Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Dec 31

Dear Diary: Insights on the Burden of Leadership from the Man Who Won the War in the Pacific

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 8:00 AM

By Joshua L. Wick, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

k13796It was 73 years ago today when Adm. Chester Nimitz stood on USS Grayling (SS 209) in port Hawaii to assume the duties of Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas. A battleship might be more befitting such a ceremony, but many of the Navy’s battleships were at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and the carriers were out chasing down the Japanese.

While the ceremony itself may have taken place on the 31st, however, Nimitz was selected for the position on Dec. 17. Three days after his selection, Nimitz is on a train heading for the West Coast. It is through Nimitz’s hand-written diaries and letters, many written to his wife Catherine Vance Freeman, that we can better understand the man who was thrust into national leadership.

It’s hard to imagine a world void of PowerPoint presentations, mobile devices and instant updates. His first task on the train was deciphering all the information, data and reports to piece together a more complete picture of the situation at Pearl Harbor. Once on station he’d have to focus on rebuilding the Fleet and wining the naval war in the Pacific Theater.

Those days spent traveling offered Nimitz some of the few in which he might enjoy a restful night’s sleep through the war years.

As he traveled westward, his correspondence decreased as the demand for his attention to the war effort increased. Sleep became less satisfying as his mind became increasingly “active.” He grappled with the unfolding uncertainty and enormity of the task at hand, but – as if to assure himself – added frequently that he’d do his best.

Nimitz 20 Dec. 41 - 1

Dec. 20, 1941 – It was 4:30 p.m. Saturday when Nimitz and his aide Cmdr. Hal Lamar, passengers on the Santa Fe “Chief” headed west through Illinois, when Nimitz takes the time to write home. “I have preliminarily read all the data which was furnished me on leaving Washington – some 10 pounds of paper – and my conscience will now permit me to relax,” he wrote, adding they had stopped at the Navy Department only long enough to see Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Harold Stark and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox before getting on the train in Washington, D.C. “I was plum frazzled out and emotionally torn and worn. Even the Secretary was highly emotional and had difficulty controlling his voice.”

Nimitz 20 Dec. 41 - 2

Nimitz and Lamar managed to keep the classified documents away from prying eyes because they had adjoining rooms with a door between them, so they could lock the outer doors. The two shared scotch cocktails, had dinner and then perhaps the last “fine” sleep Nimitz would reference.

“I awoke at 7 a.m. really refreshed and feeling that I would cope with the situation,” he wrote. His anonymity on the train, however, was compromised when a professor who had heard him speak on Oct. 31 at Lincoln, Neb., recognized him and called him by rank and name. “My professor friend had the decency not to pursue me further on the train then, as we passed through the lounge car on the way from dinner and heard him point me out as “the Admiral.”

The professor wasn’t the only one on the train Nimitz needed to avoid. “Lamar warned me that (an ex-Congressman Ralph E. Church) was sitting just behind me in the diner. He had been in the Navy Department yesterday to try to get back the Naval Reserve Commission which we took away from him last summer.”

Nimitz 20 Dec. 41 - 3

Nimitz took a layover in Chicago for the opportunity to get a haircut near the Navy pier as “I had tried for the last week to get a haircut in Washington and had no time.” While there, he “saw the old fat Chief that used to be at the destroyer base as assistant to Martin and Carter in taking care of the grounds.”

After squeezing in a few more meetings, Nimitz continued to go over papers. “As I get more sleep and rest things are looking up and I am sure by the time I reach Pearl Harbor I will be able to meet the requirements of the situation.”

Nimitz 21 Dec. 41 - 1

Dec. 21, 1941, Sunday p.m. – After having spent a sunny morning in Colorado, Nimitz and Lamar were now in New Mexico, where the weather had turned dreary, and so, too, Nimitz’s thoughts. “Had a fine sleep and awoke much refreshed – but after spending most of today reading reports and estimates I find it difficult to keep on the cheerful side. Perhaps when I actually arrive and get over the first shock things will be better.”

He also wrote of seeing the changes in command throughout the Navy. “Last night’s paper announced King as C in C N.S. [Fleet Admiral Ernest Joseph King, Commander in Chief and the Chief of Naval Operations] and he is apparently displacing Stark insofar as concerns operations. Ingersoll is C. in C. Atlantic [Royal Ingersoll, Commander in Chief]. What a grand overall shakeup! At any rate I am convinced that there will be more action in the Pacific then elsewhere for many a day to come.”

Nimitz 24 Dec. - 1

Dec. 24, 1941, 3 p.m. – Nimitz and Lamar visit Rear Adm. Ernest Gunther at Air Station 11th Naval District, San Diego, Calif., after adverse weather prevented Nimitz’ departure the day before. Among the visitors was Vice Adm. John S. McCain. “I greatly regret taking these pilots away – and the crews on Christmas Eve, but I see no choice on my part. I only hope I can live up to the high expectations of you and the Pres. [President] and the Dept. I will faithfully promise to do my best. I am sorry I could not get out to P.H. [Pearl Harbor] before the inspecting board got there.”

Nimitz 31 Dec. 41 -1

Dec. 31, 1941 – Just minutes before his change of command ceremony, Nimitz took a moment to write: “This is just a very hasty note to tell you that at 10.a.m. – just 30 minutes from now — I will relieve Pye and become C in. C. Pacific Fleet [Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet]. May the good Lord help and advise me and may I have all the support I can get for I will need it. I have still not reached the point where I can sleep well because there is so much going on and so much to do. I am well however and full of energy.”

Nimitz 22 Jan. 42 -1

Jan. 22, 1942 – Nimitz’ time writing home has become greatly impacted by his overwhelming responsibilities. “My days are very much the same – long hours in the office – long discussions etc. Two days ago I sneaked onto and played two sets of tennis near the BOQ with Capt. T. Davis – my aviation assistant. I felt very strange on the court, but won in 1 set 6-4, and post 6-1 second set. Although I enjoyed the games I am afraid tennis will be very infrequent.”

Nimitz 29 Jan. 42 - 1

Jan. 29, 1942 (P.H.) Pearl Harbor – When Nimitz penned this, it was during a time when the Japanese menace threatened the entire Pacific, while promotion news for two of his peers was not favorable. “I do feel depressed a large part of the time but I always hope for a turn for the better. The news has not been too cheering recently so far as our allies are concerned.

“Secretary Stimson [Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War] announcement went that I was holding the bag out here forced a press conference on me today and he had to duck a lot of tough questions. The unity of command was placed in the Navy before I reached here.”

“Although this has been a bad day for me, it has had its compensations. The flag selection list came in today and there are some sad people. I most distressed over Train and Gunther, both of whom should have been promoted.”

“I will turn in hoping to get to sleep. My mind is still in a whirl and I lie awake long hours but perhaps that will end.”

 

Editor’s Note: Transcriptions of this portion (Dec. 1941 to Jan. 1942) of Nimitz’s diaries were compiled and transcribed from original scans of hand written entries pictured above. To download scans of the original documents click here Dec. 1941 and Jan. 1942.

In mid-February 2014, the Naval War College unveiled an online 4000-page “Gray Book” collection of Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz “operational communications” that started in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack and ran right up until the closing days of the war.

 

 

 
Dec 24

Stalemate: Treaty of Ghent Ends War of 1812 in a Draw

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 9:08 AM
Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812: "In Action" Oil on canvas, 32" x 48", by Michel Felice Corne (1752-1845), depicting the two frigates firing on each other, as Guerriere's mizzen mast goes over the side. Painting in the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, transferred from the Navy Department in 1869. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812:
“In Action” Oil on canvas, 32″ x 48″, by Michel Felice Corne (1752-1845), depicting the two frigates firing on each other, as Guerriere’s mizzen mast goes over the side. Painting in the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, transferred from the Navy Department in 1869. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

When warring countries Great Britain and the United States finally sat down to hammer out a peace treaty, it took nearly as long as the War of 1812.

After less than a year’s fighting, where Great Britain was fighting on two fronts: France and the United States, the first suggestion of a peace agreement came from, of all places, Russia, a country with no dogs in the fight, but losing out due to British and American commerce raiders.

At the time, American President James Madison was amenable, but the British foreign minister, Lord Castlereagh, wasn’t interested, especially after British troops had scored several victories. Less than a year later, however, with the toll of fighting both the French and the United States draining its economy, British officials agreed to talk peace with its former colony. After weeks of communications, it was decided in January 1814 the peace talks would take place at Ghent, a city in the neutral country of Belgium.

If Great Britain had gotten its way during the peace negotiations, residents of Detroit would now enjoy a spot of tea each afternoon and car factories would have ended up churning out cars with names like Mini, Phantom and Jaguar; folks in Ontario, Canada, wouldn’t be saying “eh” at the end of their sentences, although those in northern Maine, already loathe to unnecessary verbal excess, probably would be. There would be no Ohio, Michigan or Illinois, but one large Native American nation stretching from Ohio to Illinois in the west and to the Canadian border in the north.

John Quincy Adams was the lead negotiator for the United States in hammering out the Treaty of Ghent, the peace accord between Great Britain and the United States to end the War of 1812.

John Quincy Adams was the lead negotiator for the United States in hammering out the Treaty of Ghent,
the peace accord between Great Britain and the United States to end the War of 1812.

Whatever one might say about Madison, the man nailed it when he chose his “dream team” of negotiators, led by polar opposites John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay.

Adams, 47 at the time, was a Harvard-educated Northerner and the son of the nation’s second president, John Adams. Madison had appointed Adams as the United States minister in Russia. Adams, an early riser, was so dedicated to his duties he complained attending Russian diplomatic events and parties that lasted well into the night a drain on his time.

Clay, who had been elected to Congress representing Kentucky, was 10 years younger and enjoyed playing cards late into the night on more than one occasion. Despite minimal early education, Clay graduated from The College of William and Mary and also became a lawyer. He was more aligned with the South and West, but most importantly, Clay was also a war hawk, those who supported Madison’s decision to declare war against Great Britain in 1812 after that country blatantly impressed American sailors into British service for nearly 10 years.

Rounding out the negotiation team were Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, James A. Bayard, and Jonathan Russell, Madison’s representative in Paris. While the studious and precise Adams would oft be irritated by Clay’s late-night activities of gambling and drinking, the team presented a united front when it came to negotiations.

The British, however, sent their JV squad, since the location for the negotiations at Ghent was much closer to London. Lord Castlereagh, the British foreign minister and Secretary for War and the Colonies Lord Bathurst sent William Adams, the admiralty lawyer, Lord Gambier, impressments expert and admiral, and Undersecretary for War and the Colonies Henry Goulburn.

While war continued between the two countries, the battle would be no less tense between both sides once negotiations began in Aug. 8, 1814. The United States was facing bankruptcy and Great Britain’s economy was also faltering under the weight of fighting both the French and United States.

The first few weeks were spent determining the topics up for negotiation: impressment of sailors, border disputes between Canada and the U.S., fishing rights and lands for Native Americans who had sided with the British. It would take up to three weeks to communicate information back to the United States, while just a week for the British. The two teams spent their days haggling over details, but spent their considerable spare time in the evening playing cards, socializing and attending cultural events and activities. Well, except for early-to-bed Adams.

By the time the topics were hashed out, British troops had marched into Washington, D.C. having met little resistance, burning the White House and the Washington Navy Yard. The Battle for Baltimore was less a victory for the Brits, however, as the Royal Navy failed to take that important port city.

So it was October already when negotiations got down to the nitty-gritty of demands. The American team chose not to lead with Madison’s request for Great Britain to give up Canada and stop all impressments of sailors onto their ships. Perhaps the gambler in Clay chose to let their British counterparts play their cards first.

Great Britain started large with “uti possidetis,” meaning each side would keep what they won in the war. And for good reason. At the time of the negotiations, Great Britain had four invasions already in the works: 10,000 British troops were in parts of Maine and northern New York; British ships successfully blockaded commerce along the New England states; another fleet with troops had burned Washington, D.C. in retaliation for the American burning of York (now Toronto), the capital of Canada. The fourth invasion of was headed to New Orleans.

Great Britain had also captured 10 million acres of the American Northwest Territories (Native American lands in Ohio and Michigan and Illinois Territories) and demanded it be given to the Native Americans as their own state, thereby providing a buffer to block U.S. expansion into British-held Canada.

The British, while grateful to the Native Americans who sided with Great Britain in the war, cared little as to what happened with that buffer state. “The Indians are but a secondary object,” Golburn noted in a letter. “But when the boundary is once defined it is immaterial whether Indians are upon it or not. Let it be a desert. But we shall know that you cannot come upon us to attack us without crossing it.”

And there was more. The British wanted to keep the portion of Maine they had occupied and for the United States to withdraw its naval forces from the Great Lakes. They also wanted transit rights for the Mississippi River in exchange for allowing American fishing rights off Newfoundland.

The Americans, however, were having none of that, particularly Clay, who was adamant they would not give up the Northwest Territories. They argued “status quo ante bellum,” which was to keep the borders as they were before the war began.

As the talks continued, the British team would hear about fresh defeats in their former colony, and unrest at home about a prolonged and expensive war affecting that country’s economy. Back in the United States, as the British negotiation demands were published, even the Federalists agreed to fight against “uti possidetis.”

It was the Duke of Wellington, however, who got the British to back off any attempts to take American territory. Since the British armies had been unable to sustain holding onto the territories they won earlier in the war, Wellington stated in a letter to Robert Jenkinson, the British Prime Minister and Earl of Liverpool: “I think you have no right, from the state of war, to demand any concession of territory from America….indeed the state of your military operations, however creditable, does not entitle you to demand any.” Lord Liverpool agreed.

Once notified of the change of heart, the British team backed off “uti possidetis” on Nov. 27 and capitulated to “status quo ante bellum.” Prisoners would be exchanged, ships and territory would return to each country as it was before the war and captured slaves returned to the United States or paid for by Britain. Both countries agreed to end international slave trade. While not gaining any land from Great Britain, the United States did gain property from Spain, i.e. Florida. Native Americans lost everything.

By Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1814, the 3,000-word Treaty of Ghent with its 11 articles was signed by the negotiators. The Treaty wouldn’t be official until ratified by each of the governments. Great Britain received the document and ratified it three days later, Dec. 27, 1814.

It took a bit longer for the United States to receive word, as well as the British fleet and troops from that fourth invasion. On Jan. 8, 1815, the Battle of New Orleans began and ended with an American victory.

After the treaty documents arrived in Washington, D.C., Congress ratified it Feb. 16 and turned it over to a British diplomat. On Feb. 18, 1815, the treaty was proclaimed official and the war was over. After the United States mostly returned to its pre-1812 status, however, there were some 15,000 fewer in the young nation to celebrate it. Of that number, only 2,200 Americans were killed in action, the rest died from disease and illness.

Ironically, the issue that began the War of 1812 – the impressment of American sailors into British service – was never addressed in the Treaty, because Great Britain was no longer at war with France. Yet peace would last all of eight days. On Feb. 26, 1815, former French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte escaped from Elba, and war would begin again in Europe.

The relationship developed between Adams and Clay lasted beyond their time in Ghent. Both Adams and Clay ran for president in 1824. Adams fell behind Gen. Andrew Jackson, the Battle of New Orleans hero, in both popular and Electoral College votes, but had more than Clay and a fourth candidate, William Crawford. Since no one had the majority of Electoral College votes for a win, the decision would be made by the House of Representatives. Clay threw the support of his War Hawks behind Adams rather than Jackson, ignoring the direction given to him from the Kentucky legislature. Adams won the presidency, appointing Clay his Secretary of State, a position he held during Adams’ tenure as president.

 
Dec 22

Dec. 22, 1775: The Beginning of Naval Leadership and Trust

Monday, December 22, 2014 9:00 AM
Cmdr. Thomas Dickinson

Cmdr. Thomas Dickinson

 

By Cmdr. Thomas Dickinson, professor at the Naval Leadership and Ethics Center, Naval War College, Newport, R.I.

When we reflect on the history of our Navy, a common reference point is the birth of the Continental Navy on October 13, 1775. However, few reflect on the importance of another day in naval history: Dec. 22, 1775.

Commodore Esek Hopkins (1718-1802), Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy, 1775-1777 Painting by Orlando S. Lagman, after a 19th Century engraving by J.C. Buttre. Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

Commodore Esek Hopkins (1718-1802), Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy, 1775-1777
Painting by Orlando S. Lagman, after a 19th Century engraving by J.C. Buttre.
Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

On that day Congress commissioned the first naval officers, marking the inception of leadership in our Navy. Commissioned officers included Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy, Esek Hopkins, and our first Commanding Officers: Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle, John Hopkins, and Dudley Saltonstall. Thirteen junior officers also received commissions, to include the legendary John Paul Jones. Each of these leaders would be immediately tested, sailing their ships into battle within 60 days of receiving their commissions.

In the context of that time, selection of our first leaders was of great consequence. America was preparing to wage war against a Royal Navy far superior to its own. The achievements, failures, practical experience, and standards of our first leaders would directly impact the revolution and set the tone for the future of our profession. The level of trust placed in these leaders by Congress and the people of America cannot be overstated.

Imagine trust from another perspective; that of the Continental Navy sailor. Imagine preparing to enter into battle with the great Royal Navy, with so much at stake, and being fully aware that the odds were stacked against you. What did these sailors expect of their leaders? If their ships were out-numbered and out-gunned, the Continental sailors expected bold, honorable and competent leaders who would set the example and judiciously discern when and how to employ their ships effectively. Leadership had to be the advantage, because naval assets in 1775 certainly were not a strength for the Continental Navy.

John Adams recognized in 1775 that leadership must be held to a higher moral and ethical standard in order to earn the trust of those they serve, whether that be the Congress, the citizens they represented, or the sailors on a warship. He codified this higher standard in the “Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies of North America.” One excerpt follows:

“The Commanders of all ships and vessels belonging to the thirteen United Colonies are strictly required to show themselves a good example of honor and virtue to their officers and men…”

This may look familiar, as the “exemplary conduct statue” is now mandated by law in Title 10 U.S. Code and also found in Chapter 11 of our Navy Regulations. This standard is alive in our Navy today, and is a direct connection between present-day leadership and the very beginnings of our Navy.

So how did our first leaders fare? The leadership of the Continental Navy experienced many successes and failures. Those who failed to execute responsibilities, such as Dudley Saltonstall, lost the trust of leadership and their commands, and were held accountable. Leaders who earned trust up and down the chain of command, such as John Barry and John Paul Jones, emerged to become heroes of the war and key leaders during future conflicts.

Vice Adm. Lawson P. "Red" Ramage, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions July 31, 1944 as commanding officer of USS Pache (SS-384). NHHC photo

Vice Adm. Lawson P. “Red” Ramage, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions July 31, 1944 as commanding officer of USS Parche (SS-384).
NHHC photo

This special trust relationship, highlighted in the examples above, has not changed over time in our Navy. Trust remains the foundation of effective leadership today just as it was in 1775. We can reflect on countless examples in the modern history of our Navy that reinforce this truth. A few heroic examples include Cmdr. Ernest Evans in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Adm. Red Ramage in command of USS Parche (SS 384) and Adm. James Stockdale leading POWs in Vietnam. Each of these leaders carried out their daily lives with honor and operated in high-trust organizations that led to victory under formidable conditions.

More importantly, the trust relationship is applicable to leaders at all levels of our Navy today as we make efforts to earn and maintain trust. The Chief Petty Officer training and mentoring sailors, the Division Officer standing the mid-watch as Officer of the Deck, or the Department Head standing watch as a Tactical Action Officer. Each day leaders have the opportunity to put the mission and others before themselves, setting the standard and earning trust. This trust is the backbone of our Navy, and determines whether we will succeed or fail. As we reflect on the inception of naval leadership in 1775, we should pause to realize that trust is our most prized possession as leaders, and to never take the privilege of leading for granted.

Cmdr. Dickinson is a 2014 recipient of the Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale Leadership Award from his tour as commanding officer of the Norfolk-based destroyer Barry (DDG 52).

The award is presented annually to two commissioned active-duty officers from commander and below who are serving in command of a single unit and who serve as examples of excellence in leadership and conspicuous contribution to the improvement of leadership in the Navy.

 
Dec 18

Swift Boats Were Workhorses of Brown Water Navy in Vietnam

Thursday, December 18, 2014 12:34 PM
20141218_121143_resized

Swift Boat PCF-1 is on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy located at the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast D.C. PCF-1 was a training boat at the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, Calif., until April 1975 when it left for Panama to patrol the Panama Canal where it was utilized in Operation Just Cause—the removal of Manuel Noriega and his regime in 1990. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood (released)

By Laura Hockensmith, National Museum of the United States Navy

Not since the end of the Civil War did the U.S. Navy have a need for a riverine force, or Brown Water Navy. But that all changed as the United States got deeper and deeper into conflict between North and South Vietnam. Due to the nature of the fighting and supply lines in Vietnam, the Navy needed fast, strong, reliable boats that could patrol the waterways and stop the Viet Cong infiltrated into South Vietnam from receiving guns and ammunition from the Communists in North Vietnam.

At first, they borrowed ships from the Coast Guard, cutters and river patrol boats up-armored for combat with a .50-caliber machine gun and 81-mm mortars installed on the forecastle and four .50-caliber deck guns on the fantail.

The U.S. Navy found what they were looking for in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil rig workers off the coast of Louisiana and Texas were shuttled to and from the rigs in strong aluminum boats built by Seward Seacraft Company of Louisiana. The taxi boats were sturdy, quiet and with a draft of 3 ½ feet, powered by two diesel engines with twin screws and speeds up to 28 knots. With the addition of weapons and living amenities, they were the perfect craft for patrolling the waterways of Vietnam.

On Dec. 18, 1965 the U.S. Navy formalized a Brown Water Navy, commissioning the water taxis as Patrol Craft, Fast, or swift boats. From the Cau Mau peninsula in South Vietnam to the western inland waters at the border of Cambodia, the Sailors patrolled the brown water.

The PCFs were not given names, only numbers, unlike the Navy’s larger blue water vessels. The Sailors who navigated the PCFs through murky waterways and manned the .50-caliber machine guns were soon recognized for their courage and actions on the battlefield.

Swift boats patrolled the waterways, interrupted enemy supply lines, and participated in complex insertion and extraction operations, while enduring monsoons, riverbank ambushes, mines laid by the Viet Cong, and difficult nighttime operations. Swift boat Sailors brought the naval fight inland and had a decisive role in the fight against the Viet Cong.

Following the Vietnam War, PCFs continued to have a role in the Navy in various ways, such as coastal patrols and anti-piracy campaigns throughout the world. One swift boat, PCF-1, is on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy located at the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast D.C.

PCF-1 was a training boat at the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, Calif., until April 1975 when it left for Panama to patrol the Panama Canal. Because of its Sailors’ intimate knowledge of the Panamanian waterways, PCF-1 was utilized in Operation Just Cause—the removal of Manuel Noriega and his regime in 1990. It found its permanent home at the Navy Yard in 1998. Its bow faces the Anacostia River, and in the words of then-Sen. John Kerry, “May she always be a shining example of Navy ingenuity and creativity, Navy commitment and courage…and may she stand here in constant vigil guarding the memory of those who served on Swifts but did not return.” Kerry, the current Secretary of State, was a former officer-in-charge of Swift boats during his service in Vietnam.

Forty-nine years ago the Brown Water Navy was born. With that came a class of Sailors with undeniable courage and commitment to their duty and their fellow Sailors, navigating waters deep into hostile territory to interrupt the shipping pipeline bringing supplies to the enemy.

 

 
Dec 16

Operation Desert Fox: 4 Nights, 100 Targets

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 9:00 AM
With its afterburners blazing, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet launches from the flight deck of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) for a night-time strike against Iraq on Dec. 17, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. The Hornet belongs to Strike Fighter Squadron 105, Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Fla. Enterprise and its embarked Carrier Air Wing 3 are operating in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Fox. DoD photo by Airman William R. Crosby, U.S. Navy. (Released)

With its afterburners blazing, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron 105 launches from the flight deck of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) for a night-time strike against Iraq on Dec. 17, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. Photo by Airman William R. Crosby, U.S. Navy. (Released)

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

The dust had hardly settled in the Middle East following the end of Desert Storm in 1991 before factions within Iraq fractured, creating uprisings against the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein.

Seven years of the Iraqi president using his Republican Guard to quell uprisings by Shiite Muslims in the south and Kurdish rebels in the north, threatening his border neighbor Kuwait, and his consistent rejection of weapons inspections in his country, culminated in a massive air strike 16 years ago, Dec. 16, 1998, called Operation Desert Fox.

In the Persian Gulf, the Navy was already providing a number of rotating carrier strike groups to enforce no-fly zones north of the 36th parallel where a coalition of allied countries – United States, Great Britain and France – created a safe haven for Kurds, and another along the 32nd parallel to protect the Shiites.

Aviation ordnancemen ready bombs for loading onto various aircraft on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) for a third wave of air strikes against Iraq on Dec. 18, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. Enterprise and its embarked Carrier Air Wing 3 are operating in the Persian Gulf in support of Desert Fox. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael W. Pendergrass, U.S. Navy.

Aviation ordnancemen ready bombs for loading onto various aircraft on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) for a third wave of air strikes against Iraq on Dec. 18, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael W. Pendergrass, U.S. Navy.

Tensions flared again in 1997 after Hussein expelled members of the United Nations inspection team, claiming they were spies. As Allied countries built up military forces, Hussein backed down, but stated sites designated as “palaces and official residences” would be off limits, places U.N. officials suspected were being used to conceal possible weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was threatened with renewed economic sanctions.

Although an agreement is hammered out between Iraq and the U.N. to continue inspections with the accompanying lift of economic sanctions, Hussein abruptly ended the inspections in August 1998, claiming there had been no lifting of the economic sanctions.

After several weeks of “will he or won’t he,” a renewed military build-up began again in the Persian Gulf. After several weeks of threats, on Dec. 15, a U.N. report accused Iraq of a repeated pattern of obstructing weapons inspections by not allowing access to records or inspection sites and by moving equipment and records from one site to another.

With no response from Hussein, on Dec. 16, 1998, the coalition of U.S. and Great Britain began a massive air campaign against key military targets.

Lasting four nights, the coalition bombs hit 100 Iraqi military targets.

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (left) listens as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton (right), U.S. Army, answers a reporter's question at a Dec. 16, 1998, Pentagon press briefing on the attack of selected targets in Iraq as part of Operation Desert Fox. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel. (Released)

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (left) listens as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton (right), U.S. Army, answers a reporter’s question at a Dec. 16, 1998, Pentagon press briefing on the attack of selected targets in Iraq as part of Operation Desert Fox. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel. (Released)

Defense Secretary William Cohen said in a press conference at the Pentagon on Dec. 19: “We’ve degraded Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical and biological weapons. We’ve diminished his ability to wage war against his neighbors.”

According to a Desert Fox fact sheet, besides “degrade and diminish,” a third goal was to show Hussein there would be consequences for violating international agreements.

The initial strikes consisted of approximately 250 Tomahawk cruise missiles, as well as 40 sorties launched from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and her Carrier Air Wing 3.

USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Battle Group and its Carrier Air Wing sent out 11 aircraft on 14 airstrike missions, using 20 precision-guided and 60 laser-guided munitions, hitting nearly 50 targets at a half-dozen Iraqi military sites in the southern part of the country.

USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) acted as the staging platform for Combat Search and Rescue Operations in case an American or Coalition plane was shot down during the four-day operation intended to neutralize Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. She also provided support for the 31st MEF ashore in Kuwait.

Other ships providing support included mine countermeasure ships Ardent (MCM 12) and Dextrous (MCM 13).

Air traffic controllers in the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center on board the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) assist in guiding the strike aircraft in and out of Iraq on Dec. 17, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. Enterprise and its embarked Carrier Air Wing 3 are operating in the Persian Gulf in support of Desert Fox. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael W. Pendergrass, U.S. Navy. (Released)

Air traffic controllers in the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center on board the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) assist in guiding the strike aircraft in and out of Iraq on Dec. 17, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael W. Pendergrass, U.S. Navy. (Released)

For the second night, Air Force B-52s stationed on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean launched cruise missiles, while the B-1 bomber made its combat debut by striking at Republican Guard targets. Air Force and British aircraft based at Kuwait also participated.

By Dec. 19, U.S. and British aircraft had struck 97 targets, and Secretary of Defense William Cohen claimed the operation was a success. Supported by Secretary Cohen, as well as United States Central Command commander General Anthony C. Zinni and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry H. Shelton, President Bill Clinton declared “victory” in Operation Desert Fox.

In total, the 70-hour campaign saw U.S. forces strike 85 percent of their targets, 75 percent of which were considered “highly effective” strikes. More than 600 sorties were flown by more than 300 combat and support aircraft, and 600 air dropped munitions were employed, including 90 air launched cruise missiles and 325 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAM).

Rear Adm. Robert C. Williamson spoke on the Navy’s response in Desert Fox during an appearance before the Subcommittee on Seapower of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 24, 1999. At that time, he was the director of the Navy’s Office of Program Appraisal. He retired a month after his appearance before the subcommittee.

“The purpose of our Naval forces is to directly and decisively, influence events ashore from the sea, anytime, anywhere. Since 80 percent of the world’s population and 80 percent of capitals are within 500 miles of an ocean, our Navy-Marine Corps team is uniquely situated to project power from the sea,” he stated. “We recently demonstrated the value of ready, forward-deployed naval forces during Operation Desert Fox and continue that effort today in the sky over Iraq, on the ground in Kuwait, and in and under the Arabian Gulf…In the dawn of the 21st century, the Navy-Marine Corps team, forward-deployed and ever-ready, is preparing to meet the challenges of an uncertain future. With your support, we always have been, and always will be, there for America.”

Operation Desert Fox inflicted serious damage to Iraq’s missile development program, although its effects on any WMD program were not clear. Nevertheless, Operation Desert Fox was the largest strike against Iraq since the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War, until the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom just five years later.

Information on the Desert Fox chronology timeline came from the Defense Department.

Desert Storm Fact Sheet information was prepared by historian Air Force Capt. Gregory Ball, Ph.D., Air Force Historical Studies Office, Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, Washington, D.C.

 

 
Dec 15

Fleet’s First Radar Celebrates a Birthday

Monday, December 15, 2014 8:00 AM
View of USS New York (BB-34)'s forward superstructure, with the antenna of the XAF radar atop her pilot house, circa late 1938 or early 1939. A cropped version of this image, emphasizing the radar antenna, is Photo # NH 77350-A Note the battleship's foremast, with its gunfire control facilities; her armored conning tower; and the rangefinder atop her Number Two gun turret. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

View of USS New York (BB-34)’s forward superstructure, with the antenna of the XAF radar atop her pilot house, circa late 1938 or early 1939. A cropped version of this image, emphasizing the radar antenna, is Photo # NH 77350-A Note the battleship’s foremast, with its gunfire control facilities; her armored conning tower; and the rangefinder atop her Number Two gun turret. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

By Claire Peachey, Technical Information Services, Naval Research Laboratory

The Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) XAF radar, fondly known as the “flying bedspring,” was the prototype that showed the Navy what this new radio detecting and ranging system – not yet called radar – was capable of doing.

On Dec. 15, 1938, the XAF radar was installed aboard USS New York (BB 34) in preparation for Fleet exercises in the Caribbean in early 1939. During the at-sea exercises, the 200 MHz XAF system successfully spotted aircraft at distances up to 48 miles, and ships at 10 miles. It could even follow 14-inch shells in flight and detect and pinpoint destroyers making nighttime simulated torpedo attacks.

Robert M. Page, Naval Research Laboratory physicist, was one of the developers of the XAF radar system. NRL photo

Robert M. Page, Naval Research Laboratory physicist, was one of the developers of the XAF radar system. NRL photo

NRL physicist Robert M. Page, one of the developers of the XAF system and inventor of many other radar technologies, was aboard New York and later described the reaction after the mock attacks: “These performances were at night, with no possibility of seeing the destroyers. Their lights were out. That really impressed the officers. From then on they were sold on the stuff and they would give us anything we wanted.”

Adm. A.W. Johnson, Commander, Atlantic Squadron, reported after witnessing the demonstrations: “The equipment is one of the most important military developments since the advent of radio itself. Its value as a defensive instrument of war and as an instrument for avoidance of collisions at sea justifies the Navy’s unlimited development of the equipment.”

XAF’s capabilities resulted in the recommendation for immediate procurement of “10 to 20 of the devices in their present form” for installation on Fleet vessels.

XAF Radar (Transmitter and Receiver) which was installed on USS New York (BB-34) by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in late 1938. While mounted on that ship, this experimental 200 megacycle radar was tested at sea during the first months of 1939. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

XAF Radar (Transmitter and Receiver) which was installed on USS New York (BB-34) by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in late 1938. While mounted on that ship, this experimental 200 megacycle radar was tested at sea during the first months of 1939. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The NRL system went rapidly to production by RCA as the CXAM and CXAM-1 models, and by the time the United States entered World War II, these radar units were installed on 20 Navy vessels, mainly heavy cruisers, carriers, and battleships.

Radar surged in importance, and NRL, which had a wide-ranging program of radio research, developed prototypes of air and submarine radars that were also used during the war. Radar of this type contributed to the victories of at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal.

NRL continues to be a leading center for research and development of radar systems. Today, NRL’s Radar Division conducts research on basic physical phenomena of importance to radar and related sensors, investigates new engineering techniques applicable to radar, demonstrates the feasibility of new radar concepts and systems, performs related systems analyses and evaluation of radar, and provides special consultative services. The emphasis is on new and advanced concepts and technology in radar and related sensors that are applicable to enhancing the Navy’s ability to fulfill its mission.

The National Museum of the U.S. Navy, located at the Washington Navy Yard has the original XAF radar on display in the Atlantic section of its World War II exhibit. U.S. Navy Photo by Shejal Pulivarti.

The National Museum of the U.S. Navy, located at the Washington Navy Yard has the original XAF radar on display in the Atlantic section of its World War II exhibit. U.S. Navy Photo by Shejal Pulivarti.

The National Museum of the U.S. Navy, located at the Washington Navy Yard has the original XAF radar on display in the Atlantic section of its World War II exhibit. Devoted to the display of naval artifacts, models, documents and fine art, the museum chronicles the history of the United States Navy from the American Revolution to the present. Interactive exhibits commemorate the Navy’s wartime heroes and battles as well as peacetime contributions in exploration, diplomacy, navigation and humanitarian service.

 
Dec 14

Fleet Admirals are Elite Band of Naval Brothers

Sunday, December 14, 2014 8:00 AM
Fleet Adm. William D. Leahy. Portrait photograph taken circa 1945, while he was Chief of Staff to the President of the United States. Naval History and Heritage Photograph from the Collection of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy.

Fleet Adm. William D. Leahy. Portrait photograph taken circa 1945, while he was Chief of Staff to the President of the United States. Naval History and Heritage Photograph from the Collection of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy.

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

Leahy. King. Nimitz. Halsey.

One of the most exclusive collections of men ever in the history of the Navy. This band of four Naval officers are the only ones to have worn five stars during their service in defense of freedom during World War II.

The 20th century rank of Fleet Admiral was created in the on Dec. 14, 1944 — along with General of the Army — during the second session of the 79th Congress.

(For those looking for a great trivia question here’s a little tidbit: When the Fleet Admiral rank was created, it was named very deliberately with the intent of making the rank subordinate to the rank of Admiral of the Navy – no word on corresponding number of stars – once held by Admiral George Dewey.)

Fleet Adm. Ernest King Portrait photograph, taken in 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Fleet Adm. Ernest King Portrait photograph, taken in 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

But back to Dec. 1944 when four-star admirals William Leahy, Ernest King and Chester Nimitz were promoted. A year later, Adm. William F. Halsey Jr. joined their ranks.

Fleet Adm. Chester A. Nimitz, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas Photographed circa early 1945. Naval History and Heritage Photograph from the Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

Fleet Adm. Chester A. Nimitz, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas Photographed circa early 1945. Naval History and Heritage Photograph from the Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

It was quite the departure from when America’s forefathers chose to eschew the title of admiral.

Back in 1775, still under the rule of imperialistic Great Britain, those in charge of deciding ranks felt the titles of admiralty in general were hallmarks of aristocracy. Since the fledgling republic was rebelling against royal rule, they didn’t want the Navy to become a mirror image of their old masters. Captains who commanded squadrons or more than one ship gained the temporary title of commodore.

Not everyone agreed. Lt. John Paul Jones was among those who thought a naval rank equivalent to an Army general should exist. When the Navy expanded to more than six ships, he also thought a senior officer should be promoted to settle disputes among captains.

Another issue was foreign relations among navies. American senior officers were “often subjected to serious difficulties and embarrassments” when dealing with British or Ottoman or French admirals. Congress, however, didn’t understand the problem. Since admirals were the highest ranking officers in those navies, and captains were the highest ranking officers in their Navy, clearly they were on equal ground, Congress thought. That thinking was in direct conflict with the opinions of various Secretaries of the Navy, not to mention Navy captains.

The American admiralty was eventually created, though. During the Civil War, the Navy rapidly expanded, and Congress authorized nine rear admirals on July 16, 1862. Two years after that, David Glasgow Farragut was promoted from their ranks to become the first vice admiral. Farragut eventually was promoted again to the newly created rank of admiral on July 25, 1866. When Farragut died in 1870, David Dixon Porter fleeted up to Farragut’s position and rank.

Until 1915, only four officers had been promoted above rear admiral — Farragut, Porter, and Stephen C. Rowan, plus the one officer who rose above them and remains to this day the most senior naval officer in American history.

George Dewey’s accomplishments during the Spanish-American War were recognized by Congress, authorizing the president to appoint him as “Admiral of the Navy,” a rank he wore until his death in 1917. Nobody since has held that title.

The ranks of vice- and full admiral were revived shortly after the outbreak of World War I, with one of each rank assigned to the Atlantic, Pacific and Asiatic fleets.

As the storm clouds of a second world war formed once again, the U.S. Navy began to expand after its post-WWI drawdown. In between June 1938 and December 1944, ships in the fleet grew from 380 to 6,084—a 1,501 percent increase. And with the expansion of the fleet and the enormity of responsibility, even the rank of full admiral was not enough. So, in December 1944, the admiralty increased too.

But another reason may be that the admirals were echoing claims from the previous centuries, according to E. Kelly Taylor, author of the book America’s Army and the Language of Grunts, “several American commanders found themselves in the awkward position of commanding Allied officers of higher rank.”

Congress came together and passed an act “to establish the grade of Fleet Admiral for the United States Navy; to establish the grade of General of the Army, and for other purposes.” Leahy, King and Nimitz were appointed to this new grade of Fleet Admiral.

The act set some rules: “Appointments to said grade shall be made by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among line officers on the active list and retired line officers on active duty serving in the rank of admiral in the Navy at the time of such appointment. The number of officers of such grade on the active list at any one time shall not exceed four.”

And the seniority of each was also established: “The officers appointed under the provisions of this Act shall take rank among themselves while on active duty according to dates of appointment.”

Fleet Adm. William F. Halsey Jr. portrait photograph, dated Feb. 6, 1946. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Fleet Adm. William F. Halsey Jr. portrait photograph, dated Feb. 6, 1946. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Their dates of appointment were separated by two days: Dec. 15, 17, and 19, 1944 for Leahy, King and Nimitz respectively. Generals of the Armies George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower were promoted in between on the 16th, 18th, and 20th respectively. A fourth Army general Henry H. Arnold was promoted Dec. 21, 1944. Halsey was promoted on Dec. 11, 1945. This made Leahy the ranking five-star.

In a brief introduction to the four Fleet Admirals, the Naval Historical Foundation said, “It is interesting to note that each of the naval officers promoted to the five-star rank followed different career tracks. […] They served as younger officers when the Navy was making its expansion in aviation and submarine development.

“[Halsey] began his career as a destroyer officer, and transitioned to the aviation branch with only one short tour of duty ashore in Washington. [Nimitz] was a submariner whose assignments included duty in Europe studying diesel propulsion, duty on board capital ships and an assignment ashore as Chief of Naval Personnel. [Leahy] had almost all his sea duty in large commands, with the exception of one tour, with all assigned shore duty in Washington, including tours as the chiefs of two bureaus. [King] had a seagoing career that encompassed all three communities, surface, submarine and aviation branches; as part of his shore duty he was the head of the Postgraduate School and the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics.”

Their broad backgrounds were clearly an asset during a war fought in both hemispheres and all warfare areas.

Afterwards, on March 23, 1946, Congress passed another Act authorizing the Fleet Admirals to retire as such with full pay. Since then, no other admirals have been further promoted.

The original promotions of the four were done by law. That same law also provided for their termination. “This Act shall be effective only until six months after the termination of the wars in which the United States is now engaged as proclaimed by the President, or such earlier date as the Congress, by concurrent resolution, may fix.”

In a sense, the magnitude of World War II created the grade. Since then, no other war has mandated its return.

 

 
Dec 13

Frigates, Brigs, Sloops, Schooners, and the Early Continental Navy’s Struggle for Success

Saturday, December 13, 2014 9:00 AM
Continental Frigate Boston (1777-1780) Painting by Rod Claudius, Rome, Italy, 1962. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Continental Frigate Boston (1777-1780)
Painting by Rod Claudius, Rome, Italy, 1962. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

In 1775, Americans were no strangers to the ways of the sea, either in peace or in war. In the years immediately before the outbreak of the rebellion, Americans demonstrated their growing disenchantment with British rule by taking action against ships collecting revenue or delivering tea in Boston Harbor. Once the revolution began, Americans recognized that events in the Atlantic Ocean theater would have a major, and potentially decisive, impact on the course of the war in North America.

In the fall of 1775, Americans initiated a privateering campaign against British commerce, and on Oct. 13, the Continental Congress, after some difficult political debate, also established a small naval force, hoping that even a diminutive navy would be able to offset to some extent what would otherwise be an uncontested exercise of British sea power. The seven ships included 24-gun frigates Alfred and Columbus, 14-gun brigs Andrew Doria (Andrea Doria) and Cabot, and three schooners, Hornet, Wasp and Fly.

The Continental Congress had a very limited role in mind for the navy. It was not expected to contest British control of the seas, but rather to wage a traditional guerre de course against British trade, in conjunction with the scores of privateers outfitting in American ports.

The Continental Navy’s ships were to raid commerce and attack the transports that supplied British forces in North America. To carry out this mission, the Continental Congress began to build up, through purchase, conversion, and new construction, a cruiser navy of small ships–frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners.

On Dec. 16, 1775, Congress approved the purchase of 13 frigates: Five with 32-guns: Raleigh, Hancock, Warren, Washington and Randolph; five with 28-guns: Providence, Trumbull, Congress, Virginia and Effingham, and three with 24-guns: Boston, Montgomery and Delaware.

Things did not go smoothly. Congress wanted construction complete by March 1776, but builders struggled to find the armament to outfit them and even more so to get the Sailors to man them. The pay was greater for privateers who could also raid British merchant ships and split the spoils among themselves.

Several of the ships never made it to sea: Washington, Congress, Effingham and Montgomery were either scuttled or burned between October and November 1777 to keep them from the British.

Delaware, while attempting to slow down British forces coming after American troops was caught by an ebb tide and stranded on Sept. 27, 1777. She was captured and destroyed shortly afterward.

Virginia ran aground March 31, 1778 near Hampton Roads while attempting to outrun the British blockade of the Chesapeake Bay.

Frigates Raleigh

A model of the frigate Raleigh, which was commanded by Capt. John Barry, for the Continental Navy.

The remaining frigates had mixed success. Raleigh captured three prizes while under the command of Capt. John Barry, but was run aground Sept. 27, 1778, and scuttled.

Commodore John Barry, USN (1745-1803), who commanded Continental frigate Raleigh. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), circa 1801. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Commodore John Barry, USN (1745-1803), who commanded Continental frigate Raleigh.
Portrait by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), circa 1801.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Hancock, too, captured three ships, but July 8, 1777, while being pursued by a British squadron, the American frigate was captured by HMS Rainbow and turned into the man-of-war Iris.

Frigates Hancock and Boston capturing HMS Fox. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Frigates Hancock and Boston capturing HMS Fox. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

The 32-gun Randolph had captured five prizes under the command of Capt. Nicholas Biddle. While escorting a convoy of merchantmen on March 7, 1778, Randolph attempted to fend off the British 64-gun HMS Yarmouth. As the smaller American frigate fought the British ship, a magazine on Randolph exploded, destroying the ship and killing all but four of her crew. But the aftermath of the explosion also damaged Yarmouth and the convoy got away.

Model of the Continental frigate Randolph

Model of the Continental frigate Randolph

The frigates named for their New England heritage, Providence and Boston, had the most success in their service of the Continental Navy. Boston had 17 prizes, plus a special mission carrying John Adams to France in early 1778. Providence, under the command of Capt. Abraham Whipple, tallied 14 prizes. But both frigates were captured May 12, 1780, following the American surrender to the British after the Siege of Charleston, S.C.

The 28-gun Trumbull launched in 1776, only to find her deep draft would keep her from getting over a sandbar in the mouth of the Connecticut River as it flowed into Long Island Sound. After three years, Trumbull was finally freed in 1779 after casks of water were lashed alongside port and starboard. When the casks were pumped out they rose and lifted the ship enough to get over the sandbar. Although Capt. James Nicholson received command of the frigate on Sept. 20, he didn’t get cruising orders until the spring.

It was a short cruise.

On June 1, 1780, Trumbull spotted a ship that would prove to be the British 32-gun letter-of-marque Watt. After being challenged by Watt, Trumbull ran up British colors, but the captain grew suspicious of Trumbull’s movements and soon after gave “three cheers and a broadside” to begin what historian Gardner W. Allen considered “one of the hardest fought naval engagements of the war.”

For 2 ½ hours, the two ships traded shots in a range that was never wider than 80 yards, and at times, while locked together. Both ships caught fire, and with the British ship’s hull, rigging and sails shot to pieces, she was taking on water.

Trumbull hardly fared better. Captain of Marines Gilbert Saltonstall noted: “We were literally cut all to pieces; not a shroud, stay, brace, bowling or other rigging standing. Our main top mast shot away, our fore, main mizzen, and jigger masts gone by the board…”

Both ships broke off action to assess their damage. Trumbull suffered eight killed and 31 wounded, while Watt had 13 killed and 79 wounded. Nicholson was eager to pursue his foe, in better condition with one remaining mast. Already battered beyond belief, the frigate had to weather a gale on its return to Connecticut. Nicholson was congratulated on the “gallantry displayed in the defense” against Watt. But lack of money and men kept the ship inactive until the first part of 1781.

It was Aug. 8, 1781, when Trumbull sailed again with a 24-gun privateer and a 14-gun letter-of-marque to protect a 28-ship merchant convoy. Twenty days later, three British ships spied the convoy and two broke off to give chase. The shapes of the ship might have seemed familiar to Trumbull’s little squadron: They were former Continental ships, the frigate Hancock and privateer General Washington, now known as HMS Iris and General Monk.

Trumbull’s luck continued to worsen after an evening rains quall carried away the frigate’s fore-topmast and her main topgallantmast. Soon the frigate was trapped by Iris and General Monk. While Nicholson was ready to fight, his crew was not – only a quarter responded to the call to quarters. After battling Iris for 95 minutes, General Monk moved into finish the battle, and Nicholson, after “seeing no prospect of escaping in this unequal contest,” struck his colors. Five of his crew were killed and 11 wounded.

Although HMS Iris towed Trumbull to New York, the battered frigate, the last of the original 13 frigates approved on Dec. 13, 1775, was not placed into the Royal Navy and her final fate remains unknown.

Many of the failures of the early Continental navy were directly attributable to the uneven and uncertain quality of the highly politicized officer corps. Mediocre officers vied for rank and privilege. Many commanders lacked drive, and others, while perhaps excellent seamen, were simply incompetent warriors. Nevertheless, whatever the shortcomings of the Continental Navy, the course of the war demonstrated to Americans the importance of sea power.

The control of the Atlantic by the Royal Navy allowed Great Britain to transport a large army to North America and to sustain it there, which is what contributed to Washington’s crushing defeat during the Siege of Charleston.

But just two months after Trumbull was towed into oblivion, French sea power, allied with the American cause after 1778, enabled Gen. George Washington to isolate and destroy the British army of Lord Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown Oct. 19, 1781.

 
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