Oct 13

The Birth of the Continental Navy

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 12:01 AM

For those Americans who lived on the continent’s coastal waterways in the fall of 1775, the question of naval defense was of no small moment. Hostilities with Great Britain were well into their sixth month and the prospect of a peaceful political settlement with the mother country appeared to be fading rapidly. Seizures of American shipping and harassment of local residents in northern and southern waters vividly illustrated the reach of the Royal Navy and the vulnerability of the continent’s seafaring communities to waterborne assault. For a maritime people whose prosperity and fortunes were tied to the sea, the prospect of full-scale conflict with the greatest sea power in the world must have been a chilling one indeed. Because Congress had already provided for an army to contend against the red coats, those who feared the British trident might reasonably have asked why could not Congress create a navy?

Over an eleven-day period in early October 1775, Congress deliberated on just this question, considering several schemes to fund the purchase or building of ships to defend the colonies. A number of congressmen argued vehemently against these proposals. Samuel Chase of Maryland declared one of the plans under consideration “the maddest Idea in the world,” one that would bankrupt the continent. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina called another plan “the most wild, visionary mad project that ever had been imagined.” He predicted “it would ruin the Character, and corrupt the morals of all our Seamen . . . [making] them selfish, piratical, mercenary, [and] bent wholly on plunder.” These arguments were countered effectively by John Adams and other pro-naval congressmen who forcefully articulated the advantages of a navy not only in “distressing the Ennemy,” but in making possible “a System of maritime and naval Opperations” to protect the American colonies.

Ultimately Adams and his fellow navalists carried the day and on 13 October Congress voted to fit out two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns, as well as swivel guns, and manned by crews of eighty, and to send them out on a three-month cruise to intercept transports carrying munitions and stores to the British army in America. This was the original legislation out of which the Continental Navy grew and as such constitutes the navy’s birth certificate.

Once the decision to purchase a modest size naval force was made, the push within Congress to create a regular naval establishment gained momentum. Before the year was out, the lawmakers had authorized the purchase of an additional six ships and the construction of thirteen frigates; selected a commander for the Continental fleet, Esek Hopkins; commissioned eighteen naval officers; created two Marine battalions; established service pay and subsistence tables; authorized prize moneys for the capture and sale of enemy warships; adopted a naval code of discipline drafted by John Adams; and formed an administrative body, the Marine Committee, to give force, guidance, and direction to the new navy.

The frenetic pace of activity in naval affairs continued through the first months of 1776 enabling Esek Hopkins to have his squadron of eight vessels manned and ready to put to sea on 17 February. Hopkins returned less than two months later with a large store of ordnance and munitions taken at New Providence Island in the Bahamas and with two British warships as prizes.

The work of John Adams and others in effecting the creation of the Continental Navy in the fall and winter of 1775-76 was an impressive achievement. In five months these dedicated navalists had brought together ships, men, and administrative machinery, and launched a fleet on its first operational cruise. It was a bold signal by America’s Continental leaders that they were willing to challenge Great Britain on the high seas.

While the Continental Navy never achieved the heights of greatness many Continental leaders envisioned for it, its accomplishments were nonetheless noteworthy and enduring. Over the course of the War of Independence, the navy sent to sea more than fifty armed vessels of various types. The navy’s squadrons and cruisers seized enemy supplies and carried correspondence and diplomats to Europe, returning with needed munitions. They took nearly 200 British vessels as prizes, some off the British Isles themselves, contributing to the demoralization of the enemy and forcing the British to divert warships to protect convoys and trade routes. In addition, the navy provoked diplomatic crises that helped bring France into the war against Great Britain. And at a time when the country had few national symbols to look to, the Continental Navy helped provide a focus for unity at home and a demonstration of national resolve abroad. Finally, the Continental Navy bequeathed a legacy of wartime experience, traditions, and heroes that has guided and inspired sailors and civilians in the United States Navy down to the present day.

Oct 12

Ten Years Later: Remembering USS Cole

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 8:55 AM

Ten years ago, Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig reflected on the terrorist attack on the USS Cole. Today we remember and honor the crew with his words, written in his Proceedings magazine article, “America Loves Its Citizens”:

“Mr. Secretary, we will save this ship. We will repair this ship. We will take this ship home, and we will sail this ship again to sea.”

One of the reasons that I love America is because it loves its citizens. In other times, and on this very day in other places, people are regarded as means and not ends, as fodder, stepping-stones, dispensable assets. Because we are not like that, we grieve today. We see in the 17 people who died on October 12th 17 wonders, 17 sons and daughters. We mourn brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, and those who will never be mothers and fathers. Seventeen unique people. We cherish them. We grieve because we could not protect them. Instead, they died protecting us.

That we live in America is, in itself, an act of grace. We came to it naturally; we were born into it. Or we were welcomed as immigrants; we were naturalized. By either route, America has been for everyone of us a gift, and what a stupendous gift, a country that was built collectively but cherishes us individually; a country built of the effort of servicemen and statesmen, farmers and factory workers, those who toiled on the railroad and those who bankrolled it. Our philosophers, our politicians, our priests, all together, created something bigger than any of us; and then, they gave it to us.

Any true gift is infused with opportunity, and responsibility that arises from that opportunity. An inherent talent, a good education, money in the bank—they all cry to the recipient, What will you make of this? What will you do individually? What will we do collectively in light of how many have done so much for us?

These 17 answered that question. They didn’t opt just for themselves; they didn’t stay home; they didn’t turn away from their country. They put themselves out there. They joined a family, the United States Navy, and the USS Cole (DDG-67)—a ship, the very essence of a group enterprise. And think not just of these 17. Think of the 39 who were injured, and then think of the 240 beyond them; the 240 who absorbed the shock of the explosion, who saw the death of 17, the injury of two score, but who turned to and fought on; fought together for their ship and for their shipmates.

For two days and two nights, they fought under the most extreme conditions—blood, bent and broken steel, flooding, uncertainty, and danger. They saved their ship, their injured—every one of them—and each other. And then their generators failed. The waters rose, and they, had to do it all over again. Waistdeep in water, manning bucket brigades by hand, they did it again. Amidst all of that, their captain said to me,

“Mr. Secretary, we will save this ship. We will repair this ship. We will take this ship home, and we will sail this ship again to sea.”

In every gift there is a responsibility. The Cole has given us a gift. The 17 join more than 1.3 million service men and women who have given us their lives. Thirty-nine from the Cole were injured; 240 fought on. All together, they added a building block to America. Will we, as recipients of this gift, live up to them? I think we will; we’re Americans.

Thank you, Cole.

Also: USS Cole (DDG 67): A guest post from CDR Kirk S. Lippold, USN (Ret.)

Oct 12

Breaking the Mold: The Ben Cloud Story

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 12:01 AM

Flying over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War in an RF-8 Crusader, Ben Cloud never pondered his status as an officer of African American and Native American descent. His main concern was getting good photos of the Ho Chi Minh trail, and surviving the antiaircraft fire he received on every mission.

Cloud came from a middle class family from San Diego, Calif., and entered the Naval Aviation Cadet program at the onset of the Korean War. He later was selected to fly one of the hottest planes of the period, the F9F Panther.

By 1971 his career was on a tear. After commanding a squadron and graduating near the top of his Naval War College class, he was deep selected to become the Executive Officer of the carrier Kitty Hawk.

On the night of 12 October 1972, the ship was steaming off the coast of North Vietnam, launching air strikes designed to put pressure on the North Vietnamese to end the war. Several black Sailors, disenchanted with their jobs and with the outcomes of several recent captain’s mast cases, assaulted white Sailors. These attackers were soon joined by peers, and Kitty Hawk had a full-blown riot on its hands.

Rather than send in Marines with firearms, the ship’s captain allowed Cdr. Cloud to try and negotiate. In the mold of a reconnaissance pilot, Cloud went to the fantail “alone, unarmed, and unafraid,” and confronted a hostile group of Sailors. Through sheer force of personality he convinced them to surrender the makeshift weapons they were carrying and end the riot. While 60 men had been injured in the affair, it could have been much worse. Kitty Hawk launched strikes just hours later despite having just suffered one of the worst riots in naval history.

Oct 11

The Battle of Valcour Island 11 October 1776

Monday, October 11, 2010 12:01 AM

October 11th is the anniversary of the most important naval battle of the American Revolution. It was fought on a fresh-water lake (Lake Champlain) by an American force consisting of fifteen small vessels, commanded by an army general, Benedict Arnold, who became America’s most notorious traitor. Opposing it was a larger British flotilla, firing a weight of metal almost twice that of the Americans. Not surprising, therefore, the British destroyed the American fleet and decisively won the battle of Valcour Island.

Why then is it such an important battle? Because to deal with the threat posed by this rag-tag American fleet, the British expended precious time to assemble their own naval force, costing them the opportunity to invade the United States along the route of the Hudson River during the campaign of 1776. After their victory, they retreated to Canada, regrouped, and waited until the next spring to begin driving southward. By then the Americans were better prepared and the invaders were unsupported because the main British army in America had left New York. As a result, the Americans forced the surrender of the invading force at Saratoga, New York. This victory, in turn, convinced France to ally itself with the United States, broadening the American Revolution into an international conflict and stretching British resources to the breaking point. Thus a little-remembered naval battle changed the course of the war and led directly to American victory.

Oct 10

Commitment and Perseverance: Float plane pilots Ens. Harvey P. Jolly and Lt (jg) Robert L. Dana.

Sunday, October 10, 2010 12:01 AM

Of the many dangerous and unglamorous assignments during World War II, flying single-engine float planes as part of an aviation detachment in a cruiser was particularly grueling duty. Tasked with scouting, search & rescue and gunfire spotting missions, the hours were long – especially in an open cockpit – the task technically complicated and the mission critical. It was also extremely dangerous, as pilots and support crew struggled with salt corrosion, lack of spare parts, tricky water landings and high performance enemy fighters.

The wartime exploits of two pilots of the float plane detachment in light cruiser Biloxi (CL 80) illustrate these points perfectly. Ens. Harvey P. Jolly joined the brand new warship for shakedown training in Chesapeake Bay in September 1943. Less than two weeks later, while the warship was enroute to Trinidad, Ens. Jolly’s Curtis SO3C Seagull float plane crashed during a landing attempt in rough water off the port beam. Both Jolly and his radioman ACMM John Phagan survived but the crash illustrates the daily hazards of aircraft at sea.

After the aviation detachment – as put in their own words – “exchanged four SO3C Seagulls and spare parts for two Vought OS2U Kingfishers and no spare parts,” Biloxi sailed for combat operations in early 1944. The float plane pilots spotted for shore bombardment missions – during which they often dodged enemy fighters – flew search & rescue missions and carried out anti-submarine patrols.

During air strikes off New Guinea on 21 April, Biloxi launched two Kingfishers to search for the crew of a downed dive bomber. Neither found the missing crew, despite Ens. Jolly pushing his aircraft to the limit and running out of gas. He made a hazardous water landing and was later picked up by Frazier (DD-607).

On 27 July 1944 Biloxi launched two birds to rescue a pilot sighted in the water just off Yap Island. Lt (jg) Robert L. Dana spotted the pilot and landed just outside the reef line. A Japanese anti-aircraft gun took the almost motionless plane under fire but was quickly silenced by circling American fighters. The downed pilot paddled his raft through the creaking swells but collapsed from exhaustion on the reef. Lt (jg) Dana taxied his aircraft close to the reef and managed to pull the pilot in with a line, saving the man’s life.

Lt (jg) Dana had another adventure on 10 October 1944 after picking up a carrier aircraft pilot off Okinawa. Trying to take off in rough seas his Kingfisher flipped and crashed, spilling the two pilots into the water. They were both rescued by submarine Sterlet (SS-392) and spent the next month on a war patrol, during which Sterlet sank at least two cargo ships.

 Both Jolly and Dana illustrated commitment and perseverance, refusing to back down in the face of tough odds. “Mission first, Sailors always.”

Oct 9

Irregular Warfare and the Vandalia expedition in Fiji, 1859

Saturday, October 9, 2010 6:00 AM

Irregular operations have a long history in the U.S. Navy. From cutting out expeditions against West Indian privateers in the 1790s, the sailing Navy’s version of visit-board-and-search operations off Tripoli in 1801 or skirmishes against rioters or Chinese troops during the Taiping rebellion in 1855, American Sailors were comfortable conducting irregular or ad hoc combat operations ashore. Under the command of skilled officers and experienced chief petty officers, veteran Sailors put the mission first, accomplishing remarkable feats at a then acceptable cost in lives. One of many examples took place in the South Pacific in the 1850s, an area of great interest to American merchants and traders.

It was cold and dark at 0300 on 9 October 1859 when the 40 Sailors and 10 Marines under Lt. Charles Caldwell prepared for battle, arming themselves with minié rifles, swords and a wheeled 12-pounder howitzer. Their ship, the chartered schooner Mechanic lay off Waya, a small, rugged island at the western edge of the Fiji archipelago. The expedition intended to climb the steep hills, pass into the interior and, as put by Lt. Caldwell in his diary, “destroy the town [of Somatti] and bring the natives to an engagement – It was a novel undertaking to assault and destroy a mountain tribe in their stronghold with a party of Seamen.”

The Sailors and Marines had arrived in Fiji a week earlier in sloop-of-war Vandalia, four months after departing Panama for a patrol among the islands of the South Pacific. Tasked with aiding Americans shipwrecked or in need of assistance, the warship had already rescued forty men of the clipper ship Wild Wave, wrecked on her passage from San Francisco to Valparaiso. Upon arrival at Ovalau, Fiji, on 2 October, the American consul reported aboard Vandalia and reported “that two men had been eaten by the natives of Waya.” Upon receiving this news, Capt. Arthur Sinclair ordered Lt. Caldwell, a veteran officer with 20 years of service, to take fifty men and bring the murderers to justice.

During their passage to the island, Lt. Caldwell’s expedition heard many stories from towns and villages about the ferocious warriors of Waya. Indeed, the Navy Sailors even received a message from the Wayans, who said, “Do you suppose we have killed the two white men for nothing? No, we killed them and we have eaten them. We are great warriors, and we delight in war…” After hearing this and other tales, Lt. Caldwell wrote “…and woe to the members of any strange tribe that falls into their hands… to be clubbed to death and eaten is the only alternative for the captive. It is not a matter of surprise that the tribes along our route learned with feelings of satisfaction the nature of our expedition.”

Provided with guides by friendly Fijians, the party debarked and began climbing the hills at 0500. After dragging the howitzer 2,300 feet upwards the rigging parted and the cannon fell back down the hill, breaking the axle. Feeling a bit like Sisyphus, the expedition left the 12-pounder behind and marched on after arming the crew with swords and carbines. Picking their way up steep defiles, through crevices, and along precipices with only room for one to pass, they arrived at the town after five hours of strenuous exertions. The natives waited in a final defile, “clothed in their funeral robes of white, with long scarves sweeping over the ground; their hair combed to radiate from this mass, forming an immense rig six feet in circumference.” Lt. Alan Ramsey of the Marines commented laconically that this merely made “them most conspicuous to the marksmen.”

The fifty or so Americans moved left at a run, skirmishing as they moved, the Sailors under the direction of Master’s Mate John K. Bartlett. After flanking the several hundred defenders, they sang the “Red, White, and Blue,” gave three hearty cheers and charged into the town. The howitzer crew took up combustibles and “commencing to leeward and working up to windward,” fired the town. Moving back through the same ravine, with the Marines as rearguard, the Americans were attacked by hundreds of natives with “a heavy discharge of firearms, thrown stones … heavy clubs, and a flight of arrows… they came quite near, moving with great quickness, but our men returning their fire with a rapid and steady discharge, and after a severe action of 15 or 20 minutes, repulsed them with a heavy loss on their part in killed and wounded.”

Moving downwards with their wounded — three men had been shot with musket balls, another took an arrow in the leg with two others injured by thrown rocks — Lt. Ramsey worried that the natives would try to “secure one body, at least, for their horrible feast,” but after an exhausting four hour march the expedition made it safely to sea. Lt. Caldwell carefully noted that while some government property — two ramrods and one bayonet — had been lost and a certain amount of powder and ball expended, at least a dozen natives had been killed and several dozen wounded. He received word that evening that the two tribal chiefs were dead, and the town mostly burnt. Justice was served, both physically and psychologically. On the voyage back the expedition stopped at fishing villages to spread the word of victory and receive congratulations.

Sources: Journal of John McCann, Vandalia, 11 November, 1857 – 4 January, 1860.; Report of the Secretary of the Navy to Congress, 1859; Vandalia source file, Warfare Division.

Oct 9

A Guadalcanal Fighter Pilot: Lieutenant (jg) Melvin C. Roach

Saturday, October 9, 2010 6:00 AM

Pictured in flight, the Grumman F4F was the primary Navy and Marine Corps fighter during the first year and a half of World War II. Photo #: NH 97493

VF-5 provided much needed air cover for the 1st Marines on Guadalcanal. In the late afternoon of 9 October 1942, eleven of their F4F fighters lifted off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal and headed west. They were acting as escorts for Navy and Marine SBD dive bombers and TBF torpedo planes sent out against an incoming Japanese “Tokyo Express” force, composed of the seaplane carrier Nisshin and five destroyers, which was bringing in troops, supplies, and heavy weapons to Guadalcanal. It was 1800 and the sun was almost touching the water when the fighting began. While the SBDs and TBFs let down to begin their runs on the Japanese ships, the first F4Fs started attacking several Japanese floatplane fighters that were flying overhead as combat air patrol.

Lieutenant (jg) Melvin C. Roach was flying one of the first pair of fighters following behind the leader. Roach, a Reservist who had gotten his wings the year before, had earned a degree in Chemical Engineering from Oklahoma A&M College before entering the service. He and his wingman having split up following an unsuccessful run on a floatplane fighter, Roach spotted another and finally managed to get on its tail. He fired on the Mitsubishi Type 0 floatplane, hitting it multiple times before it suddenly slowed, and he sped past it. The Japanese aircraft returned the favor, however, and Roach found his cockpit suddenly filling with smoke and spraying oil. Knowing his plane was badly damaged, he headed southwest for Buraku Island, even as the Japanese floatplane he had crippled ditched in the water below.

Some minutes later, after ditching successfully at sea in the dark, Mel Roach began paddling his rubber raft in the direction of Buraku. He finally reached the small, apparently uninhabited island—not much more than scrub brush, mangroves and a few coconut trees—in the early afternoon of 10 October. Having indicated his presence to two F4Fs flying overhead by firing off a flare, he finally was rescued after dawn the next day by a J2F “Duck,” but not before he had had been forced to spend a sleepless night hiding in a hole in a coral ledge from several Japanese soldiers who earlier had been marooned on the island.

Roach, who was eventually awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his exploits in the skies over Guadalcanal, received a regular Navy commission in early 1944. He was unfortunately killed in the Pacific in an aircraft accident on 12 June 1944.

Oct 8

Trailer to “Wings for the Navy…the Birth of Naval Aviation”

Friday, October 8, 2010 12:27 PM

This is a trailer for the 25 minute video “Wings for the Navy …the Birth of Naval Aviation” which is being prepared for next year’s Centennial of Naval Aviation.