Oct 25

Devil Dogs and Green Berets: Maj. Brantley A. “Junk” Bond

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 12:01 AM

A fierce battle erupted in Afghanistan as a Taliban armored column attempted to overrun a team of Green Berets, on Thursday 25 October 2001. Barely a month after 9/11, fighting flared across the embattled country as special operators fought alongside allied tribesmen to direct air strikes against Usama bin Lāden and his al-Qāidah (The Base) thugs, and Mullah (master) Muhammad A. Umar and his Taliban extremists.

The Green Berets desperately called in close air support, and the pilots included Major Brantley A. “Junk” Bond, USMC, of VMFA-251 Thunderbolts, embarked on board Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). As Bond rolled in, enemy gunners opened up intense fire, but undaunted, the Marine maneuvered his F/A-18C Hornet into tight turns and blasted the tribesmen one-by-one, knocking out four or five anti-aircraft guns.

The forward air controller realized that Bond had a better view of the enemy and passed control of the other aircraft to the Marine. Wasting no time, Junk Bond dropped a five hundred pound bomb about sixty yards in front of a tank, close enough that the concussion knocked the tank out and probably wounded some of the crew.

The explosion flushed out other tanks and armored personnel carriers, and the terrorists and their supporters perceived their precarious position and attempted to disperse, but as each pilot checked in with him, Bond “lazed” (laser designated for guided ordnance) their targets, directing a veritable storm of fire against the enemy. All told, aircrew put as many as fifteen vehicles out of action, and Bond received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his intrepidity during the critical battle.

Oct 17

Innovative Scientific Analysis Tool at Underwater Archaeology Conservation Lab

Monday, October 17, 2011 1:54 PM

Dr. Raymond Hayes (left) and Head Conservator George Schwarz examine p-XRF data taken from a Civil War-era Aston pistol recovered from USS HOUSATONIC at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.

NHHC volunteer, Dr. Raymond Hayes, Professor Emeritus at Howard University, Washington DC, and Woods Hole Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, has partnered with the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory (UACL) to analyze archaeological materials from historic naval shipwrecks.

Dr. Hayes has been awarded a Research & Discovery Grant from Olympus INNOV-X to examine archaeological components from shipwrecks using an innovative Delta portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) unit. This state-of-the-art technology uses an x-ray beam to identify the specific elements present within archaeological material. Dr. Hayes’ research endeavors to use this data to trace the elemental composition of a wood sample back to original construction materials, marine sediments, and sealing or fastening materials applied to wooden ships. Included in the study are data from USS Housatonic, USS Tulip, and CSS Alabama, as well as recently recovered artifacts from the 2011 USS Scorpion field project, the archaeological investigation of a Patuxent River shipwreck believed to be the flagship of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, which fought to defend Washington D.C. from the British during the War of 1812. As part of the Navy’s commemoration of the Flotilla’s important role in the War of 1812, a full excavation of the USS Scorpion site is anticipated.

Scientific technologies like pXRF provide archaeologists and conservators valuable chemical information that can be used to better conserve and interpret submerged cultural heritage. An innovative feature of pXRF devices is that they can be used in both the laboratory and the field to analyze artifacts recovered from wet environments. Artifacts from underwater sites can be difficult to initially identify as they may be encased within thick concretions or obscured by unidentifiable corrosion products, however, pXRF data can give archaeologists data which can signal the presence of an artifact. 

Detail of portable X-Ray Fluorescence machine collecting data from Civil War-era pistol.

Following recovery from underwater archaeological sites, artifacts are particularly susceptible to damage caused by soluble salts (e.g., chlorides) accumulated from the water or sediment that surrounded them for decades or even centuries. If allowed to crystallize, the salts expand and cause catastrophic damage which may result in complete destruction of the artifact. Data from pXRF can determine the concentration of chlorine within an artifact to help conservators understand the degree of salt contamination and mitigate it properly. During conservation, pXRF can help conservators develop the most optimal treatment plan for artifacts and reveal the presence of toxic components, such as lead, cadmium or arsenic. Comparative data may also reveal similarities or differences in artifact composition that could suggest age and geographic origins.

This is only one part of the extensive research that goes on at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Lab, where over 2300 artifacts recovered from US Navy shipwrecks and aircraft wrecks are curated, 140 of which are currently undergoing active conservation treatment. The Laboratory, located in BL 46 of WNYD, also hosts public tours showcasing important artifacts that span from the American Revolution to World War II and make the Navy’s history come alive! Please feel free to contact us anytime (202.433.9731) if you’d like to visit!

 For more information about the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch and the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory, please visit http://www.history.navy.mil/underwater.

Oct 12

The Navy’s 236th Birthday

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 1:57 PM

October 13th, 1775

Creation of the United States Navy

Old Ironsides

October 13th marks the 236th birthday of the U. S. Navy, which was originally founded in 1775 as the Continental Navy. Two hundred years later, in 1975, Proceedings issued a Bicentennial salute, featuring excerpts from past articles which described the birth and growth of the Navy during the Revolutionary War. Below is an excerpt from Charles O. Paullin’s article, “Origin of the Continental Navy,” which was printed in November 1927:

In the summer of 1775 the need for a Continental Navy was less urgent than that of an army, and the establishment of a navy was not discussed in Congress. Outside of that body, however, suggestions for a naval force were made as early as July. Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 5

HM3 Edward C. Benfold

Monday, September 5, 2011 12:01 AM

Hospital Corpsman Third Class Edward Clyde Benfold hailed from Staten Island, New York, and enlisted as a hospital recruit in the U.S. Navy in June 1949. Following additional medical training, and previous duty with the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific (FMFPac), HM3 Benfold rejoined FMFPac in late July 1952 for duty with the 1st Marine Division in Korea.

On 5 September 1952, just a few weeks after his arrival in Korea, HM3 Benfold was killed in action while treating two Marines. He was serving with Company E, 2d Battalion, 1st Marines in operations against enemy aggressor forces during the battle of “Bunker Hill.” When his company was subjected to heavy artillery fire, and an assault by a battalion-sized enemy force, he moved from casualty to casualty under intense enemy fire, administering aid. As Benfold approached a crater where two Marines lay wounded, he saw two grenades land inside, while two enemy soldiers charged the position. He rushed in, grabbing the grenades, and, according to his award citation, “leaped out of the crater and hurled himself against the onrushing hostile soldiers, pushing the grenades against their chests and killing both the attackers. Mortally wounded while carrying out this heroic act, Benfold, by his great personal valor and resolute spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of almost certain death, was directly responsible for saving the lives of his two comrades.” 

Rear Admiral John H. Brown, Jr., Commandant of the 4th Naval District, presented the Medal of Honor to HM3 Benfold’s young son, who was just over a year old at the time, on 16 July 1953. The guided missile destroyer USS Benfold, named in honor of the hospital corpsman, was launched on 12 November 1994. In December 2004, more than 50 years after the Korean War, 300 members of the Arleigh Burke class destroyer bearing his name provided humanitarian relief to tens of thousands survivors of the tsunami in Indonesia.

Aug 31

The “Expedition Hurricane” and Port Royal

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 9:31 AM
1861 Hurricane Season


The East Coast is stilling the effects of Hurricane Irene’s grasp. The CAT 1 storm cut a swath up the East Coast, causing widespread damage from North Carolina to Vermont. We sincerely hope everyone was safe during this past weekend’s storm. 

Looking through the records, it seems that a similar hurricane to Irene occurred 150 years ago. On the heels of the Port Royal Expedition, Hurricane Eight, better known as the “Expedition Hurricane,” severely impacted the timeline for the Union thrust into the vital Confederate stronghold. 

According to the National Hurricane Center, the three day storm was the last of the season. “Hurricane Eight” began on the southwestern tip of Florida and climbed up the east coast. Not unlike Irene, the storm made landfall along the Outer Banks of North Carolina as a CAT 1, slowly diminishing speed up the coast before downgrading to a tropical storm by nightfall on 2 November. At its height, the hurricane reached winds approaching 80 mph.

The storm caused many problems for the United States Navy preparing for the expedition to capture the Confederate center along the Port Royal Sound. Although the earliest storm warning occurred in late October while the fleet assembled, the most devastating impact came on the 2nd.

Most of the ships involved in the storm were spared, many having to unload precious cargo to stay afloat. One ship which did not fair well, the transport Governor, lost seven Marines during a fateful rescue by the USS Sabine‘s crew. Writing to Blockade commander Samuel F. Du Pont, Southern Division Marine Corps Commander JNO. George Reynolds communicated the harrowing wind, waves, and rescue:

“The sea was running so high, and we being tossed so violently, it was deemed prudent to slack up the hawser and let the Governor fall astern of the frigate with the faint hope of weathering the gale till morning. All our provisions and other stores, indeed every movable article, were thrown overboard, and the water casks started to lighten the vessel. From half past 3 until daybreak the Governor floated in comparative safety, notwithstanding the water was rapidly gaining on her. At daybreak preparations were made for sending boats to our relief although the sea was running high, and it being exceedingly dangerous for a boat to approach the guards of the steamer. In consequence the boats laid off and the men were obliged to jump into the sea, amid were then hauled into the boats. All hands were thus providentially rescued from the wreck with the exception, I am pained to say, of 1 corporal and 6 privates, who were drowned or killed by the crush or contact of the vessels. Those drowned were lost through their disobedience of orders in leaving the ranks, or abandoning their posts.”


Despite the loss of ship and life, the fleet of 77 ships went on to capture the sound at the Battle of Port Royal. Stay tuned in November to the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial Blog for more information on that specific battle.

Aug 27

Naval Bombardment: Into the Lion’s Den

Saturday, August 27, 2011 12:01 AM

“There wasn’t even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush,” ruminated the character Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. “Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech–and nothing happened.” Although Conrad was writing about a French warship off the coast of Africa in the late 19th century, his words also might have described the thoughts of many destroyer and cruiser Sailors during the Vietnam War. Firing at far away targets obscured by thick tropical foliage, these Sailors rarely saw the effects of their efforts. The only visible sign of success was an incoming round from an enemy shore battery or the occasional secondary explosion. Their actions, however, were strongly felt by the enemy.

During the Sea Dragon naval bombardment campaign (25 October 1966–31 October 1968), Navy surface ships struck a variety of coastal targets along the North and South Vietnamese coast ranging from surface-to-air missile sites and coastal gun emplacements to bridges and boat repair facilities. Sea Dragon forces also sank or damaged over 2,000 enemy logistics boats plying the coastal waters of North Vietnam. In response, enemy coastal gunners often dueled with American destroyers and cruisers. During the summer of 1967, Communist batteries fired on American NGFS ships an average of 10–15 times per month. By the end of the campaign, hostile fire had damaged 29 surface ships, killed five Sailors, and wounded another 26. There were other dangers. On 1 October 1972, one of Newport News’ 8-inch guns exploded, killing 20 Sailors and injuring numerous others. The accident represented the single largest loss to the bombardment squadron during the Vietnam War.

With the exception of a small number of “protective reaction” strikes against enemy air defense sites, bombardment against North Vietnam ceased in late October 1968 and did not resume until the Communist Easter Offensive in 1972. During the early days of that campaign, surface combatants provided beleaguered South Vietnamese troops in the Quang Tri Province with 24-hour artillery when bad weather prevented aircraft from providing much in the way of close air support. After President Nixon resumed bombing attacks against North Vietnam on 10 May 1972, Navy cruisers and destroyers again began launching strikes against North Vietnam. One of the largest of these attacks occurred on 27 August 1972 in the Haiphong-Cat Bi area.

The purpose of the raid was to knock out coastal defense and SAM sites as well as other military targets in Haiphong Harbor or the “Lion’s Den” as Sailors often called it. The Navy plan called for Newport News (CA-148), Providence (CLG-6), Rowan (DD-782), and Robison (DDG-12) to enter the area under the cover of night. About ten miles off the coast, Providence and Robison would peal off to hit targets southwest of Cat Bi, and the other two ships would enter Haiphong channel. With its 8-inch/55 guns, Newport News would be the pair’s heavy hitter, focusing on the nine most significant targets. Rowan was to screen Newport News and take out coastal defense sites with her 5-inch/38 guns. Rowan also possessed an antisubmarine rocket launcher that had been converted to fire Shrike missiles—an antiradiation weapon designed to silence SAM site radars.

Captain John Renn, the commander of Destroyer Squadron 25, led the raid from Robison. Vice Admiral James L. Holloway III, the Seventh Fleet commander, also participated as an observer on Newport News. Neither officer worried too much about North Vietnamese shore batteries. “The guns being used were field artillery pieces and not designed to track moving targets,” Holloway later explained. However, if a ship became immobilized within range of one of those guns, it would only take a few minutes for enemy gunners to completely decimate it. Both pairs of attackers would be well within range of these guns as they attacked their targets at Haiphong and Cat Bi.

At 2200, Newport News went to general quarters as it approached the area in column with the other ships. Holloway joined the ship’s skipper, Captain Walter F. Zartman, on the bridge, but assured the captain that he was just an observer and “would stay out of his hair.” The ship approached the channel at 25 knots and began firing on targets two and a half miles southeast of the Do Son light.

Shore batteries soon returned fire, giving the U.S. ships excellent aim points for counterbattery fire. Unlike U.S. Navy projectiles, which employed flashless powder, the powder in the North Vietnamese rounds caused brilliant muzzle flashes. Sailors in the rigging reported the enemy’s gun positions and fire. It was later estimated that enemy gunners fired approximately 300 rounds at American ships that night, but none found its mark.

At one point, Holloway stepped outside the pilothouse to experience the full sensation of the battle. “The rush of wind, the hot blast of the guns, and the acrid smell of gunsmoke differed little from what I had experienced on board the destroyer Bennion (DD 662) in World War II,” he recalled. During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Holloway had served as the Bennion’s gunnery officer when she torpedoed a Japanese battleship and sank an enemy destroyer.

Newport News ceased firing at 2333 and prepared to egress from the harbor. Captain Zartman informed Holloway that all of the ship’s targets “had been covered” and that secondary explosions were noted at Cat Bi airfield and an ammunition dump. Overall, the four American ships expended 700 rounds, causing five secondary explosions. Rowan also fired two Shrikes at a radar site east of Haiphong.

As the two men went over the night’s target list, a telephone talker tugged the captain’s sleeve. “Captain,” he said. “Combat Information Center (CIC) reports a surface target, designated Skunk Alpha, at 10,000 yards bearing 088, heading for us at high speed.” According to Holloway, intelligence sources “seemed to agree that torpedo- or missile-equipped high-speed patrol craft would not be a problem,” so this contact came as a bit of a surprise.

The P-6-class Soviet-manufactured fast patrol boat had waited to ambush Newport News in the vicinity of Ile de Norway. Numerous rocks and pinnacles near the island made it difficult for Newport News’s radars to lock onto the patrol boat. It’s relative bearing was also dead ahead, making it impossible for the cruiser’s 8-inch guns to fire a low angle shot (an electronics antenna on the forecastle blocked such shots).

Newport News swung hard to the starboard to unmask the battery and commence firing. Within minutes, the contact appeared to be on fire. CIC then informed the bridge of two additional patrol boats 16,000 yards dead ahead. Newport News came hard port to bring its guns to bear on the new targets—a heading that now put the ship on a collision course with the shoals of Ile de Norway.

The zigzagging approach of the patrol boats combined with darkness and the confusing effect of the cruiser’s own fire made it difficult for the 21,000-ton behemoth to sink these tiny targets. When a call came in from Providence about a possible fourth contact, Holloway told Zartman that he was going to call in air support. “Attention any Seventh Fleet aircraft in the vicinity of Haiphong,” Holloway announced on a special Navy frequency reserved for such emergencies, “This is Jehova himself aboard USS Newport News with a shore bombardment force in Haiphong Harbor. We are engaged with several surface units and need some illumination to help us sort things out.”

“Jehovah, this is Raven Four Four, inbound with a flight of two Corsairs. We have flares and Rockeye [cluster bombs] aboard,” Lieutenant (jg) William W. Pickavance of Attack Squadron 93 replied. Holloway cleared the two planes to attack. One of the A-7s illuminated the area with a flare while the other dropped a Rockeye, which along with gunfire from the cruiser and Rowan, finished off the targets. Later, intelligence analysts credited Newport News with destroying one boat, Rowan with damaging a second, and the A-7 with “possibly sinking” a third.

Following the engagement, Newport News rendezvoused with Providence and Robison and steamed down the coast to Quang Tri Province to provide ARVN troops with gunfire support. A little over a month later on a similar mission south of the DMZ, one Newport News’s 8-inch gun barrels exploded, killing19 Sailors and injuring another ten. The accident represented the single largest loss to the NGFS squadron during the Vietnam War. Hence, the Navy’s cruiser and destroyer Sailors and their warships did their part in the Linebacker campaign.

Aug 4

Establishment of U. S. Coast Guard

Thursday, August 4, 2011 2:00 AM

August 4, 1790

 Congress establishes the U. S. Coast Guard as part of a new revenue law.

In March 1976, Proceedings published a special issue about the U.S. Coast Guard, which included an article by Commander Roger P. Vance, U. S. Coast Guard Reserve, about the origin of the Coast Guard. Vance’s article describes how, under the newly-formed Constitution, the need for a revenue system that would discourage smuggling resulted in the creation of a small fleet of cutters responsible for enforcing the revenue laws of the new American government:

We now know our Constitution to be sound and durable. But in early 1789, it was only an ambitious, untested plan. As members of the new government gathered in New York City that year, they would have to breathe life into the new instrument. And they would have to do so under the burden of debt inherited from the Continental Congress. They faced no problem quite so immediate and serious as that of finance. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 3

Jimmy Thach and Close Air Support, Korean War

Wednesday, August 3, 2011 12:01 AM

They were “the best orders anybody ever received,” attested Captain Jimmy Thach commanding officer of the USS Sicily (CVE-118): “Render all possible support to ground forces. Direct air support or interdiction at your discretion.” It was the desperately dark summer of 1950, American and South Korean defenders of South Korea were squeezed into the Pusan Perimeter by the North Koreans. Captain Thach’s escort carrier had aboard a squadron of Marine F4U Corsair fighter/bombers, VMF-214, the Black Sheep, whose main purpose was to provide close air support to the Marines of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade.

Thach, his Sailors and the Marines of the Black Sheep squadron made an impressive team. They flew their first strikes on 3 August off Korea’s south coast where the threat was greatest, a couple of days later Thach took the Sicily, up the west coast of Korea and the Black Sheep struck North Korean targets around Inchon and Seoul. By 8 August however, they were back in position off the south coast of Korea, ready to provide close air support to the Marine infantry of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade who closed with the enemy that day for the first time of the war. Thach parked the Sicily close to shore, the best place to be; there were no land bases available in Korea for air operations.

From that day until the Marines were pulled out of the Pusan Perimeter the Sicily-based Black Sheep were ever ready and overhead with effective CAS for the Marine grunts. When fighting was intense, such as around Pohang, Thach parked his carrier within twenty miles of the coast, putting targets just 12 minutes away, the Marine pilots could carry another bomb or napalm tank instead of a fuel tank.

The CAS provided by the Navy/Marine Corps team stood in direct contrast to the chaotic command and control situation that prevailed earlier. Captain Thach, aboard the Sicily, listened to the air strikes on the radio: “It was a beautiful thing,” he recalled, “like going from confusing darkness into bright daylight…. You should have seen those pilots when they came back. He’d sigh a big sigh of relief and say, ‘Now we’re doing what we’re supposed to do in the right way.’”