Archive for the 'Ships' Category

Aug 17

USS High Point: The Navy’s First Hydrofoil Patrol Craft

Friday, August 17, 2012 8:30 AM

The Navy’s first hydrofoil patrol craft was launched on this day 50 years ago, in 1962. Published in the September, 1963 issue of Proceedings, the following article describes the mechanics of the USS High Point, and the reactions from the people who witnessed the launch of the revolutionary craft.

USS High Point (PCH-1)

By Charles H. Nelson, Jr. Chief Journalist, U.S. Navy

She took off quickly, flew quietly, and landed smoothly. Thus the first public “flight” of the Navy’s revolutionary hydrofoil patrol craft High Point was described just a few short weeks ago. The High Point is a unique blend of aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, carrying within her 115-foot length-overall hull the newest hopes of the Navy’s antisubmarine warfare program.

Rear Admiral Ralph K. James, U. S. Navy, (ex-Chief, Bureau of Ships) in testimony before a special investigative subcommittee of the science and astronautics committee of the House of Representatives, explained in these words the mission of the High Point: “This ship shows tremendous promise for antisubmarine warfare where we need speed as never before. The modern submarine is capable of operating at tremendous pace when submerged. To close within kill range before it outruns sonar range is an increasingly tough task. Ideally, two hydrofoil patrol craft will operate together in a “grasshopper” or “leapfrog” technique. One will move slowly through the water in the displacement position listening for submarines … the other will fly ahead, then settle into the water and listen while its partner flies in turn. When the listener gets a submarine on its sonar, it will signal its partner to guide it to the target to track it down and drop a homing torpedo for the kill.”

This is the “grasshopper” technique as it is presently envisioned to be used by the High Point when she joins the Fleet. Frequent tests on the waters of Puget Sound have proven the ship’s capability to rise quickly to her foils, to fly silently, and to lower smoothly to her hull or cruising position.

The actual flight of the High Point creates an almost eerie feeling in observers. Although the vessel has a displacement of 110 tons, she rises almost effortlessly out of the water into the “flying” position. Her flight at speeds over 40 knots is so silent that the true speed is deceptive. She seems to glide through the water, the only sounds being the dripping of the water from her hull and the faint whine of her turbines. Read the rest of this entry »

 
Jun 26

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 8:49 AM

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

-John Woodall (1556-1643)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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

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

 
Jan 11

H.L. Hunley Fully Visible for the First Time

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 11:06 AM

HL Hunley in its conservation tank at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, Charleston.

On February 17, 1864, Confederate-built H.L. Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine when it attacked and sank the 1240-short ton screw sloop USS Housatonic at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. H.L. Hunley surfaced briefly to signal a successful mission to comrades on shore with a blue magnesium light, after which it was never seen again. All eight of its crewmen were presumed lost and despite multiple search efforts, the submarine could not be relocated. 

Over 136 years later, on 8 August, 2000, H.L. Hunley was raised from the sea floor using a specially-designed support frame, or truss. A multi-disciplinary team, under Project Director and Head of the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch, Dr. Robert Neyland, coordinated Hunley‘s recovery. 

Post recovery, the 40-foot, 17,000 pound truss continued to support the sub in a custom built, 90,000-gallon conservation tank at Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, SC while it underwent archaeological investigation. During the careful, year long excavation of its interior, H.L. Hunley remained in the same tilted position in which it was found to ensure minimal disturbance of its contents. Conservation of the recovered artifacts is being conducted by professionals from the Warren Lasch Conservation Center and Clemson University. In 2011, after the interior of the hull had been completely excavated, Hunley was re-positioned so that it now sits upright and no longer requires the support of the truss, which will be removed tomorrow morning on 12 January, 2012.

Throughout its treatment, the submarine has been on display to the public, however, when the truss is removed, visitors finally will be able to have a fully-unobstructed view of the vessel in its conservation tank.

A 3-D animation of the recovery and rotation of H.L. Hunley may be viewed here: Hunley Submarine Rotation

For more information on the H.L. Hunley project, please visit the Friends of the Hunley website: http://www.hunley.org/ 

HL Hunley in its truss at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, Charleston.

 
Dec 6

70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 11:10 AM

December 7th, 1941

The Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor

2011 marks the 70-year anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the beginning of American involvement in World War II. In December 1972, Proceedings published a first-hand retrospective of the event, written by a Naval Academy graduate and professor, who also served as Executive Secretary of the Naval Institute, Captain Joseph K. Taussig, Jr., USN (Ret.). Taussig’s account, titled “I Remember Pearl Harbor,” not only recalls his own experience aboard the USS Nevada when the attack began, but also draws on the vulnerability of American fleet that day to emphasize the importance of learning from the past for the sake of the future:

On the morning of 7 December 1941, I was awakened by the Assistant Quartermaster of the Watch of the USS Nevada (BB-36).

“Mr. Taussig, it’s 0700. You have the forenoon watch, Sir.” Read the rest of this entry »

 
Nov 13

Eugene A. Barham: A JO Steps Up to the Plate

Sunday, November 13, 2011 12:01 AM

During combat, situations often arise that cause junior officers to step up to the plate, testing their mettle.

Eugene A. Barham’s critical moment came during the Guadalcanal campaign. “Slim” Barham had graduated from the Naval Academy in 1935 and had become engineer officer of the destroyer Laffey at her commissioning on 31 March 1942. The Laffey spent the next 228 days in the Pacific, escorting aircraft carriers and trying to stop the “Tokyo Express” from delivering reinforcements down “the Slot” to Guadalcanal.

On Friday 13 November 1942, the Laffey and seven other American destroyers and five cruisers fought eleven Japanese destroyers, one cruiser, and two battleships in a naval melee that one U.S. skipper likened to “a barroom brawl after the lights had been shot out.” The Laffey nearly got sliced in two by the Japanese battleship Hiei when she crossed the Hiei’s “T,” her stern clearing the battleship’s bow by less than 20 feet. As the Laffey moved off she poured fire from every available gun into the Hiei’s tall, pagoda-like superstructure, which seemed to collapse like a house of cards. A few minutes later, shells from three Japanese destroyers and the battleship Kirishima ripped into the Laffey while a torpedo blew off her stern. In an instant the once taut ship became a blazing, sinking wreck.

Barham was below at his post in the engineering spaces when the torpedo struck. All the lights went out and the temperature suddenly shot up as steam poured in. Barham ordered the spaces evacuated. All the men got out. Barham grabbed a flashlight and tried to return below to inspect the damage, but the engineering spaces were so hot that water pouring in began jumping up and down and boiling as soon as it hit the steel floor plates.

Barham returned topside and made a quick survey. The ship was strewn with dead and injured Sailors, some with their legs severed. One young Sailor, still conscious, lay on the deck, his broken legs pinned under twisted steel. Fires raged in the space below, heating the deck plates and scorching his flesh. Two torpedomen worked frantically to free him before he was cooked, blown away by incoming shells, or drowned by rising water.

Barham went to the bridge. He told the skipper that they had to abandon ship. The captain argued, but then gave Barham permission to get the men organized. The executive officer, who should have been performing this duty, had frozen. The men got the boats and rafts in the water, climbed on board when their turn came, and shoved off. Barham led the “swimming party” of twenty-five men, for whom there was no room on the boats and rafts. The swimming party jumped into the oil-covered water and swam for their lives. They got only about fifty to one hundred feet away when the destroyer exploded. With debris falling around him, Barham dove down under the water. When he could hold his breath no longer, he returned to the surface and watched the Laffey’s bow rear up and plunge beneath the surface.

Barham turned to look for the others in swimming party, but didn’t see anyone. He remained still and listened. Soon, he heard the chugging of a small motor. He pulled his flashlight from his pocket and flashed it in the direction of the sound. A boat appeared and the sailors on board fished him out of the water. As ranking officer, Barham took charge of the boat. He picked up several swimmers, put five life rafts under tow, and began pulling them toward Guadalcanal.

As the raft chain drew near the island, Higgins boats full of U.S. Marines picked up the Sailors and took them ashore. Most of the wounded survived. For his conduct that night Barham received the Bronze Star and command of his own destroyer. In 1958 he retired from the Navy at the rank of rear admiral.

Despite fires raging and enemy fire pouring on the Laffey, Barham managed to assess the situation, quickly determine what needed to be done, and take the steps necessary to save his men. Somehow he remained unafraid and stayed focused on the job throughout the ordeal. It was an innate courage, the kind that can’t be taught, that enabled him to keep his cool under the most intense stress imaginable and to put saving lives above taking a chance at glory.

Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, himself a World War II destroyerman, once said that an officer has only seconds to make decisions in combat. “If he waits too long,” Burke declared, “he’s useless, which is worse than being dead.” Eugene A. Barham had mustered his courage in the nick of time.

 
Nov 13

Sullivan Brothers Lost at Guadalcanal, 13 November 1942

Sunday, November 13, 2011 12:01 AM

On 13 November 1942 the light cruiser Juneau (CL 52) sank off Guadalcanal, with the loss of all but ten of her crew. Among the dead were all five brothers of the Sullivan family from Waterloo, Iowa. Albert, Francis, George, Joseph, and Madison Sullivan had enlisted together on 3 January 1942, with condition that they be allowed to serve on the same ship. News of the deaths of all five brothers became a rallying point for the war effort, with posters and speeches honoring their sacrifice, extensive newspaper and radio coverage, and war bond drives and other patriotic campaigns which culminated in the 1944 movie, “The Sullivans.”

Their sister Genevieve enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Specialist (Recruiter) Third Class and, with her parents, visited more than 200 manufacturing plants and shipyards under the auspices of the Industrial Incentive Division, Executive Office of the Secretary, Navy Department. According to a 9 February 1943 Navy Department Press Release, the Sullivans “visited war production plants urging employees to work harder to produce weapons for the Navy so that the war may come to an end sooner.” By January 1944 the three surviving Sullivans had spoken to over a million workers in sixty-five cities and reached millions of others over the radio.

On 10 February 1943 the Navy officially canceled the name Putnam (DD 537) and assigned the name The Sullivans to a destroyer under construction. Sponsored by Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, mother of the five Sullivan brothers, and commissioned 30 September 1943, The Sullivans served the Navy until decommissioning on 7 January 1965. In 1977 the destroyer was donated to the city of Buffalo, New York, as a memorial in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen’s Park. The second The Sullivans (DDG 68) was laid down on 14 June 1993 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works Co. and launched on 12 August 1995 sponsored by Kelly Sullivan Loughren, granddaughter of Albert Leo Sullivan. Commissioned on 19 April 1997 at Staten Island, New York, under the command of Commander Gerard D. Roncolato, the ship’s motto, “We Stick Together,” echoes the determination and dedication of the brothers for which the ship was named.

 
Nov 6

Neutrality Patrol Seizes German Prize, 6 November 1941

Sunday, November 6, 2011 12:01 AM

While on neutrality patrol in the Atlantic Ocean near the Equator on 6 November 1941, the light cruiser OMAHA (CL 4) and the destroyer SOMERS (DD 381) sighted a suspicious vessel.

Although flying the American flag and carrying the name WILLMOTO of Philadelphia on her stern, the freighter refused to satisfactorily identify herself and took evasive actions. The Americans ordered the stranger to heave to. As OMAHA’s crew dispatched a boarding party, the freighter’s crew took to life boats and hoisted a signal which indicated that the ship was sinking.

When the OMAHA party pulled alongside they could hear explosions from within the hull, further arousing their suspicions. Upon boarding they soon discovered that their quarry was the German blockade runner ODENWALD. Only one of the ship’s generators was operating and selected watertight doors were open, clearly indicating that the crew was attempting to scuttle her. In spite of the dangerous conditions, in short order the men from OMAHA salvaged the vessel, rendered her safe, and had her underway for Puerto Rico.

In 1947 the crews of SOMERS and OMAHA were awarded salvage money by the United States District Court for Puerto Rico for their prize.

 
Oct 31

First U.S. Ship Lost in WWII, 31 October 1941

Monday, October 31, 2011 12:01 AM

Commissioned on 24 September 1920, the destroyer REUBEN JAMES (DD 245) served in the Atlantic Fleet, operating in the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and off Nicaragua, before decommissioning at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 20 January 1931.

She recommissioned on 9 March 1932, and upon the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 she joined the Neutrality Patrol, guarding the Atlantic and Caribbean approaches to the American coast. In March 1941 REUBEN JAMES joined the convoy escort force established to promote the safe arrival of war materials to Britain. This escort force guarded convoys as far as Iceland, where they became the responsibility of British escorts.

Based at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, she sailed from Argentia, Newfoundland, on 23 October 1941, with four other destroyers to escort eastbound convoy HX-156.

At about 0525 on 31 October 1941, REUBEN JAMES was torpedoed by German submarine U-562. Her magazine exploded, and she sank quickly. Forty-four of the crew survived, and 115 died. REUBEN JAMES was the first U.S. Navy ship sunk by hostile action in World War II.

 
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