Who Was John Gwinn?

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167 years ago this Labor Day weekend, U.S. Navy Captain John Gwinn died and was buried–for the first time! His third burial came 85 years ago in Arlington National Cemetery, marked by this benign headstone. Who was he and what was the story behind his grave-hopping odyssey? Stay tuned to the Naval Historical Foundation as we untangle this mystery in coming months.

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PACOM Visits Cold War Gallery for MPA Aircraft Dedication

Admiral Harry Harris, PACOM, Admiral Bill Moran, VCNO (both Maritime Patrol Aviators), and model project coordinator Captain Ted Bronson, USN (Ret.) stand before the newly placed P-8A Poseidon Model (NHF Photo/Matthew Eng/Released)

Captain Mike Boyle, Captain Ted Bronson, USN (Ret.) and Admiral Harris Harris, PACOM, stand before the newly placed P-8A Poseidon Model (NHF Photo/Matthew Eng/Released)


By Matthew T. Eng

United States Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., USN, joined Naval Historical Foundation Chairman Admiral William J. Fallon, USN (Ret.), and a small group of distinguished guests this past Tuesday for a dedication of a Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) display case, including a P-8A Poseidon model, at the National Museum of the United States Navy’s (NMUSN) Cold War Gallery. Others in attendance included Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Bill Moran and Captain Fred Smith, USN (Ret.) of the Boeing Company, whose gracious donations paid for the display case that housed the five models currently on display.

The Naval Historical Foundation made a commitment to the Navy a decade ago to build exhibits highlighting Cold War-era aircraft inside NMUSN’s Cold War Gallery. Former AD6/A4/A7 attack pilot and NHF Volunteer Captain Ted “Cash” Bronson, USN (Ret.) arranged for model sponsorships from prominent naval aviators like Jim Flatley, Jerry Miller, Tom Hudner, Larry Chambers, Ken Mattingly, and Neil Armstrong. In all, 44 models are currently on display inside the Cold War Gallery, including models of the planes piloted by the four Naval Aviators awarded the Medal of Honor.

Admiral Fallon weighed in on the importance of these planes in the history of the U.S. Navy during the presentation, noting that these aircraft were “absolutely essential to the successful outcome of the Cold War.”

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The models in the MPA case are as follows:

  • P2V-5 Neptune sponsored by RADM P.D. Smith depicting a VP-26 aircraft circa 1965.
  • P-3A Orion sponsored by ADM Harry B. Harris depicting a VP-6 aircraft circa 1972 in honor of RADM G.W. MacKay.
  • P5M Marlin sponsored by RADM Jesse J. Hernandez depicting a VP-46 aircraft circa 1960.
  • PBY-5A Catalina sponsored by Mr. Fred G. Sanders depicting a VP-33 aircraft circa 1944 in memory of ENS Donald E. Smith.
  • P-8A Poseidon sponsored by CAPT Ted Bronson depicting a VP-16 aircraft circa 2014 in honor of ADM Harris

All of the aircraft were constructed and personalized by LCDR Michael “Psycho” McLeod, USN (Ret.), a former F/A-18 pilot and current Delta Airlines captain. Like all of the other models on display inside the Cold War Gallery he worked on, McLeod made sure each detail for the models was as accurate as possible. He went so far as to visit P-8 squadrons in Jacksonville, FL, in order to get all of the antennas properly set on the Poseidon model. He even met with some of the plane sponsors just to make sure every iota of detail was noted. As Captain Bronson noted in his introduction to Admiral Harris, “there are even ejection seats inside the models!”

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Special thanks to Monnee Cottman and the National Museum of the United States Navy for coordinating this story.

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Knox-Class Frigates in the 1970s (Part II)

By Captain George W. Stewart, USN (Ret.)

As discussed in the previous post in this series, my detailer informed me in 1971 that my next assignment would be as Officer in Charge of something called a Fleet Introduction Team (FIT) at the Avondale Shipyard where USS Blakely (DE 1072), my previous ship, was built. The FIT team’s purpose was to guide the nucleus crews of the remaining 14 Knox-class frigates under construction at the shipyard through the pre-commissioning process. The detailer gave me a contact at OPNAV in Washington that could provide me with more information on the assignment. The OPNAV contact said he would mail me a copy of my new charter. In the process, he informed me that when they had set up the working group that established the FIT team, they had specified that the Officer in Charge would get command of the last ship in the program. There was no way that I could turn that down. So my family and I set out from Charleston, South Carolina, to New Orleans, Louisiana.

First, a bit of geography. We were headquarted at the Naval Support Activity (NSA) on the West Bank of the Mississippi River across the river from downtown New Orleans. The ships were built at Avondale Shipyard in Westwego, upriver from the city on the West Bank. It was about a twenty-minute drive from the NSA to the shipyard. Since I would be spending the majority of my time at the NSA, it was obviously to our advantage to live nearby. So, we rented a two story house in Algiers, only about a mile from the NSA. It was a very convenient location and I was usually able to come home for lunch.

As mentioned in the previous article, the Knox-class constituted the largest single U.S. naval shipbuilding program since World War II. The ships were intended to serve as convoy escorts originally referred to as Destroyer Escorts (DE). In 1975, the ships were re-designated as Frigates (FF). The ships were the subject of a considerable amount of controversy because of their single screws and single 5-inch guns. But they became very effective anti-submarine warfare platforms with the addition of passive towed array sonars and helicopters. Forty-six ships of the class were scheduled. The first ship of the class, USS Knox (DE 1052), entered service in 1969. The ships were built at Todd & Lockheed Shipyards in Seattle, WA, Todd Shipyard in San Pedro, CA, and Avondale Shipyards, LA. My previous ship, USS Blakely (DE 1072), was the fifth ship of the class. For economy, the Navy decided to build the last fifteen ships of the class (DE 1078 through 1097) at Avondale. The last ship in the series, DE 1097, was scheduled for delivery in 1974. At the time I took over the FIT Team in 1971, it was not yet named.

I was scheduled for briefings In Washington, Newport, and San Diego prior to reporting for my new FIT team assignment. It was my first visit to the Pentagon during my career where I was given a copy of my OPNAV (issued by the Chief of Naval Operations) charter. It said to organize a team of about 30 officers and men at the shipyard. Our assignment was to provide continuity, liaison, on-site training, administrative, and supply support to the nucleus crews of the Knox-class ships under construction at Avondale.

Our immediate boss would be the Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Force Atlantic (COMCRUDESLANT) in Newport, Rhode Island. On paper, I reported to a rear admiral. But in practice, I actually reported to the new construction program officer, a lieutenant commander in the engineering section of that staff. I must confess that being in charge of my own operation with my nearest boss in Newport sounded pretty attractive to me. My title was officer-in-charge, but I would essentially function as a commanding officer.

I found out that the team was already in place and functioning, headed by the prospective commanding officer (PCO) of USS Cook (DE 1083), then under construction. The plan was for him to turn the operation over to me after I reported in. We had an extension office right next to the building ways at Avondale Shipyards where we conducted our waterfront operations. That was where the bulk of the FIT team consisting of about 15 senior enlisted ratings would operate under the direction of our engineering and weapons officers. Their job was to conduct one-on-one training on Knox-class ship operations with the ships nucleus crewmembers.

Picture1Avondale had a unique production line method. They built five ships at a time, side by side. Their construction climaxed with a sideways launch into the Mississippi River, accompanied by a giant splash. As a ship was launched, the others would be moved to the next position and a new one would be started. Each ship took about one year from keel-laying to launch. It would be another ten or eleven months to complete and deliver the ships to the navy.

The first step upon arrival in New Orleans in the summer of 1971 was to call upon the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, 8th Naval District (SUPSHIP 8). He oversaw construction of the ships and administered the shipbuilding contract with Avondale. His immediate boss was the Ship Acquisition Program Manager (SHAPM) also a captain based at the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington.

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(Courtesy George Stewart)


At the time, the nucleus crews consisted of six officers, including the prospective commanding officer (PCO), engineering, weapons, and supply officers, twelve chief petty officers, and fifteen enlisted men. They received their orders approximately four months prior to the ship’s commissioning.  Up until that time, the nucleus crews had been required to find their own way through the pre-commissioning process.  It was about a ten-week cycle from the time that the ship’s crew reported until sail away and we had a lot to accomplish during that period. With very able assistance from my supply officer, LCDR Bill Riddell, we would have the ships administrative and supply offices set up and functioning with all necessary publications in place at our Naval Support Activity office. I maintained regular contact with the detailers at the Bureau of Personnel (BUPERS). As soon as a PCO had been identified, I would contact him and provide him with an outline of what to expect. I made it a practice to meet him at the airport and take him first to his office at the NSA and then to the apartment complex the Navy rented for the crew’s use. My first week with him was quite intense. It included some classroom sessions to explain the shipbuilding organization and upcoming schedule, taking him over to meet the SUPSHIP and his staff, and then taking him on a complete tour of the ship. None of the thirteen PCOs that I worked with had ever served on a Knox-class ship, so my background as XO of Blakely and experience with 1200 psi engineering systems proved quite valuable.

About two weeks after the arrival of the PCO, it would be time for builder’s trial. This was a three-day operation involving getting underway for the first time, steaming down the Mississippi River out to the Gulf of Mexico (about 50 miles), putting the ship through its paces, and then returning to port. The ship was operated entirely by the shipyard’s trial crew. We were just along as observers. I functioned as the COMCRUDESLANT representative and wrote up a report upon completion of the trial. I found it a great learning experience and I figured that it would be good preparation for command of the last ship. But there would be some bumps in the road before that would happen.

About a month later, it was time for the acceptance trial when the SUPSHIPS would present the ship to the Board of Inspection & Survey (INSURV). The agenda was essentially a repeat of the builder’s trial. But this time, the ship would be observed by the INSURV inspectors who wrote up discrepancies that had to be adjudicated by the SHAPM before the ship could be delivered. In a worst case scenario, the INSURV Board might reject the ship entirely and require a retrial. So there was a lot riding on the outcome.

Our first acceptance trial would be aboard the USS McCandless (DE 1084) in December 1971.  We assembled in the wardroom waiting for the President of the Board of Inspection and Survey (PRESINSURV) and his team of inspectors to arrive. I was aware that PRESINSURV was Rear Admiral J.D. Bulkeley, “P.T.  Boat Bulkeley,” who as a young lieutenant had evacuated General MacArthur from the Philippines during World War II and earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for his wartime heroism. He was quite well known in the navy and was nearly as much of a national icon as Admiral Rickover. It was the first time that I had ever met him. All of us were quite intimidated by him at the time.  But for me at least, that was all to change about ten years later when he became my boss during my last five years on active duty. The McCandless acceptance trial did not go very well.  Upon completion of the acceptance trial, RADM Bulkeley rejected the ship and called for a retrial. I was not displeased because the ship did have some significant deficiencies.

On the home front, life in New Orleans was like living in another country. Things were very different down there. We arrived right in the middle of a political campaign and there were signs all over the place. The politicians all seemed to have names like Bubba, Taddy, and Speedy. However, Mardi Gras proved to be a lot of fun. We attended a number of parades in downtown New Orleans and a couple of them went right by our house. I can still remember my wife diving to catch beads that were being thrown down from the floats. We accumulated quite a collection. The navy provided us with season tickets to the New Orleans Saints who were not very good back then. But we were only paying what was effectively a dollar per game including free transportation to Tulane Stadium. The most prominent player on the Saints at the time was Archie Manning.

The job itself was going quite well. My three principal assistants, LCDR Dave Klinkhammer (engineering), LCDR Bill Riddell (supply), and CWO John Sheirling (weapons), were a great help. After a couple of ships crews had gone through our program, we had our act together pretty well and our program was becoming a big hit. It was obvious to everybody that a FIT Team was the way to go. Prior to our arrival, the ships crews had to figure out for themselves what to do and there had been a good deal of floundering around. By contrast, we had things pretty well laid out for them when they arrived.  The PCOs were showing their appreciation by a steady stream of letters of appreciation to my boss as they departed.

I mentioned earlier that when I took the assignment, I was told that it was intended to lead to the command of the last Knox-class ship to come off the building ways. Before being assigned to the command of a naval vessel, they required an officer to be selected by a formal screening board composed of a group of senior officers in Washington, DC. The 1972 board convened in February, and I discovered that I had failed selection. This was definitely a significant career setback and it would be the precursor of a running soap opera that would last for the next two years.

That spring, I was visited by my titular boss, Rear Admiral Thomas Wechsler, COMCRUDESLANT from Newport R I. He expressed strong support for my program and indicated that he would attempt to use his influence to assist me on the next go around.

I was enjoying the assignment. It had little direction from the outside and it was nice to have my bosses many miles away in Newport. But I was quite fastidious when it came to keeping them informed by telephone. I got to spend quite a bit of time on the ships and I went out on all of the sea trials where I acted as the COMCRUDESLANT representative. I got into all areas on the ships. As I went along, I was becoming the navy’s reigning expert on the Knox-class ships. I only hoped that it would eventually lead somewhere career-wise.

We ended up supporting the nucleus crew of the last fourteen ships of the class that entered service between 1971 and 1974. Bear in mind that all of these ships were originally designated as destroyer escorts (DE) and were re-designated by CNO as frigates (FF) in 1975. These included:

  • USS McCandless (DE 1074)
  • USS Donald B. Beary (DE 1075)
  • USS Brewton (DE 1076)
  • USS Kirk (DE 1077)
  • USS Barbey (DE 1088)
  • USS Jesse L. Brown (DE 1089)
  • USS Ainsworth (DE 1090)
  • USS Miller (DE 1091)
  • USS Thomas C. Hart (DE 1092)
  • USS Capodanno (DE 1093)
  • USS Pharris (DE 1094)
  • USS Truett (DE 1095)
  • USS Valdez (DE 1096)
  • USS Moinester (DE 1097)

Some dramatic things were about to happen on the job.  As previously mentioned, I was normally assigned as the COMCRUDESLANT representative on the builders and acceptance trials and one of my assignments was to write a message to my boss summarizing the results of the trial. On three successive trials, we experienced ruptured boiler tubes. On two of these occasions, I was in the fire room next to the boilers when this occurred. Although nobody was injured, this was a serious situation. I did not like to be standing next to a 1200 psi boiler when parts started breaking, so I made a comment in my summary report that this was the third occurrence and something needed to be done. The results proved to be rather dramatic as a board of investigation from NAVSEA promptly arrived in town to look at the situation. Within a week, SUPSHIPS had been fired. I certainly did not intend anything like this to happen. Despite some initial difficulties with him, things had pretty well settled out by then and I did not bear any ill will toward him.

By now we were up to DE 1093 and it was the tenth ship to go through our FIT program. We had received letters of appreciation from just about every PCO that had passed through over the previous two years. But the future was still a bit uncertain because I failed selection for command again in 1973.

By December 1972, the last ship of the class, DE 1097, acquired a name (USS Moinester), but a PCO had not been named for it. We decided to attend the launching which took place in May 1973. But we had to leave before the ceremony when we found out that my sons had an altercation that resulted in a window being punched out in our house. Fortunately, neither was hurt. But we missed the launching. So 1973 came to a close. There was a lot of uncertainty with what 1974 would bring. Stay tuned. If this sounds like a soap opera, it came close to being one.

In January 1974, I received a letter from BUPERS. Much to my relief, it informed me that I had been screened for command. In April, I received my official orders as the PCO of the USS Moinester (DE 1097). The ship was due for commissioning in November. Its home port would be Norfolk, Virginia.

Robert W. Moinester (NAVSOURCE)

Robert W. Moinester (NAVSOURCE)

The USS Moinester (DE 1097) was named for Lieutenant jg Robert W. Moinester, a naval officer killed at age 24 in 1968 in Hue, South Vietnam during the Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese forces. After an investigation, I discovered that he was from Lynbrook, Long Island, New York. His mother, Gertrude, was the ships sponsor having broken the traditional bottle across the bow when the ship was launched in May of 1973.

Obviously, my first action would be to contact Robert’s parents, Gertrude and Bob Moinester. When I asked them who they would like for a commissioning ceremony speaker, they mentioned their local congressman. I asked them if they would like New York Senator James Buckley instead and they said that would be even better if I could pull it off. When I contacted the Navy Bureau of Public Affairs, the reply was in the affirmative. We were all delighted. I was required to attend a 3 week PCO course in Newport. So my family and I decided to go ahead and make the move to the Norfolk area, where the ship would be homeported.

I had to be back in New Orleans in June 1974, when the nucleus crew would be reporting. It consisted of six officers and 27 enlisted personnel. They would be trained by my FIT team, which would then be disbanded. The balance crew consisting of about 220 personnel would be assembled in July by the prospective executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Ted Fijak at the Naval Station in Norfolk.

The builders and acceptance trials both went very well. Before you knew it, the ship was ready for delivery. We sailed from Avondale on 14 October 1974. The ship was operated by the shipyard’s crew during the trip to Norfolk. In order to keep crew costs down by minimizing underway time, the builder normally made the delivery trip at 25 knots. This had backfired on USS Blakely when the ship ran down a sailboat. Fortunately, we arrived at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, without incident on 17 October where we would undergo a three-month fitting-out availability (FOA), the balance crew would be reporting, and the commissioning ceremony would be held in November. On arrival, the SUPSHIP representative gave me a Form DD 250 to sign. It was the receipt for material which was “One Destroyer Escort.” It was all in my hands now. I still have the form posted on the wall in my home.

The commissioning ceremony was held on 2 November 1974 at a pier downstream from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. There are some days in a person’s life when everything goes wrong. But there are also days where everything goes right. This was one of these days.

The commissioning went beautifully. My boss, RADM Wentworth, read the Navy Department orders and declared us to be in commission at which point we hoisted the ensign, jack, and commissioning pennant, I read my orders and assumed command of the ship. The crew then went aboard. Senator Buckley gave his speech. I then turned the podium over to the ship’s sponsor, Gertrude Moinester, and she made a very nice speech in which she declared that she considered herself to be “the mother of the ship.” The ceremony had to be considered successful in all respects and everyone enjoyed themselves very much. It had been an absolutely great day and it symbolized for me personally the motto found on our ship’s crest (designed by the wife of one of my FIT Team members) “The Sea is My Life.”

 USS Moinester (DE 1097) (NAVSOURCE)

USS Moinester (DE 1097) (NAVSOURCE)


Prior to getting underway for the first time, it was necessary to take certain ship handling characteristics peculiar to the Knox-class ships into account. A very valuable resource was a book entitled Ship Handling the DE 1052 Class. It was written by Cdr. S.D. Landersman, the commissioning commanding officer of USS Hepburn (DE 1055), under whom I had served as a department head aboard USS England (DLG 22) when he was the XO. Some of the significant issues that had to be addressed included:

  • The ships had large, 26-ton bow mounted sonar domes that were 20 ft. in diameter and protruded out laterally and ahead of the stem of the ship. It was absolutely vital that these not be dented or scraped in any manner, particularly in later years when these domes were back-fitted with acoustically transparent rubber “windows” that made the domes even more “tender”.
  • Each ship had only a single screw and rudder. While they responded well to ahead bells because of the propeller discharge against the rudder, they had very poor response to astern bells and the stern would invariably fall off to port.
  • For the above reasons port side landings and starboard side landings had to be approached very differently.
  • The ships had an unusual anchor configuration. They had an 8000 lb. “keel anchor” that dropped unseen from the centerline keel behind the sonar dome. There was also a 4000 lb. “lightweight Danforth style anchor” that was mounted near the bow on the port side of the main deck forecastle.
  • Because the sonar dome was leading the way anywhere the ship transited, increasing the navigational draft of the ship to at least 25 feet. I always required that any channel we passed through had a minimum depth of water of 30 feet.

The most significant decision that had to be made when entering or leaving port was what use to make of the tugs. That all depended totally upon the circumstances. In general, it was necessary to use pilot and tugs whenever we were unfamiliar with the port and in the case of our home port of Norfolk, there were cross currents in the Elizabeth River. In Norfolk, we normally landed bow out and starboard side to while making use of a docking pilot and one or two tugs. We found it useful to drop the port bow anchor on the way into the pier.  This allowed us to get underway without assistance by using the anchor to pull the bow out from the pier.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Our first underway period took place in January 1975. After a few days of around the clock steaming pier side in order to get the “feel of the ship” we proceeded up the York River to the Naval Weapons Station at Yorktown, VA for our initial weapons loadout. The evolution went quite smoothly. From there, it was off for a very intensive two-month period that included a Weapons System Accuracy Test (WSAT) at Port Everglades, Fla, shakedown training at the American Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO), naval gunfire support qualification at Vieques, and a port visit to Port Au Prince, Haiti. Our shakedown training included a wide variety of exercises. We found that we could we could accomplish most of our daily getting underway and landing evolutions which were mostly starboard side to, with assistance from a pusher boat without needing a pilot or tugs.

Our most memorable experience during this period occurred when we were conducting gunnery exercises with an aircraft towing a target far behind it on a wire. We were heading due east off the south coast of Cuba. All live firing was to be to the south away from the island.  After the “cease fire” call at the end of one firing run, the MK 68 gun director officer stated that he had a round still loaded in the gun barrel. This was a fairly common occurrence in the rapid fire, automatically loaded guns, and he requested permission to clear the barrel by firing through the muzzle in a safe direction. However as was standard routine up to that point at GTMO, the director continued to track the aircraft to the north on its way home. When I gave permission to fire that one round, the gun suddenly swung around to the north to align with the director and launched a 5” shell in the general direction of the Cuban mainland. My officer of the deck reported a splash in the water well short of land and I breathed a sigh of relief. I then proceeded to go stark raving mad and began screaming at the director officer and the weapons officer (then LT Charles T. Creekman). It turned out that the gunners mate in the gun mount had closed a switch that caused the gun to align with the director before firing the gun, the normal process when firing at a target but NOT when clearing the barrel!  Fortunately, no harm had been done and I calmed down. GTMO changed the exercise procedures for future such firing exercises.

We finished our Operational Readiness Examination at the end of Shakedown Training with an overall grade of 91 out of 100: an “excellent” rating which aptly described our first sustained operational period. We returned home in late March 1975. In April we passed our first Operational Propulsion Plant Examination (OPPE).

In May 1975, we entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a three-month post-shakedown availability (PSA). On completion of PSA, the major event was the installation of the AN/SQR 18 Tactical Towed Array System (TACTAS). This gave us a passive sonar capability by way of a long cable fitted with numerous hydrophones and attached to our SQR 35 variable depth sonar towed body or “fish” – which permitted us to stream the array up to 600 feet deep for best acoustic performance. The towed array’s purpose was to detect submarines at long ranges by listening for the broadband and discrete tonal frequencies emitted by the submarines propulsion system.

In August we formed a new anti-submarine warfare (ASW) squadron (DESRON 10) with the following members:

  • USS Moinester (FF1097) – Flagship – With TACTAS and helo
  • USS Connole (FF 1056) – with TACTAS and helo
  • USS Voge (FF 1047)- with ASW Tactical Data System (ASWTDS) and helo
  • USS Koelsch (FF 1049) – with ASWTDS and helo
  • USS McCloy (FF 1038) – with SQR 15 TASS (towed array sonar system), a critical angle towed array, much longer than our TACTAS but not as easily maneuverable as our array.

Each ship, with the exception of McCloy, was fitted with a LAMPS Mk. 1 Seasprite (SH-2) helicopter along with an appropriate aviation support detachment. The helicopters were an essential part of the ASW team. On occasion, we conducted ASW exercises in company with a P-3 ASW aircraft and US submarines (SSN) in direct support.

From that point on in the succeeding months leading up to deployment, our primary function was the technical and operational evaluation of our new equipment and conduct of ASW exercises. Our first stop was at the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) range, which was located in the Bahamas. The tests went quite well and we were ready for more exercises.

When I entered the navy in 1956 a big concern was that the Soviets had developed submarines that could outrun our destroyers and destroyer escorts. It soon became obvious that this problem could be overcome through the use of passive sonar detection and tracking. If a submarine tried to go fast to evade, it would light up the ocean and our helicopter would easily keep up with it. At the time this was a significant development in ASW.

As we were now the flagship of the ASW Squadron we had to provide accommodations for our squadron commander, Captain Don Cannell, COMDESRON 10 and his staff. The next few months remained very busy as they included more ASW exercises, an operational evaluation (OPEVAL), a nuclear weapons acceptance inspection (NWAI), our second successful OPPE, naval gunfire support (NGFS) qualifications, and a variety of other activities as we completed a Caribbean exercise (CARIBBEX 2-76) as our final evolution before deployment .

In April 1976, the ASW Squadron deployed to the Mediterranean as a group where we would serve as a unit of the Sixth Fleet. After INCHOP at Rota, Spain we conducted another ASW exercise and then had our first tender availability in Naples, Italy in May. From there we proceeded to the Ionian Sea for more ASW exercises with the USS America carrier task group before mooring in June in Brindisi, Italy.

I was due for rotation in June. My relief, Commander Haig Alemian, arrived by helicopter and the change of command took place at sea on 23 June 1976 after which I was transferred ashore by helicopter. From there I went up to Rome, where I met my family for a tour of Europe.

CDR Alemian actually grew up in the next town to me in Massachusetts. He made a very good impression on everybody. Tragically, he was killed about a year later while still in command of Moinester during the ship’s second deployment in a car crash outside Naples en route to a planning meeting for an upcoming exercise.

This concludes my personal experiences with USS Moinester. However, I still had plenty of connections to the Knox-class ships including the conduct of numerous inspections as a member of the Propulsion Examining Board between 1996 and 1999. When you added up the Knox-class ships that I had either served on or conducted inspections aboard it came out to 25 of the 46-ship class. I was very happy with the performance of all of the people I served with during that period.

In 1991, Moinester was re-designated as a training frigate (FFT) and assigned to reserve training duties in Norfolk. All of the Knox-class frigates were decommissioned between 1991 and 1994. Thirty of the ships were sold or transferred to foreign navies. Moinester is apparently still in service in the Egyptian navy as the frigate Rashid (F966) and USS Jesse Brown (FF 1089) is still serving as the frigate Domyat (F961). Both ships have been in service for over 40 years.

Note that Moinester was the last conventionally-powered combatant ship to enter service in the US Navy powered by oil-fired boilers and steam turbines. All subsequent surface combatants have been powered by gas turbines. The Knox-class frigates were succeeded by the 71 ships of the Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG 7)-class, the first of which entered service in 1977. All ships of this class have now been decommissioned, although 24 are still serving in foreign navies. We hope to follow this posting with one dealing with the Perry class ships.

Avondale shipyard has been closed since 2015 due to lack of business and it is listed for sale on the market.

As can be seen in the following illustration from a 1980s Navy Times feature, Moinester continued to be a leader in all phases of ASW development and was the recipient of numerous awards over the years.

(Navy Times)

(Navy Times)




George W. Stewart is a retired US Navy Captain. He is a 1956 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. During his 30-year naval career, he held two ship commands and served a total of 8 years on naval material inspection boards, during which he conducted trials and inspections aboard over 200 naval vessels. Since his retirement from active naval service in 1986 he has been employed in the ship design industry where he has specialized in the development of concept designs of propulsion and powering systems, some of which have entered active service. He currently holds the title of Chief Marine Engineer at Marine Design Dynamics.

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The Museum That Becky Built: A Personal Tribute to HRNM’s Becky Poulliot

HRNM Staff Photo, c. 2013 (HRNM Photo)

HRNM Staff Photo with Author James McPherson, c. 2013 (HRNM Photo)


By Matthew Eng

If you ever talk to a New York Yankees fan about their team, one of two things will happen. Undoubtedly, they will at first never shut up about how much better the Yankees are than YOUR favorite team (Go Nats). Said fan will then proceed to offer a long diatribe about the majesty of Yankee Stadium. They might talk about the smell of the stadium or all the iconic players that played there, most notably Babe Ruth. After all, Yankee Stadium is “The House That Ruth Built,” right?

Legends like Ruth live on long after they are gone, his memory and mythos built into the foundation of the team. Yankee Stadium was tangible evidence of his greatness. Anybody attending a game could not leave without recognizing it. The sport of baseball owes its success to Ruth, who carried the popularity of the sport on his shoulders throughout the “Golden Era” of Baseball history. Naval historians and museum professionals around the country owe the same debt of eternal gratitude to Mrs. Becky Poulliot, long-time director of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Becky is set to retire at the end of this month after nearly three decades of service to the Navy in Hampton Roads.

It is a bittersweet moment for me. I had the pleasure of working with Becky for seven years. I came to the museum in 2006. I was a wide-eyed 22-year old awaiting his fall semester in the MA program at ODU. I didn’t know what I wanted to study specifically beyond it having something to do with the U.S. Navy. That said, I didn’t expect to get the internship. I remember being so enthusiastic about the job, I crammed and tried to read every single page of every naval history book I had the night before. Nervous vomitous played a part in that morning’s routine. I recall stumbling through the interview; my enthusiasm overshadowed by my overwhelming nervousness. Thankfully, Becky took a chance and hired me for the summer. I’ll never forget it.

Marvel at my awkwardness. HRNM Summer 2016 Internship (Photo by Marta Joiner/HRNM)

Marvel at my awkwardness. HRNM Summer 2006 Internship (Photo by Marta Joiner/HRNM)

I cut my teeth in the field that summer. I gave tours aboard Battleship Wisconsin, conducted educational programs, and learned the general ropes of working as a museum educator. Throughout those few months, I would regularly meet with her in her office to talk about how it was going. She would also give me pointers and guidance to every question I had about working in a museum because I was completely unsure if it was a career I wanted to pursue. By the time I left HRNM to begin my fall semester at ODU, I was sold. I wanted to work in a museum. Specifically, I wanted to work there. I wanted to work for her.

So I came back the next summer. And the summer after that. I learned everything I know today about naval museums from working there. Every day was a new experience. Eventually, I worked my way up to a contractor position in the education department, ultimately leading to my three-year tenure as the museum’s Deputy Director of Education. None of that would have been possible without Becky.

As luck would have it, I got to work in the office directly across from her. I remember always peering in and seeing her on the phone with her headset. If anyone ever makes a statue of her, it would be in that posture for sure. She was always on the phone lobbying for the museum and its employees. I cannot stress how much she championed for her staff.

Becky was never the greatest naval historian in the world. She would be the first to tell you that. But she knew her museum and the artifacts housed inside of it down cold. She knew how to make such a small and specialized museum a source of pride for the Hampton Roads community. Under her tenure, the museum was successfully relocated to Nauticus in 1994 and saw the opening of USS Wisconsin as a U.S. Navy museum exhibit in 2000. Most notably, HRNM received accreditation from the American Association of Museums (now the American Alliance of Museums) in 2008 after a long and arduous process spearheaded by Becky.

Have you ever run a museum and a battleship successfully with less staff than you can count on two hands? I don’t think so. But Becky did. That battleship has sixteen inches of steel, but I’d venture to guess a shell would more easily break through that ship than her. The best part is she did it all with a smile and positive attitude.

Becky with volunteers Dick Hannah and Jim Reid at the famed "front desk duty" (HRNM Photo)

Becky with volunteers Dick Hannah and Jim Reid at the famed “front desk duty” (HRNM Photo)


I left the museum in late 2013 to begin work at the Naval Historical Foundation, a job I would not have dreamed to get without Becky’s guidance and mentoring. There isn’t enough time to talk about all of the amazing things I got to do while there. HRNM continues to collaborate with NHF on new partnerships, most notably the LEGO Shipbuilding Program. Although I do not work there anymore, I consider myself lucky to have been a part of it under her tenure.

I still catch myself saying “we” when referring to HRNM; an affectation I am still particularly proud to do. It’s not a mistake, it’s just a fact.

Just before I left HRNM in October 2013, I wrote a long post on Facebook dedicated to my coworkers there. With regards to Becky and her legacy, I had this to say:

“Without your ilk, the lights would go off on our naval history, and generations would lose a little something every year.”

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is “the museum that Becky built.” Becky was not around when the Hampton Roads Naval Museum began (she arrived in 1989 when HRNM was ten years old), but there is not a person who has ever worked with her that will tell you any different. Her blood, sweat, and tears are built into its walls. Like Ruth, the museum housed inside Nauticus is tangible evidence of her greatness, and the leadership she brought forth to her staff consistently since 1989. Indeed, naval history owes a debt of gratitude to Becky for her service. There are no monuments or statues to her memory there (yet) like Ruth. For anyone interested in working for a naval museum or studying naval history, I would suggest Becky’s leadership example as your syllabus. Although she never served in the Navy, I would go to battle with her any day.

I want to teach my six-month-old daughter about my love of naval history one day. I also want her to know about the people that helped shape my career in the field and made a positive and lasting impact on my life. The first person I will mention is Becky, and the first place I will want to show her is Becky’s house: The Hampton Roads Naval Museum. I am so proud to be part of that family.

Fair Winds to one of the strongest women I’ll ever know. Thank you so much for giving me a chance to pursue my dreams. Now get some rest…you’ve earned it!

 

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HELL BELOW (PART VI) Review: Fatal Voyage

Production still from “Hell Below” television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Production still from “Hell Below” television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White


Reviewed by Stephen Phillips

Read PART I review HERE
Read PART II review HERE
Read PART III review HERE
Read PART IV review HERE
Read PART V review HERE

The Smithsonian Channel ‘s Hell Below series provides an important look at World War II submarine warfare in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters with emphasis on actions by the U.S. and German navies.

“Part VI – Fatal Voyage” closes the series with a story of a boat, her captain, and includes all the key needed elements to fully encompass this topic. If Parallax Film Productions were to produce a single episode or if viewers must choose one of the six to watch, “Fatal Voyage” is it.

Captain Richard “Dick” O’Kane served as the commissioning and only commanding officer of USS Tang (SS-306) a Balao-class submarine. Though she had a short career, Tang and her crew were among the most lethal within the silent service.  During Tang’s first four patrols, she averaged one sinking every eleven days, totaling 17 ships and 72,000 tons. Tang is marked as only second during the war when measuring by the total number of ships sunk (24) or fourth if by total tonnage sunk (almost 94,000 tons). 1

Tang‘s success is in part because Commander Dudley “Mush” Morton  trained, guided, and mentored O’Kane during his tenure as Morton’s executive officer onboard USS Wahoo. Morton imbued his exec with an aggressive spirit and confidence that led to O’Kane becoming an innovative tactician.

Through the storyline, the audience learns that submarines during WWII spent most of their time and indeed would often attack while on the surface, diving only for stealth during approach and escape.

Captain O’Kane does employ his vessel’s unique capability to great advantage, often emerging from the deep at night, right in the midst of Japanese convoys. On more than one occasion O’Kane maneuvers so that Tang appears to be part of the Japanese formation before unleashing torpedoes in multiple directions, wreaking havoc and creating confusion before submerging again, allowing Tang and her crew to slip away.

On Tang‘s fifth and final patrol, her “Fatal Voyage,” she focused on Japanese shipping in the Formosa Strait.  In October 1944, she engaged a convoy, firing the last of her 24 torpedoes. This final shot malfunctioned, its fins causing it to racetrack right back into Tang‘s stern and detonated in her aft compartment.  O’Kane and three lookouts were thrown into the sea as the submarine sank. The rest of the disabled submarine’s crew found themselves fighting an “uphill” battle with Tang‘s stern on the bottom and her bow protruding from the surface. They decided to blow the air from the ballast tanks to allow the boat to sink, to dive one more time to avoid the enemy. The survivors prepared to evacuate through the forward escape trunk. Before emerging, Tang‘s crew endured one last series of depth charge attacks from the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Eventually, thirteen sailors attempted escape from a depth of 180 feet using the Momsen Lung. This was a self-contained re-breathing  device designed by Charles “Swede” Momsen, a diving officer who pioneered experimental diving, submarine rescue, and escape procedures. Momsen led the rescue and salvage of USS Squalus in May 1939 that is chronicled in The Terrible Hours. 2

Eight men made it to the surface, but three perished soon thereafter from the effects of battle and rapid pressure changes during ascent. The Japanese captured all of Tang‘s survivors. O’Kane and nine of Tang‘s crew served the rest of the war in a Japanese prison of war camp.

Tang‘s story is a hallmark of submarine service, a story told over and over again because of her actions against the enemy, her untimely self-inflicted destruction, and the fact that some of her crew escaped to tell the tale. This story is relayed in Silent Service Season 1, Episode 37 – “The Tang‘s Last Shot,” which featured Bob Denver as Tang crewmember ‘Murph” before his iconic role as Gilligan, and ended with brief words from an actual survivor, then Warrant Officer Floyd Caverly. 3

“Fatal Voyage” presents an accurate and engaging depiction of this important vessel , her crew, and their contribution to the United States Navy’s war in the Pacific. The narrative, animation, dramatized reenacting, and commentary from historians provides a multi-faceted view that is entertaining and informative. The program puts Tang‘s final mission into context, disrupting shipping in the Formosa Strait to erode Japan’s ability to thwart MacArthur’s invasion of the Philippines. Though Tang‘s demise came from her own MK 18 torpedo, the program rightly reviews the infamous struggle to convince the Bureau of Ordnance that the MK 14 torpedoes were of faulty design. Before delving into the crew’s escape, there is a brief review of submarine rescue, noting that Squalus was the only known rescue with include footage included. Perhaps most enjoyable to those with a seaman’s eye is that the reenactments are clearly conducted on a World War II-era sub, in fact USS Cod (SS-224).

“Fatal Voyage”  could only be strengthened by a discussion of O’Kane’s experience as a POW, even if just a short segment informing the audience that survival required not only escape, but enduring capture, internment, and torture and that he received the Medal of Honor for his service as Tang‘s commanding officer.

Commander Stephen Phillips, USNR-Ret, served in the U.S. Navy as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and Diving Officer.  He is the author of two works of naval fiction, Proximity and The Recipient’s Son. CDR Phillips is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.

  1. The Silent Service – “The Tang’s Last Shot,” Jean Yarborough (1957; New York: Twin Dolphins Productions Inc.)
  2. Peter Maas, The Terrible Hours (New York: Harper Collins, 1999).
  3. The Silent Service – “The Tang’s Last Shot.”

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HELL BELOW (PART V) Review: Destroyer Killer

Production still from "Hell Below" television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Production still from “Hell Below” television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White


Reviewed by Dr. Chuck Steele

Read PART I review HERE
Read PART II review HERE
Read PART III review HERE
Read PART IV review HERE

Episode five of the Smithsonian Channel’s World War II submarine saga, Hell Below, is the series’ second installment showcasing American efforts during the war in the Pacific. Titled the “Destroyer Killer,” this latest chapter deals specifically with Commander Sam Dealey and the fifth war patrol, May-July 1944, of the Gato-class submarine USS Harder. As was the case with episode three, “America Fights Back,” detailing the exploits of Lieutenant Commander Dudley “Mush” Morton during the third war patrol of the USS Wahoo, the producers offer a case study intended to draw attention to one officer’s tactical brilliance, while also illuminating some of the general conditions and concerns attendant upon the American conduct of submarine warfare.

As entertainment, the production team for this episode tells their story well. The show is suspenseful and conveys a sense of the harrowing nature of life in the submarine service. While the CGI scenes used to portray the submarine in the attack and under attack will be familiar to anyone who has watched the previous programs, the story is not harmed by these redundant images. The greater problem is that the story is perhaps too big for the 46 minutes allotted to its telling. Considering that the title for this installment is the “Destroyer Killer,” there is not much coverage of Dealey’s efforts in that endeavor. Indeed, there are descriptions of two destroyer sinkings in this program, but only one of those took place in the third patrol. Dealey and the Harder sank three destroyers on that famous patrol, but no mention is made of two of the three victims.

Despite the paucity of information on the destruction of Japanese destroyers, the show is full of action depicting a very eventful patrol. The real centerpiece of the program is Harder’s rescue of a team of Allied scouts from Borneo. In addition to that, Harder also played an invaluable role in gathering intelligence that was essential to Admiral Raymond Spruance in the run-up to the battle of the Philippine Sea. With so many things happening in a relatively short span of time, it is no wonder that this episode did not have a single focal point. In that regard, this case study, with its three storylines, does a commendable job in casting light on the versatility of the U.S. Navy’s submarine forces in the Pacific.

If one is interested in gaining a better understanding of the tactical level of war for those fighting beneath the waves in World War II, then this episode has value. The strategic stage is set early in the program and, unlike the episodes dealing with the battle of the Atlantic, the show does not discuss much regarding what would be deemed the operational level of war (most likely a function of the different character of the theaters and the navies involved). In episode five the show quickly progresses from a very brief overview of the war in the Pacific to the story of one sub conducting one patrol.

As with the other episodes in this series, there are many useful graphics to help understand how submarines such as the Harder functioned, and how they were combated. The graphics enhance insightful commentary from a host of authorities intent on addressing the action from both sides of the conflict. However, unlike the editions touching on the battle of the Atlantic, this episode is not as strong in detailing the enemy’s responses to the actions of the show’s protagonist. Professor Brian Hayashi does discuss Japanese efforts in the fight against the submarines, but his comments are general and tend not to address anything specific to the Harder’s patrol.

Regardless of the points of criticism raised in this review, this program’s merits significantly exceed its faults. Compared to other CGI-enhanced documentaries describing the Pacific War (Battle 360 and various episodes of Dog Fights come to mind), “Destroyer Killer” and Hell Below do an admirable job of story telling. The mix of CGI, re-enactors, and expert commentary blend remarkably well to provide a palpable sense of Dealey’s challenge. The show may not offer a complete account of the Harder’s fifth war patrol, but it does an excellent job of highlighting the exploits of a great commander, and a remarkable form of naval technology.

New episodes of Hell Below will air Sundays at 9 PM/ET on the Smithsonian Channel from 24 July to 21 August. Look for the other reviews here at NavyHistory.org. Go to the official Smithsonian website to view the episode guide.

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Godzilla: The “Lucky Dragon” of Bikini Atoll

the lucky dragon of bikini
EDITORS NOTE: Bikini Atoll remained a nuclear test site long after shot Able and Baker devastated USS Independence. Eight years after the Able and Baker detonations, the United States tested a dry fuel hydrogen bomb, code-named Castle Bravo, on 1 March 1954. Far more powerful than the MARK III bombs use din 1946, Castle Bravo led to the most significant radioactive contamination by the United States in its history. The fallout, as will be discussed in this article by Kelly Helm, had dire consequences. 

By Kelly J. Helm, M.A., M.L.I.S.

It is a peaceful night at sea on March 1, 1954. A group of Japanese sailors enjoy a bit of R&R on the deck of their ship; some play Go, a version of checkers, while others are playing harmonica and strumming guitars. It seems like all is well—until the Pacific begins to churn and bubble in the distance. There’s a bright flash of light and a loud boom; the ship immediately starts to capsize. Sailors leap overboard, and the radioman sends out a distress signal, but it’s already too late for the Daigo Eiko-Maru. The ship plunges to the bottom of the Pacific with the entire crew aboard, the water still churning and bubbling an eerie shade of whitish-grey.

Although it sounds like reality, this is the opening scene from Ishirô Honda’s 1954 classic Gojira, released in the United States in 1956 as Godzilla, King of Monsters with additional footage of Raymond Burr as an American reporter. This film—and its countless sequels, remakes, and spinoffs—continues to both frighten and entrance international audiences 62 years after its initial release. Honda stated years after making Godzilla that he “wanted to make radiation visible.” Thus, Godzilla was created to represent both the action and consequences of atomic bombs. Honda did not stop with this single symbol, though. He continues his anti-atomic weapon message throughout the film, or at least the original Japanese version, using both symbolism and parallelism to depict the horrors the Japanese lived through after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


The opening scene of Godzilla is an indirect connection to the United States’ atomic testing at the Marshall Islands. On the night of the March 1st test, the crew aboard the Daigo Fukuryu Maru, or Lucky Dragon No. 5, were fishing for tuna off the Bikini Atoll. The ship itself was approximately 85 miles from Castle Bravo’s detonation, making them outside of the blast zone anticipated by U.S. atomic testing experts. However, due wind and weather changes, and simply the limited knowledge of atomic bombs, a giant cloud of radioactive ash fell onto the boat at approximately 6:45am—three hours after the initial blast. Captain Hisakichi Tsutsui and his crew continued pulling in their fishing nets while the ash fell around them for five hours, then returned to their home port of Yaizu, Shizuoka, on March 14 with nine tons of unknowingly-radioactive tuna. The men already began showing symptoms of radiation sickness while at sea, and these were confirmed upon their return; both Chief Engineer Chuji Yamamoto and sailor Yuichi Matsuda chose to go to Tokyo for further treatment. Over the next several months, symptoms progressed for all 23 Lucky Dragon crewmembers, with one succumbing to the radiation in September 1954.

(Left) Daigo Fukuryu Maru in the early 1950s; (Right) Daigo Fukuryu Maru as museum ship in Tokyo. (Wikimedia Commons)

(Left) Daigo Fukuryu Maru in the early 1950s; (Right) Daigo Fukuryu Maru as museum ship in Tokyo. (Wikimedia Commons)


The story of the Lucky Dragon and her crew was highly publicized throughout Japan. Newspapers had reporters stationed both in Yaizu and in Tokyo, following American doctors and atomic experts who came to partner with Japanese medical staff to treat the Lucky Dragon’s crew. The media, however, became highly biased due to an internal tiff between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the University of Tokyo’s medical division, with newspapers forced to side with either the far-left or far-right. This lead to further publicity and an underpinning of anti-American sentiment due to cultural differences between the Japanese and American doctors when it came to bedside manner. The American doctors are portrayed as using the injured crewmembers as guinea pigs to see the consequences of radioactive ash; the doctors themselves maintained that they were on a humanitarian mission to save the 23 men.

Gojira 1954 Japanese poster (Wikimedia Commons)

Gojira 1954 Japanese poster (Wikimedia Commons)

Honda uses parallelism between the opening sequence of Godzilla set the anti-atomic war message shown throughout the rest of the film. With the plight of the Lucky Dragon’s crew, Bikini Atoll atomic testing, and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fresh in the Japanese mind, it goes without saying that the average filmgoer would immediately draw the necessary parallels between the opening sequence and current events. Honda would later state that he did not want to repeat the actual scene that took place on the Lucky Dragon; this would upset the filmgoers. Instead, he created the Daigo Eiko-Maru and her crew, setting the tone for the rest of the film.

Godzilla continues to discuss the consequences of atomic bombs in the rest of the film, or at least it does in the Japanese version. The original Japanese film was 98 minutes long; the American version, including 20 minutes of footage in which scenes including Raymond Burr were inserted or original footage was redubbed for U.S. audiences, was 80 minutes long. Some of the lost or redubbed moments include people comparing seeking shelter from Godzilla to Nagasaki, and a conversation between Ogata and Yamane about the results of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The American version also omits a key term: radiation. These alterations allegedly make the film more palatable for the American audience. However, the anti-American sentiment can still be seen in the American version if the viewer pays attention to detail.

This being said, Godzilla itself is not an anti-American symbol. Instead, as previously stated, the “King of Monsters” is the physical embodiment of radiation and atomic energy. It wreaks havoc throughout Japan mercilessly, yet does not show direct anger or hatred toward the Japanese. Godzilla moves like a wild creature, or wild energy, with a disregard for anything in its path of destruction. Atomic bombs function in the same way, annihilating anything within the blast radius. By personifying—or lizardifying—the images within Japan’s collective consciousness, the population as a whole could better cope with the lingering consequences of atomic radiation.


Kelly Sirles Helm is the daughter of a sailor and holds the deepest regard for all giant city-trampling monsters. She holds an M.A. in English Literature from Arcadia University and an M.S. in Library Science from Long Island University. 

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USS Independence (CVL 22) and “Operation Galvanic”

By John G. Lambert

The speed that the Japanese moved their battle flag outward across the curvature of the planet was spectacular as the Empire of Japan settled into vast new ocean area holdings.

With the rapidly amassed list of these gains came a growing list of problems to weigh heavily on the balance sheet. Vast distances created difficulties in defending the widely disbursed Japanese forces where a massive ocean area could easily conceal a large, focused, and overwhelming U.S. Carrier Task Force. Japan’s problems were further compounded by their failure to keep pace with wartime production, replacement, and training needs. The island nation lacked an adequate supply of oil, raw materials, and food (and vessels to import them) at the sustained pace that the war, which they started, now demanded. Admiral Yamamoto predicted from the onset that Japan’s chances of victory were grim in a lengthy conflict.

The early months of 1942 had gone well, and “Victory Disease” took hold as Japan rampaged on its offensive. However, Japan’s disastrous carrier aviation losses at Midway, along with their inability to hold Guadalcanal, turned the tide for the United States. Japan was now in an unthinkable defensive posture as 1942 rolled over into 1943. Nevertheless, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was still mighty and highly dangerous.

The war for the United States in 1942 was marked by crisis and disaster, starting with the blood bath of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The Japanese Navy sent numerous hulls to the bottom in raging battles fought in 1942. By the end of the year, the United States would suffer the loss of four fleet carriers, leaving only the overworked Saratoga and Enterprise in the Pacific.

U.S. industrial production ramped up, and nine Independence-class carriers were commissioned in 1943. An expedient of war rushed into action as shipyards built the new large Essex-class fleet carriers, USS Independence (lead ship in her class) was a fast and scrappy light carrier converted from CL 59 (light Cleveland-class cruiser USS Amsterdam). The conversion began during Amsterdam’s construction almost to her main deck at the NYSB yards in Camden, NJ, when the IJN struck Pearl Harbor.

USS Independence (CV 22) as first launched (later redesignated CVL 22)

USS Independence (CV 22) as first launched (later redesignated CVL 22)


In late August and early October 1943, USS Independence earned the first of her eight Battle Stars (“Pacific Raids”) in the training raids on Japanese-held Marcus** and Wake Islands. The U.S. Navy learned to fight with the two new classes of carriers as they became available to enter the war, coupled with the learning of an efficient use of Carrier Task Groups, with Grumman’s new aircraft designs on her flight deck. (**First use of the F6F Hellcat in combat against Japan.)

USS Independence earned a second Battle Star (“Treasury -Bougainville Operation”) on its path toward the Gilbert Islands as Admiral Chester Nimitz began his ocean drive on “The Road to Tokyo.” Rabaul was a major base and significant threat that needed to be neutralized. Independence participated in the raid on the Japanese base at Rabaul on 11 November with new Essex-class carriers USS Essex and USS Bunker Hill.

Steaming with the Southern Carrier Task Group 50.3 with Rabaul on her stern, CVL 22 paid dearly for her third Battle Star (“Gilbert Islands Operation”) with crew fatalities and torn steel that took her out of the war for eight months.

Tarawa is in the Gilbert Islands group on the eastern line of the Japanese outer ring of island holdings. Japan captured Tarawa and Makin Islands two days after Pearl Harbor. The coral atoll is roughly 2,400 miles southwest of Oahu. The Navy tasked Rear Admiral C.A. Powell with the occupation of the Gilberts. A centerpiece of the operation was the Marine Corps and Army landings on Tarawa and Makin Islands scheduled for November 20, 1943, with Apamama on the 21st.

Makin Atoll is north of Tarawa, and Apamama lies south. All three possessed airfields. The Independence Air Group planned to strike targets in support of the invasion and fly CAPs (Combat Air Patrols).

The following are brief glimpses/excerpts of the action:

On Tuesday, November 16th, the Task Group took on fuel from the tanker USS Neshanic and steamed toward the Gilberts, spotting lights in the distance from US-held Funafuti Island (Ellice Island group) at 1844 (6:44 PM local time) as Independence steamed past. The Japanese would send an air raid against Funafuti later that evening.

The following day, a Japanese sub was said to have been sighted roughly 50 miles from the Task Group, and the Independence passed slower transports carrying US troops for the invasion.

Thursday 18 November 1943: DOG DAY (MINUS TWO) TARAWA

Independence was in good company, with carriers Essex, Bunker Hill, cruisers Oakland, Chester, Salt Lake City and Pensacola, and the screening group Fletcher-class destroyers; Bullard, Chauncey, Erben, Hale, and Kidd.

At 0315, Flight Quarters sounded. Preparations were made to launch aircraft for attacks on Tarawa. The Attack Plan for the Independence Air Group was to carry out the following schedule on both 18 and 19 November:

TIMETYPE # of A/CMISSION
415F6F-3 8Strike #1
415F6F-3 8C.A.P. #1
430 F6F-3 8Strike #2
430 TBF-1 9Strike #2
945 F6F-3 12Strike #4
945 TBF-1 9Strike #4
1120 F6F-38C.A.P. #3
1330 F6F-3 8C.A.P. #5

All Hellcats were loaded with 2400 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition. Those assigned C.A.P. would carry belly tanks with extra fuel. Those Hellcats assigned with strikes scheduled to launch with only 250 Gallons of fuel.

Avengers launched with 300 gallons of fuel. They were armed with twelve 100lb. GP bombs or 12 incendiary clusters. VF-6 and VF-22 pilots flew Hellcats and VC-22 aviators flew Avengers.

The first strike began at 0559 with strafing aircraft making runs from 4,000’ down to 200.’ Avengers with bombing assignments approached at 6,000’ releasing their ordnance from 1,500’ to 1,000.’ Targets included aircraft, buildings, AA weapons, munitions, fuel storage and supplies.

Hellcats assigned as CAP would proceed to make strafing runs against AA positions once they had been relieved before returning to the ship. Four Avengers and four Hellcats received battle damage, repaired aboard the ship by busy mechanics. Damage to three of the Avengers was caused by the incendiaries being blown back by the slipstream into the bomb bay windows upon release. An Avenger took a nasty 20mm AA hit to one wing. AA guns were silenced, but considerable machine gun and rifle fire were encountered by pilots coming from areas around the runways and taxiway. In all, 18,760 rounds of .50 Cal were expended by the twenty-two Independence VC-22 and VF-6 Hellcats.

At 0743, USS Erben made a submarine contact and dropped eight depth charges.

At 0945, Independence commenced launching Strike Four consisting of twelve Hellcats and eight Avengers. Strike Four would also be joined by aircraft from Essex and Bunker Hill for additional attacks on Bititu. The eight VC-22 Avengers would each carry four 500 pound AN–MK43 GP bombs. They planned to hit buildings, machine gun emplacements and covered artillery positions. Fighters strafed AA positions near the runway, along the south shore and the pier area. Fighters from another carrier bagged a Pete (5 to 10 miles west of Tarawa).

Map of Tarawa Atoll. Bititu Island (Betio Island) on lower left side of the drawing.

Map of Tarawa Atoll. Bititu Island (Betio Island) on lower left side of the drawing.


During the evening, large groups of Japanese aircraft (30-40 bombers and torpedo planes) approached from 50 miles out to try to locate the fleet. Cruiser and destroyer guns opened up at night when aircraft got close using anti-aircraft fire, but the carrier guns remained silent so gun flashes would not give their positions away to the enemy. It would be a nervous night aboard Independence.

Friday 19 November 1943: DOG DAY (MINUS ONE) TARAWA

Flight Quarters sounded at 0315. At 0435, they commenced launching Strike One, VF-22 flying six Hellcats, 95 miles from Tarawa. The sea was moderate with winds from 105°T, visibility ten miles, ceiling unlimited with two-tenths sky cover. Five minutes later, Strike Two launching commenced. VC-22 launched six Avengers, and VF-6 launched six Hellcats. The targets once again were on Bititu. As on the previous day, aircraft launched from Essex and Bunker Hill would strike their targets at almost the same time.

Pilots again strafed buildings and the pier area. Two Avengers returned with AA damage that was repaired aboard the ship.

Bititu (Betio) under attack. The Pier area is in the foreground. (US Navy photo: Scanned by John G. Lambert)

Bititu (Betio) under attack. The Pier area is in the foreground. (US Navy photo: Scanned by John G. Lambert)


At 0616, radar contact was made on a bogey 29 miles from Independence. Four Essex fighters vectored to intercept. They shot down one Betty Bomber 35 miles from Independence.

At 0805, word came to cancel Strike #4 and maintain deck spot for A.S.P. (Anti-Submarine Patrol) and C.A.P. Belly tanks were installed on all Hellcats for extra fuel.

0815. Four F6F Hellcats from VF-22 were scrambled. A bogey was picked up, bearing 163°T, 36 miles. The pilots of all four Hellcats almost immediately dropped their belly tanks after launch and joined up. Vectored by the FDO, they sighted the Betty 25 miles south of Independence. The dark olive drab Betty zeroed in on Independence to deliver a torpedo attack, flying at roughly 200 knots and 1,000’. The two sections of Hellcats maneuvered in from 4,000’ to bracket the twin engine Betty.

Lt. Clement M. Craig made the first high-side run, knocking out the tail gunner. Ens. Edward C. Dale made a similar run from the opposite side of the Betty, which made a diving 90° turn for the water. Dropping quickly to 50 feet above the surface, it released its torpedo, gaining speed as it shed the weight. Ens. Dale, breaking off his run at the last second, barely avoided the water.

Lt.(jg) Robert A. Richardson and Lt.(jg) James H. Roberts made flat runs on either side of the Betty. Lt. Craig and Ens. Dale then made similar firing passes. Lt. Craig observed fire from the engines as he completed his attack. An explosion followed in the engine area. The doomed Betty crashed into the sea and burned. The victors circled the burning wreckage for 30 seconds, received another vector and departed, as two late arriving Essex F6F’s strafed the slick where the Betty submerged.

Independence launched a CAP of eight Hellcats at 1334 and would begin recovering them at 1750.

The day progressed into night.

Saturday 20 November 1943: Tarawa (Invasion) – Torpedoed

At 0415, Independence sounded general quarters. At 0538, they commenced catapulting strike #1 (Four Avengers), followed by twelve Hellcats.

Between 0715-0721, a second wave of four Avengers and eight Hellcats were launched. The F6F-3 Hellcats were tasked with a CAP over T.U 50.3.1. Visibility was estimated to be 6-8 miles under high scattered stratus at 20,000.’

A Betty was sighted flying low at 100’ off the water by a division led by Lt. Cdr. Harry Harrison. The four Hellcats dropped in from 2,000’ and bracketed the Betty flying at an estimated 230 knots. Harrison and his wingman Lt.(jg) Robert Klingler were on the starboard side as Lt.(jg) Alex Vraciu and his wingman Ensign Robert Bloomfield crossed over the Betty which dropped to 50’ and began making a slow turn to the left. This set up Vraciu and Bloomfield, to make flat side runs on the twin-engine bomber. Low to the water, the Betty dropped its torpedo to gain speed and maneuverability. It didn’t help. Vraciu saw a glow from the wing root just before the Betty hit the water.  (Note: Alex Vraciu was to become one of the US Navy’s leading aces with 19 kills to his credit. Alex served with Lt. Cdr. Edward “Butch” O’Hare as his wingman in VF-6 aboard CVL 22 until O’Hare was transferred off to USS Enterprise. (O’Hare, the Navy’s first ace, was KIA six days after the Japanese torpedo hit CVL-22)

Independence recovered the first wave of Hellcats and Avengers from 1144-1154.

At 1336, Independence commenced launching a C.A.P. of eight Hellcats, followed by three Avengers for A.S.P. at 1425.  At 1452-1458, four Avengers from the 1144 launch were recovered.

1625. On a course of 330°T, all engines were signaled ahead flank speed. The Landing Signal Officer reported a submarine periscope in the Mighty-I’s wake, distance 2,000 yards, bearing 170°T. They dispatched USS Kidd for hunter-killer operations against the sub. This sub hunt would displace Kidd from her regular screening position. At 1732, the Independence commenced zigzagging 5° left and 5° right of base course, 100°T at 20 knots. The ship darkened at 1750.

At 1754, Independence ceased zigzag, on a new course of 115°T. Minutes later, she recovered her C.A.P. of eight Hellcats.

1758. Course 100°T. A radio warning received by C.I.C. from Lt. Harold McMillan (VC-22) flying on A.S.P. in his Avenger, informed the ship of a large group of low-flying Bettys approaching very low to the water from the west, avoiding radar detection. They sighted fifteen Betty Bombers approaching disposition on the starboard beam bearing approximately 250°T, distance seven miles, altitude 200’ flying at high speed.

The USS Bunker Hill had a C.A.P. in the air at 10,000.’ They attacked the Bettys at 9 miles out claiming two shot down and three probable.

General quarters sounded at 1800, set material condition Afirm and broadcasted the visual contact over T.B.S. (Talk Between Ship). All Damage Control Personnel were moved up to at least above the second deck due the threat coming from a torpedo attack. They donned helmets, flash proof clothing & gloves, and were ordered to lie prone on the deck.

Independence went to flank speed, commenced maneuvering various courses to avoid torpedo attack. The ship made a turn with 20° left standard rudder, to present a stern attack to the oncoming enemy. She steadied up at approximately 50° and commenced turning to the right with standard rudder to avoid enemy planes working around ahead. She steadied up to approximately 100°T and commenced turning left.

The Bettys were deployed in a line when they appeared over the horizon, heading for the Task Group, then made a big circular sweeping turn in toward Independence.

Three of the Bettys broke off from the group to attempt to get ahead of the ship. One of the Bettys in this group of three was shot down.

Twelve of the Bettys turned in and began to close on the Independence. The Bettys flew into a hail of AA. Independence gunners opened up with nine twin 40mm, two quad 40mm, and sixteen single 20mm guns. Six Bombers were shot down by ships guns. Two on the port side, four on the starboard side. Three of the attacking Bettys got to within 100 yards or less. Three other Bettys were shot down by other ships, and one was shot down by a fighter. A number of the Bettys absorbed a lot of damage before being splashed. Four burst into flames as they hit the water.

Japanese Betty bomber about to impact the water. (Showing damage to vertical stabilizer from Independence AA fire)

Japanese Betty bomber about to impact the water. (Showing damage to vertical stabilizer from Independence AA fire)

1806. Sighted a torpedo wake approaching from the starboard quarter on a 140° track angle, the ship on a course of approximately 060°T and commenced turn to port. The ship, at high power, with all boilers in line, was making approximately 30 knots.

1807. A Japanese torpedo struck the Independence at frame 103 on the starboard side, roughly 8-12 feet below the water line, flooding after engine room and vicinity. Radio Central lost all receiver power. It shifted to emergency power. Radio II also lost power and lighting. It filled with suffocating smoke. TBS became unreliable. Radio IIA lost power and lighting, flooded with oil and water and had to be abandoned. The TAQ, TBK and the TBM transmitters were rendered inoperative.

All ventilation was secured except for Sickbay, Radar Plot, and the engineering spaces.

Independence began to list and slowly went over to twelve degrees starboard, then quickly righted itself to a seven-degree starboard list. Engineering Department commenced immediate measures to correct the list. The Flight Deck Crew began repositioning aircraft to attempt to help, using aircraft on the flight deck as ballast. Eventually, the list corrected to three degrees to port.

Many compartments below the third deck were flooded between frames 91 and 113, with the third deck flooding to 5 or 6 feet between those frames.

Photo 5

Damage from torpedo delivered by a Betty bomber.

The after engine room filled with heavy black smoke, some flame, lighting was lost, and it flooded to the overhead. It was abandoned with both throttles open, without loss of life. Boilers No.3 & No.4 boilers had to be secured and they flooded with sea water.

The after fire room began flooding slowly (water coming from the after engine room), but was brought under control by lowering emergency pumps down into the space, and rigging emergency power leads for the pumps. Water settled to below the lower grating level with the additional aid of a fire and bilge pump. Bulkheads were shored up and leaks were plugged. (The compartment was emptied of water within eight hours.)

A fire had started burning when oil ignited floating on top of the water in compartment C-301-L. As the compartment continued to flood, the fire self-extinguished due to the inrushing seawater. The compartment was completely open to the sea due to the explosion.

The sprinkling system was activated when the explosion occurred to prevent fire in the hangar bay. It was shut off when it became evident that there was no longer a hazard.

The explosion caused the loss of steering control on the bridge, as well as loss of communication with aft steering. Steering was operated from an alternative feed aft. Steering was facilitated using magnetic compass, using telephone communication to Central Station from the bridge, out to the CPO mess room, and from there by word of mouth to the after steering station. She was making four to five knots at 160 RPM.

USS Independence limped on with forward engine room steam provided by No. 1 & 2 boilers.

Within minutes of the explosion, the No. 1 shaft began a heavy vibration. It rapidly broke in two and was secured. Independence now had only No. 4 shaft available.

The after gyro compass room was flooded to the overhead. The forward gyro compass was knocked out.

1810. Radio II, now filled with smoke, was abandoned on orders from Central Station.

1812. A TBY transmitter was setup on the bridge as a standby for the TBS.

1820. Emergency power failed in Radio Central, to be restored 15 minutes later.

1833. Sighted submarine on port bow, distance about 300 yards. Independence gunners opened fire on the sub. Radio communication was not available as radio circuits were inoperative. USS Hale dropped one depth charge on the contact.

1850. Independence steamed on an easterly course (after the explosion) at a speed of four to five knots.

1935. Speed 13.3 knots making full speed on No.4 propeller shaft, turning 255 RPM. This speed would be maintained for 48 hours. Steering 180°T (still by magnetic compass, using telephone communications from the bridge, to central station, to the CPO mess room, and from there by word of mouth to the after steering station).

2015. Forward gyro back in commission.

2047. Ship on even keel.

2235. Regained steering control from the Pilot House. Heavy cruiser Pensacola, with destroyers Kidd and Hale, stood by Independence and escorted her out of danger.

Post-war interrogation of IJN Commander Goro Matsuura indicates that sixteen Japanese aircraft participated in the raid. They were said to have flown 600 miles directly from Wotje, with a loss of eight aircraft in the attack. (Note: Morrison, Vol. VII suggests that half were from Roi, half from Maloelap.)

** The Betty raid was part of the IJN 775th Air Group that was night trained: Lieut. Nobuki Miyamae led the First Squadron; Lieut. Yoshiaki Akiyama led the Second Squadron. Neither survived. (** Source: “Titians of the Seas” – Belote & Belote)\

The explosive force of the blast, coupled with the hydraulic action of the water displaced vertically against the hull would rip loose the No.7 gun tub with the heavy twin 40mm anti-aircraft gun and its gun crew, sent everything flying from its former position on the starboard side (aft of the stacks) over the flight deck depositing mangled carnage along its path, grazing the port side of the ship, into the ocean, disappearing beneath the surface.

The ships company would suffer a loss of seventeen killed or missing in action, with twenty-three men additionally wounded, to be transferred to other ships for medical treatment.

Initially escorted out of the area by USS Pensacola, USS Hale and USS Kidd, wounded Independence began its slow tortured journey to Funafuti Atoll on one screw.

Independence dropped her port anchor in 25 fathoms of water, coral bottom, 90 fathoms of chain, berth Baker 13, Funafuti Atoll, Ellice Islands at 1139 on 23 November 1943.

Also anchored in the lagoon at Funafuti Atoll was USS Vestal. It was fortuitous that she had steamed in yesterday.

Vestal had been moored outboard, next to USS Arizona on December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. Damaged from the horrific blast when Arizona’s magazines blew up, and additionally, also being hit by Japanese bombs, Vestal was repaired and returned to duty. With Cmdr. W.T. Singer at the helm, Vestal was now about to help obtain partial payback for her wounds at Pearl by helping the Mighty-I stay off the bottom, with her hard-working crew, doing what they could to patch up the Independence. Temporary repairs in the initial effort to return the CVL 22 back into the war.

Repair ship USS VESTAL.

Repair ship USS Vestal.


USS Independence would limp onward to Pearl Harbor for additional temporary repairs, to better enable her to make the passage to Hunters Point, San Francisco Bay, where ship yard workers would toil to return the proud lady back into the vast Pacific conflict. She still had 5 more Battle Stars to earn and history to be written as she was about to become our nation’s first dedicated night aircraft carrier on her long and winding “Road to Tokyo!” She would lose 52 shipmates and aviators in the conflict.

Painting of the USS Independence by G.R Mackey.

Painting of the USS Independence by G.R Mackey.


(Technically incorrect are the markings for the Wildcat for the period, and the CVL 22 had Hellcats aboard then, a nice painting just the same. This would be the new Measure 33 camouflage paint scheme the ship sported as she reentered the war in mid-1944, her torpedo damage repaired, on her new assignment as a dedicated night carrier.)

For a more detailed read of the USS Independence, go to the author page HERE:

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USS Independence (CVL 22) and Operation Crossroads

CVL-22 shipmates at their 2009 reunion with the two Captains of the new USS Independence LCS-2. (Photo by: John G. Lambert)

CVL-22 shipmates at their 2009 reunion with the two Captains of the new USS Independence LCS-2. (Photo by: John G. Lambert)


By John G. Lambert

As they shaved in their hotel rooms in eager anticipation of the opening day of the “2009 USS Independence Reunion”, the mirrors reflected back faces of shipmates aged by the passage of over 65 years since, as young men, at war in the Pacific, they had crewed the “Mighty-I.” Father time had aged their bodies, and taken all too many of their friends, but the esprit de corps remained.

Battered by the ongoing erosion of the group’s size as nature took its toll, the notable absence of friends  was additionally impacted by the fact that their ship was gone, as were her eight siblings. Not a single example of her historic class of fast light aircraft carrier, that so ably and proudly served our nation in time of dire need, was to have survived as a historical naval museum ship. No … Their ship, the USS Independence CVL-22, lead ship in her class, was sunk by our very own navy.

The ship they had collectively earned Eight Battle Stars upon, endured the pain of the loss of shipmates when torpedoed at Tarawa, reentered the war as our nation’s first dedicated night carrier, survived ravaging typhoons that would send other ships to the bottom, made history and helped establish naval doctrine, supported the invasion of the Philippines (rushing off with Halsey to meet Ozawa in the “Battle of Leyte Gulf”), witnessed the terror of kamikaze attacks off Okinawa, made strikes on Formosa, Indochina, and Japan to name only a brief few of their contributions to the war effort. And their own navy would sink her. Why “their” ship?

CVL-22 home from the war (Photo: US Navy from NARA College Park, MD)

CVL-22 home from the war (Photo: US Navy from NARA College Park, MD)


The Independence was an expedient of war, at a time of dire need. Not a carrier purpose built from keel up, as the new Essex-class carriers were, the USS Independence was fabricated almost to the main deck as the USS Amsterdam CL-59 (Light Cruiser) prior to 7 December 1941. While the “Battleship Navy” hemorrhaged in the silt of Pearl Harbor after the attack by Japan, a “Stop Work” order was issued at the NYSB yard in Camden NJ. The conversion began from fast light cruiser to fast light aircraft carrier. It was a “make-due” design to rapidly fill the carrier shortage, in what was a seemingly ongoing crisis in the Pacific. Four of our fleet carriers were sunk in 1942, added to a host of other losses, leaving only the overworked Enterprise and Saratoga to help fend off the mighty Japanese fleet, until the new large and complex Essex-class carriers could be floated and made operational for war. As a result, the Independence-class, rushed into the conflict, had its share of shortcomings. By the end of the Pacific war, enough of the Essex- class had been built by our nations amazing wartime production that the CVLs would not for long, fit within the needs and constraints of the downsizing peacetime navy budget.

After the surrender of Japan, the CVL-22 was returning to the US from the second of two “Magic Carpet” runs (bringing troops home from the Pacific) when new orders were issued to serve as a target vessel at Bikini Atoll in “Operation Crossroads.” This was to study the effects a new class of weapons, the Atomic Bomb, might have on a fleet of naval vessels. It would further the understanding of the aftereffect of weapons such as “The Gadget” that vaporized the tower at the “Trinity” test site (first detonation of a nuclear device), and the weapons dropped on Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The USS Independence would have “guest of honor” front row seating (more properly…anchorage positioning) close to the primary target vessel USS Nevada.

As only a very brief overview of the massive operation, four blasts would be planned, three carried out:

The first, a test blast (“Queen” – an air burst) with a 2,000-pound conventional fragmentation bomb (dropped from a B-29) would precede the “Able” nuclear device. This was to test instruments and assure readiness for the “Able” test.

The “Able” device (the same type weapon used for “Trinity” and Nagasaki) would also be an air burst. Dropped from a B-29 (“Dave’s Dream”), Major Howard Wood released a MK3A twenty-one kiloton “Fat Man” type bomb on 1 July 1946. It would detonate roughly 520 feet above sea level over the target fleet (roughly 90 vessels) within the atoll’s lagoon. The bomb had drifted off target as it descended, bringing it closer to the Independence than planned. The blinding flash from the detonation was rapidly followed by a searing heat and damaging shockwave that radiated out from the core of a rapidly expanding circular globe of destruction that transitioned into an angry boiling vertical column as it climbed skyward to form a colossal mutant cauliflower shaped mushroom cap as it zoomed toward the stratosphere. More than 10,000 measuring devices including 200 cameras were said to have been utilized to monitor the blast.

Some of the target fleet succumbed to the shock and brutality of “Able” and found refuge on the bottom of the lagoon. The “Mighty-I”, tortured and horribly disfigured by the blast, remained defiantly afloat. But her fate was now sealed.

The blast was approximately 60 degrees to the port (left) side of her stern. The pressure wave from the blast hit her aft and progressed rapidly forward along long high flat side of her mass (along her port side), slightly twisting the hull from the uneven stress as the force progressed rapidly forward. The pressure wave entered the hangar bay and blew upward both aircraft elevators (not to be seen again) and pushed upward and outward on the hangar bay structure. Roll-up steel side curtains (doors) were torn away, and the center of the flight deck structure was displaced vertically, with massive steel cross girders bent upward as much as 6 feet (at their centers) causing the flight deck to take on the “A” shaped appearance of a house roof. Below the waterline, much survived with little effect from the blast in comparison to the damage above, but the vessel was no longer an effective aircraft carrier, and could not have returned fight to an enemy in time of war. The critical boiler rooms were saved from damage from the pressure wave when the four uptakes (rectangular stacks) were folded over, thereby protecting the boiler rooms from damage from over pressurization.

CVL-22 flight deck damage from the "Able" blast (as described above). The ships island and crane are behind and on the right side of the worker. (Photo:  Scan by John G. Lambert at NARA San Bruno, CA on the 2015 Independence mission.)

CVL-22 flight deck damage from the “Able” blast (as described above). The ships island and crane are behind and on the right side of the worker. (Photo:  Scan by John G. Lambert at NARA San Bruno, CA on the 2015 Independence mission.)


On July 4th, Captain Kindell led a team of 13 officers and 28 enlisted men to reboard the ship, accompanied by one “Radiological Monitor.” A team from the USS Burleson would also board to inspect, photograph and remove animals, while the Independence team checked seaworthiness, surveyed damage, and made her ready for the “Baker” Test.

July 25, 1946, was the day of the “Baker” blast. No B-29 would appear to drop the weapon. Instead, the bomb was suspended in the water 90 feet below the lagoon surface beneath LSM-160.   Sixty-eight target vessels were at their moorings, and twenty-four smaller vessels were beached inside the atoll. The large test support fleet was roughly 16 miles upwind (outside the atoll) from the device.

Independence was moored only 1390 yards from “Surface Zero.” At 0835 a blinding flash was followed by an expanding globe of water, superheated steam, expanding rapidly upward as it rose thousands of feet high and “at its base a tidal wave of spray and steam rose to smother the fleet”. It was this radioactive spray of water containing a mix of sand, coral from the bottom of the lagoon, mixed with and debris from the nuclear device that would cause more problems than anticipated. “Eight ships including SARATOGA were sunk, eight more seriously damaged”. With far more radioactive contamination than had been anticipated, “For all but 12 target vessels, the target fleet remained too radiologically contaminated to allow more than brief onboard activities”.

The "Baker" blast, "Operation Crossroads." (Photo: US Navy) 

The “Baker” blast, “Operation Crossroads.” (Photo: US Navy)


USS Independence survived! The planned “Charlie” underwater detonation was canceled due to problems from the “Baker” detonation. An effort was made to effect decontamination procedures and techniques, but the waters of the Bikini Atoll lagoon remained too hot, and use of lagoon water was self-defeating for decontamination efforts.  Additionally, the support fleet was also becoming contaminated, so the decision was made to move the “study” vessels to Kwajalein “where they could be serviced in uncontaminated water”.

Following initial studies at Kwajalein a number of surviving vessels were returned to Hawaii and the United States for further inspection and studies. Decommissioned at Kwajalein Atoll on 22 August 1946, the “ex-Independence” was towed to San Francisco by ocean tugs USS Hitchiti and USS Pakana, arriving at Hunters Point on 16 June 1947.

At Hunters Point the navy would establish the NRDL – Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, to study the aftereffect of the atomic bombs on the target vessels, and devise methodology for decontamination. Hunters Point was chosen for the location of the NRDL in part due to the close proximity to Berkeley and Stanford Universities, with its plethora of specialized scientists and physicist, that had helped to develop the atomic bomb.

Some machinery was eventually removed from Independence for reuse, with those components not having any levels of radiation to be deemed a hazard, such as its turbines and boiler condensers, which were sent to Point Mugu for use for steam powered generation plants.

With studies completed at the end of 1950, a determination was made to dispose of the “ex-Independence”. It was deemed that the cost and effort to further decontaminate her, compounded by the depressed value of steel scrap at the time made it more practical to tow her out and scuttle the vessel.

The Independence was loaded with radioactive waste “from the NRDL, and other generators”, (the University of California Rad Lab among them).

She would travel under the Golden Gate Bridge to sea once again, this the last time under tow with Task Group 98.5.  Independence would be towed out to near the Farallon Islands.

USS Independence being made ready by two tugs to be towed out and scuttled. (Photo from: John G. Lambert supplied courtesy of the US National Park Service, San Francisco CA)

USS Independence being made ready by two tugs to be towed out and scuttled. (Photo from: John G. Lambert supplied courtesy of the US National Park Service, San Francisco CA)

On 26 January 1951, a navy explosives team would place two charges on the keel centerline. At 0952 the charges were fired, and by 1024, having rolled on her port side and sinking by the stern, she would disappear from view leaving only a temporary boil on the surface, seagulls circling overhead.

Without ceremony, the “Mighty-I” had been committed to the floor of the vast Pacific. She settled on the bottom in roughly 2,700 feet of water about 30 miles off Half Moon Bay, California, with her new cargo of radioactive waste.

Eight Battle Stars were hard earned in the great Pacific war. Fifty-two young men were lost, KIA or MIA while serving aboard her, of the over roughly 3,800 that had served aboard or flew from her flight deck. In addition, she had made two “Magic Carpet” runs to bring the troops home from the Pacific, and transported many more aboard during the war.

Hopes of the Reunion Group ever seeing “Their Ship” once again were dashed as she settled upright, reasonably intact, deep and out of sight in the cold grasp of the Pacific.

Last year (2015) in a joint mission by the Navy, NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus, the NOAA (Research Vessel) R/V Fulmar towed a yellow unmanned Boeing AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) called the “Echo Ranger” with a “Coda Octopus” 3D Side Scan Sonar payload 30 miles offshore, to locate, identify and gain a 3D Side Scan Sonar generated image of the former USS Independence CVL-22 to try to ascertain her condition. This August (2016) a renewed effort (headed by Robert Ballard) will further the study of her condition, using different submersibles with video camera technology to obtain a better look at the proud lady, Independence, obscured from view since 1951.

3D Side Scan Sonar image of the Independence on the bottom, roughly 2,700 feet down off Half Moon Bay CA from the joint mission (Navy, NOAA, Boeing, Coda Octopus) in 2015. The bow on the left side. (Image courtesy of Coda Octopus & NOAA)

3D Side Scan Sonar image of the Independence on the bottom, roughly 2,700 feet down off Half Moon Bay CA from the joint mission (Navy, NOAA, Boeing, Coda Octopus) in 2015. The bow on the left side. (Image courtesy of Coda Octopus; NOAA)


With these missions ride the keen interest of those few shipmates that have survived (now in their 90s), along with their family members, with hopes of perhaps seeing a glimpse of the ship that was so formative to their lives after serving proudly, as young men, aboard the “Mighty-I in that horrific war in the vast Pacific.

For the comprehensive and detailed story of the CVL-22, go HERE.

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Independence-Class Carrier Power Plant

Technical drawing of a Cleveland-class cruiser. (ALL HANDS, 1958)

Technical drawing of a Cleveland-class cruiser. (ALL HANDS, 1958)


By George Stewart

A major factor in the determination of the feasibility of conversion from the original Cleveland-class cruisers to the Independence-class aircraft carriers was the fact that the propulsion plants could meet the needs of both ship types, without major modifications. The cruisers had a design speed of 32.5 knots while the carriers which were 22 feet longer had design speeds of 31.5 knots. In both cases, these requirements could be met by their propulsion plants with relatively minor modifications.

General Plans for USS Monterey (CVL 26) (HNSA)

General Plans for USS Monterey (CVL 26) (HNSA)

Both ship classes were fitted with 100,000 SHP (75 MW) quadruple screw steam plants that followed the general design practices for naval combatant ships of that era. This had very big advantages when it came to training and logistic support. In general, naval propulsion plants of that era made virtually no use of automation, instead dependent on relatively large well-trained engineering crews. Fortunately, a Booklet of General Plans for the USS Monterey (CVL 26) is available from the Historic Naval Ships association website that gives a good picture of the basic machinery arrangement of the carriers.

The major plant components include four General Electric cross compounded geared steam turbines, each rated at 25,000 SHP. Each set included a high-pressure (HP) turbine, a dual flow low-pressure (LP) turbine including astern elements, and a small cruising turbine for use during low-speed transits. The turbine packages appear to be virtually identical to the twin 30,000 HP sets found aboard the destroyers of that era.

Superheated steam was supplied at approximately 600 psi and 850 degrees F from four Babcock & Wilcox (M type) controlled superheater boilers. Boilers of this type could be found aboard virtually every major combatant ship during that period.

The basic machinery arrangement was in four main spaces with alternating firerooms and engine rooms from forward to aft. These spaces included:

  • Forward Fireroom containing #1 and #2 Boilers and two ship service turbo generators.
  • Forward Engine Room containing the two outboard main engines.
  • After Fireroom containing #3 and #4 Boilers and two ship service turbo generators
  • After Engine Room containing the two inboard main engines.

The electrical plant on the cruisers originally consisted of four 600 kW ship service turbo generators, two located in each fire room, along with their switchboards. There was a 250 kW emergency diesel generator located in the forward engine room and a second 250 kW set located aft of the machinery spaces. As part of the carrier conversion, the ship service generators were upgraded from 600 kW to 750 kW.

The most significant change that would have been required to complete the carrier conversion was the relocation of the boiler uptakes from the center line to the starboard side. There were four individual smoke stacks located on the starboard side of the flight decks. There were air intakes for the forced draft blowers located on either side of the uptakes but their actual configuration is unclear.

The CVLs were each originally fitted with single hydraulic catapults. Therefore there would be no major changes to the steam plants required as would have been the case when steam catapults came along in the 1950s and 1960s. Later on, the ships were fitted with a second catapult.

The bottom line is that with the exception of the changes to the boiler uptakes and combustion air intakes, no major changes to the original Cleveland-class steam plants would have been required.

 


George W. Stewart is a retired US Navy Captain. He is a 1956 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. During his 30 year naval career, he held two ship commands and served a total of 8 years on naval material inspection boards, during which he conducted trials and inspections aboard over 200 naval vessels. Since his retirement from active naval service in 1986 he has been employed in the ship design industry where he has specialized in the development of concept designs of propulsion and powering systems, some of which have entered active service.

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Holloway Society Member Visits Cold War Gallery With Family

Mike Wallace and family visit the National Museum of the United States Navy's Cold War Gallery. (NHF Photo)

Mike Wallace and family visit the National Museum of the United States Navy’s Cold War Gallery. (NHF Photo)


On a recent Sunday at the Washington Navy Yard, an Annapolis family demonstrated across three generations the importance of philanthropy in general and the value of America’s proud naval heritage in particular.  Annapolis residents Mike and Vicki Wallace, both Marquette University graduates, hosted four of their grandchildren for a week of seamanship and history.

After earning his Ensign’s commission through Marquette’s NROTC program, Mike spent five years in the Navy’s nuclear submarine force in the early 1970s, starting out as the Main Propulsion Assistant in USS Thomas Jefferson (SSBN-618). He is believed to have been, at the time, the youngest officer to qualify as Engineer Officer, reaching that milestone at age 24 ½ after having been on active duty less than three years.  After his 4th deterrent patrol, he was assigned as an instructor at the Naval Nuclear Power School in Bainbridge, MD. This assignment was evidence of the value that Admiral Rickover placed on the importance of good training and education for future nuclear-trained officers, by the level of expertise and capabilities of the school’s instructors.  While her husband was at sea, Vicki mastered the challenges of being a Navy wife and raising a family while developing her nursing career. After a distinguished career in the nuclear power industry, Mike has served on the Naval Historical Foundation’s Advisory Council and together with Vicki joined the Foundation’s Admiral James L. Holloway III Donor Society. Their generosity has helped NHF pursue its mission of preserving and commemorating naval history, and was instrumental in the construction of the “Covert Submarine Operations” exhibit in the Navy Museum’s Cold War Gallery.

NHF Executive Director poses with the Wallace family during their recent visit to the Washington Navy Yard. (NHF Photo)

NHF Executive Director poses with the Wallace family during their recent visit to the Washington Navy Yard. (NHF Photo)


Travelling to the Washington Navy Yard to visit that museum and exhibit, Mike stood in the midst of the nuclear submarine display to explain to his grandchildren Alexander, Nathaniel, Isabella and Henry, whose ages ranged from 14 to 7, what he did to contribute to our nation’s defense during a tense and uncertain time in our history.  The grandchildren learned something special about their grandparents’ service and sacrifice for their country, and together with Mike and Vicki, each made donations to the Naval Historical Foundation on behalf of their family foundation. We congratulate Mike and Vicki Wallace and their family for their strong “giving back” ethic and for their generosity towards the Naval Historical Foundation. And we encourage other members to emulate this outstanding example of support for naval history!

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HELL BELOW (PART IV) Review: Atlantic Showdown

Production still from "Hell Below" television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Production still from “Hell Below” television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White


Reviewed by Steven Dieter

Read PART I review HERE
Read PART II review HERE
Read PART III review HERE

Episode four of the Smithsonian Channel’s series Hell Below, entitled “Atlantic Showdown,” suggests a great scene of conflict in the Second World War. Yes, what is presented is symbolic of the efforts on the seas – but yet it is only a partial presentation of the full Allied effort.

Of all the theatres of operation during the Second World War, the Atlantic Ocean was one of the largest, stretching from the Arctic to South America, as ships of all shapes and sizes carried material such as bauxite from Jamaica, oil from Venezuela, and wheat from Canada, finished goods produced in the United States and Canada, as well as raw manpower from the New World to England. These efforts would be undertaken by a series of convoys (both slow and fast) departing from major eastern North American ports (New York, Boston, Halifax, Nova Scotia and St John’s, Newfoundland), under the escort of vessels of the Royal Canadian Navy, or when available, the Royal Navy or the United States Navy.

Sounds easy enough, especially since aircraft should be able to provide supporting cover. Ah yes. Unfortunately, there was a phenomenon called the Air Gap, which covered a great span of the ocean, over which coastal patrol aircraft from neither Canada nor Great Britain could reach. Welcome to the challenges of 1942 and early 1943.

In this episode, convoys HX-229 (a fast convoy departing from Halifax) and SC-122 (a slow convoy) – totalling over 100 merchant ships with just five escort vessels – cross paths in the Atlantic Ocean where they are intercepted by not one, not two, but three different Unterseebooten (U-Boat) wolf packs – in total, close to 40 submarines.

The episode very nicely explores the challenges of the Allied forces, addressing the limited number of support vessels for the convoys, and the challenges of weather and space. Equally, the Germany forces, lacking both distant and deep-seawater ports, were unable to replenish their vessels, resulting in a prolonged time at sea with a limited time of maximum capability – once they were out of torpedos, their offensive capability was limited to being an observation post.

What I liked most about this episode was the roster of the historical speakers who were featured. Now, I will admit a bias – I have known Marc Milner, one of Canada’s top naval historians, for years, so it was thrilling to see him speak. Equally, the input of the British and German speakers (notably Fregattenkapitän Christian Jentzsch) gave the episode context. This wasn’t just a one-sided depiction of the events, nor was it a one-sided battle: each side was at risk – and each side has something to talk about in terms of successes and lessons learned.

As a student of history in the 1990s, I had the fortune to be at a university with both a strong military history program, as well as a strong naval history program. One of the key lessons I remember – and which is glossed over in this episode (albeit perhaps indirectly) – is that, during the Second World War, the Royal Canadian Navy grew from an undistinguishable small fleet to one of the largest in the world. Our role in the convoys and the Atlantic theatre – both in terms of the merchant navy, who for many years had been (at least within a Canadian context) a forgotten component of the convoys, and the RCN itself – is worth recognition. It should also be remembered that, as the war progressed, Canada was the only Allied naval force with assets in the Atlantic able to respond to an effort to support the convoys – the result of British and American assets being drawn from the Atlantic to support efforts elsewhere. This tenuous situation became compounded in late 1942 when the British requested that convoys shorten their travel times, in an effort to bring more materials to the United Kingdom which was facing a continuing shortage of goods. 1 Perhaps it is an appropriate afterthought to note that, during the Second World War, the only Canadian to achieve Command of a theatre of operation was Rear-Admiral Leonard Murray, Commander-in-Chief Canadian Northwest Atlantic, beginning in April 1943. As a result, the Royal Canadian Navy assumed “the acknowledged role as guardian of the convoys.” 2

New episodes of Hell Below will air Sundays at 9 PM/ET on the Smithsonian Channel from 24 July to 21 August. Look for the other reviews here at NavyHistory.org. Go to the official Smithsonian website to view the episode guide.

Captain Steven Dieter CD MA FRSA is a Public Affairs Officer with the Canadian Armed Forces, and an Associate Air Force Historian with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Office of Air Force Heritage and History. His current focus of study is on the Allied military in the Caribbean during the Second World War. He holds a Master of Arts in Military History from Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. He is the Veterans’ Contingent Commander for the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

  1. W.A.B. Douglas, Roger Sarty, and Michael Whitby, No Higher Purpose: The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1939-1945: Volume II, Part 1. (St. Catharines, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing, 2002), 628
  2. W.A.B. Douglas, Roger Sarty, and Michael Whitby, A Blue Water Navy: The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1943-1945: Volume II, Part 2. (St. Catharines, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing, 2007), Blue Water Navy, 23.

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Hiroshima Devastation Recalled

A Japanese soldier walks through the atomic-bomb leveled city, September 1945. Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, USNR. (Photo # 80-G-473733)

A Japanese soldier walks through the atomic-bomb leveled city, September 1945. Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, USNR. (Photo # 80-G-473733)


By David F. Winkler

With tomorrow’s 71st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima which, following a second bomb drop at Nagasaki, led to the Japanese surrender ending World War II, we thought we would share a recent find from our ongoing naval history collection efforts.

As part of the Naval Historical Foundation’s Oral History and Memoir Collection effort, the Naval Historical Foundation has been working with David T. Leighton. Born in California in 1925, Leighton came into a Navy family. His father would attain the rank of rear admiral before stomach cancer would claim his life in 1943.

The U.S. Navy Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Chicago (CA-136) off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania (USA), 7 May 1945. (USN Photograph/NAVSOURCE)

The U.S. Navy Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Chicago (CA-136) off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania (USA), 7 May 1945. (USN Photograph/NAVSOURCE)

David and his two brothers and sister would also join the Navy. In the case of his older sister Elizabeth, she would be the first ensign sworn in under the WAVE program initiated during World War II. As a member of the Naval Academy Class of 1946, David actually graduated in 1945. Having orders to the USS Indianapolis, he never made it to his destination. He eventually made it to the cruiser USS Chicago which remained as a token American naval presence in support of the occupation forces ashore. En route to his ship, he spent time in San Diego. “That was real luck for me because, due to the delay in leaving San Diego, a good friend introduced me to Helen Milligan. We were married fifteen months later.”

That David tied the knot in just over a year thanks to a long-distance relationship that involved a series of lengthy detailed letters that provided a travelogue of his experiences in and around Japan. David would later write: “In my five-month tour in Japan I had learned a lot in my job, and I also learned a lot about the aftermath of war. I had graduated from the Academy too late to engage in combat, but in Japan, I had ample opportunity to see the results of the devastating non-nuclear attacks on such cities as Tokyo and Yokohama, and the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima – where the streets had been cleared but little recovery had been accomplished.”

On June 3, 1946, David typed and described what he saw to Helen:

We left Yokosuka Friday for Kure. (This was over a week ago). Kure is on southern Honshu. In order to get there you have to go up the Inland Sea. About 0600 Sunday morning we sighted land and entered the Inland Sea. It had been stormy all day Saturday, but cleared into a perfectly beautiful warm sunny day Sunday. (It took about six hours to get from the entrance up to Kure. We had to twist and turn to follow the channel in. In some places there is only 700yards between islands. The whole inland sea is full of small islands. It looks something like the Puget Sound area expect that all of the islands have hills on them. The hills start right from the water edge. There is no level land on them at all. The Japanese grow something on every piece of land that is fertile enough to grow a weed. All the sides of these hills on all the islands large enough to support people are terraced wherever you look. There are whole fleets of fishing boats in the sea itself. You really have to keep a sharp lookout to keep from running them down. Many of them look like the many pictures you must have seen of Chinese junks with clumsy gaff-rigged sails. Most of them also have small putt-putt engines. It is very hard to describe all this; you really have to see it to tell what I mean. I never was much good at description anyhow. (I’m not very good at typing either, which you can readily see.)

Leighton with wife Helen at their wedding in Jamestown, RI, on 5 July 1947 (Leighton Family)

Leighton with wife Helen at their wedding in Jamestown, RI, on 5 July 1947 (Leighton Family)

Anyhow about noon we tied up to a buoy in Kure. Kure and the surrounding area are controlled by the British. We have a very small AMG establishment there with two or three American naval officers. All the army there is Australian and Indian and there are a few small ships there. I had the duty Sunday and could not go ashore. The good weather held until the morning we left with was Thursday. Monday three other officers and an enlisted man and myself were lucky enough to get an AMG jeep. We decided to drive to Hiroshima to see what the A-bomb really had done.

The road from Kure to Hiroshima is pretty good as Japanese roads go, which isn’t saying much. Japanese roads are pretty grim to say the least. Anyhow, after many bumps and jolts we arrived. I have seen many ruins in Yokohama and Tokyo. Ruins all look alike. You see everything reduced to rubble. Everything is in little pieces. Bricks are in halves, concrete is broken down, wood is burned, tile is chipped into little hunks. That is the way it is in Tokyo and Yokohama. But there are two noticeable differences in Hiroshima. The first is that only one bomb was dropped there. There were none before and none after. There were many thousands of bombs dropped in Tokyo and Yokohama. The second difference is that in Hiroshima the place is not bombed out in sections, it is flat everywhere. It looks like all the ruins of Tokyo and Yokohama all concentrated in one spot. To be sure there are buildings still standing in Hiroshima. Many of the concrete buildings are still standing, but when you get close to them you can see that the insides are all burned out and that the ceilings are caved in. Some of them are still usable, but most are completely ruined. In Hiroshima you can stand where the bomb hit and look around and you see where a city was. It is amazing. You really can’t believe it until you see it. For miles there is nothing but rubble. It is a sight to see nature in all its splendor through the blown-out remains of what used to be a big business building. It is hard to describe the complete devastation. I am glad that I have seen it for myself.

After sea duty on a light aircraft carrier, David would eventually receive orders to serve with Rear Admiral Rickover. Retiring as a commander, David would continue working for Naval Reactors in a civilian capacity. One of his contributions was to conceptualize the operation of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier using just two reactors. With the introduction of the Nimitz class carrier, the concept has been proven now for over forty years. Meanwhile, Helen and David had a long-happy marriage, raising two sons. Sadly Helen left us a few years ago leaving David still active at age 91. A proponent of naval history and a member of the Naval Historical Foundation’s Holloway Society, the NHF honors him annually with the David T. Leighton Lecture at its annual June meeting.

 

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HELL BELOW (PART III) Review: America Strikes Back

Production still from "Hell Below" television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Production still from “Hell Below” television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White


Reviewed by Hal Friedman

Read PART I review HERE
Read PART II review HERE

Episode Three of the Smithsonian Channel’s new documentary series Hell Below, “America Strikes Back,” is a good rendition of the U.S. submarine service’s role in the Pacific War.  Like all documentaries and other works of history, however, it has both strengths and weaknesses.  I think the strengths outweigh the weaknesses but the weaknesses do need to be noted given the lack of military background among a majority of the American public and given the power of entertaining but fantastic fictions such as U-571 and The Hunt for Red October.

First, the strengths.  It is encouraging to see episodes devoted to the U.S.’ submarine war in the Pacific.  The number of documentaries about the Battle of the Atlantic and the U-boats are legion but there are only a couple of documentaries dealing with the U.S. submarine war in the Pacific, done by the History Channel some years ago.  The Smithsonian Channel should be commended for taking this on.

There is a very effective strategic background given to the war, especially by Dr. Norman Friedman (no relation).  Viewers will get a good idea of the resource poor Japanese Empire’s strategic weaknesses and the attempt to compensate for those weaknesses in its national security policy by conquering a self-sufficient empire in East Asia and the Western Pacific, the vaunted Japanese East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.  Japan as a resource-poor nation, in fact, is what will allow America’s submariners to wreak such havoc on the island empire by effectively strangling its economy by 1944-1945.

Related to strategy, the episode makes good use of maps so that the viewers’ understand that the U.S.’ submarines were operating in the Pacific Basin and that the Pacific Basin was vast.  The difficulty of sometimes finding targets with old maps, such as Wewak in Melanesia and Palau in Micronesia, will add geographic flavor to the episode.  This context is also added to by focusing the viewers on the limitations of diesel-electric submarines as opposed to nuclear-powered ones and advantages of the Torpedo Data Computer (TDC), the latter nicely referred to as revolutionary since it might seem quite quaint to today’s viewers.

The episode also did a credible job in illustrating what the late Clay Blair wrote about decades ago, the need for the Pacific Fleet to clear older, more timid submarine commanders out of their billets in favor of younger, more aggressive ones like Lieutenant Commander Dudley “Mush” Morton. 1  Given Marc Milner’s analysis of German submarine success largely resulting from the efforts of a small number of submarine aces, Episode Three implies (though does not fully clarify) that there was the same concentrated talent with U.S. submarine commanders like Morton.

How the Navy operated in this environment is also demonstrated by looking at the ways in which Morton mentored more junior officers for higher command, such as Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) Richard O’Kane.  The Navy’s institutional culture is also illustrated with the “Clean Sweep” broom at the end of the successful patrol.  In addition, the savagery of the Pacific War is shown by Morton ordering his crew to kill floating Japanese survivors.  Additionally, mistakes in war are analyzed when it turns out that large numbers of those survivors were actually Indian prisoners of war.

Now, the weaknesses.  I think the entire series suffers from the use of the word “warrior” as it pertains to these men.  These were military professionals of the 1940s and while it is for some reason fashionable in American society today to refer to U.S. military service members as warriors, the World War Two generation did not.  In fact, they would have taken the term to be an insult since warrior usually meant to them someone who was undisciplined and less than professional.

Production still from "Hell Below" television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White

Production still from “Hell Below” television series (c) 2015 Parallax Film Productions Inc. 1-604-531-2244 Photo by Sean F. White


In addition, the documentary mentions the change in submarine strategy from fleet scouting to destroying merchant shipping, not to mention warships when the targets were available.  However, there could have been an additional mention of the interwar controversy surrounding the December 1941 order by Admiral Harold Stark, then-Chief of Naval Operations, for U.S. submarines to begin unrestricted submarine warfare.  That point would have resonated well in the episode since the United States had been condemning unrestricted submarine warfare since World War One and then adopted the strategy at the beginning of the Pacific War without any public debate and even without Stark receiving orders from civilian authorities. 2

References to popular culture might have improved the episode even more.  For instance, was Morton’s “down the throat” shot the inspiration for Navy Captain Edward Beach’s scenarios in his novel Run Silent, Run Deep, which was later made into a major motion picture?  Beach’s biographer argues otherwise, 3 but the issue being explored would have given viewers some idea about how historians approach their craft.  Similarly, Morton’s surface killing of survivors from the Japanese convoy was illustrated in an episode of War and Remembrance, another popular culture reference that could have been a further avenue of exploration for interested viewers.The episode also failed to explain why Morton seemingly had good luck with his torpedoes.  In fact, in an American popular culture that likes to illustrate nothing but American military successes and given the realities of the bureaucracy of war and the mistakes that are made, it would have been very educational for viewers to see the Navy Bureau of Ordnance’s incompetence when it came to ignoring submariners’ reports about faulty

The episode also failed to explain why Morton seemingly had good luck with his torpedoes.  In fact, in an American popular culture that likes to illustrate nothing but American military successes and given the realities of the bureaucracy of war and the mistakes that are made, it would have been very educational for viewers to see the Navy Bureau of Ordnance’s incompetence when it came to ignoring submariners’ reports about faulty exploders and depth settings.  That it took so many of Morton’s torpedoes to sink the Arizona Maru might mean that he also had problems with his weapons, but the torpedo problems were entirely left out of this story in spite of the fact that they were so central to the U.S. submariners’ war.

Another aspect to the war as a case study in bureaucracy is the focus on Morton.  He is, no doubt, key but he was also one person in a very large organization and there were others like him.  These were not only more junior officers like O’Kane and Beach himself but contemporaries of Morton’s such as Lieutenant Commander Sam “The Destroyer Killer” Dealey, who was given credit by Beach’s biographer as the first sub skipper to succeed with a down the throat shot. 4  If the latter claim is accurate, that should have been researched and confirmed.  Even if not, though, the point is that Morton and Dealey were team players on a large team.  Whenever a documentary focuses so much on one person, it distorts what viewers will take away in terms of an authentic military context.

Finally, when it came to special effects, there needed to be some sort of variety of torpedo shots hitting the under-hulls of ships.  Literally the same shot was used for all three episodes so far and that doesn’t give a very realistic perspective of the three- dimensional conflict which was the Pacific War.

As noted, the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, but the weaknesses are noteworthy.  Hopefully, the Smithsonian Channel and other venues will continue to work on historical documentaries and continue to strive for improvements.

Hal Friedman is Associate Chair of History at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan.  He is the author of a trilogy on U.S. national security policy toward the Pacific Basin between 1945 and 1947 and is completing another trilogy on the transition of the U.S. Naval War College from the Pacific War to the Cold War in the Pacific in the same time period.

  1. Clay Blair, Silent Victory:  The U.S. Submarine War against Japan (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 1975).
  2. Joel Holwitt, “Execute Against Japan”:  The U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare (College Station, Texas:  Texas A&M University Press, 2009).
  3. Edward Finch, Beneath the Waves:  The Life and Navy of Capt. Edward L. Beach, Jr. (Annapolis, Maryland:  Naval Institute Press, 2010).
  4. Finch, Beneath the Waves, 76-88.

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BOOK REVIEW – Fire in My Eyes: An American Warrior’s Journey from Being Blinded on the Battlefield to Gold Medal Victory

Fire in my EyesBy Brad Snyder and Tom Sileo, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA (forthcoming 2016)

 Reviewed by Stephen Phillips 

Brad Snyder felt a call to service, choosing a path through the U.S. Naval Academy to leadership as a U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Officer. EOD Technicians, our military’s bomb squad,  serve in the vanguard of modern war, protecting their countrymen and others from the elusive yet now iconic improvised explosive device, or “IED.”

On September 7, 2011, Lieutenant Snyder was on patrol with U.S. Navy SEALS and Afghan Special Forces. While rapidly clearing a path to enable rescue of two men severely wounded by an IED, Snyder initiated a second device. The detonation threw bomb fragments that sliced into his right hand and across his face. Brad Snyder lost both of his eyes.

One year later to the day, the anniversary wounded veterans refer to as “Alive Day,” Brad Snyder won the Gold Medal in the 400m freestyle at the Paralympic Games in London.

Fire in My Eyes is Snyder’s autobiography written with Tom Sileo. It is a journey of persistence learned in competive swimming, and forged with lessons in leadership at Annapolis. The book relays the steadfastness needed to complete the military’s most daunting combination of mental and physical curriculum of diving and bomb disposal. It describes resiliency discovered while enduring the loss of freinds and loved ones. It is a visceral story of fortitude, of striding into harm’s way time and again for the sake of others. Finally, Fire in My Eyes is simply inspirational, the memoir of a sailor, an officer, who chooses to wrestle with life’s demons time and again, and emerges victorious due to equal parts talent, effort, and will.

The prose is strong and authentic, while also imparting humility, forming a compelling narrative. Veterans, especially service academy graduates and disposaleers, will connect with their own experiences due to Snyder and Sileo’s superior composition. Fire in My Eyes will summon for Annapolis grads the smell of white works as they emerge from swim class in Lejeune. EOD Techs will be transported back to EOD school’s IED phase and the iconic lift ballon test for Navy Techs. Combat veterans will undoubtedly revive the heat and noise of Iraqi cities during a convoy, and the chill and quiet of Afghanistan’s mountains while hunked in an observation of the enemy.

Fire in My Eyes must sit prominently next to other phenomenal stories like Elizabeth Kauffman Bush’s America’s first Frogman and Aaron Ralston’s autobiography, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. To those aspiring to serve, who volunteer for EOD or seek a service academy appointment, Fire in My Eyes is mandatory reading before swimming a lap or submitting an app. Through these pages they will truly understand what service is, what one is called to do.

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Stephen Phillips, a Naval Academy graduate, is a retired Navy EOD Officer and author of Proximity and The Recipient’s Son.

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