Feb 26

‘Enemy Forces Engaged,’ USS Houston Fought Insurmountable Odds

Thursday, February 26, 2015 4:44 PM
19-N-13455: USS Houston (CA 30), starboard view. Undated and unknown location. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

19-N-13455: USS Houston (CA 30), starboard view. Undated and unknown location. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

By Capt. R. Mark Stacpoole, U.S. Navy, American Legation, U.S. Naval Attaché, Jakarta, Indonesia

I ask you to spend a minute this weekend in remembrance of the 1,082 brave men of the heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30). It was in the early hours of March 1st, 73 years ago, that she sailed for the final time into the teeth of enemy fire. While heading for the Sunda Strait, and in concert with the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth, she ran into the main Japanese invasion force then landing on the island of Java. This force consisted, in its entirety, of one light carrier, one seaplane carrier, five cruisers, 12 destroyers, a mine-layer and 58 troopships.

Low on fuel and with her after turret out of action, this as a result of earlier damage sustained at the Battle of Makassar Strait, Houston, along with Perth, entered the fray. The last message anyone would ever hear from these ships was a radio transmission sent by Houston; the message read “Enemy forces engaged.”

Perth went down first, fighting to the end, but even the heroism of her crew could not overcome four torpedo strikes and untold hits by enemy cannon. When Perth succumbed, 353 men went down with her including her commanding officer, Capt. Hector Waller.

Battle of Sunda Strait, 28 February – 1 March 1942. Painting by John Hamilton depicting USS Houston (CA 30) in her final action with Japanese forces. Courtesy of the US Navy Memorial Foundation. Painting from the John Hamilton collection. (Courtesy of NHHC Art Gallery)

Battle of Sunda Strait, 28 February – 1 March 1942. Painting by John Hamilton depicting USS Houston (CA 30) in her final action with Japanese forces. Courtesy of the US Navy Memorial Foundation. Painting from the John Hamilton collection. (Courtesy of NHHC Art Gallery)

Houston was now left alone, surrounded by enemy ships and aircraft. In quick succession she was hit by shell and torpedo but continued to fight on. Some time after 01:30, having been hit scores of times, faced with extensive flooding below decks, out of ammunition for her main guns, and with fires raging out of control, Capt. Albert Rooks, the commanding officer, gave the order to abandon ship. Only minutes later he was killed by an exploding Japanese shell.

Houston was bathed in the glare of Japanese searchlights, still under heavy fire and settling by the bow when her surviving crew gave her to the sea. As she began her final plunge one survivor wrote that “it seemed as a sudden breeze picked up the Stars and Stripes, still firmly blocked on the mainmast, and waved them in one last defiant gesture.” Other survivors saw red tracer fire still spitting out of a machine gun platform as one lone Marine, Gunnery Sgt. Walter Standish, true to the traditions of the Corps continued firing until the sea took him.

Some 675 Sailors and Marines died with Houston. Most of these men were killed during her final battle, were taken down with the ship or died when the pitiless tide washed them into the vast Indian Ocean but others were machine gunned as they swam helpless in the water.

The 366 survivors were taken into captivity, but their ordeal was far from over. Many would end up in POW camps in Burma, where they were forced, under inhuman conditions, to construct the infamous Burma Railway. Of this handful of survivors a further 76 died of sickness, abuse, torture, hunger and neglect. At war’s end in 1945 only 290 men remained, many broken in body but not in spirit, to return to the United States. Think of them, for they paid the full price in defense of our freedoms.

As one of the survivors later wrote —“Well Done , Well Done!”

JAVA SEA (Oct. 14, 2014 ) Naval officers from Australia, Indonesia and the United States participate in a wreath-laying ceremony aboard the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) in honor of the crews of the U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30) and the Royal Australian Navy light cruiser HMAS Perth (D29). Both ships were sunk during World War II by Imperial Japanese forces within Indonesian waters during the battle of Sunda Strait in February 1942. Frank Cable, forward deployed to the island of Guam, conducts maintenance and support of submarines and surface vessels deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet areas of responsibility and is on a scheduled underway. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jon Erickson/Released)

Capt. R. Mark Stacpoole (center) along with other Naval officers from Australia, Indonesia and the United States participate in a wreath-laying ceremony aboard the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) in honor of the crews of the U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30) and the Royal Australian Navy light cruiser HMAS Perth (D29). Both ships were sunk during World War II by Imperial Japanese forces within Indonesian waters during the battle of Sunda Strait in February 1942. Frank Cable, forward deployed to the island of Guam, conducts maintenance and support of submarines and surface vessels deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet areas of responsibility and is on a scheduled underway. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jon Erickson/Released)

 

 
Feb 22

Victory During Peacetime: Partnerships Mattered in 1909 as the Great White Fleet Returns Home

Sunday, February 22, 2015 8:00 AM
Homecoming of the “Great White Fleet”, Hampton Roads, Va., Feb. 22, 1909. Ships and craft welcome the fleet upon its arrival in Hampton Roads.

Homecoming of the “Great White Fleet”, Hampton Roads, Va., Feb. 22, 1909. Ships and craft welcome the fleet upon its arrival in Hampton Roads.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

It was a rainy day on Feb. 22, 1909 when 16 battleships of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet returned home to Hampton Roads, Va. completing an exhausting 26-month, 43,000 mile circumnavigation of the globe. For the 14,000 Sailors and Marines who were part of this epic voyage, the mood was nothing like the dreary and overcast skies.

President Theodore Roosevelt (on the 12-inch (30 cm) gun turret at right) addresses officers and crewmen on USS Connecticut, in Hampton Roads, Va., upon her return from the Fleet's cruise around the world, Feb. 22, 1909.

President Theodore Roosevelt (on the 12-inch (30 cm) gun turret at right) addresses officers and crewmen on USS Connecticut, in Hampton Roads, Va., upon her return from the Fleet’s cruise around the world, Feb. 22, 1909.

The four squadrons of warships, nicknamed the “Great White Fleet” because of their white hulls, returned to the United States victorious, even though no war or battle had taken place. The journey included 20 port calls on six continents and it is widely considered one of the greatest peacetime achievements of the U.S. Navy. President Theodore Roosevelt declared the cruise was “the most important service that I rendered for peace.”

This round-the world-voyage had two distinct purposes: First and foremost, the ships had to be tested to see if they were mechanically sound and ready to operate in distant parts of the globe. Second, it was an opportunity to demonstrate America’s naval prowess to the rest of the world and to energize and inspire Americans back home.

The success of the odyssey satiated the country’s desire to be recognized as a world power, with a fleet that proved the United States was capable of projecting its influence anywhere in the world.

Another happy side effect was enhanced relations and strengthened partnerships with the countries the fleet visited including Trinidad, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, The Philippine Islands, Japan, China, Ceylon, Egypt, and Gibraltar.

The relationships with other countries visited were improved or initially established in a positive way. Diplomatic ties with Japan were arguably the most improved because America’s increasingly tense relationship with the Rising Sun Empire got an overhaul, one of the objectives for President Roosevelt and his administration. The visit to Japan by the fleet provided the main thrust behind the Root-Takahira agreement that went into effect shortly after the fleet’s return.

According to this treaty, the U.S. and Japan agreed to maintain the status quo in the Pacific and to respect each other’s possessions there. Additionally, both countries agreed to respect the “Open Door” policy in China and the independence and cohesive integrity of that country.

On the technical side, the Navy was able to test the physical and tactical systems of these warships and see what areas needed improvement after 14 months at sea. Roosevelt stated “I want all failures, blunders and shortcomings to be made apparent in time of peace and not war.”

There were no significant breakdowns on the cruise, but it brought to light that technical changes were needed concerning the ships’ hull design and gunnery arrangement. Shipboard habitability wasn’t adequate and the ventilation systems had to be improved. During rough seas, water would seep into the ships’ hulls and could potentially cause the ship to list, or even worse, sink.

One of the most important lessons learned was a ship’s dependency upon foreign coaling stations would be a handicap. They would need to convert warships to burn oil as a primary fuel as quickly as possible, preferably during peacetime rather than at the beginning of a war.

Another recommended change was to paint the hulls “haze gray” rather than white, because it was felt Navy ships should not be in “holiday colors” going into battle.

The Great White Fleet’s voyage around the world was in a way the birth of the new United States Navy. The officers and Sailors of the fleet had been provided with thorough at-sea training and had been integral in the changes in the Navy’s approach to formation steaming, coal economy, and gunnery.

For the Sailors who participated in this historic adventure, the cruise reinforced their pride for their service and their country. They had become unforgettable ambassadors through which others judged America and her Navy, and just as impressive as the sight of that Great White Fleet, they did America proud.

 
Feb 18

The Burning of the USS Philadelphia

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 1:55 PM
Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia in the Harbor at Tripoli by Edward Moran

Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia in the Harbor at Tripoli by Edward Moran (U.S. Naval Academy Museum)

On the evening of 16th February, 1804, the U.S. frigate Philadelphia was burned in Tripoli Harbor. The frigate had been captured on October 31, 1803 when the ship ran aground on a reef a few miles outside Tripoli. The war with Tripoli had raged since 1801, the entire action of the war mostly amounting to a few naval skirmishes and a lackadaisical blockade of Tripoli. When Commodore Edward Preble arrived to take command of the war, he had hoped to up the tempo of operations against Tripoli and quickly bring the war to a successful conclusion. The capture of the Philadelphia dramatically complicated this objective. The capture meant the Philadelphia’s captain and her crew, 307 Americans, became Tripoli’s prisoners. The capture also diminished American prestige among the Barbary States. Preble decided it was necessary to destroy the captured ship. The mission would be extremely dangerous; Preble expected the destruction of the ship would only come with great loss of life. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr. volunteered to command the mission. His success restored American prestige and secured him a reputation of valor that followed him the rest of his life. The burning of the Philadelphia was a heroic episode during the Barbary Wars that made Decatur a hero and greatly increased the reputation of the Navy and the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

 
Feb 17

For USS Housatonic, an Ignoble Distinction: First Submarine “Kill”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 4:42 PM

 

USS Housatonic was attacked and sunk by Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley on Feb. 17, 1864. It was the last act from the little submarine, which sank only 1,000 feet from Housatonic, killing all eight crew members.

USS Housatonic was attacked and sunk by Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley on Feb. 17, 1864. It was the last act from the little submarine, which sank only 1,000 feet from Housatonic, killing all eight crew members.

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

In a cold night off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 17, 1864, the Sailors manning federal sloop of war USS Housatonic continued their duties, much as Sailors of today do while underway. They maintained the engine, ate chow and stood watch – though at the time it was a watch against Confederate blockade runners during the Civil War. The monotonous duties had been going on for months and the ship had not seen any action in the war since a few months before when they were part of a failed attack on Fort Sumter.

One of the Sailors on watch saw something drifting slowly through the water. In the night it would be hard to tell exactly what it was – a porpoise? A log?

By the time the Housatonic crew realized it was a vessel, operating mostly below the waterline, it was a hundred feet away, too close — too late — to bring their guns to bear. Reacting with desperation, the crew let slip the ship’s anchor chain and reversed the engine to evade the vessel.

Then the crash of something hitting the ship. Seconds later an explosion sounded, coming from Housatonic’s starboard side. Within five minutes the bulk of the 1,240 ton vessel lay beneath the waters in the shallows of South Carolina, five Sailors dead and the rest awaiting rescue in the ship’s rigging or lifeboats – victims of the first submarine attack. It was the only real success any submarine had during the American Civil War.

That successful sinking of Housatonic actually came at a greater cost to the vessel that sank her. CSS H.L. Hunley and her 8-person crew never returned to base, disappearing that night. She would not be found for more than a century.

CSS H.L. Hunley R.G. Skerrett Pen and ink drawing with wash.

CSS H.L. Hunley R.G. Skerrett Pen and ink drawing with wash.

L. Hunley was fashioned from a boiler iron and expressly built for hand-power. The vessel, named for one of her designers and financer, Horace Lawson Hunley, was designed for a 8-person crew, seven to turn the hand-cranked propeller and one to steer and direct the boat. A true submarine, it was equipped with ballast tanks to be flooded by valves and pumped dry by hand pumps. Iron weights were bolted as extra ballast to the underside of her hull. H. L. Hunley was equipped with a mercury depth gauge, steered by a compass when submerged and light was provided by a candle whose dying flame would also warn of dwindling air supply. When near the surface, two hollow pipes could be raised above the surface to admit air. Glass portholes were used to sight when operating near the surface.

The confederate submarine CSS H. L. Hunley became the first submarine to successfully attack a ship, federal sloop of war USS Housatonic, on Feb. 17, 1864 during the American Civil War. Made for a crew of nine, one to steer the vessel and eight to hand-power Hunley's propeller which let the vessel reach approximately four knots. Though Hunley sank Housatonic, the submarine was not seen until more than a century later in 1995, when it was found, and raised in 2000. The submarine has since been undergoing curation at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, S.C.

The confederate submarine CSS H. L. Hunley became the first submarine to successfully attack a ship, federal sloop of war USS Housatonic, on Feb. 17, 1864 during the American Civil War. Made for a crew of nine, one to steer the vessel and eight to hand-power Hunley’s propeller which let the vessel reach approximately four knots. Though Hunley sank Housatonic, the submarine was not seen until more than a century later in 1995, when it was found, and raised in 2000. The submarine has since been undergoing curation at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, S.C.

It was not surprising the vessel went down. The pioneering submarine had failed twice before, the first time killing five sailors inside and the second time killing designer Hunley and a crew of seven. By the time it attacked Housatonic, Confederate Gen. Pierre Beauregard, in charge of South Carolina’s defenses, refused to let the vessel dive anymore, insisting the crew keep it awash (at water level).

Originally the ship was supposed to drag a torpedo 200 feet behind her. She would dive beneath a target ship and come up on the other side, continuing on her way until the torpedo struck the vessel behind her. By the time of the attack on Housatonic, the vessel was outfitted it with a Spar Torpedo, much like the Confederate torpedo boat CSS David, to try and sink vessels.

The Confederate submarine was found in 1995 about 1,000 feet from the where the action took place against Housatonic, more than a century before. Five years later, the little sub was raised and transported to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston where it undergoes conservation to this day.

Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) acts as the administrator for the curation and ultimate disposition of the submarine.

“We are the federal manager of the submarine,” said Robert Neyland, Ph.D., director of NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB). “We have a programmatic agreement with the state of South Carolina regarding the recovery, preservation, and final exhibit of the Hunley. We are currently working on a loan agreement between the South Carolina Hunley Commission and Navy.”

Neyland has played a part in the story since the vessel was found in 1995.

“From the fall of 1998 to 2001, I was loaned under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act to the state of South Carolina to oversee the submarine’s recovery and then I continued working there part time until the excavation of the interior and recovery of the crew’s remains was complete.” Neyland said. “Naval History and Heritage Command and Underwater Archaeology has been heavily involved in the project since that time and we are now finishing up a report on the recovery of Hunley.”

And other commands have helped out too.

“Naval Research Laboratory did some materials science research related to the Hunley,” Neyland said, “and during the recovery we needed some security on site and the special boat unit detachment came down and handled security.”

The conservation center submitted a conservation plan to the U.S. Navy in 2006. After peer-review by conservationists around the world, it was finalized incorporating their suggestions.

Now other commands have come to use the Hunley as a research and teaching tool.

“Naval Surface Warfare Center-Carderock Division and Office of Naval Research has been doing a whole series of simulations and studies related to the explosion that sunk the Housatonic and what it would have done to the men inside the Hunley and the Hunley itself,” Neyland said. “They are using some of the same science and technology they use to analyze explosions and the impacts on Navy ships.”

“They can present their findings to people without the classified sticker,” added UA archaeologist Heather Brown. “They can discuss the specifics of the incident and discuss how their models work.”

Though there are many views of what might have caused the vessel to sink with all hands, the reason for its sinking may remain a mystery for some time. There’s no hurry, however, as it is scheduled to take another 8-to-10 years for the vessel to be fully conserved. Concreted materials are slowly being removed from both the inside and outside of the submarine. Now more than 70 percent of the concretion on the outside hull has been removed, leaving more delicate work to be done on the brittle cast iron pieces.

“A lot of the artifacts have been conserved, but the vessel itself is the biggest artifact – completing the deconcretion is now underway,” Neyland said. “Once that is done Clemson University conservators will be able to put it in a caustic solution to remove the corrosive chlorides and the salts. When it comes out of treatment, the solution will be removed with a series of washes and then the submarine will get a protective coating.”

Then there is a question of reassembly.

“If you put everything back together, you can’t see the interior,” Neyland said. “So do you reassemble everything, and use a camera for the inside?”

A place for its ultimate disposition is still being considered.

“The state and city of North Charleston are considering a site for a new museum – probably on land of the former Charleston Navy shipyard,” Neyland said.

He’s looking forward to a road trip sometime in April, in order to see the deconcretion in process and to meet at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center with the Clemson University Restoration Institute’s Hunley scientists and seeing NSWC and ONR scientists’ analysis of the Hunley torpedo explosion.

For more information on USS Housatonic and CSS H. L. Hunley, visit the Naval History and Heritage Command website at www.history.navy.mil, www.hunley.org and for information on the submarine restoration visit www.clemson.edu/restoration/wlcc/project/hunley.html .

 
Feb 16

The Naval Careers of America’s Six Sailor Presidents

Monday, February 16, 2015 9:00 AM
Six presidents have served in the United States Navy: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, James E. "Jimmy" Carter and George H.W. Bush.

Six presidents have served in the United States Navy, from left to right: Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, James E. “Jimmy” Carter and George H.W. Bush.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

From 1961 to 1993 the Navy could boasted veterans in the nation’s highest office, with the exception of Army veteran Ronald Reagan’s 8-year term of 1981-89. John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, James E. “Jimmy” Carter and George H.W. Bush all previously served their nation wearing Navy blue.

Interestingly of the presidents who served between ’61 and ’93, only Reagan held office for two full terms:

  • Ford, Carter and Bush were single-term presidents;
  • Kennedy was assassinated after 1,000 days in office;
  • Johnson was elected once and chose not to seek a second term after finishing Kennedy’s term for a total of 5 years, 2 months, and
  • While Nixon was elected twice, he served less than 18 months into his second term before resigning to avoid almost certain impeachment over his role in the Watergate scandal.

Of the six presidents with sea service, five have had ships named after them: Kennedy (aircraft carrier CVA 67 as well as CVN 79 which has yet to begin construction), Johnson (Zumwalt-class destroyer PCU DDG-1002), Ford (aircraft carrier PCU CVN 78), Carter (submarine SSN 23), and Bush (aircraft carrier CVN 77).

Nixon joins the remaining 20 presidents who have not had ships named after them. Our nation’s first President, for whom President’s Day was originally named, has a record-holding eight ships named Washington, with four between 1775-76, one each in 1798 and 1814, followed by the ballistic nuclear submarine (SSBN 598), decommissioned in 1985, and aircraft carrier CVN 73 commissioned in 1992.

Abraham Lincoln pales in comparison with just three ships: a former German steamer turned transport ship (President Lincoln 1917-18), one sub (SSBN 602), decommissioned in 1981, and Nimitz-class supercarrier (CVN 72), commissioned in 1989.

The following are brief synopsis of each president’s naval career. For more information, please click on the hyperlinks on their names:

Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy. Photo Courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy. Photo Courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

President John F. Kennedy (1961-63) was appointed an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve in Oct. 1941. Initially he was assigned to the staff of the Office of Naval Intelligence before attending the Naval Reserve Officers Training School from July 27-Sept. 27, 1942. He then entered the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center in Rhode Island. Upon his graduation Dec. 2, Lt. j.g. Kennedy was assigned to the Motor Torpedo Squadron 4 as the commanding officer of PT 101. A month later, PT 101 and four other boats were ordered to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 14 based at Panama.

Seeking combat duty, Kennedy transferred Feb. 23 as a replacement officer to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2, which was based at Tulagi Island in the Solomons. He took command of PT 109 April 23, 1943.

It was the night of Aug. 1, 1943 when PT 109, with Kennedy at the helm, was run over by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, cutting the torpedo boat in two. At the impact, Kennedy was thrown into the cockpit where he landed on his back, injured prior to him joining the service.

As some of the survivors clung to pieces of the ship, Kennedy swam to the remaining crew members to bring them back to the floating remnant of PT 109. Two had died during the collision. Kennedy towed one injured crew members as he and the other survivors swam five hours to cover the distance of three miles to an island.

After swimming to Nauru Island, Kennedy and his executive officer found natives. Kennedy wrote a message on a coconut: “11 alive native knows posit & reef Nauru Island Kennedy.” The survivors were rescued by PT 157 on Aug. 8. In September, Kennedy went to Tulagi where he became the skipper of PT 59. In Oct. 1943, Kennedy was promoted to lieutenant and the squadron moved to Vella Lavella.

Due to continued problems with his back, a doctor ordered Kennedy to leave PT 59 Nov. 18, and he returned to the United States in early January 1944. Kennedy would spend much of the rest of his Navy career getting treatment for his back injury. He was released from all active duty and retired from the U.S. Naval Reserve on physical disability in March 1945.

Lt. Cmdr. Lyndon B. Johnson. Photo Courtesy of Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library

Lt. Cmdr. Lyndon B. Johnson. Photo Courtesy of Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69) had already earned his bachelor’s degree, worked as a school teacher and elected twice to Congress before being appointed as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve June 21, 1940 at age 32.

He reported for active duty on Dec. 9, 1941 and was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. After training, he proceeded to Headquarters, Twelfth Naval District, San Francisco, Calif., for inspection duty in the Pacific.

While stationed in New Zealand and Australia, he worked as an observer of bomber missions in the South Pacific, for which he was later awarded the Army Silver Star Medal.

After President Roosevelt ordered all members of Congress in the Armed Forces to return to their legislative duties, Johnson was released from active duty under honorable conditions June 16, 1942.

In 1949 he was promoted to commander in the Naval Reserves.

Lt. Cmdr. Richard M. Nixon. Photo Courtesy of Richard Nixon Foundation

Lt. Cmdr. Richard M. Nixon. Photo Courtesy of Richard Nixon Foundation

Richard M. Nixon (1969-74) joined the Navy at the age of 29 as a lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Naval Reserve June 15, 1942. A lawyer, he had been working as an attorney for the Office of Emergency Management in Washington, D.C.

Following his appointment, Nixon began aviation indoctrination training at the Naval Training School, Naval Air Station in Quonset Point, R.I. After completing the course in October 1942, he went to the Naval Reserve Aviation Base in Ottumwa, Iowa, where he served as Aide to the Executive Officer until May 1943.

Looking for more excitement, Nixon volunteered for sea duty and reported to Commander, Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet where he was assigned as Officer in Charge of the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command at Guadalcanal in the Solomons and later at Green Island. His unit prepared manifests and flight plans for C-47 operations and supervised the loading and unloading of the cargo aircraft.

For this service he received a Letter of Commendation from the Commander South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force for “meritorious and efficient performance of duty as Officer in Charge of the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command…” Nixon was promoted to lieutenant Oct. 1, 1943.

From August through December of 1944, Nixon was assigned to Fleet Air Wing 8 at Naval Air Station Alameda, Calif. Then he was transferred to the Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C, through March 1945. His next assignment as a newly-promoted lieutenant commander, was as the Bureau of Aeronautics Contracting Officer for Terminations in the Office of the Bureau of Aeronautics General Representative, Eastern District, headquartered in New York City. Nixon was released from active duty on March 10, 1946. He was promoted to commander in the Naval Reserve on June 1, 1953.

Lt. Cmdr. Gerald R. Ford, Photo Courtesy of Gerald Ford Presidential Library and Museum

Lt. Cmdr. Gerald R. Ford, Photo Courtesy of Gerald Ford Presidential Library and Museum

Gerald R. Ford (1974-76) was preparing to open his law practice at Grand Rapids with a fellow Yale Law School classmate, but the attack on Pearl Harbor changed his plans. Rather than waiting to be drafted, Ford sought to join the Navy.

At age 29 with a law degree, Ford was commissioned as an ensign April 13, 1942. His first duty-station was to attend V-5 instructor school training at Annapolis. His background as a coach and trainer made him a good candidate for instructor in the Navy’s V-5 (aviation cadet) program.

After a month of training, Ford was assigned to the Navy Preflight School in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he taught elementary seamanship, ordnance, gunnery, first aid and military drill. He also coached all nine sports that were offered, but mostly in swimming, boxing and football.

By the time he was assigned to USS Monterey (CVL 26) he had been promoted to lieutenant. While onboard, Ford served as the assistant navigator, athletic officer and antiaircraft battery officer. The carrier helped secure Makin Island in the Gilberts and participated in carrier strikes against Kavieng, New Ireland in 1943. During the spring of 1944, Monterey supported landings at Kwajalein and Eniwetok and participated in carrier strikes in the Marianas, Western Carolines and North New Guiena, as well as the Battle of Philippine Sea. Aircraft from Monterey launched strikes against Wake Island, participated in strikes in the Philippines and Ryukus and supported the landings at Leyte and Mindoro.

Monterey escaped damage by the Japanese, but Mother Nature nearly took out both the ship and future president when Adm. William “Bull” Halsey’s Task Force 38 sailed straight into Typhoon Cobra on Dec. 17-18, 1944. Three destroyers were lost along with 790 men, with another nine warships damaged and 100 planes lost either overboard or by explosion. Monterey was damaged by a fire that started when several of the ship’s aircraft tore loose from their cables and collided during the storm.

After Ford headed for his battle station on the bridge of the ship in the early morning of Dec. 18, the ship rolled 25 degrees, which caused Ford to lose his footing and slide toward the edge of the deck. The two-inch steel ridge around the edge of the carrier slowed him down enough so he could roll and twist into the catwalk below the deck. As he later stated: “I was lucky; I could have easily gone overboard.”

While Monterey underwent repairs at Bremerton, Wash., Ford was detached from the ship and sent to the Athletic Department of the Navy Pre-Flight School, St. Mary’s College, Calif., where he was assigned to the Athletic Department until April 1945. He was then assigned to the staff of the Naval Reserve Training Command, Naval Air Station, Glenview, Ill., as the physical and military training officer, during which time he was promoted to lieutenant commander. He was released from active duty on Feb. 23, 1946.

Midshipman James Earle Carter. Photo Courtesy of Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

Midshipman James Earle Carter. Photo Courtesy of Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

James Earle Carter (1976-1981) was the fifth consecutive president who had served in the Navy. He is the only president thus far to have graduated from the Naval Academy. After completing the accelerated wartime program, he graduated June 5, 1946 with distinction and obtained his commission as ensign.

For his first duty station, Carter was stationed at Norfolk as radar and CIC officer on USS Wyoming (E-AG 17), an older battleship that had been converted into a floating laboratory for testing new electronics and gunnery equipment. After Wyoming was decommissioned, Carter became Training and Education Officer on USS Mississippi (E-AG 128). After completing two years of surface ship duty, Carter chose to apply for submarine duty. Accepted, he began the six-month course at the U.S. Navy Submarine School, Submarine Base, New London, Conn. from June 14 to Dec. 17, 1948.

Upon completion of the course, Carter reported Dec. 29 to USS Pomfret (SS 391) based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During a simulated war patrol, Carter served as communications officer, sonar officer, electronics officer, gunnery officer and supply officer. On March 9, he served as the approach officer for a simulated torpedo firing at target ships, and scored a “hit.” Soon after Carter’s promotion to lieutenant junior grade on June 5, 1949, Pomfret was sent in July to San Diego where the submarine operated along the California coast.

Carter’s next assignment was as engineering officer for the precommissioning detail for USS K-1 (SSK 1)the first postwar submarine built. After K-1’s commissioning on Nov. 10, 1951, Carter served as executive officer, engineering officer, and electronics repair officer. During this tour he also qualified for command of a submarine.

When Adm. Hyman G. Rickover (then a captain) started his program to create nuclear powered submarines, Carter was interviewed and selected for the program by Rickover. Promoted to lieutenant, Carter was sent to the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission, Division of Reactor Development in Schenectady, N.Y. He served a four-month TDY with the Naval Reactors Branch, U. S. Atomic Energy Commission, Washington, D.C. to assist “in the design and development of nuclear propulsion plants for naval vessels.”

As Carter was preparing to become the engineering officer for the nuclear power plant to be placed in USS Seawolf (SSN 575), one of the first submarines to operate on atomic power, his father died in July 1953. Carter resigned from the Navy to return to Georgia to manage the family interests. Carter was honorably discharged on Oct. 9, 1953 at Headquarters, Third Naval District in New York City.

Presidents - Bush George H.W. Bush (1989-1991) wanted to join the Navy right after Pearl Harbor, but he had to wait six months to graduate high school, enlisting on his 18th birthday June 12, 1942. Ten months later, having graduated pre-flight training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Bush was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve a few days shy of his 19th birthday, making him the youngest naval aviator at the time.

After more flight training, Bush was assigned to Torpedo Squadron (VT-51) as photographic officer in September 1943. As part of Air Group 51, his squadron was based on USS San Jacinto (CVL 30) in the spring of 1944. San Jacinto was part of Task Force 58 that participated in operations against Marcus and Wake Islands in May, and then in the Marianas during June.

On June 19, the task force triumphed in one of the largest air battles of the war. During the return of his aircraft from the mission, Ensign Bush’s aircraft made a forced water landing. The crew was rescued, but the plane was lost in the explosion. On July 25, Ensign Bush and another pilot received credit for sinking a small cargo ship.

After Bush was promoted to lieutenant junior grade on Aug. 1, San Jacinto commenced operations against the Japanese in the Bonin Islands. On Sept. 2, 1944, Bush piloted one of four aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichi Jima. Encountering intense antiaircraft fire, Bush’s aircraft was hit and his engine caught on fire. He completed his mission and released the bombs over his target scoring several damaging hits.

With his engine on fire, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member on the TBM Avenger bailed out of the aircraft. However, the other man’s chute did not open and he fell to his death. Two other crewmembers were killed in action. While Bush anxiously waited four hours in his inflated raft, several fighters circled protectively overhead until he was rescued by submarine USS Finback (SS 230). During the month he remained on Finback, Bush participated in the rescue of other pilots. Bush returned to San Jacinto in Nov. 1944 and participated in operations in the Philippines.

When San Jacinto returned to Guam, the squadron, which had suffered 50 percent casualties of its pilots, was replaced and sent to the United States. Throughout 1944, Bush had flown 58 combat missions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded San Jacinto.

Because of his valuable combat experience, Bush was reassigned to Norfolk and put in a training wing for new torpedo pilots. Later, he was assigned as a naval aviator in a new torpedo squadron, VT-153. With the surrender of Japan, he was honorably discharged in September 1945 and then entered Yale University.

 
Feb 15

Navy and America Remember the Maine through Artifacts

Sunday, February 15, 2015 9:03 AM
USS Maine was built in 1895 as a battleship, but an explosion while in Havana Harbor destroyed the ship and killed 250 crewmembers on Feb. 15, 1898. The explosion created the rallying cry “Remember the Maine!” as newspaper articles urged the United States to go to war against Spain.

USS Maine was built in 1895 as a battleship, but an explosion while in Havana Harbor destroyed the ship and killed 250 crewmembers on Feb. 15, 1898. The explosion created the rallying cry “Remember the Maine!” as newspaper articles urged the United States to go to war against Spain.

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford,

Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

It was a call to arms not unlike “Remember the Alamo” 62 years earlier. While that Texas bravado has endured the decades, memory may falter on a similar outcry: “Remember the Maine!” Or at least why it should be remembered at all.

Unlike the Alamo, in Texas during its fight for independence in 1836, the Maine in this instance was not the state, but a battleship. USS Maine was in a foreign port, Havana, Cuba, in 1898 to protect American citizens when pro-Spanish forces caused riots to break out across the island.

There was good reason for such a show of strength. In the late 1800s Cuba was fighting a vicious battle to free itself from Spain. American sympathies were with the Cubans, a situation made worse when, during the first Cuban insurrection, the Spanish captured the ship Virginius. The Virginius, a freebooter supporting the Cuban revolutionaries, was hired to deliver men and arms to Cubans and was considered by the Spanish to be pirates. They executed 55 of the British and American crewmembers, some of them young boys.

When the second Cuban insurrection began in 1895, Spain sent in Gen. Valeriano “The Butcher” Weyler to serve as governor. Under his rule, thousands of Cubans perished in his reconcentration camps, mostly to disease and starvation, as he sought to separate the insurgents from civilians. As the situation worsened, the United States sent in Maine to protect its interests.

U.S. Navy diving crew at work on the ship's wreck, in 1898, seen from aft looking forward. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

U.S. Navy diving crew at work on the ship’s wreck, in 1898, seen from aft looking forward. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

The battleship set out from Florida on Jan. 24, 1898, to Havana, where it stayed moored to the pier. The ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Charles D. Sigsbee, mindful of the trouble on the island, did not allow enlisted Sailors to go ashore. For three weeks Maine was a peacekeeping influence. But Feb. 15, a quiet night in Havana Harbor, the peace was shattered as an explosion rocked Maine, sinking the ship and killing 266 Sailors.

A board of inquiry, after a month in Cuba, came back with their verdict – a mine detonated under the ship. Though no blame was fixed for the mine, it set loose a rallying call to “Remember the Maine!” by journalists seeking to influence America to get involved in a war with Spain.

On April 11, President William McKinley asked Congress to end the fighting between the Spanish and insurgents and establish a stable government. Congress passed a joint resolution April 20 acknowledging Cuba’s independence and began a blockade into Cuba’s harbors. Spain followed with a declaration of war on April 23. The Spanish-American War ended with a cease-fire on Aug. 12, 1898, giving Cuba its independence.

A glass plate slide of the wreck of the Maine, raised 1912, from the estate of Lt. C.J. Dutreaux. NHHC photo

A glass plate slide of the wreck of the Maine, raised 1912, from the estate of Lt. C.J. Dutreaux. NHHC photo

Years after the Spanish-American War, in 1912, the wreck of the ship was cleared to facilitate an additional investigation into the cause of her sinking. Her remains were subsequently scuttled in deep waters north of Havana, but parts of her can still be found across the country today. Dozens of artifacts from the ship proudly bear marks of their heritage.

A 6-inch, 30 caliber gun from the battleship USS Maine is on display in Willard Park at the Washington Navy Yard.

A 6-inch, 30 caliber gun from the battleship USS Maine is on display in Willard Park at the Washington Navy Yard.

Navy / Military kept items

  • Ship’s Mainmast and Anchor at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.
  • 6-in. 30-caliber Deck Gun, Spare Propeller and Bronze Windlass at Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington D.C.
  • Foremast, a Life Preserver, two Port Hole Covers, Log Glass, Keys to the Magazines, an Electric Light Bulb and Shade, a Bugle, a 1888 Penny from Sigsbee’s desk, Sigsbee’s ink well, and Sigsbee’s Binoculars at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.
  • Union Jack at Hampton Roads Naval Museum, Norfolk, Va.

Museum kept items

  • Stern Scrollwork Nameplate at the Museum of American History, Washington D.C.
  • A Deck Plate Key, Two Capstan Gears, A Capstan, Part of the Starboard Quarter Boat Davits, A Piece of Worm Drive, and a Metal Fragment at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio
  • Sigsbee’s Bathtub from the Ship at the Hancock Historical Museum, Findlay, Ohio
  • A Bolt at the Museum of History, Raleigh, N.C.
  • Iron Hooks at the Miami Valley Military History Museum, Dayton, Ohio

Government kept items

  • Anchor Chain Hooks in Newton, Mass.
  • A Shell in Easton, Penn.
  • A Bow Anchor in Reading, Penn.
  • A Torpedo Tube in Pittsburgh, Penn.
  • Two Portholes and a 10-inch Shell in Scranton, Penn.
  • A Bowscroll in Bangor, Maine
  • The Conning Tower Base in Canton, Ohio
  • A Capstan in Charleston, S.C.
  • A Capstan in Butte, Mont.
  • A Gun Port in Oakland, Calif.
  • A Ventilator Cowl in Los Angeles, Calif.
  • A Worm Gear in Sacramento, Calif.
  • A 6-inch Gun in Alpena, Mich.
  • A 6-inch Gun (Barrel Only) in Portland, Maine
  • A Six-pounder Gun in Columbia, S.C.
  • A One-pounder Gun in Milford, Maine
  • A 10-inch Turret Sighting Hood in Key West, Fla.
  • A Ventilator Cowl in Woburn, Mass.
  • A Ventilator Cowl in Rock Island, Ill.
  • The Ship’s Silver Service in Augusta, Maine
  • A Steam Whistle in Larchmont, N.Y.
  • A 10-inch Shell in Port Chesters, N.Y.
  • An Engine Room Funnel in Pompton Lakes, N.J.

Also 28 bronze plaques made from the metal of the battleship are spread out throughout the country.

A website that tries to track parts of the Maine, www.spanamwar.com, has a laundry list of the battleship’s parts and where they reside.

 
Feb 14

USS Constitution’s Affair to Remember with Lovely Ann

Saturday, February 14, 2015 9:00 AM
USS Constitution. Artwork by F. Muller. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 61872.

USS Constitution. Artwork by F. Muller. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 61872.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

There were no boxes of chocolates or roses for the crew of USS Constitution as Valentine’s Day rolled around in 1814. But when the day was over, they were awash with lumber, fish, and flour – spoils from an engagement with a British merchantman named Lovely Ann.

On that Feb. 14, USS Constitution’s wooden hull was a figuratively green whippersnapper, a mere 17 years old. President George Washington named the 44-gun frigate that had been ordered through the Naval Act of 1794. The heavy frigate was launched in 1797 and remains the oldest commissioned ship in the world that can still sail under its own power. She is soon to go into dry dock in Boston for a scheduled maintenance and upkeep.

A veteran of both the Quasi War with the French and the First Barbary War, Constitution’s greatest glory came during the War of 1812. It was during the two-and-one-half year conflict she made five cruises and captured, burned or sent in as prizes nine merchantmen and five ships of war, most notably the British warship HMS Guerriere.

Under the command of Capt. Isaac Hull, it was that engagement where Constitution earned her the nickname “Old Ironsides,” because Guerriere’s cannon balls glanced off her hull during the Aug. 19, 1812 battle. Guerriere was scuttled the next day. The victory made Constitution the rock star of her day and thus began more than two centuries of public adoration for the three-masted frigate.

Capt. Charles Stewart, commanded USS Constitution during these captures in 1814. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 44344.

Capt. Charles Stewart, commanded USS Constitution during these captures in 1814. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 44344.

By the time Feb. 14, 1814 rolled around, Capt. Charles Stewart was Constitution’s 10th captain and they were sailing along the northern coast of South America. That morning, Constitution’s crew spotted the British schooner HMS Pictou off the coast of Barbados. The schooner was escorting the armed merchant ship Lovely Ann hauling a cargo of lumber, fish, and flour.

After an hour long chase, Constitution passed Pictou on her starboard side and fired. Her deck and main mast were destroyed within minutes. Stewart realized Pictou was sinking and ordered his men to rescue the British sailors. After the Pictou’s men were saved, they captured the Lovely Ann and hours later the crew of the Constitution celebrated with food and wine. The engagement between Constitution and Lovely Ann may have been brief, but well worth celebrating on that Valentine’s Day of 1814.

 
Feb 11

How the Yalta Conference Shaped the World

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 6:00 AM
Allied leaders pose in the courtyard of Livadia Palace, Yalta, during the conference. Those seated are (from left to right): Prime Minister Winston Churchill (UK); President Franklin D. Roosevelt (USA); and Premier Josef Stalin (USSR). Also present are USSR Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (far left); Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, R.N., and Air Chief Marshall Sir Charles Portal, R.A.F. (both standing behind Churchill); and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, (standing behind Roosevelt). Note ornate carpets under the chairs. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Allied leaders pose in the courtyard of Livadia Palace, Yalta, during the conference. Those seated are (from
left to right): Prime Minister Winston Churchill (UK); President Franklin D. Roosevelt (USA); and Premier
Josef Stalin (USSR). Also present are USSR Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (far left); Admiral of the
Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, R.N., and Air Chief Marshall Sir Charles Portal, R.A.F. (both standing behind
Churchill); and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, (standing behind Roosevelt). Note ornate carpets
under the chairs. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

By Joshua L. Wick, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

For eight days in the beginning of February 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin convened one of the most secretive meetings of modern times.

The decisions that came from this intense conference set in motion some of the major events of the next century that would shape the U.S Navy and the world. And even today questions remain, what was the real price of the decisions made at the conference? Did they cost our country and the world more than they gave in return?

The president relied heavily on the Navy for getting him safely and quietly to high-level meetings and conferences during World War II. Roosevelt and Churchill had met secretly in August 1941 aboard USS Augusta off the coast of Newfoundland. It was aboard the ship the two forged a strong alliance and developed the premise of a pact they hoped would be agreed upon by the League of Nations: to “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt at Malta on the USS Quincy with his Chiefs of Staff. Left to right: Admiral Leahy, Admiral King, FDR, General Marshall, and L.S. Kuter (Admiral Arnold's representative).

Franklin D. Roosevelt at Malta on the USS Quincy with his Chiefs of Staff. Left to right: Admiral Leahy,
Admiral King, FDR, General Marshall, and L.S. Kuter (Gen. Arnold’s representative).

This was also the case with Yalta. USS Quincy (CA 71) was tasked with transporting the ailing president to the Russian resort city on the Crimean peninsula.

President Roosevelt and his party embarked aboard the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser at Newport News, Va., on Jan. 23, 1945, for passage to Malta in southern Europe, arriving Feb. 2. Roosevelt then departed Quincy and continued on to the Crimea by air.

Once all the leaders were gathered in Yalta, the discussion, bargaining and debating began for the second conference of World War II. The first had been the highly secret meeting in 1943 between the “Big Three” in Tehran where they agreed to a military operation that would eventually become the Invasion of Normandy or Operation Overlord.

The Yalta Conference was to take the blueprint of the Atlantic Conference and hammer in the details. As with most international conferences, the leaders and their entourages had their own agendas, goals, cultural and political differences. With Germany’s surrender expected, their focus was on post-war reorganization, reestablishment of a war-torn Europe and how best to enforce the reparation and demilitarization of Germany.

Article II of the conference stated: To foster the conditions in which the liberated people may exercise these rights, the three governments will jointly assist the people in any European liberated state or former Axis state in Europe where, in their judgment conditions require,

(a) to establish conditions of internal peace;

(b) to carry out emergency relief measures for the relief of distressed peoples;

(c) to form interim governmental authorities broadly representative of all democratic elements in the population and pledged to the earliest possible establishment through free elections of Governments responsive to the will of the people; and

(d) to facilitate where necessary the holding of such elections.

 

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill in session at the Yalta Conference. Livadia Palace, Yalta, USSR. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill in session at the Yalta Conference. Livadia
Palace, Yalta, USSR. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum

Though they each had their own issues, they all wanted the unconditional surrender of Germany. Roosevelt sought agreement and establishment for his “United Nations” and for the need of military support for the ongoing war in the Pacific theater. The fate of Eastern Europe, especially Germany’s division and Poland’s borders, were the main bargaining chips for “The Big Three.”

The level of corporation required from the conference was unprecedented. The Soviet Union agreed to join the Allies in the war against Japan with two caveats: the Mongolian People’s Republic would be preserved and territories in the southern part of Sakhalin that had been taken by Japan in 1904 would be returned to the Soviet Union, along with the Kurile Islands. The commercial port of Dairen would be internationalized, allowing Soviet interests and the ability to lease property for a base at Port Arthur.

Roosevelt got Stalin’s agreement in the Pacific, but Stalin appeared to be running the show.

Expectations were high but short-lived as history proved when the players on the field suddenly shifted. Only a few weeks after the Yalta Conference, President Roosevelt died at his “Little White House” at Warm Springs, Ga. He had served an unprecedented 12 years in office and had just started his fourth term that would have seen him through the reconstruction of Europe after World War II, and to some degree, keeping Stalin reined in.

While Stalin and Roosevelt were able to come to terms despite huge differences in philosophy, that was not the case with Roosevelt’s successor, President Harry S. Truman. As he agreed with the Yalta Conference, Stalin did throw his support against Japan, another factor that led to Japan’s surrender. An interesting historic side note is that USS Quincy, the cruiser that carried Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference, was among the flotilla of ships in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, for the Japanese surrender.

But the end of the war also signified the end of Stalin’s cooperation. Agreements made during the Yalta Conference, based on the premise of “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live,” didn’t apply to the border countries within the Soviet Union’s Eastern bloc of nations.

Luckily for Roosevelt, he never witnessed the erasing of the lines they drew at Yalta so the Eastern European countries could retain their sovereignty. As the Soviet Union expanded borders further west and more nations were integrated into Stalin’s communist government, the Iron Curtain separated the East from the West.

In the end, what came from Yalta sparked the military, economic, scientific, political, and ideological start of the Cold War. Once again for nearly 45 years, America’s Navy was on the front lines of the cat and mouse games in the high-stakes Cold War conflict.

The comfort of 70 years of hindsight make it possible for us to look critically at the decisions made at Yalta and the policies that followed, but perhaps the most important question is what could have realistically been done differently?