Dec 7

Ens. Theodore W. Marshall, A-V(N), USNR: Perseverance at Pearl Harbor

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 12:01 AM

The first Japanese bombs to fall on Ford Island on Sunday, 7 December 1941, landed close to Patrol Squadron (VP) 22’s hangar. The surprise attack by the enemy, delivered with devastating precision at a number of places almost simultaneously, served as a rude and deadly form of reveille.

Ens. Theodore Wood Marshall, A-V(N), USNR, VP-21’s assistant flight officer, found himself without a plane when the Battle of Oahu began. The squadron’s sole Consolidated PBY-3 Catalina flying boat on the island lay under repair. The rest had been deployed to Midway, some to serve as a ready strike and search force, and others prepared to rendezvous with in-bound USMC scout bombers being delivered by the carrier Lexington (CV-2).

Marshall, born in Kansas City, Missouri, on 26 October 1917, had attended Rockhurst College, where he played polo. Beginning his service career as an aviation cadet in July 1938, he received his Naval Aviator wings (heavier-than-air) on 19 November 1939.

Amidst the tumult of battle, Ens. Marshall left the New Bachelor Officer’s Quarters, located at the opposite end of Ford Island from where the attack on the Navy’s long-range search capabilities had begun, and commandeered one of VP-21’s trucks. During the height of the Japanese first wave attacks, he drove between the officer’s quarters, the enlisted men’s barracks, and the squadron area, ferrying men to their battle stations. Bomb fragments and machine gun bullets riddled his vehicle.

Once he completed his transportation duty, Ens. Marshall spied an unmanned Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter. Despite the fact that he had never flown any service landplanes, he climbed up into the cockpit, coaxed the Grumman’s engine to life, and began to taxi. The movement apparently attracted unwanted attention, for strafing Japanese planes in the second attack wave badly damaged the F4F, leaving it unfit for flight.

Providentially unharmed, and undaunted, the intrepid ensign rushed over to the next carrier plane he saw, a Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, normally used as a torpedo or high-level bomber, “a type [as the F4F had been] with which he as entirely unfamiliar.” He managed to get the big aircraft started and took off to follow the retiring Japanese, chasing them for 150 miles. “Because of the slowness of his airplane,” however, he proved unsuccessful in his attempt to overtake the enemy. Dwindling fuel compelled Marshall to return to Oahu, where “through his skill and ingenuity,” he “was able to land the airplane without damage, even though he had never before flown that or any other service type land plane.”

For his heroism that momentous morning, Marshall received the Silver Star. He would again demonstrate “superb airmanship, initiative and courage” on 29 September 1944 when he brought his damaged patrol plane and its 11-man crew back to base after flying over 1,020 miles of open ocean. Ultimately, he retired from the Navy with the rank of commander in 1959, and was advanced to captain on the basis of combat awards.

 
Dec 6

Readiness and Care of Vessels in Inactive Status

Monday, December 6, 2010 1:10 PM

After victory in World War II, the United States Navy initiated a complex process to migrate portions of its massive armada into inactive status. This 1945 documentary explains the proper methodology for preparing a warship for the Reserve Fleet.

Source: Naval History and Heritage Command, Photographic Section, UM-20.

 
Dec 3

Navy Ace Bill Davis and The Last Ship

Friday, December 3, 2010 8:48 AM

Bill Davis in his F6F Hellcat. The washed out rectangles on the side are actually Japanese flags, one each for his seven aerial kills.

Naval History Blog is pleased to present a guest post by author Doug Keeney about his friend Bill Davis:

In October of 1944, a young Navy lieutenant nosed over his F6F Hellcat and began a dive towards a Japanese aircraft carrier below. “I screamed down on the carrier which now completely filled my gunsights,” the pilot wrote in his memoir Sinking The Rising Sun.

“I rested my finger on the bomb release button. I kept going.” And go he did. U.S. Navy fighter pilot William E. “Bill” Davis had no idea of it then but he was just seconds from taking his place among the many great Americans that have worn a Navy uniform. The ship filling his gunsights was no less than the Japanese carrier Zuikaku, the last of the fleet that had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Unlike today, back in 1941 no one sent out a fleet directive to hunt down those ships but every sailor had a mental list and as each ship was sunk, one name was checked off. Zuikaku was the last. With his F6F Hellcat insanely past the redline, Davis triggered the release, pulled back on his stick, and promptly slumped down into unconsciousness. No, he never saw his bomb but it squarely hit its mark, the beginning of the end for the Zuikaku, closure you might say, but Bill had little time to think about any of that. When his eyes fluttered open, his off-the-charts F6F was headed squarely into the side of the destroyer light cruiser Oyodo.

I met Bill Davis in 1972 at the Los Angeles Tennis Club and we became instant friends. Bill and I were of course avid tennis players but in the greatest of all coincidences we were both from the same very small suburb of Philadelphia and in fact had grown up just blocks apart, albeit with 40 years in between us. Bill had gone to the University of Pennsylvania as had my father and we were both pilots, too, but that’s where the comparisons ended. Bill was the recipient of the Navy Cross, a fighter ace in the Pacific with seven kills, the first in a gaggle of fighter pilots that would drop the bombs that would sink the last Japanese carrier that had attacked Pearl Harbor. Militarily at least, the final revenge for Pearl Harbor would come here.

Today, 69 years after Pearl Harbor, Bill’s bombing run may be the last untold story of Pearl Harbor. He managed to pull his F6F above the gunwales of the Oyodo and he flew through an impossibly small space between the forward gun turret and the bridge; he remembers the white uniform of a Japanese admiral and perhaps he saw his life flash before his eyes as he twisted his plane into a 500-mile-per-hour knife-edge pass and cleared the destroyer. Of course this is the stuff of the Navy’s highest honor but none of this had anything to do with why Bill nosed over into a hail of anti-aircraft fire and held steady until his bomb found its mark. Neither honor nor glory rode that Hellcat down to the deck, just duty. Bill did his duty and the reward he fought for was the reward men in World War II wanted more than any medal or ribbon. They wanted to go home. That Bill could do that and provide a measure of closure for the sailors that went down on December 7th was merely the added satisfaction of a job exceptionally well done.

Doug Keeney is a widely published author including his forthcoming book from St. Martin’s Press titled 15 Minutes: General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation. Bill Davis, 90, received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his Masters in Aeronautical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology. Bill began to write during his successful thirty-year career in business. His first work was optioned by 20th Century Fox.

 
Dec 2

All Hands TV – December

Thursday, December 2, 2010 4:26 PM

The December chapters of All Hands TV are on Navy TV for your viewing pleasure. Video of the Naval Special Warfare Community, where Navy Seals biked across America. Chapter Two is All Hands TV’s “News You Can Use”, touching on top headlines for this month. Then we meet Coach Kendrick Holmes, who is getting ready for an Individual Augmentee deployment to Afghanistan. Chapter 4 highlights the busy year of 2010 for the US Navy.

Navy TV – all Navy – all the time.

 
Dec 2

This month in USS Constitution History…

Thursday, December 2, 2010 3:26 PM

 

With the victory against the HMS Guerriere still looming in the hearts and minds of the American people, USS CONSTITUTION was once again called upon to protect the open seas against the British Royal Navy. USS CONSTITUTION departed from Boston, MA on the 27th of October 1812 with the Frigate Essex and the Brig Hornet under the Command of Commodore William Bainbridge to “harass the enemy and to afford protection to our commerce, pursuing that course, which to your best judgment may…appear to be best.”

On the morning of the 29th of December two unknown sails were spotted while off the coast of Sao Salvador, Brazil. Believing that the larger of the two ships to be a British Ship of the Line; Commodore Bainbridge steered his ship to the South East to avoid being trapped between them and the coast. As the unknown ship drew closer, it was determined to be the British frigate HMS Java under the command of Capt. Henry Lambert and both ships set a course South East with the Briton on Constitutions’ larboard quarter. Once the HMS Java had closed to within 1000 yards, Commodore Bainbridge ordered his 24-pounders to commence firing, aiming at the rigging in attempts to slow or even stop her. The enemy ship continued to close the distance, commenced firing at Constitution causing severe damage to her spars and rigging, and wounded Commodore Bainbridge in the thigh. It appeared the enemy ship was about to pull ahead and cross Constitution’s bow for a devastating rake when Commodore Bainbridge let loose an effective broad side and changed course in the smoke. A second attempt was again made to cut across Constitution’s bow for a raking maneuver and again was thwarted. On the third attempt to gain ground on Constitution, Commodore Bainbridge was prepared for all but what actually happened. As the enemy ship closed the distance she took up position behind Constitution and unleashed a devastating raking broadside from stern to bow which destroyed Constitution’s helm, took out all four helmsmen, and again wounded Commodore Bainbridge in the thigh. 

With the helm of Constitution destroyed and the fear of another raking maneuver it had to be a very trying time for Commodore Bainbridge. He gathered his thoughts and with the assistance of a midshipman, he began issuing orders to set up a jury-rigged steering system to allow Constitution to remain in the fight. He sent men down to the tiller room, located in the aft end of the berth deck behind the wardroom and had personnel stationed throughout the decks to allow for passage of orders for direction changes. The enemy ship, seeing the Constitution sailing steadily off, assumed she had enough and turned toward her to “finish her off.” Commodore Bainbridge took a chance and allowed the British frigate to close to within range of the 32-pounders. This risk paid off in the end. By 2:40PM the enemy’s bowsprit cap, Jib boom, and head sails were shot away. 

The advantage slowly shifted from the Briton to the USS Constitution in the next few moments. The enemy’s shots were becoming less accurate and with her head sails shot away, made the enemy ship less maneuverable. At 3:35PM a miss-judgment by the Briton caused her to run what was left of her bowsprit into Constitutions mizzen rigging which allowed Bainbridge to unleash a full broadside of Constitution both from her guns and the Marines stationed on the fighting tops. This action caused the main topmast to be severed just above the cap and fall to the decks. Captain Lambert was also mortally wounded at this time by an American sharpshooter. 

Once the ships were separated, Constitution had the advantage and performed two more raking maneuvers on the Briton and took position on her larboard beam. The Briton, not giving up just yet, fired the remaining three to five operational guns. The fight continued until approximately 4:55PM when HMS Java’s mizzen mast was shot away nearly at the deck. 

Silence reigned by 5:00PM. Commodore Bainbridge believed the Briton to have surrendered and sailed some distance to perform repairs to the ship before assuming control of the Briton. However, Bainbridge was deceived, having not yet surrendered and now under the command of First Lt. Henry Ducie Chads, the Briton prepared for further fighting by rigging an make-shift staysail hung between the fore mast and bowsprit to assist in control of the ship. The British Ensign was then raised to signify she was still in the battle but when it was noticed that Constitution was moving for yet another devastating raking broadside; Lt. Chads wisely lowered their ensign to signify surrender. 

The HMS Java suffered somewhere between 22 and 60 deaths and 101 wounded while the USS Constitution only suffered 9 deaths and 25 wounded. Reluctantly, being in enemy waters and given the condition of both the ship, along with the condition of Commodore Bainbridge himself, it was determined that the best course of action was to set the HMS Java ablaze rather then attempt to tow her home. Once the prisoners were loaded onto the Constitution, a course was set for Sao Salvador where she met with the Hornet. 

Once USS Constitution reached port the prisoner offload commenced and it is stated that Commodore Bainbridge came to Capt. Lambert and returned his sword telling him, “I return your sword, my dear sir, with the sincere which that you will recover, and wear it as you have hitherto done, with honor to yourself and your country.”Capt. Lambert died on the evening of the 3rd of January 1813.

The battle against the HMS Java proved to be a turning point for the ways the British Navy approached battles at sea. From that point on, British ships were no longer authorized to face American Heavy Frigates one on one. They must face them with squadron size. This is another example of how the American idealism and ingenuity prevailed in the designing and building of the USS Constitution and her five sister ships. In the face of possible defeat, the ship and her crew pulled together and became the successor.

 
Dec 1

December 1, 1921: First flight of airship filled with helium

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 1:32 PM

Blimp C-7 was piloted by LCDR Ralph F. Wood from Norfolk, Virginia to Washington, DC during the first flight of an airship filled with helium on December 1, 1921.

The design of the “C” model was based upon operational experience and was a decided advance over the “B”. The “C”s were 192 feet long and 42 feet in diameter, and had a streamlined car for the six-man crew. Speed ranged from 45-60 mph.

 

 
Nov 30

Minneapolis at Tassafaronga

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 12:01 AM

On the night of 30 November-1 December 1942, the cruisers and destroyers of Task Force 67 surprised a force of Japanese destroyers off Tassafaronga Point, Guadalcanal. The Japanese responded effectively to the attack and launched torpedoes. While the heavy cruiser Minneapolis (CA -36) and the other cruisers fired at Japanese transports and warships, the torpedoes started to hit. Minneapolis took two in the port side simultaneously. One torpedo struck below the stacks, blasting open boiler room number 2 and flooding boiler rooms 1 and 3 as well. The other torpedo struck well forward and detonated the aviation gas tank there. The resultant massive explosion blew 80 feet of the bow almost completely off. Avgas fires burned on the forward part of the ship and the forward magazines began to flood.

Ensign Allen W. Bain quickly moved the forward repair party into action. Bain was not a typical ensign; almost 34 years old, the North Dakota native served 10 years as an enlisted sailor and was warranted carpenter in Minneapolis in 1937. Bain remained with the cruiser, and fought in many of the early Pacific actions in early 1942. Promoted to temporary ensign in the summer of 1942, he stayed with the Minnie as operations began around Guadalcanal.

Bain led his men to the scene of the fire from their station on the second deck. As the ship continued to fight, Bain risked being blown overboard or severely injured by the blast of the forward 8-inch guns firing at targets crossing the bow as he directed the fire-fighting detail. Once the fire was extinguished, Bain made a rapid survey of the damage forward and quickly ascertained the extent of the destruction which he reported to Central Station, information of “great value in the damage control efforts.” For his heroism and “intelligent and fearless action” Bain received the Silver Star. 

Bain continued to serve the U.S. Navy, and retired as a commander in 1956.

 
Nov 29

UAB Loans MAC Lab a piece of Civil War History

Monday, November 29, 2010 5:05 PM

Loading the 3-ton cannon onto a trailer for transport. UAB photograph.

This morning, UAB welcomed members of the Maryland Archaeology Conservation (MAC) Laboratory team for the transport of a Civil War iron cannon. The 3-ton cannon was made in Liverpool, U.K. in 1862 and served aboard Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama until she was sunk in 1864 by USS Kearsarge. The cannon was recovered from the shipwreck in 2002 and conserved at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory (CRL). It will be displayed under a UAB Loan Agreement in the MAC Lab facility at Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum in St. Leonard, MD until 2015, with the possibility of renewing the loan at that time. UAB is very pleased to have the cannon available for public appreciation and thanks colleagues at MAC Lab for making this successful partnership possible.

The cannon ready for transporation to MAC Lab.

 
 
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