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Jun 12

Dive on Houston Day 4: The Survey’s Final Day

Thursday, June 12, 2014 3:29 PM

By Dr. Alexis Catsambis, Naval History and Heritage Command, Underwater Archaeology Branch

(Thursday, June 11, 2014) Today was our last day of operations on the presumed site of USS Houston. Operations began once more with a morning brief involving the master diver, Senior Chief William Phillips, Chief Warrant Officer Jason Shafer and myself at 6:30 a.m. Following breakfast, the team engaged in gear and camera preparations and by 8:45 a.m. a small boat was in the water to undertake the first U.S. Navy dive of the morning.

BANTEN BAY (June 12, 2014) - Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher Perez, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, translates a brief for Indonesian navy divers during a survey of the Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) on the on the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50). Safeguard, its embarked MDSU, and Indonesian navy divers are conducting a diving exercise on the wreck of the Houston as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014. In its 20th year, CARAT is a bilateral exercise series between the United States and the armed forces of the nine partner nations in South and Southeast Asia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christian Senyk/Released)

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 12, 2014) – Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher Perez, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, translates a brief for Indonesian navy divers during a survey of the Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) on the on the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

By 11:00 a.m., we had completed three dives between the U.S. and Indonesian dive teams, exploring the mid-section and stern of the wrecked vessel. At that time, Senior Chief Phillips had to call a halt to further dive operations due to the strength of the prevailing current. After reviewing the appropriate charts, we determined that dives could resume at 2:00 p.m.

As planned, we renewed diving operations at 2:00 p.m. which lasted until 5:30 p.m. when lightning and thunder required that we stop diving operations in accordance with established safety protocols. In the three and a half hours we had on site, the U.S. and Indonesian teams completed five more dives, focusing on the midships and bow of the vessel. In total, we have collected several hours of footage that require careful review and comparison with USS Houston’s schematics. As of now, nothing has contradicted the working hypothesis that the wreck site is the remains of USS Houston. However, only careful processing and analysis of the collected data can confirm this tentative identification.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason Schafer, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, prepares to dive on the site of the Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) from the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50). Safeguard, its embarked MDSU, and Indonesian navy divers are conducting a diving exercise on the wreck of the Houston as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014. In its 20th year, CARAT is a bilateral exercise series between the United States and the armed forces of the nine partner nations in South and Southeast Asia.

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 12, 2014) – Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason Schafer, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, prepares to dive on the site of the Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) from the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

Tomorrow morning we expect to conduct the final dives of the operation to remove the buoys that have been placed on the wreck-site, followed by a ceremony to commemorate the partnership that made this operation possible, and continues to make CARAT14 successful. Collaboration with Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One, the Military Sealift Command crew of Safeguard, our Indonesian counterparts and the rest of the supporting teams throughout the operation has been seamless, and all engaged were driven to deliver the best results possible within the short amount of time we were allocated on the site.

BANTEN BAY (June 12, 2014) – Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason Schafer (left) and Mass Communication Specialist Christopher Perez, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, dive on the site of the Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) from the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50). Safeguard, its embarked MDSU, and Indonesian navy divers are conducting a diving exercise on the wreck of the Houston as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014. In its 20th year, CARAT is a bilateral exercise series between the United States and the armed forces of the nine partner nations in South and Southeast Asia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christian Senyk/Released)

BANTEN BAY (June 12, 2014) – Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason Schafer (left) and Mass Communication Specialist Christopher Perez, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, dive on the site of the Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) from the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

I am scheduled to depart for Jakarta tomorrow at about 10 a.m. and will arrive in the late afternoon/evening, then depart for Washington the next morning. I look forward to returning to the Washington Navy Yard to begin the process of thoroughly analyzing the data we’ve collected over the last few days.

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Dive on Houston Day 3: A Pause to Honor Our Fallen, Then Work Continues

Dive on Houston Day 2: The Survey Begins

Dive on Houston Day 1: NHHC Underwater Archaeologist Arrives in Jakarta, Begins Mission Planning

Navy to Dive on Wreck of USS Houston (CA 30) during CARAT Indonesia

 
Jun 11

Dive on Houston Day 3: A Pause to Honor Our Fallen, Then Work Continues

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 2:30 PM

By Dr. Alexis Catsambis, Naval History and Heritage Command, Underwater Archaeology Branch

(Wednesday, June 11, 2014) Today has been an exceptionally long and productive day.

Between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. we began preparations for the day’s dives readying dive gear, prepping cameras and tagging valves, knobs and pumps aboard Safeguard to set the stage for diving operations. Following the first surface-supplied dive, it appeared clear that SCUBA diving provided a more appropriate alternative, as it offered divers increased flexibility to swim along the wreck-site. Divers from Indonesia and the U.S. Navy were both able to dive on the wreck before the 11:15 a.m. arrival of a VIP delegation.

BANTEN BAY (June 11, 2014) - Dr. Alexis Catsambis, assigned to Naval History and Heritage Command, briefs U.S. Navy Divers, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, and Indonesian Navy divers during a survey the site of the sunken navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 11, 2014) – Dr. Alexis Catsambis, assigned to Naval History and Heritage Command, briefs U.S. Navy Divers, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, and Indonesian Navy divers during a survey the site of the sunken navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

The delegation arrived from Jakarta to participate in a wreath laying ceremony which took place at noon on the fantail of Safeguard. In attendance were the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Kristen Bauer, U.S. Naval Attaché Capt. Mark Stacpoole, U.S. Marine Corps Attaché Lt. Col. Miguel Avila, as well as members of the USS Safeguard crew, and the U.S. and Indonesian dive teams. A wreath was passed from the ship to a joint U.S. and Indonesian dive team which descended into the water and affixed it to the hull below.

BANTEN BAY (June 11, 2014) - Deputy Chief of Mission (Jakarta, Indonesia) Kristen Bauer (top left), Captain Richard Stacpoole (top right), and Marine Lieutenant Colonel Miguel Avila stand at attention during a wreathe laying ceremony for the sunken Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) on the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 11, 2014) – Deputy Chief of Mission (Jakarta, Indonesia) Kristen Bauer (top left), Captain Richard Stacpoole (top right), and Marine Lieutenant Colonel Miguel Avila stand at attention during a wreathe laying ceremony for the sunken Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) on the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

BANTEN BAY (June 11, 2014) - Sailors, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, pass a wreathe during a wreathe laying ceremony for the sunken Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) in a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 11, 2014) – Sailors, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, pass a wreathe during a wreathe laying ceremony for the sunken Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) in a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

BANTEN BAY (June 11, 2014) - A shot from a remotely operated vehicle of a wreathe placed on the sunken Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) honoring the more than 700 Sailors and Marines lost when the ship was sunk during World War II. The wreath was placed June 11 2014 during a ceremony onboard the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

BANTEN BAY (June 11, 2014) – A shot from a remotely operated vehicle of a wreathe placed on the sunken Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) honoring the more than 700 Sailors and Marines lost when the ship was sunk during World War II. The wreath was placed June 11 2014 during a ceremony onboard the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

Following lunch with the dignitaries, and having updated them on the site assessment, the delegation departed at 12:45 p.m.

By 1:15 p.m. we were back at work launching a Seabotix remotely operated vehicle in the water on the eastern extremity of the vessel, while divers were undertaking the task of swimming the entire length of the hull to affix a second buoy on the far western extremity.

BANTEN BAY (June 11, 2014) - Sailors, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, prepare diving equipment in a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) during a survey of the site of the sunken Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) on the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50). Safeguard, its embarked MDSU, and Indonesian navy divers are conducting a diving exercise on the wreck of the Houston as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014.

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 11, 2014) – Sailors, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, prepare diving equipment in a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) during a survey of the site of the sunken Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) on the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50). Safeguard, its embarked MDSU, and Indonesian navy divers are conducting a diving exercise on the wreck of the Houston as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014.

Dives continued until 5:25 p.m. and were followed by a dive brief that ended at 6:45 p.m.

Today’s operation were very productive allowing us to accomplish a series of tasks including:

* Securely establishing buoys on both extremities of the wrecked vessel.

* Obtaining GPS coordinates for both extremities.

* Establishing that the vessel is lying on its starboard side with its deck, mostly exposed.

* Observing anchor chain, and two large, hollow rings — within which the main gun turrets would have rested — along the Eastern extremity. The characteristics of the eastern extremity match those of World Warr II cruisers as well as USS Houston, allowing us to identify this end as the bow of the wrecked vessel. Additional mangled debris and significant elements lay beyond what has presently been identified as the extremity. I suspect significant battle damage was concentrated in this area.

* Observing a series of cleats, bollards, and a single large hollow ring, similar to those associated with the bow turrets, along the western extremity allowed us to identify this end as the stern of the vessel; once more, such features match those of World War II era cruisers including USS Houston. An extensive series of nets appear to blanket the bitter end of the stern. A significantly deformed area exists adjacent to the location of the former gun turret, potentially the result of the vessel losing its aft mast during the wrecking event.

At the end of the day, we made the decision to halt surface-supplied diving operations altogether in favor of SCUBA operations, affording us increased flexibility to cover the most ground in our last day of the exercise tomorrow.

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 11, 2014) - Navy Diver 1st Class Carlos Marin (right), assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, and Dr. Alexis Catsambis, assigned to Naval History and Heritage Command, survey the site of the sunken navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) with the Indonesian Navy using the Diving Underwater Camera System on the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50). Safeguard, its embarked MDSU, and Indonesian navy divers are conducting a diving exercise on the wreck of the Houston as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014. In its 20th year, CARAT is a bilateral exercise series between the United States and the armed forces of the nine partner nations in South and Southeast Asia.

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 11, 2014) – Navy Diver 1st Class Carlos Marin (right), assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) One, and Dr. Alexis Catsambis, assigned to Naval History and Heritage Command, survey the site of the sunken navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) with the Indonesian Navy using the Diving Underwater Camera System on the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50). Safeguard, its embarked MDSU, and Indonesian navy divers are conducting a diving exercise on the wreck of the Houston as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014. In its 20th year, CARAT is a bilateral exercise series between the United States and the armed forces of the nine partner nations in South and Southeast Asia.

 

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Dive on Houston Day 2: The Survey Begins

Dive on Houston Day 1: NHHC Underwater Archaeologist Arrives in Jakarta, Begins Mission Planning

Navy to Dive on Wreck of USS Houston (CA 30) during CARAT Indonesia

 
Jun 10

Dive on Houston Day 2: The Survey Begins

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 5:05 PM

By Dr. Alexis Catsambis, Naval History and Heritage Command, Underwater Archaeology Branch

(Tuesday, June 10, 2014) Operations began this morning at 6 a.m. when I held a brief with Master Diver Phillips and Chief Warrant Officer Jason Shafer. By 6:30 a.m. Safeguard was located near the vicinity of the first set of coordinates that we had for USS Houston and shortly thereafter three side-scan sonar technicians and I engaged in a small-boat survey of the area to locate the target. After eliminating two possible sets of coordinates, we had a positive hit at 11:35 a.m. on a large metallic target significantly larger than 300 feet long.

BANTEN BAY (June 10, 2014) - Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Perez, currently assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, translates between Indonesian navy and U.S. Navy divers aboard Military Sealift Command's Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 10, 2014) – Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Perez, currently assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, translates between Indonesian navy and U.S. Navy divers aboard Military Sealift Command’s Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One divers were in the water by 11:40 a.m. and by 12:05 p.m. one extremity of the vessel had been marked with a buoy. Indonesian divers went in at 1:45 p.m. to follow the length of the vessel, which lies on its starboard side, and to affix a second buoy at the opposite extremity. By the end of the dive, the second buoy was placed approximately 100 feet inboard from the first.

By 2:45 p.m. we launched the small boat again, having established the orientation of the vessel with the two buoys, to obtain side-scan sonar data along the length of the vessel, on both sides (keel and superstructure). During the third dive of the day, a combined team of U.S. and Indonesian divers moved the second buoy farther along the sheerline of the vessel.

BANTEN BAY (June 10, 2014) - Sailors, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 embarked aboard Military Sealift Command's Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), prepare an F-470 rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) for diving operations on the sunken Navy ship USS Houston (CA 30).

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 10, 2014) – Sailors, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 embarked aboard Military Sealift Command’s Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), prepare an F-470 rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) for diving operations on the sunken Navy ship USS Houston (CA 30).

At 3:15 p.m. we initiated a six-pass side-scan sonar survey of the hull. The survey concluded at 3:50 p.m., succeeding in capturing the overall length of the target (between 570 to 610 feet – Houston was 600 feet in length).

At 4:20 p.m., the determination was made to moor Safeguard in preparation for surface-supplied diving, which would provide divers with increased bottom time. The mooring evolution concluded at 6:15 p.m., after which I met with MDV Phillips regarding tomorrow’s objectives.

BANTEN BAY (June 10, 2014) - Sailors, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 embarked aboard Military Sealift Command's Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), prepare to dive from an F-470 rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) on the site of the sunken Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30).

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 10, 2014) – Sailors, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 embarked aboard Military Sealift Command’s Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), prepare to dive from an F-470 rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) on the site of the sunken Navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30).

At the end of the day, the question is, are we moored over USS Houston? I can say the target we are straddling is in the approximate area of the engagement, is of the correct length and time-period, and appears as one of two major wrecks on nautical charts of the area. I did not observe anything in the data gathered thus far that would positively identify the site as USS Houston. However, nothing we have come across thus far would question such identification.

BANTEN BAY (June 10, 2014) - Sailors, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, survey the site of the sunken navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) in a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB).

BANTEN BAY, Indonesia (June 10, 2014) – Sailors, assigned to Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, survey the site of the sunken navy vessel USS Houston (CA 30) in a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB).

I will say that we have identified a site that matches the characteristics of USS Houston and tomorrow we expect to begin surface-supply diving and remotely operated vehicle operations on it.

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Dive on Houston Day 1: NHHC Underwater Archaeologist Arrives in Jakarta, Begins Mission Planning

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Jun 9

Dive on Houston Day 1: NHHC Underwater Archaeologist Arrives in Jakarta, Begins Mission Planning

Monday, June 9, 2014 2:39 PM

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Dr. Alexis Catsambis, an underwater archaeologist with the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Dr. Alexis Catsambis, an underwater archaeologist with the Naval History and Heritage Command.

After a three day and more than 10,000 mile journey from Washington, D.C., Naval History and Heritage Command Underwater Archaeologist Dr. Alexis Catsambis arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia June 9 to begin collaboration on a survey of the World War II wreck of the cruiser USS Houston (CA 30).

The survey is a training evolution as part of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014 exercise series and involves Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One divers embarked in USNS Safeguard (T-ARS-50), assisted by personnel from the Indonesian navy.

110329-N-5716H-632 NORTH PACIFIC OCEAN (March 28, 2011) — The rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) flies Japanese and U.S. flags from the ship's yard arm while anchored in the mouth to the port of Miyako in North Eastern Japan while supporting relief operations. Tortuga is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting Operation Tomodachi as directed.

NORTH PACIFIC OCEAN (March 28, 2011) — File photo of the rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) off the coast of Japan.

Houston was chosen as the site for the training after reports surfaced of unauthorised disturbance operations on the ship which remains sovereign property of the U.S. under customary international law. In addition to threatening a valuable cultural resource, unauthorised disturbance could also damage what is a popular recreational dive site (non-intrusive, sport diving on Navy wrecks is not only legal, but encouraged as recreational divers are often the first to alert authorities when something is amiss).

USS Houston (CA30) in San Diego Bay with President Roosevelt and Adm. Reeves aboard, Oct, 1935.

USS Houston (CA30) in San Diego Bay with
President Roosevelt and Adm. Reeves aboard, Oct, 1935.

Catsambis is on hand during the dive to provide operations planning support in order for the mission to effectively document the state of preservation of Houston. Documentation methods will include personal inspection by divers, as well as the planned use of sonar sensing systems and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

After arriving Monday morning, Catsambis met with Capt. Mark Stacpoole, U.S. Naval Attaché to the American embassy in Jakarta and an outspoken advocate for the preservation of Houston, which is the final resting place for the more than 700 Sailors and Marines lost with her.

Catsmabis then met to discuss the operation with Chief Warrant Officer Jason Shafer, Mobile Diving Salvage Unit One’s Diving Officer for the survey.

Shafer and Catsambis joined the survey’s master diver for an interview with three reporters from Kompas, the Indonesian equivalent to the New York Times. They answered questions and the reporters were given a tour of the ship.

140609-N-NT265-337 JAKARTA (June 9, 2014) – Dr. Alexis Catsambis, assigned to Naval History and Heritage Command, participates in an interview with Indonesian press on the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

JAKARTA, Indonesia (June 9, 2014) – Dr. Alexis Catsambis, assigned to Naval History and Heritage Command, participates in an interview with Indonesian press on the Military Sealift Command Rescue and Salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

Following the Kompas interview, Shafer, Catsambis and the survey’s master diver hosted a briefing with the participating Indonesian Navy personnel to discuss the operation.

Ultimately the ship’s crew, the MDSU team, the Indonesian Navy and Catsambis all agreed to a survey plan that will allow the simultaneous undertaking of multiple tasks including “surface-supplied” diving, SCUBA diving and remotely operated vehicle operations. The plan also allows for the maximum amount of time on station

Catsambis said the ship will get underway tomorrow and the dive team plans to begin the survey as soon as possible that day.

 
May 23

Remembering the USS Squalus 75 years later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
May 7

On Course to Midway: The Battle of Coral Sea

Wednesday, May 7, 2014 9:30 AM

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

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

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

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

Japanese Aircraft Carrier Shokaku 1941 Courtesy Government of Japan

Japanese Aircraft Carrier Shokaku 1941
Courtesy Government of Japan

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

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

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

Build Up to the Battle

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

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

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

The Battle Begins

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

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

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

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

Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō Courtesy Government of Japan

Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō
Courtesy Government of Japan

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

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

Fight that Would Impact Battle at Midway

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

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

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

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

 
Apr 24

Rare Imagery Brings an Important Moment from Naval History into Focus

Thursday, April 24, 2014 1:01 PM

By Lisa Crunk, Lead Photo Archivist, Naval History and Heritage Command

140211-N-ZZ999-002 WASHINGTON (Feb. 11, 2014) An undated photo shows Sailors of USS Charleston (C-2) manning one of the ship's guns during the Spanish-American War. Naval History and Heritage Command photo archives staff members are scanning a wooden box containing approximately 150 glass plate photographs depicting scenes from the Spanish-American and Philippine Wars. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command/Released)

140211-N-ZZ999-002 WASHINGTON (Feb. 11, 2014) An undated photo shows Sailors of USS Charleston (C-2) manning one of the ship’s guns during the Spanish-American War. Naval History and Heritage Command photo archives staff members are scanning a wooden box containing approximately 150 glass plate photographs depicting scenes from the Spanish-American and Philippine Wars. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command/Released)

For a photographic archivist like me, a huge pile of donated scrapbooks, photo albums and donated photographs can be hard work. Sometimes images are without description, sometimes the donor is not on record and sometimes the photos are fragile. Magnetic pages, glue and metal fasteners – like paperclips or staples – often found in scrapbooks and photo albums can cause the images to deteriorate. But many of the photos are real gems, worth every effort my coworkers and I take to archive them to make them available for future generations.

In the process of preparing materials for transfer to new storage systems at Naval History and Heritage Command’s Photo Archive, my coworkers, Dave Colamaria, Jonathan Roscoe and I, are tackling the massive backlog of riches from the past, our donated imagery. Earlier this year, Feb. 5, Dave and John uncovered a veritable diamond amongst the gems when the uncovered a donation that has never been made available to the public.

140206-N-ZZ999-001 WASHINGTON (Feb. 6, 2014) An undated photo shows the burning of San Roque, Philippines, during the Spanish-American War. The photo is from a glass slide recently discovered in the photo archives at Naval History and Heritage Command. The photo archives staff found a wooden box containing approximately 150 glass plate photographs depicting scenes from the Spanish American and Philippine Wars. The glass plate photographs were likely prepared by photographer Douglas White, a war correspondent for the San Francisco Examiner during the Philippine War. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command/Released)

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WASHINGTON (Feb. 6, 2014) An undated photo shows the burning of San Roque, Philippines, during the Spanish-American War. The photo is from a glass slide recently discovered in the photo archives at Naval History and Heritage Command. The photo archives staff found a wooden box containing approximately 150 glass plate photographs depicting scenes from the Spanish American and Philippine Wars. The glass plate photographs were likely prepared by photographer Douglas White, a war correspondent for the San Francisco Examiner during the Philippine War. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command/Released)

They showed me two, well-aged, wooden boxes. Worn scratches on the surface of the boxes revealed an amazing inscription:

Photographic Slides
US Naval Military Activities
In and Around Manila
Spanish – American War – 1898
and Philippine Insurrection
Douglas White
War Correspondent

To say we were excited might be an understatement. Inside, were 325 tissue-paper wrapped slides made entirely of glass. Based on the delicate paper wrapping that still encased the majority of slides, it appears most had not been viewed in decades.

 Delving into this wonderful collection, we found glass slides covering the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. One of the best things about this find is nearly all of the slides have an included description. To us, this suggests they were used as a presentation or lantern show. Though most are black and white, some have been hand tinted in color. Also, of great interest to the Navy during the bi-centennial of the War of 1812, the collection includes a few slides depicting paintings from the centennial commemoration of the war. My coworkers and I agree, given the presence of the War of 1812 slides, as well as images of the battleship Maine being excavated (1911-1912), that the slides were created around 1912.

Lt. C.J. Dutreaux One of 325 NHHC recently discovered slides made entirely of glass.Though most are black and white, some have been hand tinted in color.

Lt. C.J. Dutreaux
One of 325
NHHC recently discovered slides made entirely of glass.Though most are black and white, some have been hand tinted in color.

From the inscription, these glass slides appear to have originally belonged to and in some cases may have been photographed by Douglas White, a war correspondent at one time employed by the San Francisco Examiner. Since February, more information has been revealed through research. We found that the slides were originally donated to the San Francisco Museum of Science and Industry by Mrs. Charles Dutreaux, wife of Lt. C.J. Dutreaux, whose image appears in one of the slides. Correspondence from the museum to Commodore Dudley W. Knox, suggests that the collection was sent to the Naval Historical Foundation, Jan. 3, 1948. The Naval Historical Foundation maintained the collection until 2008, when we received it

An undated photo showing American troops desembarking from a ship onto small boats in the Phillipines 1898 or 1899.

An undated photo showing American troops desembarking from a ship onto small boats in the Phillipines 1898 or 1899.

These slides are a window into a time more than a century ago. They show many scenes from the times, including the raising of USS Olympia’s flag over Manila, USS Charleston convoying the first U.S. troops and ships officers and crew, the execution wall at Cavite, Philippines, capture of Manila, Spanish prisoners, troops landing at Camp Dewy, naval camps and Signal Corps, as just a sampling.

What makes this so significant a find for us at NHHC? The Navy played a central role in nearly every aspect of the Spanish-American war, from logistics to diplomacy. Historical research on the subject notes that American planners and leaders anticipated that the fight with Spain would be primarily a naval war. The U.S. Navy’s victories at Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba were pivotal events that turned the course of the war and joint Army-Navy operations at Santiago, Puerto Rico, and Manila sealed the success won by the U.S. Navy’s command of the seas.

Having found them, our next step is to preserve them for the future. That starts with digitization, scanning each slide for eventual exhibition on the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website. After that we need to make sure the slides are in sleeves that will prevent deterioration and then archive them so they will never be lost again.

140422-N-CS953-004 WASHINGTON (Apr. 22, 2014) -- Lisa Crunk, Naval History and Heritage Command's (NHHC) Photographic Archive Lead Archivist, looks at a glass plate photo that the archivists rediscovered in donations earlier this year, Apr. 22. Her job as as one of three archivists includes organizing, scanning, archiving, posting online and making sense of the hundreds of thousands of Navy historic photos in the archive photos for researchers, Navy leadership and the public. (U.S. Navy Photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford / Released)

140422-N-CS953-004
WASHINGTON (Apr. 22, 2014) — Lisa Crunk, Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC) Photographic Archive Lead Archivist, looks at a glass plate photo that the archivists rediscovered in donations earlier this year, Apr. 22. Her job as as one of three archivists includes organizing, scanning, archiving, posting online and making sense of the hundreds of thousands of Navy historic photos in the archive photos for researchers, Navy leadership and the public.
(U.S. Navy Photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford / Released)

We may never know which of these slides is truly unique. We have located copies of several of the images within various archival collections throughout the country. Despite this, were still excited and proud to be the repository of such a historically significant collection.

 

 
Apr 23

#PeopleMatter: Admiral of the Navy George Dewey

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 8:30 AM

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Today marks 116 years since Spain’s declaration of war against the United States. Congress in turn declared war on Spain two days later, but as the Navy had already blockaded Cuba, backdated the declaration to the 21st.

By the time war was declared on the 25th, the U.S. Navy had pretty much secured the western hemisphere, and prepared to confront the Spanish Navy in the Pacific. Just over 9,000 miles on the other side of the globe in Hong Kong, a man who had distinguished himself during the Civil War, was doing just that.

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In fact, Commodore George Dewey had been prepping his fleet since February, so when war was declared, he made a beeline for the Spanish Navy at Manila Bay in the Philippines. Who was this man who would lead the U.S. Navy to its first major, strategic victories overseas? Known for his quick temper, Dewey had no problem making quick decisions. Nothing went unobserved from his wicker chair on the quarterdeck of his flagship, USS Olympia. From his “throne” many noted his legendary walrus mustache, the crisp white uniform standard for officers then, and his dog named “Bob.” He had no patience for lengthy meetings and even stormed out of one with Army Maj. Gen. Elwell Otis, who would become the 2nd Military Governor of the Philippines.

 

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On May 1, 1898, he delivered to America the first Navy victory against a foreign enemy since the War of 1812 – the Battle of Manila in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. In recognition of his exemplary leadership, on March 2, 1899, Congress handed President McKinley the act that made Dewey the first and last Admiral of the Navy, a rank never before held by any officer. When Dewey died on Jan. 16, 1917, the Secretary of the Navy noted in General Order No. 258, “Vermont was his mother State and there was always in his character something of the granite of his native hills.”

The Making of An Officer
Dewey graduated in 1858 from the U.S. Naval Academy. Less than three years later he found himself at the center of the action in the Civil War while serving under Admiral Farragut during the Battle of New Orleans. On April 24, 1862, Dewey, executive lieutenant of the steam paddle ship USS Mississippi, skillfully navigated shallow waters to wage a successful attack against Confederate fortifications at New Orleans. Because Dewey had survived and battled sharpshooters, Farragut later asked him by name to command his personal dispatch gun boat, USS Agawam, which was frequently attacked by Confederate snipers. Later, in 1864, Lt. Dewey was made executive officer of the wooden man-of-war USS Colorado stationed on the North Atlantic blockading squadron under Commodore Henry Knox Thatcher. Dewey again rose to the occasion during the Battles of Fort Fisher. Even The New York Times spoke admiringly of the Union victory as “the most beautiful duel of the war.” Commodore Thatcher wouldn’t take the credit and remarked to his superiors, “You must thank Lieutenant Dewey, sir. It was his move.”

 

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After the war, he returned to the Naval Academy as an instructor and was then later granted rest ashore status in Washington, D.C. He found the assignment listless and believed the environment in D.C. was “harmful to his health.” He could not resist the call of the sea.

Over the course of the next thirty years, he commanded USS Narragansett, USS Supply, USS Juniata, USS Dolphin, and USS Pensacola. He also served as a Lighthouse Inspector, a member of the Lighthouse Board, and Secretary of the Lighthouse Board. Additionally he served as the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment as President of the Board of Inspection and Survey. On Nov. 30, 1897, he was ordered to Asiatic Station and, proceeding by steamer, he assumed command on Jan. 3, 1898, his flag in the protected cruiser, USS Olympia, Captain Charles V. Gridley, commanding.

 

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Victory for the United States
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt had urged him to prepare for the possibility of war with Spain and telegraphed him on Feb. 25, 1898, just ten days after USS Maine mysteriously blew up in Cuba, to immediately prepare the Asiatic Station at Hong Kong. Less than a week after the declaration of war, on May 1, 1898, Dewey sunk or captured the entire Spanish Pacific fleet in a battle lasting just over six hours (including a three-hour lunch break). In that short amount of time, he also defeated the shore batteries. The Battle of Manila Bay was one of the Navy’s greatest success stories against an imperial European empire.

 

Mess on board USS Olympia Courtesy NHHC

 

On May 10, 1898, Dewey was given a vote of thanks by the U.S. Congress and was commissioned Rear Adm. That promotion was an advancement of one grade for “highly distinguished conduct in conflict with the enemy as displayed by him in the destruction of the Spanish Fleet and batteries in the harbor of Manila, Philippine Islands, May 1, 1898.”

After defeating the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay, Dewey met with the Army to work out the preliminaries for the occupation of the Philippines. Most of the meetings went well, except on one occasion, Dewey practically leapt to stand and bolted back to his barge, Cristina, to board USS Olympia. He found meetings detestable, and his frustration grew with the Army’s decisions on how to govern the Philippines. Dewey later let the Army know his personal opinion of its style of management, especially with the Army’s barges that policed the Passig River. In no subtle form or fashion, Dewey delivered tirades complaining to the Army on the condition of the barges being far from “ship shape and Bristol fashion,” and went as far as to issue a direct order to General Otis warning if any of them were seen outside of the river and in open water in Manila Bay, the Navy would sink them. The barges never appeared outside of the confines of the river.

 

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On Jan. 17, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson delivering Dewey’s eulogy, offered an apt description of Adm. Dewey’s personality and legacy: “It is pleasant to recall what qualities gave him his well-deserved fame: His practical directness, his courage without self-consciousness, his efficient capacity in matters of administration, the readiness to fight without asking questions or hesitating about any detail. It was by such qualities that he continued and added luster to the best traditions of the Navy. He had the stuff in him which all true men admire and upon which all statesmen must depend in hours of peril. The people and the Government of the United States will always rejoice to perpetuate his name in all honor and affection.”

 

 

 

 
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