Oct 15

America’s Naval Technological Surprise in the War of 1812

Friday, October 15, 2010 12:13 PM

USS CONSTITUTION

The original six frigates of the US Navy were ahead of their time in design. Though ships have changed dramatically, we still hearken to the days of USS CONSTITUTION and her five sister ships before we were a major naval power. It wasn’t possible for our fledgling nation to build a fleet which could surpass the Royal Navy’s ships of the line. So a design was required which could both outfight anything it couldn’t out sail, and out sail anything it couldn’t outfight. A Philadelphia ship designer by the name of Joshua Humphries was hired to design the new ships.

To achieve the required speed and gunnery advantage, several advances were required in the design of the Humphries’ frigates. First, was a problem of carrying a superior number of guns per displacement. When too many guns were loaded, ships’ keels could become overstressed causing a dangerous condition known as “hogging”, where the middle of the keel is slowly bent upward over time. In addition to negatively affecting the sailing characteristics of the ship, this condition could eventually make the ship unusable. 

The solution to this problem was installation of pre-stressed diagonal riders rising from the keelson to major deck beams; effectively distributing the load across the entire keel. Further assisting with the distribution of the weight of guns was lock-scarphed planking, which “hooked together” thick planks, providing significant longitudinal strength. Another innovation involved the use of live oak, which was plentiful in the Americas, in the hull. Live Oak is much denser than the White Oak, which was widely used for hull construction at that time. To further enhance hull ruggedness, the gap between framing was reduced to only two inches, compared with two to four times that for other frigates of the day.

The capability of this new class of heavy frigates came as a surprise to the Royal Navy. After the battle of USS CONSTITUTION vs. HMS JAVA, British frigates were prohibited from engaging the American heavy frigates in single combat. Instead they were required to have a numerical advantage before they were allowed to offer combat.

 
Oct 15

Cool Ship Plaque: USS Alameda County (AVB-1)

Friday, October 15, 2010 7:30 AM

 
Oct 13

Reflecting on the Navy’s Heritage on its 235th Birthday

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:00 AM

Adapted from Chapter 2 of the 24th edition of The Bluejacket’s Manual by Thomas J. Cutler

Even though the United States is the fourth largest nation in the world in terms of land area, it has always been a maritime nation, focusing on the sea as one of its most important assets. During the colonial period and in the early days of the Republic, it was much easier to travel from colony to colony or state to state by ship than by horse or on foot, and fishing, whaling, and overseas trade were among the fledgling nation’s earliest businesses. One of its earliest challenges was the War of 1812, which was partially decided by a series of stellar naval victories against the world’s foremost sea power at the time. A naval blockade and riverine warfare were essential elements in the Civil War, and the war against Spain at the end of nineteenth century was begun by a naval tragedy and decided largely by naval victories. American commerce would never have thrived without open sea lanes, two world wars could not have been won without the lifelines maintained across the world’s oceans, and United States control of the sea was an essential element in the victory over Communism in the Cold War. Throughout the nation’s history, the sea has played an important role in America’s economy, defense, and foreign policy. Today, the modern United States of America continues to look to the sea for these same things and relies upon its Navy to preserve and further the nation’s maritime interests.

Being a maritime nation means having a comfortable relationship with the sea, using it to national advantage and seeing it as a highway rather than as an obstacle. An illustration of this point can be seen in World War II. By 1941, Hitler had conquered much of the land of Europe, but because Germany was not a maritime power, he saw the English Channel (a mere twenty miles across at one point) as a barrier, and England remained outside his grasp. Yet the Americans and British were later able to strike across this same channel into Europe to eventually bring Nazi Germany to its knees. And in that same war, the United States attacked Hitler’s forces in North Africa from clear across the Atlantic Ocean—a distance of more than 3,000 nautical miles.

The navy of a maritime nation must be able to carry out a variety of strategic missions. Currently, the U.S. Navy has 6 important missions, all of which have been carried out effectively at various times in the nation’s history:
• Sea Control
• Deterrence
• Forward presence
• Power projection
• Maritime Security
• Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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.”