The Anchored Roots of Naval History: American Export Explores Storied Family Past at Navy Department Library

Ben Talman discusses his family history with NDL staff member Alexandra McCallen. (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)

Ben Talman discusses his family history with NDL staff member Alexandra McCallen. (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)


By Matthew T. Eng

“Every family has a history. Every family has a story. This helps explain why you are the way you are.”

It’s fall here in Washington, D.C. The hot summer heat and brown grass are finally giving way to cooler temperatures and changing leaves. For some, this pleasant change in weather can mean only one thing: the slow approach of the holiday season. It’s that magical time of the year when friends and family gather together in living rooms and dining rooms around the country to reminisce about their time together. Stories of the past are shared around the table with the same frequency as baskets of warm dinner rolls.

Most of us endure this ritualistic remembrance into family history as a yearly occurrence. For American-born Australian resident Ben Talman, this deep insight into the past occurs daily. If Ben’s family tree were a living thing, he would have set up a house in its branches long ago. He is truly living it. Ben ‘s family history pops up in his everyday life more than he would like to admit. “I can’t escape this stuff,” he said during his visit to the Navy Department Library last Thursday. “What are you going to do when that happens? You have to study it.”

The New South Wales resident came to the states last week and decided to stop by the Washington Navy Yard to view naval documents that his father, Benjamin Long Edes Talman, donated to the Naval Historical Foundation in 1961. His father’s papers were eventually given next door to the Navy Department Library, who has cared for them ever since. The documents included several logs and correspondence of his father, a WWII-era Navy Captain, as well as the Navy commission papers of his great grandfather, LCDR Benjamin Long Edes.

In case you caught our post last week about the ever-changing role of digital naval history, Ben is living proof that this kind of passion, devotion, and expertise extends far beyond the walls of academia. NHF Curator Emily Pearce remarked how “beside himself” he was at seeing the documents up close. His level of enthusiasm for naval history was both infectious and uplifting. It was a pleasure to sit and talk with Mr. Talman about his own life and the extraordinary story of his naval heritage.

Ben’s extraordinary quest to discover his family’s past began back in 1975. “I noticed that I had this very long middle name, and I wanted to find out more about it.” That initial interest led Ben down a rabbit hole of his family’s history he has yet to crawl out of ever since. His family’s story has taken him all over the world. From Gallipoli to Washington, D.C, he has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Mr. Talman described studying his family’s history “like a drug” that you can’t get enough of:

“Every family has a history. Every family has a story. This helps explain why you are the way you are.”

The roots of Ben’s family tree are built on a strong foundation of America’s history. His 18th century ancestor, Boston resident Benjamin Edes, is considered by many to be the “Poet of the American Revolution.” Other close relatives have ties to the National Weather Service and the United States Army. The most interesting of family members, however, touch the very fabric of nineteenth and twentieth century naval history.

The two commission documents of Benjamin Long Edes (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)

The two commission documents of Benjamin Long Edes (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)


Indeed, the most interesting set of documents in the donated collection came from his great grandfather, Benjamin Long Edes. Two nearly identical U.S. Navy commissioning documents for his great grandfather were spread out on a table to view inside the Navy Department Library. Both are signed by then President Andrew Johnson in 1865. Although the documents are for his great grandfather’s commission, the last name and seal on each piece of paper are different. “His family wanted to keep the tradition of his family name alive,” he noted as he stared deeply into the black print of the document. “So, he had to go to the Navy Department and request another one made to reflect his family’s wishes (both Long and Edes).”

New York Herald, 29 AUGUST 1881.

New York Herald, 29 AUGUST 1881.

Benjamin Long Edes’s story really starts to get interesting after his commission in 1865. After spending several years with the European Squadron, Asiatic Squadron, and the Washington Navy Yard, LCDR Edes was transferred to the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, RI. It was there in 1881 that he died in a fatal torpedo accident. According to one account, the incident occurred when Edes and one other were directed to detonate a torpedo in the harbor. After looking around the Internet for more information of the unfortunate incident, Ben was elated to find that the accident made the headline news of the 29 August edition of The New York Times and New York Herald.

Ben’s father, Benjamin Long Edes Talman, served in the United States Navy during the Second World War in the European theater. Captain Talman was the commanding officer of a destroyer in 1943, and participated in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy. He also served with FDR, Jr. during his time in the U.S. Navy.

Naval history courses through Ben’s veins. He still wears Captain Talman’s 1935 USNA class ring on his ring finger as a symbol of respect and admiration of his late father’s accomplishments. Ben spent the majority of the early afternoon weaving more tales of his family’s history. Each story expanded on the history of the other. He laughed when I mentioned that he was in the “Forrest Gump” of U.S. Navy families. “If I lived here in D.C.,” he said in response, “I would be coming here every single day.” By the end of our conversation, I had no doubt he was telling the truth.

Captain Benjamin Long Edes Talman, USN

Captain Benjamin Long Edes Talman, USN

Ben is an active participant in discovering his family’s storied history online. “It’s too difficult to get the rest of my family to see the images.” Because his family stretches from Australia to the United States, he posts many of his finds on Facebook. “It’s nice that I can post something about our family history and the rest of my family can see it from around the world,” he said. Ben also posts regular updates on Ancestry.com’s Fold3 platform about his family history, in particular his father and great grandfather. He hopes to post his recent finds from last week’s trip here on the website very soon.

Ben Talman came here last week with a deep admiration for what organizations like the Navy Department Library/NHHC and the Naval Historical Foundation are doing to preserve naval history. In his own words, Ben admitted how much of a “devoted fan” he was to these organizations. As he walked out of the gates of the Washington Navy Yard at the end of the day, he had a few fans and admirers of his own.

Special thanks to Emily Pearce (NHF) and Alexandra McCallen (NDL) for assisting Mr. Talman throughout the day. 

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BOOK REVIEW – THE ROYAL NAVY – A History Since 1900

The Royal NavyBy Duncan Redford and Philip D. Grove, I. B. Tauris, London, England (2014)

Reviewed by Charles Bogart

The book under review is the fourteenth book within the A History of the Royal Navy series sponsored by The National Museum, Royal Navy Section. The authors of this large book attempt to do the impossible: tell the story of the Royal Navy over the past 110 years. The pages of this history therefore do not offer a detailed history of the Royal Navy. It instead seeks to highlight various events that affected the Royal Navy between the years 1900 and 2010. The authors only devote sixty-three pages to World War I. The authors, limited by space, provide only a broad-brush look at that conflict. The authors do highlight most of the major activities of the Royal Navy during that world conflict, but numerous smaller critical events are ignored. Despite the above caveat, the book is a fascinating and enlightening read.

The book is divided into six sections, from the development of the Royal Navy at the end of the 19th century through the current world unrest. The chapters on the pre-World War I era and the interwar Navy contain a wealth of information concerning the development of a fleet, which the Admiralty used to gain control of the seas.

The authors devote ninety pages to the period from 1950 to 2010. The authors provide a well-rounded and balanced account of the trials and tribulations inflicted upon the Royal Navy by Parliament during the last half of the 20th century, and the operations and campaigns they successfully accomplished despite a continual depletion of ships and manpower. The authors’ post-World War II account of the Royal Navy presents remarkable facts on British Defense policy. It is interesting that, of the United Kingdom’s three armed services, the Royal Navy constantly suffered the greatest loss in the funding of capital projects during the budget battles of the Cold War era, yet is used increasingly as an instrument of power projection by the British government.

The book is well written and its text is supported by a number of maps, charts, photos (some in color), footnotes, and a bibliography. To understand the full measure of some of the events recounted in this book that cover the Cold War Royal Navy, one needs to acquire another of the books in this series, A History of the Royal Navy: The Nuclear Age.

This book is a great introduction to the naval events of the 20th century as seen through the eyes of the Royal Navy. It would serve well as a textbook in a survey course of world events, or as a vehicle to introduce the budding historian to naval events that still influence our lives today.

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Charles H. Bogart

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BOOK REVIEW – Star-Spangled Sailors – A Novel of the Brave Watermen Defenders of Chesapeake Bay in the War of 1812

Star Spangled SailorsBy Carey Roberts, Self-Published, 2011

Reviewed by David K. Hildebrand, Ph.D.

Historical fiction provides a compelling call for the reader to go well beyond traditional history. I for one have been long happy to absorb the facts, theories, and analyses often well crafted into secondary sources, such as Steve Vogel’s excellent telling of the near cataclysmic summer of 1814 in Through the Perilous Fight – Six Weeks that Saved the Nation. Painstakingly researched and engagingly argued, this book is simply definitive on its topic.

Vogel’s mission differs from that of Carey Roberts, who takes some of Vogel’s real characters and breathes feeling and emotion into their actions. She also embraces historical figures less well documented than the American hero Joshua Barney and British Rear Admirals Cockrane and Coburn. She draws the reader into their reactions during such momentous events in Washington, Baltimore and thereabouts throughout the summer and early fall of 1814.

Take, for instance, the escaped slave Mingo Jones, torn between the needs of his colleagues during a time of war and his own sense of self-preservation.  While making up perhaps one-sixth of the crews of the American navy through the 1812-1815 period, the perspectives of Blacks and Native Americans have largely been ignored in traditional histories (excepting, of course, recent works by Alan Taylor such as The Civil War of 1812 and his 2014 Pulitzer-winning The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.)   By considering Mingo’s perspective and trying to imagine how a man coming from such lower and constrained circumstances would react in battle among fellow soldiers forces the reader to expand and consider events in a new and fresh way.  Likewise, through the voices of boys like Jason and Caleb (the drummer boy), readers are invited to re-live the immature yet vivid feelings of excitement, drive and duty held by young soldiers not quite men.

Star-Spangled Sailors tells most of its story through the voice of a young and promising white sailor-then-soldier named Jack Webster.  Webster, who feels shamed by the retreat of the Americans at Bladensburg, must overcome his own sense of failure in protecting Captain Joshua Barney through a journey of personal retreat followed by re-grouping and making a stand.  This, at the climax of the story, takes place not at the glorified venue of Fort McHenry itself, but at Babcock Battery, a small but important defensive post outside the fort. By taking command of a much smaller, and ostensibly insignificant post plagued by the terror of darkness and the knowledge of being vastly out-manned and out-gunned, Webster becomes the hero after all.  This brilliant American tactic of protecting Baltimore’s vulnerable tributaries as Webster did may well have turned the tide while more major and widely recorded assaults were taking place upon Fort McHenry and by the thousands of British marines who had landed at North Point the day before and were marching towards the city.

Carey C. Roberts portrays sailing-master Jack Webster’s character not just as self-sacrificing, brave and heroic, but as a man with real emotions. He is susceptible both to self-doubt and to the allure of an attractive farm girl, Rachel.  I’ll admit here as reviewer of this book that once the story line ventured into romance my antennae went up — but through the course of the story I got pulled in and thought — “Hey, why not factor in that we are all human after all . . . perhaps this is an under-represented aspect of history?”  The few romantic episodes are brief and to the point, driving the plot while not becoming distractions or sub-plots within themselves.  Even British Major-General Robert Ross’s demise takes on a fresher, more sympathetic mood. It brings to mind Benjamin West’s 1770 depiction of General Wolfe mortally wounded at Quebec, which evokes perhaps pity even more than hero worship.

As a music historian by profession, I admire the author’s attempts to invoke a sort of soundtrack into the narrative along with her visual and emotional imagery. “Serious” historians rarely draw upon musical cues or context, excepting the Canadian author Donald Graves who has taken to quoting lyrical excerpts from songs as chapter headings. I personally congratulate and thank Carey for being so culturally diverse.  The details of her musical allusions are not always precise, but I commend her open-minded inclusiveness than nit-pick over the choice of instruments, composers, or the like.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I admire the author’s success in keeping the narrative so very close to factual accuracy.  Other more strict scholars like Vogel, Don Hickey, or Ralph Eshelman would probably have noticed and argued details unknown to me, but I had the very strong sense that the author not only did copious homework but at no point felt compelled to deviate or exaggerate the story line.  Instead, Carey C. Roberts has flushed the story out believably and interestingly, and for that I would strongly recommend that you read this book as a way to feel as much as understand this rich moment in time.

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Dr. David K. Hildebrand, is the Director of The Colonial Music Institute.

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BOOK REVIEW – Q Ship VS U-Boat: 1914-18

Q Ship vs U BoatBy David Greentree, Osprey Publishing, New York, NY (2014)

Reviewed by Sam Craghead

With its dependency on merchant ship deliveries, the success of German U-Boats caused grave danger to Great Britain’s lifeline of food and supplies. Created as a countermeasure to the German submarines during World War I, service on a Q Ship became one of the most dangerous and unusual assignments for sailors of the Royal Navy.

Prior to the outbreak of war, the submarine was not considered a threat to commerce. The great nations had not developed or even considered how to counter the submarine. The idea that a civilized nation would attack civilian ships and leave the survivors to their fate was unthinkable. Therefore, it was not a factor when planning for a war that included the submarine as a new weapon.

The British viewed the submarine as a coast defense weapon. The Germans saw the U-Boat as a weapon for fleet action or as a way to attack enemy warships. Different classes of U-Boats were in operation during the war. Their construction, crew size, armament, and cruising range varied.

At the beginning of 1914, German policy and procedure was formulaic. The submarine, following prize law, would surface and stop the ship. They would then check their cargo for contraband of war and then attend to the safe transfer to lifeboats for the crew and passengers before sinking the vessel. The all hinged on a ship to be a legitimate prize of war. If the ship did not prove to be a legitimate prize, it was released.

Desperate situations call for desperate measures. This phrase certainly characterizes the life of the men who manned a Q Ship. To lure an unsuspecting enemy submarine to attack, the crew would man the lifeboats as if the order to “Abandon Ship” was given. The boat would pull away from the ship, enticing the U-Boat crew to let their guard down and approach the “helpless” vessel.   If the U-Boat was not in range or in a favorable position for weapons, the crew of the Q Ship might come under gunfire or torpedo attack until the U-Boat could be engaged. The Q Ship’s crew would then unmask their weapons and open fire on the enemy.

Q Ships were crewed by officers and men from the Royal Navy, the Royal Naval Reserve, merchant sailors, and volunteers. All underwent exacting training to handle the weapons and to act the part of less than well-trained sailors. They had to be convincing while mimicking the panic of a merchant ship crew encountering an enemy submarine. They dressed and acted like civilians manning a civilian vessel. A Q Boat crewman possessed what might be termed as “raw nerve.”

As a commissioned Royal Navy ship, the Q Ship operated under international law. The ship was allowed to fly a “false flag” which had to be replaced by the national ensign before firing upon an enemy. The Q Ships, also called “Mystery Ships,” were converted steam trawlers, fishing smacks, schooners, and so-called “three-island tramp steamers” (which displaced between 1,000 and 5,000 GRT and made up the majority of the cargo ship types operating in and near British waters). Ships were modified to conceal armaments, including a variety of weapons. Machine guns, 12 and 6-pounders, and torpedoes were common. Special mountings were designed to enable the weapons to be hidden and then quickly brought into action.

The Q-Ships best record during the First World War was occupied from 1914 to 1917 when the Kaiser ordered unrestricted submarine warfare. Of the 187 U-Boats lost during the war, only seven percent were credited to the Q Ships. However, Q Ships were responsible for damaging approximately sixty U-Boats.

While the operations of Q Ships may be familiar to those well versed in the war at sea during The Great War, David Greentree has written a book of much interest to historical readers. This book is well documented and contains excellent graphics and photographs. This book should be on the reading list for the student new to the subject of the war, as well as to those with an interest in the War at Sea.

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Sam Craghead is a historian with the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

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BOOK REVIEW – Into the Dark Water: The Story of the Officers of PT 109

Into the Dark WaterBy John J. Domagalski, Casemate Publishers, Havertown, PA 2014

Reviewed by: Tim McGrath

Mention PT 109 to the “Greatest Generation” and “Baby Boomers” and you will conjure up a slew of memories: the tie-clips worn by men working for John F. Kennedy in the White House, the bestselling book by Robert J. Donovan, and the not so accurate (and not so good) 1963 film starring Cliff Robertson. They might even recall that a replica of the vessel was used as a touring boat around the Wildwoods in New Jersey in the 1960s. The memories come with a wistful smile for the days of the New Frontier. It was a time that Americans felt confident they could do anything – and often did. PT 109 was an iconic image in those years, even though her remains have lain at the bottom of Blackett Strait since 1943.

Into the Dark Water is written by John J. Domagalski, an accomplished author of books and articles on the Pacific theater in World War II. Although there are books written about American ships from the Constitution to the USS New Jersey, Mr. Domagalski had the novel idea to write about PT 109’s history, from her launching in Bayonne, New Jersey, in May of 1942 to her tragic demise fifteen months later. PT 109 was sliced in two by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri in the inky black waters off the Solomon Islands.

Domagalski takes his readers through his tale step by step, beginning when the “relatively small fleet of such vessels” went from drawing board idea to the shipyard and eventually the South Pacific. With an engineer’s eye, he describes their structure and inner workings clear enough for any landlubber to grasp. He also provides some insightful and interesting background on small boats in wartime. He recounts the first use of PT boats during the desperate days at Bataan, and the heroism of Lt. John D. Bulkeley and his men who won national attention for their courageous efforts in the Philippines.

The story of PT 109 is really the story of the men who lived, fought, and died aboard her. That is where Mr. Domagalski’s story picks up speed. He introduces PT 109’s first commanders, Rollin Westholm, an Annapolis grad, and Bryant Larson, who enlisted in the Naval Reserve just before Pearl Harbor. Both skippers were from Minnesota. He also makes sure to mention the other officers and sailors who served on PT 109 during her service in the Solomons. It’s also their story.

Mr. Domagalski places the reader at the conn during the harrowing days of Guadalcanal, as the Japanese Navy runs “the Tokyo Express” in an effort to supply the emperor’s besieged soldiers on that island. Working in squadrons, which were frequently under Westholm’s command, PT boats armed with torpedoes and machine guns took on Japanese destroyers in near nightly David-and-Goliath confrontations. This was made all the more harrowing by the Japanese planes above. If the destroyers couldn’t spot the Americans, the planes certainly could, thanks to the wakes of the boats.

Missions that were beyond risky often interrupted a PT boat sailor’s life ashore, where they would live aboard ship and eat a steady diet of SPAM. After watching one PT boat captain make a high speed attack at a destroyer, whose phosphorescent wake that made her all too easy a target, Larson would sadly recall, “He never had a chance.” While Westholm’s winning personality and Larson’s volunteering spirit are noted, it’s a shame there might not be enough documentation to have fleshed out the profiles of these two heroic sailors.

There’s obviously more than enough documentation on John Kennedy’s wartime experiences to fill any book. Domagalski tactfully sticks to Kennedy’s actual experiences and avoids a revisionist’s quest for the quirky (Nigel Hamilton’s book on JFK comes to mind). As he does with Westholm and Larson, he continues the story as that of the 109 and her men. His tale of her sinking, the rescue of her sailors, and Kennedy’s role in saving his surviving crew is a gripping account, told with verve and pace.

Mr. Domagalski continues with the war experiences of Westholm, Larson, and Kennedy after PT 109, and their lives after the war. He also tells of the efforts of Dr. Robert Ballard to find PT 109, which has been buried in the Pacific for fifty-nine years. Well researched and written,Domagalski has done something admirable with the PT 109 saga.

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Tim McGrath is the author of John Barry: an American Hero in the Age of Sail, winner of the American Revolution Roundtable Award for 2010 Book of the Year, winner of the Navy League of the United States (New York Council) John Barry Award for Maritime Literature, and a finalist for the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Excellence in Naval Literature.

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BOOK REVIEW – Voyage to Gallipoli

Plowman_Peter_Voyage to GallipoliBy Peter Plowman, Rosenberg Publishing/Transpress, Australia (2013)

Reviewed by Michael Wynd

Just in time for the beginning of the First World War centennial commemoration in Australia and New Zealand, Peter Plowman has produced a work on the transports that took the Anzacs to Gallipoli. Although he has previously published a general work on troopships, Voyage to Gallipoli contributes to the historiography on the experiences of New Zealanders and Australians in the first eight months of the war with a focus on the transports that took them there.

This work has a naval focus that makes it an important addition to any research collection on the history of transports which is often a grey area in naval history. Despite the vast back catalogue of works on the military history of the these nation’s involvment in the First World War, there has never been such a publication on the history of the transports. For this fact alone this work is to be commended.

The first chapters focus on the naval situation in the Pacific in August 1914 and the contribution both Dominions made to the British Empire by seizing German colonies in the Pacific. The following chapters cover the formation of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) and what became a false start and the threat of the German cruisers to the troopship convoys. He then discusses the departure of the NZEF to Australia and the gathering of the Australian and New Zealand troops at Albany prior to departure. There are chapters devoted to the cruise of SMS Emden and its destruction at the Battle of Cocos Islands by cruiser HMAS Sydney. This single ship’s action paved the way for the convoys to travel safely to Aden.

It was at Aden that the destination for the AIF and NZEF was changed from the Western Front to Egypt, thereby putting them on course for the Gallipoli Campaign. When the convoy left Colombo the destination was Britain. This changed by the time they reached Aden, in part due to a desire for the Australian and New Zealanders to train in the desert and avoid the miserable conditions of Salisbury Plain. Thus began a series of events that would place the Anzacs at Gaba Tepe on the morning of 25 April 1915. The chapter on this event is very well done with contemporary accounts from the participants in the decision and highlights an aspect that is not fully understood in the national memory of both countries.

Subsequent chapters deal with the arrival in Egypt and the history of the hospital ship HMHS Kyarra and then second convoy that brought reinforcements for the AIF and NZEF to Egypt. The final chapters deal with the transports to Lemnos and to Gallipoli itself for the landings in April and the beginning of the Anzac legend.

Overall, this is a very well researched and written book. There are plenty of key details recorded that are of use to any researcher, especially on the formation of the convoys and details of the numbers carried and the formations of the convoys at sea with their escorting warships. A worthy addition to Anzac history and a work that covers an aspect of warfare and military history that is all too often not recorded in a narrative and as a New Zealand historian of the First World War, I am very grateful.

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Wynd is a researcher for the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy, HMNZ Philomel, Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand.

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BOOK REVIEW – A History of the Royal Navy: The Napoleonic Wars

Robson_The Napoleonic WarsBy Martin Robson, I. B. Tauris, London, England (2014)

Reviewed by Mark Lardas

Every century or so, the British write a quasi-official, multi-volume, comprehensive history of the Royal Navy. The turn of the twentieth century saw publication of the seven-volume The Royal Navy: A History from Earliest Times to the Present edited by the inimitable William Laird Clowes. This century’s edition is A History of the Royal Navy, a fourteen-book series released under the coordination of The National Museum of the Royal Navy. A History of the Royal Navy: The Napoleonic Wars, by Martin Robson is part of this series. Intended as a stand-alone volume, it relates the naval activities of the Royal Navy from 1793 through 1815. In addition to the eponymous Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), it presents the naval action of the Wars of the French Revolution (1793-1801) and the War of 1812 (1812-1815).

Robson succeeds in producing a comprehensive yet readable overview of the naval actions during the period. However, the book suffers from being part of a series. The civil history of the Royal Navy, including logistics, staffing, and naval architecture is ignored in The Napoleonic Wars. Readers are referenced to another book in the series, The Age of Sail.

This forces readers to view naval operations in isolation. Yet the battles fought and the naval strategies used are a function of logistics and institutional organization by both sides. Their neglect in this volume leaves readers unable to appreciate the reasons why the battles were fought, and why they were fought in the manner in which they were fought.

Another weakness is the book’s structure. Individual chapters are organized by the theater of each war. However, this works well in the chapters on the Trafalgar Campaign and the War of 1812, as they are self-contained topics and lend themselves to this structure.

Robson breaks the French Revolutionary wars into chapters on “Home Waters,” the Mediterranean, and “everything else.” In the Napoleonic Wars, he maintains the structure, while adding operations in the Baltic to the Home Waters presentation, and the Peninsular War to the Mediterranean. These wars lend themselves badly to a theater breakdown.

Events in one part of the globe affect those in other theaters. Actions in the first chapter on each war often seem puzzling until put in context by reading the remaining chapters on the war. Readers are also entertained by officers holding senior positions or ending their careers in one chapter to reemerge in a junior role in a later chapter.

The Napoleonic Wars can serve as a useful introduction for readers unacquainted with the period. It is also useful for someone who possesses the entire book series with access to the material referenced in the other volumes.

For everyone else, Clowes’s work, available online through Internet Archive, may offer a better and more comprehensive coverage of the period. Those seeking a more recent treatment might look up The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649­-1815, by N.A.M. Rodger.

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Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City, Texas. His website is marklardas.com.

 

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BOOK REVIEW – World War I for Kids: A History with 21 Activities

1354_001By R. Kent Rasmussen, Chicago Review Press, Inc., Chicago, IL (2014)

Reviewed by Jim McClelland

Kent Rasmussen, a well-known author who has written or edited more than twenty books, recently produced World War I for Kids. He is best known for the award-winning book, The United States at War, as well as many volumes on Mark Twain.

Rasmussen’s purpose for writing this book is seen directly in the title. He strikes out on the difficult path of putting together a revealing and complete overview of World War I in near textbook fashion. From the first to last chapter, the reader takes a front row seat into a world at war. Included in these chapters is the complicated politics of each involved country, the life of the soldier crouching in the trenches, the sailors serving on their ships, and the families at home supporting and sacrificing for the war effort. World War I for Kids is broken down into twelve well-researched and factual chapters. Each chapter offers many different segments of war. The men, weapons, and machinery give the reader an honest look and feeling of being over there.

Throughout the book, the reader will also find twenty-one different “hands on” activities that enhance the learning experience. These activities are designed to allow the student to experience different aspects of the war such as the making of a model gas mask, a parachute, a trench periscope, and many more. There are other activities that help to show what families at home had to deal with, such as rationing food items like sugar or the writing of patriotic songs.

For most students studying history, I hear complaints that the “subject is so dry,” and “all we do is memorize!” Also heard is, “what does something that happen a hundred years ago have to do with me now”. This is certainly not true with this book. Rasmussen made this book interesting and relevant, whetting the student’s appetite for more. The author had the foresight to provide a list of websites, allowing the student to further explore any aspect of the war he or she wishes. A glossary is included to aid in the understanding of words and phrases that might have been lost to time. In short, the student reader will find this book well written, interesting, and historically accurate. This book truly has brought the experiences of World War I to life. It is important that young people study history and learn the affects to future generations so they can learn from mistakes made in the past to prevent world wars from happening again.

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Jim McClelland combined his love of history with 40 years of reading, studying and researching world events from 1900 to 1945. He specializes in Royal and German naval warships and strategies. McClelland currently lives in the Cleveland, OH area, working at a social service agency as an Internship and Volunteer program coordinator.

 

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The New Naval History in the Digital Frontier

NewNavalHistoryMasthead

In September 2013, I presented a paper at the 2013 McMullen Naval History Symposium. My paper analyzed the Confederate Navy in public memory and commemoration. The panel my colleagues and I submitted to the conference discussed the various roles Confederate naval forces played during the American Civil War. Unlike my fellow panelists, the majority of my sources were mined from digital content, i.e. the Internet. I poured over viewer comments on Youtube videos, news articles, movie reviews, Amazon reviews, blog posts, etc. I scanned newspapers, magazines, and journal articles both old and new with the help of e-readers and open-source libraries. Such research was necessary to gather the differing thoughts and perceptions of both the scholarly community and the general public in the 150 years following the end of the war.

I was admittedly nervous when I turned in my paper to the panel’s commentator in early August. In fact, this is the picture I put on my Facebook wall two minutes after I hit send:

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Did I make a mistake? The bulk of my research material stretched far outside the comforts of any monograph from an academic library. Suffice it to say, my paper was anything but orthodox in the church of naval history. Hoping I hadn’t metaphorically nailed my own “95 Theses” on the doors of my profession, I pressed on.

I felt a little uneasy about it at the conference one month later at the U.S. Naval Academy. My clammy hands tightly clutched my paper outline and discussion points as I entered the tightly packed classroom. My paper presentation was the opening salvo of our discussion on the Confederate Navy. My fellow panelists, Charles Wexler and Laura June Davis, gave fantastic presentations about the life and legacy of the Charleston Squadron and Confederate boat burners along the southern inland waters. As I suspected, my paper was the odd man out.

The question and commentary section followed our presentations. Light beads of sweat formed on my brow. The first question from our panel’s commentator was directed to me. Of course. Lions seek out the weakest gazelle in the wild plains of the African Savanna, right? I figured he was going to ask me about my topic focus, or my sources and methodology. But I came prepared. Like a Q ship waiting to surprise an unsuspecting U-Boat, I was ready.

“This is very interesting and informative research,” he said, “but what about the ‘pulse’ of historians and other academics today?”

Did I forget them in the paper? No. Granted, their role in my commentary was downplayed to make room for some worthwhile discussion on current digital trends on the Internet. After all, there is only so much you can say in ten pages. He wasn’t finished.

“Have you done any research into what they are writing about?”

Was I about to stick to my guns and contradict our commentator, one of the most respected Civil War historians in the country? I took a deep breath and stated my case as if my research was standing trial in a courtroom. For a second there, perhaps it was.

“Historians and academics deservedly receive the bulk of credit for historical research and writing on the Civil War navies,” I said. “But I think it would be wrong to omit what everyday individuals are saying about the war as well. After all, my presentation focuses on public memory.”

I made a few other points about source material in the digital sphere. Several people in the audience echoed my sentiments. The commentator soon moved his questions to the other panelists and the session ended. He came up to me later in the crowded corridor of Mahan Hall during a session break. He sincerely hoped he hadn’t upset me or rattled my cage during his commentary. I told him quite the opposite. He inspired me.

On the Web

Like any good court case, there needs to be some legal precedent. What have others said about the future of history in the ever-growing digital world? One of the first articles to mention digital history within the wider scope of academia came from Professor Carl Smith’s February 1988 article published in AHA Perspectives. In his article, “Can You Do Serious History on the Web,” Dr. Smith talked about the perception and realities of publishing historical content on the Internet, using the example of his (then) recently published web exhibit on the Great Chicago Fire (Chicago Historical Society). He argued how the web-based experience had the capacity to enthrall and engage a wide range of visitors, from serious scholars to middle school-age students. Dr. Smith reiterated the sentiments of many digital historians today towards the end of his article:

“An article or book is simply better for some, perhaps even most, kinds of history, but the Internet opens up some very powerful prospects for presenting information and ideas in a unique and valuable way, complementing rather than replacing other forms.” (“Can You Do Series History on the Web,” AHA Perspectives, 1998)

The only problem with the article was the intended audience – academic historians within the historical community. It was an article ABOUT history written for those who exclusively studied history. Where does everyone else fit in? Thanks to social media technology, we have that answer today.

A Digital Voice

Naval history can be done from the bottom up. The global community of “students,” either literally or figuratively, is much wider than one may first perceive. It can be done on the Internet just as well as on paper. The best part? Anyone can do it. You can do it. The possibilities exist today for the choice, regardless of who you are or where you studied. If you are still reading this, you are already part of it right now: the new naval history.

The Internet can be used for a good cause, like the Change.org petition to save the Monitor Center last year.

The Internet can be used for a good cause for the sake of preserving naval history, like the Change.org petition to save the Monitor Center last year.

Should naval history exist in a tightly wound vacuum, where only the most notable historians alone weave tales of the heroic actions of sailors over the past 239 years? No. Naval history is not Mount Olympus. Too often, individuals hold this information like a talisman around their necks, only to be shared or regurgitated within their own inner circle. Although the field has existed as a niche market within the larger genre of American military history, it is by no means sheltered. Naval history does not have to draw such rigidly straight lines of latitude and longitude. There is so much that happens in between.

Naval history is not just about facts. It does not rest solely on interpretation, either. In the digital age today, naval history is about meaning. The meaning of a significant event changes depending on the audience. That audience today reaches the global level. The meaning of an historic naval event like the Battle of Mobile Bay may mean something completely different to northerners, southerners, Europeans, Hispanics, etc. A story with meaning can never be plagiarized. The digital frontier allows any of us to promote that interpretation in a nearly infinite amount of platforms.

Facebook and Twitter are not merely social networking tools to waste our time. They are vehicles to move our thoughts and ideas around the world in a way books and journals cannot. No longer confined to bound pages, these innovative platforms allow anyone to “like,” share, and disseminate information, thoughts, and ideas.

Media scholar Henry Jenkins called this concept “convergence culture.” Jenkins defined convergence culture as “the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want.” Jenkins described this brave new world in detail, where “every story gets told, every brand gets sold, and every consumer gets courted” (Jenkins, Convergence Culture, 2-3).

What does the musings of a media scholar have to do with naval history? A lot. In fact, the concepts apply to nearly any discipline. Jenkins would say that all of this, whether it is celebrity gossip or the latest scholarship on naval topics, depends on the active participation of the general public. How then do we participate? If anyone can do naval history, how do you do it?

Same Ocean, Different Ships

The Naval Historical Foundation published a series of articles in the Winter/Spring/Summer 2000 editions of Pull Together that offered up tips and tricks on how aspiring authors can publish their original historical content. The first article, written by RADM Joseph F. Callo, USN (Ret.), took a micro approach to the macro concept of publishing naval history. In his article, “Getting Your Naval History Article Published,” he mentioned several approaches to the market. Among his helpful hints and tips to landing a would-be author’s first publication, Callo cited several pieces of information that have undoubtedly changed in recent years. “As you begin to write,” Callo stated, “try to think of that audience as a group of individuals rather than a homogenous mass.” Today, much of the focus has now shifted from the individual to the collective.

Consider how most stories are disseminated today. This chart uses the example of one of the Foundation’s more popular stories in recent years about the naval lore surrounding the Navy Chief Petty Officer’s tradition of an unwashed coffee mug:

A flow chart showing the flow of information from idea to post. Notice how the bottom has the capability (through social media) to spread in an endless loop.

A flow chart showing the flow of information from idea to post. Notice how the bottom has the capability (through social media) to spread in an endless loop.


An incredible thing happened once we posted the story on the coffee mugs. Former and current U.S. Navy sailors started sharing their own stories about their stained coffee mugs. The Chief Petty Officer that the story was written about actually posted in the comment section. Little bits of history about the subject, previously unknown, began to populate the blog and Facebook/Twitter feeds. Many started sharing their stories with images of their coffee mugs, some of which dated back to the 1960s!

Screenshot example of coffee mugs from the NHF Facebook page

Screenshot example of coffee mugs from the NHF Facebook page

As you can see in the flowchart above, the cycle on the bottom continues in a loop as more and more share their stories on the Internet. It becomes an endless cycle. Social media research Axel Bruns talked about this digital revolution in Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond. He amplified what Jenkins already noted in Convergence Culture, going further to suggest that consumers of content now have the ability to become producers themselves. Therefore, former sailors who share their pictures and stories are contributing their own historical narrative. Are their stories and personal reminisces essentially primary source material? Thankfully, the Internet provides the necessary platform to archive these anecdotes. It’s hard to imagine a monograph on the subject of Navy coffee mugs is coming out any time soon. Yet the information is already out there for the whole world to see. Those micro-histories and personal stories are exactly the type of intimate details into the social history of the Navy that many individuals are crying out for.

It is amazing to think how much has changed in the last fifteen years. Some have remarkably stayed the same. Using the advice from the 2000 Pull Together articles, a simple chart from yesterday and today sheds light on these concepts:

2000 Pull Together Articles
2014 Digital Culture and Naval History
Don’t use acronyms that aren’t widely understood.#Hashtagging will increase concept visibility and create a brand for your content.
Don’t use slangMeme culture redefines genres seemingly overnight, thus embracing slang and other popular trends (see “Hipster Mahan”)
Avoid overly complex sentencesQuick and to-the-point prose for people with active lifestyles (Twitter’s “140 characters or less” philosophy)
Be careful about grammar and spellingOne of the most important principles for today’s web publishing; the Internet can be unforgiving
Remember that your opening sentence or two must grab attentionTags and SEO keywords improve your “searchability” on naval topics of interest

Let’s not jump too forward here. People still read the standard texts of naval history. Digital history is not a substitute. The writings of Mahan, Sims, and Morison will never go away, nor should they. Some of the best and brightest minds are still churning out scholarship we will all come to know and love. However, any individual can now discuss their ideas with other like minds from the comfort of their home. Naval history does indeed have a place in today’s digital spaces. Both concepts can coexist.

DOING NAVAL HISTORY

So who is doing naval history? Everyone.

Younger generations are eager to explore the history and heritage of the U.S. Navy. I happened to see it first hand at this year’s National History Day in College Park, Maryland. Several young men and women proudly presented their projects on the history and heritage of the Navy. Both junior and senior winners of the Kenneth L. Coskey Naval History prize had fantastic projects, both of which are now available to view online. When I talked to one of the junior division winners after the event, he told me of his aspirations to become a naval officer and major in history at the U.S. Naval Academy. These connections were not made as a recruiting tool. They began as an interest in naval history and a desire to learn. It was truly a beautiful thing to be a part of.

WASHINGTON (Feb. 6, 2014) David Colamaria, Naval History and Heritage Command's photographic section archivist, looks at a glass plate photograph of Spanish Adm. Pasqual Cervera taken in 1898 or 1899. The photo archives staff found a wooden box containing approximately 150 glass plate photographs depicting scenes from the Spanish-American and Philippine Wars. The glass plate photographs were likely prepared by photographer Douglas White, a war correspondent for the San Francisco Examiner during the Philippine War. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released)

WASHINGTON (Feb. 6, 2014) David Colamaria, Naval History and Heritage Command’s photographic section archivist, looks at a glass plate photograph of Spanish Adm. Pasqual Cervera taken in 1898 or 1899. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released)

Up-and-coming scholars are cropping up around the United States, and they have a voice. They are writing online and creating websites about naval history. Many of these men and women presented at the recent 10th Maritime Heritage Conference. Archivists at the Naval History and Heritage Command are hard at work digitizing a staggering backlog of historical images from our Navy’s history for their upcoming website launch. A workshop on digitizing military history just wrapped up at Northeastern University this weekend. Several topics there discussed new ways to approach naval history. Ideas are spreading. Kasey Greer, a student from George Mason University, is using digital technology to map out the migratory movements of female WAVES during the Second World War.

An artist and Youtube uploader put his interest in Japanese animation, or anime, to illustrate the famed Battle of Hampton Roads. The response to the “Anime Boys’ Tribute” video has been generally well received. The video has amassed over 61,000 views on Youtube. Video viewers argue over the historical accuracy of the artist’s interpretation in the comment section, thereby creating new meaning to a story told countless times in Civil War histories, journals, and newspaper articles. It is a good time to be doing naval history. The discipline is just reaching its salad days at the very least.

Screencaps from "Anime Boys' Tribute_The Cumberland Crew" by LordDrakoArakis

Screencaps from “Anime Boys’ Tribute_The Cumberland Crew” Youtube Video by LordDrakoArakis


Full Speed Ahead

We all have the capability to further the field. Anyone with a passion for naval history can have his or her voice heard almost instantly. Their numbers are increasing. The Naval History and Heritage Command Facebook page has as many followers as most celebrities. Naval history happens on the home front and the battlefront. Ideas are circulating inside lecture halls across are nation’s academic centers. Midshipmen are writing position papers on strategy and policy, using the principles of the past to articulate what the Navy should do in help-me-help-youthe future. It’s in the thoughts and feelings of anyone who has ever sat down and thought about how the United States Navy impacts them. Every cruise book, challenge coin, or stained coffee mug has a story – that story needs to be heard.

Why does this matter? I am merely a messenger and supporter of this new and exciting avenue towards historical methodology. I do not research and write on things I find interesting all the time. I want to write about what YOU personally find interesting about naval history.

Naval history will continue to grow, but it does need your help. It needs your input. WE need your input. As we celebrate the birthday of the United States Navy today, think about how you want to help preserve the history and heritage of the world’s proudest military service for another 239 years. Keep writing. Keep sharing. Keep posting. Keep participating. Full speed ahead.

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From Russia with Love (and Respect): Russian Admiral Visits JPJ Birthplace

Admiral Alexander Zhurkov and his wife Svetlana pose for a photo with members of the John Paul Jones Birthplace Museum Trust (Dumfries News, 19 SEPT 2014)

Admiral Alexander Zhurkov and his wife Svetlana pose for a photo with members of the John Paul Jones Birthplace Museum Trust (Dumfries News, 19 SEPT 2014)


Before Commander Bond, there was an even more famous Scottish naval hero.

Several weeks ago, a tiny museum along the Solway Firth received a most interesting visitor – a Russian Admiral. Former Russian submarine skipper Admiral Alexander Zhurkov visited the John Paul Jones Birthplace and Museum in Kirkbean, Scotland on 19 September. Admiral Zhurkov and his wife Svetlana took time out of their first visit to the United Kingdom to pay their respects at the Revolutionary War hero’s childhood home.

Cementing the relationship between Jones and Russia, Admiral Zhurkov was recently named a Patron of the Birthplace Museum Trust. According to an article published in the Dumfries Courier, the 57-year old retired Admiral was delighted at the opportunity his new appointment gives him to learn more about John Paul Jones and the his tie with Russian naval history. Admiral Zhurkov was deeply “impressed with the museum” and the work done to preserve the memory of John Paul Jones.

John Paul Jones (born John Paul) played a critical role in the development of the American and Russian Navy. After living a simple existence in Scotland, John Paul Jones eventually found his way to the United States, where he changed his name from John Paul to John Paul Jones to avoid persecution for past tribulations overseas.

Putting his past aside, Captain John Paul Jones found his place in command of several ships of the American colonies. During the American Revolution, he and the crew of Bonhomme Richard found fame in the Continental Navy at Flamborough Head in 1779. His victory would earn him the distinction as the Father of the United States Navy. He spent the remainder of the war training naval officers and advising the establishment of a permanent U.S. Navy.

After the war ended, Jones traveled to Russia where the Empress Catherine II made him a Rear Admiral of the Russian Navy. Jones died in Paris in 1792, never fully seeing the vision of the United States Navy he helped build in the immediate post-war period. His remains are buried in a marble sarcophagus in the chapel crypt of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Admiral Zhurkov raises the flag of the Imperial Russian Navy (Dumfries News, 19 SEPT 2014)

Admiral Zhurkov raises the flag of the Imperial Russian Navy (Dumfries News, 19 SEPT 2014)


Two notable Patrons of the John Paul Jones Birthplace Museum Trust, Admiral Paddy O’Riordan and Lt. Colonel Sir Malcom Rose, were present during Zhurkov’s visit. According to the two British Patrons, the highlight of the visit was a small ceremony held on site where he hoisted the 1788 flag of the Imperial Russian Navy, the very same naval jack flown on John Paul Jones’s ships during his service as Kontradmiral. The Imperial Russian flag hoisted looks oddly enough like the Scottish Saltire flag in reverse (a white field instead of blue).

The foundation’s personal relationship with John Paul Jones and his birthplace dates back to the end of the Korean War. In 1953, the Foundation joined with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DC Army/Navy Chapter) to erect a birthplace marker in Kirkbean. The marker was accepted on behalf of Vice Admiral Jerauld Wright and the Honorable Winthrop W. Aldrich, Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, by C.W.B. Brackett, the one time owner of the John Paul Jones Cottage, and Scottish Minister of State the Earl of Home.

During the 250th anniversary of the birth of John Paul Jones in 1997, several commemorative events were held on both sides of the Atlantic. Former NHF Director VADM Robert F. Dunn (USN), Ret. helped plan and coordinate many of the festivities and ceremonies here in the United States. including a USNA midshipman parade and a wreath laying at the tomb of Jones.

Admiral James L. Holloway, USN (Ret.), NHF Chairman Emeritus, is also a Patron of the John Paul Jones Birthplace Museum Trust.

Speaking of respect, here is a throwback image of Captain Charles Creekman (then Deputy Director of the Naval Historical Center) and Chief Frank Arre (NHF/NHHC) placing a wreath at the JPJ Statue at 17th Street and Independence Ave (Near the WWII Memorial Today) in Washington, DC during the 250th anniversary of his birth:

(NHF Photo/Pull Together)

(NHF Photo/Pull Together)

 

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

Casco Bay Banner

By George Stewart

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

PART IV

This post is a continuation of the description of historical naval events that occurred in Casco Bay, Maine, during World War II. It includes a discussion of the postwar events that occurred in the bay between 1946 and 1947, plus photos of some of the historic ships that visited the bay during the war years.

The map of the area showing the basic geography and the major coastal defense facilities that appeared in Part I is repeated here for clarity. In general, the major afloat facilities including mooring, buoys, and anchorages were located on Long and Chebeague Islands with access to the open ocean by way of the gate in the anti-submarine net located in Hussey Sound, between Peaks and Long Island. Access to naval support activities in Portland was all by watercraft with trips up to approximately three to six miles. Downtown Portland also served as a “liberty port” for sailors whose ships were moored or anchored in the bay.

1

There are few records that cover the immediate postwar period in the bay. When the war ended, a rapid de-mobilization took place. Many ships that served during the war were decommissioned, although a significant number of these would return to service for the Korean War in 1951. Additionally, many of the ships that served in the Atlantic were transferred to the Pacific in 1945. By December 27, 1945, DESLANT consisted almost entirely of new Sumner and Gearing class destroyers, many of which were commissioned too late for significant wartime service. By this time, most shakedown and refresher training for East Coast-built ships was being conducted at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where it would remain up into the 1990s.

The U.S. Navy considered making further use of the bay after the war. The bay had a number of disadvantages due to its remote location, the lack of suitable docking facilities, weather, and other concerns. There were naval shore side facilities in Portland, but waterfront facilities for mooring ships were very limited due to lack of space. During the war, ships were required to anchor or moor out in the bay. This made it necessary to provide transportation to and from Portland by ferryboats, often under rather unpleasant circumstances (as shown in the following illustration below):

2Although Narragansett Bay had some of the same disadvantages, they essentially went away after the destroyer piers in Coddington Cove at Newport were completed. In retrospect, the disestablishment of the facilities in Casco Bay was probably the proper move.

In 1946, the Navy directed the Long Island Fuel Annex to be utilized for emergency refueling only. In 1962, it was placed in a caretaker status. Finally, in 1967, it was declared surplus and sold.

A total of 770 ships are on record as visiting Casco Bay between January 1941 and 1 January 1947. Destroyers and destroyer escorts comprised 480 of these ships. An additional 140 ships could have visited the bay during the aforementioned period, although it is not specifically stated in their histories. A total of 46 ships on the list were later wartime losses. Some historically significant ships that visited the bay during the war years are discussed in the following paragraphs.

BATTLESHIPS – A total of 15 battleships appear on the database. Five are still in existence as museum ships.

  • USS Texas (BB 35) – Museum ship in San Jacinto, Texas.
  • USS North Carolina (BB 55) – Museum ship in Wilmington, North Carolina.
  • USS Massachusetts (BB 59) – Museum ship in Fall River, Massachusetts.
  • USS Iowa (BB61) – Museum ship in San Pedro, California.
  • USS New Jersey (BB 62) – Museum ship at Camden, New Jersey.

USS Iowa (BB 61)

USS Iowa (BB 61)


USS Iowa (BB 61) visited Casco Bay for operational training in 1943. During that period, the ship ran aground when passing through Hussey Sound between Peaks and Long Island. Later that year, she carried President Roosevelt to and from a conference in Teheran. In 1944, the ship was transferred to the Pacific. Iowa saw active service in the Atlantic from 1984-1990. During that period, she suffered a major explosion in Turret #2 with the loss of forty-nine lives. Iowa is now serving as a museum ship in San Pedro, California. 

CARRIERS – Since the bulk of the action involving carriers occurred in the Pacific during the war, only three carriers are on record as having visited Casco Bay. An additional five escort carriers (CVE) appear in the database.

  • USS Ranger (CV 4) – First ship designed from keel up as a carrier.
  • USS Yorktown (CV 5) – Sunk in Pacific in 1942.
  • USS Wasp (CV 7) – Sunk in Pacific in 1942.

USS Ranger (CV 4)

USS Ranger (CV 4)


USS Ranger (CV 4) was the first ship designed from the keel up as a carrier. She entered service in 1934. It visited Casco Bay in 1941 as part of the Neutrality Patrol. Ranger returned in 1943 prior to supporting the invasion of North Africa. For much of the war, this was the only large carrier assigned to the Atlantic Fleet. Ranger was transferred to the Pacific in 1944.

CRUISERS – A total of twenty-two cruisers appear in the database.

  • USS Augusta (CL 31) – Carried FDR to meeting with Churchill at Placentia Bay for signing of Atlantic Charter in 1941.
  • USS Juneau (CL 52) – Sunk in the Pacific in 1942.
USS Juneau (CL 52)

USS Juneau (CL 52)

USS Juneau (CL 52) performed training exercises in Casco Bay shortly after entering service in 1942 after which it was transferred to the Pacific shortly thereafter. A torpedo off Guadalcanal sank her on 13 November 1942. This was the famed ship that the five Sullivan brothers served aboard. All were lost at sea. This incident resulted in modifications to the military “Sole Survivor” policy to prevent a reoccurrence.

DESTROYERS – A total of 263 destroyers are listed in the database. Of these, forty-seven 47 were “Four Pipers” (also referred to as “Flush Deckers”) of the Wickes and Clemson classes. These ships were carryovers from the World War I era having entered service right after the end of the war. The largest single group was the destroyers built between 1934 and 1942, with 116 ships encompassing ten different classes on the list. These ships can be recognized by their raised forecastles and in the pre-war classes, portholes in the sides. The list also includes sixty Fletcher Class ships built between 1942 and 1943 and thirty-nine Sumner and Gearing Class ships built between 1944 and 1945. These ships reverted to the “Flush Deck” configuration. Some historic ships on the list include:

  • USS Greer (DD 145) – Involved in first incident with U-Boat in 1941.
  • USS Reuben James (DD 245) – First US ship loss during war in 1941.
  • USS Hobson (DD 464) – Sunk in collision with USS Wasp in 1952.
  • USS Kearney (DD 432) – Torpedoed while on Neutrality Patrol in 1941.
  • USS Niblack (DD 424) – First action with a U-Boat in 1941.
  • USS Thompson (DD 627) – Served as the setting for The Caine Mutiny.
  • USS Charles Ausburne (DD 570) – Flagship of famous “ Little Beaver Squadron” under Capt Arleigh Burke.
  • USS Spence (DD 512) – Sunk in a typhoon in Pacific in 1943.
  • USS Gyatt (DD 712) – Converted into world’s first guided missile ship in 1956.

USS Reuben James  (DD 245)

USS Reuben James (DD 245)


USS Reuben James (DD 245) was a Clemson Class destroyer built in 1920. The ship served on Neutrality Patrol where she was sunk by a torpedo off Argentia on 23 October 1941 before the US entered the war. The last stop before she sank was Casco Bay. Rueben James was the first US ship loss of World War II.

USS Kearney(DD 432)

USS Kearney (DD 432)


USS Kearney (DD 432) was a Gleaves Class destroyer that entered service in 1940. Kearney was torpedoed while on neutrality patrol prior to outbreak of war in October 1941. She returned to duty and served as convoy escort and patrols in support of invasions of Italy and Southern France. She was sent to the Pacific in 1945.

USS Charles Ausburne (DD 570)

USS Charles Ausburne (DD 570)


USS Charles Ausburne (DD 570) was a Fletcher Class Destroyer built in Orange, Texas. She entered service in 1943 and underwent shakedown training in Casco Bay. Shortly thereafter, she was transferred to the Pacific and served as the flagship of the famous “Little Beaver” Squadron under future Chief of Naval Operations Arliegh Burke.

DESTROYER ESCORTS – Next to the destroyers, the destroyer escorts formed the second largest groups of ships to visit Casco Bay during the war. There are 223 ships on the list that visited the bay between 1944 and 1945. Those ships represented five different ship classes. USS Tills (DE 748) was mentioned in the first part of the blog series. It appears that virtually every East Coast built DE visited the bay for shakedown or ASW training at one time or another. The majority of these ships served in the Atlantic on convoy escort, ASW patrols, and as members of hunter-killer groups. A number of them were assigned to naval reserve training duties after the war. Some historically prominent ships that appear on the list include: 

  • USS Farquhar (DE 139) – Last ship to sink a U-Boat in 1945.
  • USS Stewart (DE 238) – Museum ship in San Jacinto, Texas.
  • USS Vance (DE 387) – Involved in book, The Arnheiter Affair.
  • USS Mason (DE 529) – First naval vessel with predominantly black crew.
  • USS Edward H. Allen (DE 531) – Rescued survivors from liner Andrea Doria sinking in 1956.

USS Stewart (DE 238)

USS Stewart (DE 238)


USS Stewart (DE 238) was built in Houston, Texas. The ship entered service in 1943. During the war, Stewart performed duties as a convoy escort and on ASW patrols in the Atlantic. It was transferred to the Pacific in 1945. The ship now serves as a museum ship in Galveston, Texas. In 2007, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. She is mentioned in a separate blog on this website. Stewart is one of only two World War II-built destroyer escorts still in existence.

REPAIR/COMMAND SHIPS

  • USS Denebola (AD 12) – DESLANT flagship from 1941-1944.
  • USS Yosemite (AD 19) – DESLANT flagship from 1946-1969. Served until 1994.
  • USS Vulcan (AR 5) – First USN ship with female crewmembers in 1978.
  • USS Alcor (AG 34) – DESLANT flagship in 1944-1945.
  • USS Biscayne (AGC 18) – DESLANT flagship in early 1946.

USS Yosemite (AD 19)

USS Yosemite (AD 19)


USS Yosemite (AD 19) was a Dixie Class destroyer tender built in Tampa, Florida. The ship entered service in 1944. Yosemite was initially assigned to wartime duties in the Pacific. However, it was transferred to Casco Bay in 1946 where it assumed duties as the COMDESLANT Flagship during the period where the base was closing down. In 1947, the ship was transferred to Newport, Rhode Island where she continued to serve as the DESLANT flagship until 1969. Yosemite was to remain in active service as a destroyer tender on the East Coast and in the Mediterranean until decommissioned in 1994 after fifty years of continuous service. 

MINESWEEPERS - There are thirty-six minesweepers in the database. Most were in Casco Bay for shakedown and ASW training. Unlike their post war counterparts that were (and are) of wooden hull construction, World War II minesweepers had steel hulls.

USS Jubilant (AM 255)

USS Jubilant (AM 255)


SUBMARINES – Thirty-three submarines appear on the list. The majority were home ported in New London and provided to COMDESLANT for ASW training purposes. They were generally of obsolescent types built between 1918 and 1926. Two of them were captured Italian subs used for training purposes during the latter part of the war.

S-25 in Casco Bay

S-25 in Casco Bay


The S-25 was built in 1923 and transferred to Great Britain and later to Poland. Allied Escorts later mistakenly sank the submarine off Norway in 1942.

PATROL VESSELS – Seventeen of the thirty-eight patrol vessels that appear on the list were Tacoma Class Patrol Frigates (PF). These vessels entered service between 1944 and 1945, too late to have a significant impact on the war. Many wound up being sold to foreign navies. Others were converted yachts (PY) that were used as flagships. Some historically significant vessels on the list include:

  • USS Eagle (PE 56) – Sunk by U-853 off Cape Elizabeth in 1945.
  • USS Vixen (PG 53) – Converted yacht. Served as CINCLANTFLEET flagship in 1942-1944.
  • USS Zircon (PY 16) – Converted yacht. Served as CINCLANTFLEET flagship in 1944-1945.
  • USS Mizpah (PY 29) – Converted yacht. Served as DESLANT flagship in 1945.

USS Eagle (PE 56)

USS Eagle (PE 56)


The USS Eagle (PE 56) was a World War I-built patrol vessel. It was one of sixty “Eagle Boats” built under a plan initiated by Henry Ford in a shipyard on the River Rouge near Detroit, Michigan in 1918-1919. PE 56 was one of only seven of the vessels that saw service in World War II. She was torpedoed off Cape Elizabeth, right outside Portland Harbor by U-853. However, there is still some debate as to whether or not she was torpedoed or sunk by an internal explosion. 

COAST GUARD – During World War II, the Coast Guard served as an integral part of the Navy. A total of fifty-one Coast Guard vessels appear on the list. A number of these vessels had very long service lives. Two remain on display as museum ships. Note that Coast Guard light ships were taken off station during the war and used for other purposes. The list includes seven Treasury Class cutters, several of which served into the 1980s. Some historic vessels include:

  • USCG Ingham (WPG 35) – Museum ship in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • USCG Taney (WHEC 37) – Museum ship in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • USCG Nantucket (LV 112) – Nantucket light ship – Served as an examination ship in Portland during the war.
  • USCG Portland (LV 90) – Portland light ship.
USCG Duane (WPG 33)

USCG Duane (WPG 33)

USCG Duane (WPG 33)

USCG Duane (WPG 33)

 

 

 

 





USCG Duane (WPG 33) was a Treasury Class Cutter that entered service in 1936. She remained on active service until 1985. The ship is shown above in its wartime and peacetime configurations. Duane was based in Portland from 1978-1985. 

A large number of service craft were based in Casco Bay during the war in order to provide the necessary services to ships moored out in the bay.

SS Green Island (YFB 32)

SS Green Island (YFB 32)


The vessel shown above entered service as the Casco Bay Lines steamer SS Aucocisco in 1897. The ship’s functions were to carry passengers and freight to the various islands in the bay. In 1942, the U.S. Navy took it over and re-named her USS Green Island (YFB 32). During WWII, she served as a ferryboat based in Portland to and from naval vessels moored or anchored out in the bay. Along with its sister vessel the Penobscot Bay steamer North Haven (YAG 12), Green Island served as a large “liberty boats”. A trip down the bay covered distances up to six miles from Portland and included multiple stops, often under unpleasant weather conditions. The steamer was coal fired. After the war, Green Island was returned to Casco Bay Lines where it continued to serve under its original name of Aucocisco until 1952. I rode it to and from Peaks Island a number of times in the post war era.

17
The above photo shows the area in Casco Bay where the moorings and anchorages were located at it appears today. This photo was taken from the Northern end of Peaks Island in 2005.

REFERENCES: The following references were used in preparation for the presentations delivered at museums in the Portland area in 2006 and 2009.

WEBSITES

  • Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships Online (DANFS)
  • NAVSOURCE Photo Archives
  • The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II
  • U.S. Naval Historical Center (Now the Naval History and Heritage Command)
  • U.S. Naval Institute
  • United States Coast Guard
  • Naval Vessel Register
  • Hyper War, U.S. Navy in World War II, Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1940-1945
  • Dreadnoughts to Greyhounds: Ships of the US Navy
  • Destroyerhistory.org (Casco Bay)
  • U.S. Coast Guard Cutter List
  • Casco Bay Online, World War II, Joel W. Eastman
  • Eastern Sea Frontier War Diary

PUBLICATIONS

  • Jane’s Fighting Ships of World War II, Crescent Books, 1992 Reprint
  • Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1947-1982, Part I, US Naval Institute
  • U.S. Destroyers, Revised Edition, Friedman, US Naval Institute Press,2004
  • United States Navy Destroyers of World War II, Blandford Press, 1983
  • Allied Escort Ships of World War II, Elliot, Naval Institute Press, 1977
  • History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Samuel Elliot Morison, Castle Books, 2001 Reprint
  • The Two Ocean War, Samuel Elliot Morison,1963
  • Tin Cans: The True Story of the Fighting Destroyers of World War II, Theodore Roscoe, US Naval Institute, 1953
  • The Defeat of the German U-Boats, Syrette, University of South Carolina Press, 1994
  • The Naval War Against Hitler, Donald Mcintyre, 1971
  • The Casco Bay Islands, 1850-2000, Kimberly E. MacIsaac, Arcadia Publications, 2004

 

 

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The Never-ending Season: Vietnam POWs and the Lifetime Baseball Pass

Newly freed prisoners of war celebrate as their C-141A aircraft lifts off from Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. (Defense.gov)

Newly freed prisoners of war celebrate as their C-141A aircraft lifts off from Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. (Defense.gov)


In 2006, during the 25th anniversary of the return home of the 52 American hostages in Iran, then Washington Post staff writer Les Carpenter wrote a wonderful piece about the generous gesture of MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to grant lifetime game passes to each of the detainees released in 1981. The article went on to discuss the lives of several hostages who utilized the priceless passes over the course of the preceding decades.

The article, however, is only part of the story of Major League Baseball’s special treatment of VIPs. Lifetime baseball passes were not a phenomenon of the 1980s alone. In fact, the concept of lifetime passes dates back to the turn of the 20th century, with a significant special category created in the early 1970s.

In 1896, silver coins were given out to the champions of the National League and (then) American Association Circuit. Teams like the New York Giants issued lifetime passes to the Polo Grounds throughout the early twentieth century.   According to a brief history of the metal passes in the latest issue of the Numismatist, you had to be an “important person” of prestige to receive the silver passes. (Image Credit: Pinterest)

In 1896, silver coins were given out to the champions of the National League and (then) American Association Circuit. Teams like the New York Giants issued lifetime passes to the Polo Grounds throughout the early twentieth century. According to a brief history of the metal passes in the latest issue of the Numismatist, you had to be an “important person” of prestige to receive the silver passes. (Image Credit: Pinterest)

In 1896, silver coins were given out to the champions of the National League and (then) American Association Circuit. Teams like the New York Giants issued lifetime and season passes to the Polo Grounds throughout the early twentieth century.   According to a brief history of the metal passes in the latest issue of the Numismatist, you had to be an “important person” of prestige to receive the silver passes.

Carpenter mentioned a conversation between Navy Admiral Jeremiah Denton, a former Vietnam War POW, and Commissioner Kuhn during the hostage crisis in the Washington Post article. According to Carpenter, the genesis of the lifetime pass grew from that very discussion. Kuhn was “hard pressed” to note any other time those baseball passes were given out. A week after the article was published, Marc I. Alvarez, son of Navy Commander Everett Alvarez, Jr., noted the memory lapse of the former Baseball executive. Commander Alvarez was held at the “Hanoi Hilton” for 8.5 years, making him one of the longest held prisoners of war in American military history. According to Mark Alvarez, among the many gifts given to returning POWs in 1973, when Kuhn was Commissioner, was the famed lifetime baseball pass. One of the POWs who received that pass was former NHF Executive Director Captain Kenneth L. Coskey, USN (Ret.). Captain Coskey served as NHF Executive Director from 1987 to 1999. During the Vietnam War, he flew the A-6A Intruder before being shot down over North Vietnam. Captain Coskey spent five years in captivity before being released with nearly 600 other POWS in the spring of 1973 during Operation Homecoming.

Current Executive Director Captain Charles Creekman, USN (Ret.) had a chance last month to catch up with Kenny Coskey, the son of Captain Coskey. Through a series of email exchanges, Kenny reminisced about the pass and the special experience of going to see a baseball game as a guest of Major League Baseball.

According to Coskey, he and his father cherished the pass. Baseball was still the predominant national pastime in the 1970s, and a way of life for countless Americans. Although no pennant race could compare to the feeling of freedom, the baseball pass was just one of the many endorsements and incentives given to the men who came back in 1973. Vietnam POWs understood that. They appreciated the gesture from Major League Baseball all the same. It was a great opportunity to use the familiarity of baseball to help ease the minds of the POWs as they returned to their regular lives. What better way than with something that symbolized American competition and spirit?

KLC_MLB_Lifetime Pass
The rectangular pass itself measures 2 inches by 3 and 3/8 inches – no larger than your average credit card. It is made of aluminum and finished in brushed gold. By all appearances, the pass seems plain by today’s standards. Yet in your possession, you could pass through any the gates of any stadium around the country. The pass gave each recipient and their guest exclusive admission to any Major League or Minor League baseball game, with exception to the playoffs and World Series games. It was truly a Golden ticket. POWs and hostages alike traded in the red carpet vanity of Hollywood-style celebrity treatment for peanuts, Cracker Jack, and bleacher seats.

Many did. Marc Alvarez and his father went to several iconic games that would have been otherwise “nearly impossible to attend.” He mentioned, among others, attending Cal Ripkin’s record breaking game and Nolan Ryan’s final game as a Texas Ranger. Kenny Coskey also noted the power that the card held as a “way to connect” to his father. He discussed how important the pass was to his childhood experiences in the immediate years following the end of the Vietnam War:

“Boy, did my dad and I take advantage of the pass, especially in Chicago and at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. Major League Baseball would usually seat us right behind home plate or in some really good seats.”

The original baseball lifetime passes were issued to only those deemed high profile enough. The passes issued to POWs in 1973 were a small token of gratitude from Major League Baseball to men like Captain Coskey and Commander Alvarez for their service and sacrifice. Through their hardships and pain, those passes allowed their lives to move forward in peace, sharing the experience an endless summer of the game with loved ones.

—————
Kenny Coskey’s favorite year for using the lifetime pass? 1983 – the year the Baltimore Orioles won the World Series…

 

Play Ball!

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Why Not Comic-Con? 10th Maritime Heritage Conference Draws the Best and Brightest in Maritime/Naval History

By Matthew Eng

I thought my experience at this year’s 10th Maritime Heritage Conference would be like every other history conference. Most conferences roll by mechanically on autopilot. A variety of presentations and panels on historical subjects form the crux of discussion. Hotel food is eaten. Conversations are made. Cards are exchanged. Hands are shaken. Logo-laden swag is picked up with feverish intensity. This year’s conference, however, felt different. It felt special. All it took was one little comment to completely change the way I view these semi-annual gatherings.
 

Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., USCG (Ret.) address crowd at a luncheon held during the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference. Admiral Papp was awarded the National Maritime Alliance Award of Distinction by celebrated author Clive Cussler.

Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., USCG (Ret.) address crowd at a luncheon held during the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference. Admiral Papp was awarded the National Maritime Alliance Award of Distinction by celebrated author Clive Cussler.

At this year’s 10th Maritime Heritage Conference, I presented a paper on Navy baseball during World War II. The panel I presented with was titled, “Hampton Roads Under the Influence of War.” Thankfully, the panel occurred at the opening of sessions on Thursday. I could get it out of the way and enjoy the rest of the conference without those pesky “presentation jitters.”

1OTHMHCCOMIC CONI got to the panel room fifteen minutes before it began on the fourth floor of the Marriot Waterside Hotel in Norfolk, VA. My fellow panelists were already there. After some pleasant exchanges of excited conversation, we sat down and waited for attendees to populate the large conference room.

The empty room soon filled up with familiar faces.

Before our session began, Corey Thornton, Curator of History for Portsmouth Museums, leaned over to me and said, “Wow, it’s like Comic-Con.” I don’t think he was being completely serious. I chuckled quietly to myself left it at that. We went through with our program and presentation. About an hour later, during a panel on the latest developments with USS Monitor, the idea popped into my head. The statement got me thinking. The more I thought about it, the more I started to believe that Corey was right. I found myself at the end of the day trying to find ways the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference DID NOT draw similarities.

What does that event in San Diego have that the 10th MHC doesn’t? Let’s go down the list:

Exhibitors representing cutting edge information about the industry? CHECK.

Ship History on Instagram (Steamship Historical Society)

Ship History on Instagram (Steamship Historical Society)



Special exhibits and demos honoring relevant items of media interest? CHECK.

Ceremonial Sword from Algiers (Hampton Roads Naval Museum)

Ceremonial Sword from Algiers (Hampton Roads Naval Museum)



VIP parties and special “meet and greet” events? CHECK.

MHC Opening Reception aboard Battleship Wisconsin. (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)

MHC Opening Reception aboard Battleship Wisconsin. (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)



Attendees looking “out of uniform” from their normal attire. CHECK.

Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., USCG (Ret.) was awarded the National Maritime Alliance Award of Distinction by celebrated author Clive Cussler during the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference.

Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., USCG (Ret.) was awarded the National Maritime Alliance Award of Distinction by celebrated author Clive Cussler during the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference.



Awards ceremonies honoring the lifetime achievements of industry leaders? CHECK.

2014 Commodore Dudley W. Knox Naval History Award Winners (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)

2014 Commodore Dudley W. Knox Naval History Award Winners (NHF Photo by Matthew Eng/Released)


Let’s be honest: Comic-Con is just a large-scale fan convention. In today’s digital age, there is little to separate these concepts save scope and subject matter. Are we not all fans of naval and maritime history? The 10th MHC is a convention and a community on the smaller, yet vitally important, scale. Like Comic-Con, the event is multi-genre and multi-platform. You can hear about Civil War naval history one minute and move into a discussion on the creative ways we are discovering and recovering shipwrecks in another. Everyone at MHC is a star in his or her own right. Most of these men and women work quietly out of the limelight of the American public. Yet they are transcending what stars of television, film, and comic book culture can do – they are promoting and sustaining our rich maritime heritage for generations to come. They embody what the conference’s keynote speaker. Dan Basta said about the state of the maritime community: “It is more about projection than protection.”

You might see a big celebrity talk about their recent projects at Comic-Con, or an influential artist who is paving the way for groundbreaking graphic novels and short stories. In this field, the best and brightest stars are here to tell us about their research and providing updates of their institution’s latest developments. Sure, there isn’t anybody dressed in costume – well, not really. Scuba divers and underwater archaeologists attending are surely out of their element in suits and ties.

The conference reminded me why I got into the business of naval history in the first place. It might be why WE ALL got into this business. It’s why you, constant reader, are still reading this instead of going back to Facebook. This information moves you. It fascinates you. Like waves in water, the ebb and flow of the business change constantly through time, allowing many of us to be swept away in its current. No two situations are the same. Every instance is an opportunity to grow. We want to further the field and advance our nation’s understanding of the wonderful and exciting world beyond our island nation. This conference gives everyone an opportunity to shine. No waiting in line for hours to talk to a movie star for thirty seconds. At MHC, you get real face-to-face interaction and meaningful conversation with some of the greatest minds of naval and maritime history. What more can you ask for? In my opinion, MHC transcends any Comic-Con. I hope you were like me and skipped San Diego for Norfolk.

To all the conference attendees, exhibitors, panelists, moderators, and organizers: Thank you for taking time out of your busy lives and sharing the wonderful work you do. You all have adoring fans in our field. I might be the biggest one. They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. In that respect, I’m still looking for employment. Thank you all for keeping me jobless.

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Monitor’s Coat: A Rare Find in Conservation

DSC_4024

By Matthew T. Eng

I have never been more happy to arrive early to an event in my entire life. 

There have been several great talks and panels at the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference this week in Norfolk. Too many, in fact, to mention in a single blog post. Being a fan and enthusiast of the Civil War navies, however, I gravitated towards panel presentations focusing on ironclad ships and commerce raiders. Given the recent news this summer that the Monitor Center Wet Lab had reopened, I wanted to make sure to check out the Thursday panel on USS Monitor. The panel covered every conceivable aspect of the ship, from its influence in mainstream consumer culture (Wonderfully done by the intrepid Dr. Anna Holloway) to the way we can it provides for creative and meaningful relationships with the community at large (Dave Alberg). The most interesting presentation, however, came from Dave Krop, Director of the Monitor Center. Dave talked about a variety of ongoing projects and conservation techniques his team in the lab are currently conducting on Monitor artifacts both large and small. The most interesting artifact he mentioned was a double-breasted sack coat discovered inside the turret. According to Krop, the coat was recovered in pieces in 2002 by NOAA. At first, the piece looked like a wet mass on the floor of the turret. Their meticulous conservation has drastically changed that in recent years. Dave was happy to report to attendees that the coat is finally out of the treatment process. With help from funding, the center’s ultimate goal is to have the coat completely conserved and displayed in Newport News.

Friday’s talks on the “Civil War at Sea” were also excellent. I am happy to report on all fronts that Civil War naval history is alive and well. Feeling content with my fix for Civil War naval knowledge, I gathered my things yesterday afternoon for the 10th MHC evening reception across the water in Newport News. Looking to avoid the rush from Friday traffic on the busy interstates of Hampton Roads, I opted to leave Norfolk much earlier than anticipated. I haven’t been away from the area long enough to forget how bad it can get at rush hour.

DSC_4031Boy, am I glad I left when I did. As one of the first guests to arrive, I had my own private audience to chat with three Monitor Center staff members already there: Dave Krop, Will Hoffman, and Kate Sullivan. After spending a few minutes of chatting about the conference, Dave and his crew invited me to a private viewing of the Monitor sailor’s coat. Naturally, I jumped on the opportunity. One short elevator ride later, I was up in the conservation lab, staring down at a near-perfect specimen of material culture largely unseen for the last 150 years.

The coat is absolutely stunning in person. The colors seem vibrant and alive, as if you just picked the coat out of the closet to wear. It is remarkable how together it looks. I have some clothes that look worse for wear than the Monitor coat!

It is always to a treat to listen and learn history. Seeing it up close in front of your face, however, is a different animal altogether.They have done a truly remarkable job keeping such a delicate artifact intact and well-preserved over a decade after it came out of the water. You can see every nuance and detail from the buttons. The buttons were found next to the coat because the cotton fiber holding them to the coat degraded in the ocean water.

Button Detail on the Coat.

Button Detail on the Coat.


The coat was privately produced and modified for military service. The material is likely composed of a fine, merino-like wool. Looking at the artifact as a whole on their table, there is a lot to be said about quality craftsmanship – much of it stayed together underwater. The team at the lab said the jacket is approximately 85 percent complete. They also found footwear and other personal clothing items near where the jacket was found.

DSC_4033

These dedicated men and women working on this ongoing project are a shining example of why the Monitor is still relevant today. From this one artifact, you can now ask a hundred new questions. Who was its owner. Why was it modified? What is the significance of the buttons? The list goes on. It amazes me to think how one ship can continually change and alter how we think about naval warfare and its preservation for years to come. With continued help and support, Dave and his team can continue making great advanced in their field for the betterment of all those who wish to see their proud naval heritage preserved for generations to come. That’s an ironclad promise we’d all like to keep.

Go to their blog HERE for more updates and information on their continuing projects and partnerships with NOAA.

A special thanks to Dave Krop, Will Hoffman, and Kate Sullivan for giving me a special treat to an already spectacular evening at the Mariners’ Museum.

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Winchester, VA: A Hub of Naval History?

ADM Richard E. Byrd and Igloo, Winchester, VA

ADM Richard E. Byrd and Igloo, Winchester, VA


By Matthew T. Eng

I wanted to be a bit spontaneous yesterday. I decided to skip the throng of crowds in Baltimore’s Bicentennial of the Star-Spangled Banner (Our friends at NHHC had it covered) and spent the day in Winchester, VA. The sleepy, historic town was just over an hour away. It would be the perfect place for my wife and I to get out of the city and clear our heads. I put on some Patsy Cline and headed down I-66 towards the Shenandoah Valley.

We arrived a shade under an hour and a half. To my surprise, parking was free there on the weekends. We picked a spot on the street near Winchester’s Judicial Center and started making our way towards the nearby historic district. As we walked away from our parking spot, I noticed a statue off in the distance in front of the building. It looked oddly familiar. I told my wife to wait a second while I did a little bit of detective work. Sure enough, I realized why it looked so familiar once I got closer:

ADM Byrd Statue (Matthew Eng Photo/Released) and Admiral Byrd with Igloo (NHHC Photo)

ADM Byrd Statue (Matthew Eng Photo/Released) and Admiral Byrd with Igloo (NHHC Photo)


As it turns out, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, famous naval explorer of the Antarctic, was born in Winchester. His boyhood home was only a few blocks away The Byrd statue depicts the famous photograph of the explorer with his dog “Igloo” during his first Antarctic Expedition in 1930. A transcript of the 1997 dedication ceremony found online revealed that the statue was built “entirely by contributions, large and small, from members of the community, friends, neighbors, and admirers.” Then Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton. Dalton had much to say about the “lion of a man” that became one of the most decorated naval officers in U.S. Navy history:

“He was a man who loved a challenge. He was a man of firsts. The first to fly over the North Pole. The first to fly over the South Pole. The first to explore and map the vast continent of Antarctica. Amazing feats . . . and especially so, given our reliance today on the wonders of navigation now available to us, like the global positioning system. Admiral Byrd had no such tools available . . . he called upon his courage almost exclusively, to achieve the firsts that began out search for those marvelous tools we use today. His was a special breed of courage.”  (Remarks of Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton, Winchester, VA, 14 July 1997)

Admiral Byrd is honored in other ways around in Frederick County. Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School, opened in 2005, is named in his honor. According to their site, several letters and pictures from his incredible career are on display at the school. The school mascot is the “Husky,” which I found to be a fitting tribute to the man and his love for dogs.

Antique Store Finds in Winchester!

Antique Store Finds in Winchester!

We walked into a nearby antique store in the historic district to search for anything interesting for my house. The day had no agenda – why not? I briefly talked to an employee about the Byrd statue. He knew a great deal about the statue and the history behind it. The gentlemen told me that Byrd was also a descendent of Englishman John Rolfe and Pocahontas. Byrd’s thirst for exploration and adventure was in his bloodline.

The antique store looked more like a museum of Americana, bookended between the turn-of-the-century and the 1970s. While there, I managed to find two interesting pieces of naval history: A 1946 edition of Your Navy (NAVPERS 10600) and a rare children’s copy of Don Winslow of the Navy, published in 1940. More on these later.

There are several other famous naval figures from Winchester. RADM Louis M. Noulton, interwar Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, was born in Winchester in 1869. Commodore John H. Aulick, War of 1812 hero and Midshipman prize master of HMS Boxer after her engagement with Enterprise in 1813, was also born in Winchester in 1787.

(Image Credit: NAVSOURCE)

Commodore Aulick (Image Credit: NAVSOURCE)


I left Winchester with a huge smile on my face. Who knew there would be so much naval history in a small town inside the Shenandoah Valley? It goes to show you that you can find naval history just about anywhere.

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