Archive for May, 2014

May 23

Remembering the USS Squalus 75 years later.

Friday, May 23, 2014 1:00 AM
20235 USS Squalus (PNSY)

After decommissioning, the conning tower was cut away and placed in a park at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where memorial services are conducted in May every year.

On May 23, 1939, the USS Squalus was tragically lost at sea off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Twenty-six lives were lost, thirty-three were saved. The story as told by Carl la Vo in The Short Life of the Squalus follows. (originally published in the Spring 1988 issue of Naval History magazine)

Forty-seven years after his miraculous rescue, Oliver F. Naquin walked into Baltimore’s Master Host Inn two summers ago. Inside, veterans of the World War II submarines Sailfish (SS-192) and Sculpin (SS-191) mingled. Most were people unfamiliar to the then 83-year-old retired rear admiral. But among them were six shipmates he hadn’t seen in nearly a half-century, not since he was their commanding officer on board the USS Squalus (the original SS-192) when she sank off New England on 23 May 1939.

Twenty-six men died that day. But 33 others survived in the greatest undersea rescue of all time.

At the reunion, Naquin embraced Bill Isaacs, Leonard deMedeiros, Jud Bland, Allen Bryson, Nate Pierce, and Danny Persico. Take away the years, the white hair, and the slower gait, and Naquin was again the submarine captain of the 1930s with his blue eyes, erect bearing, and soft though authoritative voice. Read the rest of this entry »

 
May 13

Navy Nurses #OperatingForward 106 Years Later

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 6:00 AM
"The Sacred Twenty" Front row (left to right): Mary Dubose, Adah M. Pendleton, Elizabeth M. Hewitt, Della V. Knight, J. Beatrice Bowman, Lenah S. Higbee, Esther V. Hasson, Martha E. Pringle, Elizabeth Wells, Sara B. Myer, and Clare L. DeCeu. Back row: Elisabeth Leonhardt, Estelle Hine, Ethel R. Parsons, Florence Milburn, Boniface Small, Victoria White, Isabelle Roy, Margaret Murray and Sara Cox. (Photos Courtesy of: BUMED Office of Medical History)

“The Sacred Twenty” Front row (left to right): Mary Dubose, Adah M. Pendleton, Elizabeth M. Hewitt, Della V. Knight, J. Beatrice Bowman, Lenah S. Higbee, Esther V. Hasson, Martha E. Pringle, Elizabeth Wells, Sara B. Myer, and Clare L. DeCeu. Back row: Elisabeth Leonhardt, Estelle Hine, Ethel R. Parsons, Florence Milburn, Boniface Small, Victoria White, Isabelle Roy, Margaret Murray and Sara Cox. (Photos Courtesy of: BUMED Office of Medical History)

 

By André B. Sobocinski, Navy Medicine Office of the Historian, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

May 13th marks the 106th anniversary of the Navy Nurse Corps.

On May 13, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Naval Appropriations Bill authorizing the establishment of the Nurse Corps as a unique staff corps in the Navy. Initially, all Nurse Corps candidates were required to travel to Washington, D.C., at their own expense and take an oral and written examination. Since many applicants expressed reluctance to travel at their own expense, U.S. Navy Surgeon General Presley Rixey ordered that applicants be allowed to submit an original essay on the topic of “nursing practices” by mail, in lieu of an onsite written examination.

The nucleus of this new Navy Nurse Corps was a superintendent Esther Hasson, a chief nurse Lenah Higbee, and 18 other women—all would forever be remembered as the “Sacred Twenty.”

Navy Nurse With Hospital Ship by John Falter - Oil on canvas 45-127-T (Artwork Courtesy of NHHC Art Gallery)

Navy Nurse With Hospital Ship by John Falter – Oil on canvas 45-127-T (Artwork Courtesy of NHHC Art Gallery)

Beatrice Bowman, one of these pioneering nurses, and later superintendent of the Nurse Corps, recalled that these “nurses were assigned to duty at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C. There were no quarters for them but they were given an allowance for quarters and subsistence. They rented a house and ran their own mess. These pioneers were no more welcome to most of the personnel of the Navy than women are when invading what a man calls his domain.”

The First Portrait

In October 1908, the first portrait of these plank owner nurses was taken in front of Naval Hospital Washington, D.C. (main hospital building). This building would later become the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery’s “Building Three.” The picture featured one current and two future superintendents of the Nurse Corps. Collectively, Esther Hasson, Lenah Higbee and Beatrice Bowman would account for 27 years of Nurse Corps leadership.

Rank

In 1908, the Navy Medical Department was comprised of Medical Corps Officers and Hospital Corpsmen (then referred to as Hospital Stewards and Hospital Apprentices). Unlike their physician counterparts, the first nurses did not hold rank. Navy nurses were not granted “relative rank” until July 3, 1942. Nurse Corps officers were finally granted “full military rank” on February 26, 1944.

Roles in Navy Medicine

Until 1909, all Navy nurses had the choice of one duty station, Naval Hospital Washington, D.C. (sometimes referred to as the Navy Medical School Hospital). In 1909, BUMED began detailing its Navy Nurse Corps to medical facilities outside of Washington, D.C. Naval Hospitals Annapolis, Md., Brooklyn, N.Y., and Mare Island, Calif., were among the first hospitals to receive nurses. In spring 1909, Surgeon James Leys, commanding officer, Naval Hospital Norfolk, Va., requested BUMED to send “nurses” to his hospital. When three female nurses (Lenah Higbee, Ethel Swann, and Mary Nelson) reported for duty Surgeon Leys was aghast. He had fully expected to receive male hospital corpsmen and did not know how they could work in a hospital without a single female patient.

Their original quarters were located in a rented house on 21st Street, N.W., only a few blocks away from the Naval Hospital.

Camp Taqaddum, Iraq (Nov. 17, 2004) U.S. Navy Lt. Charles L. Cather, an operating room nurse assigned to the Surgical/Shock Trauma Platoon (SSTP) at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq, pulls on a patients leg during surgery to prevent the leg muscle from retracting during the surgery. The SSTP, part of the 1st Force Service Support Group, is one of three major immediate surgical and trauma care teams assigned to Marine forces operating in Iraq. In the first six days of combat operations in Fallujah, the 63 surgeons, nurses, corpsmen, and other personnel of the SSTP treated 157 patients and operated on 73 of them. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin (RELEASED) 041117-M-0000G-001

Camp Taqaddum, Iraq (Nov. 17, 2004) U.S. Navy Lt. Charles L. Cather, an operating room nurse assigned to the Surgical/Shock Trauma Platoon (SSTP) at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq, pulls on a patients leg during surgery to prevent the leg muscle from retracting during the surgery. The SSTP, part of the 1st Force Service Support Group, is one of three major immediate surgical and trauma care teams assigned to Marine forces operating in Iraq. In the first six days of combat operations in Fallujah, the 63 surgeons, nurses, corpsmen, and other personnel of the SSTP treated 157 patients and operated on 73 of them. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin (RELEASED) 041117-M-0000G-001

 

To read Vice Adm. Matthew L. Nathan, U.S. Navy surgeon general, and chief, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery message to the Navy Nurse Corps click here.

 
May 7

On Course to Midway: The Battle of Coral Sea

Wednesday, May 7, 2014 9:30 AM

By the Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

The Battle of Coral Sea, fought in the waters southwest of the Solomon Islands and eastward from New Guinea, was the first of the Pacific War’s six fights between opposing aircraft carrier forces. Though the Japanese could rightly claim a tactical victory on “points,” it was an operational and strategic defeat for them, the first major check on the great offensive they had begun five months earlier at Pearl Harbor. The diversion of Japanese resources represented by the Coral Sea battle would also have significant consequences a month later, at the Battle of Midway.

The Coral Sea action resulted from a Japanese amphibious operation intended to capture Port Moresby, located on New Guinea’s southeastern coast. A Japanese air base there would threaten northeastern Australia and support plans for further expansion into the South Pacific, possibly helping to drive Australia out of the war and certainly enhancing the strategic defenses of Japan’s newly-enlarged oceanic empire.

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The Japanese operation included two seaborne invasion forces, a minor one targeting Tulagi, in the Southern Solomons, and the main one aimed at Port Moresby. These would be supported by land-based airpower from bases to the north and by two naval forces containing a small aircraft carrier, several cruisers, seaplane tenders and gunboats. More distant cover would be provided by the big aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku with their escorting cruisers and destroyers. The U.S. Navy, tipped off to the enemy plans by superior communications intelligence, countered with two of its own carriers, plus cruisers (including two from the Australian Navy), destroyers, submarines, land-based bombers and patrol seaplanes.

Japanese Aircraft Carrier Shokaku 1941 Courtesy Government of Japan

Japanese Aircraft Carrier Shokaku 1941
Courtesy Government of Japan

Preliminary operations on May 3-6 and two days of active carrier combat May 7-8 cost the United States one aircraft carrier, a destroyer and one of its very valuable fleet oilers, plus damage to the second carrier.

The Japanese, however, were forced to cancel their Port Moresby seaborne invasion. In the fighting, they lost a light carrier, a destroyer and some smaller ships. Shokaku received serious bomb damage and Zuikaku‘s air group was badly depleted. Most importantly, those two carriers were eliminated from the upcoming Midway operation, contributing by their absence to the defeat of the Japanese fleet viewed by many as the turning point of the war.

 Photo # NH 82117 USS Lexington launching torpedo planes, circa 1929

Build Up to the Battle

Good communications intelligence allowed the U.S. Pacific Fleet to prepare to meet the planned Japanese offensive against Port Moresby, though available resources provided little margin for error. The freshly overhauled carrier Lexington (CV 2), rushed out from Pearl Harbor, joined Yorktown (CV 5) in the probable action area on May 1, doubling Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher‘s carrier forces and bringing along another experienced flag officer, Rear Adm. Aubrey W. Fitch. These carriers and their escorts engaged in several days of refueling from the oilers Neosho (AO 23) and Tippecanoe (AO 21), while awaiting the arrival of two Australian cruisers to reinforce the six already on hand.

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On May 3, a small Japanese naval force carried out a landing at Tulagi, on the northern side of the Coral Sea, where they quickly established a seaplane base to provide reconnaissance deeper into Allied waters. Leaving Lexington behind and detaching Neosho to join her, Rear Adm. Fletcher took Yorktown off to interfere with the landings. On the morning of the 4th, his planes hit the invasion force. Though results were modest, to some extent due to humid air fogging the dive bombers’ sights, the destroyer Kikuzuki was fatally damaged and a few other ships and seaplanes were sunk.

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Fletcher then turned back south, rejoining Fitch on the 5th to top off his fuel tanks. The Japanese were now advancing into the Coral Sea with the Port Moresby invasion force and the separate covering force and aircraft carrier striking force. Both the American and Japanese carrier commanders spent the 6th moving westward, unaware just how close they had come — at one point they were but 70 miles apart!

The Battle Begins

The first day of the carrier battle of Coral Sea, May 7, 1942, saw the Americans searching for carriers they knew were present and the Japanese looking for ones they feared might be in the area. The opposing commanders, Rear Adm. Fletcher and Japanese Vice Adm. Takeo Takagi and Rear Adm. Tadaichi Hara, endeavored to “get in the first blow”, a presumed prerequisite to victory (and to survival) in a battle between heavily-armed and lightly-protected aircraft carriers.

Both sides, however, suffered from inadequate work by their scouts and launched massive air strikes against greatly inferior secondary targets, which were duly sunk, leaving the most important enemy forces un-hit.

Japanese scouting planes spotted the U.S. oiler Neoshoand her escort, the destroyer USS Sims (DD 409), before 8 a.m. in a southerly position well away from Rear Adm. Fletcher’s carriers. Reported as a “carrier and a cruiser,” these two ships received two high-level bombing attacks during the morning that — as would become typical of such tactics — missed. Around noon, however, a large force of dive bombers appeared. These did not miss. Sims sank with very heavy casualties and Neosho was reduced to a drifting wreck whose survivors were not rescued for days.

Meanwhile, a scout plane from Yorktown found the Japanese covering force, the light carrier Shoho and four heavy cruisers, which faulty message coding transformed into “two carriers and four heavy cruisers.” Yorktown and Lexington sent out a huge strike: 53 scout-bombers, 22 torpedo planes and 18 fighters. In well-delivered attacks before noon, these simply overwhelmed the Shoho, which received so many bomb and torpedo hits that she sank in minutes. Her sinking was marked by some of the battle’s most dramatic photography.

Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō Courtesy Government of Japan

Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō
Courtesy Government of Japan

Adding to the confusion, if not to the score, Japanese land-based torpedo planes and bombers struck an advanced force of Australian and U.S. Navy cruisers, far to the west of Adm. Fletcher’s carriers. Skillful ship-handling prevented any damage. Australia-based U.S. Army B-17s also arrived and dropped their bombs, fortunately without hitting anything.

All this had one beneficial effect: the Japanese ordered their Port Moresby invasion force to turn back to await developments. Late in the day, they also sent out nearly 30 carrier planes to search for Fletcher’s ships. Most of these were shot down or lost in night landing attempts, significantly reducing Japanese striking power. The opposing carrier forces, quite close together by the standards of air warfare, prepared to resume battle in the morning.

Fight that Would Impact Battle at Midway

Before dawn on May 8, both the Japanese and the American carriers sent out scouts to locate their opponents. These made contact a few hours later, by which time the Japanese already had their strike planes in the air. The U.S. carriers launched theirs soon after 9 a.m., and task force commander Rear Adm. Fletcher turned over tactical command to Rear Adm. Fitch, who had more carrier experience. Each side’s planes attacked the other’s ships around 11 a.m. At that time the Japanese were partially concealed by thick weather, while the Americans were operating under clear skies.

Planes from Yorktown hit Shokaku, followed somewhat later by part of Lexington‘s air group. These attacks left Shokaku unable to launch planes, and she left the area soon after to return to Japan for repairs. Her sister ship, Zuikaku was steaming nearby under low clouds and was not attacked.

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The Japanese struck the American carriers shortly after 11 a.m., and in a fast and violent action, scored with torpedoes on Lexington and with bombs on both carriers. For about an hour, Lexington seemed to have shrugged off her damage, but the situation deteriorated as fires spread throughout the ship. She was abandoned later in the day and scuttled. Yorktown was also badly damaged by a bomb and several glancing blows, but remained in operational condition.

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By the end of the day, both sides had retired from the immediate battle area. The Japanese sent Zuikaku back for a few days, even though her aircraft complement was badly depleted, but they had already called off their Port Moresby amphibious operation and withdrew the carrier on May 11. At about the same time Yorktown was recalled to Pearl Harbor. After receiving quick repairs, she would play a vital role in the Battle of Midway in early June.

 
 
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