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Jan 31

Tet Offensive Battle of Huế City Gives Cruiser its Name

Saturday, January 31, 2015 12:15 AM
The guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG 66) returns to Naval Station Mayport in 2013 after two back-to-back deployments to the Arabian Gulf. The ship and crew returned with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist Second Class Adam Henderson/Released).

The guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG 66) returns to Naval Station Mayport in 2013 after two back-to-back deployments to the Arabian Gulf. The ship and crew returned with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist Second Class Adam Henderson/Released).

 

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

It was 47 years ago today when the birth of the Vietnamese New Year started off with a bang: the Tết Offensive of the Vietnam War.

Those in the North referred to it as the General Offensive or General Uprising on Jan. 30, 1968. No matter the name, it was the largest military campaign conducted by either side of the war to that point.

Among the largest battles was Huế City. The Marines fought with considerable distinction and bravery. Because of this, the guided-missile cruiser USS Huế City (CG 66) is named in their honor, and is the only U.S. Navy ship named after a Vietnam battle.

 Capt. Wyatt N. Chidester, commanding officer of the armored cruiser Hue City (CG 66).

Capt. Wyatt N. Chidester, commanding officer of the armored cruiser Hue City (CG 66).

“It’s a great honor that I can hardly describe, serving at the helm of a warship named for the Battle of Huế City,” said the cruiser’s commanding officer Capt. Wyatt N. Chidester. “The history of the Vietnam conflict is often viewed through the emotional lens of the upheaval the war caused back home, overlooking the acts of true heroism and sacrifice of those who fought it. Whether pierside for training, or deployed, the crew and their families have been and continue to be inspired by, and are proud to honor those who served so bravely at Huế City.”

In fact, as it has done for the past 21 years, the ship will hold a special memorial observance at the ship’s homeport of Mayport, Fla. in March.

 

‘All Hell Broke Loose’

 To start off the Vietnamese New Year—Tết—the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) took the South Vietnamese, U.S. and allies mostly by surprise when they attacked by night various command and control centers in the northern half of South Vietnam.

Rear Adm. Kenneth L. Veth, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam (COMNAVFORV), remembered during a 1977 interview, “The first thing we knew about it was when we were all waked up (sic) in the middle of the night, and all hell broke loose in the way of gunfire and explosions.”

By the morning, the Communists were attacking targets from Quang Tri close to the border in the north to Ca Mau near the southern tip of the country. Though the Viet Cong and NVA beat back Southern forces and captured several cities during the initial confusion, the South usually managed to regain their losses within a few days.

Except, however, for the city of Huế. A key city logistically, Navy supply boats were headquartered there on the banks of the Perfume River, and the Vietnamese army’s Highway One supply line ran through it.

The NVA planned to capture the Tây Lộc Airfield, Mang Ca Garrison, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) compound, and the Imperial Palace. The three-pronged attack began shortly after midnight. By 8 a.m., the National Liberation Front for Southern Vietnam banner was flying from the Citadel.

Artillery, mortar shells, tank blasts, sniper fire, and tried-and-true foot soldier firefights in the streets besieged the city for nearly a month.

Twentieth Century "Angel of Mercy" -- D. R. Howe (Glencoe, MN) treats the wounds of Private First Class D. A. Crum (New Brighton, PA), "H" Company, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, during Operation Hue City.

Twentieth Century “Angel of Mercy” — D. R. Howe (Glencoe, MN) treats the wounds of Private First Class D. A. Crum (New Brighton, PA), “H” Company, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, during Operation Hue City.

“Almost every spot that was an open piece of ground was under fire,” said U.S. Marine then-Capt. Myron Harrington, in a 1981 interview with the WGBH Educational Foundation. “You were almost in the face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the NVA. […] As a result of their being so entrenched and utilizing the concrete type of buildings that we were running across, it required us to bring maximum fire power at our disposal to eliminate them.”

Soon after it started, the U.S. Marines came to lead the defense. However, these Marines and soldiers had never fought in a city.

“[They] had been accustomed to the rice paddies,” said Harrington. “Street fighting was an entirely new experience for everyone in that company. Our last Marine Corps experience in street fighting had been in 1950 in Seoul, Korea. There were very few Marines left on active duty and those who were would have been too senior to participate in the Battle of Hue.”

They had to learn anew the tactics—to spread out in a firefight, not to gather at spots that could come under fire, to take cover in a ditch and not in a building, or similar structures.

But firefight-by-firefight, meter-by-meter, block-by-block, they retook the city. By the end of the month the South Vietnamese flag was flying from the Citadel once again.

“For the American military that [Tết] offensive was a grand paradox,” said retired U.S. Army Col. Harry G. Summers Jr. “At the battlefield tactical level, the enemy was defeated and turned back at every turn without achieving any territorial gain. At the theater-of-war operational level, their campaign was an absolute failure. Not only did the South Vietnamese people fail to flock to their banners, the South Vietnamese military stood firm and their own Viet Cong guerrilla forces were so decimated that they ceased to be an effective fighting force for the remaining seven years of the war. But at the strategic level, the Tet Offensive was an unmitigated disaster for the United States.”

 
Jan 30

On the Road to an Ironclad Battle, USS Monitor is Launched

Friday, January 30, 2015 8:00 AM
Aquarelle facsimile print of a painting by J.O. Davidson depicting USS Monitor in action with CSS Virginia, March 9, 1862. From the Collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Aquarelle facsimile print of a painting by J.O. Davidson depicting USS Monitor in action with CSS Virginia, March 9, 1862. From the Collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Affirmed had Alydar. Chris Everet and Martina Navratilova. Army vs. Navy. Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. Capt. James T. Kirk vs. Khan. History will forever remember these matchups for the status of top dog.

Another pair of names that belong on that list are Monitor and Merrimack. Monitor was the first ironclad to launch 153 years ago today on Jan. 30, 1862, just 18 days ahead of the repaired and up-armored Merrimack, rechristened by the Confederacy as CSS Virginia.

The race to launch Monitor began in the summer of 1861 at the beginning of the American Civil War, in which epic and tragic battles saw brothers fighting brothers and where even eventual victory was tainted by grief and loss.

Federal authorities learned the Confederates had raised the Merrimack, once a powerful frigate with steam power that had been burned by the U.S. Navy some months earlier as it retreated from Norfolk, Va.

When news of the Merrimack‘s resurrection reached the Union’s Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, he knew the U.S. Navy had to commission its own armored vessel to challenge Merrimack.

Secretary Welles asked railroad executive and shipbuilder Cornelius Scranton Bushnell, of binocular fame and one of the most prominent and influential men in Connecticut, to use his position and influence to provide a bill to Congress to fund the project.

It wasn’t long before President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill creating the Naval Ironclad Board. Bushnell and his partners quickly developed plans for their own ironclad, a vessel known as the Galena.

Bushnell traveled to New York to meet with John Ericcson, a renowned inventor and naval architect, to get his analysis and opinion on the design and feasibility of the Galena and how it could be improved.

Ericcson wasn’t too keen on working with the Navy after being wrongly blamed for the accidental explosion of an experimental gun, the Peacemaker, on a ship he designed, USS Princeton. The explosion killed six people in 1844 and political pandering bounced the blame from the ship’s skipper, Capt. Robert Stockton, to Ericcson, even though he had nothing to do with the weapon.

Sailors relaxing on deck of U.S.S. Monitor in the James River, Virginia, in 1862. Library of Congress Photo #01061

Sailors relaxing on deck of U.S.S. Monitor in the James River, Virginia, in 1862. Library of Congress Photo #01061

Luckily for the Union, Ericcson was excited to share his designs for an ironclad with kindred spirit Bushnell. Ericcson’s design featured a ship with “a floating battery absolutely impregnable to the heaviest shot or shell.” The model Ericcson presented featured a nearly submerged hull and a single revolving turret fixed to its deck.

Bushnell, amazed at the model and its potential, asked Ericcson to meet with Secretary Welles and pitch his design to the ironclad board because it showed promise in dealing with the imminent Confederate threat. Ericcson’s design was one of three approved for construction. The foundries in New York and in Baltimore, Md. had easier access to iron than the Confederates, so the race was on.

Over the next four months, the parts of a new ship based on Ericcson’s design were forged in eight separate foundries, most in New York. Boilers, port stoppers, radiators, anchor wells, bulkheads, and the turret from all over New York were gathered and assembled at the Continental Iron Works in Brooklyn where the hull of Monitor was waiting.

On Jan. 30, 1862, in front of crowds of spectators, Monitor was launched into New York City’s East River. Eighteen days later, the former Merrimack, CSS Virginia, was launched.

USS Monitor was a technological marvel for its time. She was powered by steam alone and was the first American warship with no masts or sails. Barely one foot of her deck was visible, with all storage, machinery, berthing and working areas below the water line.

The ship’s most novel feature was its revolving turret in the middle of the ship. The turret boasted two 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannons. Constructed almost exclusively of iron, the ship was heavy and thereby required it to avoid shallow water because it could become stuck and quickly become a target.

The Ironclads Painting by Raymond Bayless, depicting the battle between CSS Virginia (foreground) and USS Monitor (at right). USS Minnesota is also shown, in the left middle distance. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. Donation of Raymond Bayless, 1975 U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

The Ironclads Painting by Raymond Bayless, depicting the battle between CSS Virginia (foreground) and USS Monitor (at right). USS Minnesota is also shown, in the left middle distance. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. Donation of Raymond Bayless, 1975 U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

The two ironclads met for their date with fate March 9, 1862 at the Battle of Hampton Roads. CSS Virginia had already decimated the Union Blockading Squadron the day before. Once within range of each other, the two ships opened up on one another. After two days of pounding, battle was declared a tactical stalemate and the ships withdrew without either suffering much damage. It was the first time iron ships clashed in naval warfare and signaled the beginning of the end of the era of wooden warships.

Alas, Monitor’s end would come all too soon. Shortly after midnight on Dec. 31, 1862, while being towed by USS Rhode Island to Beaufort, N.C., Monitor sank in a gale off Cape Hatteras. Its final resting place was designated as the nation’s first national marine sanctuary in 1975.

In 2002, the remains of two Sailors were recovered from the gun turret when it was raised off the coast of North Carolina. After 10 years of attempting to determine their identities through DNA and even facial reconstruction, the remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in 2013. Fourteen other crewmembers remain missing. The turret and other artifacts from USS Monitor are showcased at the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Va.

 
Jan 29

Show Me a WWII Battleship! Missouri Christened Jan. 29, 1944

Thursday, January 29, 2015 8:16 AM
Missouri’s commissioning ceremonies, at the New York Navy Yard, 11 June 1944.

Missouri’s commissioning ceremonies, at the New York Navy Yard, 11 June 1944.

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood, Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division

A long and illustrious career started on this day in 1944 when the last Iowa-class battleship, Missouri (BB 63), launched from the New York Navy Yard.

USS Missouri firing a six-gun salvo from her forward 16"/50 gun turrets, during her shakedown, circa August 1944. Note six 16" projectiles in the air at right and concussion effect on the water alongside the ship.

USS Missouri firing a six-gun salvo from her forward 16″/50 gun turrets, during her shakedown, circa August 1944. Note six 16″ projectiles in the air at right and concussion effect on the water alongside the ship.

As all ships do after launching, she completed final fitting out, followed by testing her weapons, especially those famous 16-inch gun, engineering systems and hull. Showing her crew to be capable and competent, Missouri was commissioned June 11. Soon after, she sailed from Norfolk, transited the Panama Canal and steamed forward into battle as the flagship for the Third Fleet.

Missouri en route from Panama to San Francisco, 22 November 1944. An escort carrier (CVE) is following the battleship.

Missouri en route from Panama to San Francisco, 22 November 1944. An escort carrier (CVE) is following the battleship.

Missouri arrived the staging area of the Ulithi Atoll in the western Caroline Islands joining the aircraft carrier Lexington (CV 16) in Vice Adm. Marc Mitscher’s Fast Carrier Task Force. Sometimes called Task Force (TF) 58, it was a springboard for the Navy to strike Japanese forces. Task groups were typically made up of carriers accompanied by destroyers, cruisers and fast battleships. With this group, Missouri launched the first airstrikes against Japan since the Doolittle Raid in April 1942.

Afterwards, Missouri went to support Operation Detachment, better known as the Battle of Iwo Jima. The island would prove to be an important air field for the U.S. Army’s B-29 bombers, and the famous photograph taken atop Mt. Suribachi became an icon of the war in the Pacific. Midway through that battle, though, the task group rotated out to Ulithi to refuel and rearm.

At this time, Missouri was given new orders to support the Yorktown (CV 10) Carrier Task Group, departing for the Japanese mainland. By this stage of the war, aircraft carriers had become the main weapon in the Navy’s arsenal and as such were the leading targets for the Japanese. Yorktown’s task group was given the job of conducting raids off the Japanese mainland in the Inland Sea and it was then that Missouri encountered kamikaze pilots for the first time.

An A6M Zero Kamikaze attacks Missouri during battle of Okinawa on 11 April 1945.

An A6M Zero Kamikaze attacks Missouri during battle of Okinawa on 11 April 1945.

“There was a hypnotic fascination to the sight, so alien to our Western philosophy. We watched each plunging kamikaze with the detached horror of one witnessing a terrible spectacle, rather than as the intended victim. We forgot self for the moment, as we groped hopelessly for the thought of that other man up there,” said Vice Adm. Charles Brown, then-commander of the Navy’s sixth fleet, of the kamikazes.

As Sailors on the Missouri watched, Japanese pilots attacked aircraft carriers Wasp (CV 18) and Franklin (CV 13)—nearly sinking the latter. Missouri’s task group covered Franklin’s retreat to Ulithi, but that wouldn’t be the last time Missouri saw the kamikazes.

In late March 1945, Missouri joined the typhoon of steel raining down upon Japanese soldiers in the largest amphibious assault of the War in the Pacific —The Battle of Okinawa. The Allies started by bombarding the southeastern beaches as a feint, to force the Japanese to redirect their forces from the west. After the enemy fell for the trap, the Allies jumped. On April 1, U.S. Marines and Soldiers landed on the western beachhead.

Despite its strategic success, the Battle of Okinawa would prove to be one of the bloodiest battles in the theater. Allied forces — four divisions of the U.S. 10th Army and two Marine divisions supported by amphibious, naval, and air forces numbering about 183,000 – faced off against the 120,000 Imperial Japanese army and navy and roughly 39,000 locals. By the end of the battle, the Allies suffered 12,000 losses while the Japanese lost more than 100,000.

During the carnage, a kamikaze avoided Missouri’s curtain of shells and hit just below her main deck level. Luckily, she escaped her intended fate. The damage was superficial, and the crew quickly contained the fire.

By the time she left the task group for Ulithi, Missouri had downed five enemy planes, aided in the destruction of six others, helped repel 16 raids, and destroyed several military, governmental, and industrial structures and gun emplacements.

Although WWII had effectively been decided after the fall of Okinawa, the Japanese refused to surrender. The island would become a key strategic staging point for air operations in the invasion of the Japanese mainland.

In an effort to shorten the war, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs Little Boy and Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. The same day Nagasaki felt the effects of the second — and hopefully last — wartime use of the bomb, the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria, taking Japan’s main source of oil.

The Japanese had lost. It was time to surrender.

Japanese representatives on board USS Missouri (BB-63) during the surrender ceremonies, 2 September 1945.

Japanese representatives on board USS Missouri (BB-63) during the surrender ceremonies, 2 September 1945.

Enter Missouri. On Aug. 29, the ship pulled into Tokyo Bay and began preparing for the formal surrender. Aboard Missouri at 8:56 the morning of Sept. 2, 1945, Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz and Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur received Japanese representatives, headed by Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru. Before a cluster of microphones and cameras, Nimitz and MacArthur accepted Japan’s unconditional surrender as the world watched.

MacArthur began the ceremony on the deck of Missouri by saying, “It is my earnest hope—indeed the hope of all mankind—that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.”

General Yoshijiro Umezu, Chief of the Army General Staff, signs the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, on board USS Missouri (BB-63), 2 September 1945. Watching from across the table are Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. Representatives of the Allied powers are behind General MacArthur. Photographed from atop Missouri's 16-inch gun turret # 2. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

General Yoshijiro Umezu, Chief of the Army General Staff, signs the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, on board USS Missouri (BB-63), 2 September 1945. Watching from across the table are Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. Representatives of the Allied powers are behind General MacArthur. Photographed from atop Missouri’s 16-inch gun turret # 2. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

By 9:30, the war had officially ended.

Although Japan signing its surrender on her decks was probably her most famous story, Missouri would continue her service to the Navy over the next half century — in the Korean War, fighting against Iraq and Saddam Hussein during Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991.

Missouri’s final mission that year would be the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. A few months later, as the last active service battleship in the fleet, she was decommissioned March 31, 1992.

Still, her legacy doesn’t end there. On Jan. 29, 1999, 55 years after her launching in 1944, Missouri began her final mission. Just yards away from the USS Arizona Memorial, where World War II began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battleship Missouri Memorial commemorates the moment when the war ended nearly four years later.

 
Jan 28

Capt. Michael Smith’s Journey to the Final Frontier and Beyond

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 8:15 AM

 

Space Shuttle Challenger launches from launchpad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Jan. 28, 1986. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Space Shuttle Challenger launches from launchpad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Jan. 28, 1986. Photo courtesy of NASA.

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Children wonder at the marvel of airplanes in flight, many dream of becoming pilots and soaring the wide expanses of sky. One young North Carolina farm boy, though, saw beyond the wild, blue yonder and sought the stars themselves.

Michael Smith was among those who dared to cut ties with Planet Earth. He grew up in bucolic Beaufort, N.C., during the 1950s and 60s, intrigued by watching the planes landing and taking off from the airstrip adjacent to his family’s farm. Even then he knew what he wanted, he wanted to fly.

Not one to wait, Michael started making that dream a reality even before graduating high school. In a letter written to his cousin, just before his 16th birthday, the teenager expressed his worries about the same things most boys worry about – his position on the basketball team and his social life – but he also admitted being anxious about his upcoming test for a pilot’s license and solo flying. He apparently failed to mail that letter right away, because in the letter’s post script, hurriedly scribbled letters spelled out, “I went flying, all right. I soloed!!!!”

Rather than considering a career as a commercial pilot, Smith decided he would challenge himself as a naval aviator. He was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy where he graduated in 1967 with degree in Naval Science. His yearbook description mentioned him as a “Hard worker and gifted student,” concentrating on sports and exercise throughout the year.

Midshipman Michael J. Smith’s Lucky Bag (yearbook) portrait from his senior year.

Midshipman Michael J. Smith’s Lucky Bag (yearbook) portrait from his senior year.

In a 1987 interview with the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, a friend, William Maready, said that if Smith had one gift, besides his drive and talent for flying, it was the ability to talk to and relate to others, no matter what their upbringing might be.

He was “…an extremely intelligent fellow… typically would be reading ‘War and Peace’ instead of a paperback,” Maready explained.

Information in the U.S. Naval Academy’s yearbook about Midshipman Michael J. Smith during his senior year.

Information in the U.S. Naval Academy’s yearbook about Midshipman Michael J. Smith during his senior year.

Smith went on to graduate with a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, Calif. In 1969, as astronaut Neil Armstrong made fame with his “…small step for man, giant leap for mankind” walk on the moon, Smith received his naval aviator wings of gold.

He spent two years as an instructor at Advanced Jet Training Command. Then he was assigned to Vietnam for a 2-year tour as an A-6 Intruder pilot with Attack Squadron 52 (VA 52) “Knightriders” on aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk (CV 63).

The challenge of day and night catapult-assisted take-offs and arrested landings on the varied-angled surface of a flight deck must not have been enough for the pilot. After two years of flying combat missions in the squadron, Smith applied to the year-long U.S. Navy Test Pilot School — the aviator equivalent to the SEALs Basic Underwater Demolition School – that accepts only a handful of the best pilots each year to become test pilots. The year Smith was selected, only nine other pilots made the grade. These pilots go from the school to one of the Navy’s “X” or experimental aircraft squadrons.

After four more years of Navy flying and teaching, Smith got his chance to pursue his ultimate dream. In May of 1980, he was selected as an astronaut candidate by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He completed his one year training and evaluation period in August 1981, qualifying him for assignment as a pilot on Space Shuttle flight crews.

During his time at NASA, he served in a variety of capacities including commander of the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory; Deputy Chief of Aircraft Operations Division; Technical Assistant to the Director, Flight Operations Directorate; and was also assigned to the Astronaut Office Development and Test Group. All impressive elements for a resume, but none as meaningful to him as astronaut.

Official portrait of astronaut-candidate Navy Cmdr. Michael J. Smith wearing the blue shuttle flight suit.

Official portrait of astronaut-candidate Navy Cmdr. Michael J. Smith wearing the blue shuttle flight suit.

Five years later, on a cold January day in Florida, Smith was ready for his first space flight onboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. The mission was to deploy a communications satellite intended to form part of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. After hours of waiting, finally everything was ready for liftoff and Challenger’s 10th flight.

As the shuttle rose from the earth, the explosive power of liftoff shook the astronauts as the G-force of acceleration plastered them to their seats.

“The shuttle’s acceleration is so great, the force is so tremendous – the raw acceleration is so hard to describe,” said John Grunsfeld, a veteran astronaut of five shuttle missions in an interview on ScienceBlogs.com. “At the very least, you know you are going somewhere, and that somewhere is up, very quickly. In the few seconds it takes us to clear the launch pad’s 200 foot tower, we are already going about 100 mph. With such acceleration at this point we have difficulty moving any part of our body because of the extra G-force we are experiencing at this point.”

But 73 seconds into Smith’s Jan. 28, 1986 flight something went terribly wrong. Smith only had the chance to utter, “Uh-oh,” as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on live television before a shocked nation including school children across the country watching fellow Challenger astronaut, teacher Christa McAuliffe.

President Reagan was scheduled to deliver his state of the union address that night, but instead delivered a nationally televised message to the nation paying tribute to Smith and his six fellow astronauts who lost their lives.

“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives,” said Reagan. “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

Smith was awarded the Space Medal of Honor and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, as well as promotion to the rank of captain, all posthumously. The honors joined a host of others earned as a naval aviator including the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, the Navy Commendation Medal with Valor, the Navy Unit Citation, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, among others.

And today, next to the Smith family farm in Beaufort, N.C. where a young boy first dreamed of flying, lays a little airstrip that bears his name: Michael J. Smith Field.

 
Jan 23

Bathyscaphe Trieste Overcomes the Challenge of the Deep

Friday, January 23, 2015 12:15 PM

 

Trieste is now a part of the Undersea Exploration exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard. U.S Navy photo by Shejal Pulivarti

Trieste is now a part of the Undersea Exploration exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard. U.S Navy photo by Shejal Pulivarti

From National Museum of the U.S. Navy

On January 23, 1960, bathyscaphe Trieste made history by reaching the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench. Inside its spherical gondola, two pilots, U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and scientist Jacques Piccard sat and waited to see if they would make it to the bottom and then, perhaps more importantly make it back to the surface.

U.S. Navy Bathyscaphe Trieste (1958-1963) is hoisted from the water by a floating crane, during testing by the Naval Electronics Laboratory in the San Diego, California, area. Trieste was being prepared for transportation to the Marianas Islands for a three-month series of deep-submergence operations. On 2 October 1959, she was loaded on the frieghter Santa Maria for the trip to the mid-Pacific. U.S. Navy Photo by Naval History and Heritage Command

U.S. Navy Bathyscaphe Trieste (1958-1963) is hoisted from the water by a floating crane, during testing by the Naval Electronics Laboratory in the San Diego, California, area. Trieste was being prepared for transportation to the Marianas Islands for a three-month series of deep-submergence operations. On 2 October 1959, she was loaded on the frieghter Santa Maria for the trip to the mid-Pacific. U.S. Navy Photo by Naval History and Heritage Command

It took nearly five hours to descend the 35,797 feet. Once there, Trieste and its crew spent 20 minutes investigating the bottom. They saw several types of small fish including deep water flounder and sole, and a substance covering the ground made up of plankton and other microscopic animals. This was a huge discovery, as it was not known if vertebrate life forms (those with skeletons) could live at such extreme pressures. After their three hour ascent, it would take 52 years before another human would return.

 Trieste is a deep-diving research bathyscaphe, and was launched in 1953 near Naples, Italy, by the Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard (father of Jacques Piccard). Comprised of steel, it had two distinct sections. The largest was its gasoline and water ballast tanks. This gave Trieste its buoyancy, and allowed it to freely dive independent of any ship or cable. The second chamber or pressure sphere housed the two operators and equipment.

To create a sphere capable of withstanding the pressure of the bottom of the ocean, the builders made the walls of the sphere 5 inches thick. This caused a problem, since the sphere weighed 28,660 lbs. or over 14 tons, and the resulting density was so great, it would sink. However by attaching the float chamber filled with gasoline (which is less dense than water) on top, it compensated for the dense sphere and made it buoyant.

In addition to the actual bathyscaphe Trieste, the Undersea Exploration exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Navy includes a replica of the craft. U.S Navy photo by Shejal Pulivarti

In addition to the actual bathyscaphe Trieste, the Undersea Exploration exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Navy includes a replica of the craft. U.S Navy photo by Shejal Pulivarti

Trieste had very limited maneuverability, other than sinking and small side to side movements. Its main objective was to reach the bottom of the ocean, and be able to come back up. To sink, it could fill its water ballast chamber, and if needed release some of the gasoline from the main tank. To achieve positive buoyancy, the pellets in the two hoppers would be released, as the pressure was too great for compressed air to blow out the salt water, like in traditional submarines.

Trieste was not designed for a long term stay. Its two operators were in the submarine for 9 hours—the time it took to descend and ascend from the bottom of the ocean. The sphere was a chilly 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The air was filtered by scrubbers, much like other submarines. The two pilots snacked on chocolate bars, as they did not have much room for anything else!

Following its 1959-60 mid-Pacific work, Trieste operated out of San Diego, Calif., supporting Navy research objectives. Modified somewhat from its earlier configuration, it was taken to New London, Conn., in April 1963 to assist in the search for the lost submarine USS Thresher (SSN-593) and to support the investigation into the cause of that tragedy. In August 1963, Trieste found Thresher‘s remains off New England, 1,400 fathoms below the surface. The bathyscaphe was retired soon after that and some of its components were used in the newly constructed Trieste II.

Line drawing of Trieste. Courtesy of National Museum of the U.S. Navy.

Line drawing of Trieste. Courtesy of National Museum of the U.S. Navy.

Trieste is now a part of the Undersea Exploration exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard. The exhibit highlights the U.S. Navy’s involvement with undersea exploration for navigation, scientific research, strategic, and educational purposes. Often a catalyst for innovative research, by 1958 nearly 90 percent of all U.S. oceanographic ventures were funded by the Navy. Nurtured by such support, scientists explored the deepest regions of the oceans and designed increasingly sophisticated remotely operated vehicles that could observe the depths without risk to human life. Improvement of naval operations and equipment continues to be largely dependent on the discoveries made through oceanographic research. The Navy’s undersea operations have ranged from diving to the collection of scientific data, to the investigation of shipwrecks such as the Titanic.

The National Museum of the United States Navy is open Monday-Friday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, and Weekends and Federal Holidays 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. To learn more about the National Museum of the United States Navy, visit www.history.navy.mil.

 
Jan 22

What is History? And Why Is It Important?

Thursday, January 22, 2015 10:12 AM

Herodotus of Halicarnassus is considered by many to be the Father of History for his Histories detailing the Persian Wars and the events leading to them.

History is a human endeavor. As such, it is complex, inherently limited, and evolving. What has counted as “history” and how “history” has been investigated have changed greatly since Herodotus. Historians and philosophers debate the purpose of history, how it should be conducted, and indeed what even counts as history. What history actually is has no clear answer, doubtless the debate on history’s essence will continue, but history certainly has a number of elements which must be present in order for an investigation of the past to be considered “history.” History deals with the past. History aims at truth. History attempts to explain past events. These are just a few examples of some of history’s core characteristics. Aside from the question of what history is, philosophers and historians also attempt to explain the importance of history. Answers to this question are also varied. Some historians argue that history has no real importance, relegating history to hobby status. Other historians view history as integral to human existence. These two questions, what is history and why is it important, are essential to a proper understanding and appreciation of history.

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Jan 20

101 Candles: Naval Air Station Pensacola Celebrates a Legacy of Aviation Excellence

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 8:00 AM
They are standing in front of a Curtiss AB type seaplane, and include both station staff and student aviators. They are identified (as numbered on the print) as: 1. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harold W. Scofield, USN; 2. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) William M. Corry, Jr., USN; 3. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Clarence K. Bronson, USN; 4. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Ewart G. Haas, USN; 5. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Robert R. Paunack, USN; 6. 1st Lieutenant Francis T. Evans, USMC; 7. Lieutenant Earle F. Johnson, USN; 8. Lieutenant Albert C. Read, USN; 9. Lieutenant Commander Henry C. Mustin, USN, Naval Aeronautic Station Commandant; 10. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Patrick N.L. Bellinger, USN; 11. 1st Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham, USMC; 12. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Richard C. Saufley, USN; 13. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Joseph P. Norfleet, USN; 14. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Walter A. Edwards, USN; 15. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harold T. Bartlett, USN; 16. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Earl W. Spencer, Jr., USN; 17. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Edward O. McDonnell, USN. Photograph from the photo album of Vice Admiral T.T. Craven. Courtesy of Lieutenant Rodman DeKay, Jr., USNR (Retired), 1979. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

They are standing in front of a Curtiss AB type seaplane, and include both station staff and student aviators. They are identified (as numbered on the print) as: 1. Lt. j.g. Harold W. Scofield, USN; 2. Lt. j.g. William M. Corry, Jr., USN; 3. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Clarence K. Bronson, USN; 4. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Ewart G. Haas, USN; 5. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Robert R. Paunack, USN; 6. 1st Lieutenant Francis T. Evans, USMC; 7. Lieutenant Earle F. Johnson, USN; 8. Lieutenant Albert C. Read, USN; 9. Lieutenant Commander Henry C. Mustin, USN, Naval Aeronautic Station Commandant; 10. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Patrick N.L. Bellinger, USN; 11. 1st Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham, USMC; 12. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Richard C. Saufley, USN; 13. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Joseph P. Norfleet, USN; 14. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Walter A. Edwards, USN; 15. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harold T. Bartlett, USN; 16. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Earl W. Spencer, Jr., USN; 17. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Edward O. McDonnell, USN. Photograph from the photo album of Vice Admiral T.T. Craven. Courtesy of Lieutenant Rodman DeKay, Jr., USNR (Retired), 1979. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

 

By Hill Goodspeed, National Naval Aviation Museum

Before January 20, 1914, when the Navy’s aviation establishment arrived at a recently closed, hurricane ravaged navy yard in Pensacola, Florida, the small collection of men and assorted flying machines had lived a vagabond existence since Lieutenant Theodore G. Ellyson received orders to report for flight training under the tutelage of aircraft manufacturer Glenn Curtiss in December 1910.

They had flown from lake waters in Curtiss’ native Hammondsport, New York, the sandy landscape of North Island in San Diego, over the Caribbean waters off Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and from an encampment at Greenbury Point across the Severn River from the U.S. Naval Academy. Such was the ad hoc nature of the latter location that it was located in proximity to the midshipman rifle range, forcing the aviators and mechanics to frequently vacate the premises lest they become an unwitting target for a fledgling marksman!

The members of the Chambers Board, which convened in Washington D.C. in late 1913, recognized that naval aviation, with the potential for employment on a wider scale in naval operations, required a permanent home, an aeronautic station not only for use in training, but more also to serve as a veritable laboratory for the study of naval aviation.

The record-altitude flights and experimental work lay in the future on that January day, the conditions that greeted the aviators as they arrived on board the battleship Mississippi and collier Orion proving disconcerting.

Capt. Henry C. Mustin

Capt. Henry C. Mustin

“We have done some hustling since arrival for the yard is a wreck and the beach we have to use for hangars [full of] drift wood…and all kinds of junk; the whole place is in scandalous condition, and I surely have a job on my hands,” Lieutenant Commander Henry C. Mustin wrote upon arriving. “It looks as if it had been abandoned 50 years ago and since then had been used as a dump. However, there are fine possibilities in the place.”

 

Description: They are outside the Flying School office, which bears a sign (at left) with the name of Lt. j.g. Clarence K. Bronson. Both station staff and student aviators are present. Most are identified below (as annotated on the print). Standing, left to right: Ensign Harold W. Scofield, USN; Past Assistant Surgeon Charles L. Beeching, USN; Lt. j.g. Clarence K. Bronson, USN; Lt. j.g. William M. Corry, Jr., USN; Lt. j.g. Joseph P. Norfleet, USN; and Lt. Albert C. Read, USN. Seated, left to right: Unidentified Lt. j.g. ; Lt. j.g. Earl W. Spencer, Jr., USN; Lt. j.g. Walter A. Edwards, USN; Lt. j.g. Robert R. Paunack, USN; Lt. Earle F. Johnson, USN; Lt. j.g. George D. Murray, USN. Photograph from the photo album of Vice Admiral T.T. Craven. Courtesy of Lt. Rodman DeKay, Jr., USNR (Retired), 1979. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Description: They are outside the Flying School office, which bears a sign (at left) with the name of Lt. j.g. Clarence K. Bronson. Both station staff and student aviators are present. Most are identified below (as annotated on the print). Standing, left to right: Ensign Harold W. Scofield, USN; Past Assistant Surgeon Charles L. Beeching, USN; Lt. j.g. Clarence K. Bronson, USN; Lt. j.g. William M. Corry, Jr., USN; Lt. j.g. Joseph P. Norfleet, USN; and Lt. Albert C. Read, USN. Seated, left to right: Unidentified Lt. j.g. ; Lt. j.g. Earl W. Spencer, Jr., USN; Lt. j.g. Walter A. Edwards, USN; Lt. j.g. Robert R. Paunack, USN; Lt. Earle F. Johnson, USN; Lt. j.g. George D. Murray, USN. Photograph from the photo album of Vice Admiral T.T. Craven. Courtesy of Lt. Rodman DeKay, Jr., USNR (Retired), 1979. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Once ashore, the aviation personnel assembled their aircraft and began erecting canvas tent hangars along the shore to protect them from the Florida sun. Less than two weeks after arriving, using the natural runway that the waters of Pensacola Bay provided, a prime reason for the location’s selection by the Chambers Board, Lieutenant John Towers, the officer-in-charge of the flight school, and Ensign Godfrey DeC. Chevalier took to the skies in two seaplanes.

A local newspaper likened the airplanes to “giant buzzards” as they made the first of hundreds of thousands of flights launched from what would become known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.”

 
Jan 15

Surface Force in Desert Storm: USS Nicholas Leads a Distributed, Lethal Attack on Enemy Troops

Thursday, January 15, 2015 7:00 AM

From the Naval History and Heritage Command

A starboard quarter view of the guided missile frigate USS NICHOLAS (FFG-47) underway in support of Operation Desert Shield.

A starboard quarter view of the guided missile frigate USS NICHOLAS (FFG-47) underway in support of Operation Desert Shield.

The Battle of Ad-Dawrah may not have the branding of other naval warfare conflicts, like Midway or Leyte Gulf, but it was a shining moment for the naval surface force 24 years ago when USS Nicholas (FFG 47) and other frigates did their part in showering the enemy with “thunder and lightning” during the early days of Desert Storm.

Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, to the condemnation of the United Nations. After five months of sanctions that severed Iraq’s economic lifelines and a maritime interception campaign with 115 U.S. and 50 allied warships, it was time for Desert Shield to become Desert Storm.

For most Americans, the operation began on the evening of January 16th when President George H.W. Bush addressed the nation announcing the commencement of hostilities. In the Middle East, where it was already early the next morning, Operation Desert Storm was underway led by Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, in charge of all coalition forces, while then-Vice Adm. Stanley Arthur commanded the largest build-up of naval personnel and ships since World War II.

The war at sea was integral to the liberation of Kuwait. While continuing their high-tempo maritime interception mission, U.S. and coalition warships conducted a wide variety of contingency actions, from Tomahawk Land Attack Missile launches to naval gunfire support.

Almost immediately, Iraqi troops began setting off explosives previously placed around Kuwaiti oil fields. Iraqi troops had staked out observation posts on nine of 11 oil platforms in the Dorrah oilfield, about 40 miles off the Kuwaiti coast. From the platforms, they could gather intelligence on U.S. and allied aircraft and ship movements.

Flight deck crewmen refuel an SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter aboard the guided missile frigate USS NICHOLAS (FFG-47). The NICHOLAS is en route to its home port at Naval Station, Charleston, S.C., after serving in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

Flight deck crewmen refuel an SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter aboard the guided missile frigate USS NICHOLAS (FFG-47). The NICHOLAS is en route to its home port at Naval Station, Charleston, S.C., after serving in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

Navy surface forces made an impact early in Desert Storm, when USS Nicholas (FFG 47) and the Kuwaiti fast attack craft Istiqlal (P 5702) conducted the first surface engagement of the war on Jan. 18, 1991. Supporting combat search and rescue operations for the air campaign, Nicholas and her helicopters scouted the Dorrah oilfield.

In a daring night-time operation, well within range of Iraqi Silkworm missiles and near Iraqi combatant ships and aircraft armed with Exocet ship-killer missiles, Nicholas and Istiqlal attacked the enemy positions.

Nicholas crept to within a mile of the southernmost platforms under cover of darkness. Armed for air-to-surface combat, embarked Army AHIP helicopters, and joined by Nicholas‘ own SH-60 Seahawk helicopter from HSL-44, headed north –toward the enemy’s “back door.” Once in range, the helicopters launched a volley of precision-guided missiles that destroyed enemy positions on the two northernmost platforms. Seconds later, as six Iraqi soldiers attempted to escape to a waiting small craft, ammunition stockpiled on the platforms exploded, illuminating the night sky.

Officers and enlisted men stand their watches on the bridge of the guided missile frigate USS NICHOLAS (FFG-47) as the ship returns to its home port at Naval Station, Charleston, S.C. The NICHOLAS departed Charleston on September 21, 1990, and sailed for the Persian Gulf, where the ship served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

Officers and enlisted men stand their watches on the bridge of the guided missile frigate USS NICHOLAS (FFG-47) as the ship returns to its home port at Naval Station, Charleston, S.C. The NICHOLAS departed Charleston on September 21, 1990, and sailed for the Persian Gulf, where the ship served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

Nicholas and her Kuwaiti counterpart came within range of their objectives. While Iraqis on the other platforms were staring at their neighbors’ flaming fortifications, the two ships opened fire, quickly neutralizing the remaining platforms. No enemy troops returned fire during the lightning-fast operation.

An Arabic-speaking crewman called out over the ship’s loudspeaker that anyone who wished to surrender should raise his hands. A monitor in Nicholas‘ combat information center displayed a flickering infrared image of an Iraqi waving weakly. Several hours later, the first 23 enemy prisoners of war were taken as teams boarded the platforms to destroy the remaining fortifications. Five Iraqis were killed during the engagement.

Searchers found caches of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles– an unpleasant surprise for the Seahawk pilots who had flown near the platforms during the past two days. Navy demolition teams destroyed the remaining weapons and long-range radio equipment.

As Navy A-6 Intruders pounded Iraqi minelayers on Jan. 22, Nicholas and her Seahawks were again busy in the northern Persian Gulf. As the northernmost allied ship, Nicholas launched her helicopters to attack Iraqi patrol boats operating less than a mile from the Kuwaiti coast. In the battle that followed, Seahawk gunners sank or heavily damaged all four enemy craft. The following day, A-6s hit the mark again, disabling an Iraqi tanker used to gather intelligence, an enemy hovercraft and another Iraqi patrol boat.

The frigate proved its capability to operate close to the shore as it provided security for merchant convoys and replenishment groups, yet bringing its “thunder and lightning” to multiply fleet force resources.

USS Nicholas, the star of the Battle of Ad-Dawrah, was decommissioned March 17, 2014. In fact, when the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Ad-Dawrah rolls around in January 2016, there will be no Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates in the U.S. Navy – earlier this month USS Kauffman (FFG 59) departed for what will be the final deployment for the ship and for the class. A decommissioning is scheduled for sometime in September.

Still the value of the surface force’s ability to control the seas, so ably demonstrated by Nicholas at Ad-Dawrah, is not lost on today’s Navy leaders.

Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, Commander, Naval Surface Forces

“A shift is now under way within the surface force. It is not subtle, and it is not accidental,” wrote Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, in an article for the Jan. 2015 edition of Proceedings Magazine.  “The surface force is taking the offensive, to give the operational commander options to employ naval combat power in any anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environment.”

“The surface fleet will always defend the high-value and mission-essential units; that is in our core doctrine. However, the emergence of sophisticated sea-denial strategies has driven a need to shift to an offensive imperative to control the seas. Increasing surface-force lethality—particularly in our offensive weapons and the concept of operations for surface action groups (SAGs)—will provide more strike options to joint-force commanders, provide another method to seize the initiative, and add battlespace complexity to an adversary’s calculus,” he wrote.

After the Cold War, Rowden said no navy could challenge or dominate the United States.

“No power could match us at sea, and that dominance allowed the Navy to focus on projecting power ashore. The balance between sea control and power projection tipped strongly in favor of the latter, and the surface force evolved accordingly. Our proficiency in land-attack and maritime-security operations reached new heights, while foundational skills in antisubmarine warfare (ASW) and antisurface warfare (ASUW) slowly began to erode,” Rowden wrote.

Called “distributed lethality” Rowden believes the surface force must develop and build stronger, more varied offensive capability in its ships, adding more power in more places and sailing together in formations known as “hunter-killer surface action groups.”

“If U.S. naval power is to reclaim maritime battlespace dominance in contemporary and future anti-A2/AD environments,” said Rowden in the Proceedings article, “the surface Navy must counter rapidly evolving missile, air, submarine, and surface threats that will challenge our ability to sail where we want, when we want.”

*Check out the Navy Live Blog for a post from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. Fifth Fleet Commander Vice Adm. John Miller about the importance of partnerships in his AOR during Desert Storm and today.

 
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