Oct 27

The First Navy Day: October 27, 1922

Saturday, October 27, 2012 1:00 AM

DURING the World War there was a club for the enlisted men of the Navy and Marine Corps located at 509 Fifth Avenue, New York City, known then as the Navy Club. The club was operated by a group of ladies under the leadership of Mrs. William H. Hamilton. Countless tales could be told of the club of the war period, but this article does not concern those years which were heroic and memorable to all who visited there. Some time after the Armistice it was decided that the club should be continued as a permanent institution. The rented quarters on Fifth Avenue were unsuitable for a real man’s club, and two houses were purchased on East 41st Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues. How the money was raised and how interest in the volunteer work was continued after the glamour of war service was ended is a story all its own and credit goes chiefly to a noble group of women and a few business men who somehow did the impossible and made the Manhattan Navy Club a living thing, permanent in its ideals and in its own home. Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 25

First Submerged Launching of an A-3 Polaris Missile – 26 Oct 1963

Thursday, October 25, 2012 2:22 PM

On October 26, 1963,the first submerged launching of the Navy’s 2500 nautical mile A-3 Polaris Missile was successfully made by the gold crew of the USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619), commanded by Commander James B. Wilson, USN, from a point some 30 miles off Cape Canaveral, Florida. A practice warhead was hurled over 2,000 NM down the Atlantic Missile Range to land on target. The A-3 Missile added 1,000 NM miles to the reach of the Polaris nuclear retaliatory missile system.

Oct 22

Cuban Missile Crisis: “When the Right Words Counted”

Monday, October 22, 2012 1:00 AM

On 22 October 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered a televised speech, arguably “the most serious speech delivered in his lifetime” and the “most frightening presidential address” in U.S. history.’ Soviet missile-launch sites had been discovered under construction in Cuba. The response resuIted from deliberations among the President and his ad hoc Executive Committee (ExCom).

Its final draft was improved significantly by an unlikely person: the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral George W. Anderson, Jr.  Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 9

140th Birthday of the U. S. Naval Institute

Tuesday, October 9, 2012 1:00 AM

October 9th, 1873

First meeting of the U. S. Naval Institute

The U.S. Naval Institute was born on 9 October 1873, when fifteen officers met at the U.S. Naval Academy’s Department of Physics and Chemistry “…to organize a Society of Officers of the Navy for the purpose of discussing matters of professional interest” with Rear Admiral John L. Worden presiding. The meeting was likely the brainchild of Commodore Foxhall Parker & organized by Lieutenant Charles Belknap. The meeting was held in the department’s lecture room which was on the second floor, front of the building shown in the center of this picture dated 1873. School ships, the frigates Constitution and Santee, and sloops-of-war Marion and Dale can be seen at right. The double turreted monitor, Amphitrite, is on the Severn River behind the building.
Sep 24

First Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier Launched at Newport News, Virginia – 24 September 1960

Monday, September 24, 2012 1:00 AM

Enterprise Launching

The Big “E”

By Captain Vincent P. de Poix, U. S. Navy, published in the June 1962 issue of Proceedings magazine:

From an operational standpoint, the ability of Enterprise to accelerate and decelerate merits first mention. In both cases our capability exceeds any conventional aircraft carrier. This capability is of tremendous benefit when carrying out our primary function of air operations in that we can turn into the wind at a later time with assurance that we can produce the requisite 35 knots of wind over the deck for launching or recovering aircraft.
During periods of light wind in particular since she can accelerate at such a tremendous rate- it is possible to steam down wind or along our intended course for longer periods and still turn into wind and be up to speed at the time appointed for aircraft operations.
We can decelerate very rapidly at the end of a launch or recovery in order to take our helicopters aboard if this course of action is preferable to turning out of the wind. The helicopters are subject to definite wind limitations which are le s than the relative wind over the deck which we require during fixed wing air operations. Recovering our helicopters rapidly means time saved in reassuming our intended track.
Our superior ability to accelerate and decelerate can also extricate us from tight spots in a hurry if necessary. This increases the safety of operation of the nuclear carrier as well as that of other ships which may be involved in a potential collision.
Enterprise is equipped with eight of the most powerful nuclear reactors now supplying power for propulsion. These reactors, operating on four shafts and arranged in pairs, can develop over 200,000 shaft horsepower. In fact, on trials, Ente1prise developed more horsepower than any ship in history.
It almost goes without saying that the high speed we can maintain continuously for long periods of time is not only a tactical but a strategic advantage. Among the tactical advantages are those of the ASW protection inherent in the ability to steam at high speed without necessary regard for depletion of fuel on board. Strategic advantages accrue in several ways. One is that the nuclear carrier can proceed at high speed to any trouble spot to which it may be directed and arrive considerably a head of any other carrier. And on arrival, the nuclear carrier can be ready to execute any assigned task without a needed pause for refueling at sea from tankers.
Much has been said about the fact that Enterprise makes no smoke. The greatest booster of this advantage are the pilots who land aboard, seconded closely, of course, by those charged with topside cleanliness and upkeep. This unobscured visibility and decreased turbulence in landing also increase safety. Our early operations point this out, since we have already had over 3,000 landings aboard Enterprise with no accidents or near accidents. Another “no smoke” factor involves aircraft cleanliness. Airplanes aboard Enterprise are not affected by corrosion caused by stack gas components.
Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 15

Anniversary of the Establishment of the Naval Academy

Wednesday, August 15, 2012 8:30 AM

Fort Severn, 1845, as Naval School: (1) Officers' Quarters, (2) "The Abbey," (3) Mess hall, kitchen, and recitation hall, (4) "Apollo Row," (5) "Rowdy Row," (6) "Brandywine Cottage," (7) "Gas House," (8) Superintendent's house, (9) Gate house, (10) Row of poplar trees, (11) Superintendent's and Professors' offices, (12) Old mulberry tree, (13) Fort Severn, (14) Site of practice battery

The Naval Academy was established at Annapolis, Maryland on August 15, 1845, on the former site of Fort Severn. The following article was published in the October, 1935 issue of Proceedings, which was dedicated to celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Naval Academy. It describes the obstacles that had to be overcome to establish the first organized naval school, and the standards that the first midshipmen were held to. After 167 years, the campus has grown, but the basic values instilled in the men and women of the Naval Academy are still the same.



THERE HAD BEEN much opposition in the Navy to any attempt to educate midshipmen ashore. It was felt that only by practical experience aboard ship could the youngster, fresh from home, be properly trained for his work as an officer afloat. Though several suggestions for an organized naval school had been made since the permanent establishment of the Navy in 1794, nothing had been accomplished and the only educational facilities available for the midshipmen up to the War of 1812 had been the instruction of the chaplains who had no special qualifications for such work, except a supposedly liberal education. During the War of 1812 provision had been made for a schoolmaster on each of the 74′s, which were not completed till after the war, but the small pay, cramped quarters, sometimes shared with their pupils, and a very inferior position aboard ship did not draw men of ability. With the increase of pay to $1,200, in 1835, for duty at sea or at a navy yard, some eminent men began to be drawn into the Service as professors of mathematics. They still, up to September, 1842, had to mess with their pupils, however, and continued to suffer constant interruption of their school work aboard ship.

Beginning with the twenties three unorganized governmental schools had come into existence at the navy yards at Norfolk, New York, and Boston, for those midshipmen on waiting orders between cruises. The instruction was very irregular, the midshipmen attending or not as they pleased, and discipline, apparently, did not exist. Such lack of education and restraint helped to give rise among the young officers to both intemperance and financial irresponsibility. The early age at which some of the midshipmen entered the Navy, Farragut entering it when only nine, made them peculiarly susceptible to such adverse conditions. Some private nautical schools had come into existence at an earlier date and some of the younger officers had even attended college, one midshipman, indeed, going to West Point. A fourth school established by the government in 1839, at the Naval Asylum in Philadelphia, was really the forerunner of the Naval Academy, for it was on account of their proficiency of attainments at the Naval Asylum School that Professors Chauvenet and Lockwood, Lieutenant Ward, and Passed Midshipman Marcy were selected to be members of the faculty at the permanent naval school to be organized at Fort Severn, Annapolis, by Secretary Bancroft. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 9

The Battle of Savo Island

Thursday, August 9, 2012 8:24 AM

A Japanese view of the Battle of Savo Island (from USNI Proceedings vol 83/No 12/Whole No658)

In continuation of its policy to present Both Sides of the War, the Naval Institute is pleased to offer its members a compete account of the Battle of Savo Island from the Japanese point of view. Students of World War II naval history will find certain points clarified by Captain Ohmae’s narrative that have hitherto been ambiguous. This disastrous blow by the Japanese cost an Australian and three American cruiser and reduced Allied naval strength to such an extent as to endanger our first counter-offensive of the war in the Pacific, the invasion of Guadalcanal.


By CAPTAIN TOSHIKAZU OHMAE, former Imperial Japanese Navy


BY APRIL, 1942, the Japanese Navy had accomplished all of its missions originally scheduled for the opening phase of the Pacific War. Since December 7, 1941, it had severely crippled the United States fleet in Hawaii, supported landings, invasions, and seizures of southern areas rich in resources sorely needed by Japan, and had gained control of the sea lanes of the central and western Pacific. And all of these objectives were achieved at far less cost than had been anticipated.

Japanese staff studies for the planning of second-phase operations were initiated as early as January, 1942. By February plans had been worked out and developed between Navy Section of Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo and Combined Fleet. Members of both staffs were so enthusiastic over the early successes that they were now firmly in favor of going ahead with plans for further conquest, before the United States had a chance to recover. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 1

The Birth of the Aircraft Carrier

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 9:20 AM

Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, the army's "Chief Aeronaut" as he styled himself, with a map in one hand and his "spy glass" at his side, just before heading for another 19th Century spy-on-the-sky mission.

THE BIRTH OF THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER (from USNI Proceedings Vol 93/No 4/Whole No 770)

by W. T. Adams

“Look! What’s that?” The gray-clad soldier pointed down the Potomac River toward a group of ships just rounding a bend. “Look just beyond the last one.”

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” his companion answered. “We’d better tell the captain right away!”

On that August day in 1862, as the Confederate lookouts ran back to report, they knew they had sighted something unusual, but they little realized that the ships rounding the bend were the Civil War’s most incredible armada-the first aircraft carrier task force!

Escorted by the powerful screw sloop Wachusett, the double-ended gunboats Tioga and Port Royal, and the armed steamer Delaware, the heart of the force was an unusual craft being towed by a small steamer. It was this vessel that had startled the lookouts, for moored to its unusually large and flat deck was a huge balloon with the name Intrepid standing out clearly on its sides. The vessel was, in fact, America’s first aircraft carrier, the George Washington Parke Custis.

The Custis, however, was not the first waterborne platform used for balloon operations during the Civil War. As early as August 1861, the little armed steamer Fanny had served as a temporary balloon base in Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads. As reported in the Scientific American:

The veteran and daring balloonist J. LaMountain has been at Fortress Monroe making ascensions and examinations of the secessionists’ positions in that vicinity. On the 3rd instant he tried a new scheme in aerial scouting, by taking his balloon on board of the steamboat Fanny, and went out in the middle of the river ascended 2,000 feet, with the balloon secured by a rope to a windlass. The Fanny then proceeded slowly down toward Sewell’s Point, drawing the balloon while in the air, halting, when opposite, for a time, and then proceeding on toward Craney Island and Pig Point. After a long reconnaissance of the points thus brought under his supervision, Mr. LaMountain came down to the boat, attached his balloon to its stern, and came back to the Fortress. He reports that behind the trees on Sewell’s Point he saw the labors on the fortifications actively progressing, and that a large number of guns, on cutting away the trees, will be made to bear on the Rip Raps, on the Fortress and on the shipping. The Rebels ran when they saw him in the air, leaving their works and peeping at him from their shelter and behind trees.

The operation had considerable value from a military standpoint, for the area LaMountain had viewed was screened by a natural growth of trees along the water. Without his aerial observation, the fortifications would never have been detected until after they had been completed and the trees cut away to clear the field of fire.

After that it would appear that LaMountain himself, if no one else, would have been a strong supporter of further waterborne aerial operations. His next one, however, did not occur until 10 August. Records conflict in reporting the use of two different vessels for this ascension-the Fanny and the tug Adriatic. In any event, LaMountain reported using the number of fires and tent lights to aid him in estimating the number of Rebel troops in their encampment. His report was apparently considered valuable, for General Benjamin F. Butler (who accompanied LaMountain aboard ship) promptly forwarded it on to General Winfield Scott. Strangely, however, despite the apparent success of these ascensions, the record shows nothing of waterborne aerial operations by LaMountain.

In the meantime, the Potomac River area had become the scene of extensive military activity. Both Union and Confederate troops were concentrated in the vicinity, and Union ships on the river often ran a gauntlet of rebel fire. The extent of the battlefront made reconnaissance a serious problem, and balloons were soon in use throughout the area. A number of balloon observation stations were established, but the rapidly changing battlefront made rapid movement of balloons essential throughout the entire area.

Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, the army’s “Chief Aeronaut,” as he styled himself, had made extensive improvements in operation of the balloon corps. When first used during the Civil War, balloons were inflated from city gas mains and then towed slowly and tortuously (while inflated) to the scene of action. Movement was slow and difficult at best, and even a minor storm often made the operation disastrous. Lowe had increased balloon mobility by developing portable gas generating equipment that could be carried in the field. Even so, however, the movement of a wagon train with balloon, gas generating equipment, and supplies was often too slow to meet battlefield requirements.

Union Army soldiers inflate a Yankee balloon using Professor Lowe's balloon gas generator.

To improve balloon mobility, Lowe then proposed the use of a boat especially equipped to launch balloons and carry supplies for their operation, and the George Washington Parke Custis was selected. She had been purchased by the Navy Department in August of 1861 as a coal barge for the Washington Navy Yard and was 122 feet long with a 14 foot beam and a 5 1/2-foot depth of hold. Described by one correspondent as a “nondescript sort of craft,” the Custis was modified for balloon work by covering the hull with a wide, flat, overhanging deck all around and adding a small house on the stern. Gas generators, repair parts, and other necessary facilities for balloon operation were provided and she was manned by a crew of army balloon handlers under Lowe’s direction. The operation of the balloon boat, as it was called, was entirely an army affair, except that the lack of motive power and armament required cooperation of the Navy for towing and escort services.

By early November 1861, the strange craft was ready for service, and the first balloon expedition by carrier left the Washington Navy Yard on 10 November. The following day, the first operational ascensions from the balloon boat were made off Mattawoman Creek where Lowe, accompanied by General Daniel E. Sickles, observed Confederates at work constructing batteries at Freestone Point. The results apparently convinced Lowe of the value of his new aircraft carrier, for a few days later he wrote the Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard that “It is my intention to use permanently the boat lately fitted up for balloon purposes.”

By January 1862, Lowe’s balloon corps had expanded its operations westward, with the dispatching of John Steiner and one balloon to Cairo, Illinois. Preparations were underway there for an attack on the Confederate stronghold at Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River, and both Lowe and Steiner believed that balloon reconnaissance would be of value to that theater.

On arriving at Cairo, however, Steiner was brushed off by the army. “Arrived here on Wednesday and reported to General Allen’s,” he reported to Lowe, “but he gave me little satisfaction…. I cannot get any assistance here, they say they know nothing about my balloon business…. They even laugh.” As a result, Steiner offered his services to the naval commander, Andrew H. Foote, who gladly accepted them.

Steiner had observed the advantages of waterborne balloon operations in the Potomac area, and the similarity of the situation at Island No. 10 was immediately apparent. Obtaining the use of a large flatboat, from which a balloon could be operated in a fashion similar to that employed with the Custis on the Potomac, he loaded his equipment aboard and anchored at a point upriver from the Union fleet.

Then on 25 March, John Steiner made the first waterborne balloon ascension in the western theater of operations. Although the weather was hazy, the log of the mortar division, for whom he was spotting, indicated that “the experiment proved satisfactory.”

The following day he again ascended from the flatboat, and the observations were reported to have been of considerable assistance in correcting the fire of the mortar boats. With the surrender of Island No. 10 shortly afterwards, however, the waterborne balloon experiment on western waters came to an end.

Meanwhile, back in the Virginia peninsular campaign, the use of the balloon boat, the former George Washington Parke Custis continued. Lowe was determined to prove the worth of his balloons, and he often advanced to the very forefront of the army. In one instance, for example, he reported that “We moved by water to White House Landing, the balloon boat being the first to land, and was even some distance ahead of the gunboats, while the first night the balloon guard was the advance picket on the river bottom.”

During this same period, waterborne balloon operations were further extended when Commodore Charles Wilkes had one of his ships tow a balloon along a section of the Potomac River, holding it at an elevation of 1,000 feet while examining the surrounding countryside.

The Navy’s increasing role in waterborne balloon operations at that time is further shown by the order of Commodore Wilkes which established the first aircraft carrier task force. “It is desirable,” Wilkes wrote the commander of the USS Wachusett, “to make a balloon reconnaissance in the neighborhood of Fort Powhatan. I desire you to superintend and take charge of the party. The Stepping Stones will be ordered to tow the balloon lighter down tomorrow morning, and leave at 4 o’clock. Near the Fort at Powhatan Station you will find the Delaware, Tioga, and Port Royal-the former off Windmill Point-which vessels you will use as guards and, shou1d the balloonists report any works in progress, you will shell them effectually and destroy the works if, in your opinion, you have sufficient force to overcome any opposition that may be expected. Gather all the information from the balloonists you can, and return by the convoy in the afternoon.”

Several ascensions were made as the task force worked its way up the Potomac, but there is no clear indication of results. The entire record of waterborne balloon operations becomes almost nonexistent in this period.

In this connection, it must be recognized that Lowe’s ballOon corps, from its beginning, had been a sort of semi-independent, quasi-military, quasi-civil organization. Nominally attached to the topographical engineers of the army, it was held together largely by Lowe himself.

Lowe’s control of his balloon corps was weakened in late 1862 and early 1863 by a combination of illness, which forced him to take sick leave, and the transfer of some of his strongest supporters (in particular Generals George B. McClellan, Fitz-John Porter, and Humphreys) to duties where they were no longer in a position to support his work. To make matters even worse, the new chief of the topographical engineers (under whom Lowe worked directly) refused to recognize the independent way in which the balloon corps operated.

The ensuing snarl of red tape made further work impossible for a man of Lowe’s temperament, and led to his resignation immediately after the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1862. Without Lowe’s aggressive leadership, the corps literally fell apart at the seams and there was no further significant use of balloons during the war. The George Washington Parke Custis was sent to the Washington Navy Yard for repairs in the spring of 1863 and soon fell into obscurity with the remainder of the balloon corps.

The potential of waterborne aerial operations was, of course, never fully recognized during the Civil War; and it was not until the airplane was proved successful that the Navy recognized the value of eyes in the sky. Even so, the great aircraft carrier task forces of today must trace their heritage back to the George Washington Parke Custis and the balloon pioneers of the Civil War, who first demonstrated the value of aerial observations from a floating platform.