Sep 30

USS Nautilus Plankowner Shares Experience Working on Boat, with Rickover

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 3:42 PM

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Henry Nardone Sr. was a "fresh-caught" lieutenant junior grade when he became a project manager on USS Nautilus. Today, at 92 "and counting," Nardone attended the 60th anniversary of the commissioning of the first nuclear-powered submarine.

Henry Nardone Sr. was a “fresh-caught” lieutenant junior grade when he became a project manager on USS Nautilus. Today, at 92 “and counting,” Nardone attended the 60th anniversary of the commissioning of the first nuclear-powered submarine at the Submarine Forces Museum and Library in Groton, Ct. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Timothy Comerford/RELEASED

As the 60th anniversary of USS Nautilus’ commissioning into the Navy was celebrated today at Groton, Conn., only a handful of people who were there from the beginning were in attendance.

One of them was Henry Nardone Sr., a project officer on Nautilus, who said working on the nuclear-powered submarine was the highlight of his 12 1/2-year naval career. Now 92-years-old “and counting,” Nardone was a “fresh-caught” lieutenant junior grade when the keel was laid in August 1955. He was there on top of the boat in January 1954 when First Lady Mamie Eisenhower cracked a bottle of champagne on her keel sending the boat down the ways and into the Thames River at Electric Boat’s berth in Groton. And on Sept. 30, 1954, Nardone was there for her commissioning into the Navy on Sept. 29, 1954.

In this file photo taken Jan. 21, 1954, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571) slips into the Thames River at Groton, Conn., during her christening. Nautilus plankholder Henry Nardone Sr. is on the boat, foot propped on a cleat. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

In this file photo taken Jan. 21, 1954, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571) slips into the Thames River at Groton, Conn., during her christening. Nautilus plankowner Henry Nardone Sr. is on the boat, foot propped on a cleat. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Even after he left the Navy, Nardone continued his relationship with Nautilus. He was in charge of her first major overhaul in 1973 at Electric Boat where he was manager of the overhaul program.

“It was the most significant assignment I had in the Navy, and one I enjoyed the most,” Nardone said from his home in Westerly, just a few miles from Groton. “I couldn’t ask for a better assignment for myself or my career. Not only was it the highlight of my career, but the highlight of the submarine service in the country. It was one of the most significant events in submarine design construction ever and changed the whole world of submarines.”

Nardone recalled a potentially serious problem the team faced while working on Nautilus. During some testing, they experienced a pipe leak, and an examination found a pipe had a welded seam, when theoretically by design, it should have been a seamless pipe.

The first nuclear powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571), under construction at General Dynamics' Electric Boat Division in Groton, Conn. (USA). Nautilus was launched on Jan. 21, 1954 and commissioned on Sept. 30, 1954.

The first nuclear powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571), under construction at General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division in Groton, Conn. (USA). Nautilus was launched on Jan. 21, 1954 and commissioned on Sept. 30, 1954.

“We had to remove all of the piping in the engine room and replace it with seamless piping,” Nardone said. “There was no way to determine if it was seamless or not without destroying the pipe. So every piece of piping was removed and all new seamless piping was put in. We had the engine room disassembled and it was weeks’ worth of work. But it had to be done since we couldn’t be 100 percent sure without destroying the pipe.”

Rickover

Adm. Hyman G. Rickover on USS Nautilus.

After his work on Nautilus was completed at Groton, Nardone requested a position with a nuclear power group in the shipyard at Mare Island. He had been recommended by his boss for the job, but as time got closer to making the transfer, he got word he was deemed “unacceptable” for the job by Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, who headed the nuclear-power program. Instead, Nardone was offered orders to a tender off the coast of Japan. Nardone decided to resign his commission rather than move to Japan. His boss recommended and arranged an interview at Westinghouse Electric, the company that built the nuclear power plant for the Nautilus.

“I’m sitting in the office of the interviewer when a telephone call comes in,” Nardone said. “The interviewer looks at me and the only part of the phone conversation I heard was ‘Yes sir, yes he is. Yes sir, I understand that.’ He hung up and said that was Adm. Rickover.”

Nardone was stunned. Only two people had known he was interviewing at Westinghouse: his boss and the interviewer. The interviewer said the admiral had told him not to offer a position to Nardone until the admiral had spoken with Nardone himself.

So Nardone went back to Groton and within a week received a phone call from the admiral’s “right-hand man” staffer Bob Panoff, setting a meeting for the next day. In keeping with the usual Rickover procedures, they walked across to the Electric Boat office where Rickover had a space reserved. The door was unlocked and they went inside, where the door was locked again. Nardone was told the admiral wanted Nardone to work for him in his Washington, D.C. office.

“Last week I was unacceptable for the Mare Island job in the shipyard and now he wants me to work in his office at Washington?” Nardone asked incredulously.

“The admiral has his reasons, and you know the admiral,” Panoff said. “Let us know in a week.”

Nardone would go ahead and resign his commission, deciding he wanted to remain near his long-time home in Westerly, R.I. and not move to Washington.

“I figured I was finished in the shipbuilding business, because the admiral had long arms and could reach deep into the shipbuilding community,” Nardone said. “But as I was preparing to go through the exit process, I got an unsolicited offer of a job at Electric Boat and I immediately accepted.”

Nardone did not believe Rickover had anything to do with the job offer. But years later, he found out Rickover was indeed well aware of the offer and kept track of Nardone’s assignments at Electric Boat throughout his life. He was even notified of every promotion “and probably reviewed every fitness report,” Nardone laughed. “He brought the nuclear navy into the force more efficiently, more quickly and safer than anyone could have done at that time.”

 

 
Sep 30

60 Years Ago Today: USS Nautilus and the U.S. Navy Get Underway on Nuclear Power

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 8:15 AM
USS Nautilus (SSN-571), in Long Island Sound, off New London, Connecticut, during her shakedown cruise, May 1955.

USS Nautilus (SSN-571), in Long Island Sound, off New London, Connecticut, during her shakedown cruise, May 1955.

By Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Amdur, Director, Submarine Force Museum and Officer-in-Charge, Historic Ship Nautilus

 For the cost of a laptop today, the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program began 75 years ago.

It could only have been a Navy physicist who upon observing the energy created by the splitting of uranium atoms, would also wonder if that could be used for propulsion at sea. It was in 1939 when Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) scientists met to determine if a “fission chamber” could generate steam to operate a turbine to propel a submarine. Dr. Ross Gunn, head of the Mechanics and Electricity Division, asked for $1,500 to pay for initial research. The funds were approved, and so began the Navy’s nuclear fission program.

The research took a back seat in 1942 when members of NRL’s nuclear program assisted with the Manhattan Project that would unleash the power of nuclear fission in the form of the atom bombs that would end World War II.

 

Adm. Hyman G. Rickover

Adm. Hyman G. Rickover

After the war, work on a nuclear propulsion system resumed in 1946 when then-Capt. Hyman G. Rickover, an engineering officer, joined the post-war Manhattan Project’s power reactor program at Oak Ridge, Tenn. He had a reputation as an “acerbic” personality, but also the determination to bulldoze through bureaucracy. He berated a team of scientists at the Atomic Energy Commission’s General Advisory Committee in Sept. 1946 after they determined it would be 20 years before there could be a demonstration of atomic power for practical uses.

A Jan. 9, 1947 report to Chief of Naval Operations Chester W. Nimitz stated submarines capable of operating submerged for unlimited periods could be possible by the mid-1950s, “provided nuclear power is made available for submarine propulsion.”

The report was approved by Nimitz the following day. Rickover oversaw design of a nuclear-propelled submarine, and Congress approved it in the Fiscal Year 1952 shipbuilding program. President Harry S. Truman would sign the keel for the future USS Nautilus on June 14, 1952. Rickover had been involved for a mere six years.

The one of the biggest decisions with Nautilus was not that she would be powered by nuclear energy, but whether to make her an experimental, unarmed test vehicle or a fully operational warship. On Jan. 21, 1954, the massive 319-foot submarine with a 28-foot beam was launched with a crack of a champagne bottle wielded by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. Nautilus was built for both comfort and speed. Accommodations included 2 and 3-berth staterooms for the 12 officers, a single room for the captain, and a wardroom. For the more than 90 enlisted men, each had their own rack, a mess that could seat 36 of the crew, or up to 50 for movies and lectures. A juke-box was hooked to the boat’s hi-fi system, along with an ice cream machine and soda dispenser. Better yet, the nuclear-powered system would provide unlimited fresh water and air conditioning.

The business end of Nautilus featured six torpedo tubes and carried 26 torpedoes. She was also outfitted with auxiliary diesel generators and a battery to “bring home” the boat if needed.

Rear Adm. Eugene P. Wilkinson

Rear Adm. Eugene P. Wilkinson

Nautilus was christened into the fleet 60 years ago today, Sept. 30, 1954, at a pierside ceremony at the Electric Boat Shipyard in Connecticut. At 11 a.m. Jan. 17, 1955, Nautilus moved from the pier, and shortly afterward, Nautilus’ commanding officer, Cmdr. Eugene P. Wilkinson, ordered the following signal sent: “UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER.”

Nautilus would achieve a number of firsts during sea trials, including the fastest submerged transit undertaken by a submarine: 90 hours from New London, Conn., to San Juan, Puerto Rico at an average speed of 16 knots (the previous record for that speed had been for a single hour). In exercises and war games with the fleet, Nautilus was nearly invincible. She could easily maneuver to either close on an enemy or escape one, all while remaining submerged. And she could outrun many of the Navy’s destroyers and all of the anti-submarine homing torpedoes at that time.

Refueled four times during her 25 years in commission, Nautilus would sail more than a half-million nautical miles, most of them submerged. In 1958, Nautilus completed a secret mission requested by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to prove American technology had not taken a backseat to the Soviet space program. In a mission called Operation Sunshine, the nuclear-powered submarine passed under the North Pole on Aug. 3, 1958 – the first watercraft to reach the geographic “top” of the world – during a trip from Pearl Harbor to England and under the Soviet’s collective noses through the Bering Strait.

30Sep_n1037145

Commander William R. Anderson, USN, Commanding Officer of USS Nautilus (SSN-571), far right, on the bridge during a period of low visibility as the submarine prepares to pass under the North Pole, August 1958. National Archives photograph, USN 1037145

Nautilus and her crew earned the Presidential Unit Citation (PUC), the first-ever awarded in peace time. Her commanding officer, Capt. William R. Anderson, was whisked away from Nautilus when she resurfaced near Iceland, brought to a White House ceremony, where Eisenhower would announce the success of Operation Sunshine. The president then presented Anderson with a Legion of Merit to go with his crew’s PUC.

Nautilus’ first deployment was with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, departing from New London Oct. 24, 1960. Upon her return, she operated in the Atlantic, participating in NATO exercises and in Oct. 1962, the naval quarantine of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

For the next 13 years, she would be involved in a variety of developmental testing programs while continuing to serve alongside many of the more modern nuclear-powered submarines.

Decommissioned and stricken from the Navy rolls in 1980, Nautilus’ future was assured when the Secretary of the Interior designated the submarine as a National Historic Landmark May 20, 1982. After a historic ship conversion, Nautilus opened to the public April 11, 1986, to continue her service as an example of the Navy’s pioneering role in harnessing nuclear power, as the first in a fleet of nuclear-powered ships, and as steward of the American submarine force’s reputation for and history of operational excellence.

For more about USS Nautilus’ legacy and how it shaped today’s submarine force on NavyLive, please click here.

 
Sep 27

Sealift Capability: WWII Liberty Ships to Today’s State-of-the-Art

Saturday, September 27, 2014 11:41 AM
SS Patrick Henry, the first of more than 2,700 Liberty Ships, shortly after her launch Sept. 27, 1941 at Baltimore, Md. It took 244 days to build the first Liberty Ship, but that was later reduced to 42 days per ship by the middle of World War II. Photo courtesy of Archives.gov

SS Patrick Henry, the first of more than 2,700 Liberty Ships, shortly after her launch Sept. 27, 1941 at Baltimore, Md. It took 244 days to build the first Liberty Ship, but that was later reduced to 42 days per ship by the middle of World War II. Photo courtesy of Archives.gov

 

By Jeff Connolly, Sealift Director, Military Sealift Command

 On this day in 1941, SS Patrick Henry – the first U.S. Liberty ship – was launched at Baltimore, Md. Ultimately, the United States built more than 2,700 of these cargo ships between 1941 and 1945 to carry critical materiel during World War II. It is no exaggeration to say that this ship class and its merchant mariner crews literally carried America’s wartime fortunes to distant shores.

 Liberty ships like Patrick Henry represent a proud tradition of maritime delivery, and that tradition of timely sealift is alive and well today.

 The current Sealift Program – managed by Military Sealift Command – includes a mix of 23 government-owned and long-term-chartered dry cargo ships and tankers, as well as short-term or voyage-chartered ships that are contracted for specific missions.

 Sealift missions carry cargo and fuel all over the globe year round. By DOD policy, Military Sealift Command must charter U.S.-flagged merchant ships first, using Navy ships only when necessary. A chartered dry cargo ship and tanker, for example, keep remote outposts in Antarctica and Greenland fully stocked every year during Operation Deep Freeze and Pacer Goose.

 Sealift ships are also immensely useful platforms for training exercises that prepare our nation for a variety of contingencies. Earlier this year, USNS Mendonca served as a key platform during U.S. Transportation Command’s Turbo Challenge 14 exercise in Alaska. The exercise helped local authorities, Alaska’s National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency practice for an earthquake disaster scenario. 

 In time of hostilities, of course, the Sealift Program truly shows its mettle and capabilities for our military and our nation – platforms truly do matter.

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, for example, MSC transported more than 50 million barrels of petroleum products and more than 16 million metric tons of equipment.

 Just last fiscal year, Sealift ships delivered more than 1.5 million square feet of cargo and nearly 31 million barrels of petroleum products worldwide. Much like SS Patrick Henry and the World War II Liberty ships, modern sealift vessels are the steel bridge providing the cargo and equipment our military needs to maintain its global presence and fulfill its mission.

 

 

 
Sep 26

History Live from Groton: Nautilus @ 60

Friday, September 26, 2014 2:00 PM

In this file photo taken Jan. 21, 1954, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571) is in the Thames River shortly after a christening ceremony. A year later, shortly after the commissioning 60 years ago Sept. 30, 1954, the first commanding officer, Capt. Eugene Wilkerson, would announce "UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER." (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

In this file photo taken Jan. 21, 1954, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571) is in the Thames River shortly after a christening ceremony. A year later, a few weeks after the commissioning 60 years ago Sept. 30, 1954, the first commanding officer, Capt. Eugene Wilkerson, would announce “UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER.” (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

 

By David Werner, Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach

On Tuesday, Sept. 30, the U.S. Navy will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the commissioning of the world’s first nuclear powered warship, the attack submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571). Nautilus served for 25 years and racked up an impressive list of additional firsts including the first submarine to cross the North Pole.

The ship embodies the pioneering spirit of engineers, shipyard workers and Navy leaders who saw an opportunity to vastly improve the Navy’s operational readiness. Any risks associated with designing, constructing and putting to sea such a ship were far outweighed by the benefits to our nation and its defense.

In that same bold spirit, Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach Division will attempt to pioneer – albeit on a much smaller scale – its first-ever live internet streaming of an event. We’re committed to the cause of sharing naval history – especially when space constraints on the pier limit the number of people who can join in person. There’s even a live chat function – so we won’t be running silent.

The event will be held pier side next to Nautilus at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Conn. at noon (Eastern Time) on Sept. 30. We’re excited and hopeful about the opportunity to bring this event live to the many dedicated Submariners who served onboard Nautilus as well as the devoted men and women who designed, built and maintained her. But like the pioneers who took on the monumental design, engineering, construction and operational challenge of Nautilus, we recognize there is no reward without risk.

More than 300 people, including those who helped design, build and operate USS Nautilus are expected to attend the invitation-only event. Anticipated guest speakers include Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy; Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, Adm. John M. Richardson; and Electric Boat Shipyard Vice President for Engineering and Design Programs, William Lennon. Plank Owners from the original 1954 Nautilus crew are also scheduled to attend.

We’re by no means pioneers in this technology or communication method, but it is another opportunity for us at NHHC to explore a different means of exporting our Navy’s and our nation’s history. We hope you’ll join us live – where we hope to proclaim on behalf of naval history: “Underway on Internet power.”

 

 
Sep 25

Fit to Fight: American Shipbuilding and Salvage Comes Through in the Wake of Pearl Harbor

Thursday, September 25, 2014 1:00 AM
USS West Virginia approaching drydock, June 8, 1942. After six months under 40 feet of water, she was finally afloat. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

USS West Virginia approaching drydock, June 8, 1942, at Pearl Harbor. After six months under 40 feet of water, she was finally afloat. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

 This is the final chapter in a 3-part series about the salvage operation that brought USS West Virginia (BB 48) back to the fleet 70 years ago Sept. 23, 1944. She had been hit by seven torpedoes and two bombs during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Click for Part 1 and Part 2.

Lessons noted, lessons learned

The Pearl Harbor Salvage Division worked virtually non-stop to get 10 of the 19 ships sunk or damaged after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack back into the fleet by mid-1942. The Pearl Harbor ship salvage effort through most of 1942 was directed by Capt. Homer A. Wallin, Material Officer for Commander, Battle Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. USS West Virginia would prove the most challenging.

Capt. Homer N. Wallin (left), Salvage Officer, and Lt. Cmdr. W. White, commanding officer of USS West Virginia, on board the ship while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor in 1942. They are wearing the "tank" suit coveralls and knee-length rubber boots used by Pearl Harbor salvage team members when engaged in particularly dirty work. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection.

Capt. Homer N. Wallin (left), Salvage Officer, and Lt. Cmdr. W. White, commanding officer of USS West Virginia, on board the ship while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor in 1942. They are wearing the “tank” suit coveralls and knee-length rubber boots used by Pearl Harbor salvage team members when engaged in particularly dirty work. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection.

Seeing it to completion required Navy and civilian divers to spend about 20,000 hours underwater among 5,000 dives. Two destroyers, Cassin (DD 372) and Downes (DD 375), were stripped of their serviceable weapons, machinery and equipment, which was all sent to California, where it was installed in new hulls. Still, both ships returned to service in late 1943 and early 1944.

Within two years, the Salvage Division refloated five ships and removed weapons and equipment from the other two. Among its accomplishments were the refloating of the battleships Nevada (BB 36) in Feb. 1942; California in March 1942, and West Virginia (BB 48) in June 1942, plus the minelayer Oglala (CM 4). After extensive shipyard repairs, the four ships were back in the active fleet in time to help defeat Japan.

The Salvage Division also righted and refloated the capsized battleship Oklahoma (BB 37), partially righted the capsized target ship Utah (BB 31) and recovered materiel from the wreck of the battleship Arizona (BB 39). Those three ships did not return to service, and the hulls of Arizona and Utah remain in Pearl Harbor.

Off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, July 2, 1944, following reconstruction. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS West Virginia off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, July 2, 1944, following reconstruction wearing her camouflage paint. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

All this represented one of history’s greatest salvage jobs, Wallin pointed out in his publication Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal.

Although only 19 ships of the almost 100 that occupied berths at Pearl Harbor were sunk or damaged, an important part of the fleet was immobilized for many months, Wallin states in the publication.

“The shortage of ships prevented decisive action against a superior foe. It was only after new ships joined the fleet from building yard or the Atlantic that offensive warfare could be pursued in earnest,” he said.

And it’s not like Pearl Harbor was prepared to pull 18 ships out of the harbor and refloat them. They were already noted for shortages, Wallin pointed out. Lumber and fastenings were acutely in short supply, along with a lack of manpower, especially electric welders, carpenters, mechanics and engineers.

But they were ahead of the game in one aspect. The Great War had taught fleet officials where fire hazards are on ships, and many had already been removed from the combatant ships. Those included items like rubber sheeting, paints, canvas, oakum and linoleum. Paint had been chipped off down to bare metal and replaced with latex or water paints, which are better in resisting fire and high temperature.

But of all shortages, the lack of ordnance presented the worst problem, particularly for the defense of Pearl Harbor, Wallin said. No temporary batteries had been installed and 30-caliber machine guns were the main ones at the air bases.

During the salvage, at the top of the list was building up the base’s anti-aircraft defense by taking batteries and ammunition from disabled ships to points of vantage around the Navy Yard and air stations. Divers worked “assiduously in saving range finders, directors, small arms and fine ordnance instruments from various sunken ships. After initial care and preservation, the material was soon ready for use against the enemy,” Wallin noted in the publication.

Wallin also pointed out a fair proportion of Japanese bombs and torpedoes failed to explode, and strafing by the Japanese did little to do major harm to the ships or even deter Sailors from their duties. But the close-range anti-aircraft batteries on the U.S. Navy ships were limited in their scope. From 1942 on, Sweden-made 40-millimeter Bofors guns, mounted in twos and fours, and the 20-millimeter Oerlikon gun from Switzerland, were installed on newer American ships.

In a war that lasted nearly four years, all 19 of the Pearl Harbor victims, except Oklahoma, Arizona and Utah, saw action against the Japanese Navy. The marvel of salvage surprised not only the Japanese but also our own forces. The Salvage Operation had lived up to its motto: “We keep them fit to fight.”

“We learned that sunken or damaged ships can be put to work again and with greatly increased potential,” Wallin noted in the publication. “Enough cannot be said in praise of the salvage crew. They worked hard and earnestly. They soon saw that the results of their efforts exceeded the fondest hopes of their supporters and they were urged on by their successive achievements.”

Rear Adm. William R. Furlong, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, and Capt. Homer N. Wallin inspecting the salvage operations at Pearl Harbor.

Rear Adm. William R. Furlong, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, and Capt. Homer N. Wallin inspecting the salvage operations at Pearl Harbor.

Wallin, who retired in 1955 as a vice-admiral, received the Navy’s Distinguished Service Medal due to his “tireless and energetic devotion to duty, and benefiting his past experiences, Capt. Wallin accomplished the reclamation of damaged naval units expeditiously and with success beyond expectations, thereby sustaining the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service…”

…And “for being an undying optimist,” Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz added upon presenting the award to Wallin.

 
Sep 24

With a Hat Tip to American Shipbuilding, USS West Virginia Returns from the Bottom of Pearl Harbor Fit to Fight

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 10:00 AM
Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941 Battleships West Virginia (BB-48) (sunken at left) and Tennessee (BB-43) shrouded in smoke following the Japanese air raid. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute Photograph Collection. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Battleships West Virginia (BB-48) (sunken at left) and Tennessee (BB-43) shrouded in smoke following the Japanese air raid Dec. 7, 1941. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute Photograph Collection. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

 

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Part two on a 3-part series about the salvage operations that brought USS West Virginia (BB 48) back to the fleet Sept. 23, 1944 after being sunk in the attack at Pearl Harbor.

 “We keep them fit to fight”

When the smoke cleared after the attack Dec. 7, 1941, 19 ships berthed at Pearl Harbor were severely damaged and in various stages of sinking or had sunk. Battleship West Virginia (BB 48) was among the worst of those to be salvaged. The hulls of USS Arizona (BB 39) and USS Utah (BB 31) remain in the harbor. USS Oklahoma (BB 37) was brought up, but determined too damaged for repair. She was salvaged of her armament and whatever other materials that could be reused on other ships.

Sailors in a motor launch rescue a survivor from the water alongside the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48) during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. USS Tennessee (BB-43) is inboard of the sunken battleship. Note extensive distortion of West Virginia's lower midship's superstructure, caused by torpedoes that exploded below that location. Also note 5"/25 gun, still partially covered with canvas, boat crane swung outboard and empty boat cradles near the smokestacks, and base of radar antenna atop West Virginia's foremast. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Sailors in a motor launch rescue a survivor from the water alongside the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48) during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. USS Tennessee (BB-43) is inboard of the sunken battleship. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Perhaps West Virginia’s saving grace was that she remained upright from where she sank in around 40 feet of water. The action reports filed by her surviving commanding officers were grim. The ship had been struck by seven 18-inch torpedoes on her port (left) side, blowing out a series of gashes. Bombs caused one deck to collapse. The rudder had been torn asunder by a torpedo. The ship had burned 30 hours before sinking, causing the bottom of the ship to “wrinkle” after settling on the harbor floor.

The Pearl Harbor ship salvage effort through most of 1942 was directed by Capt. Homer A. Wallin, Material Officer for Commander, Battle Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. USS West Virginia would prove the most challenging.

The battleship’s multi-layered, anti-torpedo side protection system had been completely broken through, making it impossible to raise the ship without the use of extensive external patches. These structures, called cofferdams, were huge wooden sections braced with steel, attached to the ship by divers working inside and out to attach them to the ship and each other. Then 650 tons of special concrete that hardens in water, called tremic, was poured down hoppers to seal the bottom. It hardened around the cofferdam, making the ship watertight.

In order to help the ship float, the salvage operation removed 800,000 gallons of fuel oil, projectiles and powder for 16-inch guns, and other supplies. With excess weight gone water was pumped out of the ship, inch-by-inch, a fresh ring of fouled oil marking the progress on the cofferdam.

USS West Virginia approaching drydock, June 8, 1942. After six months under 40 feet of water, she was finally afloat. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

USS West Virginia approaching Pearl Harbor’s drydock, June 8, 1942. After six months under 40 feet of water, she was finally afloat. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

On June 9, 1942, a little more than six months after she was sunk, “Wee Vee” entered Pearl Harbor Navy Yard’s Drydock No. 1. From there began the task of clearing away and replacing the torpedo and fire-damaged structure, including large plates of heavy side armor. It took small sticks of dynamite to remove the cofferdam that got her afloat.

“The spectacular salvage is re-floating. The hard work is cleaning up, then the repair,” according to Rear Adm. William R. Furlong from a New York Times article in 1943 about the restoration West Virginia and the other Pearl Harbor ships. The 6-part series, never published due to wartime censors, is now part of the archives of the Library of Congress.

In drydock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, June 10, 1942, for repair of damage suffered in the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese air raid. She had entered the drydock on the previous day. Note large patch on her hull amidships, fouling on her hull, and large armor belt. Photographed by Bouchard. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection.

In drydock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, June 10, 1942, for repair of damage suffered in the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese air raid. She had entered the drydock on the previous day. Note large patch on her hull amidships, fouling on her hull, and large armor belt.
Photographed by Bouchard.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection.

Furlong had even more reason to hope West Virginia could be salvaged. He had served as the ship’s commanding officer from 1936-37.

That job would prove to be incredibly difficult. Much of the weight removal, as well as recovery of nearly 70 human bodies found in the ship and the immense task of cleaning her oily and filthy interior, was undertaken by the ship’s residual crew of around 370, including 60 Marines. Although 800 men had been requested for the “beggardly” job of cleaning, Wallin said it was rare to have more than 500.

Removal of a dud Japanese bomb found in USS West Virginia while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor. The bomb is visible at the bottom of the view, half-buried in grime. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection.

Removal of a dud Japanese bomb found in USS West Virginia while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor.
The bomb is visible at the bottom of the view, half-buried in grime.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection.

The filthy oil-soaked water left a residue on every surface of the ship. Their first job was the removal of wreckage, then wash it down with a high pressure hose, followed by a caustic solution that cut the oil coating, and finished with a fresh-water rinse. Much of this work had to be carried out in gas masks to guard against the ever-present risk of toxic gasses from rotten food and the refrigeration tanks and hydrogen sulfide that was created by polluted water on paper products. It was found in every compartment of the larger ships, often in lethal doses. Two men had died during the refloat process for USS Nevada (BB 36). From then on, each salvage worker wore litmus paper on his tank suit to reveal the presence of gas.

The cleaning crew also removed ammunition from turrets and magazines. West Virginia yielded a reservoir of powder that was suitable for re-blending and may have been used to finally return fire at the Japanese upon her return to the fleet.

As for repairing the electric-propelled ships, Wallin quoted the saying “necessity is the mother of invention and the mainspring of action.”

The ship’s turbo-electric drive powerplant underwent painstaking disassembly, drying and preserving as the water was removed from the machinery spaces, and then reassembled. Alternators and motors were salvaged and rewound and their iron elements restocked.

After three months in drydock, West Virginia was again watertight. Work continued pierside until April 1943, when the battleship left Pearl Harbor under her own power for Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Wash., where she received permanent repairs and extensive modernization. USS West Virginia rejoined the active fleet in July 1944, arriving back in Pearl Harbor on Sept. 23, 1944. She took active part in the battles of Leyte Gulf, Palau Islands, Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the Pacific War’s final year, a stronger, better ship than she had been Dec. 7, 1941.

Rear Adm. William R. Furlong, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, and Capt. Homer N. Wallin inspecting the salvage operations at Pearl Harbor.

Rear Adm. William R. Furlong, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, and Capt. Homer N. Wallin inspecting the salvage operations at Pearl Harbor.

“We built her new from the inside out,” Adm. Furlong said in the unpublished New York Times article. “We went right to the bottom, like a dentist drilling out a rotten tooth, and we burned away all the damage, then renewed the hull and decks.”

The final part of this 3-part series will reveal how the salvage operation foritifed the base, and lessons learned from the Great War helped reduce the damage caused by the attack on Pearl Harbor.

 
Sep 23

American Shipbuilding, Navy Maintenance Past and Present: Keeping the Fleet Fit to Fight

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 4:26 PM
Off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, July 2, 1944, following reconstruction. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS West Virginia off Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, July 2, 1944, following reconstruction after sunk at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. She returned to the Pacific fleet Sept. 23, 1944. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Part one of a 3-part series

A ship rejoining the fleet after a major overhaul is nothing new in the Navy. But 70 years ago today, when USS West Virginia (BB 48) returned to Pearl Harbor, it was a momentous event. West Virginia was the last, and most heavily damaged, of the 18 ships salvaged after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack.

Her return to the fleet would prove to the enemies of the U.S. that despite being knocked back on the ropes, the America had not thrown in the towel. West Virginia would serve valiantly in the remaining battles of the Pacific campaign and was at the Sept. 2, 1945 Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, along with more than 250 other Allied ships, mostly from the United States.

West Virginia Commanding Officer Capt. Mervyn S. Bannion, who received the Medal of Honor "for conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet at Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Captain Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge."

USS West Virginia Commanding Officer Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, who received the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet at Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. ..after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.”

Her commanding officer on the day of the attack, Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his efforts to keep the ship afloat despite being mortally wounded by a bomb fragment from USS Tennessee, moored next to West Virginia. Another 105 “Wee Vee” Sailors were killed in the attack.

As the smoke cleared on that day of infamy, it might have been difficult to see the crucial mistake made by the Japanese: They sunk a lot of ships, but they didn’t take out Pearl Harbor’s industrial and logistics capabilities. And folks who handle ship salvage know going down doesn’t mean lights out for a ship.

Her journey back to the fleet was arduous and fraught with complications and the work carried out by the salvage teams is unprecedented in the U.S. Navy’s history. But it would not be the last time the Navy undertook a major overhaul of a severely damaged ship.

(001029-M-0557M-011) The USS Cole (DDG 67) is towed away from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open sea by the Military Sealift Command ocean-going tug USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168) on Oct. 29, 2000. Cole will be placed aboard the Norwegian heavy transport ship M/V Blue Marlin and transported back to the United States for repair. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was the target of a suspected terrorist attack in the port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000, during a scheduled refueling. The attack killed 17 crew members and injured 39 others.

USS Cole (DDG 67) is towed away from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open sea by the Military Sealift Command ocean-going tug USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168) on Oct. 29, 2000. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was the target of a terrorist attack in the port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000, during a scheduled refueling. The attack killed 17 crew members and injured 39 others.

It’s been nearly 14 years since USS Cole (DDG 67) was attacked Oct. 12, 2000, while refueling at a Yemen port. A small boat laden with explosives struck the ship, killing 17 members of the crew, wounding 39 others and seriously damaging the destroyer.

After 14 months of upgrades and repairs, the Navy’s “Determined Warrior” returned to the fleet and full active duty April 19, 2002. The $250 million repair included removing and replacing more than 550 tons of steel, replacing two, 27-ton main engines and modules, installing a new stern flap to increase the ship’s speed and fuel efficiency, replacing three gas turbines generators and installing new galley equipment. The repairs, completed by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems’ Ingalls Operations, was overseen by the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair (SUPSHIP) Pascagoula, the on-site representative of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) for assigned ship repair contracts awarded to the private sector.

At sea with the guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) Aug. 9, 2002 -- USS Cole steams off the coast of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico conducting Combat System Ship Qualification Trials with Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). NAVSEA is verifying Cole's combat systems and providing realistic combat training scenarios. Cole recently completed 14 months of shipboard repairs in Pascagoula, Miss., following an Oct. 12, 2000 terrorist attack that killed 17 Sailors in the port city of Aden, Yemen. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class James Elliott. (RELEASED)

At sea with the guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) Aug. 9, 2002, after 14 months of shipboard repairs in Pascagoula, Miss., following an Oct. 12, 2000 terrorist attack that killed 17 Sailors in the port city of Aden, Yemen. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class James Elliott. (RELEASED)

“This was a challenging repair process, due to the complexity of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and the pace of the repair effort,” said now retired Capt. Phil Johnson, SUPSHIP Pascagoula, at a pierside ceremony that day in April. “The Navy/industry team set new benchmarks with this repair since certain portions of the repair, such as the removal and reinstallation of the starboard propulsion train, were conducted for the first time outside of new construction.”

Getting the ship repaired and back into the fleet, better than ever, sends a message to terrorists that we won’t be defeated.

As the Navy adjusts to ever-changing global threats, the acquisition of new ships is only part of what it takes to achieve national security objectives. Maintaining, repairing, efficiently managing and modernizing the existing force is just as important.

“If we do not conduct the appropriate maintenance and modernization at the correct time, then there is little hope of keeping our ships as viable assets throughout their entire expected service life,” said Capt. Michael Malone, commanding officer of the Navy’s Surface Maintenance Engineering Planning Program (SURFMEPP). “Maintenance and modernization are vital events in the life of a ship designed to maintain their military value, keeping our ships battle ready and capable of projecting power and defending our nation’s vital interests.”

Part two of this 3-part series tomorrow will be USS West Virginia’s journey from the bottom of the harbor to ‘fit to fight.”

 
Sep 19

Dirt, Taps & Nursery Rhymes: Vietnam POW Book Offers Insight into Captivity

Friday, September 19, 2014 11:42 AM

 

This image, part of a Pentagon corridor exhibit during the Vietnam War, depicts the environment of a typical Hanoi prison cell.

This image, part of a Pentagon corridor exhibit during the Vietnam War, depicts the environment of a typical Hanoi prison cell.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

53APOW-MIAflag99 It’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day today, observed on the third Friday in September. There will probably be no cars, furniture or carpet on sale this weekend, but please take a moment to remember those who served as prisoners of war and the thousands who remain missing in action since World War II.

The POW/MIA flag, made official by Congress in 1990, may be flown six days a year, smaller and always below the United States flag: Armed Forces Day (third Saturday in May); Memorial Day (last Monday in May); Flag Day (June 14); Independence Day (July 4); National POW/MIA Recognition Day (third Friday in September), and Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11).

The day of recognition was created in the 1998 Defense Authorization Act, stating the annual event “honors prisoners of war and our missing and their families, and highlights the government’s commitment to account for them.”

And yet thousands remain unaccounted: World War II has at least 73,000 missing plus those lost at sea; 7,500 from the Korean War, 1,600 from Vietnam, 126 during the clandestine operations of the Cold War years, and two from Desert Storm. Both of those missing are Navy pilots whose planes went down in the Persian Gulf: Lt. Cmdr. Barry T. Cooke, flying an A-6 aircraft on Feb. 2, 1991, followed by Lt. Robert J. Dwyer, in his FA-18 aircraft on Feb. 5, 1991.

A Naval History and Heritage Command publication, The Battle Behind Bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War, offers a glimpse of how the POWs coped with torture, disease and untreated wounds in the unforgiving environment of Southeast Asia, whether their time in captivity was spent in the jungles or jails. The book was released in 2010 by the late Stuart I. Rochester, the chief historian in the office of the Secretary of Defense.

No servicemen had suffered through a longer, rougher captivity, or played a more prominent role in the leadership and life of the American-occupied prison camps in Southeast Asia, than the veteran Navy and Marine POWs among the Operation Homecoming returnees, Rochester states in the book’s prologue.

They comprised a high percentage of the early captures, dominated the ranks of the early seniors, and contributed vitally by deed and by example to the high standard of conduct and resistance that so distinguished the POWs of the Vietnam War.

All told, the nearly 600 U.S. prisoners, including 25 civilians, repatriated between February and April 1973 during Operation Homecoming included 138 Navy and 26 Marine Corps personnel.

Additionally, another seven Navy POWs had either escaped (two) or been released (five) earlier, and nine died in captivity. Captured Marines besides the Homecoming contingent included nine who died while incarcerated, 10 who escaped, two who were released prior to 1973, and one who was returned in 1979.

Vietnam POWs, Rochester explains, had an influence and significance disproportionate to their small numbers, owing to their being at the center of a war (waged in large part by propaganda and political persuasion) in which prisoners were key pawns and bargaining chips.

Capt. Jeremiah Denton

Capt. Jeremiah Denton

It was fitting the senior officer aboard the first plane to land at Clark Air Base in the Philippines following the release of the American prisoners of war from Hanoi in 1973 was a naval officer. When a thin, wan Capt. Jeremiah Denton descended the ramp to a bank of microphones and uttered the poignant words, “We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances,” he spoke for the entire body of comrades who over the past decade had endured the longest wartime captivity of any group of U.S. prisoners in the nation’s history.

Captain Donald Cook, the first U.S. Marine captured in Vietnam and the first and only Marine in history to receive the Medal of Honor for exemplary conduct while in captivity.

Marine Capt. Donald Cook

In the book are vignettes of those POWs and what they did to survive the conditions, although some did not. Capt. Donald Cook was the first Marine captured when the Army of Vietnam battalion he was accompanying was overrun by Viet Cong in 1964. He refused to cooperate with his captors, or even respond to their commands, which resulted in less food for him. He contracted malaria, was forced to trek 200 miles between camps while ill.

In 1967, now also suffering with anemia and dysentery, he died during another move between camps. Promoted to colonel while in captivity, Col. Cook was the first and only Marine in history to receive a Medal of Honor for exemplary conduct while in captivity. USS Donald Cook was named to honor Col. Cook.

There are stories about other senior and well-known POWs, such as Lt. Cmdr. John McCain and future Adm. James Stockdale. But one of the more remarkable stories is about the youngest Navy POW to be jailed in North Vietnam, Seaman Apprentice Douglas B. Hegdahl. The 19-year-old South Dakotan had joined the Navy only six months before, lured by a chance to visit Australia. He was assigned to serve as an ammunition handler on the guided-missile cruiser USS Canberra (CAG 2) in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Seaman Apprentice Douglas B. Hegdahl on cleanup detail at Plantation.

Seaman Apprentice Douglas B. Hegdahl on cleanup detail at Plantation.

Eager to witness a night bombardment, he went topside without authorization and was knocked overboard by the concussion of the ship’s giant guns on April 6, 1967. He stayed afloat for several hours before being picked up by North Vietnamese fishermen and turned over to militiamen and then trucked to Hoa Lo.

Hegdahl’s story that he had fallen off a ship was so preposterous to his captors they thought he was a spy. After being slapped around for a few days, he finally convinced officials he was just a raw recruit and then cunningly played up his country bumpkin demeanor. More than 6-feet tall and near-sighted without the glasses he lost overboard, Hegdahl played the fool to gain extra communication opportunities and time outdoors. In the process, he became a valuable reconnaissance operative and “mailman” in the POW network.

Using the tune of “Old McDonald Had A Farm” as a mnemonic device, Hegdahl memorized 256 captive’s names, their shoot-down dates and a personal reference to prove his information was correct, all gained through an elaborate tap code created by the prisoners.

A peace delegation visit in 1969 offered the opportunity for the North Vietnamese to free a few pre-chosen POWs while hiding the true numbers of POWs held captive and the atrocities they endured. Although the POWs had pledged that no one would accept an early release unless all were released, Lt. Cmdr. Richard “Dick” Stratton, the senior officer at the Plantation, ordered Hegdahl to accept it. And so unbeknownst to the enemy, Hegdahl “sang” a detailed accounting of captives and conditions to Naval Intelligence of Hanoi’s neglect and mistreatment of American prisoners that discredited the Communists’ “humane and lenient” claim.

 

Lt. Cmdr. Richard "Dick" Stratton

Lt. Cmdr. Richard “Dick” Stratton

Stratton, who would survive as a POW and retire as a captain in the Navy, credited Hegdahl with saving his life by providing that information. And with his permission, he offers an uncensored, poignant and often hilarious recounting of his time with Hegdahl on his blog, Tales of SE Asia. One includes Hegdahl surreptitiously dumping a little dirt each day into the fuel tanks of the Plantation’s trucks. Over the course of his captivity, Hegdahl disabled five trucks. The country bumpkin who played his captors for a fool would eventually become a civilian instructor in the Navy’s SERE school in California.

Stratton said the emotion he feels on POW/MIA Recognition Day is “relief that I made it and sorrow that others didn’t,” he said Friday morning from his home in Florida. “I am very proud of the efforts being made to account for people who remain missing, from the incredible work being done to identify remains at the laboratory in Hawaii to the folks in Washington who are doing a superb job considering the issues of working with other countries.”

For those returning during Operation Homecoming in 1973, the journey that ended with Denton’s words on the tarmac at Clark brought some of the prisoners home to hard-won honor and tributes and others to new trials. For all of them, their tenure as POWs would be a defining chapter in their lives, just as their homecoming would be a singular moment in the life of the nation that celebrated their return.

When Marine aviator Capt. Harlan Chapman arrived stateside, Gen. Louis Wilson shook his hand and said: “Welcome back to the Marine Corps.” Chapman replied: “Thank you, General, but I never left.”

Please join NHHC today in this video as we remember those who endured so much as prisoners of war and never forget those who remaining missing.

 
 
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