Nov 24

Periscope photography by submarines was vital for Battle of Tarawa

Sunday, November 24, 2013 12:01 AM
This photo shows USS Nautilus (SS-168) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, Calif., April 15,1942, following modernization. Note her very heavy deck armament of two 6"/53 guns; also embrasure in her upper hull side, just in front of the forward gun, for newly-installed topside torpedo tubes. At least two torpedoes are on deck above this location, probably being prepared for stowage below. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

This photo shows USS Nautilus (SS-168) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, Calif., April 15,1942, following modernization.
Note her very heavy deck armament of two 6″/53 guns; also embrasure in her upper hull side, just in front of the forward gun, for newly-installed topside torpedo tubes. At least two torpedoes are on deck above this location, probably being prepared for stowage below.
Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

By the Naval History and Heritage Command

For more than 113 years, submarines have been silently gliding under the water, stealthily scouting out coastlines, harbors and lagoons.

But it was 60 years ago that attack submarine Nautilus (SS-168) would perform the first combat periscope photography leading to the capture of the Apamama Atoll in the South Pacific Nov. 19-24, 1943. The strip of land would later serve as a landing field for allied forces, perhaps the only atoll in history to be captured by a submarine.

It was an early example of the effective use of submarines in recon and troop insertion, both of which are essential capabilities of today’s submarine force. In fact, just two weeks ago on Nov. 4, 2013, the newest boat in the Virginia-class submarine fleet was launched: USS North Dakota (SSN 784). And just like Nautilus, six decades earlier, these “crown jewels” of America’s defense continue to provide intelligence gathered by means of surveillance and reconnaissance” (Defense Science Board’s 1998 study “Submarine of the Future”).

While maintaining much of the same mission as Nautilus, the Virginia-class boats are better in shallow water along the coasts, plus they can be easily configured to carry a contingent of SEALs for clandestine operations. New surveillance technology being developed for Virginia-class submarines includes both aerial and undersea unmanned vehicles.

Cyber threats have only increased the submarine’s mission to own the undersea domain, according to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert.

“Today we are inextricably connected to the EM (electromagnetic) and cyber environment, and occasionally we conduct military operations in it. This situation parallels in many ways the period around the First World War, when submarines transited on the surface, preferred to submerge only to clandestinely move into firing position, and then surfaced to attack,” Greenert said in a July 2012 blog. “In subsequent years, submarines spent more time submerged, and with the advent of nuclear power, no longer need to surface or snorkel. As a matter of survival, we developed an understanding of underwater acoustics and the ocean environment, a culture of sound silencing, and a doctrine of operating under water – eventually turning the undersea environment into a primary warfighting domain.”

Global warming may soon open sea lanes in the Arctic where U.S. submarines will be deployed to deter regional tensions and conflicts, according to the Nov. 2012 Design for Undersea Warfare guidance by Commander, Submarine Forces (COMSUBFOR).

Besides being able to inflict attacks without support and assert U.S. sea control, the submarine fleet will depend upon new capabilities that “trick, jam or blind adversary sensors, disrupt cyber systems, cripple targets without killing them, destroy seabed targets, attack shallow and fast surface ships and permit time-critical strikes against distance targets,” the Undersea Warfare Guidance states.

But back to our history lesson: The unprecedented use of periscope photography used by USS Nautilus (SS 168) helped provide some of the best intelligence gathered among an arpeggio of atolls that populated the Gilberts in the South Pacific. It was Nautilus’ successful sixth patrol mission that was the basis for similar submarine reconnaissance for the rest of the Pacific campaign.

Tarawa was the largest of the atolls that populated the Gilberts in the South Pacific. The Japanese fortified it shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Submarines, already used in landing teams of the Fifth Amphibious Corps to scout out enemy territory under darkness, were becoming vital in providing periscope photography. Up to that point, pictures shot through periscopes were used to document the sinking of ships. Rear Adm. Richard Turner and Marine Gen. Holland Smith determined periscope photography could provide panoramic sequence and topographic features. With the addition of aerial photographs, it would provide the best information possible for landing teams.

The perfect submarine to achieve that goal was Nautilus, a large, mine-laying sub that had already performed a number of missions in the South Pacific. Under the leadership of Cmdr. William D. Irwin, the Nautilus was given orders in September 1943 to conduct periscope reconnaissance and photograph the beachheads of Tarawa, Kuma, Butairiari, Apamama (also known as Abemama) and Makin.

After 18 days of periscope photography, Nautilus returned to Pearl Harbor to prepare for an operation called Boxcloth, in which the sub would land the first recon unit to perform amphibious reconnaissance in the Gilbert Islands. Knowing Japanese troops were on the island, Gen. Smith determined it was best to scope out the size and location of the troops before committing more Marines in taking Apamama Atoll.

Nautilus returned to just outside Tarawa’s harbor, where reconnaissance discovered an 11-degree compass error in old British charts for the entrance into the Tarawa Atoll. The charts were adjusted, and that correction would later prove crucial for task forces headed toward the Nov. 20-23 battle.

After performing periscope photography along Tarawa, Irwin received orders to look for a missing naval aviator shot down in the area. As Nautilus skimmed along the coast, she was fired upon by a Japanese shore battery, forcing her to dive. At this point, the rescue mission was called off and Nautilus ordered to proceed to Apamama, loaded with 5th Amphibious Reconnaissance Company and an Australian scout who spoke the Gilbertian language.

While gliding on the surface, Nautilus made radar contact with an “unknown” vessel traveling at 25 knots. Irwin correctly assessed it wasn’t likely to be the enemy and since his oxygen and battery were low, he chose not to submerge. Unfortunately, word of the rescue mission being aborted didn’t reach the command of the cruiser Santa Fe (CL-60) and destroyer Ringgold (DD-500), from a nearby task force. Picking up Nautilus on radar and with low visibility, they fired on what they thought was a Japanese patrol vessel. A shell struck the submarine in the conning tower hatch, but luckily, the shell didn’t explode. Water poured into the tower, flooding the main induction and shutting down the gyroscope. After diving to 300 feet, repairs were made to the sub. After two hours, Nautilus continued on to Apamama Atoll.

The submarine’s landing party began to wet-dock into six 10-man rubber boats under the cover of night and high tide, beginning at 11:53 p.m. Nov. 20. Despite squalls, currents and motors shutting down the boats, all of the landing parties made shore by 3:30 a.m. Nov. 21 and joined an earlier scouting party.

The mission, while extremely successful, wasn’t without its tense moments. Unable to communicate with the submarine, the landing party would send messages to the sub by certain placements of four Navy mattress covers in the trees. The Gilbertian natives had no problem relaying information to the Americans about the Japanese, who had conscripted them into labor and treated them with contempt. Most importantly, the natives told the landing party that the Japanese knew they were there.

While not high in numbers, the Japanese coast defenders were well fortified and protected in bunkers. But submarine shell bombardment Nov. 24, 1943, from the 6-inch guns held the enemy at bay while exacting losses from the Japanese .

As the Americans steadily took command of the island, the last remaining Japanese garrison was located near a radio station. The Japanese captain gathered his troops to give a motivational talk to “Kill all Americans,” but his weapon accidentally discharged and killed him. The remaining troops, fearing what was to come, then dug their own graves, laid down and committed mass seppuku by shooting themselves.

The Americans suffered their own losses: Two killed, two wounded and one injured.

Nautilus would go on to conduct a total of 14 mission patrols before returning to Philadelphia May 25, 1945, where she was decommissioned. During her service, the sub earned the Presidential Unit Citation for aggressive war patrols in enemy-control waters and 14 battle stars, one for each mission.

The next-generation of attack submarines will continue USS Nautilus’ legacy. And should diplomacy fail, as the Undersea Warefare Guidance states, submarines will be on the forefront “to deliver credible, decisive firepower from beneath the sea.”


Nov 18

Remember the Maine, A First-of-its-Kind Warship

Monday, November 18, 2013 5:20 PM
Launch on Nov. 18, 1890 of USS Maine from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Launch on Nov. 18, 1890 of USS Maine from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Launch of the USS Maine - NHHC

Launch of the USS Maine on Nov. 18, 1890, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, N.Y.

USS Maine Crew - Library of Congress

Crew of the USS Maine.



From the Naval History and Heritage Command

The Navy has a long, proud history of leading in energy innovation and change, according to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
“From sail to coal to oil to nuclear and now to alternative fuels, the Navy has led the way,” he said during a speech Sept. 11, 2013, to the National Defense University.

Such was the case 123 years ago today, Nov. 18, 2013, when USS Maine was launched in New York. And with her, as with each new first-in-its-class ship since then, she featured some of the best technological advances of her time.

At the end of the Civil War in 1865, the Navy had only 600 ships, mostly wartime purchases made of timber. By 1879, the Navy had whittled down to 142 ships, where only 48 were available for service. The 48 ships that were available were outdated, wooden or ironclads.

With Congress concerned more about rebuilding the country after the end of the Civil War, little was done to maintain the Navy. That is until 1883, when a British-built warship called Riachuelo was delivered to Brazil that gave South America an edge in sea power.

Hilary A. Herbert, the chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee in 1883, warned Congress: “if all this old navy of ours were drawn up in battle array in mid-ocean and confronted by the Riachuelo it is doubtful whether a single vessel bearing the American flag would get into port.”

President Chester Arthur began the Navy’s modernization and with the Navy Act of 1883, four new steel cruisers were authorized and then later the Navy’s first armored battleships, USS Maine and USS Texas.

A contest was held to pick a designer for the ships. For Maine, it was Theodore D. Wilson, who created a cross between the lighter armored cruiser and a heavier battleship. Similar to another armored cruiser, Great Britain’s HRM Inflexible, Maine’s turrets were en echelon, placed so either could fire and not affect the other, and were offset from the ship. Designed originally as an armored cruiser, at 6,682 tons, she became the first of a class of armored battleships with 60 tons of nickel-based steel on her hull.

Maine’s power plant was given the highest priority for its fighting strength, also a first for a U.S. capital ship. The ship’s two inverted vertical triple-expansion steam engines were a departure from previous ships that had their engines mounted horizontally so they could be protected below the waterline. Maine’s engines were more efficient, had lower maintenance costs and could produce higher speed. The ship’s high and low pressure cylinders were separated to give the ship greater flexibility when the ship was running under lower power, so the high and intermediate power cylinders could be run together as a single compound engine for economical running.

Originally designed with a three-mast rig in case of engine failure and for long-range cruising, one mast was removed in 1892 after the ship was launched, but before she was completed.

Upon her commissioning on Sept. 17, 1895, USS Maine was sent to protect American interests in Cuba, which was struggling to fight for independence from Spanish rule. It was there, in Havana harbor in 1898, where an explosion would bring down the Maine, killing most of her crew. Her sinking would become the tipping point for the beginning of the Spanish-American war.

Nearly 125 years later, the newest platform to hit the seas is the first-in-its-class aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), which was commissioned Nov. 9, 2013. The Ford-class aircraft carriers, like Maine in her time, employ the next generation of naval technology.

Just as the Navy recovered from the stagnant growth of post-Civil War years, today’s Navy continues to adapt and adjust to the challenging budgetary times now.

“We have the most advanced platforms in the world, but quantity also has a quality all its own,” Mabus said at the National Defense University. “Twelve years ago, on 9/11 2001, our fleet stood at 316 ships. By 2008, after one of the great military build-ups in American history, that number had dropped to 278 ships.”

In 2008, the Navy put four ships under contract. Since then, another 60 ships have gone under contract and by 2019 the current plan will return the fleet to 300 ships, Mabus said.

“Initiatives to spend smarter and more efficiently through things like competition, and multi-year buys, and, frankly, by driving harder bargains on behalf of taxpayer dollars, have created the way to provide our nation and our Navy with the platforms we need to execute our missions.”

The U.S. Navy must be prepared not only for times of war, but more importantly, during times of peace, as evidenced with the quick deployment of USS George Washington to assist with humanitarian relief in the Philippines after the category 5 Typhoon Haiyan struck in the Pacific Nov. 7, 2013.

“In peace we will still deploy, day after day, year after year, just as we have for 238 years,” Mabus said. “We respond to every crisis when the nation calls, whether it’s in combat or in response to a natural disaster… Before the bell rings and long after the guns go silent, presence means we are where it counts, not just at the right time, but all the time.”

He added a strong and agile U.S. Navy assures America’s allies and partners that “we are there, and assure those who may wish our country and allies harm that we’re never far away. That is American seapower.”

USS Maine - Jeff Adams

USS Maine – Jeff Adams


Nov 11

Search for Mexican interoceanic canal begins in 1870

Monday, November 11, 2013 12:28 PM

From the Naval History and Heritage Command, Communications and Outreach Division

For our “lessons noted, lessons learned” historical journey today, we’ll start in the “seemed like a good idea at the time” file. For it was this date in 1870 that a captain with a crew of two ships set sail on an expedition to find the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

While the mission itself proved fruitless, the work completed proved so valuable that the Navy would spend the next several years surveying South America, the Caribbean Sea and beyond as ordered by the Hydrographic Office.

Beginning at the mouth of the Coatzacoalcos River in Mexico on Nov. 11, 1870, Capt. Robert W. Shufeldt set off to traverse the Tehuantepec route to see if an interoceanic canal could be built. If it could be done, then the United States would have the greatest ability to close off the Gulf of Mexico from invading ships by using Key West and the Tortugas as bases of operation. It was that advantage that made Mexico the top choice for a waterway route between the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico.

And it didn’t hurt that compared to a canal through Panama, having one in Mexico would shave off 1,350 nautical miles on a trip from New Orleans to San Francisco.

That strip of land known as an isthmus, only 120 miles wide, had already been surveyed by army and navy officers for railway communication. The hydrographic party, under the command of Lt. Cmdr. N.H. Farquhar on the screw steamer Kansas, started on the Atlantic side, with Capt. Shufeldt and his crew on USS Mayflower on the Pacific.

The Mexican government did its part in helping the expedition along by providing 600 troops to protect the two crews.

By Dec. 11, when the Farquhar crew reached the plains of Chivela, it was discovered there was no reliable means of water to feed the summit-level of a ship-canal.

Other problems surfaced when a pass turned out to be 318 feet higher than expected and again, finding a natural supply of water to feed the canal.

The Pacific side wasn’t without its issues, either. At Salina Cruz, the lagoon’s ocean bottom was constantly changing, which would require constant and deep dredging to accommodate ships.

The expedition left Mexico April 27, 1871 and arrived back in Washington May 25. Shufeldt reported the Coatzacoalcos River canal was practical from an engineering work, but the length, number of locks and the construction of a water supply to supply the canal made it too costly to consider. At that point, the isthmus of Panama was considered a more likely possibility, although that location did not provide the protection of the Gulf of Mexico the Coztzacoalcos Canal had offered.

While no passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic was created at this juncture, no good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes. The work the expeditionary team performed provided valuable information, so it was determined hydrographic work would become part of the duties requested of naval vessels in time of peace.

Nov 8

The Final Overseas Mission of USS Olympia

Friday, November 8, 2013 2:48 PM
Casket containing the body of America's "Unknown" dead as it rested on the Olympia with a guard of two sailors before being taken ashore for the journey to the capitol. - Courtesy of NHHC-Ann Dietrick Collection.

Casket containing the body of America’s “Unknown” dead as it rested on the Olympia with a guard of two sailors before being taken ashore for the journey to the capitol. – Courtesy of NHHC-Ann Dietrick Collection.

Unknown Soldier of World War I carried from USS Olympia to Capitol Hill Rotunda to Arlington National Cemetery. - Courtesy Arlington National Cemetery

Various photos of the burial of the Unknown Soldier of World War I on Nov. 11, 1921 at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va. Photos courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery

Nov. 9, 1921 – USS Olympia arrives at the Washington Navy Yard from France carrying the body of the Unknown Soldier for interment at Arlington National Cemetery. From the Ann Dietrick Collection

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

She served as the flagship during the Spanish American War, Caribbean Division in 1902, the U.S. Patrol Force in 1917 and American Naval Forces in the Mediterranean in 1919.

But USS Olympia’s most memorable overseas mission was her last: carrying the body of the Unknown Solider for burial at Arlington National Cemetery in 1921.

Just like the Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Soldiers of today, the last steel-hulled cruiser played her part in leaving no warrior behind and giving solemn passage home for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in protecting their country.

The first – and last – of her class cruiser, she was selected to carry the Unknown Soldier. Her history was remarkable, most notably as Commodore George Dewey’s flagship during America’s rise to naval dominance in the Spanish-American War of 1898. It was from her bridge that Dewey delivered his famous order during the Battle of Manila Bay: “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.”

Following a solemn ceremony with both French and American troops, the casket was placed on Olympia’s flower-decked stern. With flags at half-mast, her wood polished and brass rails gleaming, the ship sailed out of the harbor of La Havre, France, Oct. 25, 1921, under the salute of 17 guns from a French destroyer. Olympia answered in kind, the last time her guns would blaze. For the next 15 days, the cruiser traveled the Atlantic before pulling into the Washington Navy Yard on this date 92 years ago.

The flag-draped casket was then delivered by the Navy to the Army and taken to the Capitol Rotunda. There the casket, watched over by a multi-service honor guard, lay in state, just as the remains of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley had before it. Thousands of people, including the highest officials of government and diplomats from across the nation, paid homage to the Unknown Soldier.

The casket was removed the following morning under military escort, and taken to Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. During the funeral ceremony, the Unknown Soldier was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross, followed by representatives of foreign governments conferring the highest military decorations from their countries. After a brief committal service and a 21-gun salute, the ceremony closed with the sounding of Taps.

Olympia was decommissioned a year later in 1922. The cruiser still holds many historic artifacts and has been preserved since 1957 by the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. Despite already spending $5 million on repairs, the museum is no longer able to afford the expense of refurbishing a steel hull every 20 years.

While the train car that carried the Unknown Warrior for the United Kingdom is preserved by the Kent and East Sussex Railway, the oldest, steel-hull American war ship that carried the Unknown Soldier for the United States is leaking and in danger of either sinking on her own or being sunk to form a reef.

But those who appreciate the history ingrained within her wooden decks and forged into her steel hull, are hoping to stave off the sounding of Taps for USS Olympia.


USS Olympia, the last steel-hulled cruiser, is now part of the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia.

Nov 8

Naval History and Heritage Logo Contest Winning Designs Named

Friday, November 8, 2013 10:44 AM

NHHC Logo Winner

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication Outreach Division

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) announced the winners of its logo design contest, whose work will serve to inspire the new NHHC logo.

The winning design (pictured right) came from Nathan E. Quinn, a graphics specialist at the Defense Media Activity.

“The main point I was trying to convey with the design is that ‘our past guides our future.’ I have an image of the USS Constitution, which is a long-standing symbol of the Navy. It has persevered through many hardships but still stands today and I think that is a good analogy of the strength and determination of today’s Navy,” said Quinn. “I also added the wheel and compass rose as another way to portray that the past guides us. Overall, I feel that this was a good mixture of visuals and symbolism and I’m honored that they chose the design from so many other great designs.”

The NHHC director and judging panel also favored a series of designs (pictured below) submitted by Peter Thielen, Jr., which was awarded honorable mention. The new logo, which will be released at a later time, will be based on the winning design but will also incorporate elements of the honorable mention designs.

Supporting Logo
Supporting Logo

“I was really impressed and encouraged by the creativity and thought that went into the dozens of submissions we received,” said Capt. Henry Hendrix, NHHC’s director who made the final selections. “The sweeping breadth of both history and heritage can boggle the mind, but I believe the winning design and the honorable mention designs span that expanse in a simple but representative and recognizable graphic.”

Dozens of designs were submitted and can all be seen at The winning design was #23, and the honorable mention designs were #27 and #28.

NHHC has a long history of preserving, analyzing, and disseminating the history and heritage of the U.S. Navy. The organization traces its roots back to 1800 when President John Adams instructed the first Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert, to prepare a catalog of professional books for use in the Secretary’s office. Over the next two centuries, the Navy’s history was collected through various offices and departments. Finally, in the early 1970s, the organization, ultimately entitled the Naval History and Heritage Command, became a single entity responsible for all aspects of Navy historical preservation and dissemination.

For more news from Naval History and Heritage Command, visit

Nov 7

The Trent Affair and the Indomitable Captain Charles Wilkes

Thursday, November 7, 2013 5:20 PM

Captain Charles Wilkes, USN. Carte de Visite photograph taken circa 1855-62. Wilkes commanded USS San Jacinto in 1861. Collection of Captain A. F. Clifton, MC, USN, 1939. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 92562.

Captain Charles Wilkes, USN. Carte de Visite photograph taken circa 1855-62. Wilkes commanded USS San Jacinto in 1861. Collection of Captain A. F. Clifton, MC, USN, 1939. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 92562.

By Devon Sorlie, Staff Writer
Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Since the Navy’s inception in 1775, America’s Navy today continues to depend on the prowess and leadership of its people. Although they have always gone to sea in the finest ships and used the best equipment their nation could provide, it’s America’s Sailors who are the source of the Navy’s success. It is their commitment to their mission, their ability to operate independently, and their willingness to stand up for what they believe is right; People Matter! On this date in 1861, one such Sailor thrust himself onto the international stage standing up for what he believed… and not for the first time.

Today is the 152nd anniversary of the infamous “Trent Affair,” a diplomatic stare-down between the United States and the United Kingdom caused after a U.S. ship, the USS San Jacinto, stopped the British mail packet RMS Trent and arrested two Confederate diplomats James Mason and John Slidell, on Nov. 8, 1861.

The Confederate diplomats planned to visit London and Paris to lobby officials to recognize the Confederate States of America as a separate entity from the United States, thereby allowing allied military support from the UK, as well as possibly halting the U.S. naval blockade off their southern ports. The Southern military remembered when the French blockaded the exit for British general Lord Charles Cornwallis, who surrendered to American forces in Yorktown on Oct. 19, 1781. They knew without the support of a foreign navy’s intervention, they might lose the war.

Avid students of military history may recall Great Britain’s reaction to the arrest of Mason and Slidell: They were affronted their former upstart colony commandeered one of their mail ships. In retaliation, Great Britain sent thousands of troops to Canada. The threat of widening the Civil War into an international conflict ceased when President Abraham Lincoln disavowed the action of the USS San Jacinto’s captain and set the prisoners free. In doing so, he mitigated the potential of being sandwiched between a two-front military engagement with the Confederacy in the south and Great Britain to the north.

Front and center of that controversy was the San Jacinto’s commanding officer, Capt. Charles Wilkes, who ordered the shot fired across the bow of the Trent. The future rear admiral had a history with controversy that resulted in a couple of court-martials and the nickname “The Notorious Wilkes.”

The Trent Affair wasn’t Wilkes’ first rash decision. In 1838, the then-Lt. Wilkes led what would be known as the “Wilkes Expedition” that left Hampton Roads, Va. Commanding the flagship USS Vincennes and five support vessels, Wilkes and his flotilla completed the last circumnavigation of the globe by sail over the next five years, which included exploring the American northwest and the Polynesian Islands. It was considered a huge success, with Wilkes collecting thousands of animal and plant specimens, created 200 nautical charts of the Pacific, and confirming the existence of a continental landmass in the Antarctic Ocean.

It was during those travels that Wilkes’ nephew and another sailor were killed while bartering for food on Malolo Island in Fiji. Wilkes’ retribution was swift. According to an island resident, nearly 80 Fijians were killed in retaliation.

While on a mission to measure gravity with a pendulum on the summit of the 13,680-foot volcano Mauna Loa in Hawaii, Wilkes hired hundreds of natives and his own men to make the trip. Rather than using an established path, Wilkes went his own way, taking longer than anticipated. As a result, his crew suffered from snow blindness, altitude sickness and foot injuries.

Wilkes logged 87,000 nautical miles over the five years, returning without two ships and 28 men. He was court-martialed for the loss of one ship and for the mistreatment of his officers and enlisted crew. He was acquitted on all charges except for illegally punishing men in his squadron for which he was reprimanded.

Upon his return, Wilkes wrote several books, including the Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, published in 1844. American author Henry Melville used Wilkes’ 5-volume Narrative as research for characters and background settings in his 1851 book, Moby-Dick, and some historians believe the unduly-harsh disciplinarian Capt. Ahab was based on Wilkes.

After two promotions, Capt. Wilkes was assigned to command San Jacinto to search for the Confederate commerce destroyer Sumter during the early days of the Civil War. Wilkes’ often violated British rule by staying more than one day in port at the British colony of Bermuda, where Wilkes’ gunboats blockaded St. George’s Harbor, a key base for Confederate ships. When he heard a British ship was carrying Confederate envoys to London, the San Jacinto chased down the Trent in international waters to apprehend Mason and Slidell.

Wilkes briefly considered commandeering the Trent “as a prize for resisting the search and carrying these passengers…but the reduced number of officers and crew, and the large number of passengers on board bound to Europe who would be put to great inconvenience, decided me to allow them to proceed,” Wilkes explained in his report to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.

Initially, Wilkes was heralded as a hero. The New York Times published a story about their native son Nov. 17, 1861, stating “The whole country now rings with applause of his bold action.”

But that hero status changed when the British – who had tried to stay out of the increasing tensions between the northern and southern states — upped the ante by sending thousands of troops into Canada.

After his actions were disavowed in the Trent Affair, Wilkes’ relationship with the Navy Department and Welles became strained. When Welles wrote in a report that Wilkes’ was too old to have received his promotion to captain, Wilkes angrily responded in a letter, which resulted in Wilkes being charged and found guilty of insubordination and disobedience of orders during his second court-marital April 26, 1864. President Lincoln suspended Wilkes’ three-year sentence to one year and dropped other charges, perhaps to make up for disavowing Wilkes’ part in the Trent Affair.

Wilkes was promoted to rear admiral on July 25, 1866, at the age of 68. He died in 1877 and his remains were moved to Arlington National Cemetery where his tombstone states “He discovered the Antarctic continent.”
Four ships have been named for Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes: torpedo boat Wilkes (TB-35); World War I destroyer Wilkes (DD-67), and World War II destroyer (DD-441). In a nod to Wilkes’ penchant for travel, an oceanographic survey vessel Wilkes (T-AGS-33) was launched in 1969.

Those ships all honored Wilkes, his discoveries, bravery and strong sense of justice.

Nov 5

First Catapult Launch: November 5, 1915

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 8:38 AM
First catapult launch from a ship.

First catapult launch from a ship.

On November 5, 1915, Lt.Comdr. Henry C. Mustin, in an AB-2 flying boat, made the first catapult launching from a ship, flying off the stern of the USS North Carolina (ACR 12) in Pensacola, Fl.

View NHHC’s Facebook Photo Album for this event:

This and other historic photographs are available in the Naval Institute’s on-line photo gallery:

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Oct 24

The U.S. Coast Guard in Grenada

Thursday, October 24, 2013 12:38 PM

It is the anniversary of the invasion of Grenada which took place 30 years ago. The following article, The Guard in Grenada by Dale L. Thompson was first published in Naval Institute Proceedings in November, 1984.

Grenadian children from the town of Gouyave greet the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Cape Fox. Quartermaster Chief Nicholas H. Lobkowicz looks on.

Grenadian children from the town of Gouyave greet the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Cape Fox. Quartermaster Chief Nicholas H. Lobkowicz looks on.

In late October 1983, Grenada was torn by internal revolution. Its Marxist government had come apart, and conditions of anarchy and bloody repression were reported. Concerns for the lives of the U. S. citizens on the island and for stability in that portion of the Caribbean led to the 25 October rescue mission. The invasion force contained personnel from all the U. S. services and six other Caribbean Island states, which made up the Caribbean Peacekeeping Force (CPF). The U. S. Coast Guard participated on the invasion day with two search and rescue platforms, a C-130 aircraft, and the USCGC Chase (WHEC-718). Later, in December, the Coast Guard returned in force to the island. Read the rest of this entry »