Dec 4

Giving His All: Naval Pilot Crash Lands to Save Fellow Aviator

Thursday, December 4, 2014 10:00 AM
Lt. j.g. Thomas J. Hudner, of Fall River, Mass., awarded the Medal of Honor for heroically attempting to rescue Ensign Jesse L. Brown, who had been shot down by enemy fire near the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, on Dec. 4, 1950. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Lt. j.g. Thomas J. Hudner, of Fall River, Mass., awarded the Medal of Honor for heroically attempting to rescue Ensign Jesse L. Brown, who had been shot down by enemy fire near the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, on Dec. 4, 1950. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

The city of Fall River, Mass. was just like every other major city in the United States during the beginning of World War II. Young men were eager to join the military and do their part for their country, including a young man named Thomas J. Hudner, Jr. whose family owned and operated a chain of grocery stores.

Hudner was an average student at the prestigious Phillips Academy, but excelled in sports like football and lacrosse. After a rousing speech by the academy headmaster, Hudner decided to apply for admission to the U.S. Naval Academy where he was accepted along with nine others from Phillips.

After graduating in 1946, Hudner served as a communications officer onboard surface ships like heavy cruiser Helena (CA 75) and at Naval Base Pearl Harbor for almost two years. By this time, he was ready for a new challenge and in 1948 was accepted into the flight training program. He earned his wings of gold in August of 1949.

Lt. j g. Hudner was stationed in Lebanon for a few months before being assigned to Fighter Squadron 32 (VF-32) aboard aircraft carrier USS Leyte (CV 32) as an F4U Corsair pilot. By the fall of 1950, Hudner was flying combat missions in Korea. Another VF-32 pilot onboard Leyte flying combat missions was Ensign Jesse Brown, the first African-American naval aviator.

Ensign Jesse L. Brown in the cockpit of an F4U-4 Corsair fighter, circa 1950. He was the first African-American to be trained by the Navy as a naval aviator, and such, became the first African-American naval aviator to see combat. Brown flew with Fighter Squadron 32 (VF-32) from USS Leyte (CV-32). He died after his plane was hit by antiaircraft fire and crashed during a mission at Chosin Reservoir on Dec. 4, 1950. Fellow aviator Lt. j.g. Thomas J. Hudner crash-landed his plane to help Brown, but was unable to recover his body before being forced to leave with his rescue helicopter as darkness fell. Hudner would receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic attempt to rescue his fellow aviator. Official U.S. Navy Photograph

Ensign Jesse L. Brown in the cockpit of an F4U-4 Corsair fighter, circa 1950. He was the first African-American to be trained by the Navy as a naval aviator, and such, became the first African-American naval aviator to see combat. Brown flew with Fighter Squadron 32 (VF-32) from USS Leyte (CV-32). He died after his plane was hit by antiaircraft fire and crashed during a mission at Chosin Reservoir on Dec. 4, 1950. Fellow aviator Lt. j.g. Thomas J. Hudner crash-landed his plane to help Brown, but was unable to recover his body before being forced to leave with his rescue helicopter as darkness fell. Hudner would receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic attempt to rescue his fellow aviator. Official U.S. Navy Photograph

On Dec. 4, 1950, Hudner and five other fighters, including Brown, had orders to fly an armed reconnaissance mission over the Chosin Reservoir to keep eyes in the sky and attack enemy troops that threatened Americans and their allies.

While attacking enemy positions at a low altitude, Brown’s aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire. Losing power and oil pressure, the aircraft was too low for Brown to bail out or clear the snow-covered mountains. Hudner knew Brown was in trouble, so he began calling off a checklist to help prepare him for the inevitable crash landing.

When Brown did land, it was with such force that the fuselage buckled at the cockpit and Hudner at first believed Brown died on impact. After circling the crash site a few times, however, he observed Brown was moving but unable to free himself from the cockpit.

Knowing his flight leader would deny his request to land and rescue Brown, Hudner didn’t bother asking permission. He knew in the time it would take rescue helicopters to get to Brown it would be too late because of the freezing temperatures and his injuries.

As soon as Hudner dropped his flaps and made his wheels up hard landing, he quickly made his way to Brown. Hudner’s attempts to pull Brown out of the wreckage revealed Brown’s right leg was crushed under the damaged instrument panel. While Brown drifted in and out of consciousness, Hudner kept trying to free his fellow aviator, all the while packing snow into the still-smoking engine.

By the time a U.S. helicopter arrived to help, Brown was unconscious. For almost 45 minutes, Hudner and the helicopter pilot used an ax to hack away at the damaged plane but they could not free Brown. Even a plan to amputate the leg with a knife wouldn’t work because they had no firm footing due to the snow. As nightfall approached with the corresponding drop in temperature, Hudner and the helicopter pilot reached a grim decision to leave Brown behind since the pilot would be unable to fly in the dark. Brown was already near death and died shortly afterward.

Hudner was reprimanded by his chain of command and others for crashing his own plane in enemy territory but he believed it was something he had to do because he felt it was right. Almost five months later, Hudner received the Medal of Honor for his heroism from President Harry S. Truman, the first awarded for action in Korea.

Sponsor and others on the christening platform, during launching ceremonies of USS Jesse L. Brown (DE 1089) at Avondale Shipyards, Westwego, La., March 18, 1972. Those present are (from left to right): Rear Adm. John W. Dolan, Jr., Deputy Commander for Shipyard Management and Program Director for Shipyard Modernization, Naval Ship Systems Command; Mrs. Gilbert W. Thorne, ship's sponsor; Henry Z. Carter, president, Avondale Shipyards, Inc., and Capt. Thomas J. Hudner, Head, Aviation Technical Training, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Sponsor and others on the christening platform, during launching ceremonies of USS Jesse L. Brown (DE 1089) at Avondale Shipyards, Westwego, La., March 18, 1972. Those present are (from left to right): Rear Adm. John W. Dolan, Jr., Deputy Commander for Shipyard Management and Program Director for Shipyard Modernization, Naval Ship Systems Command; Mrs. Gilbert W. Thorne, ship’s sponsor; Henry Z. Carter, president, Avondale Shipyards, Inc., and Capt. Thomas J. Hudner, Head, Aviation Technical Training, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

After his tour was complete with VF 32, Hudner would hold a variety of training, operational and staff assignments. He commanded Training Squadron 24 (VT-24) in 1965-66 and then served as executive officer of USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63). During the early 1970s, Capt. Hudner was Head of Aviation Technical Training in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. He retired from the Navy in March of 1973. Most recently, he has served as the Massachusetts Commissioner for Veterans Affairs. Hudner has lived in Concord, Mass. with his wife, Georgea since 1991. A contract was signed in 2012 for the 66th Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116).

Hudner never forgot his buddy who was left behind. In July of 2013, he visited Pyongyang, North Korea during an unsuccessful attempt to locate and recover Brown’s remains from the crash site.

 
Dec 1

100 Years after His Death, A.T. Mahan Remains a Touchstone

Monday, December 1, 2014 8:00 AM
Rear Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan

Rear Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Rear Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s death at his home in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 1914.

Yet despite the years, debate still swirls around the legendary Mahan and his collective writings, a total of 20 books and 160 articles, chief among them The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. That book alone, published in 1890, and has been translated into French, German, Russian and Japanese, just to name a few.

From the time the book was published, Mahan “has been much challenged, but he is never ignored, or if so, at their peril,” stated Barry M. Gough, a Canadian and maritime historian in his essay “Influence of History on Mahan” during a 1990 conference at the Naval War College. “Mahan is etched in time. He was the principal philosopher of sea power of the late nineteenth century, a naval Mohammed. He was a journeyman historian in research and writing skills, besides being a capable synthesis of secondary historical works, who conceived of a series of books explaining the role that naval affairs at sea had played in the shaping of the world to his time of writing.”

Naval officer. Historian. Strategist. Mahan was most likely a bit of all, and each area influenced the others.

“He wasn’t the first naval historian, but he was the first to conceptualize the role of sea power in the human affairs of his time, rescuing from the forgotten historical record the relevant details of how victory at sea was arrived and what benefits devolved to the victor at sea,” Gough said.

His books came out during a period of time called Social Darwinism, when many persons in numerous branches of intellectual inquiry were seeking scientific explanations of human behavior. It played a strong role in the shaping of American and British political thought at the time, Gough said.

Charles Darwin, who wrote the other major profoundly influential book of the mid-nineteenth century, Origin of Species, was seeking a more general theory of mutation and evolution. This was an era of extraordinary historical theorizing. Important theories were being expounded concerning historical development and philosophical understanding, by historians Jacob Burckhardt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sir John Robert Seeley and J.B. Bury.”

Historian, theorist or simply a strategist, whatever can be said about Mahan, he certainly was not as black and white as some of his theories.

He was born at West Point, N.Y., home of the U.S. Military Academy where his father, Dennis Hart Mahan, was a distinguished professor of Civil and Military Engineering. Mahan’s own middle name, Thayer, was a nod to the “father of West Point,” Sylvanus Thayer. After attending St. James, a boarding school near Hagerstown, Md., Mahan entered Columbia College in New York City.

Bucking his parents’ wishes, Mahan went to then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, himself a West Point alumni, to obtain an appointment to the Naval Academy. By special arrangement (the only occasion on record of that concession being made), Mahan entered the Third Class on Oct. 7, 1856. He graduated from the Academy, second in his class of 20, in 1859. During the Civil War, Mahan served on a variety of ships, but apparently the ships under Mahan’s command had a woeful habit of running into either stationary or moving objects. He did, however, suggest a number of ideas, such as outfitting a “mystery” ship to decoy Confederate blockade runners.

While Mahan extolled the virtues of the sea-service, actual sea-service wasn’t his thing, just one more aspect of this complex man.

“We know that he was bright, extraordinarily vain, though he tried to hide it. He was unpopular and isolated at the Naval Academy because of his rigid belief in discipline. He admired the Royal Navy and sought to emulate its discipline in the U.S. Navy. He was socially awkward with women and apparently as isolated from them as he was from the men in the Navy,” Gough’s essay pointed out. “His love of the sea was not strong, and if his biographers are to be believed, he hated ship-board life. Somehow in Stephen B. Luce he found a patron, and had he not had that opportunity, it seems probably that he would not have taken to the task of becoming a first-rate historian.”

During Mahan’s sea-faring days, he was in the Orient where he was present at the opening of the treaty ports of Kobe and Osaka, Japan, in 1867; served on China Station in 1869. After a visit to Europe, Mahan was ordered to the SS Worcester, chartered by the Navy Department as a relief ship to carry foodstuffs to the French people who had been reported in dire need.

He was detached from that duty on Aug. 3, 1871 and in December 1872 assumed his first command, USS Wasp, of the South Atlantic Squadron. He continued in that command until January 1875, when he was ordered to return to the United States, and home to await further orders.

In August 1876, he was designated as a member of the Board of Examiners at the Naval Academy, and during his period of duty there he won third prize in 1878 in the Naval Institute’s contest for the best essay on “Naval Education for Officers and Men.” This was his first published article. In the summer of 1880 he was ordered to the Navigation Department, New York Navy Yard, and on Sept. 9, 1883, he assumed command of Wachusett at Callao, Peru. In the Wachusett he visited ports on the west coast of South America.

In October 1885 he was assigned duty as Lecturer on Naval Tactics and History at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. President Stephen B. Luce allowed Mahan to study and read history for a year. And it was while reading The History of Rome by Theodor Mommsen that Mahan realized there was virtually no recognition given to Roman sea power during the Rome Republics’ battles with Carthaginian Gen. Hannibal Barca during the Second Punic Wars.

“He grasped the single insight that so revolutionized the study of naval history,” Gough said. “His masterpiece set forth three considerations on which maritime dominance could rest: instruments of war (including bases), seaborne commerce, and colonies.”

At his own request, Mahan was retired Nov. 17, 1896, after 40 years of active service, in order to devote his full time to writing on naval subjects. He returned to active duty at the beginning of the Spanish-American War, and in May 1898 was appointed to the Naval Board of Strategy. In 1899 he served as one of the American delegates at the First Peace Conference at The Hague, The Netherlands.

During the years to follow, he was recalled to active service as Member of the Board of Visitors, Naval Academy, (May 1903); with the Senate Commission on Merchant Marine (November 1904); to report on studies and conclusions of the Naval War Board during the War with Spain (July 1906); as a Member of the Committee on Documentary Historical Publications under the Committee on Departmental Methods (October 1908); as a Member of the Commission to Report on Re-organization of the Navy Department (February 1909); and to lecture at the Naval War College.

While abroad as Commanding Officer of the USS Chicago in 1894, he was awarded honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Later Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth and McGill similarly honored him. The Royal United Service Institute awarded him its Chesney Gold Medal in recognition of his literary work bearing on the welfare of the British Empire, in 1900; and in 1902 he was made President of the American Historical Society. He was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral on the Retired List, with date of rank June 29, 1906.

During the period 1884 until his death in 1914, Rear Adm. Mahan studied and wrote on Naval historical and biographical subjects. His works have had tremendous influence all over the world, especially those directly concerning sea power, and have been translated into many different languages.

Despite being written 124 years ago, Mahan’s Influence of Sea Power Upon History still has lasting value, Gough concluded.

“This is so not because he was right, because he was not always so, and it is useful because he was sometimes wrong,” he wrote in his essay. “He is the touchstone. He enlarges our world. He is a prism through which we view the changing colors of a much larger spectrum than he could ever perceive from his limited vantage point in the late 1880s and after. He was aware of the need for highly educated, disciplined and strategically-oriented naval officers. He was mindful, too, of the momentous changes that were occurring in naval technology, in weapons and propulsion especially. He was mindful, moreover, of the growing role that the United States was playing in world affairs.”

 –NHHC–

 
Nov 29

From Pole to Pole, Richard E. Byrd Sets Navy Exploration Records

Saturday, November 29, 2014 8:00 AM

 

Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd, photographed at the Naval Aircraft Factory at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 10, 1925. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection

Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd, photographed at the Naval Aircraft Factory at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 10, 1925. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

History may have given naval aviator/navigator extraordinaire Richard E. Byrd a mulligan for his flight over the North Pole, but there has never been any question about his historic flight over the South Pole shortly after midnight on Nov. 29, 1929, 85 years ago today.

And as it is with most great achievements, it came as a result of a life-changing event.

When it comes to lucky breaks, Richard E. Byrd had plenty of them. He was born into one of the founding families of Virginia, a family that dabbled in politics and publishing. That sort of privilege allowed a teenage Byrd to travel alone to visit relatives in the Philippine Islands. He wrote of his experiences, published in his family’s newspapers, and returned home a year later smitten by ships and the sea. Byrd attended Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia for a year before entering the U.S. Naval Academy at the age of 20.

Not all of his breaks, however, were fortuitous. More drawn to sports than academics, Byrd broke his right ankle while playing football at the Academy. As captain of his gymnastics team, he shattered that right ankle again after falling 13 feet while performing a daring routine off the high rings. Although recommended for “retirement” due to the injury, Byrd persevered and graduated from the Academy in 1912. It was during his stint on the battleship Wyoming (BB 32) when Ensign Byrd suffered yet another injury to his weakened leg. That set into motion his retirement from active duty on March 15, 1916, and what appeared to be the end of his sea-faring career.

Au contraire, mon cheri, the Navy said two months later when the sea service recalled Byrd to limited service active duty as Instructor-Inspector of Naval Militia, Providence, East Providence, Bristol and Newport, R.I. After the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Byrd organized a commission on training camps.

So where might a naval officer with weakened leg best serve his country sitting down, other than behind a desk? As a naval aviator.

Byrd attended flight training at Pensacola, Fla., and that was where he met fellow aviator and comrade-in-air Floyd Bennett. Byrd was designated Naval Aviator No. 608 on April 17, 1918 and served during the remainder of World War I as Commanding Officer, U.S. Naval Air Stations in Canada.

Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd, (left) and Boatswain E. E. Rober, (right), take observations from an airplane to determine their position. The sextant Byrd is using in the picture is the one he used in his first Arctic Expedition. Undated photograph. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd, (left) and Boatswain E. E. Rober, (right), take observations from an airplane to determine their position. The sextant Byrd is using in the picture is the one he used in his first Arctic Expedition. Undated photograph. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Lt. Cmdr. Byrd’s aviation skills were exceeded, however, by his navigational skills. In planning and executing antisubmarine patrols, Byrd pioneered techniques for navigating over the ocean at night, which included drift indicators and bubble sextants.

He proposed and devised a plan for a transatlantic flight, which resulted in the historic NC-4 flying boats flight, the first crossing of the Atlantic by air in 1919. After studying in England at the Royal Air Force School of Aerial Navigation, Byrd helped to establish naval reserve air stations throughout the United States.

Another break Byrd’s career came in 1925 when he was appointed navigator of the lighter-than-air craft Shenandoah (ZR-1) proposed flight over the North Pole. The expedition was canceled when the craft was damaged in a storm.

With an explorer’s passion and his connections to the wealthy, Byrd began to fundraise for his own Navy flight with heavier-than-air craft over the North Pole. He obtained funds from private sources to pay for the expedition and borrowed equipment such as planes, tractors, and ships from government agencies. Byrd pitched the idea to Secretary of Navy Curtis D. Wilbur, arguing the arctic regions should be explored, and, well, it wouldn’t hurt to take the wind out of the Army’s sails on their claims of having air superiority. Wilbur agreed and after getting the nod from President Calvin Coolidge, Byrd’s expedition was a go.

Except he had a lot of competition for resources, most notably from Naval Reservist Lt. Cmdr. Donald MacMillan who had been with Cmdr. Robert E. Peary April 6, 1909 when he first set foot on the North Pole. The veteran explorer already had sponsorship by the National Geographic Society and E.F. McDonald Jr., CEO of the Zenith radio manufacturing firm and a fellow lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve.

Byrd joined forces with the MacMillan Expedition. It was an uneasy alliance, with MacMillan in charge of the overall expedition and Byrd serving as commanding officer of the military personnel. Although a flight to the North Pole was never achieved during the joint venture, Byrd and Bennett completed aviation surveys over Ellsmere Island and the interior of Greenland. After the expedition returned to the states in the fall of 1925, Byrd’s first story appeared in the National Geographic Magazine, beginning a valuable association with the National Geographic Society that continued over the next three decades.

The following year, navigator Byrd and pilot Floyd Bennett took off from King’s Bay, Spitzbergen, 750 miles from the Pole, May 9, 1926. After 7 hours of flight they were over the North Pole. Byrd, the first man to fly over the Pole, was second only to Peary to reach that point. Byrd and Bennett returned home as heroes, were given the Medal of Honor and the first of his three New York ticker tape parades. Many now question Byrd’s claim for that North Pole flight, based on discrepancies between his hand-written notations and those published later, and the top flight speed of the plane.

In 1926 Byrd acquired an improved three engine Fokker and named it America, and prepared for a nonstop transatlantic flight to establish the feasibility of regular passenger service across the Atlantic. However, while bad luck delayed Byrd, Charles Lindbergh took off from New York on May 20, 1927 and landed in Paris 33 hours later. America departed New York June 29, 1927, found Paris fogged in, and so landed in the ocean just off the French coast. Cmdr. Byrd and his three crewmen were rescued, taken to Paris, and then returned to an enthusiastic welcome in New York, his second ticker-tape parade.

Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd arrives on the dock at San Pedro, Calif. accompanied by his dog "Igloo." He would soon board a ship that will take him to the scene of the beginning of his first Antarctic Expedition, Oct. 11, 1928. NHHC photo

Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd arrives on the dock at San Pedro, Calif. accompanied by his dog “Igloo.” He would soon board a ship that will take him to the scene of the beginning of his first Antarctic Expedition, Oct. 11, 1928. NHHC photo

Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition, consisting of City of New York and Eleanor Bolling, departed the United States Aug. 28, 1928; steamed via the Panama Canal and New Zealand; and, on Jan. 1, 1929, established a base named Little America on the face of the Ross Ice Shelf near the Bay of Whales, Antarctica. The base was made of prefabricated buildings that included housing quarters, a library, hospital, radio laboratory, photography lab and mess hall. Some were igloos with tarps. Many were connected by snow tunnels, for good reason.

During the expedition, subzero temperatures were the norm, with minus 72.2 degrees Fahrenheit recorded July 28, 1929. According to one of the expedition meteorologists, a 25-mph wind coupled with a minus 64 temperature, also in July, created a wind-chill equivalent of less than minus 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The highest temperature was 17 degrees Fahrenheit a few weeks later on Aug. 19.

Although well-equipped and with lots of personnel, Byrd was without his long-time, trusted pilot, Floyd Bennett, who had died from pneumonia just months before. Byrd made sure Bennett would be part of his historic flight, naming his ski-equipped tri-motored monoplane Floyd Bennett.

It was in this plane that Byrd and three others – pilot Bernt Balchen, co-pilot and radioman Harold June and aerial photographer Capt. Ashley McKinley, with his Navy-issued Fairchild K-3 camera, took off from Little America at 3:29 p.m. Nov. 28, 1929 headed for the South Pole.

After dropping supplies for a geological party, the Floyd Bennett climbed to 9,000 feet but was still shy of the 11,000 altitude needed to get over the pass at the head of Liv Glacier and reach the Polar Plateau.

Empty gasoline tins were dropped, as well as more food and the plane made it through the pass. At a little past midnight, Byrd and his crew in the Floyd Bennett came upon the South Pole, where a weighted American flag was dropped. At 1:25 a.m., they headed back to Little America. After a short refueling with gasoline cached at the foot of Liv Glacier, the plane returned to its base camp at 10:10 a.m., 18 hours and 41 minutes after leaving the previous day.

 Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd, dressed in furs with his dog "Igloo" outside a hut during his first Antarctic Expedition, April 12, 1930. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection


Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd, dressed in furs with his dog “Igloo” outside a hut during his first Antarctic Expedition, April 12, 1930. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection

The expedition was far from over. By the time Byrd and his expedition returned to New York on June 18, 1930, they had:

* Discovered Jan. 27, 1929 at 4,000 feet in altitude a new mountain range and named them the Rockefeller Mountains;

* Completed a triangulation survey March 13 of the Rockefeller Mountains.

* Supported a six-man geological survey party of the Queen Maud Mountains with dropping of supplies and equipment along the 1,500 mile course over 2 ½ months.

* A flight Dec. 5, 1929 that discovered a body of water named Sulzberger Bay, the Paul Block Bay and a glacier named for his pilot Balchen with its associated mountain range the Edsel Ford Range.

* On Dec. 21, 1929, the geological party claimed all land east of 150 degrees west as Marie Byrd Land (named after Byrd’s wife) and the territory for the United States.

After this expedition, Byrd was promoted to rear admiral and treated to his third ticker-tape parade, the most by any individual.

In 1933-35 he led a second expedition to Antarctica. Living at an advanced base to record weather data during the long winter night, Byrd nearly died from carbon monoxide. Although rescued in time, he suffered from the ill effects of the poisoning for the rest of his life.

Byrd’s third expedition consisted of the Navy commissioned and manned Bear (AG-29) and Department of the Interior’s North Star. Two wintering over bases were established and scientific investigation was intensified.

During World War II, Admiral Byrd studied and reported on their suitability for airfields.

After the war ended, Byrd resumed polar exploration. During Operation “Highjump” he led an expedition of 4,700 men and modern support equipment in 13 ships to the Antarctic. They explored much of the little known continent and added greatly to man’s knowledge of the region.

In 1954 the Secretary of Defense agreed to furnish logistical support for American scientists in the Antarctic for the International Geophysical Year which would begin on 1 July 1957. President Eisenhower appointed Byrd, Officer-in-Charge of U.S. Antarctic programs.

Admiral Byrd remained active in exploration of Antarctica until he died in his home at Boston on March 11, 1957.

 –NHHC–

 
Nov 27

Thanksgiving Menu from 1942 Honors Those Who Fought in Operation Torch

Thursday, November 27, 2014 12:08 AM

By Naval History and Heritage Command and the Naval Supply Systems Command

halsey

Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., eats Thanksgiving dinner with the crew of USS New Jersey (BB 62), Nov. 30. 1944. Photo courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command

When it comes to the three “Cs” on Thanksgiving menus over the years, one might think corn, cranberries and collard greens. But in 1907, it was cigarettes, cigars and cider (no mention as to whether that was hard or regular) for the crew of the battleship USS Kentucky (BB 6).

Navy commanding officers knew then what they still know today, NOTHING sinks morale faster than bad food, or raises it like good food. During the holidays, when most Americans enjoy spending time with their families, many of our Sailors are operating forward deployed, often on the opposite side of the planet, from their loved ones; it’s especially important to serve great chow and to make meal time as enjoyable as possible.

Today, with 102 ships forward deployed, shipboard supply departments, supported by the Naval Supply Systems Command, will prepare a total of more than 64,000 pounds of turkey; 26,000 lbs. of baked ham; 29,000 lbs. of sweet potatoes; 19,000 gallons of gravy; 16,000 gallons of cranberry sauce, and nearly 55,000 lbs. of assorted vegetables. And let’s not forget the desserts: more than 17,000 assorted pies and cakes.

141125-N-OT964-094 NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BAHRAIN (Nov. 25, 2014) Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens visits Sailors aboard the mine countermeasures ship USS Devastator (MCM 6). Stevens is in the area visiting Sailors during Thanksgiving week. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Martin L. Carey/Released)

141125-N-OT964-094 NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BAHRAIN (Nov. 25, 2014) Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens visits Sailors aboard the mine countermeasures ship USS Devastator (MCM 6). Stevens is in the area visiting Sailors during Thanksgiving week. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Martin L. Carey/Released)

The actual food items have remained fairly constant throughout the years, no matter whether on ship or shore. While the menus of yesteryear still featured turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and a smattering of vegetables, mess officers took creative liberty in how they fancied up the names.

This might seem like a monumental task, but for our Sailors it’s just another walk in the park. What makes it special is the twist each ship takes to make the holidays away from home special and a little easier. The time, effort and special attention paid to meals has become our own tradition and is part of our heritage.

The heavy cruiser USS Augusta (CA 31), which was the flagship of the Commander Amphibious Force on Nov. 26, 1942, appeared to have special names for almost every food item. They had just come through the Naval Battle of Casablanca during Operation Torch, and it was also the opening night of a little Humphrey Bogart movie called Casablanca.

Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942, On Board the U.S.S. Augusta [Flagship Commander Amphibious Force].

Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942, On Board the U.S.S. Augusta [Flagship Commander Amphibious Force].

The Casablanca (battle, not the movie) engagement pitted American allies against the French Vichy government, which had surrendered almost immediately to the Germans. The Vichy regime controlled Morocco (just as the movie depicts … like Austria in Sound of Music without the nuns and music). The three-day naval battle saw 174 American casualties, while the Vichy French lost 462 and a Nazi submarine.

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure the relief and blessings felt by the survivors of the battle when Thanksgiving rolled around a couple weeks later.

So let’s round up the usual suspects on the naming of this Thanksgiving menu: There’s little to wonder about Cream of Tomato Soup a la Casablanca. But what better way to honor Rear Adm. Henry Hewitt, commander of the amphibious force onboard his flagship than to name the main dish after him: Chicken and Turkey en Casserole a la Hewitt.

It was probably with a tweak at the Vichy French they named that mystery meat entrée the delightful Baked Spiced Spam a la Capitaine de Vaisseau, gussied-up with the rank of a French navy ship captain. The buttered Asparagus Tips a la Fedala make reference to a city on the west coast of Morocco home to a large oil refinery, and the buttered June Peas de Safi refer to another city in French Morocco that was part of Operation Torch .

Thanksgiving Menu, U.S.S. Coral Sea CVB-43, N.N.S.Y., Portsmouth, Virginia.

Thanksgiving Menu, U.S.S. Coral Sea CVB-43, N.N.S.Y., Portsmouth, Virginia.

TO ALL HANDS: On this Thanksgiving Day as we enjoy the traditional feast in comfort and security, let us also be mindful of those many other blessings which we of America so richly enjoy - freedom of religion, of speech, and of opinion unequaled by the citizens of any other nation on earth - opportunity to build the future for ourselves, our families, and our country in the way of true peace and prosperity - these and many more are uniquely ours today. May we show forth our gratitude to Almighty God by resolving once again to protect this freedom and realize this opportunity as the most cherished possession of our lives. A. B. Vosseller, Captain, U.S.N., Commanding.menu_th1948_coralseac

 

Chantilly Potatoes a la Patton gives a tip of the cover to the Army commander Gen. George Patton, while hot Parkerhouse Rolls du Lyautey is likely a reference to the Marechal Layautey, the resident-general of Morocco.

The Vichy French Navy commander also got a piece of the menu pie – literally. Apple pie a la Michelier was named for Vice Adm. Francois-Felix dit Frix Michelier.

With yet another tongue-in-cheek poke at the French, the menu offered Mixed Nuts du Jean Bart, a reference to the unfinished French battleship that was harbored in Morocco during Operation Torch but still used her five operational guns. Although she fired off one shot that nearly hit Augusta, USS Ranger bombers sank her right after.

One wonders if they played “As Time Goes By” as they sipped their Café (coffee) Noir and smoked their cigars and cigarettes.

Of course USS Augusta’s menu isn’t the only one with interesting tidbits.

To view a variety of Navy menus from throughout the years, visit the Naval History and Heritage Command – Library’s web site for a real holiday treat.

041124-N-1205W-002 Red Sea (Nov. 24, 2004) - A Culinary Specialist seasons one of 175 turkeys that will be served to the crew on Thanksgiving Day aboard the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). Kennedy and embarked Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17) are on a scheduled deployment to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Regina Wiss (RELEASED)

041124-N-1205W-002 Red Sea (Nov. 24, 2004) – A Culinary Specialist seasons one of 175 turkeys that will be served to the crew on Thanksgiving Day aboard the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). Kennedy and embarked Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17) are on a scheduled deployment to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Regina Wiss (RELEASED)

 
Nov 26

Chosin and the Importance of Perspective

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 5:30 PM
 140725-N-FC670-247 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 25, 2014) The guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65) is underway in close formation as one of forty-two ships and submarines representing 15 international partner nations during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC exercise from June 26 to Aug. 1, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe/Released)

The guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65) is underway in close formation as one of 42 ships and submarines representing 15 international partner nations during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014. The cruiser is named for the Chosin Reservoir Campaign during the Korean War. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe/Released)

 

Rear Adm. Rick Williams

Rear Adm. Rick Williams

By Rear Adm. Rick Williams
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

Our recent change of command aboard USS Chosin (CG 65) here at Pearl Harbor was another occasion to reflect on the ship’s namesake – Battle of Chosin Reservoir, 64 years ago this week.
In that battle, the Navy provided firepower support off the coast of Korea to assist Marines, Soldiers and other United Nations troops fighting ashore.

Those warriors, led by Marine Generals “Chesty” Puller and Oliver Smith, give us perspective for the present and a sense of purpose for the future.

Here at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, on historic Marine Barracks property, stands the venerable old building known as Puller Hall, named after Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller.

Gen. Puller is a legend in American military history. His record of five Navy Crosses and an Army Distinguished Service Cross in a career that spanned nearly forty years is unmatched in the annals of the U.S. Marine Corps.

His fifth Navy Cross was won during the Korean War as the commanding officer of the First Marine Regiment when then-Col. Puller led his Marines in the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir.

On Nov. 24, 1950 American forces began the final drive toward the Yalu River on the border between China and the Korean Peninsula. Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur believed that this offensive would shatter the North Korean army and effectively end the Korean War. American troops looked forward to being home by Christmas.

Marines engage the enemy to help 5th and 7th Marines to withdraw from the Yudam-ni area Nov. 27, 1950 during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign. Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, from the "All Hands" collection at the Naval History & Heritage Command.

Marines engage the enemy to help 5th and 7th Marines to withdraw from the Yudam-ni area Nov. 27, 1950 during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign.
Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, from the “All Hands” collection at the Naval History & Heritage Command.

But on Nov. 27 approximately 65,000 enemy troops began pouring over the border and 15,000 U.S. Marines found themselves surrounded in the Chosin Reservoir, with only a thin and winding mountain pass between them and escape through the port of Hungnam some 60 miles to the east. Thoughts of Christmas carols and relaxing by the fire turned to simple survival and the relentless focus on keeping the road to Hungnam open allowing the Marines out of the suddenly perilous dilemma.

The weather didn’t help the situation, with a Siberian cold front and 60-knot winds dropping temperatures to minus-35 degrees. Many of the casualties during the battle were a result of the exposure to what was considered the coldest winter Korea had seen in 100 years.

At this critical moment in the Korean War leadership, teamwork and courage won the day. On Dec. 6, the breakout from Chosin began. Maj. Gen. Oliver Smith, the Commander of the First Marine Division, is quoted as saying, “it is not a retreat; we are attacking in a different direction.”

Col. Lewis "Chesty" Puller

Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller

For his part, then-Col. Puller led his regiment in the rear guard of the withdrawal, defending the perimeter and keeping the vital supply main supply route open for the movement of the division. Col. Puller is reported to have said to a journalist, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now. We’ve finally found them. We are surrounded. That simplifies the problem.”

With the steady hand of leaders like Smith and Puller and the tenacity and courage of the troops under their command, the breakout was successful and the majority of the U.S. troops trapped at Chosin were able to reach Hungnam by the 13th of December.

In the final phase of the battle Navy and Air Force aircraft flew missions to defend the Hungnam perimeter and ships like the USS Missouri off the Korean coast laid down covering fire for the Marines as amphibious craft sealifted thousands of military personnel and civilians to safety.

Gen. Smith’s quote about an attack “in a different direction” reminds us of the importance of perspective.

It has been said that, “great opportunities are often disguised as impossible situations” and it requires perspective to turn the tide.

The epic Battle of Chosin, fought and won 64 years ago in the most adverse conditions and implacable odds, reminds us that adversity often requires leaders to keep a cool head, take a fresh look at a problem and attack the issue from a different direction.
Retreat does not always mean defeat.

The withdrawal from Chosin may have led to a disaster and the destruction or capture of thousands of American troops. Instead they fought their way out of the impending catastrophe and instead inflicted as many as 25,000 casualties on the enemy while evacuating the bulk of their strength to rejoin the fight on another day.

As I said in my commentary on NavyLive blog last year: Looking back more than 60 years later, we know the Korean War preserved freedom and democracy for South Korea and provided a better way of life for millions of people over many generations. The U.S. Navy had a critical role in supporting Marines and UN Allies throughout the war.

PEARL HARBOR (Sept. 2, 2013) Marines assigned to the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Rifle Salute detail stand in formation next to the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63) Memorial during the commemoration ceremony that marked 68th anniversary of the signing of the end of World War II. The ceremony was followed by an unveiling of a nine-foot bronze and granite statue honoring Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, who directed the War of the Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Diana Quinlan/Released)

Marines assigned to the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Rifle Salute detail stand in formation next to the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63) Memorial during the 2013 commemoration ceremony that marked 68th anniversary of the signing of the end of World War II. The Mighty Mo also provided gunfire during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign in Nov.-Dec. 1950 during the Korean War. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Diana Quinlan/Released)

Naval forces provided the key strategic advantage. Our surface ships, submarines and aircraft provided sea control, effectively blockading North Korea’s coastlines and denying enemy shipments while ensuring mobility of sea lanes for our side. Aircraft from Task Force 77 carriers and escorts provided strikes and support. Cruisers, destroyers and other ships put a barrage of fire between our troops and the enemy during the war. Pearl Harbor’s own Mighty Mo, battleship USS Missouri (BB 63), added the weight of her 16-inch guns to the fight.

For our own perspective on what we fought for in Korea, just consider the powerful ally and friend we have today on the southern half of the peninsula. The Republic of Korea navy regularly visits Pearl Harbor and was here for RIMPAC last summer.

ROK sailors and marines work with their American counterparts as partners for a common defense. That perspective leads to our sense of purpose: building and maintaining cooperative partnerships as we support Adm. Harris and the U.S. Pacific Fleet in the rebalance to Asia-Pacific.
Jim Neuman, historian and public affairs specialist, contributed to this commentary.

 
Nov 26

Prelude to War: Japanese Strike Force Takes Aim at Pearl Harbor

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 8:00 AM

 

 

Akagi (Japanese Aircraft Carrier, 1925-1942) at sea during the summer of 1941, with three Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighters parked forward. Donation of Kazutoshi Hando, 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Akagi (Japanese Aircraft Carrier, 1925-1942) at sea during the summer of 1941, with three Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighters parked forward. Donation of Kazutoshi Hando, 1970.
U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

 

The road to war between Japan and the United States began in the 1930s when differences over China drove the two nations apart. In 1931 Japan conquered Manchuria, which until then had been part of China. In 1937 Japan began a long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to conquer the rest of China. Then in 1940, the Japanese government allied itself with Nazi Germany in the Axis Alliance, and, in the following year, occupied all of Indochina.

The United States, which had important political and economic interests in East Asia, was alarmed by these Japanese moves. The U.S. increased military and financial aid to China, embarked on a program of strengthening its military power in the Pacific, and cut off the shipment of oil and other raw materials to Japan.

Because Japan was poor in natural resources, its government viewed these steps, especially the embargo on oil, as a threat to the nation’s survival. Japan’s leaders responded by resolving to seize the resource-rich territories of Southeast Asia, even though that move would certainly result in war with the United States.

Understanding this, Japanese leadership developed a bold plan for a surprise attack. Approved just weeks earlier, the Japanese Imperial Navy Strike Group sailed toward Pearl Harbor, 73 years ago today.

The Pearl Harbor naval base was recognized by both the Japanese and the U.S. Navies as a potential target for hostile carrier air power. Its distance from Japan and shallow harbor, the certainty that Japan’s navy would have many other pressing needs for its aircraft carriers in the event of war, and a belief that intelligence would provide warning, persuaded senior U.S. officers the prospect of an attack on Pearl Harbor could be safely discounted.

During the interwar period, the Japanese had reached similar conclusions. But their pressing need for secure flanks during the planned offensive into Southeast Asia and the East Indies spurred the dynamic commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, to revisit the issue.

His staff found the assault was feasible, given the greater capabilities of newer aircraft types, modifications to aerial torpedoes, a high level of communications security, and a reasonable level of good luck. The key elements in Yamamoto’s plans were meticulous preparation, the element of surprise, and the use of aircraft carriers and naval aviation on an unprecedented scale. In the spring of 1941, Japanese carrier pilots began training in the special tactics called for by the Pearl Harbor attack plan.

In October 1941 the naval general staff gave final approval to Yamamoto’s plan. It centered around six heavy aircraft carriers accompanied by 24 supporting vessels. A separate group of submarines was to sink any American warships that escaped the Japanese carrier force.

All six of Japan’s first-line aircraft carriers, AkagiKagaSoryuHiryuShokaku, and Zuikaku, were assigned to the mission. With more than 420 embarked planes, these ships constituted by far the most powerful carrier task force ever assembled. The Pearl Harbor Striking Force also included fast battleships, cruisers and destroyers, with tankers to fuel the ships during their passage across the Pacific.

An Advance Expeditionary Force of large submarines, five of them carrying midget submarines, was sent to scout around Hawaii, dispatch the midgets into Pearl Harbor to attack ships there, and torpedo American warships that might attempt to escape to sea.

Anticipating casualties from the pending attack, hospital facilities at Bako, Sama and Palau were told Nov. 26 to prepare to treat up to 1,000 casualties. The information came from intercepted Japanese messages that were not decoded and translated until after the war.

“Be prepared to supply 10 times the annual ‘battleship requirements’ of medical supplies for dressing of wounds and disinfection by Feb. 10, 1942,” one dispatch stated.

More ominous was a message from the day before: “Plans for exhaustive conscription of…and civilians are in hands of Central Authorities. In order to preserve security, however, they will be activated at a future time.”

The Japanese carrier striking force under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, assembled in the remote anchorage of Tankan Bay in the Kurile Islands and departed in strictest secrecy for Hawaii on Nov. 26, 1941. If discovered, he was to abort the mission. The ships’ route crossed the North Pacific and avoided normal shipping lanes.

Upon their departure Prince Hiroyasu Fushimi sent this dispatch: “I pray for your long and lasting battle fortunes.”

The Imperial Navy carefully monitored all ships that might give away their plans. “Although there are indications of several ships operating in the Aleutians area, the ships in the Northern Pacific appear chiefly to be Russian ships.” The ships were identified as Uzbekistan and Azerbaldjan, both westbound from San Francisco.

As the Strike Group grew nearer, a dispatch ordered “all capital ships, destroyers, submarines of the South Sea Force and the Kukokawa Maru to maintain battle condition short wave silence,” starting at noon Nov. 29.

 A Philippine merchant ship that arrived in Naha on Okinawa Nov. 30 had her radio sealed and departure delayed to “prevent their learning of our activities.”

A cryptic dispatch sent Dec. 2 was labeled top secret. “This order is effective at 1730 on 2 December. Climb NIITAKAYAMA 1208, repeat 1208.” Cryptologists examining this traffic after the war understood it to mean “Attack on 8 December.”

At dawn Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese task force had approached mostly undetected to a point slightly more than 200 miles north of Oahu. With a 19-hour time difference, it was Dec. 8 in Japan.

Japanese Type A or Type C Midget Submarine beached on a southwest Pacific island, 1943-44. Photographed from a PB4Y-1 patrol bomber of Bombing Squadron 106 (VB-106). Courtesy of Vice Admiral John T. Hayward, USN (Retired), 1972. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Japanese Type A or Type C Midget Submarine beached on a southwest Pacific island, 1943-44. Photographed from a PB4Y-1 patrol bomber of Bombing Squadron 106 (VB-106). Courtesy of Vice Admiral John T. Hayward, USN (Retired), 1972. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

 

Meanwhile, near Oahu’s southern shore, the five midget submarines had already cast loose from their “mother” subs and were trying to make their way into Pearl Harbor’s narrow entrance channel. One was sited at 3:42 a.m. by the minesweeper Condor less than two miles from the entrance to Pearl Harbor. A blinker-light message was sent to the destroyer Ward (DD 139): “Sighted submerged submarine on westerly course, speed 9 knots.”

The first attack wave of more than 180 aircraft, including torpedo planes, high-level bombers, dive bombers and fighters, was launched in the darkness and flew off to the south. Pilots homed in on a Honolulu radio station’s music as a guiding beam.

Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier (reportedly Shokaku) to attack Pearl Harbor during the morning of 7 December 1941. Plane in the foreground is a "Zero" Fighter. This is probably the launch of the second attack wave. The original photograph was captured on Attu in 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection.

Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier (reportedly Shokaku) to attack Pearl Harbor during the morning of 7 December 1941. Plane in the foreground is a “Zero” Fighter. This is probably the launch of the second attack wave. The original photograph was captured on Attu in 1943.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection.

 

Within 30-45 minutes after the first group had taken off, a second attack wave of similar size, but with more dive bombers and no torpedo planes, was brought up from the carriers’ hangar decks and sent off into the emerging morning light.

In the meantime, USS Ward began firing on the submerged submarine, with the second shot hitting it at its waterline. To assure the kill, Ward dropped a pattern of depth charges. At 6:53 a.m., the destroyer sent a coded message: “We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges upon submarine operating in defensive sea area.” The message, decoded, paraphrased and in-boxed, would remain unread until hours after the attack.

The first bomb dropped on Ford Island just before 8 a.m. Less than two hours later, the Japanese fighters, having lost only 29 planes and five midget submarines, were headed back to their carriers. Pilots urged a third strike to take out fuel depots, but Japanese officers, unsure as to where the U.S. carrier fleet was located, turned the Pearl Harbor Strike Force back to its homeland by 1 p.m.

In the aftermath of the attack, five of eight battleships had either been sunk, were sinking or heavily damaged. An additional 16 ships were sunk, 188 aircraft destroyed and 159 damaged, with more than 2,400 service members and civilians killed.

All but three of those eight stricken American battleships – Utah, Oklahoma and Arizona – rejoined the fleet to fight the Japanese. In fact, USS West Virginia (BB 48) was raised from the bottom of Pearl Harbor (See related blog series: Part 1, 2, and 3), returned to the fight in 1944, and was present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.

By the end of the war, American naval forces sank every one of the Japanese aircraft carriers, battleships and cruisers in the Pearl Harbor Strike Force.

 –NHHC–

 
Nov 21

USS Somers and Its Wartime Encounters with Exploding Ships

Friday, November 21, 2014 9:00 AM
USS Somers (DD-381) underway at sea, circa 1944, with several escort ships in the distance. Her camouflage is Measure 32, Design 3d. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NHHC photo

USS Somers (DD-381) underway at sea, circa 1944, with several escort ships in the distance. Her camouflage is Measure 32, Design 3d. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NHHC photo

USS Somers and Its Wartime Encounters with Exploding Ships

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

 

It was early in the morning, 72 years ago today, when the crew of USS Somers (DD 381) got word about a suspicious freighter within its area of operation. The Somers-class destroyer was patrolling the South Atlantic on Nov. 21, 1942, always on the lookout for German blockade runners.

Since taking over the French community of Bordeaux in June 1940, the Germans used the port as a base for its 12th U Boat Flotilla. It was also where blockade runners would load up with supplies for Japan, such as rubber, tin, hemp, high-grade specialized machinery, ball bearings, special chemicals, and prototypes of purchased military materials.

Allied air patrols had spotted a suspicious freighter earlier in the month, so USS Somers was on alert as they closed in on the ship. But as they got to within 1,900 yards, fires broke out onboard the freighter and the crew began lowering boats into the water. As the boarding party neared the freighter, the ship was racked by a series of three explosions. Despite flooding on the ship and the obvious danger of the fire, the boarding party salvaged the ship and determined it was the German blockade runner Anneliese Essberger. After the ship sank, survivors were rescued by light cruiser USS Milwaukee (CL-5).

 

USS Omaha (CL-4), in right center, standing by the German blockade runner Odenwald, which has a U.S. boarding party on board, in the South Atlantic, Nov. 6, 1941. Photographed from USS Somers (DD-381). NHHC photo

USS Omaha (CL-4), in right center, standing by the German blockade runner Odenwald, which has a U.S. boarding party on board, in the South Atlantic, Nov. 6, 1941.
Photographed from USS Somers (DD-381). NHHC photo

It was not the first time USS Somers had outwitted a German blockade runner. Since the spring of 1941, the destroyer had been doing neutrality patrols from Trinidad to Recife, Brazil. On Nov. 6, 1941, just weeks before Pearl Harbor brought the United States fully into the war, Somers was patrolling near the Cape Verde Islands when she chanced upon a merchantman flying an American flag. On her hull, she was purported to be Willmoto out of Philadelphia.

But the freighter took evasive action when approached by Somers and USS Omaha (CL 4). Failing to stop, the merchantman signaled it was on fire and began lowering life boats. The Omaha sent a boarding party and soon heard explosions. Further investigation revealed the merchantman’s crew was attempting to scuttle the ship, which turned out to be the German blockade runner Odenwald.

Omaha’s boarding party saved the ship and the captured blockade runner was sailed to Puerto Rico. Six years later, the crews from Omaha and Somers were awarded salvage money for their “prize.” Because the ship had falsely claimed American nationality and the crew had “abandoned” ship by trying to scuttle her, it was determined the crew of Omaha and Somers could split the value of the ship, coming to around $3,000 for members of the boarding party and two months’ pay for the rest of the crew on both ships. It was the last prize taken by the U.S. Navy. Somers remained in the South Atlantic after the United States formally entered the war in December 1941.

Following the sinking of Anneliese Essenberger, USS Somers escorted the French battleship Richelieu from Africa to the U.S. during Jan.-Feb. 1943. A third German blockade runner, the Westerland, was intercepted at the beginning of 1944, with Somers‘ gunfire being partially responsible for sinking the enemy ship.

 

USS Somers (DD-381) at the Charleston Navy Yard, S.C., Feb. 16, 1942. She is wearing Measure 12 (modified) camouflage. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NHHC photo

USS Somers (DD-381) at the Charleston Navy Yard, S.C., Feb. 16, 1942. She is wearing Measure 12 (modified) camouflage. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NHHC photo

It was a particularly fitting career for the destroyer, named for Master Commandant Richard Somers. A former commander of the schooner Nautilus, he and his crew sailed with Commodore Edward Preble, the commanding officer of the Constitution and his squadron in action against Barbary pirates.

Somers was commanding the bomb ketch Intrepid for a special mission on Sept. 4, 1804. The ship had been fitted out as a “floating volcano” to be sailed into Tripoli Harbor and blown up in the midst of the corsair fleet under the walls of the city. But once underway in the harbor, Intrepid exploded prematurely, killing Somers and his volunteer crew. Their names are immortalized on what is known as the Tripoli Monument that was on display at the Washington Navy Yard during its burning in 1814, then, after a short tenure on the Capitol grounds, was moved to its current location at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. It is the oldest military monument in the United States.

–NHHC–

 
Nov 11

Devotion to Duty: Four Nurses Receive Navy Cross in 1920

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 8:00 AM
Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, USN; Portrait photograph, taken in uniform during the World War I era. She was the second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, from Jan. 20, 1911 to Nov. 30, 1922. She received the Navy Cross for distinguished service Nov. 11, 1920. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, USN; Portrait photograph, taken in uniform during the World War I era.
She was the second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, from Jan. 20, 1911 to Nov. 30, 1922. She received the Navy Cross for distinguished service Nov. 11, 1920.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

It was two years after World War I’s Armistice Day when four women made history by being awarded the Navy Cross Nov. 11, 1920. All were being recognized for their service and devotion to duty during World War I but only one woman could attend, the other three were given their medals posthumously. Their deaths, however, did not come from wounds suffered in battle in the European Theater of the Great War. Something more deadly struck Navy nurses Mary Louise Hidell, Edna E. Place and Lillian Louise Murphy in the fall of 1918 – Spanish Flu. None of them would live to rejoice in the original Armistice Day of 1918.

And so it was on that second anniversary, that Chief Nurse Lenah Sutcliff Higbee became the first living woman to receive the honor for what the Navy Cross citation describes as “distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.”

Distinguished, indeed. She completed nurses’ training at the New York Postgraduate Hospital in 1899 at the age of 25. That was the same year she married retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. John Henley Higbee, 36 years her senior, whose wife, Isabelle, had died suddenly the year before.

After graduation, the newly-married Higbee worked in private practice. Then in May 13, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Naval Appropriations Bill authorizing the establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps as a unique staff corps in the Navy. Five days later, Lenah Higbee’s husband died on her 34th birthday.

"The Sacred Twenty" Group photograph of the first twenty Navy Nurses, appointed in 1908. Taken at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C., circa October 1908. Lehah Higbee is the sixth from the left in the front row. They are identified in Photo # NH 52960 (Complete Caption). Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

“The Sacred Twenty”
Group photograph of the first twenty Navy Nurses, appointed in 1908. Taken at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C., circa October 1908. Lehah Higbee is the sixth from the left in the front row. They are identified in Photo # NH 52960 (Complete Caption).
Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

Now a widow, Higbee may have been spurred to be among the first 20 Navy nurses in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps in Oct. 1908, a group of women who became known as the “Sacred Twenty.” At that time, the Navy Medical Department was comprised of Medical Corps Officers and Hospital Corpsmen (then referred to as Hospital Stewards and Hospital Apprentices). Unlike their physician counterparts, the first nurses did not hold rank and they weren’t particularly welcome.

In 1909, Higbee was promoted to Chief Nurse at Norfolk Naval Hospital, and in 1911 she became the second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, serving throughout the duration of World War I, including the pandemic known as the Spanish Flu.

In 1918 alone, 121,225 Navy and Marine Corps patients were admitted at Navy medical facilities with influenza. Of these patients, 4,158 died of the virus, including some who cared for those patients: Navy nurses Marie Louise Hidell (Naval Hospital Philadelphia, Penn.), Edna Place (Philadelphia, Penn.) and Lillian Murphy (Hampton Roads, Va.). They, too, were awarded the Navy Cross, posthumously, on Nov. 11, 1920, along with Higbee.

After 14 years in the Navy, Higbee retired in Nov. 1922. She died after a sudden illness in Winter Park, Fla., on Jan. 10, 1941, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The following year, Navy nurses were granted “relative rank” on July 3, 1942, and “full military rank” Feb. 26, 1944. Higbee’s naval service was commemorated that same year when a ship was named in her honor. USS Higbee (DD-806), commissioned in 1945, was the first U.S. Navy combat ship to bear the name of a female member of the Naval service.

After becoming a federal holiday in 1921, Armistice Day became Veterans Day Nov. 11, 1954.

 –NHHC–

 

NOTE TO MEDIA: For additional information about naval history, please contact the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach division at 202-433-7880 or via email at NHHCPublicAffairs@navy.mil