Mar 9

First Clash of the Ironclads, 9 March 1862

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 12:01 AM

At dawn on 9 March 1862, the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia prepared for renewed combat in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The previous day the ship had seen her first combat action, utterly defeating two large Federal sailing frigates and demonstrating the superiority of armored steam-powered warships over their wooden sailing counterparts. Today, she expected to inflict a similar fate on the grounded steam frigate Minnesota and other enemy ships, probably freeing the lower Chesapeake Bay region of Union seapower and the land forces it supported. However, as they surveyed the opposite side of Hampton Roads, where Minnesota and other potential victims awaited their fate, the Confederates realized that things were not going to be so simple. There, looking small and low near the lofty frigate, was a vessel that could only be USS Monitor, the Union’s own ironclad, which had arrived the previous evening after a perilous voyage from New York. Though her crew was exhausted and their ship untested, Monitor was also preparing for action.

Undeterred, Virginia steamed out into Hampton Roads. Monitor positioned herself to protect the immobile Minnesota, and a general battle began. Both ships hammered away at each other with heavy cannon, and tried to run down and hopefully disable the other, but their iron-armored sides prevented vital damage. Virginia’s smokestack was shot away, further reducing her already modest mobility, and Monitor’s technological teething troubles hindered the effectiveness of her two 11-inch guns, the Navy’s most powerful weapons. Ammunition supply problems required her to temporarily pull away into shallower water where the deep-drafted Virginia could not follow, but she continued to cover Minnesota.

Shortly after noon Virginia gunners concentrated their fire on Monitor’s pilothouse, a small iron blockhouse near her bow. A shell hit there blinded Commanding Officer Lieutenant John L. Worden, forcing another withdrawal until he could be relieved at the conn. By the time Monitor was ready to return to the fight, Virginia had turned away toward Norfolk.

Though ending in stalemate, this first combat between armored equals, compared with the previous day’s terrible mismatch, symbolized the triumph of industrial age warfare, and set the stage for armored warship construction for decades to come.

Mar 3

A Profile in Courage—Petty Officer George E. Whalen

Thursday, March 3, 2011 12:00 PM

On the island of Iwo Jima on 26 February 1945, Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class George E. Whalen, USNR, attached to a rifle company in the Second Battalion, 26th Marines, retrieves a wounded Marine from in front of his company’s lines and carries him to safety. He is wounded in the left eye before he accomplishes this heroic act. Two days later Wahlen braves heavy mortar and rifle fire and voluntarily rushes to the aid of an adjacent platoon that has suffered heavy casualties, treating 14 men before returning to his own unit.

On 3 March, having been wounded in the back the previous day, Wahlen is wounded a third time as he treats his fallen shipmates. Unable to walk, he crawls 50 yards to render aid to a wounded Marine. For this and previous acts he is awarded the Medal of Honor, citing his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life.” Whalen was one of four Pharmacist’s Mates who was awarded the Navy’s highest honor for their acts of valor on Iwo Jima.

Mar 3

Chief Cosby – Front and Center!

Thursday, March 3, 2011 10:03 AM

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON)(SS/SW) Rick D. West, along with Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus recognized actor/comedian and former Sailor, Bill Cosby, as an honorary chief petty officer in a ceremony held at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center Feb. 17.

See the ceremony and laugh at his reminiscences of his time in the Navy – his mopping, buffing, the sonar test… on NAVY TV

Mar 1

Trusty Son of Neptune: Boatswain’s Mate William Kingsbury

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 12:01 AM

Just as it did for commissioned officers, service on the high seas during the War of 1812 provided opportunities for petty officers to distinguish themselves and thereby earn promotion, as the experiences of sailors in frigate Essex illustrate.

Violent weather in rounding Cape Horn in late February and early March 1813 tested Essex’s crew. By 1 March “the sea had increased to such a height, as to threaten to swallow us at every instant.” Captain David Porter recalled, “the whole ocean was one continued foam of breakers, and the heaviest squall that I ever before experienced, had not equaled in violence the most moderate intervals of this tremendous hurricane.” The storm’s climax came in the wee hours of the morning of the gale’s third day.

About 3 o’clock of the morning of the 3d, the watch only being on deck, an enormous sea broke over the ship, and for an instant destroyed every hope. Our gun-deck ports were burst in; both boats on the quarters stove; our spare spars washed from the chains; our head-rails washed away, and hammock stanchions burst in; and the ship perfectly deluged and water logged, immediately after this tremendous shock.

When the sea broke over the ship, one of the prisoners, taken in a British packet captured by Essex, cried out in a panic that the ship’s side had been stove in and the frigate was sinking. The torrent of water cascading down the hatchways lent credence to this statement and increased the crew’s alarm, especially of those men who had been “washed from the spar to the gun-deck, and from their hammocks.” “This was the only instance,” in which future admiral David Glasgow Farragut, then a midshipman, “ever saw a regular good seaman paralyzed by fear at the dangers of the sea.”

Fortunately for all, several men, including those at the wheel, held fast and maintained their stations, and most of the men below responded promptly to the call for all hands on deck. Boatswain’s Mate William Kingsbury, whom Farragut remembered as the “trusty old son of Neptune” who played the role of Neptune when Essex crossed the line earlier in the cruise, led the men and heartened them, roaring with the voice of a lion, “Damn your eyes, there is one side of her left yet!”

The petty officers who “distinguished themselves by their coolness and activity after the shock” Porter advanced one grade by filling up posts vacated by men sent away in prize ships. Since the boatswain’s post was occupied, Boatswain’s Mate Kingsbury’s recognition had to wait. In May, when Porter converted a captured British whaler into a cruiser rechristened Essex Junior, he appointed Kingsbury its acting boatswain.

Feb 27

CDR Paul Milius and Observation Squadron 67

Sunday, February 27, 2011 12:01 AM

During the Vietnam War, how to interdict the men and material North Vietnam sent south through neutral Laos and Cambodia proved to be one of the most vexing challenges faced by the United States military. In the Fall of 1966, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara requested that Army Lieutenant General Alfred Starbird, Director, Defense Communications Planning Group devise a system to reduce enemy flow of supplies and reinforcements from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. Lieutenant General Starbird recommended use of a seismic and acoustic detection system to monitor the movement of enemy vehicles and troops along the HoChi Minh Trail. The task of placing the sensors fell to the Navy which converted 12 P-2E Neptune patrol and anti-submarine aircraft, redesignated OP-2E, for the purpose of inserting modified sonobuoys into the jungle canopy. The converted aircraft, part of the newly formed Observation Squadron SIXTY SEVEN (VO-67), arrived at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base in November 1967 and soon began to fly the missions for which the squadron had been created. The squadron had prepared intensely for ten months to meet the 15 November target date for all of her aircraft to be in country and operational. However, the unique nature of the squadron’s mission insured that much would have to be learned from experience.

Two of the squadron’s aircraft had already been lost to enemy fire by February 27, 1968 when the OP-2E under the command of Commander Paul Milius flew into Laos to deliver her equipment. As the aircraft flew at an altitude of 5000 feet, without warning an explosion ripped into the radar well that instantly killed PO2 John F. Hartzheim and severely damaged the planes hydraulic and electrical systems. As smoke and fumes filled the fuselage, Commander Milius took control of the aircraft and turned rightward toward a safe area. Lieutenant (j.g.) Richard E. Jacobs attempted to alleviate the effects of the smoke by removing a hatch on the flight deck, but Commander Milius realized that the damage to the aircraft had been too severe and ordered the crew to evacuate. Ensign Thomas G. Wells suffered serious burns to his hands as searched in vain for a fire extinguisher to quell the blaze in the radar well of the aircraft. During the search, he realized that the rest of the crew had left the aircraft and only he, Hartzheim, and Commander Milius remained. Ensign Wells followed Milius out of the aircraft into the jungle below. The 37th Air Rescue Squadron and the 602nd Fighter Commando Squadron almost immediately departed Nakhon Phanom to begin the search for the downed crew. The rescue helicopters recovered seven of the eight surviving crew, but never found Commander Milius. On 25 June 1968, VO-67 flew her last mission and the squadron disestablished on 1 July. 

The Navy posthumously promoted Milius to Captain and awarded him the Navy Cross for his actions. The award credits him with “Remaining at the controls to insure stable flight” despite the damage suffered by his aircraft. Captain Milius’ actions played a significant role in the survival of all but one of his crew. On November 23, 1996 the Navy commissioned the destroyer named in his honor, MILIUS (DDG-69).

Feb 24

Black History Month Highlight: Medal of Honor Recipient John Lawson

Thursday, February 24, 2011 3:13 PM

Biography and images courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

John Lawson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 16 June 1837. In 1864, he was a member of USS Hartford‘s crew. During the Battle of Mobile Bay, 5 August 1864, while serving as a member of the ship’s berth deck ammunition party, he was seriously wounded but remained at his post and continued to supply Hartford‘s guns. For his heroism in this action, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. John Lawson died on 3 May 1919 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is buried at Mount Peace Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey.

An August Morning with Farragut
William Heyshand Overend

Medal of Honor citation of Landsman John Lawson (as printed in the official publication “Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy”, pages 34-35):

“On board the flagship U.S.S. Hartford during successful attacks against Fort Morgan, rebel gunboats and the ram Tennessee in Mobile Bay on 5 August 1864. Wounded in the leg and thrown violently against the side of the ship when an enemy shell killed or wounded the six-man crew at the shell whip on the berth deck, LAWSON, upon regaining his composure, promptly returned to his station and, although urged to go below for treatment, steadfastly continued his duties throughout the remainder of the action.”


For more information on the African American experience in the United States Navy, go to THIS LINK.

Or visit the official Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial Blog HERE.

Feb 23

Recognizing Enlisted Personnel: USS Osmond Ingram

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 12:01 AM

Painting by Charles B. Falls, depicting the gallant but futile effort of Gunner's Mate First Class Osmond K. Ingram, USN, to release the ship's depth charges just before she was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine U-61 on 15 October 1917. Ingram was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism on this occasion.

February 23rd marks the anniversary of the launching of USS Osmond Ingram (DD 225). Launched in 1919, it was the first Navy ship named for an enlisted man.

Its namesake, Osmond Kelly Ingram, entered the Navy in 1903. Rising to the rank of Gunner’s Mate First Class, Ingram served on USS Cassin (DD 43) when the destroyer was attacked by a German U-boat off Ireland on 16 October 1917. While cleaning the muzzle of a gun after morning target practice, Ingram spotted a torpedo, which, in the words of Cassin’s commander, was “running on the surface, and on a direct course to strike us amidships.” Desperate evasive maneuvers seemed to have succeeded when suddenly the torpedo “porpoised,” or jumped completely out of the water, turned left, and struck Cassin near the stern above the waterline. From his vantage point, Ingram realized that the “fish” would hit close to the depth charge rack, detonating those explosives and greatly increasing damage to Cassin and the threat to its crew. With no regard for his own safety, Ingram sprinted aft to release the depth charges. Before he could jettison all the charges, however, the torpedo struck, detonating the remaining depth charges, killing Ingram, and nearly ripping the stern off Cassin.

Though heavily damaged, the American destroyer was able to fire at the U-boat once it surfaced, forcing it to abandon its attack. The crippled warship was later towed to the naval base at Queenstown, Ireland, where she was repaired and returned to service.

For his selfless action, Ingram, the first enlisted man killed in action in World War I, was awarded the Medal of Honor. The destroyer named for him continued his legacy of honored service, receiving six battle stars and a Presidential Unit citation during World War II.

With the launching of Osmond Ingram, the Navy continued and furthered a program of greater appreciation of and increased opportunities for its enlisted personnel, which continues to this day.

Feb 20

Harriers from Nassau

Sunday, February 20, 2011 12:01 AM

On 20 February 1991 the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA4) launched four AV-8B Harriers of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 331, flight call sign ‘Magic’ just before dawn. This flight was the first combat strike by fixed-wing aircraft from the flight deck of an amphibious assault ship, and was directed at Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries and surface to air missile (SAM) sites at Az Zwar on the western end of Faylakah Island. Bad weather diverted the flight, however, and they instead hit targets near Iraq’s IJmm Qasr Naval Base on the Iraq-Kuwait border. The strike was successful, despite Iraqi opposition including at least one surface to air missile launched at the four Harriers.

The Nassau carried the 19 Harriers of Marine Attack Squadron 331, nicknamed the ‘Bumblebees’ rather than its normal mix of Harriers and helicopters in order to provide dedicated fixed-wing air support for the Marine forces floating in the Gulf as an amphibious threat during Operation Desert Storm. This use of the Nassau was not without controversy, as the relatively short range of the Harriers required the Nassau to stand in closer to shore and the danger of mines. In addition, the Nassau’s munitions storage was limited to approximately three days of strikes.

Despite these issues, the Nassau and Marine Attack Squadron 331 launched 242 combat strikes and expended 300 tons of ordnance against Iraqi targets from 20 and 27 February 1991. The strikes hit Iraqi defensive positions, anti-aircraft batteries, artillery, and armor throughout Kuwait despite bad weather and thick clouds of smoke from oil wells the Iraqis had lit on fire. On 26 February the Iraqi retreat shifted the squadron’s targets to the fleeing Iraqi columns, especially around Al-Jahrah in Kuwait.

On 27 February, while engaged in strikes against these Iraqi convoys, Captain Reginald C. Underwood was killed when his AV-8B Harrier was struck by a surface to air missile. Captain Underwood’s aircraft was the only one the ‘Bumblebees’ lost to enemy action during this first combat deployment of Harriers aboard a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship.