Bats Against the Axis PART IV: 11 Days in September

Part4Banner
A Four-Part Blog Series
By Matthew T. Eng

Baseball in Norfolk radically changed the lives of the countless sailors stationed there during World War II. As a means of diversion, sailors at NTS Norfolk created their own private baseball utopia amidst the horrors of war waiting for them in the European and Pacific Theaters. The final part of our four part series. 

Read Part I
Read Part II
Read Part III

PART IV: 11 Days in September

“Confidence reigned supreme today in both the Naval Training Station and Naval Air Station baseball camps on the eve of the opening of the Fifth Naval District ‘World Series’ at the spacious NTS Stadium Sunday afternoon.”
– Norfolk Sea Bag, 11 September 1943

Everybody on base was excited for the final games to begin. The NTS World Series was scheduled to begin on the afternoon of 12 September at Naval Training Station Norfolk. The games would run on consecutive days until a four game winner was declared. The feeling on base was tense and anxious. It was also crowded. By 1943, 16,000 sailors called the Fifth Naval District their home. Word spread about the game like an epidemic. The station newspaper referred to the upcoming contest between the Blue Jackets and Flyers as “post-season warfare.” For the sailors on station who had never seen combat, this was the closest thing to it until they shipped out. With so many sailors on base, the scheduled games were the hottest ticket in town.

NTS World SEries

Hugh Casey helped the Flyers shutout the Blue Jackets 3-0 at the opening series game that Sunday. More than 5,000 sailors were present. The Flyers had a big first inning, scoring two runs off a few expertly hit balls by Pee Wee Reese and Murray Franklin. The Blue Jackets bounced back in the second game to tie the series, thanks in part to Phil Rizzuto’s inspired base running early on.

Both teams continued to trade wins. Two games went into extra innings, due in part to the excellent pitching by both sides. Hugh Casey once again proved to be the thorn in the side of the NTS Nine. His pitching in games four and six propelled the Flyers into a final game seven decision.

(HRNM Photo)

(HRNM Photo)


The final game on 22 September ended in a shutout win for the Blue Jackets. Local pre-war Portsmouth Piedmont League player Maxie Wilson won his third pitching contest against the formidable Flyers. Hugh Casey lost his third of the series.

Over 29,000 sailors came to the stadium during the series, averaging sold-out attendance each game. According to Virginian Pilot reporter Rich Radford, only a small blurb about the series made it to major publications like the New York Times. The series that drew record crowd quietly made baseball history on a series of afternoons in September 1943.

NTS Legacy

One team. One Season. 250,000 spectators. No service team would equal those numbers during the war. Maybe Captain McClure was right – those statistics did matter. For a community built around the purpose of preparing for war, the diversion and entertainment value of the 1943 Blue Jackets season cannot be paralleled.

The 1944 ball club was good. They were not better than the 1943 team. The 1943 NTS Blue Jackets were great. While most major league teams lacked aptitude, players in Norfolk bled talent. The Sea Bag often mentioned the glory days of the 1943 season in 1944 and 1945. In honor of the win and Captain Henry McClure’s support, the station renamed NTS Field as “McClure Field” in 1944. The field still exists today.

1944 Service World Series Team (Baseball in Wartime)

1944 Service World Series Team (Baseball in Wartime)

Most of the 1943 NTS team went off to war shortly after the series ended in September. Phil Rizzuto shipped off to the Pacific to play baseball at Pear Harbor. He was later in charge of a 20mm gun crew on a ship. He caught malaria in New Guinea and subsequently coached a team in Australia while he recuperated. He would later leave the Navy and continue on his path to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. Other players had similar stories and travels, but Rizzuto was the biggest star on the team.

The 1943 Blue Jackets had a bit of a reunion in 1944 at the Service World Series at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Players like Dom DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto were flown in from Australia with other veteran players from Great Lakes and Maryland to play the Army All-Star team. Navy soundly beat Army in nine of eleven games played at Furlong Stadium at Hickham Field, nearby where the Japanese strafed the area on 7 December 1941. Baseball in Wartime noted the large spike in attendance: approximately 20,000 servicemen came to each contest.

The 4 February 1944 edition of Yank magazine addressed media criticism over service teams keeping ball players in “cold storage” and building up athletic prestige:

“What the critics forget is that the no-so-talented guys ain’t complaining. Perhaps these critics have never read a sailors letter, telling his folks with a great deal of pride that he is in a company commanded by Johnny Rigney or that he is taking small-boat instruction from Johnny Mize.”

McClure Field Today (Photo by Elijah Palmer/HRNM)

McClure Field Today (Photo by Elijah Palmer/HRNM)


Baseball did not transform the United States Navy. The Navy, however, helped transform baseball into what it is today, with the help of hundreds of brave men who answered the call to serve during America’s darkest hour. Their service helped countless sailors find comfort in their pre-war fascination with America’s most popular sport. In no place was this seen better than at NTS Norfolk. Players there created their own private baseball utopia amidst the horrors of war waiting for them in the European and Pacific Theaters.

Posted in Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bats Against the Axis PART III: The Beginning of a Rivalry

Part3Banner

A Four-Part Blog Series
By Matthew T. Eng 

Baseball in Norfolk radically changed the lives of the countless sailors stationed there during World War II. As a means of diversion, sailors at NTS Norfolk created their own private baseball utopia amidst the horrors of war waiting for them in the European and Pacific Theaters. Part three of the four part series.

READ PART I
READ PART II

PART III: The Beginning of a Rivalry

Naval Training Station Norfolk’s weekly wartime newspaper, the Norfolk Seabag, had a six-page, four-column spread. On average, each page contained four to five news items. The paper functioned to provide sailors with any and all information related to the functioning of one of the United States’ most powerful naval facilities. News snippets were also dedicated to the various goings-on around base. A sailor could read the latest updates on a weekend liberty pass or find out when next USO concert came to downtown Norfolk. Gossip and cartoons occupied a great deal of the paper’s back matter.

Slide21

News from the outside world at war remained relatively minimal by comparison. Of the approximately thirty news snippets included in each Sea Bag issue, only a small two-column section (half a page) was devoted to war news. The “War Fronts the World” segment usually took stories from other newspaper feeds like the Boston Post, Associated Press, and Chicago Daily News. In 1943, the American public absorbed information on the impending Allied push into occupied Europe and the ongoing struggle with cracking the Japanese sphere of influence. For some, the “War Fronts the World” section was the only way they knew what was happening to their friends or family members forward deployed. 

During the 1943 season between April and September, baseball stories appeared weekly. In some editions, information about the NTS Nine appeared five or six times. Stories highlighted star player bios with helpful tips for upcoming games. The base CO, Captain Henry McClure, took time out of his busy schedule to write to his sailors about the necessity for their continued support on and off the baseball diamond. Hearing about the Blue Jackets was inescapable. The paper even published each player’s ongoing season statistics. Sailors could keep track of their favorite players’ batting and earned run averages each week, just like they did at ball games before the war.

First Base Line Crowd, May 1943 (HRNM Photo)

First Base Line Crowd, May 1943 (HRNM Photo

The majority of main articles were quick to point out each successive record-breaking attendance record at McClure field. It was as if the attendance was some invisible statistic everyone silently monitored for its prestige. Attendance rarely dipped below the 3,500-seat capacity. Analyzing each Sea Bag edition its content and subject matter would be another blog series in itself. That being said, Captain McClure kept his sailors in a tiny vacuum, with his namesake stadium as the center. King McClure had indeed carved out his kingdom.

Bats for Bonds

The season moved forward. The NTS Nine continued to win game after game against a slew of military and civilian opponents. Playing baseball outside of their commanding officer’s cocoon was a rarity, but it did occur. The NTS squad would also play the occasional war bond game. The bond games helped raise funds for the war effort while providing much needed entertainment and diversion from the horrors of war. Unfortunately, the United States government mandated the ration of gasoline. As a result, the NTS Blue Jackets never strayed far from their baseball utopia in Norfolk.

Although war bond drives were not a rarity in 1943, these games were. This was especially true for Hampton Roads audiences. One of the first bond games held in the area featured the area’s two best service teams, the NTS Nine and NAS squad. Led by players like Hugh Casey and Pee Wee Reese and coached by future Hall of Famer Bill Dickey, the NAS service team, occasionally referred to as the “Flyers,” was the most formidable foe to face the NTS Nine in their existence. Because of their similar celebrity status, they were also their most frequent foe.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 7.15.23 AM

The two teams squared off for a bond game on 26 April 1943 at nearby Norfolk Tar’s ballpark. Local media hailed it as an “All-Star” game of sorts. The Sea Bag called the prospective matchup “the most interesting series between two Service teams.” The price of admission for the game came in the form of U.S. War Bonds and stamps. War bond tickets ranged from the lower $1 bleachers and $3 grandstands to the deluxe $25 reserved seats near the field (The $25 seat equated to $18.75 in 1943 dollars). For Hampton Roads baseball fans, this was the closest they would get to see these stars without trekking to Washington, D.C. Residents jumped on the opportunity. Sea Bag reported the likelihood of “a goodly portion” of sailors “rooting for their respective favorites.” Tickets sold out well before the day of the game.

According to Norfolk historian Peggy Hail McPhillips, more than 4,000 fans attended the game. The sold out crowd helped generate close to $200,000 in bond money. NAS pitcher Hugh Casey stunned attendees with a no-hit, no-run shutout, beating the NTS Nine 4-0. Any doubt of a service rivalry before was quickly extinguished at the end of that game.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 7.21.04 AM

Bats Against the Nats

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 7.20.55 AM

The greatest war bond game the NTS Nine played in happened one month later in Washington, D.C. The nation’s capitol hosted the “Washington Post Game” on 24 May to an expected sell out crowd of thousands. The hometown Washington Senators were set to square off against the famed Blue Jackets.

The impending excitement drew more press than anything else going on in Major League Baseball at the time. The Washington Post’s began a rigorous campaign began for the game. The paper ran at least one story about the game during that time period. Many articles made the front-page headlines. The post projected the game to be the largest “gate” in the history of baseball.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 12.28.09 PMA total of 29,221 war bond buyers came to D.C.’s Griffith Stadium to watch the Nats play the Blue Jackets, falling short 4 to 3. The Nats had a hard time competing with the “best conditioned team” in the country. In all, the game raised nearly two million dollars under the moniker, “Baseball Fans Will Help Build a Battle Cruiser.” In attendance at the game was crooner Bing Crosby and Kate Smith, the “first lady of radio.” Both made appearances and sang to the beaming crowd of war supporters. The event was so successful that team owner Clark Griffith urged other teams around the country to do something similar to raise money.

Rounding Third

The Blue Jackets turned heads and got the attention of newspapers around the country. That is, when news outlets got their hands on information about the team. You could see passing mention of them in brief snippets in major publications like the Washington Post and New York Times. They also made it to small papers such as the Ottawa Citizen and Lawrence Journal World. Because games were closed to the public, any information the public had about their favorite players was welcome.

The team continued to perform better than expected. A NTS record 7,000 sailors came to see their beloved Blue Jackets beat the Boston Red Sox in a “10-inning thriller.” Over 15,000 attended their game against Ted Williams and the NC Pre-Flight Cloudbusters. The Blue Jackets won that game. They continued to play other professional teams like the St. Louis Browns (Baltimore Orioles) as the season progressed. Many teammates even felt were treated better than in the major leagues. According to a recent interview with first baseman Eddie Robinson, major league clubs couldn’t afford the kind of equipment that the Navy gave to their VIP sailors.

Slide24

The NTS Nine consistently won games. In fact, the only team the Blue Jackets could not beat regularly was their rival, the NAS Flyers. The Blue Jackets ended their season only losing twenty-five games. Of those losses, nineteen came from the Flyers, the majority of which were attributed to Hugh Casey’s arm.

The two teams met a total of forty-four times during the season, with plans to draw it out for seven more in the 1943 Navy World Series scheduled for the middle of September.

Posted in Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bats Against the Axis PART II: King McClure and His Loyal Subjects

Part2Banner
Baseball in Norfolk radically changed the lives of the countless sailors stationed there during World War II. As a means of diversion, sailors at NTS Norfolk created their own private baseball utopia amidst the horrors of war waiting for them in the European and Pacific Theaters. Part two of the four part series. READ PART I HERE.

PART II: King McClure and His Loyal Subjects

Navy baseball players worried about what was going on in the field directly in front of them. Sailor-spectators watching those games in 1943 had the entire deadly expanse of ocean in the Atlantic and Pacific waiting for them once they completed training. Although the Battle of the Atlantic had quieted considerably after the U.S. Navy figured out an effective convoy system, the threat of German U-boat attacks was ever-present. By 1943, the German Navy was losing a quarter of its U-Boat flotilla at a time. The Battle of the Atlantic had effectively climaxed. Thirty-four German subs were lost in May 1943 alone. Germany could not make up for the losses, and the Atlantic war came to a relative trickle in the remaining war years.

The Pacific was another animal altogether. The Navy fought intensely from 1941 until the end of the war in 1945. With the Guadalcanal Campaign beginning to wrap up, stakes in the Pacific were never higher. CNO Admiral Chester Nimitz sought to involve thousands of new sailors and nearly every type of warship in the impending offensives in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. There would be little time between a sailor’s training and baptism by fire.

With so much possibility to see combat, sailors needed something to divert them from the harsh reality of war. Baseball filled that aching void.

“Baseball Can Do a Good Job in 1943”

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 9.43.02 PM

Major League Baseball was also looking to fill a void – its players. Despite the setbacks, owners and stakeholders still anticipated big crowds for the 1943 season. Newspapers around the country ran a story before spring training began with an optimistic headline about the sport’s future: “Baseball Can Do a Good Job in 1943.” The article mentioned how bad “the boys in service” wanted to see baseball played.

They were right. Servicemen DID want to see baseball. The main problem was location. Could anybody and everybody attend these games? What was the proximity of the nearest stadium to training stations in Norfolk, VA or Pensacola, FL? Would games fit in with most weekend liberty passes? The article neglected to answer these questions. The “boys in service” had to see it where they could and when they could. Would any G.I. want to go to a game where the best players were already gone, anyway? According to baseball historian and author Bill Nowlin, all that remained by 1943 were teams “with players who wouldn’t have been good enough to play in the big leagues otherwise.” NTS Norfolk skipper Captain Henry McClure was more than aware of the favorable situation at his fingertips. McClure knew he could bring a high quality of game to his sailors. Baseball was king in 1943, and Captain Henry McClure controlled its kingdom.

Baseball was not so good for the major league that year. Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton reported a lackluster season start in April:

“The opening-day major league scores lead us to wonder whether the 1943 model baseball is dead, or just the hitters.” (Hugh S. Fullerton, Jr.)

So, the American public was sadly cut off from its most beloved players. Civilians might hear about them mentioned in the passing newspaper article or radio broadcast. Otherwise, their details were as closed to the public as the stations themselves. In the meantime, one would have to enlist to see them play. Norfolk, the most unlucky station for duty, now became one of the best places to train before being sent off into the theaters of war.

Professional team owners now had to find a way to bring service players back to stadiums. This was a near impossibility with war rationing in full effect. All American Girls Professional Baseball was an important step to boosting morale, but it did not draw the kinds of crowds and notoriety most owners wanted. The vast majority of owners located nearby training stations and bases would have to trade their usual proceeds for purely patriotic purposes. By the time the 1943 season came around, teams planned to use their large stadiums for War Bond games. Teams like the NTS Nine had a chance to play in the national spotlight once again.

The 1943 NTS Nine 

Slide16

Captain McClure was right when he once said that his 1943 squad was “loaded.” The Tuscaloosa News ran a story before the season began about the state of the team. Coach Gary Bodie was more than optimistic about their prospects, declaring his team “had so much pitching” that they “don’t know what they are going to do with it all.” Only the Great Lakes baseball club, often called the “largest athletic plant” of any service team, compared to the NTS Nine. The Great Lakes Blue Jackets had star Tiger catcher Mickey Cochrane at the helm as their coach. Cochrane received a commission as a Lieutenant to run the Great Lakes squad. Great Lakes and Norfolk had high hopes to play each other during the 1943 season. 

Pee Wee Reese, 1943 (HRNM Photo)

Pee Wee Reese, 1943 (HRNM Photo)

Things started to take shape in Norfolk in early 1943. Two Navy teams in the area began to emerge: the NTS Blue Jackets at Naval Training Norfolk and the Norfolk Naval Air Station (NAS) club. Both teams became one of the best rival stories in the history of professional baseball.

Like Great Lakes, nearly all of the players of the NTS and NAS teams had professional experience. Looking at the roster of the 1943 NTS Nine, two players who recently enlisted in the Navy played in the 1942 World Series (Jeff Cross and Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto). Fairness became an issue. The NTS team looked so good that their future Navy opponents began to lament their lineup. When it looked like Dodger all-star Pee Wee Reese would join the NTS Nine in 1943, NAS CO Captain James Marshall Shoemaker took it up with his counterpart to object. After much debate, Captain McClure begrudgingly sent Reese to play for the NAS ball club. One author stated that McClure did this gesture out of respect: Captain Shoemaker was the commanding officer at Pearl Harbor when they fell under attack in December 1941.

Opening Day 

Opening day came for the NTS Nine Blue Jackets in early April. Due to the need for exposure and the necessity for practice, the Blue Jackets’ first opponent was the Washington Senators. The Senators were the closest professional team, and McClure wanted to showcase the talent on his club in grand fashion. The Senators opened their Grapefruit preseason by traveling down to Norfolk to square off against the Blue Jackets in a two game series.

McClure field was not large by major league standards. For a naval base, it far exceeded most with a capacity for 3,500 spectators. Over 5,000 sailors came to the sold out opening day games on 2 April. The NTS Nine won the first game and lost the second to the Senators. Either way, the NTS Nine were off to a good start for their 1943 season. The Navy invited a Virginian-Pilot photographer to take pictures of the game and the crowd. It was one of the few times a civilian photographer was allowed to capture the team playing during the war. The majority of those images are now digitized on the Norfolk Public Library’s website.

Slide18

Opening Day, 1943 (Norfolk Seabag)

Opening Day, 1943 (Norfolk Seabag)

Captain McClure seized the opportunity to capitalize on his newfound talent in Tidewater. He often wrote in the station’s publication, The Seabag, urging his sailors to come to the games. In truth, his passion and devotion to the team closely resembled of current Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban. Although he had very little knowledge of the game himself, he loved every minute of it. He also knew the value of baseball to raise the morale of his sailors in a way no USO show could dream of. There is a story that is often circulated about Captain McClure and the baseball team in 1943. According to some sources, Captain McClure was attending to base business and would be late for the opening of a baseball game. He told his subordinates that the team could start on time, but “not to score until he got there.”

[Next in PART III: The 1943 Season and the Beginning of a Rivalry]

Posted in Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bats Against the Axis: Diversion, Community, and Heritage at the 1943 Navy World Series (PART I)

Part1Banner

A Four-Part Blog Series
By Matthew T. Eng

In the summer of 1943, the best baseball in the United States was played in Norfolk, VA. Unfortunately, you couldn’t just buy any ticket to see diamond stars like Fred Hutchinson, Dom DiMaggio, and Phil Rizzuto play that year – you had to enlist. This four part blog series will examine U.S. Navy baseball teams during the war and the role that the 1943 NTS Nine squad played in entertaining and transforming the culture of Hampton Roads sailors on station in Norfolk, VA. 

Baseball in Norfolk radically changed the lives of the countless sailors stationed there during World War II. As a means of diversion, sailors at NTS Norfolk created their own private baseball utopia amidst the horrors of war waiting for them in the European and Pacific Theaters.

PART I: OUR WORST WAR TOWN

In the fall of 1941, the New York Yankees played the Brooklyn Dodgers in New York City’s first “subway series.” Fans from both boroughs huddled in seats and bleachers together to watch the country’s two best teams battle it out on the playing field. Manager Joe McCarthy’s defending champion New York Yankees defeated the Dodgers solidly in five games.

1941 World Series (NYT Photo)

1941 World Series (NYT Photo)

It would be the last time Americans saw a World Series in a world without war. For many others, it would be the last World Series they would ever know. The world undoubtedly changed a month and a half after the series ended, and the peaceful enjoyment of America’s pastime would be forever changed. America itself was in the batters box, waiting anxiously to step up to the plate.

To War

When the Imperial Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941, Americans around the country woke up to the stark reality of a world transformed by war. Conflicts far away in Europe and Asia were now at the doorstep of Main Street. Isolationism and neutrality became impossible. It was time to fight. Norfolk, VA was not swept up in the fever of war panic that followed the attack. In direct contrast to many cities along the east coast, Norfolk was relatively prepared for the coming of war. Norfolk was on the front line of the Lend-Lease agreement between the United States and fledgling Allied powers. As historian Melvin Schlegel suggested in his masterful history of Norfolk, the town became a “conscripted city” in the early 1940s.

Thousands of men and women joined the armed forces in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Few were exempt. Famous actors, writers, politicians, musicians, and athletes also enlisted. Of this group of influential individuals, Americans looked up to those athletes who enlisted the most. Due to their mass appeal to the general public, baseball stars consistently made headlines around the country when they signed up with Uncle Sam. Their sacrifice served as a reminder that nearly anyone could fight the Axis. Many of those who signed up to serve in the United States Navy ended up at Naval Training Station Norfolk.

FROM MLB to Class I-A

The 1942 Major League offseason was a rough one for team owners. Hundreds of baseball players, members of the country’s most popular sport, served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine – not their old teams. The necessity for G.I.’s became evident in the early months of 1942. Rosters were depleted of top-level talent seemingly overnight.

Numerous stars of the recent World Series traded pinstripes for olive drab dungarees. The image below shows what service the 1941 World Series champions went to throughout the war:

Slide04Most baseball players were relegated to the “special services” of each military branch. Their primary duty in this capacity was to boost G.I. morale by playing baseball. Joe DiMaggio, arguably the most popular sports figure in the country, went to the Army Air Corps. World Series pitcher Hugh Casey joined the United States Navy to play ball. Others like Ted Williams played a limited time on service teams before being shipped off into their respective theaters of warfare. The Triple Crown winner retired in the United States Marine Corps as a decorated Captain following the end of the Korean War.

Feller

Feller

According to Baseball in Norfolk, Virginia authors Clay Shampoe and Thomas Garrett, one of the first ballplayers to enlist in the Navy was Cleveland Indian pitcher Bob Feller. “Rapid Robert” joined up only days after Pearl Harbor. After spending a brief time at Norfolk Naval Training Station as a fitness instructor and player for the 1942 squad, Feller transferred as a Gun Captain aboard Battleship Alabama, where he saw action extensively in the Pacific Theater. Feller remained active in his ship’s reunions until his death in 2010.

The majority of new sailors during the war were sent to either Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago or the Naval Training Station in Norfolk. Of the two locations, most sailors would rather choose the Great Lakes cold weather over the doldrums of Hampton Roads. It would only take an influx of some of the nation’s most talented athletes to Norfolk to turn its perception around seemingly overnight.

Our Worst War TownScreen Shot 2014-09-09 at 7.46.38 PMMost prewar sailors considered Norfolk as “bad duty.” A scathing report written in the February 1943 edition of H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury hailed Norfolk as “Our Worst War Town.” The article’s author spent time examining real life conditions of several congested defense towns along the East Coast. Although the author identified Norfolk as the East Coast’s “number one war zone,” Norfolk was still regarded to have the worst conditions and quality of life of any town along the Atlantic.

“There were too many people with too little to do.” – Dick Hanna

The article listed many stereotypes of Navy sailors – drunk, disorderly, loud, and promiscuous. The countless bars and brothels nearby the base did not help this perception. By 1943, the Navy ordered its sailors off the streets between 1:00am to 5:00am. The claim was made that the forced curfew would get “responsible servicemen” off the streets during the most dangerous hours. It also broke up the numerous “parasitical” business enterprises previously mentioned. According to Hampton Roads Naval Museum volunteer and long-time local Captain Dick Hannah, “There were too many people with too little to do.”

As a major terminus for war, Norfolk looked bad. Locals were concerned by their long-held reputation. With over thirty families arriving each day by 1943, it became necessary to make some changes. The July 1943 edition of Our Navy magazine published an article to rectify Norfolk’s tarnished perception often heard around town:

“Several years ago if you were transferred to Norfolk all your friends gathered around to offer condolences and you wondered what you had done to deserve such a horrible fate.” (Our Navy, July 1943)

The article mentioned several new places where sailors could find the best means for wholesome diversion, including Fleet Recreation Park, various movie theaters, a YMCA Beach Club, and the Norfolk Center USO Theater, located where the Harrison Opera House is today.

Our Navy StoryThe luxuries listed above were a vast improvement to the area’s previous accommodations. Soon enough, Norfolk became desirable. However, these locations were not the reason why sailors wanted to come to Norfolk during the war. Sailors didn’t necessarily want a slice of the good life; they wanted some semblance of what they craved before the war started. For many, that piece of the past came in the form of baseball. Due to the shortage of stars in the Major Leagues, service teams played the best baseball. For the Navy, the best team in the country called Norfolk’s Naval Training Station their home.

Baseball in the past drew little fanfare at Norfolk’s training station. Clubs at the facility were formed to give sailors a diversion from training. That being said, few paid attention. There was little interest for sailors to see their fellow bluejackets spar on the baseball diamond. Once the war started, however, teams went from amateur to “all star” status virtually overnight. Navy leadership promoted players like Bob Feller to Chief Specialist Athletic to train sailors in physical fitness and play on the station’s league teams. Buzz about the prospect of top-level talent spread quickly in Norfolk:

“The often-ignored Norfolk Training Station (NTS) team now created quite a stir on the base, as most of the players in uniform were fresh from the American, National, and minor leagues.” (Baseball in Norfolk, VA)

NTS Stadium/McClure Field (HRNM/NPL Photo)

NTS Stadium/McClure Field (HRNM/NPL Photo)

Sailors played at NTS Stadium, which would eventually become McClure Field. The field is named after the station’s WWII-era Commanding Officer, Captain Henry McClure. McClure Field was as good a venue as Yankee Stadium during the war years. Unlike other venues around the country, it was closed to the public due to the high security during the war. The brick stadium gave its sailors exclusive access to the best baseball in the country.

Managing the team of stars was Gary Bodie, a Chief Signalman in the U.S. Navy that knew a thing or two about “reading the signs.” Unfortunately, Bodie knew very little about the game. Bob Feller once said Bodie was one of the best coaches he had while in the Navy. Why? According to Feller, Chief Bodie would “stay out of the way and let us play” the majority of the time.

Bob Feller playing for the NTS Nine, 1942 (Norfolk Seabag)

Bob Feller playing for the NTS Nine, 1942 (Norfolk Seabag)

The NTS Blue Jackets, better known as the “NTS Nine,” became a baseball powerhouse. Led by players like Feller and Fred Hutchinson during their 1942 season, the team racked up an impressive 92 wins in 102 games. Unfortunately, the team did not play any major league opponents.

That would change the following season, when top-level talent from major league team and rival Navy ball clubs took to the field to dethrone the Navy’s best baseball team.

Posted in Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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. 

Posted in Donation, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

BuyOnAmazon

Charles H. Bogart

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

BuyOnAmazon

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

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

BuyOnAmazon

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.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

BuyOnAmazon

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

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

BuyOnAmazon

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

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

BuyOnAmazon

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.

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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:

996586_10100629474530127_1876965787_n

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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)

 

Posted in Featured, History, News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

 

 

Posted in Featured, George Stewart, History, News, Volunteers | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment