Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Feb 4

Navy Archaeologists Dive into the History of Bonhomme Richard

Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:00 AM

 

A painting by William Gilkerson of the battle between the Continental Navy frigate Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, Beverley R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum.

A painting by William Gilkerson of the battle between the Continental Navy frigate Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, Beverley R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum.

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

When Capt. John Paul Jones accepted command of the frigate that would become Bonhomme Richard on Feb. 4, 1779, he had no idea a future battle aboard would both illustrate his career and be a rallying call to arms centuries later. And just like the man who commanded her, the wooden frigate continues to pique the interest of scientists and Sailors alike 236 years after her sinking.

Pirate, privateer, patriot, courageous, glory-hound are just a few of the words used to describe Jones. Contentious though his life might have been, he was a bantamweight courageously entering the ring to take on the heavyweight that was the British Royal Navy during the Revolutionary War.

Jones’ ship, originally named Duc de Duras, was a gift from France. In keeping with the ship’s French heritage, Jones renamed the ship Bonhomme Richard, which translated to “Goodman Richard,” a nod to the nom de plume “Poor Richard” used by Benjamin Franklin, America’s commissioner at Paris. His famous almanacs had been published in France under the title Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard.

On Sept. 23, 1779, a little less than eight months after Jones assumed command, Bonhomme Richard engaged the Royal Navy frigate HMS Seripis during the Battle of Flamborough Head, off the English coast. After an initial volley of fire, two of the American frigate’s guns were destroyed and many Sailors injured. Jones realized he was outgunned by a more powerful and faster opponent. When the captain of the British ship asked if Jones’ ship would strike her colors to surrender, Jones famously answered, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

As the chance of victory appeared to begin slipping through his fingers, Jones came up with a dangerous plan. He moved his ship closer to Serapis where he thought he could board her or have his sharpshooters pick off her men and officers. When Bonhomme Richard moved into position, Serapis’ anchor fouled in Bonhomme Richard‘s hull, holding the two ships together. Jones strengthened the bonds with grappling hooks. After a bloody and brutal four hour fight, Serapis surrendered at last.

Sadly, Bonhomme Richard was critically damaged, on fire and taking on water fast. Despite all efforts to save the ship, she sank into the North Sea two days later.

Capt. John Paul Jones bids goodbye to his victorious ship, Bonhomme Richard, from aboard his new prize, HMS Serapis. Painting by Percy Moran.

Capt. John Paul Jones bids goodbye to his victorious ship, Bonhomme Richard, from aboard his new prize, HMS Serapis. Painting by Percy Moran.

Before she went down, Jones transferred his crew to their newest prize, Serapis, and sailed to Texel Roads, Holland. Jones stayed busy for the remainder of the war and the 12 years of life he had left, so he may never have looked back to Bonhomme Richard.

More than 200 years later, the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archeology Branch actively seeks to piece together a more thorough picture of Bonhomme Richard to see what clues it might reveal about her historic master.

“It’s one of the Navy’s most important ships because of its role in Navy history,” said Robert Neyland, Ph.D., UA director. “The victory helped to raise American morale when the war was not going too well and helped confirm to the French that the Americans were a cause worth supporting.”

A deep water dive launch from USNS Grasp to asses possible targets as part of the search for Bonhomme Richard in July 2011. U.S. Navy Photo by Alexis Catsambis.

A deep water dive launch from USNS Grasp to asses possible targets as part of the search for Bonhomme Richard in July 2011. U.S. Navy Photo by Alexis Catsambis.

In an effort to find Jones’ lost vessel, Neyland and the rest of his tea at NHHC have been investigating sites and putting together pieces of information for the last eight years.

“Since 2006 there have been various expeditions,” Neyland said, explaining there have been many partners in the search, from governments, to companies and private entities. “It’s been on a basis of ships of opportunity. When some French minesweepers have been in the area they have donated a few days of survey time.”

Oceanographer Kevin Dial of the Naval Oceanographic Office rinses an autonomous underwater vehicle after recovering it from the North Sea onto USNS Henson during a Sept. 2010 expedition attempting to locate Bonhomme Richard. U.S. Navy photo by Rebecca Burke.

Oceanographer Kevin Dial of the Naval Oceanographic Office rinses an autonomous underwater vehicle after recovering it from the North Sea onto USNS Henson during a Sept. 2010 expedition attempting to locate Bonhomme Richard. U.S. Navy photo by Rebecca Burke.

It’s not an easy task. The passage of centuries can cause a significant amount of damage to wood, even below the surface of the ocean, and the ship was badly damaged by the combat already.

“It’s a large area to survey, the water depth ranges from 160-200 feet, 15-20 miles off shore and 500 square nautical miles,” he said. “The weather and seas are volatile out there and the ship may be partially or completely buried by sediment. Shipwrecks tend to break apart and bury themselves in sediment. They may be exposed at times and at other time buried.”

And the Bonhomme Richard would hardly be alone under the waves.

“Recently the French Navy and the Ocean Technology Foundation found a wooden-hulled ship wreck that probably dates between the late 18th century and early 19th century,” Neyland said. “It hasn’t been ruled out totally that it is not Bonhomme Richard. But, it definitely shows that older wooden ships can still be preserved under the North Sea sediments.”

The top scientist at UA isn’t daunted by the monumental task of finding an artifact under miles of ocean and sand. He and his team continue to utilize scientific research to find Bonhomme Richard and others of interest.

“There’s not a shipwreck out there that can’t be found,” he said.

For more information on the Naval History and Heritage Command and the NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch visit our website at http://www.history.navy.mil/research/underwater-archaeology.html

 
Jan 31

Enlisted Pilots Boosted Fledgling Flight Training Program

Saturday, January 31, 2015 9:00 AM

Enlisted Pilots 5400x3600

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Just like a pair of pants, pilots strap on their planes the same, whether officer or enlisted. But for the most part, it wasn’t likely those with gold buttons on their uniforms might also be found digging latrines or working as messcooks.

Times have changed since enlisted Sailors could wear pilot insignia designating them Naval Aviator Pilot (NAP). The last one to do so was Air Controlman Master Chief (NAP) Robert K. “NAP” Jones when he retired 34 years ago today on Jan. 31, 1981.

The enlisted rating as a naval aviator has never been a smooth nor straight path, but that didn’t deter those in the ranks wishing to pin on their aviator wings. The advent of Naval Aviation Pilot (NAP), the enlisted designation, got its start 99 years ago Jan. 1, 1917 when a class of seven Navy petty officers and two Marine sergeants went through flight instruction. They were already either stationed at the Naval Aviation training center in Pensacola, Fla., or on the armored cruiser North Carolina (CA 12), where just over 13 months earlier an AB-2 Curtiss flying boat had been catapulted off her stern.

Following graduation as pilots, most were promoted to warrant officer and then offered commissioned officer status. A few, however, qualified as pilots, but were not designated as such, remaining among the enlisted.

After World War I, there was an effort by the Bureau of Navigation to encourage the enlisted Sailors younger than age 30 to become pilots of heavier-than-air planes and dirigibles. The first class had 40 enlisted students and its graduates were the first to use the naval aviator pilot designation, or NAP, on Jan. 22, 1920.

CQM (A) (NAP) Harold H. “Kiddy” Karr held certificate No. 1, but two of his classmates would receive Medals of Honor and a third the Legion of Merit.

  • Chief Machinist Mate Francis Edward Ormsbee received his Medal of Honor after repeatedly attempting to save the lives of a plane’s crew that crashed into the Gulf of Mexico near the training center at Pensacola. He saved the gunner, but was unable to pull the pilot to safety in time.
  • Chief Aviation Pilot (NAP) Floyd Bennett

    Chief Aviation Pilot (NAP) Floyd Bennett

    Chief Aviation Pilot (NAP) Floyd Bennett was the co-pilot who flew with Arctic explorer Adm. Richard Byrd over the North Pole May 9, 1926. Both Bennett and Byrd received Medals of Honor for their feat and a ticker tape parade in New York City. Bennett was to pilot Byrd on his trek to the South Pole, but he died from pneumonia in 1928 after flying while ill with a fever to rescue a group of fliers downed at Greenlay Island in Quebec.

  • Chief Boatswain’s Mate P.J. “Pappy” Byrne received the Legion of Merit in 1955 after amassing more than 22,600 hours in the air with more than 140 types of planes. He retired three years later to conclude a 40-year career.

 

“It is ironic that some men who had their wings pinned on uniforms while in the enlisted ranks ended their careers flying some of the navy’s highest ranking officers,” said Hill Goodspeed, the historian at the National Museum of the Naval Aviator in Pensacola, Fla. “One such was Lt. Cmdr. Harold W. Brown, who received his wings as a petty officer and retired after serving the final years of his career as the pilot for the Chief of Naval Operations, Admirals Arleigh Burke, David McDonald, and Tom Moorer.”

By 1921, NAP designations specified seaplane, ship-plane and airship. By the mid-1920s, both the Chief Aviation Pilot (CAP) and Aviation Pilot First Class (AP1c) rates were established.

The boot camp to pilot program for enlisted aviators was approved in January 1929 and Congress even legislated there be a 30 percent ratio between enlisted and officer pilots. But the rarity of enlisted pilots remained a conundrum for those trying to fill operational billets on ships.

Such was the case of Seaman 2nd Class (NAP) George Webber. Between 1930-32, Webber was assigned to VS-3 aboard USS Lexington (CV 2) while Capt. Ernest J. King, the future admiral and chief of naval operations, was commanding officer. Lack of berthing placed the second class seaman on deck in a cot, and when his squadron needed to supply messcooks to help the galley, well, the second class seaman drew the short-straw again. And to make matters worse, Webber’s shipmates were a bit skeptical about the audacity of their fellow messcook wearing aviator wings on his uniform.

Webber solved the problem with his messmates by inviting them to watch one of his flights, but when Capt. King, not well known for his sense of humor, got wind one of his carrier pilots was working in the galley, well, that ended Webber’s collateral duty as a messcook pretty quick. Webber eventually accepted the commission offered to him as a pilot and retired as a commander in 1959.

Despite the chance to become a commissioned officer, the enlisted pilot program faltered. With lack of numbers, Congress dropped the ratio to 20 percent enlisted to the officer pilot numbers in 1932.

That all changed during the build up to World War II. The percentage of enlisted earning their aviator wings increased and as many as 95 percent accepted commissions as officers. Some were temporary until the end of their military career, while others made it permanent after earning the required college education credits.

Up in the air, however, experience counted more than education. It wasn’t unusual to have a “whitehat” leading a squadron or be a plane commander while flying a mission. Until they landed. Then command went back to those wearing gold buttons.

“One squadron established during 1927 and in service through the Battle of the Coral Sea was Fighting Squadron (VF) 2B, known as the “Fighting Chiefs,” the majority of the pilots in the squadron being highly-experienced enlisted pilots,” said Hill Goodspeed, the historian for the National Museum of the Naval Aviator in Pensacola, Fla. “It was regularly regarded as one of the top fighter squadrons in the fleet during its existence.”

Goodspeed said the enlisted ranks tallied 11 fighter aces (those who achieve five or more kills in air-to-air combat) during World War II. Besides Bennett and Ormsbee, Marine 1st Lt. Ken Walsh received a Medal of Honor for heroism performed during the Battle of the Solomons in 1943, where at one point, while separated from his squadron, attacked 50 Japanese Zeroes and downed four before he was forced to “deadstick” land his crippled plane on Vella Lavella where he was later picked up.

There was also still that issue with collateral duty being assigned to those with NAP designations. During World War II, the Guadalcanal Marine Air Group 14 found two of their combat pilots were missing, only to discover Sgts. Ollie Michael and Rohe C. Jones were digging latrines on New Caledonia. In no time they were back flying Douglas SBDs during the Solomons campaign. Michael was credited with sinking three Japanese ships between Nov.-Dec. 1942. Sadly, Jones was killed during his third combat tour.

Following World War II, the Enlisted Flight Training School was cut and by 1948 Congress terminated a requirement for enlisted pilots.

During the reduction in forces, temporary commissions ended and enlisted pilots resumed their NAP status, dwindling down in numbers either by advancement into officer ranks or retirement.

In 1955, the Navy held the most enlisted pilots at around 300, followed by 255 for the Marines. Of the 216 enlisted Coast Guard pilots, all but 37 were trained during World War II.

A Sept. 1967 article in Naval Aviation News about the remaining 34 enlisted pilots mentions the struggle for enlisted pilots may have been the difficulty of achieving their educational requirements while juggling their enlisted duties. Career officers also could advance to top-level positions, but for enlisted pilots, those command opportunities were limited.

The last four Marine enlisted pilots simultaneously retired Feb. 1, 1973: Master Gunnery Sergeants Joseph A. Conroy, Leslie T. Ericson, Robert M. Lurie and Patrick J. O’Neil. In 1979, the last Coastie enlisted pilot retired, Aviation Machinist’s Mate Master Chief (AP) John P. Greathouse. And two years later, Jan. 31, 1981, the last Navy enlisted pilot, ACCM Jones, turned out the lights on the NAP insignia.

Information for this blog was provided by the Naval Aviation News, a product of the Naval History and Heritage Command, the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla., and bluejacket.com.

 

 
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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