Dec 16

December 16, 1907: The Great White Fleet departs Hampton Roads for Circumnavigation

Sunday, December 16, 2012 1:00 AM

This selection comes from The Great White Fleet: Its Voyage Arund the World, 1907-1909 by Robert A. Hart, published in 1965.

By late November most of the battleships were at New York, taking in supplies before moving on to Hampton Roads, Virginia, the port of embarkation. Hundreds of young officers came ashore to look at the new Metropolitan Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the notorious suffragette who smoked a cigar each day at noon in Washington Square. New Yorkers gawked, too, gathering around the men in blue, pounding their backs, paying their bills in restaurants, and taking them to the Metropolitan Opera House to hear Enrico Caruso in Rigoletto. They were national heroes and required no fancies from Roosevelt’s publicists to help them look and act the part. Naval popularity since the victory over Spain had drawn some of America’s best men to Annapolis. The United States Navy’s most valuable asset, Britain’s Spectator asserted, was its young officers – keen, ambitious, intellgent, and handsome. Society pages reported their successes in lower Fifth Avenue, where the daughters of the “best families” clustered around them in a lively competion for signatures in velvet-covered dance programs.

Most of the officers took trains to Philadelphia on November 30 for the Army-Navy football game. The crowd of thirty thousand at Franklin Field was loud in its cheers for Admiral Evans and a Navy halfback’s twisting run for a touchdown. The middies won, 6-0, over the heavily favored men from West Point. “Like good soldiers, they fought the sailors hard,” the AP story read, “but it was no use, for it was the Navy’s day.” Fleet personnel returned to New York in a jubilant mood. The next night at a farewell banquet they shouted hip-hip-hurrahs when Admiral Evans announced that his men and ships were ready for anything, “a feast, a frolic or a fight.”

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Dec 5

Launching of First Iron-Hulled Warship

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 1:00 AM

December 5th, 1843

America’s first iron man-of-war, the USS Michigan, is launched.

In 1843, the first iron-hulled and prefabricated warship, the USS Michigan, was launched at Erie, Pennsylvania. A little over a century later, in November 1949, Proceedings published a brief article written by Captain Frederick Oliver, USN (Retired), about the ship’s long and peaceful career. In his article, Oliver describes in great detail the history of the Michigan (later known as the Wolverine), from its unique origins to its slow decline in public interest and, finally, to its unavoidable end:

What is probably the oldest iron ship in the world today, and one of the first iron men-of-war built, is approaching the end of a career that exceeds the century mark by a few years. Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 27

Richard McKenna on the Impact of Defense Drawdowns on Naval Careers

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 4:17 PM

By A. Denis Clift*

EDITOR’S NOTE: At the end of two long wars and a time of defense drawdowns, there is a need to guard against the damage that could be caused by a hollow force. Richard McKenna’s words from the past are worthy of reflection.

Fourteen years before reaching fame as the author of the highly acclaimed novel and subsequent Hollywood hit The Sand Pebbles, Chief Machinist’s Mate Richard McKenna, USN, won the Naval Institute’s Enlisted Prize Essay, 1948, writing on “The Post-War Chief Petty Officer: A Closer Look.”

McKenna was born in 1913, grew up in rural Idaho, and enlisted the Navy in 1931 during the Great Depression. From 1939 – 1941, he was a machinist aboard the USS Luzon (PG-47), a Yangtze River Gunboat, which would give him the setting in The Sand Pebbles aboard the fictional 1920’s Yangtze River Gunboat San Pablo.  

The USS Luzon (PG-47) circa 1930

Throughout his Navy years, McKenna’s deep and abiding interest was machinery and engineering. In the engineering spaces and enlisted living spaces, he became an observer and student of the human condition, ridicules and humiliations, misplaced individuals, and the transcending discoveries of self and accomplishment in such environments. The leading character in The Sand Pebbles is machinist Jake Holman who is a loner, has a passion for engines, is disturbed by the crew’s racist attitude toward the Chinese, and who teaches a Chinese coolie the intricacies of engineering.

“McKenna,” according to editor and biographer Robert Shenk, “spent the whole of World War II in the USS Mount Vernon (AP-22), a ship that delivered troops to battle areas throughout the world. During this tour he was advanced to machinist’s mate chief, a rank he retained after the war. Then he found himself passed along rapidly from ship to ship. He transferred to the USS Wakefield (AP-21) in April 1946, joined the USS Washington (BB-56) in February 1947 for just a month, then was assigned to the USS Wisconsin (BB-64). The next year he went to a fleet training group. This kind of rapid transfer, common to the chief-rich but manpower-poor Navy of the period,” was the subject of his Proceedings Prize essay. Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 8

Operation Torch: November 8-11, 1942

Thursday, November 8, 2012 1:00 AM


“IN ORDER to forestall an invasion of Africa by Germany and Italy, which, if successful, would constitute a direct threat to America across the comparatively narrow sea from western Africa, a powerful American force equipped with adequate weapons of modern warfare and under American command is today landing on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of the French colonies in Africa.

“The landing of this American army is being assisted by the British Navy and Air Forces, and it will in the immediate future be reinforced by a considerable number of divisions of the British Army.

“This combined Allied force, under American command, in conjunction with the British campaign in Egypt, is designed to prevent an occupation by the Axis armies of any part of northern or western Africa and to deny to the aggressor nations a starting point from which to launch an attack against the Atlantic coast of the Americas.

“In addition, it provides an effective second front assistance to our heroic allies in Russia.”

With these few words President Roosevelt announced the landing of American troops on African soil on Sunday, 8 November 1942.

This announcement to the American people was accompanied by one in French, broadcast in the early hours of 8 November, of which the English translation is as follows:

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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.