BOOK REVIEW – America’s First Frogman: The Draper Kauffman Story

Kauffman, Elizabeth_Americas First FrogmanBy Elizabeth Kauffman Bush, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2004)

Reviewed by Stephen Phillips

There is a World War II American serviceman who fits the description of being the “right man at the right time.” Although he wanted to serve in the U.S. Navy, he was denied a commission in 1933 due to poor eyesight. Yet, before the war’s end, he wore the uniform of three nations and fought in the European and Pacific theaters. He was in a German prison camp in the early weeks of the war. In its last hours, he led reconnaissance of Tokyo Bay before USS Missouri arrived to accept the Japanese surrender. France awarded him the French Croix de Guerre. He garnered two Navy Crosses — the second highest decoration a sailor can receive. Despite this nearly unequaled combat record, this naval officer is recognized more today for the legacy he left behind in establishing schools than for forming a specialized military curriculum.

This man’s name is Draper Kauffman. In 1979, the U.S. Naval Institute recorded his oral history. A more accessible chronicle of his life can be found in America’s First Frogman: The Draper Kauffman Story, by Elizabeth Kauffman Bush.

Draper Kauffman was a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1933. During the Depression, the services did not commission all academy graduates. A pre-commissioning physical was the first filter. Kauffman barely passed the eye exam required to join the Navy, so he was certain he would be disqualified from service for the same reason. Kauffman instead joined U.S. Lines, a merchant shipping company. Posted in Europe, he recognized that war would return to the continent. Wanting to do his bit, and doubting American involvement, Kauffman joined the American Volunteer Ambulance Corps. He arrived in France just as Germany invaded and was captured four days after Paris fell.

Since he was an American non-combatant, the Germans released Kauffman. He departed for England, joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and shortly thereafter volunteered yet again for the new and clearly dangerous job of bomb disposal. Some of the bombs Germany dropped on the UK were duds, while others had delayed action fuses. The Brits developed the means to render these weapons safe, pioneering the field that is today known as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD).

Home on leave when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Kauffman’s skills and experience were now invaluable, poor eyesight aside. The RNVR released him and Kauffman received a commission in the U.S. Navy. His first mission was to fly to the Territory of Hawaii to disarm a Japanese bomb sitting next to a magazine at Fort Schofield. He rendered the weapon safe, disassembled it, and shipped it to Washington, DC for his second mission: establishing a school for mine and bomb disposal. This is the direct precursor of today’s Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal or “EOD School.” When planners identified the need to destroy mines and obstacles in the littoral prior to amphibious landings, Kauffman asked if he could establish a second school – one that taught its students demolition rather than disarmament. At Fort Pierce, Florida, Kauffman formed the first Naval Combat Demolition Units. This name was soon changed to Underwater Demolition Teams or “UDT.” Kauffman would go onto command UDT 5 during the invasions of Saipan and Tinian. He led multiple UDT thereafter, a proverbial commodore of demolitioneers. The UDT of course, were the predecessors of Naval Special Warfare, more commonly known as “SEALs.”

The man who was not physically suitable for commission in 1933 went on to be the founding father of EOD and SEALs.

In America’s First Frogman, Elizabeth Kauffman Bush shares her brother’s personal and professional life with a level of detail only possible in an autobiography or work written by a family member. Still, it is very clear that she consulted the Naval Institute archival records to review RADM Kauffman’s oral history. As a result, the bulk of the narrative focuses on Kauffman’s career, especially during the Second World War. However, there are interesting anecdotes that provide a deeper insight into the man.

Readers will come away with a sense that Kauffman’s actions were heroic, making the right man at the right time. He forged a legacy that endures today through our Navy’s heartiest warriors. Anyone interested in naval special warfare or special operations, naval history, or stories of inspirational leadership need look no further than America’s First Frogman.


Stephen Phillips served in the U.S. Navy as a Special Operations Officer and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician. The Military Writers Society of America recognized his debut novel, Proximity: A Novel of the Navy’s Elite Bomb Squad, with a gold medal.


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BOOK REVIEW – Sting of the Drone

Clarke, Richard_Sting of the DroneBy Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY (2014)

Reviewed by Stephen Phillips

Unmanned vehicles represent the most recent revolution in military technology, especially those capable of launching weapons. Like any paradigm shift, their entry onto the battlefield has been followed by controversy as to the appropriate means to employ them both legally and morally.

New York Times Bestselling Author and former White House official Richard A. Clarke tackles these issues in his most recent novel, Sting of the Drone. Clarke builds an interesting story that introduces the current and future capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called “UAVs” or “Drones,” using the plot to incite debate on their use.

Clarke includes a note at the end of Sting of the Drone where he reports being instrumental in developing and employing drones beginning with the Clinton Administration. He recognizes their value as well as their pitfalls. He provokes much needed discussion throughout the novel. The American protagonists are Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Department of Defense (DoD) decision makers and operators. Their foes are the terrorists they target. While individual characters are not very compelling, perhaps they are not meant to be. Clarke’s narrative seems to be more about the developing scenarios and the decisions that must be made within them rather than relaying a central character’s journey. Thus, the drone becomes the main character. For example, the UAV teams wrestle not only with collateral damage – which is a factor in any kinetic conflict – but with using drones in our allies’ territory without their permission, suggesting other elements conducted the attack to hide U.S. involvement, and targeting American citizens without due process.

Sting of the Drone makes it immediately clear it is a new form of warfare wherein the vehicle – flying over Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, or.Austria – is directed from DoD or CIA locations in the greater Washington DC area and piloted by a crew in Las Vegas. As terrorists emerge on their displays a world away, night owls in DC and Vegas must make split second kill decisions. The right call cleanly ends a deadly enemy. Other times collateral damage weighs heavily on the decision makers and crews since their distance does not suppress their humanity. Though unmanned, there is a ‘human in the loop.’ This is actually exacerbated by their video game-like existence. After a mission, UAV crews go home to their families, lounging by the pool, preparing breakfast, or playing little league baseball as if there is no war at all. Clarke highlights this so that the reader can discern the disconnect some of these UAV crews must endure. Dealing with this dichotomy is difficult for individuals to process, leading to a high rate of drunk driving, divorce, and even post-traumatic stress.

All of these points emerge through an entertaining story wherein a terrorist group decides to strike back at the drones with surface to air missiles and asymmetric attacks against DoD and CIA personnel in the United States. When the drone pilots launch missiles, the terrorists respond in kind by adapting hobby remote controlled aircraft into flying bombs. The plot is well constructed, and the character dialogue is just interesting enough to create a nice balance that educates the reader on UAV employment while serving up the aforementioned debate at the same time.

Sting of the Drone is very timely, as Americans can expect more unmanned vehicles in our nation’s arsenal. As such, there will likely to be more discussion on the proper employment of these weapons of war as the technology continues to evolve. Sting of the Drone is a good place for anyone to start to delve into these topics.


Stephen Phillips is the author of Proximity: A Novel of the Navy’s Elite Bomb Squad and The Recipient’s Son – a story about the U.S. Naval Academy in the early 90’s.

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BOOK REVIEW – Commerce Raiding: Historical Case Studies, 1755-2009

Commerce Raiding Historical Case StudiesEdited by Bruce A. Elleman and S. C. M. Paine, Naval War College Press, Newport, RI (2013)

Reviewed by Joseph James Ahern

Authors Bruce A. Elleman and S. C. M. Paine have gathered sixteen case studies examining the use and development of guerre de course from the eighteenth to twenty-first centuries in the recent addition to the Naval War College Newport Papers. This study is notable in its scope and focus. It includes the well-known historical cases (Seven Years War, American Revolution, and both World Wars) and lesser-known conflicts (First Sino-Japanese War, and the Spanish Civil War), as well as conflicts that would not usually come to mind (Tanker War in the 1980s). In focus, Commerce Raiding looks at the naval use of commerce raiding, limiting the topic of privateers to a passing mention. While scholars have examined commerce raiding in its social, political, and naval context, this study looks to fill a major gap in the academic literature by focusing on its use in both major and minor military conflicts. As the editors note, “This volume will focus on how and why guerre de course strategies have been adopted and conducted both in non-war and in wartime conflicts.”

In the compilation of this study, the editors have gathered an impressive list of authors to focus on specific periods or topics, including such names as Christopher P. Magra (American Revolution), Kevin D. McCranie (War of 1812), Spencer C. Tucker (American Civil War), Paul G. Halpren (World War I German submarine operations), Kenneth J. Hagan and Michael T. McMaster (World War I Anglo-American Naval Checkmate), Willard C. Frank, Jr. (Spanish Civil War), and George K. Walker (Iran-Iraq Tanker War 1980-1988). Each article is well written and authoritative on its related topic. The conclusion, written by Elleman and Paine, examines the case studies as a whole to determine the overall effectiveness of commerce raiding campaigns that had noticeably different levels of success depending on goals, strategy, technology, and location. For instance, while the French were unsuccessful in their campaign against the British in the Seven Years War, the American Colonies were able to use their efforts as part of the overall war effort to win independence against the Royal Navy. Equally, Germany’s Navy was unable to use unrestricted submarine warfare to force the capitulation of the British in both World Wars, whereas as the United States Navy’s unrestricted submarine campaign against the Japanese made a significant contribution to victory in World War II. Here, the issue of intervention by a neutral third party played a role.

For Germany, their campaign brought the neutral United States into the war on the side of the British. By contrast, there was no neutral third party nation to worry about in the Pacific. The most interesting chapters focus on the lesser-known uses of commerce raiding (i.e. Japan’s turn of the century wars, and the Spanish Civil War) and the evolution of commerce raiding in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in the Middle East and Somalia.

In all, Commerce Raiding takes a fresh look at this topic in naval history, and is a valuable addition to any bookshelf, regardless if the reader is interested in the broader topic or its specific case studies. As a whole, the work shows how in over two hundred years commerce raiding has had its own strategic, technological, and diplomatic evolution. This book will hopefully spur new studies on the topic in each specific period.


Joseph James Ahern is an archivist at the University of Pennsylvania who has published a book on the history of the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard.


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BOOK REVIEW – Four Years Before the Mast: A History of New York’s Maritime College

Four Years Before the MastBy Joseph A. Williams, Fort Schuyler Press, Bronx, NY (2013)

Reviewed by Suzanne Geissler,Suzanne Geissle Ph.D.

The State University of New York Maritime College is the oldest maritime college in the United States.  A history of this college is long overdue, and Joseph A. Williams has now provided an excellent one.  Williams is a librarian and archivist at the College and has made good use of the College’s extensive archives.

The College was founded in 1874 as the New York Nautical School.  It was run by the New York City Board of Education with the cooperation of the US Navy.  The purpose of the school was to provide formal training for American boys seeking careers in the Merchant Marine, thus providing a trained corps of maritime officers who could be quickly attached to the US Navy in time of war.  Training was held aboard a series of schoolships, the oldest and most famous being the St. Mary’s.

In 1913, the state of New York took over the College and changed the name to New York State Nautical School.  In 1929, the name was again changed to New York State Merchant Marine Academy, and in 1941 to the New York State Maritime Academy.  In 1949, the college became part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system and became the SUNY Maritime College. In 1934, after a bureaucratic struggle that took several years, the college acquired a shore establishment, a long-defunct Army base known as Fort Schuyler, located at Throgs Neck in the Bronx.  The college has been located there ever since.

The school has had numerous ups and downs throughout its 140-year history. Though its mission has always remained the same – to train officers for the merchant marine – there have been numerous obstacles along the way. The problems of the College when it was city-run, namely lack of a sufficient pool of applicants and lukewarm support from the Board of Education, were mostly solved by its takeover by the state in 1913. Other problems persisted.

When considering the academy’s history as a state, two issues present themselves as particularly affecting this institution.  One is the relationship between the state and federal governments running the college. Although the college is state-supported and the training is geared toward the civilian maritime professions, the federal government has an involvement as well. A federal Maritime Commission, which gained authority over the state maritime colleges, was created in 1936 (It was renamed the Maritime Administration [MARAD] in 1950). Graduates are given Navy Reserve commissions, and the Coast Guard licenses civilian mariners as deck officers.  The dual federal-state lines of authority have sometimes been blurred, which led to occasional conflict since the College administration must answer to both SUNY and MARAD.

The other issue that has affected the school throughout its history has been the dual nature of its civilian and military education.  Tension and occasional outright conflict surround the question as to which aspect would prevail. The student body has been organized along military lines ever since the school’s founding.  Students wore uniforms, were known as cadets, and were subject to military discipline.  However, the vast majority of students were training for civilian professions.  Inevitably, there was tension.  This reached critical proportions in the late 1960s and 1970s when many cadets (though certainly not all) rebelled against the strict discipline and military lifestyle.  The administration, wanting to quell vandalism, food fights, and general disrespect while fearing low enrollment, gave in on certain issues such as hair length, facial hair, and the wearing of civilian clothes on campus.  As a means of increasing enrollment and tuition income the college admitted civilian students and graduate students.  They took classes at the college but were not part of the Regiment of Cadets.  These two dualisms of SUNY Maritime’s existence, federal versus state and civilian versus military, can never be completely resolved, but they can be managed.

This book is well-written and strikes a balance between a narrative that stresses administrative history and one that focuses on anecdotes of cadet life.  The author strives for objectivity, even though he is writing about his employer.  His text is based on solid research in the school’s archives and is thoroughly documented.  There are useful charts in the appendix, which the reviewer consulted frequently.  The only jarring note is Chapter 5, “The Way of the Schoolship,” which is a fictionalized account of early cadet life.  The dialogue is corny and its credibility is dubious.  It is out of place in a scholarly history.  Apart from that quibble, Williams is to be commended for his fine account of a college that has made a major contribution to the nation’s maritime history.


Dr. Suzanne Geissler is an Associate Professor of History at William Patterson University, Wayne, New Jersey.

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BOOK REVIEW – Hal’s Navy

Hals NavyBy Cdr. Harold Sacks, USN (Ret.), Park Press, Norfolk, VA. (2013)

Reviewed by Charles H. Bogart

Cdr. Sacks has written a highly readable book about his service in the United States Navy from 1952 to 1972. He spent most of his service in the Navy on a destroyer or serving in the intelligence community. While the book contains a few sea stories (his visit to Onassis’s mega-yacht Christina being the best of the lot), the author concerns himself primarily with telling the story of what it was like to be a naval officer during the early years of the Cold War. The author saw combat in Korea and Vietnam.

Hal’s Navy is the story of one man progressing from the newest officer on board USS Owen (DD 536) as it was preparing for deployment to Korea to that of commanding officer of USS Steinaker (DD 863) during operations on the gun line along the shore of Vietnam. Between these two events, he served tours of duty onboard USS Des Moines (CA 134), USS Blandy (DD 937), USS Davis (DD 937), and USS Gyatt (DD 712). Woven throughout the book are details concerning his family and his endeavors to ensure that practicing members of the Jewish religion were able to receive spiritual comfort from members of their own faith. During his tour in Vietnam, he established a Jewish religious center in Saigon and started the paperwork to have a rabbi deployed to Vietnam.

While Commander Sacks’ tales of sea duty are fascinating, what the reviewer found most interesting were his accounts of shore duty with the intelligence community, particularly his service with the Navy Scientific and Technical Intelligence Center (STIC) located in Washington, D.C. on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.

The story of his service at Gitmo is one of the few accounts that have been written about life at this base. He gives the reader insight as to what life was like there as the Batista government fell and Castro seized power. Equally fascinating is his tale of serving under Rear Admiral John D. Buckeley. As one reads this account, one quickly grasps why Buckeley was such a leader of men.

I am sure that many other career naval men have wrestled with the decision the author agonized over—to stay in or leave the Navy. The author knew he was being groomed for advancement to Captain, but he had a family that had established strong emotional ties in the Norfolk area. Faced with three choices: uproot the family, commute between Washington and Norfolk, or change careers, he opted to put his family first and regretfully left the Navy.

The book is worth reading by anyone interested in the U.S. Navy during the 1950’s and 1960’s. I believe that any person starting a career in the Navy would be well served by reading this book. No matter what assignment Cdr. Sacks was given in the Navy, he found some way to use the experience he gained to make himself a better man. Autobiographies like this will provide a nice insight into the U.S. Navy during the Cold War period for historians researching the U.S. Navy fifty years from now.


Charles H. Bogart is a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

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BOOK REVIEW – Images of Aviation: Naval Air Station Pensacola

Naval Air Station PensecolaBy Maureen Smith Keillor and AMEC (AW/SW) Richard P. Keillor, MTS, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC (2014)

Review by Jason McHale

The Images of Aviation series commemorates the history of flight through pictures. More than eighty books comprise this series focusing on the early experiments, famous airfields, various aircraft and other aspects of aviation history. Images of Aviation: Naval Air Station Pensacola showcases the world’s first naval air station and its development from 1914 to today. Starting with only nine officers and twenty-three men in 1914, the base grew into one of the most important sites for the continued development of naval aviation.

Beginning with an introduction that provides the early history of the Pensacola area, the book is divided into six chapters that show the history of the naval air station. Each chapter covers a specific time period in the base’s history. As a pictorial history, the book has little text, and instead shows the historical narrative is provided through the pictures and captions. The lack of text only allows so much of the history of the base to come through. The book is interesting and well put together, but because it is a collection of images it might not need to appear on everyone’s shelf. Instead, this book and others in the series are better suited for those interested in the location or event or to introduce younger readers to the history of aviation through images.


Jason McHale is an Adjunct Professor at Quincy College, Quincy, Massachusetts.

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BOOK REVIEW – Images of Aviation: Naval Air Station Atlantic City

7670NAVAcvr.inddBy Richard V. Porcelli, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina, (2012)

Reviewed by John Galluzzo

Authors choosing to work with Arcadia Publishing set themselves up with a challenge. With strict word counts accompanying each image size (small and large portraits and landscapes, and double page spreads), brevity becomes more than an issue, it becomes a ritual. Yet while writing a book essentially comprised of captions, a talented author can still create a flowing narrative that tells a detailed and engaging story about the topic at hand.

Most Arcadia titles are place-based, as the company built its reputation by becoming a highly successful national publisher of local histories, sprung directly from the similarly successful Tempus Publishing efforts in the United Kingdom. Once the list of unpublished and marketable community titles began to winnow, Arcadia moved into specific themes, with titles on railroads, large businesses and aviation, among other similar subjects. With aviation titles, authors were allowed to expand the bounds to which authors of community books were held, specifically within the 1850 to 1950 timeframe for imagery. Titles on naval air stations, for instance, would not need be halted before the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Neither would titles focused on the wars in the Middle East fought over the last two and a half decades.

Porcelli’s title, therefore had the potential to cover the entire history of its subject, Naval Air Station Atlantic City, and the airfield’s antecedent iterations. But, since that story was to be told in the standard Arcadia format of 128 black-and-white pages, Porcelli had room for approximately 225 photographs. The author took strong advantage of this set-up, choosing to use small images, two per page (save on chapter title pages), throughout the book, making it a highly visual title. The strategy also allowed him to carry his book’s theme back to the roots of aviation in Atlantic City, providing context for the evolution of the airfield that would become a naval air station during World War II.

Excluding the story of Bader Field would have robbed the book of some of its most compelling imagery. A 1910 “Aero Show” highlighted the potential of aviation for the people of Atlantic City, and the field from which the aviators flew that July soon thereafter became a municipal airport (aviator Augustus Post coined the term “air port” that year to describe the facility). The first ten pages of the book serve as a celebration of early aviation. Aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss is shown in action during the meet, and then again in 1919 when he returns to develop a base for flying boats off Brigantine Inlet. After successfully flying across the Atlantic in 1919, Lieutenant Commander Albert C. Read brought the NC-4 to Atlantic City as part of a recruiting tour. In October 1927, Charles Lindbergh, conducting a victorious tour of his own, flew the Spirit of St. Louis to Atlantic City. Even Amelia Earhart’s smiling face beams outward at the reader of this book.

The bulk of the book covers a brief sixteen-year period during which the Navy held control over what was to be a second, larger municipal airbase, carved out of the famed New Jersey Pine Barrens. Completed in 1943, the base operated during World War II and the Korean War. Units began assignments at Naval Air Station Atlantic City (NASAC) on May 1, 1943, both training and providing coastal patrols. For the next few months fighters, scout/dive bombers, and torpedo bombers all soared over the city, but by August the mission had been solidified. NASAC would become a premier Fighter Training Unit base. In reality, though, that hard-and-fast designation would simply be the first in a long line of such bold new missions attached to the air station over time. As missions, enemies and technologies changed, so, too would the purposes with which aviators lifted off from the runways of NASAC.

The author took the liberty of expanding the selection of imagery for the book beyond the borders of the base itself, which is one of the advantages of creating an aviation title for this series. While authors of community-based titles are mostly pinned inside their towns, authors like Porcelli are free to allow the imagery to wander. Units that formed or trained at NASAC joined the fights in both the Atlantic and Pacific, operating from carriers in both theaters of operation. Aviators who learned how to fly their Hellcats or Corsairs at NASAC carried the base’s story overseas.

The postwar images, while perhaps not as compelling as the pictures from the World War II era for the layman American historian, nonetheless hold deep interest. The base expanded its scope in 1947 to include fighter, attack, antisubmarine and reconnaissance units, as well as missions of what at the time must have seemed like science fiction proportions. Drone testing took place at the base during these years, with the technologies developed in Atlantic City being tested under fire in Korea. Radio-controlled F6F-3Ks also gathered radioactive particles after atomic bomb tests in the Pacific.

Porcelli carries the story seamlessly into the Jet Age, transitioning out the old prop planes and bringing in waves of F2H-3 Banshees and F8U Crusaders. Beautiful images capture icons of the New Jersey shore in the background, indelibly stamping them in time and place.

The final third of the book deals with the post-Navy days, when “the base” was no more. The Federal Aviation Administration set up shop on the old base on July 1, 1958, redubbing it the National Aviation Facilities Experimental Center, doubling its size and broadly expanding its mission. It later became today’s William J. Hughes Technical Center.

Many Arcadia authors fail to tell a cohesive tale, reverting instead to a series of individual, unrelated captions that turn their works from potential histories to local history scrapbooks. Porcelli excels at the storytelling side of the work, and finds ways to creatively fill image gaps that would have otherwise been obvious detriments to the book.


John Galluzzo is the author of Images of America: Squantum and South Weymouth (MA) Naval Air Stations and Images of America: Millville (NJ) Army Air Field.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Lucky Few: The Fall of Saigon and the Rescue Mission of the USS Kirk

The Lucky FewBy Jan K. Herman, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2013)

Reviewed by Nathan D. Wells

The role that the United States Navy played in the Vietnam Conflict is well known, especially with regard to the beginning and escalation of the conflict. The role played by the US Navy in the war’s final days is less known. The part played by the 7th Fleet Task Force in the rescue of thousands of refugees sheltered on board what was left of the Republic of Vietnam’s Navy is an epic one indeed. This task force and the Destroyer-Escort USS Kirk have both been overlooked for nearly four decades. That these stories have come to life is due to the efforts of historian and documentarian Jan K. Herman, who produced both a documentary as well and this fine volume.

A destroyer escort (now referred to as a frigate) such as USS Kirk might seem a strange protagonist for a rescue mission off Vietnam’s coast. Indeed, while these vessels (along with the larger Destroyers and Cruisers) performed yeoman service both protecting the fleet and in gunfire support for ground troops and junk forces. As the final North Vietnamese offensive rolled towards the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon in April 1975, Kirk and her sisters were helping evacuate the last American personnel from Cambodia. After a short 36-hour stopover in Singapore, they received orders to join Task Force 76 off South Vietnam. This force which included seventeen amphibious ships, two aircraft carriers, eleven replenishment ships and fourteen escorts (including the Kirk) that would attempt to rescue the remaining American personnel as well as South Vietnamese who would suffer reprisals.

The Navy deployed seventy-three ships in total for the operation. The initial plan had been to use fixed-wing aircraft out of Tan Son Nhut airbase, just north of Saigon. The base had quickly been compromised by advancing communist forces, and a helicopter evacuation was initiated. Kirk’s role was to provide surveillance, routine escort and patrol, naval gunfire support, and anti-air and anti-surface protection for the Task Force. With her flight deck, she could also serve as a temporary landing platform for any helicopters that did not have enough fuel to make it to one of the aircraft carriers or amphibious vessels. Because the escorts were closer to the shore than larger vessels, they quickly became a magnet for helicopters as the evacuation wore on, Having a small flight deck, most helicopters had to be pushed off into the sea; the skids doing quite a bit of damage to the deck itself. (On a more positive note, the aviation detachment would get a few “prizes”, including a brand-new UH-1 Huey that was the personal transport of a Vietnamese General.) The rescue of two Marine Corps helicopter pilots resulted in the Kirk being rewarded with five gallons of strawberry ice cream, per naval tradition.

Had this been the extent of Task Force 76 mission, this would have been merely another unsung laudable action in the annals of the US Navy. With the imminent fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the evacuation became something quite different. The Task Force set sail for Con Son Island; about 115 miles south of the Coast. The island that had been a penal colony during French colonial rule was now the last refuge for fifty Vietnamese ships and thousands of refugees.  Herman introduces us to the crew of the Kirk, for the work tells their story. It is in this stage of the evacuation, from Con Son Island to the Philippines (where the ships would be turned over after a brief commissioning into the US Navy), that the crew comes to the forefront. The men of the Kirk had the utmost respect for their captain, LCDR Paul Jacobs. Even in advancing years, they speak of him with respect. Transforming a ship of war into a ship of hope is no easy thing; that Jacob could achieve such a feat was a credit to his own abilities, as well as those of his crew. The Kirk’s doctor, a Chief Hospitalman, served as a travelling country doctor to the motley flotilla; while enginemen helped keep most of the vessels afloat and underway. The deplorable conditions on many of these vessels were what one might expect from being overcrowded by desperate people from a nation that was soon to pass into history. Marines were assigned as security details.  Several died, but most made it through safely due to the efforts of the Kirk and the Task Force as a whole. Many later immigrated to the United States and became citizens.  Herman tells their stories as well.

This is a fine book overall. The major criticism that I have are that there are no maps, which would have been helpful to track the early stages of the evacuation. I recommend the volume to anyone interested in the US Navy’s role in Vietnam.


Nathan D. Wells is an Adjunct Professor of History at Quincy College, Quincy, Massachusetts.    

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BOOK REVIEW – To North Vietnam and Back Again: A Personal Account of Navy A-6 Intruder in Vietnam

To Vietnam and Back AgainBy Ed Engle, Xlibris, Bloomington, IL (2013).

Reviewed by Jan Churchill

Edward C. Engle’s memoir offers a personal account of naval bombing operations and its dangers. Engle is a retired naval flight officer with engineering degrees from both Johns Hopkins University and the Naval Postgraduate School. After completing his education, Engle went to work for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Corporation.

The first chapter discusses Engle’s childhood, family and education. Engle then describes joining the Navy and becoming a bombardier/navigator on the A-6 Intruder, serving with VA-128 and VA-165.  The bulk of the book takes the reader into the cockpit of the A-6 and the many missions it conducted during the Vietnam War.

“I loved the aircraft.  It was the best job I ever had!  But I didn’t like the bad reputation the plane was getting,” stated the author. “This book is a chance to correct the wrongs after 25 years. My purpose is to illustrate what the A-6 is truly capable of.” The A-6 Intruder was developed as the Navy’s first all-weather strike aircraft.  It was an excellent plane when you used the right data to carefully plan strikes on bombing missions.  The Navy was handicapped by lack of an accurate data base.  Engle said that the biggest problem in mission planning was the lack of “appropriate mapping on the charts used by the Navy.” According to Engle, the Navy “used charts which were printed from the French surveys of the 1930s.  The Air Force recognized the problem.   Even the Defense Mapping Agency said the charts couldn’t be used for target planning.  Also, the vibrations on ships caused problems during the planning.”

Engle did not keep a flight log. As such, he had sheets of paper with bomb loads.  “I didn’t realize until years later that Dan Graham, one of the pilots I flew with, had audio tapes.  This helped me get the sequences right, as well as the book by Jeff Ethell, One Day in a Long War.” Engle was able to get background information from the Intruder Association, but he also credits Dan Graham and his small tape recorder connected to the aircraft’s communications. “Without his help, this book would lack much of the detail it currently has,” said Engle.

Although Engle writes forty years after his experiences in Vietnam, he provides a detailed account of the missions he flew from the right seat.  On each flight to North Vietnam, Engle explains the systems, the tactics, and ordnances used over Laos, South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Cambodia.   Using an engineer’s analysis, Engle describes the difficulties preparing the A-6 for a strike.   Especially interesting is his discussion of the degeneration of DIANE, or the Digital Integrated Attack and Navigation Equipment.  Engle describes DIANE’s deficiencies and offers personal opinions of what happened. He also explains the systems, tactics, and ordnance used.

Later in the book, Engle describes his further assignments for the Navy once he changed careers to an aeronautical engineering duty officer.  In that position, he participated in the Cold War and European Theater operations as part of the National Space Program.  Engle concluded his Navy career developing the requirements for the Navy’s Force Network Concept.  Engle was responsible for introducing alternative methods for targeting .He later introduced commercial wideband satellite communications to Navy ships so they could conduct more precise targeting and photogrammetric planning.

Historians will gain insight into the complexity of the Navy’s air war in Vietnam.  Engle’s background as an engineer adds a technical depth to the analysis of wartime operations that puts the reader in the cockpit with aviators as they fly dangerous missions. The book lacks a glossary of the numerous abbreviations found throughout the book, only some of which are explained in the text. There is no index.


Jan Churchill is a pilot and writer who focuses on military aviation who reviewed To North Vietnam and Back Again after a discussion on 5 May 5, 2014 with author Ed Engle.



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BOOK REVIEW – Whips to Walls: Naval Discipline from Flogging to Progressive–Era Reform at Portsmouth Prison

Whips to WallsBy Rodney K. Watterson, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2014)

Reviewed by Louis Arthur Norton, Ph.D.

Casual readers of maritime history might be reluctant to pick up a book entitled Whips to Walls that features a photo of a grim castle-like prison on its cover. If so, they would be missing out. Captain Rodney Watterson has written an engaging scholarly study concerning an important but neglected part of American naval history. The book examines the men who were early naval recruits as well as what measures were used to establish and maintain shipboard discipline and its evolution in the face of moral and political pressures. It is also the story of a few unlikely men who introduced prison reform, particularly at the naval prison at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The first chapters examine the type of enlisted men the navy recruited to crew its wooden ships. Although largely capable, most were socially unsophisticated. Some had great difficulty performing dangerous duties upon a rolling sea. Others had issues with taking orders within a stratified, rigid military system of men who ranked over them and could also be belligerent. On shipboard, the Captain was the judge and jury who administered laws similar to those on shore, prosecuting uncivil conduct, drunkenness, theft, assault, battery, and even murder. He additionally oversaw other laws relating to military duties such as disobeying orders, disrespect to superiors, sleeping while on duty, being militarily unkempt, cowardice, desertion, etc. Punishment had to be swift yet not be too disruptive of the ship’s operation. The traditional or time-honored solution was to flog those who violated these laws with a prescribed number of lashes related to the type and severity of the offense. Punishment was carried out before the assembled ship’s company as an example to those who might commit similar acts. This had two advantages: those receiving the lash could show their courage by taking the punishment in a manly fashion and were able to recover in a relatively short time and remain available to perform his shipboard duties.

The first suggested change to be heavily debated was the abolishment of flogging in the navy. The author describes the divided politics concerning the implementation of this law in some detail. Many naval commanders favored flogging as a swift form of punishment and a time-tested disciplinary measure that kept a ship’s company intact and duty ready. Others saw this as an extension of slavery, an institution that was becoming more and more divisive in America in the 1840’s. Watterson explains the issues on both sides of the debate and largely focuses on Representative John P. Hale of New Hampshire, Thomas Lambert and Levi Woodbury as the heroes of this bill. Indeed they were, but he failed to mention Captain Isaac Hull who, in Linda Maloney’s comprehensive Hull biography, was renowned for his reluctance to use the lash. Also Commodores Uriah Philip Levy and Robert Field Stockton went without praise for their well-documented and compelling anti-flogging arguments before the United States Senate. Abolishment became law in1850, followed by the establishment of the naval prison system in 1888.

The navy decided it would be prudent to place the worst offenders in shore-based jail facilities such as state reformatories not far from naval bases. These prisons already held the some of the most hardened criminals in civilian society who might morally contaminate the navy prisoners. In order to solve this issue and support a possible return to active military duty, the navy built brigs at specific naval bases so that the navy could administer its own particular brand of punishment under the watchful eyes of marine and naval personnel. In doing so it also raised issues that needed review, restructuring, and reform , such as crime deserved what punishment within the navy. This led to building onshore prison facilities to house the offenders in secure barracks on naval bases. One prototype was the intimidating double turreted castle-like prison at Portsmouth, New Hampshire that dominated the harbor site, the focus of the major portion of the book.

The next segment of the book introduced the most interesting character and his supporting political characters that made this an especially worthwhile read. A former head of New York’s Sing Sing prison, Thomas Mott Osborne was appointed commander of the Portsmouth Naval Prison with the rank of lieutenant commander. He was a close friend of both Secretary of the Navy Joseph Daniels and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Frank Delano Roosevelt (FDR). The navy yard commander for much of Osborne’s term as prison commander was Rear Admiral Clifford J. Boush. Neither Osborne nor Daniels had much patience or apparent respect for chain of command, military protocol or customs. Osborne wanted to make drastic changes in the ways prisoners were treated. The lieutenant commander constantly went over his immediate higher-ranking officers, and certainly the admiral’s head, without regard to naval procedure. He wrote complaints and corrective suggestions directly to Daniels and FDR in Washington and seemed to visit them often. Daniels and FDR, in turn, generally agreed with Osborne’s reform measures and found substance in his complaints. In frustration, those in the chain of command also put their views in writing as a multi-year pecking-order kerfuffle ensued. This is an intriguing story, but the result is summarized by a 1913 quote from Daniels, “The policy of the navy is to make, not break, prisoners. . . . Old time methods of punishment have passed away, never to return.” (p. 104) Osborne sided with his prisoners in most controversies. Osborne even took nominal command of the prison ship USS Southery docked at Portsmouth as an overflow facility by arranging to have the Commanding Officer of Southery appointed as the assistant to the Commanding Officer of the Prison. Further, Osborne placed himself in command of the daily assignment of marine guards at his prison facility, over the objection of the detachment’s commander, Major Lauren S. Willis.

Osborne’s accomplishments were many, but one in particular had an important impact on the navy: a significant number of incarcerated men under his regime were able to return to active duty as useful shipmates and became acceptable members of a greater civilian society. The book has graphs and charts concerning the navy and its prisoners, many of which are hard to follow and are confusing. Arguably the most impressive graph shows the increase in the percentage of Portsmouth prisoners restored to duty versus those received at the facility under his stewardship.

In time Osborne and Daniels moved on, as obviously did Roosevelt. Many of Osborne’s prison reform measures were modified or rescinded in time, but they had a lasting impact on the way all military prisoners were treated. The Portsmouth facility was closed in 1973. Serious military offenders are now largely confined at Fort Leavenworth, where they are treated in a more humane environment and with more compassion. In conclusion, Whips to Wallsis at times an uncomfortable read, especially in its description of the cruelty that was inflicted upon the American sailors of the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet the book is rewarding in its description of the reforms that evolved and, in particular, the people who produced these reforms.

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Dr. Norton is a professor emeritus of the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. He was the recipient of the 2002 Gerald E. Morris Prize for maritime historiography.


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Integrity at the Helm: Gerald R. Ford Museum Exhibit Displays Past, Present, and Future of Aircraft Carriers

Ford Museum-Carrier Exhibit-14Jul2014 (6)Naval Historical Foundation Executive Director Captain Todd Creekman, USN (Ret.) attended the opening of a new exhibit at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan last Monday. The exhibit, called “Taking the Seas: Rise of the American Aircraft Carrier,” discusses the history of aircraft carriers from their development during World War I to the present day innovations seen in USS Gerald R. Ford, a new class of carrier named after the former President.

The new exhibit explains how the American battleship, the most formidable naval vessel of the early twentieth century, was soon dwarfed by the aircraft carrier during World War II. The carrier forever replaced the battleship as the most powerful ship in the United States Navy fleet. The focal point of the exhibit chronicles Ford’s life and records his career transition from sailor to President and politician through the development of U.S. aircraft carrier power during he twentieth century. Ford rode the waves of innovation as a naval officer during World War II and then as a proponent of the nuclear carrier program at a time when many agitators against a nuclear Navy greatly outnumbered supporters.

Ford served as President of the United States when the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) commissioned in 1975. He was one of the few to possess the foresight to understand the cost-benefit relationship of the program. “It about doubled the cost of construction,” Ford Museum curator Don Holloway mentioned, “but it saved money in the long run.” Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers will replace the Nimitz-class once in service.

Susan Ford Bales (Left Center) cutting the ribbon at the exhibit opening (Creekman Photo).

Susan Ford Bales (Left Center) cutting the ribbon at the exhibit opening (Creekman Photo).

The opening to the day’s events began with a wreath laying ceremony at the gravesite of President Ford. July 14th marked the 101st birthday of the 38th President. The Ford family laid several commemorative wreaths, and as tradition dictates, President Barack Obama sent the primary wreath in honor of the former President’s birthday.

Susan Ford Bales, daughter of the late President, joined several other dignitaries to cut the ribbon and open the exhibit. Those in attendance had the first chance to see several artifacts never before shown in public, including a Japanese hand-drawn map depicting the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. “Taking the Seas” helps to tell the story of Ford and his World War II Pacific Theater experience as a gunnery and navigational officer on the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL 26). A large interactive tabletop display helps visitors understand what a multi-carrier formation looked like during the war, a key component to understand the story of World War II and the development of aircraft carriers.

Admiral Holloway's Jacket, Helmet, and Picture at the Exhibit

Admiral Holloway’s Jacket, Helmet, and Picture at the Exhibit

Other notable artifacts inside the exhibit include uniforms of Admiral Ernest J. King and Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, as well as a leather jacket and helmet of Admiral James L. Holloway, III, USN (Ret.), NHF Chairman Emeritus who was instrumental in the success of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Included with Admiral Holloway’s items is a signed picture of Ford and Holloway at the 1975 commissioning of Nimitz. At the time, Admiral Holloway served as President Ford’s Chief of Naval Operations. Many of the uniforms and artifacts are on loan from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

President Ford’s role in the development of aircraft carriers serves as a bookend to his distinguished professional life. He had the distinct honor late in life to know the newest class of carriers in the United States Navy would be his namesake. He died in 2006. His daughter currently serves as the ship’s sponsor of Gerald R. Ford, which was christened last year.

The motto of the Gerald R. Ford is “Integrity at the Helm.” Those words form a strong bond between Ford’s military experiences and his political career, both of which required the keen insight and high ethical standards he exhibited throughout his life.

Ford Museum-Carrier Exhibit-14Jul2014 (17)

Special thanks to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Captain Creekman for the photographs of last Monday’s event.

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Fresh Water Wash-Down: When Foul Weather Impacted Naval History

USS Cowpens lists during Typhoon Cobra

USS Cowpens lists during Typhoon Cobra

Most people in the United States (especially the East Coast) know that the Atlantic Hurricane Season lasts from the beginning of June until the end of November. During those six months, we anxiously watch our television screens as each successive storm passes to the United States, some reaching from the African coast to the reaches of the Gulf and Eastern Seaboard. Storms and weather phenomena in recent years, such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, inflicted severe damage on the civilian populace.

As a service operating in or around the water, the United States Navy is not immune to Mother Nature’s fury. Foul weather in the Navy is a phenomenon felt around the world, not just in the Atlantic Ocean. Severe weather has impacted the United States Navy throughout its history, from the earliest days of the Continental Navy to the present day. The following are a few historical vignettes, arranged chronologically:

Ham & S Art

Loss of USS Hamilton and USS Scourge (1813)

Schooners Hamilton and Scourge served in the Great Lakes region during the War of 1812, primarily near Lake Ontario.  Both ships foundered and sank during a sudden offshore squall on 8 August 1813. Both ships are resting east of present-day Hamilton, Ontario. Although sixteen sailors survived from both ships, over eighty perished in the incident. One of the sailors that survived, Ned Myers, told his life’s story to author James Fennimore Cooper.  Myers’ testimony became the basis of his nonfictional biography, Ned Myers, or, A Life Before the Mast. The wreck sites of the Scourge and Hamilton are protected as a National Historic Site of Canada and remain a unique feature of maritime archaeology.


All Hands Aboard the Brig USS Hornet (1829)

The brig Hornet served under the command of Commodore James Lawrence at the outbreak of hostilities during the War of 1812. She served well throughout the war, sinking HMS Peacock and capturing HMS Penguin. Hornet went on to patrol the Caribbean for pirates in the 1820s. She sank with all hands during a bad storm on 29 September 1829. She dismasted during the gale and foundered off the coast of Tampico, Mexico.

1861 Hurricane Season

Civil War “Expedition” Hurricane (1861)
(Adapted from the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial)

On the heels of the Navy’s 1861 Port Royal Expedition, Hurricane Eight, better known as the “Expedition Hurricane,” severely impacted the timeline for the Union thrust into the vital Confederate stronghold.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the three-day storm was the last of that year’s Atlantic Hurricane season.  “Hurricane Eight” began on the southwestern tip of Florida and climbed up the east coast. The storm made landfall along the Outer Banks of North Carolina as a CAT 1, slowly diminishing speed up the coast before downgrading to a tropical storm by nightfall on 2 November.  At its height, the hurricane reached winds approaching 80 mph.

The storm caused many problems for the United States Navy preparing for the expedition to capture to Port Royal Sound.  Although the earliest storm warning occurred in late October while the fleet assembled, the most devastating impact came on the 2nd.

Most of the ships involved in the storm were spared. Several ships had to unload precious cargo to stay afloat.  The transport Governor lost seven Marines during a fateful rescue by the USS Sabine‘s crew. Despite the loss of ship and life, the fleet of 77 ships went on to capture the sound at the Battle of Port Royal.

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

The Loss of the USS Monitor (1862)

The ironclad Monitor is one of the most famous ships in the history of the United States Navy. Although best known for engaging the ironclad Virginia during the Battle of Hampton Roads, her humble beginnings met a terrifying conclusion less than a year later.

Towards the end of 1862, Monitor and her crew prepared to sail for Beaufort, North Carolina, where she would join other ships for an eventual assault against the Confederate stronghold at Wilmington near the Charleston blockade. Although there were many reports of foul weather in the Atlantic coast prior to her voyage, Monitor put to sea on 31 December from Hampton Roads under tow from USS Rhode Island.

A ferocious storm generated off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, causing the unseaworthy Monitor to pitch and roll on the high sea swells. Monitor hoisted her red lantern, signaling Rhode Island for help. The dipping red lantern was the last thing the Rhode Island crew and survivors saw of Monitor. She sank 16 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras with the loss of 16 men.

She was eventually discovered again in 1973. The partially recovered remains of Monitor are under the care and conservation of the Monitor Lab at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA.

Forgotten Airship Disaster

USS Akron Airship Disaster (1933)

The Rigid Airship Akron (ZRS 4) had its share of difficulties before its eventual demise. The helium-filled airship had no less than three major malfunctions and incidents in her short service, including a mooring cable mishap that led to the plunging deaths of two junior sailors, all caught on newsreel film.

On the night of 4 April 1933, the airship encountered strong wind gusts over New Jersey. After a series of daring maneuvers to control the ship in several periods of violent updrafts and downdrafts, she sank in the Atlantic. Only three sailors survived, leaving 73 of her crew dead, including Rear Admiral William A. Moffett, a Medal of Honor recipient and naval aviation pioneer.

Among the remembrances of the disaster, musician Bob Miller wrote “The Loss of the Akron” within a day of its destruction:

“We can always replace an aircraft,
In beauty every way
But we can’t replace those brave souls,
Who lost their lives that day.”

The incident is the largest lost of life for an airship, surpassing the well-known 1937 Hindenburg disaster.

National Archives Photo

National Archives Photo

Halsey’s Typhoon and a Future President (1944)

Typhoon Cobra, also known as “Halsey’s Typhoon,” is perhaps the best-known weather incident in the history of the United States Navy. On 18 December 1944, ships comprising Task Force 38 encountered a heavy typhoon while many ships attempted to refuel. Ships were caught unprepared in the center of the storm, unable to maintain steady under the heavy seas and hurricane-force winds.

640px-GeraldFord1945Three destroyers capsized and sank. A cruiser, five aircraft carriers, and three destroyers had serious damage from the storm. In all, over 790 officers and men were presumed missing or killed, and eighty others injured. The storm forced the Navy to establish weather stations throughout the Pacific Ocean. Weather offices were created at Guam and Leyte for coordinating data amongst the various stations.

Among the sailors that survived Halsey’s Typhoon was future president and Navy LT Gerald R. Ford. LT Ford served on the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey. During the storm, a hangar deck fire broke out on Monterey, and LT Ford took to his battle station on the bridge during the fire and assumed his duties as the General Quarters Officer of the Deck. LT Ford went down to the dangerous hangar deck to assess the damage control situation. Ford survived the incident, but nearly fell overboard during a dangerous pitch and roll from the storm.

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10 Years, 10 Ports: A Look at Navy Ports of Call in the 1980s

A few days ago, we asked our FACEBOOK fans what their favorite port of call was while in the Navy. Summer is here, and the wanderlust for vacation is heavy. We got a few responses, but are still looking for more! If you have a favorite, comment here or go on our Facebook page and let us know! Not a fan yet? Become one and “like” us today!

Vacations make me a bit nostalgic for my younger years…so here are ten Ports of Call of various ships in the 1980s.

1980 – Mombasa, Kenya1_Screen Shot_Mombasa_1980_USSNewOrleans

USS New Orleans (LPH 11) WestPac Cruise

1981 – Hong Kong2_Screen Shot_Hong Kong_1981_USSCoralSEa

USS Coral Sea (CV 43) WestPac Cruise

1982 – Naples, Italy3_Screen Shot _Naples_1982_USSForrestal

USS Forrestal (CV 59) Med Cruise

1983 – Rome, ItalyScreen Shot 2014-07-11 at 6.41.17 AM

USS New Jersey (BB 62) World Cruise

1984 – ThailandScreen Shot 2014-07-11 at 6.51.51 AM

USS Halsey (CG 23) WestPac Cruise

1985 – Yokosuka, JapanScreen Shot 2014-07-11 at 6.54.11 AM

USS Elliot (DD 967) WestPac Cruise

1986 – Karachi, PakistanScreen Shot 2014-07-11 at 7.07.17 AM

USS Enterprise (CVN 65) World Cruise

1987 – Perth, AustraliaScreen Shot 2014-07-11 at 7.11.34 AM

USS Kansas City (AOR 3) WestPac Cruise

1988 – Subic Bay, PhilippinesScreen Shot 2014-07-11 at 7.15.47 AM

USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) Maiden Cruise

1989 – BahrainScreen Shot 2014-07-11 at 7.18.12 AM

USS Gary (FFG 51) Persian Gulf Cruise

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Going Ashore: Naval Operations in Casco Bay During World War II (Part III)

Casco Bay Banner

By George Stewart

(This is the third in a series of blog posts covering the various operations conducted in Maine during WWII. To read Parts I and II of George Stewart’s blog series about Casco Bay during WWII, go HERE and HERE. To read all other post by George, go HERE.) 


By 1943, the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field and Navy Fuel Annex on Long Island were in full operation. The landing field provided training and support for the catapult-launched scout floatplanes that served as the “Eyes and Ears” of major combatant ships prior to the development of radar.


During one transit in July 1943, the USS Iowa (BB 61) ran aground on Soldiers Ledge in Hussey Sound.

Even though the requirements for escort ships in the Atlantic began to lag in 1944, it would prove to be the most active period in Casco Bayduring the war.

By 1944, the tide had turned in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Germans attempted a comeback using a new breathing device called a “schnorkel” which allowed operation of their diesel engines with the submarine cruising at periscope depth. They were unable to reestablish a dominant position in the Atlantic. However there was still action in the waters around Europe and there was some sporadic engagements off the East Coast.

Curtis Floatplane

Curtis Floatplane

Many of the East Coast based destroyers supported of the various operations in the European theater, including the invasion of Normandy and the invasions of Italy and Southern France in the Mediterranean. Many destroyers and destroyer escorts would be transferred to the Pacific, where they were in high demand. A number of destroyers were converted into high-speed minesweepers (DMS). There was also a need for more troop carrying capability for support of invasions in the Pacific. This need was filled by converting a number of destroyer escorts into high-speed transports (APD).

Despite these developments, 1944 was a very busy year in Casco Bay. In fact, there were more recorded ship visits (336) than in any other war year. The ship count included the battleships USS Arkansas (BB 33), USS Texas (BB 35), and USS Nevada (BB 36). Nevada was a World War I vintage battleship that was damaged at Pearl Harbor and subsequently restored to service. It went on to the Atlantic to support the invasion of Normandy. Ninety-four destroyers also appear on the list. Among them was nine of the new Sumner (DD 692) class and one Gearing (DD 710) class ship. These would be the last new classes of destroyers to enter service during the war. The largest group of ships on the list was the Des, with 178 of these ships appearing in the database for that year. It appears that virtually every DE that was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet during the war visited the bay for antisubmarine warfare training at some time or another.

USS Tills (DE 748)

USS Tills (DE 748)

Note that the USS Tills (DE 748), shown in the picture above, later served as future Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt’s first seagoing command in 1950. Tills later performed Naval Reserve training duties at Portland, Maine in the early 1960s.

There were lots of world-shaking events in 1945, including the deaths of FDR and Hitler, the end of the war in Europe, the use of the atom bomb, and finally, the surrender of the Japanese in September. As the year began, things were definitely winding down in the Atlantic culminating in the cessation of hostilities on May 8 (“VE-Day”).  There were some U-Boat actions in the early part of the year. But the Battle of the Atlantic was won by the Allies. Overall the Germans had lost 768 U-Boats. The British had actually done the majority of the damage, with 561 U-Boats destroyed as compared by 177 by U.S. Forces. But these 177 kills were the major factor in the elimination of the U-Boat threat in the Western Atlantic.

A key factor in this was the establishment of the hunter-killer groups built around the escort carriers (CVE) and the DE’s. The most successful groups were built around the USS Bogue (CVE 9), USS Core (CVE 13), USS Card (CVE 11), USS Croatan (CVE 25), USS Block Island (CVE 21) and USS Guadalcanal (CVE 60). These vessels generally operated out of either Quonset Point, Rhode Island, or Norfolk, VA. There is no record of any of them ever stopping in Casco Bay, although it is probable that one or more made brief fuel stops. Yet virtually all of their escorts were in the bay at one time or another either for shakedown, upkeep, or specialized ASW training. Of the eleven carrier escorts that operated in the Atlantic, a torpedo sank only one, USS Block Island, on 29 May 1944. Since the end of World War II, there has been a tendency to overlook the contributions of these groups because the majority of the CVEs were decommissioned shortly after the war due to their inability to support jet aircraft.

USS Pauau (CVE 122)

USS Pauau (CVE 122)

Although things were wrapping up in the Atlantic, action in 1945 was still hot and heavy in the Pacific. It was also a very busy year in Casco Bay. A total of 191 ships appeared on the list, including sixty-one destroyers and eighty-two destroyer escorts. There was an the influx of patrol vessels that was due to the introduction of the new Tacoma class patrol frigates (PF) which were powered by twin reciprocating steam engines. Unfortunately, these ships entered service too late to be of much use during the war. The new minesweepers that were entering service at the time were being fitted with anti-submarine equipment.

There was a mass exodus of destroyers and DE’s from the Atlantic to the Pacific during the latter part of the year. Destroyers were in particular demand to make up for losses to Kamikazes. A number of these ships including many of those of the Sumner (DD 692) and Gearing (DD 710) classes were still in transit or on the building ways when the war ended with the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

By October 1945 the last of the 266 Liberty Ships were completed in South Portland and production ceased at the East and West Yards.

Although hostilities had ceased, there would still be a significant naval presence in Casco Bay up until early 1947.  This will be discussed further in the next post in this series.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

2014-02-06-PortChicagoREVISEDBy Steve Sheinkin, Roaring Book Press, New York, NY (2014)

Review by: Aldona Sendzikas, Ph.D.

How do you explain racism to teenagers—specifically, the existence of institutionalized racism and segregation in the U.S. Navy during most of its history? This is author Steve Sheinkin’s challenge in this book for young adults about the massive explosion that killed 320 servicemen, most of them African American, at a California ammunition loading dock at Port Chicago in July 1944. It was a tragedy that drew attention to the Navy’s unfair treatment of black sailors.

As a former history textbook writer and the award-winning author of several history books for young adults, Sheinkin is experienced in broaching complex and difficult topics and making them accessible to young readers. Although the actual age of the intended audience is not stated in the book, according to YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association), the “Young Adult” category refers to readers between the ages of 12 and 18.

The Port Chicago 50 is well researched, carefully footnoted, and amply illustrated. Sheinkin’s sources include the 1,400-page transcript of the trial of the 50 black sailors charged with mutiny for refusing to work after the explosion. Sheinkin states that his objective was to tell the story of the Port Chicago events from the point of view of these young men—a perspective that is not considered in many accounts of the disaster. Sheinkin achieves his goal by incorporating excerpts from oral history interviews with several of the “Port Chicago 50.”

Sheinkin undertakes not only to narrate the events leading up to and following the Port Chicago explosion, but to unravel the social circumstances that shaped them: the history of racial segregation in the military and the slow road to its eventual end. Accordingly, Sheinkin provides context, beginning the book with a brief account of Dorie Miller in order to introduce the concept of racial segregation in the U.S. Navy during WWII. He then shifts smoothly to an examination of the history of blacks in the U.S. military, beginning with the Revolutionary War period. This short historical summary leads neatly back to WWII and the Port Chicago events, focusing on one particular African American sailor and how he ended up joining the Navy. Soon it is revealed that this is the sailor who would end up leading the Port Chicago “mutiny.”

Sheinkin looks at subtleties: he stops to consider reasons that politicians may have supported and maintained segregation in the armed forces through the years. He sometimes interjects in the middle of the text to emphasize a point and encourage his young readers to stop and reflect: “Think about that,” he will suddenly say.

This is the kind of book I am sure I would have enjoyed reading myself as a “young adult” – a riveting story that would also make me feel that I was learning something important as I read. In only 170 pages of text, Sheinkin provides a very thorough account. He describes the actual process of ammunition loading, as well as the daily routine of the men assigned to Port Chicago—details that are not included in most accounts of the explosion. Readers learn about Thurgood Marshall and his role in trying to vindicate the Port Chicago 50. The oral history excerpts sprinkled throughout the narrative offer a candid glimpse of the torn emotions experienced by these men whose patriotism was questioned because they spoke up about unsafe working conditions. Particularly interesting are the men’s reflections in later years about how the events of Port Chicago affected the rest of their lives.

Most importantly, the author does not talk down to his young readers. He pulls no punches in describing the damage caused by the explosion, noting that the vast majority of bodies were not left “whole enough to identify” (p. 67).  He does not shy away from moral and ethical questions: was it right for the survivors to refuse to load any more ammunition because of the dangers, when other servicemen were also facing dangers and possible death on ships and in foxholes?What exactly constitutes a “mutiny,” anyhow? It should be noted that since the author incorporates direct quotes from the transcript of the trial, occasionally the term “mother—ers” appears, along with a note from the author explaining that the full word was spoken in the trial—but this is not a term that teenagers will not have heard before, and again, it shows that Sheinkin refuses to talk down to his audience.

Sheinkin demonstrates how the Port Chicago incident ties into the larger story of desegregation in the USN and in American society as a whole. He suggests that the Port Chicago 50 are just as important in the battle for civil rights in America as were Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson. The real “crime” committed by the Port Chicago 50, he concludes, was not mutiny but rather drawing attention to the way the Navy treated African American sailors.


Dr. Sendzikas teaches at the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.

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