Mar 11

‘Sea Wolf’ Bulkeley’s Daring Journey Earns Medal of Honor

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 3:40 PM
Lt. John D. Bulkeley, photographed while on board a Motor Torpedo Boat (PT), circa 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Lt. John D. Bulkeley, photographed while on board a Motor Torpedo Boat (PT), circa 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Seventy-three years ago, Lt. John D. Bulkeley, the commander of Patrol Torpedo Boat No. 41, waited at the north pier off the island of Corregidor for the words that would begin a harrowing 2-day journey through minefields, unchartered waters and a Japanese fleet on the prowl.

“You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready.”

With those words spoken by American General of the Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Bulkeley, commanding officer of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three, pulled away at 7:45 p.m. March 11, 1942, into what was becoming increasingly a misty and moonless night.

Japanese forces had gained a stronghold in the Philippines, and they were closing in on the island that housed MacArthur, his family and staff, plus an additional 14,000 military and civilian personnel, including Gen. Jonathan Wainwright. MacArthur wanted to stay and fight, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered MacArthur off the island to prevent his capture, which would be demoralizing to the nation still recovering from the shock of the attack at Pearl Harbor and then the surrender at Wake Island.

Sources may argue when and why MacArthur agreed to have his small staff and family travel by PT boats across close to 600 miles of ocean dotted with reefs, through a harbor strewn with mines and a dragnet of prowling Japanese ships. Initially, plans were to have MacArthur spirited away in the submarine USS Permit (SS 178) or flown out by PBY flying boats.

Those plans may have been scrapped due to MacArthur’s claustrophobic tendencies, or that he had never flown before, not to mention the problems Catalinas had landing at Corregidor.

But no one questioned MacArthur’s belief and trust in Lt. John D. ‘Sea Wolf’ Bulkeley.

MacArthur and Bulkeley were already stationed at Corregidor before the war began. MacArthur had a soft spot for the small, swift patrol torpedo (PT) boats. He had even recommended the Navy Department add something similar to their fleet of ships as defensive weapons in the mid-1930s. The Navy was not impressed. MacArthur never forgot the snub.

So when MacArthur was appointed to defend the Philippines, he took a special interest in PT boat operations and required the squadron commander to report directly to him each day in person.

As MacArthur weighed the options – by sea or by air – the general chose the risky option of traveling above the water by PT boat, trusting his fate in the hands of the lieutenant he called a “bold buckaroo with the cold green eyes.”

It was hardly the easiest option. To make the distance, the PT boats would need to carry drums of gasoline on their decks that could easily be struck by a stray bullet or shrapnel. After being loaded down with an additional three tons of fuel, the boat’s main advantage, its speed, would be reduced to 30 knots. The boats themselves had no radar and only a few areas of the ocean had been mapped.

Bulkeley himself was lobbied hard during the days leading up to the departure. Thinking MacArthur would no doubt take the submarine, some of the remaining officers wooed Bulkekey as to when and where he might pick up them and their families to get them “out of Dodge” before the Japanese set foot on the island. Bulkeley made no effort to dissuade them since MacArthur’s departure was kept secret.

MacArthur had already told Wainwright he would be left behind with dwindling supplies and facing the full brunt of the Japanese forces. He promised upon his return to Corregidor he would promote Wainwright to lieutenant general. Wainwright promised if he was still alive, he would be there when MacArthur returned. Only one could keep their promise.

On the evening of the departure, however, the gig was up as MacArthur’s chosen chariot proved to be Bulkeley’s squadron. More than 15 of MacArthur’s staff were ferried to Bataan where they loaded onto PT boats 32, 34 and 35. So it was just MacArthur, his wife, Jean, 4-year-old son Arthur 32 35and his nanny, his aide Lt. Col. Sidney Huff and three other staffers who left from Corregidor.

After Bulkeley’s PT 41 caught up with the other three, they traversed a mine-laden harbor in single file before speeding through the choppy waters. It didn’t take long for the Army and civilian personnel to feel the effects of what the Navy men called “moderate” seas, which only worsened during the tripmarked by occasional squalls. Nearly all were violently seasick, including MacArthur, who stated in his 1964 book “Reminiscences: General of the Army,” that being on the PT boat was “what it must be like to take a trip in a concrete mixer.”

The only passenger who seemed not to mind was an air corps captain, oblivious to motion sickness, who slept soundly, snoring in his bunk, during the trip.

The trip took its toll on the Navy men of Squadron Three. With no maps and virtually no light, the boats became separated. PT 34 arrived first at the planned rendezvous point at Tagauayan Island. When PT 32’s operator saw a ship in the distance, he thought it was a Japanese destroyer and jettisoned fuel to increase the speed of the boat, only to find out the silhouette he saw was PT 41 with a couple of passengers standing. Attempts to collect the jettisoned fuel became futile, so PT 41 and PT 32 continued to the rendezvous point to find PT 34. But there was no sign of PT 35.

With only two good engines and little fuel, the passengers on PT 32 were divided between PT 41 and 34 which headed for their destination. The crew of PT 32 stayed behind to wait for the submarine Permit. Which was lucky for the crew of PT 35 – they finally arrived at Tagauayan Island and were told by the PT 32 crew that the other two PT boats had already left for their destination, so PT 35 followed.

Bulkeley’s crew had no easier time with it, even with their skipper handling the navigation. With no sleep in more than 48 hours, one crew member fainted while at the wheel, and another was found dozing while standing up in gale-force winds.

Bulkeley and his second-in-command, Lt. Robert Kelly, when they weren’t slicing through stormy seas, now faced a daylight dash through the Mindanao Sea, narrowly missing detection by one apparently inattentive Japanese warship. MacArthur had wanted to press on, fearing he would miss the awaiting B-17s at Cagayan that would take him to Australia. He had no way to know the planes would be delayed three days.

Upon his arrival at Cagayan, a shaky MacArthur voiced his appreciation for Squadron Three’s daring voyage.

“You’ve taken me out of the jaws of death and I won’t forget it,” MacArthur vowed.

A few hours later, PT 35 would arrive, completing the mission with all aboard. The sub Permit picked up the remaining 32 crew members, although the boat was sunk rather than leaving it for the Japanese. Bulkeley, not knowing the fate of PT 32, spent several hours in planes searching for his missing crew.

MacArthur, in the meantime, was aghast at the Flying Fortress that landed with damaged turbo superchargers and faulty brakes, bullet holes patched by ration cans and piloted by a 24-year-old and youthful-looking Lt. Harl Pease. He rejected the plane stating no way would he put his family and staff on “that broken down crate with a boy at the controls.”

While waiting for another plane, MacArthur would have one more request for his “buckaroo.” He tasked Bulkeley with evacuating Philippine President Manuel Quezon from his location on the island of Negros. Quezon, sick from tuberculous, was tired of his homeland being fought over by the Americans and Japanese, and entertained the thought of going neutral so both warring factions would leave. MacArthur did not want that to happen. So Bulkeley was told to fetch him “by any means necessary.”

Quezon at first resisted the notion of leaving the Philippines. In George W. Smith’s 2005 book “MacArthur’s Escape: John ‘Wild Man’ Bulkeley and the Rescue of an American Hero,” there is a passage that might explain Quezon’s reluctance in following the “reincarnated pirate” who stood before him on March 18.

“The skipper wore no uniform, only an old oilskin. His boots were mud-caked, and his unruly black beard and longish hair tied around his head with a bandanna gave him a menacing appearance. Embellishing that sinister look, Bulkeley strode around with a tommy gun, two pearl-handled pistols strapped to his waist, and a nasty-looking knife tucked ominously in his belt.”

Eventually, Quezon agreed to leave, so Bulkeley whisked the Philippine president, his family and staff back to the safety of Mindanao.

Lt. Cmdr. John D. Bulkeley Receives the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, circa July 1942. Bulkeley was awarded the medal for heroism while he commanded Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three during the Philippines Campaign, December 1941 - April 1942. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Lt. Cmdr. John D. Bulkeley Receives the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, circa July 1942. Bulkeley was awarded the medal for heroism while he commanded Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three during the Philippines Campaign, December 1941 – April 1942. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

MacArthur made good on his promise to not forget “Sea Wolf” Bulkeley. He nominated the lieutenant for the Medal of Honor, which he received for his actions between Dec. 7, 1941 and April 10, 1942 as commanding officer of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three. Not one to rest of his laurels, Bulkeley continued to make his imprint on the Navy, earning the rank of vice-admiral over the course of a 55-year career. Along the way, he also earned the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star Medal (Army) with Gold Star in lieu of the Second Silver Star Medal (Navy), the Legion of Merit with Combat “V”, the Army Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart Medal, Army Distinguished Unit Emblem, and the French and Philippine Decorations. Other awards included the China Service Medal with bronze star; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal with bronze star; Korean Service Medal; United Nations Service Medal; the Korean Presidential Unit Citation Badge; and the Philippine Defense Ribbon. He also had the Expert Pistol Shot Medal and Expert Rifleman Medal.

The general would return to the Philippines as promised Oct. 20, 1944. But MacArthur would not find Gen. Jonathan Wainwright there. Those left behind on Corregidor, after living at near starvation levels and unable to fight off the Japanese, had surrendered May 6, 1942. The military and civilians not killed outright were taken as prisoners of war and worked in Japanese work camps. Wainwright, the highest-ranking American POW, survived his three years in captivity where he was often brutalized by the Japanese. MacArthur and Wainwright would meet finally after the Japanese agreed to surrender Aug. 19. MacArthur asked Wainwright to stand next to him during the formal Japanese surrender ceremony Sept. 2, 1945 on USS Missouri, and gave him the pen he used to sign the document.

One final note of interest. Remember baby-faced pilot Lt. Harl Pease? He turned 25 a few days after MacArthur rejected his patched-up B-17 and he, too, would earn a Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty” in action with the enemy Aug. 6-7, 1942. Even though he was not scheduled to take part in a bombing mission to Rabaul, New Britain, Pease prepared the most serviceable airplane at the base for combat, declared unusable for other combat missions. Despite being intercepted by 30 enemy fighter aircraft before reaching his target, Pease and his crew were successful in destroying several Zeros before dropping his bombs on the intended target. Upon his return, enemy pursuit aircraft shot down his plane. Pease and a crew member bailed out, but were captured by the Japanese. On Oct. 8, 1942, they were forced to dig their own graves and beheaded. MacArthur endorsed Pease’s nomination for the Medal of Honor, which was presented posthumously to Pease’s father.

 
Mar 10

On the Eve of Peace, the War Still Rages

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 6:47 PM
Alliance under sail, in a painting by Nowland Van Powell, courtesy of the Bruce Gallery, Memphis, Tenn. (NH 92873-KN)

Alliance under sail, in a painting by Nowland Van Powell, courtesy of the Bruce Gallery, Memphis, Tenn. (NH 92873-KN)

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

After a long struggle for independence, the United States of America succeeded in its break from Great Britain. Suffering several more defeats following the British surrender at Yorktown in October 1781, British Parliament agreed in April 1782 to cease offensive operations against their soon-to-be ex-colony and peace negotiations began. Both sides saw no point in fighting, and an armistice was struck but an official end to the war was still more than a year away.

So for some, the Revolutionary War continued.

Especially since at the time, information took a bit longer to cross the Atlantic pond than today. As word of the cease fire spread, the battlespace of the war slowly shrunk. Cities and major battlefields got the word early. Those fighting in out-of-the-way, off-the-main-road countrysides received word a bit later. Sailors on the wine-dark open ocean got news of the armistice last.

At sea, the last shot of the American Revolutionary War was fired from the bow of the Continental frigate Alliance into the HMS Sybil, if the evidence is anything to go by.

While in France, the 32-gun Alliance received orders to Havana to transport gold to Philadelphia. After brief repairs, Alliance set out on her mission, touched at St. Eustatius and Cape Francois, and reached Havana on the last day of January 1783.

Portrait of Capt. John Barry

Portrait of Capt. John Barry

However, another American warship, the 20-gun Duc de Lauzun, was already in port on the same mission. The specie (coins) had already been loaded on that ship, so instead of waiting on orders elsewhere, Alliance’s skipper, Capt. John Barry, decided to escort Duc de Lauzun home.

Almost immediately upon getting underway, though, the duo encountered two Royal Navy frigates. Barry decided not to fight them. The risk to the cargo he escorted was too great. Alliance and Duc de Lauzun evaded their pursuers.

Three days later, on March 10, off the coast of Cape Canaveral they encountered the same pair—HMS Alarm and HMS Sybil. Again, Barry chose to evade rather than engage the enemy.

At first, Alliance started pulling away. Duc de Lauzun, however, couldn’t maneuver as swiftly, and Alarm started gaining ground on her. And then Alarm gave up. Sybil was left to her lonesome for the presumed attack—which she then started.

Once within range, Sybil began firing on Duc de Lauzun. But she was overconfident. Perhaps her captain thought the evading ships under-capable or unprepared for a fight. If so, he was wrong.

Alliance was well able to fight, and Barry maneuvered her between Sybil and Duc de Lauzun so his comrades could break for safety. Sybil refocused her attention and turned her fire toward Alliance. She managed to send one shot from her bow chaser into the American frigate’s cabin, mortally wounding a junior officer and scattering many splinters.

But Barry held his fire. Not until Alliance was within a stone’s throw of her opponent did he unleash his broadside on his enemy. The two crews engaged in of close-in fighting warfare for either 40 minutes or a lifetime.

During the battle, Sybil’s captain, Capt. James Vashon, saw his eventual defeat. In fact, he said he had “never seen a ship so ably fought as the Alliance.” Capt. Barry impressed him. “Every quality of a great commander was brought out with extraordinary brilliancy,” Vashon said of Barry.

While this brief naval battle raged, diplomats were negotiating the terms of the Treaty of Paris, which would be officially signed Sept. 3, 1783, ending the Revolutionary War.

But out on the deep blue sea, America’s sea warriors made sure the final battle of the American Revolution was a victory for the new republic.

 
Mar 7

NHHC Director Speaks at USS Houston (CA 30) Survivors Association Reunion

Saturday, March 7, 2015 1:55 PM
USS Houston (CA30) in the San Diego Bay in Oct. 1935.

USS Houston (CA30) in the San Diego Bay in Oct. 1935.

 

This weekend members of the USS Houston (CA 30) Survivors Association and Next Generations are gathered for their 2015 reunion in Houston, Texas. In addition to conducting the business of the organization the reunion featured a dinner last night in which Naval History and Heritage Command Director Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox provided the keynote remarks updating reunion attendees on the NHHC study of the condition of Houston’s wreck as well as ongoing Navy and diplomatic efforts to prevent further unauthorized disturbance of the ship which is the final resting place of more than 700 Houston Sailors and Marines who went down with the ship.

Naval History and Heritage Command Director Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox provides the keynote remarks at the 2015 Reunion of the USS Houston (CA 30) Survivors Association & Next Generations. (Photo courtesy of Tim Joseph)

Naval History and Heritage Command Director Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox provides the keynote remarks at the 2015 Reunion of the USS Houston (CA 30) Survivors Association & Next Generations. (Photo courtesy of Tim Joseph)

One of the highlights of this weekend’s event is the 72nd Anniversary Memorial Service held Saturday at Sam Houston Park’s USS Houston Memorial, honoring those lost onboard the ship and the survivors who have since passed away.

In 2014, a Naval History and Heritage Command underwater archaeologist assisted in a survey of the wreck of USS Houston as part of the 2014 Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series. U.S. Navy divers, assisted by personnel from the Indonesian navy, surveyed the World War II wreck in June. Houston was sunk during the World War II Battle of Sunda Strait Feb. 28, 1942 with the loss of more than seven hundred souls. The ship remains sovereign property of the U.S. under customary international law, and is a popular dive site.

Naval History and Heritage Command Director Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox shares a laugh with John Schwarz, Executive Director of the USS Houston (CA 30) Survivors Association and Next Generations. (Photo courtesy of Tim Joseph)

Naval History and Heritage Command Director Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox shares a laugh with John Schwarz, Executive Director of the USS Houston (CA 30) Survivors Association and Next Generations. (Photo courtesy of Tim Joseph)

The purpose of the CARAT 2014 mission was to determine the vessel’s current condition and provide real-world training to rescue and salvage divers in maneuvering around a sunken ship. The team’s interim report confirmed the site’s identity and documented conclusive evidence of a pattern of unauthorized disturbance of the wreck site. While the findings from the interim report remain intact, the final report released last summer benefits from additional archival research and more exhaustively details the condition of the wreck.

Houston, nicknamed “The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast,” was sunk in combat during the World War II Battle of Sunda Strait in 1942. Capt. Albert H. Rooks, the ship’s commanding officer who was killed in action, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism, while USS Houston was awarded two battle stars, as well as the Presidential Unit Citation.

Naval History and Heritage Command Director Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox (second from left) enjoys dinner with reunion attendees. (Photo courtesy of Tim Joseph)

Naval History and Heritage Command Director Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox (second from left) enjoys dinner with reunion attendees. (Photo courtesy of Tim Joseph)

Naval History and Heritage Command Director Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox (second from left) enjoys dinner with reunion attendees. (Photo courtesy of Tim Joseph)

Cmdr. Andy Schroder, who represented the Royal Australian Navy at the reunion dinner, pauses for a photo with Naval History and Heritage Command Director Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox and Carter Conlin, USN retired and former Commander of the US Naval Order, Texas Commandery. (Photo courtesy of Tim Joseph)

Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox (Right) with Stephen Reilly (center) grandson of USS Houston (CA 30) Sailor John Reilly and John Schwarz (left) son of Houston Sailor Otto Schwarz (Photo courtesy of Tim Joseph)

Rear Adm. (Ret) Sam Cox (Right) with Stephen Reilly (center) grandson of USS Houston (CA 30) Sailor John Reilly and the 2015 USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association & Next Generations scholarship winner along with John Schwarz (left) son of Houston Sailor Otto Schwarz (Photo courtesy of Tim Joseph)

The Department of the Navy’s sunken ship and aircraft wrecks represent a collection of more than 17,000 fragile, non-renewable cultural resources distributed worldwide. They often serve as war graves, safeguard state secrets, carry environmental and safety hazards such as oil and ordnance, and hold great historical value. While it is not feasible to conduct similar surveys of all sunken military craft, Navy leadership desires to ensure the final resting place of those who made the ultimate sacrifice when Houston went down remains in a respected and solemn condition.

The flag of the USS Houston (CA 30) Survivors Association and Next Generations was also displayed at the reunion. (Photo courtesy Tim Joseph)

The flag of the USS Houston (CA 30) Survivors Association and Next Generations was also displayed at the reunion. (Photo courtesy Tim Joseph)

The flag of the HMAS Perth Association was on display at the reunion. HMAS Perth, of the Royal Australian Navy was sailing with USS Houston when they were both caught and sunk by the Japanese at the Battle of Sunda Strait Feb. 28, 1942.

The flag of the HMAS Perth Association was on display at the reunion. HMAS Perth, of the Royal Australian Navy was sailing with USS Houston when they were both caught and sunk by the Japanese at the Battle of Sunda Strait Feb. 28, 1942.

 
Mar 6

The Legacy of Ships Named Enterprise

Friday, March 6, 2015 3:46 PM
RED SEA (June 21, 2011) The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) transits the Strait of Bab el Mandeb in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooks B. Patton Jr./Released)

RED SEA (June 21, 2011) The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) transits the Strait of Bab el Mandeb in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooks B. Patton Jr./Released)

 

by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

On March 6, 1822, a 12-gun schooner named Enterprise captured four pirate vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. The event is little known, not well documented, and it was one of her last operations before sinking in the West Indies a year later. But her actions on this day stand alongside a proud history in the legacy of the Enterprise.

There have been eight U.S. Navy ships named Enterprise, creating a legacy that will carry well into the future as PCU Enterprise (CV 80) is designed, constructed and joins the fleet a decade from now.

The first Enterprise was originally a British ship named George. Photo courtesy of USS Enterprise CVN 65's official website.

The first Enterprise was originally a British ship named George. Photo courtesy of USS Enterprise CVN 65’s official website.

ENTERPRISE I (1775-77)

The first Enterprise originally belonged to the British and was named George. She cruised on Lake Champlain and supplied English posts in Canada. On May 18, 1775, Col. Benedict Arnold captured the ship, outfitted her with guns and thereafter defended American supply routes in New England from British attacks. The ship was one of many that embarked more than 1,000 troops in August that year as part of an expedition against three Canadian cities: St. Johns, Montreal and Quebec. British reinforcements caused the Americans to retreat. Regrouping in October, Arnold’s soldiers disrupted the British invasion into New York. Enterprise was one of only five ships to survive the two-day battle. The following year, the British would be defeated at Saratoga, N.Y., which helped bring about a French alliance with the colonists, and with them, their powerful navy. Enterprise, however, wasn’t around for the Battle of Saratoga. The sloop had been run aground on July 7, 1777 during the evacuation of Ticonderoga and was burned to prevent its capture.

The second Enterprise was an 8-gun schooner. Photo courtesy of USS Enterprise CVN 65's official website.

The second Enterprise was an 8-gun schooner. Photo courtesy of USS Enterprise CVN 65’s official website.

ENTERPRISE II (1776-77)

The second Enterprise, a schooner, was a successful letter-of-marque before she was purchased Dec. 20, 1776 for the Continental Navy. Commanded by Capt. Joseph Campbell, Enterprise operated principally in Chesapeake Bay. She convoyed transports, carried out reconnaissance, and guarded the shores against foraging raids by the British. Only meager records of her service have been found; they indicate she was apparently returned to the Maryland Council of Safety before the end of February 1777.

 

USS Enterprise, circa 1799, a 12-gun schooner shown capturing a Tripolitan corsair in 1801. Drawing by N. Hoff. National Archives and Records Administration

USS Enterprise, circa 1799, a 12-gun schooner shown capturing a Tripolitan corsair in 1801. Drawing by N. Hoff. National Archives and Records Administration

ENTERPRISE III (1799-1823)

The third Enterprise was the schooner used to capture the pirate ships during the Barbary Wars. At her time of service, anti-piracy operations were a major part of the Navy’s mission. American shipping vessels were frequently attacked in the Caribbean, and the Navy was tasked with fighting them. It was her commanding officer, Lt. Stephen Decatur Jr., who pulled off the daring expedition to burn the frigate Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli in 1804. She would be refitted as a brig during the War of 1812. On Sept. 5, 1813, Enterprise chased down the British brig Boxer in a close-combat battle that took the lives of both ships’ commanding officers, Lt. William Burrows and Capt. Samuel Blyth. From 1815 to 1823, Enterprise suppressed smugglers, pirates and slavers until July 9, 1823, the ship became stranded and broke up on Little Curacao Island in the West Indies, without any loss of her crew.

 

The fourth Enterprise was a 10-gun schooner. Photo courtesy of USS Enterprise CVN 65's official website.

The fourth Enterprise was a 10-gun schooner. Photo courtesy of USS Enterprise CVN 65’s official website.

ENTERPRISE IV (1831-1844)

The fourth Enterprise was a schooner built by the New York Navy Yard where it launched on Oct. 26, 1831. Its original complement was nine officers and 63 men and, for most of its life, it protected U.S. shipping around the world. After spending time guarding American interests near Brazil, the schooner spent time in the Far East (Africa, India and East Indies). She was back cruising South America until March 1839 when she left Valparaiso, Chile, to round the Horn, make a port call at Rio de Janeiro, and then head north to Philadelphia, where she was inactivated on July 12. Recommissioned a few months later, Enterprise sailed from New York back to South America on March 16, 1840. After four years, she returned to the Boston Navy Yard, decommissioned June 24, 1844, and sold four months later.

 

USS Enterprise off New York City during the early 1890s. NHHC photo

USS Enterprise off New York City during the early 1890s. NHHC photo

ENTERPRISE V (1877-1909)

The fifth Enterprise was a bark-rigged screw sloop-of-war. She was built at the Portsmouth Naval Yard in Maine by John W. Griffith, launched June 13, 1874, and commissioned March 16, 1877. Decommissioned and recommissioned several times, she primarily surveyed oceans, littoral areas, and river founts around the world, including the Amazon and Madeira Rivers. When not on hydrographic survey cruises, she spent time sailing the waters of Europe, the Mediterranean and east coast of Africa. From 1891 to 1892 Enterprise was the platform on which cadets at the Naval Academy trained and practiced. Then she was lent to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for duty as a maritime schoolship for 17 years. Returned to the Navy on May 4, 1909, Enterprise was sold five months later.

 

The sixth Enterprise was a 66-foot motor patrol craft purchased by the Navy on Dec. 6, 1916. Photo courtesy of USS Enterprise CVN 65's official website.

The sixth Enterprise was a 66-foot motor patrol craft purchased by the Navy on Dec. 6, 1916. Photo courtesy of USS Enterprise CVN 65’s official website.

ENTERPRISE VI (1916-19)

The sixth Enterprise (No. 790), a 66-foot motorboat, was purchased by the Navy on Dec. 6, 1916. Placed with the 2nd Naval District on Sept. 25, 1917, the noncommissioned motorboat performed harbor tug duties at Newport, R.I. before going to New Bedford, Mass., Dec. 11, 1917. The motorboat was transferred to the Bureau of Fisheries Aug. 2, 1919.

 

USS Enterprise (C 6), was the most decorated ship in U.S. Navy history when she was decommissioned in 1946.

USS Enterprise (C 6), was the most decorated ship in U.S. Navy history when she was decommissioned in 1946.

ENTERPRISE VII (1938-1947)

Once again a proper warship, this time a Yorktown-class carrier, Enterprise (CV 6) earned her nickname—Big E. In World War II, she earned 20 battle stars, the most for any U.S. warship in World War II, for the crucial roles she played in numerous battles, including Midway, Guadalcanal, Leyte Gulf, and the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. During the Battle of Guadalcanal, Enterprise took three direct hits, killing 74 and wounding 95 crew members. It was the Enterprise that took on the Hornet’s aircraft after that carrier was abandoned during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Island Oct. 26, 1942.

U.S. Navy ships firing at attacking Japanese carrier aircraft during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, Oct. 26, 1942. USS Enterprise (CV-6) is at left, with at least two enemy planes visible overhead. In the right center is USS South Dakota, firing her starboard 5/38 secondary battery, as marked by the bright flash amidships. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-20989

U.S. Navy ships firing at attacking Japanese carrier aircraft during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, Oct. 26, 1942. USS Enterprise (CV-6) is at left, with at least two enemy planes visible overhead. In the right center is USS South Dakota, firing her starboard 5/38 secondary battery, as marked by the bright flash amidships. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Catalog #: 80-G-20989

By the end of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on Nov. 15, Enterprise had shared in sinking 16 ships and damaging eight more. After an overhaul for much of 1943, Enterprise was back in the fight when, on Nov. 26, 1943, the Big E introduced carrier-based night fighter operations in the Pacific. The Big E suffered the last of her damage on May 14, 1945, after a kamikaze plane struck the ship near her forward elevator, killing 14 and wounding 34 men. The most decorated ship in U.S. naval history entered the New York Naval Shipyard on Jan. 18, 1946 for inactivation and was decommissioned Feb. 17, 1947. She was sold July 1, 1958.

 

USS Enterprise (CVN-65) Underway, probably in the 1990s. This photograph was received in 1998. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

USS Enterprise (CVN-65) Underway, probably in the 1990s. This photograph was received in 1998. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

ENTERPRISE VIII (1961-2012)

In 1954, Congress authorized the construction of the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the eighth U.S. ship to bear the name Enterprise. The giant ship was to be powered by eight nuclear reactors, two for each of its four propeller shafts. This was a daring undertaking, for never before had two nuclear reactors ever been harnessed together. As such, when the engineers first started planning the ship’s propulsion system, they were uncertain how it would work, or even if it would work according to their theories. Three years and nine months after construction began, Enterprise (CVN 65) was ready to present to the world as “The First, The Finest” super carrier, and the construction was proven capable. Her long career, consisting of 25 deployments and 51 years of service to the United States, has been well documented and this space can’t begin to list her accomplishments, but those can be found here at the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website and in libraries across the country. The ship was inactivated Dec. 1, 2012; she is not expected to be decommissioned until 2016 following four years of nuclear defueling, dismantlement and recycling.

For more than two centuries, Enterprise Sailors have set the standard for excellence aboard the eight ships to proudly bear her name and will continue to do so upon the future commissioning of PCU Enterprise (CVN 80), the third Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier that is scheduled to be delivered to the fleet between 2025-27.

 
Mar 4

Constitution: The History of Maintaining America’s Ship of State

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 9:32 AM
Briton Michael Haywood’s romantic "Eagle of the sea takes wing" (2005) seeks to portray Constitution when first she went to sea in July 1798. This is part of the Library of Congress' online historical collection on USS Constitution

Briton Michael Haywood’s romantic “Eagle of the sea takes wing” (2005) seeks to portray Constitution when first she went to sea in July 1798. This is part of the Library of Congress’ online historical collection on USS Constitution

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat, is as much a symbol of early America as the Betsy Ross flag and the bald eagle. Launched in 1797, the wooden-hulled sailing frigate played vital roles in a young nation’s fledging naval fleet – from the Quasi War with France, the Barbary Wars with pirates, to the War of 1812.

As the Navy changed from wood to steel ships, from sail to steam-driven, Constitution’s greatest foe would be the hardest to defeat: Deterioration from age. By 1916, the once-proud fighting frigate was taking on up to 25 inches of water a week at her dock in Boston. A $100,000 patch nearly 10 years before had simply bandaged a bigger problem. By 1924, Old Ironsides required daily pumping just to stay afloat. Without $400,000 in repairs, the frigate was doomed.

Rather than requesting the funding from Congress, however, Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur decided to get the nation involved. Congress was more than happy to authorize the Navy to collect funds for the ship, passing an omnibus bill on this date (March 4), 1925. Two days later, as the 128-year-old Constitution listed at her dock, Wilbur appointed Rear Adm. Louis de Steiguer to lead the National Save Old Ironsides Campaign committee.

Wilbur had hoped America’s 16 million school children would contribute three cents each or less, and that idea fell a bit flat, bringing in $154,000. The sale of reproductive prints of the ship brought in another $292,000. Then came the sale of souvenir items off the frigate, items like wood, gavel sets, bookends, bolts, cigarette boxes, plaques and anchors.

When Constitution entered Dry Dock #1 in the Charlestown Navy Yard it was only her second time into this particular dock. She has the distinction, however, of being the first vessel to ever enter Dry Dock #1, on June 24, 1833, in the presence of Vice President Martin Van Buren and with Commodore Isaac Hull directing the docking from the ship’s quarter deck. This docking in June, 1927, marked the beginning of a 4-year, nearly $1 million restoration of the ship.

When Constitution entered Dry Dock #1 in the Charlestown Navy Yard it was only her second time into this particular dock. She has the distinction, however, of being the first vessel to ever enter Dry Dock #1, on June 24, 1833, in the presence of Vice President Martin Van Buren and with Commodore Isaac Hull directing the docking from the ship’s quarter deck. This docking in June, 1927, marked the beginning of a 4-year, nearly $1 million restoration of the ship.

After five years, the fundraising campaign had raised $617,000. Constitution went into drydock on June 16, 1927. But once repairs began, an additional $300,000 in funding from Congress was required.

To thank the citizens of the U.S. who had donated money and materials to the 1927-1931 restoration, the U.S. Navy sent Constitution on a "National Cruise" – a 3-year, 3-coast trip where she visited 76 ports for 90 stops and hosted over 4.6 million men, women, and children. This photograph shows Constitution being tugged into Corpus Christie, Texas, Feb.14, 1932.

To thank the citizens of the U.S. who had donated money and materials to the 1927-1931 restoration, the U.S. Navy sent Constitution on a “National Cruise” – a 3-year, 3-coast trip where she visited 76 ports for 90 stops and hosted over 4.6 million men, women, and children. This photograph shows Constitution being tugged into Corpus Christie, Texas, Feb.14, 1932.

This was not the first time USS Constitution would have school children sending pennies to keep the national treasure afloat. And it may not be the last.

Today, the frigate is preparing to once again go into drydock for another restoration. At 217 years old, about 12 percent of Constitution’s hull and keel are wood that was chopped down sometime in 1794. For the upcoming drydocking, 35 white oak trees were harvested at Naval Support Activity Crane in Indiana to support the ship’s repair.

“There will be no historic restoration at this time. We are checking the structural integrity of the ship and will try to do repairs in as historically accurate a manner as can be done,” explained Elizabeth Freese, the special assistant for the Historic Ship and Aircraft Maintenance within the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Constitution has undergone many repairs and restorations over her 200-plus years in service. The effort is not to bring Constitution back to her 1797 origins, but to her glory days during the War of 1812.

Even some of the ship’s repairs have historical significance. By 1803, while laid up in Boston, it was discovered that the English copper sheeting protecting the frigate’s hull had weakened during the time the ship sailed against the French during the Quasi War.

With the need to have warships protecting American merchant vessels from Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean, the old copper was removed and replaced with 3,668 pounds of copper sheeting from a copper mill owned by Paul Revere. (Yes, that Paul Revere, not the lead singer from the 60’s American rock band). It took 14 days to complete the task.

As soon as Constitution could set sail, she was tapped as the flagship of the third Mediterranean squadron during the Barbary Wars. Both the Tripoli and Tunis peace accords would be signed in the captain’s cabin on Constitution during 1805.

After a couple more overhauls between 1807-1811, Constitution was refitted at the Washington Navy Yard as tensions heated up between Great Britain and the United States. It was during this conflict the frigate would gain her greatest fame with an undefeated record against five British ships.

USS Constitution meeting with the Guerriere, 1812, 1812 -National Archives and Records Administration.

USS Constitution meeting with the Guerriere, 1812, 1812 -National Archives and Records Administration.

Her famous, first nickname came as Constitution and HMS Guerriere traded shots on Aug. 19, 1812. As British shot bounced off the ship’s hull, a sailor shouted: “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!” And thus the moniker, Old Ironsides, was born during the heat of battle.

While her sides weren’t made of iron, happily American live oak is stronger than English white oak and Constitution’s designer, Joshua Humphreys (the namesake of the newly-renovated NAVSEA building at the Washington Navy Yard), placed the ribs of the frigate four inches apart rather than eight as English shipbuilders had done. The frigate’s narrow but longer hull and nearly an acre of sail enabled her to outmaneuver larger ships.

By the end of 32 months, the wooden-hulled frigate was the darling of the War of 1812, and the only ship to have all of her captains from that war decorated by Congress: Capt. Isaac Hull, Commodore William Bainbridge and Capt. Charles Stewart

Just 15 years later, however, outdated and obsolete, Constitution loitered in the Boston Navy Yard when a survey was conducted to see what it would cost to bring the ships there into commission. A newspaper misunderstood the report and reported the grand old frigate would be scrapped. And that inspired a law student to pen a farewell to “Old Ironsides.”

Written by then-unknown poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the poem was reprinted coast to coast by newspapers, garnering public support for the ship. It was through his words Constitution received her second nickname from the last line of the second stanza: The Eagle of the Sea. The frigate received much-needed funding for repairs between 1833-34, and Holmes became one of America’s beloved poets.

Another serendipitous moment in Constitution’s life would come a generation later when the ship was brought back to the Boston Navy Yard just prior to her 100th birthday, thanks to the efforts of a Massachusetts congressman named John F. Fitzgerald… the grandfather of a future president who bore his name.

Constitution became a "receiving ship" in 1882 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine, when a large barn was built over her top deck and offices and barracks were installed on board. A receiving ship was a place where officers and enlisted personnel would await new orders. She was returned to Boston in September, 1897, one month before her centenary, still with the barn attached; the barn would not be removed until the superficial restoration of 1906-1907.

Constitution became a “receiving ship” in 1882 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine, when a large barn was built over her top deck and offices and barracks were installed on board. A receiving ship was a place where officers and enlisted personnel would await new orders. She was returned to Boston in September, 1897, one month before her centenary, still with the barn attached; the barn would not be removed until the superficial restoration of 1906-1907.

The ship had been out of active service with the Navy since 1881 and was again in need of repairs. The possibility – no matter how farfetched – of using the storied ship as target practice drew the ire of an Armenian immigrant, Moses H. Gulesian. He sent a telegram to Secretary of the Navy Charles Joseph Bonaparte offering $10,000 to purchase the ship.

Once the offer made the headlines in the Boston Globe Dec. 12, 1905, along with Bonaparte’s decline of the offer, Congress authorized $100,000 for repairs and designated her as a national treasure. Gulesian would later be elected president of the Old Ironsides Association.

Unfortunately, the repair work was mostly cosmetic, removing a barracks-like structure from her deck and replacing the sails, masts, spars and rigging, as well as putting in replica cannon. Despite the money, the hull continued to deteriorate, which set up the circumstances for the March 4, 1925 act of Congress to repair the mighty frigate again.

Also that same year, bronze salvaged from the ship was used to make 25 Medals of Honor given to World War I recipients.

Following the 1925 campaign to save Constitution, the frigate offered her thanks as she visited ports along with the East and West coasts.

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law authorizing the Navy to repair, equip and restore Constitution to her original appearance as much as possible.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Constitution’s launch on Oct. 21, 1797, the ship sailed under her own power off the coast of Marblehead, Maine. This celebratory event, with six new sails, was the first time Constitution had sailed in 116 years.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Constitution’s launch on Oct. 21, 1797, the ship sailed under her own power off the coast of Marblehead, Maine, in 1997 following a four-year restoration. This celebratory event, with six new sails, was the first time Constitution had sailed under her own power in 116 years.

Another restoration in 1992 included the re-installation of diagonal cross riders which have helped significantly to reduce the ship’s hogging and led to Old Ironsides proving she was indeed, the Eagle of the Sea, by sailing out of Boston Harbor in 1997 under her own power for the first time in 116 years.

USS Constitution sets sail in Boston Harbor Aug. 29, 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Victoria Kinney/Released)

USS Constitution sets sail in Boston Harbor Aug. 29, 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Victoria Kinney/Released)

To celebrate Constitution’s 200th anniversary of her victory over HMS Guerriere, the frigate sailed again Aug. 19, 2012, under her own power for the first time since 1997. Although an underway wasn’t in the offing, the ship recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of her final ‘dual-victory’ over Royal Navy ships HMS Cyane and HMS Levant on Feb. 20, 1815 in the final days of hostilities during the War of 1812 with a ceremonial gun salute, ceremony and reception.

Although soon to be out of active service to tourists and the Boston community, the much-beloved ship will continue to remain an icon in American history. Upon her return in 2018, the mighty frigate will once again prove to be the Eagle of the Sea.

 

Old Ironsides

By Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Aye tear her tattered ensign down

Long has it waved on high,

And many an eye has danced to see

That banner in the sky;

Beneath it rung the battle shout,

And burst the cannon’s roar;

The meteor of the ocean air

Shall sweep the clouds no more.

 

Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,

Where knelt the vanquished foe,

When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,

And waves were white below,

No more shall feel the victor’s tread,

Or know the conquered knee;

The harpies of the shore shall pluck

The eagle of the sea!

 

Oh, better that her shattered hulk

Should sink beneath the wave;

Her thunders shook the mighty deep,

And there should be her grave;

Nail to the mast her holy flag,

Set every threadbare sail,

And give her to the god of storms,

The lightning and the gale!’

 

 
Feb 28

USS Kauffman Sails on Last Journey

Saturday, February 28, 2015 8:53 AM
 The guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59) performs a high-speed turn during a seamanship training drill. Kauffman is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility in support of U.S. Southern Command and Operation MartilloJan. 24, 2015. The Navy and Coast Guard team will work to suppress illicit trafficking in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Shane A. Jackson/Released)

The guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59) performs a high-speed turn during a seamanship training drill. Kauffman is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility in support of U.S. Southern Command and Operation MartilloJan. 24, 2015. The Navy and Coast Guard team will work to suppress illicit trafficking in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Shane A. Jackson/Released)

By Cmdr. Michael Concannon, Commanding Officer, USS Kauffman (FFG 59)

Cmdr. Michael Concannon, Commanding Officer, USS Kauffman (FFG 59)

While is it too early to look forward to the end of the life of this great ship and the end of the FFG class, it is hard to ignore the last anniversary of the commissioning of Kauffman. It is my goal to keep my ship and crew focused on the task at hand; curbing the flow of illicit materials into North America. The amount of work required to achieve our mission is more than enough to keep our crew, Law Enforcement Detachment and Aviation Department busy. From weekly brief stops for fuel and logistical requirements, to the six or more hours of flight operations per day, to constant maintenance to keep us in the fight, our Sailors demonstrate the espirit de corps that would make our namesakes proud.

This ship bears the name of a father and son who dedicated their lives in service of their country, whose freedom our Sailors continue to cherish and defend as they did so selflessly many years ago. It is my goal to keep the legacy of Kauffman alive in the crew; that breathes life into the ship.

 Ens. Karl Ankersen, electrical officer aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59), takes the ship's bearing while on watch. Kauffman is underway in support of Operation Martillo, a joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard and partner nations within the 4th Fleet area of responsibility Feb. 4, 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Shane A. Jackson/Released)

Ens. Karl Ankersen, electrical officer aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59), takes the ship’s bearing while on watch. Kauffman is underway in support of Operation Martillo, a joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard and partner nations within the 4th Fleet area of responsibility Feb. 4, 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Shane A. Jackson/Released)

It is an incredible honor to be here now, underway onboard the last in a long line of accomplished warships, sharing in the string of “lasts” that we are honored to experience, including today. I will refrain from looking back in retrospect on all that this ship and this class of ship has achieved. Our mission is not done and our watch is not over, and the lions share of the work that is left will be shouldered by my remarkable crew. Instead of nostalgia, I would like to give you some insight on what these great Perry-class Sailors, who view themselves like the Destroyer-men of old, are doing to defend our freedom and to further the strategic goals of this great nation.

This mission is one that will produce tangible results that can be seen by both the crew and the American public at once. More than 80 percent of cocaine starts its journey out of South America into Central America, through the very waters we are patrolling, eventually making its way into North American markets. Our Navy and Coast Guard team are working hard to hunt down these illicit traffickers, using all assets available, and confiscate their illicit cargo, using the law enforcement capabilities of our USCG Detachment to bring them to justice. It is not easy work, and it requires an extraordinary amount of patience and constant vigilance by the entire crew.

A port bow view of the guided missile frigate USS KAUFFMAN (FFG 59) underway during sea trials Jan. 1, 1987.

A port bow view of the guided missile frigate USS KAUFFMAN (FFG 59) underway during sea trials Jan. 1, 1987.

This last mission is a fitting one for the type of Sailors that FFG’s have always bred. It is an around the clock mission, where most of our work is done in the middle of the night after a full days work. It requires a “jack of all trades” type of Sailor, one that can shift from administrative duties to manning a boat team ready to board and search a ship at a moments notice. These Sailors take an unequaled amount of pride in their work, and each day challenge one another to be their very best.

I hope that this blog helps to remind Americans of what their men and women who have volunteered to wear the cloth of our nation are doing to keep the streets of America a little safer and the futures of its citizens a little brighter. For the thousands and thousands of prior FFG-7 class Sailors, I hope this brings back fond memories of your service on these warships, and that you feel the pride we do to have served our nation on this class of ship. This commissioning anniversary is important for us on Kauffman as it represents the celebration of the birth of a warship; its significance is not lost on me. However, my focus right now is exactly where it needs to be; getting this ship and its crew through this deployment successfully. Please follow along with us on our last journey, and continue to support this last crew to join the fraternity of tin-can Sailors.

Family members watch as the guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59) departs Naval Station Norfolk for its final deployment. Kauffman will operate in the U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility and support U.S. Southern Command. Kauffman’s deployment also marks the last scheduled deployment by any Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate and, in September, the ship will be the last operationally-active frigate to decommission. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Laura Hoover/Released)

Family members watch as the guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59) departs Naval Station Norfolk for its final deployment. Kauffman will operate in the U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility and support U.S. Southern Command. Kauffman’s deployment also marks the last scheduled deployment by any Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate and, in September, the ship will be the last operationally-active frigate to decommission. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Laura Hoover/Released)

 
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.