18,446 people, to detaining only two junks and 99 people while searching 5,340 vessels and 21,543 people.

Map of North Vietnam Route - NHHC

Map of North Vietnam Route – NHHC

That forced the Communists to find other ways of supplying the Viet Cong, sending them inland by way of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and through Laos and Cambodia.

After the Tet Offensive in January 1968, when the Viet Cong executed a series of attacks throughout South Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh was desperate to replenish his troops in the south, and so he looked again toward his fastest route of delivering supplies. During the evening of Feb. 29, 1968, four separate attempts were made by Communist ships to slip through the blockades. That day would end up as the largest naval battle during Vietnam, based on numbers of ships and scope of territory.  

Coastal Surveillance Force 4, Viet Cong 0

It started south of Da Nang as a 100-foot-long trawler ignored warning shots by the Coast Guard cutter Androscoggin. The trawler returned fire and the battle began, with the cutter joined by two other cutters and helicopter gunships. Trapped, the trawler’s captain headed for shore, beaching his ship. At 2:35 a.m., the trawler exploded.

PCFs carry a group of Vietnamese marines up a narrow canal for insertion. Naval War College Museum

PCFs carry a group of Vietnamese marines up a narrow canal for insertion.
Naval War College Museum


The second battle was at nearly the same time, off the Ca Mau peninsula, when another Communist trawler tried to breach the inner barrier. Four cutters came to attack, supported by Navy Swift boats. Overwhelmed with U.S. gunfire, the trawler burst into flames and exploded.

Northeast of Nha Trang, another trawler was caught in the inner barrier by a force of Swift boats, Vietnamese junks, Vietnamese Navy, Fleet Command ships and an AC-47 aircraft. The trawler’s captain ran the ship onto the beach, destroying it, but the supplies were salvaged, a boatload of automatic rifles, rocket launchers, rocket rounds, 82mm mortar tubes with hundreds of rounds of ammunition and more than two dozen cases of 7.62mm ammunition.

The captain of the fourth trawler decided to cut his losses and returned back to North Vietnamese waters after the Coast Guard cutter Minnetonka intercepted him in the international waters near the border.

After that night of four engagements and failed missions, the North Vietnamese never made another such maneuver to resupply their troops by sea.

BZs for Brown Water Navy

The success of Market Time interdiction operations was considered one of the great successes of the Vietnam War, as noted in a “lessons learned” study commissioned by the Department of the Army.

“Operation Market Time has been judged to have produced significant results and is credited with forcing the enemy to change his logistic operations extensively. In early 1966, it was estimated that the enemy accomplished three-quarters of his resupply by infiltration from the sea. By the end of 1966, this was reduced to an estimated one-tenth of the total resupply.”

Army Gen. William Westmorland praised the work performed by the Brown Water Navy as well: “Market Time forces have successfully blocked intrusions by sea, forcing the enemy to use the long, torturous Ho Chi Minh Trail, thus affecting significantly his ability to properly sustain his forces in the South.”

Information for this blog came from previous articles from Naval History and Heritage Command and a 2008 report The Brown Water Navy in the Mekong Delta: COIN in the Littorals and Inland Waters by Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Sessoms.

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