Jan 10

Battle of Attu: Task Force 51

Monday, January 10, 2011 12:01 AM

In June 1942, the island of Attu in the Aleutian Islands was captured by the Japanese. The island was retaken by American forces in May 1943. This silent film contains footage of the ships of Task Force 51 en route to Attu in 1943 in support of the American invasion.

Source: Naval History and Heritage Command, Photographic Section, UM-23.

Jan 8

Daniel Todd Patterson and the Battle of New Orleans

Saturday, January 8, 2011 12:01 PM

On 8 January 1815, U.S. forces under Major General Andrew Jackson crushed an invading British army on the banks of the Mississippi River five miles below the City of New Orleans. It was a stunning and humiliating defeat for the British whose men were better-trained, better-equipped, and heavily outnumbered their Yankee foe. News of Jackson’s victory, achieved against such great odds, electrified the nation and catapulted the Tennessee general to fame as a military hero. Thirteen years later “Old Hickory” would use the acclaim he acquired as the savior of New Orleans to campaign for and win the U.S. presidency.

While Andrew Jackson’s name has become synonymous with the Battle of New Orleans, the role of his naval counterpart, Daniel Todd Patterson, in successfully defending the Crescent City is less well-remembered. This is regrettable as Patterson’s contributions to the achievement of American victory at New Orleans were significant and deserve recognition. In the estimation of historian and Jackson biographer Robert Remini, Patterson was “one of the most important and valuable figures in the defense of New Orleans.”

Daniel Patterson entered the Navy in 1799 at the age of thirteen. By the time he arrived on the New Orleans Station in 1807, the native New Yorker had seen active service in both the Quasi and Barbary Wars. In October 1813, Secretary of the Navy Jones appointed Patterson commandant of the New Orleans Station. Although he lacked adequate resources to defend the coastline and waters within the limits of his command, Patterson executed his duties with energy and diligence. In October of 1814, he commanded American naval forces in a successful joint operation against the Baratarian pirates, temporarily eliminating a significant threat to U.S. commerce in Gulf waters.

In the weeks leading up to the Battle of New Orleans, Patterson demonstrated his ability to conduct and coordinate joint operations with the army effectively. His gunboats provided Jackson’s army with logistical support, protected its coastal lines of communication, and supplied it with intelligence on enemy movements. Once the British invasion force had established itself on the east bank of the Mississippi, Patterson and his sailors provided Jackson’s army with close combat support, directing counter-battery fire on British lines from ships in the river and from shore batteries erected by Patterson on the west bank of the river. On the day of the battle, while Patterson commanded naval batteries on the west bank of the Mississippi, contingents of his Sailors and Marines fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Jackson’s polyglot force of regulars, militiamen, and volunteers on the opposite bank.

Patterson’s services in the defense of New Orleans earned him high praise from Jackson who complemented that officer on his bravery and spirit of cooperation. His conduct also earned him the gratitude of Congress and promotion to the rank of captain. Patterson continued to serve with distinction in the Navy for another twenty-four years. His later assignments included command of USS Constitution, service on the Navy Board of Commissioners, command of the Mediterranean Squadron, and command of the Washington Navy Yard. Three Navy ships have been named for Daniel Todd Patterson: DD-36, DD-392, and DE/FF-1061.

Jan 8

Storeship Culgoa Provides Earthquake Relief, 1909

Saturday, January 8, 2011 12:01 AM

At 5:20 a.m. on 28 December 1908, a powerful earthquake struck southern Italy. The city of Messina was devastated, with at least 95% of its buildings reduced to rubble and almost 100,000 of its 150,000 residents killed. RAdm. Charles S. Sperry, Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, dispatched the storeship Culgoa from the homeward-bound Great White Fleet to the disaster area, and ordered “all medical stores from every ship that could be spared” transferred to the storeship, which also embarked four hospital apprentices and two medical officers.

The ship’s bakers and cooks prepared almost 3,000 loaves of bread and 2,200 pounds of boiled ham while enroute. Culgoa reached Messina on 8 January 1909, and boats filled with desperate local residents soon swarmed around her. CO Cdr. John B. Patton ordered provisions distributed to all comers.

The next day Culgoa transferred 55 tons of supplies ashore and landed men to begin excavating the U.S. Consulate to retrieve the remains of the U.S. Consul and his wife. XO Lt. Louis J. Connelly found Messina “practically a complete wreck. Many streets…filled to the level of the second floor with debris.” When Culgoa later relinquished the sad task of excavating the Consulate to the tender Yankton, the storeship got underway and visited several cities and towns near the Strait of Messina, issuing “stores…needed for the sick and the delicate.” The local residents particularly appreciated “small packages [of salt, tea, cocoa, biscuits, and canned meat] so they could be carried to the interior.”

RAdm. Sperry later expressed his “complete satisfaction with the manner in which [Culgoa had] performed this arduous and somewhat delicate duty.” One hundred years later, the Navy continues to answer the call when disaster strikes anywhere around the world.

Jan 7

New York City Honors USS United States, 7 January 1813

Friday, January 7, 2011 12:01 AM

Three stunning frigate victories over the seemingly invincible Royal Navy in the first six months of the War of 1812 had catapulted America’s fledgling naval force to giddy heights by January 1813. In September 1812, Boston fêted the officers of USS Constitution after that ship returned from its win over HMS Guerriere. Not to be outdone, New York hosted a celebration in December 1812 for the officers of USS United States, after that frigate escorted its 25 October prize, HMS Macedonian, to that city. On 7 January, the city fathers honored the 400 sailors and marines of United States with dinner and a theatrical show after the crew had paraded through the city streets. The triumphant frigate’s officers, led by their captain, Stephen Decatur, ate separately from their men, joining them briefly for accolades, before leaving them to wile away the night with liquor, song, and toasts. A sampling of the latter included: “All the pretty girls who like Yankee Tars” and “Success to the Frigate United States and plenty of prize money.”

One striking facet of the second war for independence was the transparency between friend and foe. The British fourteen-year-old Samuel Leech was serving as a “powder monkey” on Macedonian when United States captured it. Leech, along with many of his fellow seamen, escaped when the American prize crew sailed the captured British vessel to the port of New York. Some American tars invited Leech to join them in attending the city’s festivities. After a cartel ship left America with the exchanged Macedonians, Leech had the audacity to return to his former ship to retrieve his clothes. He covered his Royal Navy anchor buttons with cloth to disguise his identity. Leech never regretted leaving the harsh wooden world of a British man-of-war for service in the American navy.

Jan 6

Navy TV – All Hands

Thursday, January 6, 2011 8:38 AM

In the January edition of All Hands Television, we hear “News You Can Use,” we head to the Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center, we see the bond among Navy SEALs,

we learn about Arleigh Burke-Class Destroyers, we head to Fort Washington, and we get a preview of a story for next month. All this and more on the January edition of All Hands Television!

Jan 6

1861: Superior Naval Bureaucracy

Thursday, January 6, 2011 12:01 AM

People often measure a nation’s ship building capacity in terms of facilities and machinery. What is usually overlooked is the system for letting contracts, overseeing construction, managing labor, and making payments – in short, the bureaucracy of ship construction. At the start of the American Civil War in 1861, the U.S. Navy in the eastern theater began with an advantage over its Confederate counterpart in both ships and facilities. On the western rivers, however, neither side started the conflict with warships, and the south had a number of strong manufacturing facilities, especially at Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans. The southern states, to be sure, suffered from inherent disadvantages such as shortages of skilled labor and an overloaded transportation system. Nevertheless the Confederacy’s biggest problem was the central government’s laissez-faire attitude toward industry that did nothing to prevent intense competition from developing among contractors for raw materials, labor, and railroads, causing fatal delays in completing the construction of ironclad warships on the western rivers. By contrast, the U.S. Navy’s bureaucracy in contracting for and overseeing the construction of warships in civilian yards led to the deployment of a powerful ironclad squadron that proved decisive in the first six months of campaigning in 1862.

Barely two weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861 President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet summoned to Washington James Buchanan Eads, a wealthy St. Louis naval engineer who had made his reputation salvaging cargos and sunken steamers on the Mississippi River. The cabinet approved Eads plan to construct a fleet of shallow-draft armored gunboats to control passage of the western rivers, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles assigned Naval Constructor Samuel Pook to study the details and draft plans for the gunboats. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs was placed in control of the project, and Pook submitted his plans on 6 July. Bid openings were held on 5 August, and as the lowest responsible bidder, Eads signed the contract two days later to build for the government seven ironclad vessels, ready for their armament, by 10 October. Eads was liable for forfeitures for delays, and the Treasury withheld 25% to guarantee contract performance. There was also a supplemental agreement regarding deviations from specifications which might cause delays in completion.

Despite the ambitions of the U.S. Government and James Eads, delays crept into the process. Mistakes in the shipment of materials led to work stoppages, threats from Confederate forces in nearby regions played havoc with the demand for goods, and additional work ordered by the naval officer assigned to supervise the construction of the vessels all pushed back the completion date. Still, several key elements in this example of early war naval bureaucracy led to its remarkable success. In James Eads, the government selected a skilled contractor with the financial resources to keep the project going during times that government payments were delayed. Eads also had a strong network of regional subcontractors that permitted him to start the project quickly and keep it running with few disruptions. The contract provided strong incentives to complete the work rapidly. The man assigned to supervise construction, Andrew Hull Foote, was an exacting, experienced naval officer who quickly developed a close working relationship with Eads. Although the additional work he ordered led to delays, the ironclads were more capable fighting vessels as a result. On 16 January 1862 all seven gunboats were placed in commission at Cairo, Illinois.

Although the Union gunboats were ready several weeks after they were expected, they were still way ahead of the four Confederate ironclads under construction at Memphis and New Orleans. The Confederate government accepted offers from private contractors to build powerful armored warships at these cities during the summer of 1861, but provided little administrative assistance or oversight. Workers strikes, inefficient shipment of resources, poor design specifications, shortages of funds, and a host of other problems plagued the southern shipbuilders. Not one of the four Confederate ironclads was completed by the time New Orleans fell in April and Memphis in June 1862.

One Northern paper characterized the events between February and June 1862, as a “Deluge of Victories in the West.” Union forces won battles at Forts Henry and Donelson, Island Number 10, Shiloh, Memphis, and New Orleans. They captured 50,000 square miles of Confederate territory and gained control of 1000 miles of navigable rives. Federal troops took two state capitals and put 30,000 Confederate soldiers out of action. This success was made possible by an ironclad squadron created by a superior naval bureaucracy; one that the Confederates did not have. This gave the Union forces the opportunity to strike first in the west and with great force.

Jan 5

Variable Time Fuse’s Combat Debut

Wednesday, January 5, 2011 12:01 AM

On 5 January 1943, Task Group 67.2, commanded by Rear Admiral Mahlon S. Tisdale, carried out a bombardment against airfields and military installations at Munda, on the Japanese-occupied island of New Georgia in the Solomons. Shortly after the remainder of Task Force 67 joined up with Tisdale’s warships, Japanese aircraft launched attacks on the force—air strikes that resulted in the near miss of the light cruiser USS Honolulu (CL 48) and the damaging of the New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Achilles. During this action the light cruiser USS Helena (CL 50) became the first U.S. Navy warship to employ the new Variable Time (VT) or proximity-fused antiaircraft shells to defend the ship against the attacking planes. Her VT-armed 5-inch/38 guns succeeded in downing a Japanese Aichi Type 99 VAL carrier bomber in the fight.

The then highly secret VT shell relied on a radar fuse located in its nose to give off radio waves that bounced off the incoming plane, and when the shell came within a lethal distance of the aircraft it automatically exploded—knocking its target out of the sky. Although it was used by U.S. Navy combatants in the Pacific in the months that followed, this wonder weapon achieved its greatest role some two and half years later, in the waters off Okinawa, Japan. There, during the lengthy fighting to seize that pivotal island, proximity-fused antiaircraft shells from the quad 40mm and 5-inch/38 guns of destroyer escorts, destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in the Fleet shot down hundreds of Japanese Kamikaze aircraft whose pilots were bent on hitting the American ships offshore by crashing into them. By downing these suicide planes before they could hit their targets, the VT-fused shells saved the lives of thousands of Allied sailors who otherwise would have been killed.

Jan 4

19th Century Furloughs

Tuesday, January 4, 2011 12:01 AM

Wishing to reduce its war-fighting assets after the end of the Quasi War, Congress passed the Peace Establishment Act of 1801 in the waning days of the Adams Administration, drastically curtailing personnel and ships. Despite these cuts, during the ten years before the outbreak of the War of 1812, numerous officers vied for berths in the few remaining vessels. The Navy Department dealt with this surplus of manpower, as well as the accompanying animosity it engendered, and provided essential on-the-job training for its officers, by allowing these men to take furloughs, often to join merchant cruises.

Approximately one-fifth to one-fourth of furloughs approved by the secretary of the navy during these years of the Early Republic were for men requesting leave for such voyages. Furloughs benefitted both parties: midshipmen and lieutenants supplemented their income, while both they and the Navy profited from their honing their seamanship skills. The department particularly encouraged cruises to India, Java, and China because the men studied lunar navigation on these lengthy journeys. Status tensions prevented young officers on a man of war from learning the manual operations of a ship, but those lines of authority disappeared on a merchant ship, thus permitting the development of essential competencies.

Permitting Sailors to undertake professional and personal opportunities marked a flexible Navy in 1809. The ultimate goal of Stephen Decatur’s and today’s Navy is the same: force preparedness.