Mar 23

USS Hornet Captures HMS Penguin, 23 March 1815

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 12:01 AM

Though the United States had ratified the 24 December 1814 Treaty of Ghent on 18 February 1815, thus formally bringing the War of 1812 to an end, this information took a long time to reach ships at sea. Thus, in the late morning of 23 March 1815, when the U.S. sloop-of- war Hornet, under Master Commandant James Biddle, sighted the British brig-sloop Penguin (of similar size and force) off Tristan d’Acunha island in the south Atlantic, neither vessel was aware that their two nations were now at peace.

The two sloops approached each other on roughly parallel courses, Penguin to windward, and opened fire at about 1:40 p.m. They exchanged broadsides (Hornet firing to starboard, Penguin to port) for some fifteen minutes when the British commanding officer was mortally wounded while attempting to run down his adversary. Penguin’s bowsprit then caught in Hornet’s rigging and, as the two separated, broke away, taking with it her foremast. Disabled and very much the worse off from American gunfire, the British warship surrendered shortly after 2 p.m. She was too badly damaged to save, and her crew was sent to Rio de Janeiro in the U.S. schooner Tom Bowline, which arrived on the scene in company with U.S. sloop-of-war Peacock soon after the battle.

Hornet and Peacock remained in the vicinity for about three more weeks, then sailed for the East Indies, still unaware that the war was over. While en route on 27 April they sighted HMS Cornwallis, a 74-gun ship of the line, and mistook her for an East Indiaman. A long chase ensued when they discovered their error. By skillful seamanship, assisted by the British ship’s poor gunnery, the two Americans escaped. However, Hornet had thrown overboard her spare spars, boats, nearly all of her guns and ammunition, and other equipment and supplies to gain speed. She thus was obliged to return to the U.S., arriving at New York on 9 June 1815.

Mar 21

Soviet Sub Collides with USS Kitty Hawk, 21 March 1984

Monday, March 21, 2011 12:01 AM

USS Kitty Hawk’s (CV 63) fourteenth deployment in early 1984 found her at the center of a great deal of activity. During the joint United States/Republic of Korea Exercise Team Spirit 84-1, Kitty Hawk’s Battle Group Bravo encountered numerous Soviet forces during the eight-day event. Reconnaissance aircraft overflew the group 43 times while six Soviet surface units and one submarine made an appearance.

It was the submarine, however, that had a lasting impact on the ship and its cruise. At 2207 on 21 March the submarine surfaced and collided with the carrier. The captain and starboard lookout both saw the silhouette of a sub without navigation lights moving away from the ship. Two SH-3H helicopters inspected the sub without noting any apparent damage, but a large piece of the submarine’s screw had broken off in Kitty Hawk’s hull.

The submarine was believed to be a Victor-I class attack boat, tentatively identified as K-314 (610). During the exercise it had been tracked and “killed” more than fifteen times after it was spotted on the surface fifty miles in front of the battle group.

The collision occurred despite the Incidents at Sea agreement that SECNAV John Warner and Admiral Sergei Gorshkov had signed in 1972. This agreement, designed to uphold the United States’ long cherished belief in freedom of the seas and prevent dangerous and hostile collisions at sea, was ignored in this instance. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James Watkins reflected, “The reason behind the Soviet submarine captain’s slip in judgment is the only mystery here. He showed uncharacteristically poor seamanship in not staying clear of Kitty Hawk. That should cause concern in Moscow.”

Mar 20

In a Death Grip: Lieutenant James S. Greenwood’s Escape

Sunday, March 20, 2011 12:01 AM

Lieutenant James S. Greenwood and his RIO, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Richard R. Ratzlaff, flew an armed reconnaissance as Silver Kite 202, a Phantom from VF-92 Silver Kings flying from Enterprise (CVAN 65), during a strike near the Vinh Luu Bridge in North Vietnam, on the evening of 20 March 1966. They had dropped to barely a hundred feet when enemy gunners suddenly opened fire.

Flames erupted in both of the Phantom’s engines, and Greenwood lost control as the jet pitched nose down, which forced both men to eject. Greenwood, with legs feeling “numb” from tight straps attached to his leg restraints and bleeding from a laceration to his head, hit the water about three miles out, but Ratzlaff went in barely a hundred yards from the beach. Fifteen to twenty junks and sampans sailed in the vicinity, and numerous people ashore ran out and captured Ratzlaff.

Observing the fate of his backseater, Greenwood hesitated to draw attention by inflating his flotation gear and waited until he spotted Crown Bravo, an Air Force Albatross flying search patterns. The men could not spot Greenwood through the gloom of the overcast, however, so the downed pilot fired a pencil flare to alert them; but the enemy spotted the flare. Turning around, Greenwood was stunned to see a boat closing rapidly.

The North Vietnamese fired at Greenwood so the crew of the Albatross made two passes over the junk, exchanging automatic fire with the North Vietnamese and dropping two empty fuel tanks that narrowly missed the boat. Although enemy fire hit the Albatross, the men were undaunted and refused to abandon the downed pilot. Hobokens 402 and 410, a pair of Skyhawks, hurtled in strafing and rocketing the junk, which caused about half of the North Vietnamese on board to jump overboard, but the others bravely returned fire at the Skyhawks.

Meanwhile, frigate Worden (DLG 18) launched Clementine Angel, her Seasprite, Lt. Comdr. David J. McCracken, Ens. Robert H. Clark, Jr., Chief Davis and AMH2 G.E. McCormack of HC-1 Detachment 5 Froggy Five. As they approached, the enemy shifted fire toward the helo. “I flew toward what I thought was the flare,” McCracken later reflected upon their close call, “got too close to some junks near the beach….”

McCracken made a firing pass from fifty feet, which enabled McCormack to return fire with the M-60. McCormack’s caused more North Vietnamese to jump, but the firefight became so intense that Clark lent a hand with an M-1 Thompson.

Mortar and machine gun fire from shore began to rain down on the scene. Clementine Angel hovered over Greenwood and lowered a horse collar sling as the pilot gratefully grabbed the sling “in a death grip,” mortar rounds straddled the helo and the splash of the first shell lifted the Seasprite’s tail and put it into forward motion. McCracken later noted that “Getting out of there was my intention anyway–but not in so violent a maneuver!”

Greenwood spent about an hour in the frigate’s sick bay in shock and another several hours recovering. The enemy did not release Ratzlaff until 12 February 1973, however, the men of Froggy Five rescued forty-eight shipmates during this deployment and received a Navy Commendation.

Mar 20

Navy’s First Carrier Commissioned, 20 March 1922

Sunday, March 20, 2011 12:01 AM

USS Langley (CV 1) was commissioned on 20 March 1922 as the first U.S. aircraft carrier, under the command of Cdr. Kenneth Whiting. The Norfolk Navy Yard had converted Langley from the collier Jupiter (AC 3), replacing her coal-handling derricks with a wooden flight deck, and converting holds to hangars and fuel tanks. While the ship was officially named in honor of aviation pioneer Samuel P. Langley, pilots also endearingly nicknamed her the “Covered Wagon.” The Navy’s first carrier takeoff took place on board Langley on 17 October 1922, followed nine days later by the first carrier landing.

Transferred to the Pacific in 1924, Langley was the platform from which naval aviators, guided by Capt. Joseph M. Reeves, undertook the development of carrier operating techniques and tactics. Though newer, larger, and faster aircraft carriers began arriving in the fleet by the late 1920s, Langley remained an operational carrier until October 1936, when she began conversion to a seaplane tender.

Reclassified AV 3 following completion of this work in early 1937, Langley was mainly employed in the Pacific for the rest of her days. Through the early months of World War II she supported seaplane patrols and provided aircraft transportation services. While carrying Army fighters to the Netherlands East Indies on 27 February 1942, Langley was attacked by Japanese aircraft. Hit by several bombs and disabled, she was scuttled by her escorting destroyers.

Mar 19

USS Oregon (BB-3) Begins Her “Dash” Around South America, 19 March 1898

Saturday, March 19, 2011 12:01 AM

USS Oregon (BB-3) was commissioned in San Francisco, California, in 1896, and was serving on the West Coast in 1898 when she was ordered to the Atlantic for service in the impending Spanish-American War. Departing San Francisco on 19 March, Oregon coaled in Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Barbados, and experienced severe weather along the way that included a dangerous storm in the confining Strait of Magellan. Oregon arrived in Florida on 24 May, 66 days and 14,000 miles out of San Francisco, and by 1 June was in the war zone off Cuba.

This epic voyage—conducted without radar, radio, or underway logistics, and with the power for every knot delivered by stokers moving coal with shovels—caught the attention of the American public. It demonstrated the ability of Navy ships to operate in all conditions, and underscored the need for a Central American canal between the oceans. Five years later, construction on what is now the Panama Canal began.

Oregon returned to the Pacific in 1899 and supported the Army during the Philippine Insurrection. The rest of Oregon’s career was anticlimactic. The battleship alternated between periods out of commission and quiet peacetime service between 1906 and 1917, and played only a small role in World War I. By the end of 1919 the ship had been decommissioned for the last time. Oregon was loaned to the state of Oregon in 1925 and was on public display in Portland until 1942. The Navy retrieved the ship for her scrap value, but changed its mind and converted the ship to an ammunition storage hulk for use at newly reconquered Guam. The ship remained at Guam past the end of the war, although in 1948 a typhoon broke the ship from her moorings, to be recovered several weeks later and 500 miles away. Oregon’s hulk was sold for scrapping in 1956.

Mar 19

The Navy’s First Enlisted Women, 19 March 1917

Saturday, March 19, 2011 12:01 AM

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels authorized the enlistment of women on 19 March 1917 to help alleviate a projected shortage of clerical workers. They served under Class 4 of the 1916 United States Naval Reserve Force that provided for the first enrollment or enlistment of officer and enlisted personnel. Loretta Perfectus Walsh of Olyphant, Pennsylvania, became the first woman to enlist on 21 March 1917. By the time war with Germany was officially declared on 6 April, 200 women had joined her.

To distinguish these women from their male counterparts the Navy established the rate of Yeoman (F), though they were also known as “Yeomanettes” or “Yeowomen.” Men and women in the same rank earned equal pay, something not available in the civilian sector. Unlike their male counterparts, the highest rank a Yeoman (F) could reach was that of chief petty officer. Since they did not receive basic training, these enlisted women took classes and learned how to drill in the evenings. They worked as couriers, draftsmen, fingerprint experts, masters-at-arms, mess attendants, paymasters, recruiters, switchboard operators, and translators. A select few worked overseas at base hospitals in France and in naval intelligence in Puerto Rico. Female reservists also participated in Victory Loan Drives and parades. By the signing of the 11 November 1918 armistice between the Allies and Germany, a total of 11,275 Yeomen (F) had served in the Navy. The last Yeoman (F) was discharged from active duty in July 1919.

Mar 18

NavyTV – Women’s History Month Tribute

Friday, March 18, 2011 5:52 AM

March is Women’s History Month and NavyTV thought it would be appropriate to reintroduce the Navy’s top four Sailors in 2010 — the first time all four awardees were women! Meet HMC Ingrid J. Cortez, OSC Samira McBride, HMC Shalanda L. Brewer, and CTC Cassandra L. Foote, as they talk about their pride in their work and their responsibility to their Sailors here on NavyTV. In July, 2010, the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead presided over the pinning ceremony for the four Sailors of the Year, the first year all four awardees were women.

Mar 16

River Warrior: LT Harold “Dale” Meyerkord

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 12:01 AM

Captain William H. Hardcastle, the chief of the U.S. Naval Advisory Group in South Vietnam during the early 1960s, believed that the ideal advisor had to be a “co-equal” leader with his Vietnamese counterpart, and be in the forefront of all operations. “Should an advisor flinch under such fire, or show signs of nervousness, or momentary indecision,” wrote Hardcastle, “it would be immediately noted by the Vietnamese River Force personnel, and the advisor’s effectiveness would be diminished.”

Lieutenant Harold “Dale” Meyerkord exemplified these virtues. By the spring of 1965, he had received enemy fire on more than 30 combat missions, and in several of these actions, had performed well above and beyond the call of duty.

For Meyerkord, service with a Vietnamese River Assault Group represented an opportunity to participate in operations not witnessed by many U.S. Navy officers since the American Civil War. Meyerkord joined the United States Naval Reserve in 1960 shortly after graduating from the University of Missouri at Columbia as a political science major. After serving on the cruiser Los Angeles (CA-135) and the destroyer Duncan (DD-874), he volunteered for duty as an advisor in Southeast Asia because, as he wrote in a letter to his mother, “a lot is going on there that will eventually change the world.”

On the day of his last mission, 16 March 1965, Meyerkord was scheduled to appear at the Naval Advisory Group headquarters to receive a Bronze Star. Early that day, Meyerkord contacted Captain Hardcastle’s office and asked to be excused from the ceremony, explaining that he wanted to accompany his counterpart, Lieutenant Dai Huy Hoa, on a mission against a suspected Viet Cong position near Vinh Long. Later that day, he and Hoa lead a small flotilla of riverine craft down a canal. The small boats turned a bend and caught a fusillade of enemy fire. Chief Eugene Barney seized his 12-guage shotgun and took cover with an Army advisor behind a bench. Meyerkord remained in the exposed deckhouse and returned fire with his pistol. After a bullet slammed into his stomach, he cried out, “I’m hit,” and collapsed on the deckhouse but continued firing. Barney got up and grabbed Meyerkord in a bear hug and attempted to get him to safety. A round hit Meyerkord in the chin and another struck Barney’s back. Both men collapsed onto the deck of the commandement. Barney, who would later receive a Bronze Star for his heroism that day was flown by helicopter to the Third Field Hospital near Saigon, and then back to the United States, where would spend the next six months recovering from his wound at the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. Meyerkord was not as fortunate. He died by the time the commandement reached Vinh Long a few hours later.

Meyerkord was one of the first U.S. Navy officers killed in Southeast Asia. His death marked the end of the advisory period of the war and the beginning of a more active phase in the Navy’s involvement in South Vietnam. The Navy ultimately awarded Meyerkord a Navy Cross and named a frigate (FF-1058) after him. The U.S. Navy lost one of its best riverine fighters when Meyerkord died, but as one of Meyerkord’s U.S. Army colleagues, Oscar Padgett, put it, “If you send the best over here, you’re going to lose the best.”