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Nov 27

Thanksgiving Menu from 1942 Honors Those Who Fought in Operation Torch

Thursday, November 27, 2014 12:08 AM

By Naval History and Heritage Command

halsey

Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., eats Thanksgiving dinner with the crew of USS New Jersey (BB 62), Nov. 30. 1944. Photo courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command

When it comes to the three “Cs” on Thanksgiving menus over the years, one might think corn, cranberries and collard greens. But in 1907, it was cigarettes, cigars and cider (no mention as to whether that was hard or regular) for the crew of the battleship USS Kentucky (BB 6).

Navy commanding officers knew then what they still know today, NOTHING sinks morale faster than bad food, or raises it like good food. During the holidays, when most Americans enjoy spending time with their families, many of our Sailors are operating forward deployed, often on the opposite side of the planet, from their loved ones; it’s especially important to serve great chow and to make meal time as enjoyable as possible.

Today, with 102 ships forward deployed, shipboard supply departments, supported by the Naval Supply Systems Command, will prepare a total of more than 64,000 pounds of turkey; 26,000 lbs. of baked ham; 29,000 lbs. of sweet potatoes; 19,000 gallons of gravy; 16,000 gallons of cranberry sauce, and nearly 55,000 lbs. of assorted vegetables. And let’s not forget the desserts: more than 17,000 assorted pies and cakes.

141125-N-OT964-094 NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BAHRAIN (Nov. 25, 2014) Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens visits Sailors aboard the mine countermeasures ship USS Devastator (MCM 6). Stevens is in the area visiting Sailors during Thanksgiving week. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Martin L. Carey/Released)

141125-N-OT964-094 NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BAHRAIN (Nov. 25, 2014) Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens visits Sailors aboard the mine countermeasures ship USS Devastator (MCM 6). Stevens is in the area visiting Sailors during Thanksgiving week. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Martin L. Carey/Released)

The actual food items have remained fairly constant throughout the years, no matter whether on ship or shore. While the menus of yesteryear still featured turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and a smattering of vegetables, mess officers took creative liberty in how they fancied up the names.

This might seem like a monumental task, but for our Sailors it’s just another walk in the park. What makes it special is the twist each ship takes to make the holidays away from home special and a little easier. The time, effort and special attention paid to meals has become our own tradition and is part of our heritage.

The heavy cruiser USS Augusta (CA 31), which was the flagship of the Commander Amphibious Force on Nov. 26, 1942, appeared to have special names for almost every food item. They had just come through the Naval Battle of Casablanca during Operation Torch, and it was also the opening night of a little Humphrey Bogart movie called Casablanca.

Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942, On Board the U.S.S. Augusta [Flagship Commander Amphibious Force].

Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942, On Board the U.S.S. Augusta [Flagship Commander Amphibious Force].

The Casablanca (battle, not the movie) engagement pitted American allies against the French Vichy government, which had surrendered almost immediately to the Germans. The Vichy regime controlled Morocco (just as the movie depicts … like Austria in Sound of Music without the nuns and music). The three-day naval battle saw 174 American casualties, while the Vichy French lost 462 and a Nazi submarine.

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure the relief and blessings felt by the survivors of the battle when Thanksgiving rolled around a couple weeks later.

So let’s round up the usual suspects on the naming of this Thanksgiving menu: There’s little to wonder about Cream of Tomato Soup a la Casablanca. But what better way to honor Rear Adm. Henry Hewitt, commander of the amphibious force onboard his flagship than to name the main dish after him: Chicken and Turkey en Casserole a la Hewitt.

It was probably with a tweak at the Vichy French they named that mystery meat entrée the delightful Baked Spiced Spam a la Capitaine de Vaisseau, gussied-up with the rank of a French navy ship captain. The buttered Asparagus Tips a la Fedala make reference to a city on the west coast of Morocco home to a large oil refinery, and the buttered June Peas de Safi refer to another city in French Morocco that was part of Operation Torch .

Thanksgiving Menu, U.S.S. Coral Sea CVB-43, N.N.S.Y., Portsmouth, Virginia.

Thanksgiving Menu, U.S.S. Coral Sea CVB-43, N.N.S.Y., Portsmouth, Virginia.

TO ALL HANDS: On this Thanksgiving Day as we enjoy the traditional feast in comfort and security, let us also be mindful of those many other blessings which we of America so richly enjoy - freedom of religion, of speech, and of opinion unequaled by the citizens of any other nation on earth - opportunity to build the future for ourselves, our families, and our country in the way of true peace and prosperity - these and many more are uniquely ours today. May we show forth our gratitude to Almighty God by resolving once again to protect this freedom and realize this opportunity as the most cherished possession of our lives. A. B. Vosseller, Captain, U.S.N., Commanding.menu_th1948_coralseac

 

Chantilly Potatoes a la Patton gives a tip of the cover to the Army commander Gen. George Patton, while hot Parkerhouse Rolls du Lyautey is likely a reference to the Marechal Layautey, the resident-general of Morocco.

The Vichy French Navy commander also got a piece of the menu pie – literally. Apple pie a la Michelier was named for Vice Adm. Francois-Felix dit Frix Michelier.

With yet another tongue-in-cheek poke at the French, the menu offered Mixed Nuts du Jean Bart, a reference to the unfinished French battleship that was harbored in Morocco during Operation Torch but still used her five operational guns. Although she fired off one shot that nearly hit Augusta, USS Ranger bombers sank her right after.

One wonders if they played “As Time Goes By” as they sipped their Café (coffee) Noir and smoked their cigars and cigarettes.

Of course USS Augusta’s menu isn’t the only one with interesting tidbits.

To view a variety of Navy menus from throughout the years, visit the Naval History and Heritage Command – Library’s web site for a real holiday treat.

041124-N-1205W-002 Red Sea (Nov. 24, 2004) - A Culinary Specialist seasons one of 175 turkeys that will be served to the crew on Thanksgiving Day aboard the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). Kennedy and embarked Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17) are on a scheduled deployment to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Regina Wiss (RELEASED)

041124-N-1205W-002 Red Sea (Nov. 24, 2004) – A Culinary Specialist seasons one of 175 turkeys that will be served to the crew on Thanksgiving Day aboard the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). Kennedy and embarked Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17) are on a scheduled deployment to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Regina Wiss (RELEASED)

 
Nov 26

Chosin and the Importance of Perspective

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 5:30 PM
 140725-N-FC670-247 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 25, 2014) The guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65) is underway in close formation as one of forty-two ships and submarines representing 15 international partner nations during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC exercise from June 26 to Aug. 1, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe/Released)

The guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65) is underway in close formation as one of 42 ships and submarines representing 15 international partner nations during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014. The cruiser is named for the Chosin Reservoir Campaign during the Korean War. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe/Released)

 

Rear Adm. Rick Williams

Rear Adm. Rick Williams

By Rear Adm. Rick Williams
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

Our recent change of command aboard USS Chosin (CG 65) here at Pearl Harbor was another occasion to reflect on the ship’s namesake – Battle of Chosin Reservoir, 64 years ago this week.
In that battle, the Navy provided firepower support off the coast of Korea to assist Marines, Soldiers and other United Nations troops fighting ashore.

Those warriors, led by Marine Generals “Chesty” Puller and Oliver Smith, give us perspective for the present and a sense of purpose for the future.

Here at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, on historic Marine Barracks property, stands the venerable old building known as Puller Hall, named after Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller.

Gen. Puller is a legend in American military history. His record of five Navy Crosses and an Army Distinguished Service Cross in a career that spanned nearly forty years is unmatched in the annals of the U.S. Marine Corps.

His fifth Navy Cross was won during the Korean War as the commanding officer of the First Marine Regiment when then-Col. Puller led his Marines in the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir.

On Nov. 24, 1950 American forces began the final drive toward the Yalu River on the border between China and the Korean Peninsula. Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur believed that this offensive would shatter the North Korean army and effectively end the Korean War. American troops looked forward to being home by Christmas.

Marines engage the enemy to help 5th and 7th Marines to withdraw from the Yudam-ni area Nov. 27, 1950 during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign. Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, from the "All Hands" collection at the Naval History & Heritage Command.

Marines engage the enemy to help 5th and 7th Marines to withdraw from the Yudam-ni area Nov. 27, 1950 during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign.
Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, from the “All Hands” collection at the Naval History & Heritage Command.

But on Nov. 27 approximately 65,000 enemy troops began pouring over the border and 15,000 U.S. Marines found themselves surrounded in the Chosin Reservoir, with only a thin and winding mountain pass between them and escape through the port of Hungnam some 60 miles to the east. Thoughts of Christmas carols and relaxing by the fire turned to simple survival and the relentless focus on keeping the road to Hungnam open allowing the Marines out of the suddenly perilous dilemma.

The weather didn’t help the situation, with a Siberian cold front and 60-knot winds dropping temperatures to minus-35 degrees. Many of the casualties during the battle were a result of the exposure to what was considered the coldest winter Korea had seen in 100 years.

At this critical moment in the Korean War leadership, teamwork and courage won the day. On Dec. 6, the breakout from Chosin began. Maj. Gen. Oliver Smith, the Commander of the First Marine Division, is quoted as saying, “it is not a retreat; we are attacking in a different direction.”

Col. Lewis "Chesty" Puller

Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller

For his part, then-Col. Puller led his regiment in the rear guard of the withdrawal, defending the perimeter and keeping the vital supply main supply route open for the movement of the division. Col. Puller is reported to have said to a journalist, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now. We’ve finally found them. We are surrounded. That simplifies the problem.”

With the steady hand of leaders like Smith and Puller and the tenacity and courage of the troops under their command, the breakout was successful and the majority of the U.S. troops trapped at Chosin were able to reach Hungnam by the 13th of December.

In the final phase of the battle Navy and Air Force aircraft flew missions to defend the Hungnam perimeter and ships like the USS Missouri off the Korean coast laid down covering fire for the Marines as amphibious craft sealifted thousands of military personnel and civilians to safety.

Gen. Smith’s quote about an attack “in a different direction” reminds us of the importance of perspective.

It has been said that, “great opportunities are often disguised as impossible situations” and it requires perspective to turn the tide.

The epic Battle of Chosin, fought and won 64 years ago in the most adverse conditions and implacable odds, reminds us that adversity often requires leaders to keep a cool head, take a fresh look at a problem and attack the issue from a different direction.
Retreat does not always mean defeat.

The withdrawal from Chosin may have led to a disaster and the destruction or capture of thousands of American troops. Instead they fought their way out of the impending catastrophe and instead inflicted as many as 25,000 casualties on the enemy while evacuating the bulk of their strength to rejoin the fight on another day.

As I said in my commentary on NavyLive blog last year: Looking back more than 60 years later, we know the Korean War preserved freedom and democracy for South Korea and provided a better way of life for millions of people over many generations. The U.S. Navy had a critical role in supporting Marines and UN Allies throughout the war.

PEARL HARBOR (Sept. 2, 2013) Marines assigned to the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Rifle Salute detail stand in formation next to the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63) Memorial during the commemoration ceremony that marked 68th anniversary of the signing of the end of World War II. The ceremony was followed by an unveiling of a nine-foot bronze and granite statue honoring Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, who directed the War of the Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Diana Quinlan/Released)

Marines assigned to the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Rifle Salute detail stand in formation next to the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63) Memorial during the 2013 commemoration ceremony that marked 68th anniversary of the signing of the end of World War II. The Mighty Mo also provided gunfire during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign in Nov.-Dec. 1950 during the Korean War. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Diana Quinlan/Released)

Naval forces provided the key strategic advantage. Our surface ships, submarines and aircraft provided sea control, effectively blockading North Korea’s coastlines and denying enemy shipments while ensuring mobility of sea lanes for our side. Aircraft from Task Force 77 carriers and escorts provided strikes and support. Cruisers, destroyers and other ships put a barrage of fire between our troops and the enemy during the war. Pearl Harbor’s own Mighty Mo, battleship USS Missouri (BB 63), added the weight of her 16-inch guns to the fight.

For our own perspective on what we fought for in Korea, just consider the powerful ally and friend we have today on the southern half of the peninsula. The Republic of Korea navy regularly visits Pearl Harbor and was here for RIMPAC last summer.

ROK sailors and marines work with their American counterparts as partners for a common defense. That perspective leads to our sense of purpose: building and maintaining cooperative partnerships as we support Adm. Harris and the U.S. Pacific Fleet in the rebalance to Asia-Pacific.
Jim Neuman, historian and public affairs specialist, contributed to this commentary.

 
Nov 26

Prelude to War: Japanese Strike Force Takes Aim at Pearl Harbor

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 8:00 AM

 

 

Akagi (Japanese Aircraft Carrier, 1925-1942) at sea during the summer of 1941, with three Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighters parked forward. Donation of Kazutoshi Hando, 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Akagi (Japanese Aircraft Carrier, 1925-1942) at sea during the summer of 1941, with three Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighters parked forward. Donation of Kazutoshi Hando, 1970.
U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

 

The road to war between Japan and the United States began in the 1930s when differences over China drove the two nations apart. In 1931 Japan conquered Manchuria, which until then had been part of China. In 1937 Japan began a long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to conquer the rest of China. Then in 1940, the Japanese government allied itself with Nazi Germany in the Axis Alliance, and, in the following year, occupied all of Indochina.

The United States, which had important political and economic interests in East Asia, was alarmed by these Japanese moves. The U.S. increased military and financial aid to China, embarked on a program of strengthening its military power in the Pacific, and cut off the shipment of oil and other raw materials to Japan.

Because Japan was poor in natural resources, its government viewed these steps, especially the embargo on oil, as a threat to the nation’s survival. Japan’s leaders responded by resolving to seize the resource-rich territories of Southeast Asia, even though that move would certainly result in war with the United States.

Understanding this, Japanese leadership developed a bold plan for a surprise attack. Approved just weeks earlier, the Japanese Imperial Navy Strike Group sailed toward Pearl Harbor, 73 years ago today.

The Pearl Harbor naval base was recognized by both the Japanese and the U.S. Navies as a potential target for hostile carrier air power. Its distance from Japan and shallow harbor, the certainty that Japan’s navy would have many other pressing needs for its aircraft carriers in the event of war, and a belief that intelligence would provide warning, persuaded senior U.S. officers the prospect of an attack on Pearl Harbor could be safely discounted.

During the interwar period, the Japanese had reached similar conclusions. But their pressing need for secure flanks during the planned offensive into Southeast Asia and the East Indies spurred the dynamic commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, to revisit the issue.

His staff found the assault was feasible, given the greater capabilities of newer aircraft types, modifications to aerial torpedoes, a high level of communications security, and a reasonable level of good luck. The key elements in Yamamoto’s plans were meticulous preparation, the element of surprise, and the use of aircraft carriers and naval aviation on an unprecedented scale. In the spring of 1941, Japanese carrier pilots began training in the special tactics called for by the Pearl Harbor attack plan.

In October 1941 the naval general staff gave final approval to Yamamoto’s plan. It centered around six heavy aircraft carriers accompanied by 24 supporting vessels. A separate group of submarines was to sink any American warships that escaped the Japanese carrier force.

All six of Japan’s first-line aircraft carriers, AkagiKagaSoryuHiryuShokaku, and Zuikaku, were assigned to the mission. With more than 420 embarked planes, these ships constituted by far the most powerful carrier task force ever assembled. The Pearl Harbor Striking Force also included fast battleships, cruisers and destroyers, with tankers to fuel the ships during their passage across the Pacific.

An Advance Expeditionary Force of large submarines, five of them carrying midget submarines, was sent to scout around Hawaii, dispatch the midgets into Pearl Harbor to attack ships there, and torpedo American warships that might attempt to escape to sea.

Anticipating casualties from the pending attack, hospital facilities at Bako, Sama and Palau were told Nov. 26 to prepare to treat up to 1,000 casualties. The information came from intercepted Japanese messages that were not decoded and translated until after the war.

“Be prepared to supply 10 times the annual ‘battleship requirements’ of medical supplies for dressing of wounds and disinfection by Feb. 10, 1942,” one dispatch stated.

More ominous was a message from the day before: “Plans for exhaustive conscription of…and civilians are in hands of Central Authorities. In order to preserve security, however, they will be activated at a future time.”

The Japanese carrier striking force under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, assembled in the remote anchorage of Tankan Bay in the Kurile Islands and departed in strictest secrecy for Hawaii on Nov. 26, 1941. If discovered, he was to abort the mission. The ships’ route crossed the North Pacific and avoided normal shipping lanes.

Upon their departure Prince Hiroyasu Fushimi sent this dispatch: “I pray for your long and lasting battle fortunes.”

The Imperial Navy carefully monitored all ships that might give away their plans. “Although there are indications of several ships operating in the Aleutians area, the ships in the Northern Pacific appear chiefly to be Russian ships.” The ships were identified as Uzbekistan and Azerbaldjan, both westbound from San Francisco.

As the Strike Group grew nearer, a dispatch ordered “all capital ships, destroyers, submarines of the South Sea Force and the Kukokawa Maru to maintain battle condition short wave silence,” starting at noon Nov. 29.

 A Philippine merchant ship that arrived in Naha on Okinawa Nov. 30 had her radio sealed and departure delayed to “prevent their learning of our activities.”

A cryptic dispatch sent Dec. 2 was labeled top secret. “This order is effective at 1730 on 2 December. Climb NIITAKAYAMA 1208, repeat 1208.” Cryptologists examining this traffic after the war understood it to mean “Attack on 8 December.”

At dawn Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese task force had approached mostly undetected to a point slightly more than 200 miles north of Oahu. With a 19-hour time difference, it was Dec. 8 in Japan.

Japanese Type A or Type C Midget Submarine beached on a southwest Pacific island, 1943-44. Photographed from a PB4Y-1 patrol bomber of Bombing Squadron 106 (VB-106). Courtesy of Vice Admiral John T. Hayward, USN (Retired), 1972. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Japanese Type A or Type C Midget Submarine beached on a southwest Pacific island, 1943-44. Photographed from a PB4Y-1 patrol bomber of Bombing Squadron 106 (VB-106). Courtesy of Vice Admiral John T. Hayward, USN (Retired), 1972. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

 

Meanwhile, near Oahu’s southern shore, the five midget submarines had already cast loose from their “mother” subs and were trying to make their way into Pearl Harbor’s narrow entrance channel. One was sited at 3:42 a.m. by the minesweeper Condor less than two miles from the entrance to Pearl Harbor. A blinker-light message was sent to the destroyer Ward (DD 139): “Sighted submerged submarine on westerly course, speed 9 knots.”

The first attack wave of more than 180 aircraft, including torpedo planes, high-level bombers, dive bombers and fighters, was launched in the darkness and flew off to the south. Pilots homed in on a Honolulu radio station’s music as a guiding beam.

Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier (reportedly Shokaku) to attack Pearl Harbor during the morning of 7 December 1941. Plane in the foreground is a "Zero" Fighter. This is probably the launch of the second attack wave. The original photograph was captured on Attu in 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection.

Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier (reportedly Shokaku) to attack Pearl Harbor during the morning of 7 December 1941. Plane in the foreground is a “Zero” Fighter. This is probably the launch of the second attack wave. The original photograph was captured on Attu in 1943.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection.

 

Within 30-45 minutes after the first group had taken off, a second attack wave of similar size, but with more dive bombers and no torpedo planes, was brought up from the carriers’ hangar decks and sent off into the emerging morning light.

In the meantime, USS Ward began firing on the submerged submarine, with the second shot hitting it at its waterline. To assure the kill, Ward dropped a pattern of depth charges. At 6:53 a.m., the destroyer sent a coded message: “We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges upon submarine operating in defensive sea area.” The message, decoded, paraphrased and in-boxed, would remain unread until hours after the attack.

The first bomb dropped on Ford Island just before 8 a.m. Less than two hours later, the Japanese fighters, having lost only 29 planes and five midget submarines, were headed back to their carriers. Pilots urged a third strike to take out fuel depots, but Japanese officers, unsure as to where the U.S. carrier fleet was located, turned the Pearl Harbor Strike Force back to its homeland by 1 p.m.

In the aftermath of the attack, five of eight battleships had either been sunk, were sinking or heavily damaged. An additional 16 ships were sunk, 188 aircraft destroyed and 159 damaged, with more than 2,400 service members and civilians killed.

All but three of those eight stricken American battleships – Utah, Oklahoma and Arizona – rejoined the fleet to fight the Japanese. In fact, USS West Virginia (BB 48) was raised from the bottom of Pearl Harbor (See related blog series: Part 1, 2, and 3), returned to the fight in 1944, and was present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.

By the end of the war, American naval forces sank every one of the Japanese aircraft carriers, battleships and cruisers in the Pearl Harbor Strike Force.

 –NHHC–

 
Nov 21

USS Somers and Its Wartime Encounters with Exploding Ships

Friday, November 21, 2014 9:00 AM
USS Somers (DD-381) underway at sea, circa 1944, with several escort ships in the distance. Her camouflage is Measure 32, Design 3d. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NHHC photo

USS Somers (DD-381) underway at sea, circa 1944, with several escort ships in the distance. Her camouflage is Measure 32, Design 3d. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NHHC photo

USS Somers and Its Wartime Encounters with Exploding Ships

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

 

It was early in the morning, 72 years ago today, when the crew of USS Somers (DD 381) got word about a suspicious freighter within its area of operation. The Somers-class destroyer was patrolling the South Atlantic on Nov. 21, 1942, always on the lookout for German blockade runners.

Since taking over the French community of Bordeaux in June 1940, the Germans used the port as a base for its 12th U Boat Flotilla. It was also where blockade runners would load up with supplies for Japan, such as rubber, tin, hemp, high-grade specialized machinery, ball bearings, special chemicals, and prototypes of purchased military materials.

Allied air patrols had spotted a suspicious freighter earlier in the month, so USS Somers was on alert as they closed in on the ship. But as they got to within 1,900 yards, fires broke out onboard the freighter and the crew began lowering boats into the water. As the boarding party neared the freighter, the ship was racked by a series of three explosions. Despite flooding on the ship and the obvious danger of the fire, the boarding party salvaged the ship and determined it was the German blockade runner Anneliese Essberger. After the ship sank, survivors were rescued by light cruiser USS Milwaukee (CL-5).

 

USS Omaha (CL-4), in right center, standing by the German blockade runner Odenwald, which has a U.S. boarding party on board, in the South Atlantic, Nov. 6, 1941. Photographed from USS Somers (DD-381). NHHC photo

USS Omaha (CL-4), in right center, standing by the German blockade runner Odenwald, which has a U.S. boarding party on board, in the South Atlantic, Nov. 6, 1941.
Photographed from USS Somers (DD-381). NHHC photo

It was not the first time USS Somers had outwitted a German blockade runner. Since the spring of 1941, the destroyer had been doing neutrality patrols from Trinidad to Recife, Brazil. On Nov. 6, 1941, just weeks before Pearl Harbor brought the United States fully into the war, Somers was patrolling near the Cape Verde Islands when she chanced upon a merchantman flying an American flag. On her hull, she was purported to be Willmoto out of Philadelphia.

But the freighter took evasive action when approached by Somers and USS Omaha (CL 4). Failing to stop, the merchantman signaled it was on fire and began lowering life boats. The Omaha sent a boarding party and soon heard explosions. Further investigation revealed the merchantman’s crew was attempting to scuttle the ship, which turned out to be the German blockade runner Odenwald.

Omaha’s boarding party saved the ship and the captured blockade runner was sailed to Puerto Rico. Six years later, the crews from Omaha and Somers were awarded salvage money for their “prize.” Because the ship had falsely claimed American nationality and the crew had “abandoned” ship by trying to scuttle her, it was determined the crew of Omaha and Somers could split the value of the ship, coming to around $3,000 for members of the boarding party and two months’ pay for the rest of the crew on both ships. It was the last prize taken by the U.S. Navy. Somers remained in the South Atlantic after the United States formally entered the war in December 1941.

Following the sinking of Anneliese Essenberger, USS Somers escorted the French battleship Richelieu from Africa to the U.S. during Jan.-Feb. 1943. A third German blockade runner, the Westerland, was intercepted at the beginning of 1944, with Somers‘ gunfire being partially responsible for sinking the enemy ship.

 

USS Somers (DD-381) at the Charleston Navy Yard, S.C., Feb. 16, 1942. She is wearing Measure 12 (modified) camouflage. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NHHC photo

USS Somers (DD-381) at the Charleston Navy Yard, S.C., Feb. 16, 1942. She is wearing Measure 12 (modified) camouflage. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NHHC photo

It was a particularly fitting career for the destroyer, named for Master Commandant Richard Somers. A former commander of the schooner Nautilus, he and his crew sailed with Commodore Edward Preble, the commanding officer of the Constitution and his squadron in action against Barbary pirates.

Somers was commanding the bomb ketch Intrepid for a special mission on Sept. 4, 1804. The ship had been fitted out as a “floating volcano” to be sailed into Tripoli Harbor and blown up in the midst of the corsair fleet under the walls of the city. But once underway in the harbor, Intrepid exploded prematurely, killing Somers and his volunteer crew. Their names are immortalized on what is known as the Tripoli Monument that was on display at the Washington Navy Yard during its burning in 1814, then, after a short tenure on the Capitol grounds, was moved to its current location at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. It is the oldest military monument in the United States.

–NHHC–

 
Nov 11

Devotion to Duty: Four Nurses Receive Navy Cross in 1920

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 8:00 AM
Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, USN; Portrait photograph, taken in uniform during the World War I era. She was the second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, from Jan. 20, 1911 to Nov. 30, 1922. She received the Navy Cross for distinguished service Nov. 11, 1920. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, USN; Portrait photograph, taken in uniform during the World War I era.
She was the second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, from Jan. 20, 1911 to Nov. 30, 1922. She received the Navy Cross for distinguished service Nov. 11, 1920.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

It was two years after World War I’s Armistice Day when four women made history by being awarded the Navy Cross Nov. 11, 1920. All were being recognized for their service and devotion to duty during World War I but only one woman could attend, the other three were given their medals posthumously. Their deaths, however, did not come from wounds suffered in battle in the European Theater of the Great War. Something more deadly struck Navy nurses Mary Louise Hidell, Edna E. Place and Lillian Louise Murphy in the fall of 1918 – Spanish Flu. None of them would live to rejoice in the original Armistice Day of 1918.

And so it was on that second anniversary, that Chief Nurse Lenah Sutcliff Higbee became the first living woman to receive the honor for what the Navy Cross citation describes as “distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.”

Distinguished, indeed. She completed nurses’ training at the New York Postgraduate Hospital in 1899 at the age of 25. That was the same year she married retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. John Henley Higbee, 36 years her senior, whose wife, Isabelle, had died suddenly the year before.

After graduation, the newly-married Higbee worked in private practice. Then in May 13, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Naval Appropriations Bill authorizing the establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps as a unique staff corps in the Navy. Five days later, Lenah Higbee’s husband died on her 34th birthday.

"The Sacred Twenty" Group photograph of the first twenty Navy Nurses, appointed in 1908. Taken at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C., circa October 1908. Lehah Higbee is the sixth from the left in the front row. They are identified in Photo # NH 52960 (Complete Caption). Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

“The Sacred Twenty”
Group photograph of the first twenty Navy Nurses, appointed in 1908. Taken at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C., circa October 1908. Lehah Higbee is the sixth from the left in the front row. They are identified in Photo # NH 52960 (Complete Caption).
Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

Now a widow, Higbee may have been spurred to be among the first 20 Navy nurses in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps in Oct. 1908, a group of women who became known as the “Sacred Twenty.” At that time, 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 and they weren’t particularly welcome.

In 1909, Higbee was promoted to Chief Nurse at Norfolk Naval Hospital, and in 1911 she became the second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, serving throughout the duration of World War I, including the pandemic known as the Spanish Flu.

In 1918 alone, 121,225 Navy and Marine Corps patients were admitted at Navy medical facilities with influenza. Of these patients, 4,158 died of the virus, including some who cared for those patients: Navy nurses Marie Louise Hidell (Naval Hospital Philadelphia, Penn.), Edna Place (Philadelphia, Penn.) and Lillian Murphy (Hampton Roads, Va.). They, too, were awarded the Navy Cross, posthumously, on Nov. 11, 1920, along with Higbee.

After 14 years in the Navy, Higbee retired in Nov. 1922. She died after a sudden illness in Winter Park, Fla., on Jan. 10, 1941, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The following year, Navy nurses were granted “relative rank” on July 3, 1942, and “full military rank” Feb. 26, 1944. Higbee’s naval service was commemorated that same year when a ship was named in her honor. USS Higbee (DD-806), commissioned in 1945, was the first U.S. Navy combat ship to bear the name of a female member of the Naval service.

After becoming a federal holiday in 1921, Armistice Day became Veterans Day Nov. 11, 1954.

 –NHHC–

 

NOTE TO MEDIA: For additional information about naval history, please contact the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach division at 202-433-7880 or via email at NHHCPublicAffairs@navy.mil

 
Nov 8

Stratolab Balloon Sets World Altitude Record in 1956

Saturday, November 8, 2014 9:15 AM
American balloonist Navy Capt. Malcolm Ross looking for suitable landing site from 10,000 feet above the Mississippi River south of Minneapolis, Minn., after descending from astronomical observations in the stratosphere in 1958. US Navy photo by Alfred H. Mikesell

American balloonist Navy Capt. Malcolm Ross looking for suitable landing site from 10,000 feet above the Mississippi River south of Minneapolis, Minn., after descending from astronomical observations in the stratosphere in 1958. US Navy photo by Alfred H. Mikesell

By Colin Babb, Office of Naval Research

 A year before the Space Race kicked into high gear with the launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 satellite, manned flight reached closer to space using a more traditional method—a balloon. There was, however, nothing very traditional about this particular balloon.

Funded jointly by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the National Science Foundation, this one was made out of polyethylene plastic (so it would not expand and explode at high altitudes like rubber) two-thousandths of an inch thick, and carried a sealed, pressurized gondola called Stratolab with a crew of two. On Nov. 8, 1956, Stratolab set a world record of 76,000 feet, higher than any humans had ever gone before without a rocket.

Stratolab was an extension of two other ONR-funded projects, Helios and Skyhook, which had developed extreme high-altitude balloons in the late 1940s for atmospheric research (there were other ONR cross-connections as well: one of Helios’ balloon builders, Jean Piccard, was the uncle of Jacques Piccard, who would pilot the bathyscaphe Trieste to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in 1960 alongside Navy Lt. Don Walsh). Stratolab’s mission was to extend research into the farthest reaches of the atmosphere, to a point where instruments pointed skyward could measure and observe phenomena in space beyond 96 percent or more of the atmosphere.

On this ascent 58 years ago, pilots Lt. Cmdr. Malcolm Ross and Lt. Cmdr. Lee Lewis were to observe the sky with the most sophisticated technology on hand: binoculars. They launched from the same spot in South Dakota, a natural circular depression dubbed the “Stratobowl,” where 21 years before the last record-breaking balloon flight had taken place.

The Office of Naval Research will use this habitable gondola for a laboratory in space as part of Project Strato-Lab. The program’s objective is to conduct research at varying levels in the atmosphere that can only be obtained by observers remaining at high altitudes for several hours. At the top of this aluminum gondola is an escape hatch, on either side are small portholes. Under the star is another porthole, power and ballast supply are carried directly underneath the aluminum shell. NHHC Photograph Collection, Aviation, Space.

The Office of Naval Research used this habitable gondola for a laboratory in space as part of Project Strato-Lab. The program’s objective was to conduct research at varying levels in the atmosphere that can only be obtained by observers remaining at high altitudes for several hours. At the top of this aluminum gondola is an escape hatch, on either side are small portholes. Under the star is another porthole, power and ballast supply are carried directly underneath the aluminum shell. NHHC Photograph Collection, Aviation, Space.

Only minutes after reaching their record height, however, the men had little time except to look briefly out the gondola’s ports when they unexpectedly began to descend. An automatic valve on the balloon had malfunctioned, and Stratolab started falling at 4,000 feet per minute.

By dumping all their ballast and 200 pounds of equipment out of the gondola, Ross and Lee managed to slow the craft’s descent. Slowing to a more manageable but still dangerous 800 feet per minute, the two pilots landed safely in a sandy basin in Nebraska.

Stratolab would go on to hoist a variety of instruments into near-space, from coronographs for measuring the sun’s brightness to telescopes for observing the stars.

The program’s ultimate success—an ascent to 113,740 feet on May 4, 1961—was overshadowed by both tragedy and triumph. After landing safely in the Gulf of Mexico, Lt. Cmdr. Victor Prather drowned when he fell from the recovery helicopter.

The next day, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space when his Freedom 7 rocket reached an altitude of just over 101 nautical miles. Shepard wore the same Mark IV spacesuit that had been developed for and tested by Stratolab pilots.

The science behind Stratolab continued on, however. Its full realization began with a series of solar and astronomical observing satellites launched later in the 1960s and 1970s, and culminated in the launch of NASA’s four large space-based observatories: the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory in 1991, the Chandra X-ray Observatory in 1999, and the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2003. The evolution of the observation of space from space will be carried forward even further with the James Webb Space Telescope, planned for launch in 2018.

Colin Babb is a contractor serving as the historian for the Office of Naval Research.

 –NHHC–

 NOTE TO MEDIA: For additional information about naval history, please contact the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach division at 202-433-7880 or via email at NHHCPublicAffairs@navy.mil

 

 
Nov 7

Embracing Steel: In 1880s Navy Transitions from Iron Ships

Friday, November 7, 2014 8:00 AM
USS Dolphin, USS Atlanta, and USS Chicago, off New York City, about 1890. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 69190. USS Atlanta, USS Boston, USS Chicago, and USS Dolphin were the first four steel ships built during the "New Navy" period.

USS Dolphin, USS Atlanta, and USS Chicago, off New York City, about 1890. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 69190.
USS Atlanta, USS Boston, USS Chicago, and USS Dolphin were the first four steel ships built during the “New Navy” period.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

He was Northern by birth, but Southern by choice. During the Civil War, while living in New Orleans, he was forced to serve in the Confederate Army, yet his sympathizes were against secession, and for the Union. He rejoiced when New Orleans fell to the Union in 1864.

Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt, Jan. 7, 1881 to April 16, 1882. Artwork: E.P. Andrews. NHHC Photograph Collection,

Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt, Jan. 7, 1881 to April 16, 1882. Artwork: E.P. Andrews. NHHC Photograph Collection,

It was through that series of juxtapositions that defined William Henry Hunt; lawyer, professor, Confederate Army officer and in March 1881, the Secretary of Navy.

Hunt had but a short tenure in that position, but during the time he was there, his legacy was rebuilding a Navy neglected by a country still recovering from a four-year Civil War. Hunt began with the creation of a Naval Advisory Board that on Nov. 7, 1881, dared to ask Congress for $30 million to build 21 armored ships, some with steel hulls rather than iron, and nearly 70 unarmored vessels.

Hunt would face more than a few hurdles in pushing his agenda through the bureaucracy. He was a Southerner in the North. President James Garfield, who appointed him, was shot just four months into his presidency, succumbing to his assassin’s bullet Sept. 19, 1881. Less than two months later, SECNAV Hunt would present his advisory board’s recommendation to Congress.

“The condition of the Navy imperatively demands the prompt and earnest attention of Congress. Unless some action be had in its behalf it must soon dwindle into insignificance,” Hunt said.

About 18 months later, on March 3, 1883, Congress would approve the Naval Appropriations Act of 1883 that included only $1.3 million to build a fraction of the ships requested in 1881, but with steel rather than iron hulls. They authorized building three cruisers and a dispatch ship, most commonly known today as the ABCD ships – cruisers Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and dispatch ship Dolphin – the beginnings of a steel Navy.

 

USS Boston (1887-1946), left and USS Atlanta (1886-1912), tied up together, probably at the New York Navy Yard, circa the late 1880s or early 1890s. Note that their yards have been cocked to avoid striking each other. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

USS Boston (1887-1946), left and USS Atlanta (1886-1912), tied up together, probably at the New York Navy Yard, circa the late 1880s or early 1890s. Note that their yards have been cocked to avoid striking each other. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

 

Iron vs Steel Hulls

The first Advisory Board, which convened June 29, 1881, was made up of 15 representative officers and materiel corps of the Navy. The use of mild steel for construction of hulls was so fully discussed and the difference of opinion so varied the Nov. 7, 1881 report was “divided” in its recommendation. Three of those dissenters would be officers of the Construction Corps of the Navy, who were concerned more about the ability of American manufacturers to produce the steel without excessive cost rather than using the steel itself.

Presenting a divided report on Nov. 7, 1881, gave the Naval Committee of the House of Representatives a chance to add two-cents. A four-month “exhaustive examination” included meetings/interviews with ship-builders and iron and steel manufacture workers, visits to those factories and testing at the Washington Navy Yard.

One who gave testimony to the committee was George Wilson, the superintendent of machinery at the Washington Navy Yard, who pointed out the biggest difference in working with iron and steel was the greater chances of “spoiling” up to 10 percent of iron flanges.

“You may have men working 10 days on a sheet of iron, and then have it spoiled. But we have never spoiled but one sheet of steel. In the many thousands that we have used in the last four years we have spoiled but one; and even that we could have used,” he said.

USS Chicago (1889-1936), underway at sea, circa the early 1890s. She was the last of the four steel-hulled “ABCD” ships to be launched.

USS Chicago (1889-1936), underway at sea, circa the early 1890s. She was the last of the four steel-hulled “ABCD” ships to be launched.

At the time, only one company had constructed any ships with steel plating: Pusey & Jones Company of Wilmington, Del. The owner spoke to Congressional members about the reliability of steel hulls in collision and groundings of his river-steamers, claiming “vessels built with these sheets of steel, much thinner than we have ever used for iron vessels, and they have been thumped and banged against rocks and stones until one of those boats is all dinged…yet there has been no sort of fracture.”

The House Committee on Naval Affairs was sold on the idea. In a follow-up report accompanying H.R. Bill 5001 on March 8, 1882, it states that “after carefully taking the opinions of the most extensive and experienced manufacturers of steel and iron in this country whom we could reach, we have unanimously decided that steel should be used instead of iron…”

The House Committee went on to say if the members of the Naval Advisory Board could have had the same information before them and had been as “fully informed as to the progress, extent and present condition of the manufacture of steel in this country as the committee have been, they would have all united in recommending steel as the only proper material for the construction of vessels of war.”

They weren’t too far off. Once presented with the information, all but one of the Naval Advisory Board dissenters agreed steel was the way to go.

The committee was also pleased to report the United States was able to manufacture steel better than it is made in Europe through the open-hearth method, which was best for ship-building, and there should be no problems in procuring steel “in sufficient quantity and at a reasonable cost.”

It took another year for both sides of Congress to maneuver the March 3, 1883 Naval Appropriations Act that approved four ships with steel hulls for $1.3 million, a far cry from the nearly 90 ships and $30 million the first Naval Advisory Board had recommended. But it was a start.

USS Dolphin (1885-1922), as photographed during the 1890s. Launched in 1884, the dispatch ship Dolphin was the first of the four steel-hulled ships known as the “ABCD” ships to create the “New Navy.” Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

USS Dolphin (1885-1922), as photographed during the 1890s. Launched in 1884, the dispatch ship Dolphin was the first of the four steel-hulled ships known as the “ABCD” ships to create the “New Navy.” Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

William Hunt, the man who jump-started the Navy’s reconstruction in 13 months, would never see his dream come to fruition. He was replaced as SECNAV by President Chester A. Arthur in April 1882 with one of his own political choices: William Eaton Chandler. Despite his ill health, Hunt was appointed ambassador to Russia, and he died at Petersburg in Feb. 1884, just two months before USS Dolphin, the first of the steel-hulled Navy he helped formulate, was launched in April.

 –NHHC–

 NOTE TO MEDIA: For additional information about naval history, please contact the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach division at 202-433-7880 or via email at NHHCPublicAffairs@navy.mil

 
Nov 6

Navigating the WAVES in World War II

Thursday, November 6, 2014 6:00 AM
U.S. Naval Training Center, Women's Reserve (USS Hunter), The Bronx, New York Some of the schools trainees march in formation behind their color guard, during World War II. This Training Center, located in the facilities of Hunter College, provided basic training for Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard women recruits. The Center's flag features the fouled anchor and propeller device of the Women's Reserve. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

U.S. Naval Training Center, Women’s Reserve (USS Hunter), The Bronx, New York
Some of the schools trainees march in formation behind their color guard, during World War II.
This Training Center, located in the facilities of Hunter College, provided basic training for Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard women recruits. The Center’s flag features the fouled anchor and propeller device of the Women’s Reserve. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

 

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

It was 72 years ago today when Navy installations were hit with a tsunami of WAVES. Not the watery kind, but Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.

Earlier that summer, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed Public Law 689 allowing women to enlist in the newly formed U.S. Naval Reserves (Women’s Reserves). To say it was a success is an understatement. Within the first year, there were more than 27,000 WAVES in the Navy’s ranks.

After the United States was dragged into World War II by the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the need for men to go to sea was a top priority. The Army had already established its WAAC (Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps), but that was an auxiliary corps that worked with the Army. The WAVES were in the Navy. It wasn’t until July 1, 1943 that WAAC lost that second “A” to become Women’s Army Corps.

But with thousands of women willing to serve, how best to integrate them into the Navy? With boot camps, of course. Although that didn’t happen for the first WAVES class, according to Jacqueline Van Voris in her unpublished manuscript “Quiet Victory: The WAVES in World War II.”

Specialist (T) Katherine Dillon, USNR (W) monitors a radio range chart, while serving as a Link Trainer Instructor at Naval Air Station, St. Louis, Missouri, Nov. 3, 1943. She follows the Link trainer's "flight path", and, if the pilot becomes "lost", points out his error. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection.

Specialist (T) Katherine Dillon, USNR (W) monitors a radio range chart, while serving as a Link Trainer Instructor at Naval Air Station, St. Louis, Missouri, Nov. 3, 1943.
She follows the Link trainer’s “flight path”, and, if the pilot becomes “lost”, points out his error.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection.

Van Voris instructed pilots on instrument flying as a Link Trainer (the flight simulators in which Navy flight students learned instrument flying) from 1944-46.

“At one point it was thought Navy training and job training could be done at the same time,” Van Voris wrote. That was soon recognized as a mistake, but for the first two months, there was no boot camp for WAVES.

All recruits started as Seamen. Masses of material were covered in class, Van Voris wrote.

“New recruits were warned that one midshipman dropped her pencil during a history lecture and while she was picking it up missed all of the naval battles of the civil war,” quipped Van Voris.

Once it was established the recruits needed a boot camp to learn Navy traditions, customs, courtesy and discipline, New York became the training base for all WAVES by 1943 when USS Hunter opened at the Bronx campus of Hunter College. The Navy, at the cost of $1 million a year, rented the entire campus for WAVES training. And since the school had no residential dorms, New York City paid to move residents from 17 apartments adjacent to USS Hunter, Van Voris writes in “Quiet Victory.” Within two months, all was approved and USS Hunter U.S. Navy Training School (WR) was commissioned Feb. 8, 1943.

The first regiment of women totaled 1,993. Every two weeks, another 1,600 to 1,700 women would begin indoctrination.

Most of the key officers were men, many who had no idea what the (WR) meant on their new billet orders. “After recovering from the initial shock of being assigned to new duties involving Navy women, they used their experience in accomplishing the apparently impossible,” Van Voris wrote.

One in particular was Lt. Herbert S. Schwab, a supply officer, whose job was furnishing the first 13 apartment buildings to house 6,000 women, with 10 girls to each apartment with bunk beds, a chest of drawers, a table and a couple of chairs. After 16 months at sea, he was halfway home to Flatbush when he realized the WR meant Women’s Reserves. In an interview with the New Yorker, Schwab said the job was a revelation. “Don’t think it doesn’t make you feel peculiar to be ordering face powder instead of chewing tobacco,” he remarked.

When questioned by a mirror vendor whether to hang the mirrors vertically or horizontally so they could share, the married Schwab wisely pointed out two women would never use an 18×20-inch mirror at the same time, so hang them vertically.

Each recruit got four sheets, two pillowcases, four towels, a bed pad and two blankets. The first 6,000 bedspreads came from the converted passenger liners Manhattan and America.

Lt. j.g. Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Ensign Frances Wills are photographed after graduation from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School at Northampton, Massachusetts, in Dec. 1944. They were the Navy's first African-American "WAVES" officers. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

Lt. j.g. Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and
Ensign Frances Wills
are photographed after graduation from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Northampton, Massachusetts, in Dec. 1944. They were the Navy’s first African-American “WAVES” officers.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

It took two weeks for the women to get their tailored uniforms by fashion designer-label Mainbocher. Until then, they wore their uniform cover (hat) with blue crown and brim, civilian clothes, and GI-issued shoes. It cost only $5 more to outfit a WAVE than a Sailor, Van Voris noted. For $200, recruits received two blue suits, three long sleeved navy blue shirts, two white shirts, two navy ties, two light blue ones, one pair of navy gloves, two pairs white gloves and one navy topcoat, two hats and a rain cover. That also included four pairs of stockings, shoes, galoshes, a leather purse and summer work clothes.

There were a lot of adjustments for all involved. But as the first WAVE Director Lt. Cmdr. Mildred McAfee pointed out, WAVES had the ability to safely navigate troubled waters as they set up the administrative chain of command, and sailed to the end with “sturdy grace.”

Navy WAVE trainee leans on a swab while cleaning her barracks, soon after she arrives at a Naval Training Center during World War II prior to April 1944. Note her suitcases at right, and dungaree working uniform with button fly. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

Navy WAVE trainee leans on a swab while cleaning her barracks, soon after she arrives at a Naval Training Center during World War II prior to April 1944. Note her suitcases at right, and dungaree working uniform with button fly. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

The cafeteria at USS Hunter served 15,000 meals a day for the WAVES. Almost immediately, the male cooking staff discovered some differences between male and female recruits. The women required more than 23 minutes per meal than had been allotted to their male counterparts at their boot camp, and while men might eat and grumble about the food, the commissary officer immediately heard a “gabble of high-pitched voices informing him of women’s food preferences,” Van Voris recounted.

Those problems were resolved as an increasing number of WAVES were used in the commissary, and by August 1943, a school for cooks and bakers was established. After that, Hunter became known for its good food, strong coffee and fresh baked bread, Van Voris noted.

Everywhere they marched they sang. From maudlin to the irreverent. Popular songs, spirituals, even men’s service songs, plus their own WAVES songs they made up, including this one:

Three worthy gents we all admire,

Three who saved the day,

Three who made our lives worthwhile,

Dewey, Decatur and Mainbocher.

"WAVES' Anniversary", 1943 Cartoon by Sixta, USNR, depicting events and activities in the first year following the 30 July 1942 authorization of the WAVES. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. NHHC Photograph.

“WAVES’ Anniversary”, 1943
Cartoon by Sixta, USNR, depicting events and activities in the first year following the 30 July 1942 authorization of the WAVES.
Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC.
NHHC Photograph.

President Roosevelt, in a speech on the second anniversary of the Women’s Reserves, noted “history will record that the WAVES fulfilled a great purpose. In 500 shore establishments of the fleet, women in uniform took over the work of Navy men. They released enough of them from noncombatant duty to man all our landing craft in two important operations: the Normandy landing on June 6 and the Invasion of Saipan on June 15. The Women’s Reserve will continue to speed the victory day by efficient performance of vital duties ashore.”

WAVES study aircraft mechanics at Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, N.J., during World War II. Seaman 2nd Class Elaine Olsen (left) and Seaman 2nd Class Ted Snow are learning to take down a radial aircraft engine block. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection.

WAVES study aircraft mechanics at Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, N.J., during World War II.
Seaman 2nd Class Elaine Olsen (left) and Seaman 2nd Class Ted Snow are learning to take down a radial aircraft engine block. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection.

At their peak strength in 1945, there were 86,000 reservists on duty in nearly every type of shore activity, and more than 104,000 women joined the WAVES. Within three years of their formation, women made up 18 percent of total naval force ashore.

“The war experience has underscored the conviction that there is no satisfaction more profound than the commitment of oneself to a cause bigger than one’s own immediate self-interest.” Capt. Mildred McAffee wrote in 1944.

That commitment has continued to this day. In 1948, the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act allowed women to enlist directly into the military rather than through women’s organizations like the WAVES or WACs. According to the Department of Defense, 14.6 percent of the active-duty force are women. That number swells to 19.5 for women in the reserves and 15.5 percent for those serving in the National Guard.

Information for this blog came from the unpublished manuscript “Quiet Victory: The WAVES in World War II” by author Jacqueline Van Voris. She instructed pilots on instrument flying as a Link Trainer with the WAVES for the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946. A copy of the manuscript is in the U.S. Navy Library at the Washington Navy Yard.

 

 DID YOU KNOW

With women now serving on submarines and a female four-star admiral as Vice Chief of Naval Operations, it’s hard to imagine a time when female recruits spent their time singing while drilling. But so it was back in 1943, as reflected by these bits of information published April 1, 1943 in the second edition of the weekly newsletter Great Lakes ALWAV, as well as some insight from those who attended USS Hunter.

Drills opened with a five-minute sing before reviewing and re-emphasizing fundamentals of indoctrination of WAVES in keeping up-to-date on current Navy news, activities of war fronts and Navy leadership.

WAVES training in communications rates (i.e. radioman) were warned to be cautious when people asked what they were being trained for by saying as “hostesses on battleships.”

The beloved designer Mainbocher gave the WAVES a bit of a foreign-legion feel to their uniforms with shoulder-length rain attachments to their covers, making people believe they were a strange order of nuns.

At one point, the rumored nickname for women Marines was “Feathernecks.”

The Arctic Class of 1943 (Jan. 1943) remembered they “slid to breakfast, slopped to lunch and skated back to dinner.” Forward mush was the command given by a platoon leader.

“We are learning the Navy way here,” the girls wrote home. “We hurry up and wait.”

Another girl wrote home from USS Hunter that “People got over fainting in a hurry after a Specialist (enlisted WAVE in charge of platoon) sardonically told the girls ‘that if one fainted while we were marching in formation just to step over her.’ That calmed down the fainting.”

Watches and endless drills. The watch consisted of going into each of 30 apartments once an hour and yelling “All Secure.” Also delivering messages and calling people to the phone.

Captain’s inspection on Saturday that required obsessive cleaning Friday nights to pass the white-glove test. As one girl wrote home: “If they can’t find dust, the beds aren’t smooth enough, the mirror’s streaked, something has to be wrong. It does give purpose to the cleaning and like banging your head on a brick wall, it’s lovely when it’s over.”

Enough WAVES served during World War II to man a major task force: A battleship, two large aircraft carriers, two heavy cruisers, four light cruisers and 15 destroyers.

 

–NHHC–

 

NOTE TO MEDIA: For additional information about naval history, please contact the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach division at 202-433-7880 or via email at NHHCPublicAffairs@navy.mil

 

 

 
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