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.’” 

Aug 3

Nautilus Navigates North Pole, 3 August 1958

Wednesday, August 3, 2011 12:01 AM

The first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN 571), departed New London, Conn., on 19 August 1957 for her first voyage under the Arctic ice pack. The 1,383-mile journey was of great strategic significance, as the frozen northern oceans had previously been a “no mans’ land” since diesel-electric boats could not travel freely under ice. Her second voyage to the Arctic the following year produced even more historic results.

On 25 April 1958 she departed New London, Conn., for the West Coast, under the guise of a Pacific deployment. In reality she was embarking upon Operation Sunshine, the first attempt to cross the North Pole by ship. Departing Seattle, Washington, on 9 June, the submarine entered the Chukchi Sea on 19 June but was turned back by deep draft ice in those shallow waters. On 28 June she arrived at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to await better ice conditions. By 23 July her wait was over and Nautilus set a course northward, submerging in the Barrow Sea Valley on 1 August. On 3 August, at 2315 (EDST), Nautilus became the first ship to reach the geographic North Pole. After 96 hours and 1,830 miles under the ice, she surfaced northeast of Greenland, having completed the first successful voyage across the North Pole.

Aug 2

Incidental anti-Piracy Ops, Gulf of Siam, Aug 1945

Tuesday, August 2, 2011 12:01 AM

On 15 July 1945, USS Bugara (SS 331) departed Subic Bay for the diesel-electric boat’s third war patrol. Under the command of CDR Arnold F. Schade, a veteran of ten war patrols and the second most experienced man in the boat (Chief Electrician’s Mate N. H. Leggett had eleven patrols under his belt), Bugara sailed south to the Gulf of Siam. 

Bugara’s first enemy contact was an enemy convoy spotted by radar off Malaya the night of the 19th. Schade fired nine of her twelve torpedoes at two small tankers, a sea truck, a patrol boat and a trawler, all of which ran deep (despite a six-foot setting) and missed. This produced a certain amount of frustration. The CO then decided on a different approach; surface, inspect any junks or small craft and sink those operated by the enemy. 

Four days later, on the 24th, Bugara’s crew boarded two junks, one loaded with airplane parts and the other with sugar and sewing machines, both bound for Singapore. The American crew took the ships’ papers, brought the native crews off (the Japanese crew members invariably went over the side to avoid capture), and then sank the captured ships with gunfire. The native crews were put in their own lifeboats and towed close inshore.

Over the next two weeks, Bugara contacted 62 junks and small craft and, following the above policy, sank 57 of them with gunfire.

One case proved particularly interesting. 

On 2 August, Bugara sailors boarded and sank three schooners and a coaster before breaking for lunch. Then, at 1320, the boat happened on a new 150 ton schooner anchored in deep water east of Singora. As the submarine closed, the Americans spotted six large canoes nearby; full of Malay pirates attacking a Chinese crew on a Japanese vessel carrying rice for Singapore. 

As put by the war patrol report, “We took off the Chinese crew and their life boat. The pirates fled. We sank the Jap [sic] ship, then shot up all the pirates and their boats. Put the Chinese ashore – and they love us still, inasmuch as the pirates had already killed two of their crew.”

Jul 29

Learning from the Forrestal fire, 29 July 1967

Friday, July 29, 2011 12:01 AM

On 29 July 1967 an F-4 Phantom awaiting launch on the flight deck of USS Forrestal (CVA 59) accidentally fired a rocket into another parked aircraft. Several hundred gallons of jet fuel spilled onto the flight deck and ignited. The resulting fire engulfed several other aircraft and caused ordnance on those aircraft to explode. The burning fuel then made its way into the ship’s interior through holes created by exploding bombs. The fire, which took over twenty-four hours to extinguish completely, resulted in 134 sailors killed and 161 injured. The ship was under repair for two years at a cost of $72 million.

The Navy quickly convened two investigations. The investigation focusing on the Forrestal fire uncovered serious deficiencies in ship-wide predeployment training, individual training, and firefighting equipment quantity, standardization, and distribution. The more wide-ranging investigation of aircraft carrier operations identified fleet-wide issues with aircraft carrier design, such as how burning fuel would drain from the flight deck; the ability of crew to escape from dark, smoky compartments; and general announcing systems that were unintelligible on a noisy hangar deck. Some items, such as the location and required effectiveness of flight deck firefighting equipment, were common to both reports.

Most of the recommendations were accepted and implemented over time. Ship alteration packages were prepared to implement some of the recommendations on existing ships, and firefighting improvements were incorporated into two aircraft carriers then under construction, Nimitz (CVN 68) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). In addition, new research and development projects were initiated, damage control training centers expanded, and training requirements improved.

While the Forrestal fire was a tragedy for the Navy, it led to improvements in training, equipment, and design that are in use to this day. The Navy’s response to the Forrestal fire—the studies, reviews, decisions, and follow-through—provides a valuable example of organizational learning that is relevant to today’s decision makers.