Ditty Bag: Atop the Stars and Stripes

Ditty Bag: Collections of the Naval Historical Foundation An Artifact and Collections Blog Series

American Eagle Finial

This American Eagle finial, or decoration which tops a flagstaff, dates to the early twentieth century. Eagle finials are used by the Executive Office, and occasionally by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. This finial is made of brass which has visibly tarnished and flaked with age.

The Eagle sits on a base 2 inches wide with a wingspan of 9.5 inches. Its height measures 5 inches from the base to the highest point of the eagle’s frame, though only 4 inches from the base to the bird’s head.

This earlier version of the American Eagle bears a slightly different expression then the modern type. While there are several versions of eagles used currently, almost all have their wings extended wide and look slightly to the right. This eagle, surprisingly, looks left and curves the tips of his wings as if in motion.

The left-facing bird is not unique but is a definite nod to this piece’s age. Most modern finials (though not all) depict the bird heroically facing forward or slightly to the right.

05d807eDitty Bag: Collections of the Naval Historical Foundation is a new artifact blog written by Emily Pearce, NHF Middendorf Curator. She will periodically write posts about various artifacts and accessioned items in the Naval Historical Foundation collection and their impact on naval history. You can view all of the collections highlighted in Ditty Bag on our Flickr page HERE. To contact Emily or to inquire about NHF collections, please email Emily Pearce at epearce@navyhistory.org.

For previous releases of Ditty Bag, Please go HERE.

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CNO Centennial – By the Numbers (1915-2015)

Washington, D.C., Jan. 31. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William D. Leahy, as he appeared before the House Naval Affairs Committee today, Leahy told the committee what Japan and Great Britain have completely upset the old 5-5-.3 ratio and unless United States increases its Navy its fleet will soon be insufficient security against attack from overseas. Rep. Carl Vinson of Ga. Chairman of the committee on the right, 1/31/38 (LOC Image # LC-DIG-hec-24000)

Washington, D.C., Jan. 31. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William D. Leahy, as he appeared before the House Naval Affairs Committee today, Leahy told the committee what Japan and Great Britain have completely upset the old 5-5-.3 ratio and unless United States increases its Navy its fleet will soon be insufficient security against attack from overseas. Rep. Carl Vinson of Ga. Chairman of the committee on the right, 1/31/38 (LOC Image # LC-DIG-hec-24000)

By Matthew T. Eng

Today marks the centennial anniversary of the creation of the Office of Chief of Naval Operations. Congressed established the office under the Naval Appropriation Act on 3 March 1915 (10 U.S.C. § 5033).

There were two main predecessors to the Chief of Naval Operations. One series of positions known as the General Board of the Navy dealt more with the threat of war, while the other highly esteemed position (Naval Aide System) dealt more with the day-to-day operations both ashore and afloat.

Governance of the Navy was still with the Secretary of the Navy – beneath him within the chain of command were the afloat commanders and chiefs of bureaus responsible for the Navy’s material requirements (Yards and Docks, etc.).

The General Board of the U.S. Navy in November, 1947. From left to right: Colonel Randolph M. Pate; Admiral Walter F. Boone; Admiral Charles H. McMorris; Admiral John H. Towers; Rear Admiral Charles B. Momsen; Captain Leon J. Huffman; Commander J.M Lee; Captain Arleigh A. Burke (USN Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

The General Board of the U.S. Navy in November, 1947. From left to right: Colonel Randolph M. Pate; Admiral Walter F. Boone; Admiral Charles H. McMorris; Admiral John H. Towers; Rear Admiral Charles B. Momsen; Captain Leon J. Huffman; Commander J.M Lee; Captain Arleigh A. Burke (USN Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to 1900, SECNAV John Long created the General Board of the Navy. Their job was to advise SECNAV “to insure efficient preparation of the Fleet in case of war and for the naval defense of the coast.” The General Board remained a critical part of the Navy’s success in the two World Wars and was disbanded in 1951. Admiral of the Navy George Dewey chaired the board from 1900 to 1917.

On 1 DEC 1909, SECNAV George L. Meyer established an “aide system” of four Rear Admirals responsible for Operations, Personnel, and Inspections. Each senior officer was given the title of “Aide” who reported to and advised the Secretary. They also provided advice and information for coordination and work between the bureaus. Unfortunately, the positions only had as much authority as the SECNAV chose to delegate to them. The proceeding SECNAV, Josephus Daniels, did not approve of the job and let the positions lapse.

ADM William S. Benson, the first CNO

ADM William S. Benson, the first CNO

Despite these two positions, the command structure within the Navy at the turn of the century was difficult. To put it plainly, there were “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” A more substantial and all-encompassing position was required. There was no operational director or advisor – and little coordination between the different bureaus. Problems with coordination and cooperation existed. By the time World War I began in Europe, there grew a need for a sole uniformed advisor for the Secretary of the Navy.

The Chief of Naval Operations was created by Congress in FY1915 to fill the need for such an advisor, with Admiral William S. Benson, a former Chief of Staff for the Pacific Fleet, taking the first position. He held the much needed position through the First World War.

The CNO has a tireless job within the United States military command structure.

The Chief of Naval Operations, a four star USN Admiral, is nominated by the President and must be confirmed by the Senate. As a requirement, appointees must have experience in joint duty assignments, which includes one full tour of duty in a joint duty assignment as a flag officer. The term length is four years renewable.

The official residence of the CNO is Quarters A at the Washington Navy Yard (right across from NHF offices!). Before 1977, CNO residence was at the United States Naval Observatory in SE.

The CNO is responsible for the operating efficiency of the forces of the Navy and the shore activities assigned by SECNAV. As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CNO is the principle adviser to the President and SECNAV on war, and the principle adviser and naval executive to SECNAV on the conduct of activities within the Department of the Navy. That being said, the position is administrative in nature – no operational command authority over U.S. forces is given. The Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO) and the Deputy Chiefs of Naval Operations, who are collectively known as the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OpNav), assist CNO. Policy documents are called OPNAV instructions.

Current CNO ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN is the 30th Chief of Naval Operations. His Vice CNO is ADM Michelle Howard, USN.

Four CNOs have had leadership roles within the Naval Historical Foundation:

  • FADM Ernest J. King – CNO, 2 MAR 1942 – 15 DEC 1945
    • President, 1946-1949
  • FADM William D. Leahy – CNO, 2 JAN 1937 – 1 AUG 1939
    • President, 1949-1959
  • ADM Arleigh A. Burke – CNO, 17 AUG 1955 – 1 AUG 1961
    • Chairman, 1981-1985
  • ADM James L. Holloway, III – CNO, 29 JUN 1974 – 1 JUL 1978
    • President, 1980-1998
    • Chairman, 1998-2008

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Happy 100th Anniversary, U.S. Navy Reserve!

NY Naval Militia in  Brooklyn, 1908

NY Naval Militia in Brooklyn, 1908

Tomorrow marks the centennial of Congressional legislation that created the Navy Reserve component of today’s United States Navy. While a hundred years is a significant milestone, bear in mind that 2015 also marks the 240th anniversary of the creation of the United States Navy. Given this context, the question needs to be asked: What took so long for the United States to create a naval reserve?

3g06268u Naval Militia copyIt’s a question that Naval Historical Foundation historian Dave Winkler addresses in his recently published book, Ready Then, Ready Now, Ready Always: A Centennial of Service by Citizen Sailors. In the book’s opening chapter, he notes that President Thomas Jefferson foresaw the need for a personnel augmentation contingency and proposed the Naval Militia Act of 1805. However, Congress balked at the idea of establishing and paying for naval militias at a time when there was an excess capacity of trained merchantmen within the dominant American maritime industry.

In the short term, the Navy had more than enough trained men to draw upon during the War of 1812 and the war against Mexico in 1845. During the War of 1812, American privateers operating on the high seas served as an effective force multiplier. In the long term, the Navy ran into difficulties in finding Sailors to crew its rapidly expanding fleet during the American Civil War. The Navy had to compete with the Army, which had the benefit of the Militia Act of 1792 in existence to obtain white males between the ages of 18 and 45. That the Navy did meet its manpower needs can be thanked, in part, to the racial component of the Militia Act. The Navy drew on African-Americans, many being recently freed Slaves, to fill out its crews. Some twenty percent of the Navy’s Sailors during the Civil War were black – that was double the percentage of African Americans who served in the Union Army.

Following the Civil War, the decline of the merchant marine also meant the number of merchant mariners available for naval service was also in a tailspin. As the Navy grew more technologically sophisticated, the skill sets needed to operate merchant vessels and warships were no longer interchangeable.

With Naval Attaches assigned to European capitals reporting on the creation and implementation of naval reserves in the various European navies, serious discussions began in the late 1880s on what shape an American naval reserve might take. When legislation to establish a federal naval reserve force failed in Congress, local leaders, starting in Massachusetts and New York, created Naval Militia units. (Today New York still has a naval militia!). The number of Naval Militias grew in size during the 1890s, with units forming mostly in states that fronted a major body of water.

Now available on our site.

Now available on our site.

During the Spanish-American War, Naval Militias performed coastal defense roles, manning up several Civil-War era monitors to provide harbor protection, Naval Militias from Michigan, Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts also provided crews for four auxiliary cruisers that were acquired to support fleet operations off Cuba. While the four cruisers accounted well for themselves, the bureaucratic hoops involved in having the militiamen resign from their respective state militias in order to come into federal service was an experience the Navy did not care to repeat. Thus at the turn of the century, legislation was repeatedly submitted to create a naval reserve only to stall during an era following the annexation of the Philippines where there were strong anti-imperialists sentiments on Capitol Hill.

Finally, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the backdrop of the outbreak of war in Europe, was able to have language inserted into an omnibus bill that also created the office of the Chief of Naval Operations, that would enable the Navy to recruit Sailors coming off of active duty into a manpower that we now call the Navy Reserve.

Winkler’s book then details the history of the Navy Reserve starting from World War I through the present, highlighting the role the component as serve as an agent of social change to enable women and minorities an opportunity to serve the nation. The book can be obtained by going to the website HERE.

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AWARD ANNOUNCEMENT – Henry N. Barkhausen Award


The Henry N. Barkhausen Award
For Original Research in Great Lakes Maritime History

For consideration in the current calendar year, entries for must be postmarked no later than May 15

Guidelines for Entrants

Since 2001, the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History has sponsored the Henry N. Barkhausen Award program to recognize and encourage new research in the field of Great Lakes maritime history. Submissions are encouraged on any topic related to the region’s maritime history, and will be accepted from any person(s) researching that history regardless of formal training. Click for a detailed explanation of the award program.

Winners of the Barkhausen Award receive a $500 cash prize, a complimentary one-year membership in the Association and, if requested, assistance in getting their paper published. Winners will also have their lodging, registration and awards dinner fees paid to attend the Association’s annual maritime history conference to participate and/or to present his or her paper.

All sources used in a paper must be must be properly documented and a bibliography included with the paper. Either endnotes or footnotes are acceptable. Entry requirements include the ability of authors to be able to attest that submissions include original research using primary source materials or archeological findings, and have not been previously published. Examples of original source materials include unpublished manuscripts, government documents, and contemporaneous news reports. Potential entrants are encouraged to contact Steve Brisson, chair of the Association’s Research & Publication Committee, for a list of Association member institutions that may have original source materials in their collections (see contact information below).

Entries may be submitted either electronically or in hard copy format. Although book-length manuscripts will not be accepted, excerpts or abridgements of larger works may be submitted as long as the total length is 75 pages or less, including notes and bibliography. All submissions must be accompanied by a cover letter with an introduction and one-paragraph abstract of the paper, along with the name(s) and contact information of the author(s).

Electronic submissions must be in either Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF format, and e-mailed to Steve Brisson at brissons@michigan.gov. Hard copy submissions, including copies of illustrative materials, must be mailed to Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks, P.O. Box 873, Mackinac City, MI 49701. Originals of illustrative materials will not be accepted, and the Association will not assume any responsibility for loss or damage to paper submissions or illustrative materials. If an author wishes to have the hard copy of a paper or illustrative materials returned after judging, he or she should send a self-addressed, postage-paid return envelope with their submission.

Address for Inquiries and Submissions


For more information on the Barkhausen Award for Original Research in Great Lakes Maritime History
or questions about the contest rules, contact:


Steve Brisson, Chief Curator
Mackinac State Historic Parks
P.O. Box 873
Mackinac City, MI  49701
E-mail: brissons@michigan.gov


All entries must be postmarked no later than May 15

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The Battleship Guns at NASA’s AMES Research Center

16"/45 Cal. MK 6 Gun at NASA's AMES Research Facility (Photo by Bob Fish)

16″/45 Cal. MK 6 Gun at NASA’s AMES Research Facility (Photo by Bob Fish)

By Matthew T. Eng

Battleship guns helped win the Second World War. What about the race to the moon?

Bob Fish, author and USS Hornet Museum trustee, recently visited NASA’s AMES Research Center in Sunnyvale, CA, to investigate the possibility of cooperation and collaboration of STEM-related programming. While there, Bob visited the Hypervelocity Flight Test Facility with their engineers.He was then guided into the original 1960’s era hyper-velocity test lab which consisted of an old projectile acceleration tube that is now rarely used. To his surprise, Bob noticed the inscription on the breach of the barrel read “US Navy.” It was in fact a Mark 6 16-inch battleship gun!

The connection between battleship guns and NASA research is over a half-century old.

The Hypervelocity Free-Flight Facilities (HFFF) inside the ballistic range complex at NASA-Ames is the only aero-ballistic range in North American with a controlled environment test section. Along with the Electric Arc Shock Tube (EAST) facility, the Hypervelocity Free-Flight Aerodynamics Facility (HFFAF) has been in operation since the 1960s, at the height of the space race.

Inscription on 16" gun barrel. (Photo by Bob Fish)

Inscription on 16″ gun barrel. (Photo by Bob Fish)

According to NASA’s official report of the facility, the HFFAF has “world-unique capabilities that enable experimental studies of real-gas aerothermal, gas dynamic, and kinetic phenomena of atmospheric entry.” Put in simpler terms, the facilities helps NASA scientist study the nature of entry, descent, and landing systems during the dangerous return trip to earth from human and robotic space exploration missions.

NASA defines the HFFAF as an “aeroballistic range” that supports a variety of aerodynamic and aerothermodynamic tests. According to NASA, the complex began operations in 1964 in support of the Apollo program. Even in NASA’s infancy, the necessity for space exploration sped up the development of test facilities that could duplicate the extreme velocities and temperatures from superorbital Earth atmospheric re-entry and entry into planetary atmospheres. HFFAF is a product of this innovation.

A drawing of the HFFAF. (NASA)

A drawing of the HFFAF. (NASA)

You can see the gun barrel at :51 seconds in the video below:

Small-scale models representing a space shuttle in return entry were launched inside the HFFAF at velocities ranging from 100 m/s to 8,000 m/s. Nearly any type of planetary atmosphere could be simulated. Sixteen shadowgraph-imaging stations were installed in the test section to study the nature of the projectile’s velocity in flight. When higher velocities up to 12,0000 m/s were tested at AMES, the HFFAF was connected to a 16-inch combustion-powered shock tunnel, like the one you see above. The tunnels generated up to 4,000 m/s counter-flow in the test section. As of today, the tube is in “stand-by” mode and is not operational. A more modernized accelerator with portholes for viewing is used today. NASA continues to do ballistic modeling of aircraft shapes and space vehicles.

16"/45 cal. on USS South Dakota

16″/45 cal. on USS South Dakota

The gun itself is a 16 inch-45 caliber Mark 6 barrel. The barrel shown in the above image was made in 1942 here at the Washington Navy Yard. Most 16”/45 guns were used on North Carolina-class and South Dakota-class battleships. The 16 inch-50 caliber Mark 7 guns used on Iowa-class battleships soon became the successor to the Mark 6. Unlike the Mark 6, the 16”/50 gun’s heavier weight and larger size did not have to alight with Treaty restrictions.

Who knew that the U.S. Navy did much more than supply astronauts and recovery ships. Special thanks to Bob Fish who gave us the information and images for the story. We look forward to hearing more about the aerospace-related STEM programs at the Hornet Museum and its utilization of the technology the Hornet education group saw at NASA-Ames!
(Source Information found at NASA.gov)

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Oscar Night: The Best U.S. Navy Films

navy oscars

It’s Oscar night in America. The biggest stars in Hollywood will gather in Hollywood as this past year’s best films are celebrated and highlighted. In honor of the event, we thought we could have our own awards show for the best and brightest stars in films in about the United States Navy. (Disclaimer – The opinions and views about these films are the author’s own). Who makes your list? Let us know in the comment section.


Tora tora Tora

WINNER – Tora! Tora! Tora!

  • The Hunt for Red October
  • They Were Expendable
  • The Enemy Below
  • The Sand Pebbles


Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny

WINNER – Humphrey Bogart – The Caine Mutiny

  • Denzel Washington – Crimson Tide
  • Jack Lemmon – “Mister Roberts”
  • Clark Gable – Run Silent, Run Deep
  • Alec Baldwin – The Hunt for Red October



WINNER – Patricia Neal – In Harms Way

  • Gracey Kelly – The Bridges at Toko-Ri
  • Debra Winger – An Officer and a Gentleman
  • Demi Moore – A Few Good Men
  • Donna Reed – They Were Expendable


Christian Bale and Werner Herzog Rescue Dawn Movie Image (3)

WINNER – Wernor Herzog – Rescue Dawn

  • John Mctiernan - The Hunt for Red October
  • Robert Wise – The Sand Pebbles
  • Dick Powell – The Enemy Below
  • Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty

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CALL FOR PAPERS – Violent Skies: The Air War Over Vietnam

Violent Skies: The Air War Over Vietnam
A Symposium Proposed for October 2015 


Four military service historical foundations—the Air Force Historical Foundation, the Army Historical Foundation, the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, and the Naval Historical Foundation—recognize that a half century has passed since the United States became militarily engaged in Southeast Asia, and hope to sponsor a series of conferences involving scholars and veterans, aimed at exploring aspects and consequences of what once was known as America’s Longest War.

For the first conference in the series, since all military services employed their combat aircraft capabilities in that conflict, the leaders of the four nonprofit organizations agree that the air war over Southeast Asia offers a compelling joint topic for reflective examination and discussion. The intent is to host a symposium on this subject in the national capital region on Thursday and Friday, October 15 and 16, 2015, potentially extending into Saturday, October 17. Other stakeholder organizations will be approached to join as co-sponsors of this event.

The organizers of the symposium envision plenary and concurrent sessions to accommodate a wide variety of topics and issues. Panel participants will be allotted 20 minutes to present their research or discuss their experiences. A panel chair will be assigned to provide commentary and moderate discussion. Commenters from academia, veterans, Vietnamese émigrés, and scholars from the region may be invited to provide additional insights.

Panel/Paper proposals may employ both chronological and topical approaches:

Examples of chronological subjects can include: U.S. air support in the early years; The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and American escalation; the Rolling Thunder campaign; Tet and its aftermath; concluding combat operations to include aerial mining and Linebacker operations; and evacuation operations in 1975.

Topical proposals could include political and military leadership and decision making; recognition of individual service and sacrifice; joint service coordination; organizational command infrastructures; the rules of engagement; aircraft and armament capabilities; close air support; air mobility; airlift and logistical support; search and rescue; aeromedical evacuation; air-to-air combat; air defense challenges; air interdiction efforts; the prisoner of war experience; media coverage and public opinion; basing at sea and on land; training and advisory missions; air reconnaissance and intelligence operations; South Vietnamese/allied nation/ other organizations (eg. CIA) air operations; ethical and legal considerations; and environmental impact.

Those proposing a symposium presentation shall submit a 250 to 400 word paper abstract and a curriculum vitae /or short autobiography to Dr. David F. Winkler of the Naval Historical Foundation (dwinkler@navyhistory.org) not later than April 30, 2015. Panel proposals will be welcomed with a panel objective statement added to the submission of paper abstracts and C.V./bios.

Limited stipends to support presenter participation as well as a published proceedings of selected papers may be made possible through the support of conference partner organizations.

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Bad Coffee and Graph Paper: A History of HRNM LEGO Shipbuilding

NORFOLK, VA (February 7, 2015) Guests at the Fourth Annual LEGO Shipbuilding Event and Competition look at contestant models in the 10-12 age category. The event was held at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum inside Nauticus. (Photo by Matthew Eng/NHF/Released)

NORFOLK, VA (February 7, 2015) Guests at the Fourth Annual LEGO Shipbuilding Event and Competition look at contestant models in the 10-12 age category. The event was held at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum inside Nauticus. (Photo by Matthew Eng/NHF/Released)

By Matthew T. Eng

This past weekend’s annual Brick by Brick: LEGO Shipbuilding Event at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM) was another resounding success. More than 2,000 people attended this year’s competition, making it the biggest and best one yet. It was the second year that the Naval Historical Foundation joined the event as a sponsor.

Instead of writing a recap of the day’s series of activities, I decided to do something a little different. I want to offer a bit of history on the event itself. I am in a select group of individuals fortunate enough to have been involved with the project since its inception in 2011. It’s amazing to see the impact that a few plastic bricks has on the face of naval history and museum education. Here it is.

It started with a grand idea, countless cups of bad coffee, and some photocopied graph paper.

Winter 2011 – Bricks and Ships

In mid-January 2011, I sent a write up to the museum director for an idea that my coworker Laura Orr and I were throwing around earlier that winter for a possible new educational program and public event. We knew we wanted to do something with a medium popular enough to appeal to kids and adults alike. We dug back into the recesses of our childhood and came up with LEGOs…for a naval museum. How? We would use LEGOs to build ships, specifically Navy vessels built in the likeness of the many ship models displayed inside the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Neither Laura nor myself had any experience building LEGO ships before. Hell, the last time I touched a LEGO set, Saved by the Bell was on television. We hoped our bosses liked the idea enough to submit it for possible grant funding that spring.

The only problem we had in the weeks before the grant deadline was coming up with a snappy title. These kinds of programs live and die by the name associated with it. We threw around a few ideas to each other. Everything from the simple “Brick Ships” to the weighty “The Building Blocks of Creativity: LEGO Ships” was considered. The first official title of the program came from the name of a Paramore song an ex-girlfriend of mine used to listen to ad nauseam. I changed “Brick by Boring Brick” into “Brick by Brick, Ship by Ship: The HRNM LEGO Shipbuilding Program” and hit send on the email.

The Original Title of the Program

The Original Title/Concept of the Program

We wanted the potential museum event and program to show attendees “that LEGOs are much more than a toy or cherished pastime.” To us, they were the literal “building blocks to an imaginative and inspired learning experience.” Our superiors at HRNM agreed with us, and submitted it for grant funding a week later. Thanks to TOSA (The Tidewater Officers’ Spouses’ Association), HRNM received a grant to purchase the necessary bricks (exactly 17,660 to begin with) to start the program.

Summer 2011: What Now?

I remember sitting in my office at HRNM and looking flustered. It’s now May 2011. Approximately twenty boxes filled with LEGOs were stacked in front of me. Where to begin? The least we could do was decide when we wanted to hold the first event. I left that to Laura, the organized one. After talking it over with HRNM Education Director Lee Duckworth, Laura, at the time the Special Events Coordinator, planned to hold the event in February of the following year. Between the holiday season, museum outreaches, and summer vacations, February seemed like the optimal month to hold an event. She searched through her calendar and picked a date that would work for everyone: 4 February 2012.

What now? The summertime months were the only time we had to plan and organize. Once the fall school season hit, the entire educational staff would be busy conducting educational outreach programs across the Hampton Roads region. If we had enough time to plan (we didn’t), it would need to be done during the summer. The task at hand was herculean – we had little to no idea how to create the ships that would encompass the “build a ship” portion of the event. Thankfully that summer, we had Jordan Hock and Samuel Nelson as education interns.

Summer Intern Samuel Nelson graphs out the beginnings of a LEGO Ship, Summer 2011. (Photo by Matthew Eng/HRNM)

Summer Intern Samuel Nelson graphs out the beginnings of a LEGO Ship, Summer 2011. (Photo by Matthew Eng/HRNM)

Jordan and Sam are the two individuals responsible for creating and designing the LEGO ships we would eventually use for the inaugural shipbuilding program. Sam was particularly excited by the project. Not a bad way to spend a few hours a day for an internship, right? My intern days at HRNM were spent sitting inside a 105-degree room aboard USS Wisconsin with little or no breaks. I’ll take some plastic bricks over a stank sauna reeking of cosmoline any day. Sam eventually created a large-scale model of a Civil War ship that would become the “Mini Monitor” used in the first and second years of the event.

The original concept for the “build a ship” portion of the program was to create ships by layers, from the keel up all they way to the mast, a principle that still survives today. Building brick ships in this unorthodox manner required us to color code each layer. It was our best bet to merge the educational aspects of simple graphs and plotting and LEGO bricks together.

The bane of my existence: Graphing LEGO Ships in Microsoft Excel.

The bane of my existence: Graphing LEGO Ships in Microsoft Excel.

The only way to map each successive ship layer was by using graph paper. Graph paper translated well to Microsoft Excel, the program I used to design and print the “build a ship” instructions for the past three years. It was also easy to photocopy in case we made mistakes. Plenty were made. Thank God there was a recycling bin nearby.

I sat there that summer and sipped Navy coffee as I watched Jordan and Sam do their diligent work. The taste of the coffee was bitter, but the ideas that came from drinking it made it all worthwhile. Jordan mused that the Navy coffee at HRNM was the only caffeinated coffee in the world that made you more tired with each cup. Let’s just say that it was a very tiring summer. With a coffee mug in one hand and a LEGO brick in another, we began creating the ships that would comprise the first LEGO Shipbuilding program.

The graphs sketched out on paper from the ship designs were crude at best. But it was a start. By the time we said our goodbyes to Jordan and Sam in August of that year, the basis for the program was laid. It was my task to take those simple graphs they created and translate them into step-by-step instructions for visitors to use during the event. I wish I could say it was simple. By the time I finished the first set of ship instructions, I felt a wave of nausea hit me every time I saw a grid with numbers and letters. My computer taunted me at night. Excel knew all my weaknesses. I faced my demons and dun in, completing the instructions over the course of a month. Thankfully, the learning experience was a valuable necessary evil for the success of the program.

HRNM Intern Jordan Hock works diligently on LEGO Models, Summer 2011 (Photo by Matthew Eng/HRNM)

HRNM Intern Jordan Hock works diligently on LEGO Models, Summer 2011 (Photo by Matthew Eng/HRNM)

Meanwhile, Laura did the diligent work of planning the event itself, getting user groups and cold-calling interested media entities to push interest out. It worked. By the time the fall/winter outreach season hit, we were in good shape. We had all of the ships, kits, instructions, and sponsors signed up by Christmas. All we could do was wait.

January flew by into February. Game time. I sent Laura a text message on the night before the first event. The message said three words: “Will people come?” A few minutes later, she also replied with three words: “I hope so.” With the optimistic hope that a free event involving LEGOs would attract people, I settled in for a restless night.

The First Few Events

The Shipbuilding Contest Winners from 2012

The Shipbuilding Contest Winners from 2012

Thankfully, people came. Nearly a thousand people attended the first event. Space was tight. Looking back now, I am amazed that we managed to fit both the “build a set” portion and the shipbuilding competition all within the 5,000 square foot museum. HARDLUG, a local LEGO user group, came out and put on an excellent display of ships for guests to gawk at. The “make a ship” portion, albeit cramped into the Civil War gallery, went well. The volunteers expertly handled the mass of people wanting to follow along with the kit-built instructions. The question I kept getting that day as I helped kids build the kit-built ships was, “which ships are we going to make next year?” For a man who cried tears of frustration over the instructions, it was good to know that the general public wanted to see more.

Prize packages for the competition winners, 2013

Prize packages for the competition winners, 2013

Most guests came as a family to admire the shipbuilding contestant’s homemade ship creations. Some even used the LEGOs we provided to build and enter the contest. Contest participants started entering in a trickle and slowly built up to a steady stream of eager LEGO enthusiasts. By the time Laura and I started to judge the competition, staff members were placing ships on top of museum exhibits and on the floor of the museum.

It was surely hard work for us. It was just as much tiring work and dedication for those attendees who put the time in to enter the contest. Many guests planned to try harder for another entry the following year. We ended the day on a high note, watching the smiling faces as they left the building. We had a lot to build on for the next year.

Part Deux

The program grew up right before our eyes. We knew we wanted to design new ships and offer more prizes for participants in 2013. The old designs made by Jordan and Sam became available for download on the HRNM website (and still are). We also knew we wanted it to be bigger – more participants, more staff involvement, more payoff for all involved. Building off the many “lessons learned” from 2012, we got our wish in spades. Information about the event and its design got in the Daily Press and the Los Angeles Times. The museum was certainly onto something.

NORFOLK (Feb. 2, 2013) Children and adults participate in a LEGO Shipbuilding contest at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. The event was dedicated to teaching children engineering, math and science through LEGO building blocks. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan M. Sunderman/Released)

NORFOLK (Feb. 2, 2013) Children and adults participate in a LEGO Shipbuilding contest at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. The event was dedicated to teaching children engineering, math and science through LEGO building blocks. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan M. Sunderman/Released)

The second program in 2013 went well. The ship design kits were new. The prizes were bigger and better than ever. The free play area expanded with more LEGOs donated from a bevvy of interested parties. Everyone had a chance to be involved in his or her own way. The shipbuilding competition grew fiercer in intensity. For Laura and I, judging was no longer a breeze – it was legitimately difficult. I remember seeing the look of disappointment on a few kids’ faces when their name was not announced in their age group. One child in particular struck out at me. I went up to him after the winners were announced and asked him if he was all right. “Yes, I think so,” he said as he sniffed the streaky snot onto his fleece jacket. “I just have to try harder next year.” I smiled and gave him a high five and a pat on the back. To this day, that specific moment is my favorite memory tied to the LEGO event.


In March of 2013, Laura sadly left the museum for a position at Fort Monroe’s Casemate Museum, only a month after she helped plan the museum’s most successful program in its history. It was a good fit for her. I was saddened by the loss of her creative force; the dynamic duo now split up to fight crime separately across the Chesapeake Bay.

LEGO Shipbuilding Program at Bayside Middle School, June 2013

LEGO Shipbuilding Program at Bayside Middle School, June 2013

With Laura gone for the time being, I set about planning for an educational outreach program with LEGOs to bring to the school system. With another TOSA grant gratefully under the museum’s belt, I took to the drawing board for ideas on how to translate the success of a public event into a SOL-specific program that incorporated STEM principles. After a few phone calls and emails with some teachers who attended our previous workshops, Bayside Middle School in Virginia Beach agreed to be our test case. The event went well. Several of the students in the 7th grade class had attended one or both of the HRNM LEGO Shipbuilding programs.

I left the museum less than a year after Laura to take my current position in D.C. Ironically; Laura came back to the Naval Museum on the same day that I checked into NHF. One of the first things we talked about on the phone was the LEGO Shipbuilding Competition. It was November by this point, and next to nothing was done in preparation for the event. Thankfully, we rallied and came up with the ships and designs with the help of several HRNM staff members. I once again set to transforming graph paper to instruction booklet. Cue the Microsoft Excel nightmare.

Leaning on the back of Laura’s exceptional organizational skills and my expert use of procrastination, it all came together by the first few weeks of January 2014. I traveled down from Washington, D.C. to attend the event, this time as a representative and volunteer. The Foundation helped sponsor some of the prizes for the shipbuilding contestants. As such, I wanted to be there to show support to Laura and the rest of the dedicated staff at HRNM.

NORFOLK (Feb. 8, 2014) Judges examine an entry during the Brick-by-Brick Lego Shipbuilding Competition at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Participants in the annual competition used Lego building blocks to create ships while learning basic concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Adam Austin/Released)

NORFOLK (Feb. 8, 2014) Judges examine an entry during the Brick-by-Brick Lego Shipbuilding Competition at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Participants in the annual competition used Lego building blocks to create ships while learning basic concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Adam Austin/Released)

Over 1,500 guests attended the event. It was great to see all of the familiar faces I encountered from previous event. David Colamaria, the man responsible for pointing me to the position I have now, also came down from D.C. with several professionally made LEGO ships. Navy and local media turned out to interview participants, organizers, and enthusiasts like Dave. The local LEGO kids club Bricks 4 Kidz demoed their robotics programs for guests in the conference room. The size and complexity for the 2014 event towered over the original concept and design from 2012.

Everything continues to expand with LEGO Shipbuilding, from the space required to the number of partnerships. The first year of the program, we used tape to separate each participant’s personal space, or “dry dock,” in the make a ship area. By the third year, we used cardboard to separate table space. This year (2015), HRNM staff managed to create reusable dry docks thanks to a generous donation from Home Depot.

Thanks to everyone who came out to this year’s event. I look forward to seeing you in 2016.

Saying Thanks 

NORFOLK, VA (February 7, 2015) HRNM Deputy Educaiton Director Laura Orr works with HRNM ED Director Lee Duckworth sorting out volunteer lists on the morning of the event. (Photo by Matthew Eng/NHF/Released)

NORFOLK, VA (February 7, 2015) HRNM Deputy Educaiton Director Laura Orr works with HRNM ED Director Lee Duckworth sorting out volunteer lists on the morning of the event. (Photo by Matthew Eng/NHF/Released)

This post is really more of a tribute to Laura. She is hands down the hardest working woman in naval history. There is no question. Some of her co-workers affectionately call her “Mother Goose.” I’m happy to have the privilege of calling her both a colleague and dear friend.

I’ve had the pleasure to work with her for five years now – first as the Deputy Educator at HRNM, and now in my current position as Digital Content Developer at NHF. As far as naval history and education goes, Laura will always be my partner in crime. The yin to my yang. The syrup to my pancakes. The mustard to my history hot dog. She is the Lennon to my McCartney, even if I felt more like Ringo at times. I cannot begin to describe how or why she does what she does on a daily basis. Her organizational skills baffle me. It’s that meticulous attention to detail that made this year’s shipbuilding event such a resounding success. I can only expert more next year.

We created a lot of amazing things together while working at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. I look back fondly at the bouts of laughter and tears. There were both. What we managed to do with a little bit of creativity and a lot of hard work with LEGOs is by far my favorite. For those who have attended any of these events at HRNM, I hope it shows.

10955213_10101293253426897_639453997025158245_nI cannot begin to assume that I was the driver in all of this. I am merely here for the ride. Thankfully, Laura is a fantastic pilot. She continues to be the voice of reason and a guiding source of inspiration for anyone interested in pursuing a career in naval history or museum education. Although she will be humble and accept thanks with a dose of humility largely unseen in a business where credit is not given to those so deserving, she warrants our thanks.

After a very busy and frustrating beginning to the winter months of 2014, I told her that I was going to complete the instructions for the shipbuilding event as planned, but it would be for the last time. Four years of stress-induced crying onto a laptop computer was enough for me. The Foundation would continue to partner for the event, but my days as instruction designer were over.

By the time I got back to DC late Saturday night, I knew I couldn’t let her down. Why? Because the juice is worth the squeeze. The hard work is all worth it. People continue to enjoy the event. I saw the smiling faces on Saturday and knew I couldn’t let go of doing everything I could to make next year’s event another big success. For that, I hope she will allow me to continue to do my part.

Laura has an email. It’s laura.l.orr@navy.mil. If you have a second, take a minute to write her a note of thanks or congratulations. She deserves it. It’s the first thing I am going to do after I hit “publish” on this post. Need more? Go to their Facebook page and “like” it. Better yet, make sure you go to ours if you haven’t already!

I also want to thank everyone involved in this year’s LEGO Shipbuilding event: The volunteers (especially them!), the sponsors, and of course the rest of the dedicated staff at HRNM. None of this would have been possible without each of these pieces put together. Thank you for being a second home for me, even when my backyard now backs onto a different scene in a different city.

It’s amazing what a few pieces of Danish plastic can do to impact and enrich the lives of so many people.

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BOOK REVIEW – Before the First Shots are Fired: How America Can Win or Lose Off the Battlefield

Zinni_Before the First Shots are FiredBy General Tony Zinni and Tony Koltz, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, NY (2014)

Reviewed by Nathan D. Wells

General Tony Zinni is one of the most respected senior officers alive today. A retired general in the United States Marine Corps and a former Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), Zinni brings over four decades of experience to the current state of American military actions and explains why the last half century has been underwhelming in a strategic sense. Drawing heavily from his penultimate posting at CENTCOM, as well as the parallel junior officer experiences of Zinni in Vietnam and his son in the current war on terror, a general feeling of déjà vu runs through this timely volume.

Recently retired before the attacks on 9/11, Zinni was one of the most vocal senior officers apprehensive over the Bush administration seemingly rushing headlong into war. While the events that led to the military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are the central events of the book, the central theme relates the America’s foreign policy strategy, or lack thereof. The United States embraced Presidential Doctrines from James Monroe to the present, but the last half-century has seen often underwhelming results. This was in spite of the fact that the National Security Act of 1947, in addition to reorganizing the Armed Forces under the single umbrella of the Department of Defense, requires the administration to enact an overriding national strategy, the National Security Strategy. The NSS is further broken down into the National Defense Strategy (on military and nonmilitary requirements for security) and the National Military Strategy (for military-specific guidance). A President must present an NSS to Congress within 150 days of taking office. In reality, most administrations since Eisenhower have made do with jury-rigged pseudo-strategies and a focus on combating what Zinni calls the “isms” of the day.

One of the unfortunate side effects of being a wealthy, powerful nation is that much strategic thinking and foreign policymaking in regards to military affairs is overly focused on technology and “bean counting.” Robert McNamara’s obsession with numbers was beneficial to the Defense Department as a whole, as spending could be better tracked, but the focus on body counts in Vietnam did nothing for the American military effort in Vietnam, as Zinni saw as an advisor and company grade officer there. Since the all-volunteer military began in 1973, this problem has become all the more acute. While being a superpower means that there is potentially more muscle to throw around, being an open, enlightened democracy complicates things. Not only are administrations under constant scrutiny, so are senior military and political officials. The high turnover rate among generals and cabinet officials in the last decade is stark illustration of this. This in turn trickles down to those on the ground. As a National Guard soldier put it to Zinni while on a tour of the Afghan-Pakistani border, instead of a decade long war, “it’s been ten one-year wars.”[i]

Whoever has the President’s ear is a powerful individual or group of individuals. While the National Security Act of 1947 established the National Security Council (and the later National Security Agency) to advise the President on such matters, his opinion and those of those closest to him can often be more important. In regards to President George W. Bush, the belief was that instead of taking cues from his NSC or the NSA, Bush along with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the decision to initiate hostilities and focus on Iraq over Afghanistan. Zinni takes particular affront to those hawkish neocons that ignored several high-level war-game scenarios that illustrated the complex problems (not to mention high troop levels and dollar amounts) required to garrison the area. While there is a fog of war, chalking up any major setback to operations (the famous “unknown unknowns” Rumsfeld spoke of in a 2002 speech) to this in spite of being advised of said potential problems by experienced goes to the very heart of a lack of strategic vision.[ii]

The overriding question throughout the book (as well as the title of its first chapter) is, “How the Hell Did We Get Here?” That the question needs to be asked is a troubling one for a superpower that should have a cohesive strategy. That the question may be difficult to answer is an even more troubling. The necessity of an administration to have a workable National Security Strategy at the outset and being able to define how much of the “world’s policeman” the United States will seek to be on its watch are necessities of the very highest order. As someone whose career went from being a boot on the ground to the upper echelons of power, General Zinni knew this quite well.

This is an important volume and should find a spot on the bookshelf of anyone interested in military or political affairs.


Nathan D. Wells is an adjunct instructor of History at Quincy College in Quincy, MA.  

[i] Zinni, Tony and Tony Koltz, Before the First Shots are Fired: How America Can Win or Lose Off the Battlefield Palgrave MacMillan (2014) P. 15
[ii] Ibid, p. 41.

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BOOK REVIEW – THE BLOOD TELEGRAM: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide

Bass_Blood TelegramBy Gary J. Bass, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY (2013)

Reviewed by LTJG J. Scott Shaffer USN

With the U.S. Navy increasing their presence in the Asia theatre under Pacific Pivot, well-researched narratives covering the history of major regional powers remain in high demand. Gary Bass’s book The Blood Telegraph: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide provides great insight into the circumstances surrounding Bangladesh’s independence and the roles played by the United States, Russia, China, India, and Pakistan. Using recently de-classified White House records along with reporting of crisis, Bass ties together how leaders from those countries reacted in the outbreak of hostilities resulting in the Fourteen Day War in 1971.

While discussing the relationships between India, Pakistan, and the United States through the Kennedy and Johnson years, the narrative focuses on the actions taken by the Nixon Administration and their support of Pakistan’s military dictator General Agha Muhammad “Yahya” Khan. After the results of the 1970’s election in Pakistan, Yahya ordered troops into Eastern Pakistan to squash Bangladeshi rebels. As the title suggests (although named for the American consul general in East Pakistan, Archer Blood), the troop movement resulted in a brutal genocide committed by Pakistani troops against the population. Bass describes the atrocities committed Pakistani soldiers from the shelling of universities, burning of homes, and the specific targeting of East Pakistani Hindus. The crisis not only wrecked the lands and population of Bangladesh, but also spread to India. Struggling with their own internal challenges, including poverty and clashing religions, the government faced a large influx of Hindu refugees. While the reader will begin to understand the rational for India’s military action against Pakistan, Bass, critical of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, highlights her own personal motives for war. He writes detailed accounts of the training provided by India’s military to Bangladeshi rebels and the actions taken by the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal. Because of the situation, Gandhi was not the only politician using the crisis for political gains.

The majority of the book narrates the Nixon Administration’s inaction. Despite reports from the American consul and the state department, Nixon and Kissinger refused to take any position against Yahya. Bass challenges their continued support in providing military arms to Pakistan despite reports of an alleged genocide. According to the author, Yahya’s ability to communicate to the Chinese, culminating in the President’s visit to China, remained the primary factor driving Nixon. While the novel provides a brief history of the poor relationship between India and the United States during the Cold War, the strong support of Pakistan and hostile view of India by held Nixon ultimately drove Prime Minister Gandhi closer the Soviet Union.

Bass criticizes Nixon and Kissinger’s support of a military dictatorship in Pakistan while working against a democratically elected government in India charging that they share some of the responsibility for the violence that occurred in Bangladesh. His conclusion is understandable considering his previous works covering humanitarian interventions in his last two novels; yet, he fails to consider the Kennan view of Americans leaders during the Cold War. While Nixon and Kissinger will admit they supported Pakistan to show China their loyalty during the crisis, their actions were in keeping with a much larger view of diplomacy as held by any other President during the Cold War.[1] To Nixon, the conflict represented Pakistan, an ally of the United States, versus India, a “client” of the Soviet Union.[2] As Nixon stated in a foreign policy speech prior to the 1960’s election regarding South America, “The policy of maintaining diplomatic relations with South American nations which have various forms of dictatorial governments is not a new one…this policy does not weaken in any way our own devotion to guarantees [of liberties]. [Latin countries] would resent nothing more than for the United States to try and tell them what government they must have.”[3] To Nixon, the crisis was a domestic matter for Pakistan to act independently without foreign interference.

Noting that the support of Pakistan soured American-Indian relations until the Clinton administration, the author suggests that Nixon could have used the crisis to develop a closer relationship with India. Instead, Nixon ordered the Enterprise Strike Group into the Bay of Bengal and used the United Nations to pressure India to seize hostilities against Pakistan. However, in an Op-Ed written by Henry Kissinger in 2006, the former secretary stated that any partnership with India during the Cold War would have jeopardized India’s own security interest by “risk[ing] the hostility of the other nuclear superpower, only a few hundred miles [away]” (i.e. the Soviet Union).[4] With globalization and the world economy, India can no longer afford its “Cold War attitude of aloofness” or it will risk being left out as an important regional power.[5] Thus, today the United States and India have the opportunity to create a partnership through trade and promoting regional security.[6]

Despite some of the impressions left by the author, The Blood Telegram provides readers a thorough yet interesting read covering an overlooked event in history. Bass’s writing style keeps the reader engaged and presents a complex situation into an organized historical account of the actions taken by the region’s most influential nations. As the book provides a greater understanding to anyone interested in the history of Southeast Asia, it should be read at the strategic down to the tactical actors of the Pacific Pivot initiative.


LT J. Scott Shaffer is the Fire Control Officer onboard USS Cape St. George (CG-71). He previously served as the Brigade Honor Chair at the United States Naval Academy from the 2009 to 2010 academic year and onboard USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) as First Lieutenant. He hold a Bachelor’s of Science in Political Science from the U.S. Naval Academy and is a graduate student at Arizona State University.    

[1] Nixon, R.M. (1977). Interviewed by David Frost [Audio recording]. The Nixon Interviews with David Frost. “Nixon and the World.” R.A. Inbows Ltd.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Nixon, Richard M. The Challenges We Face. (New York, New York: Popular Library, October, 1961), 91.
[4] Kissinger, Henry. “Working With India: America and Asia Stand to Gain From This New Relationship.” The Washington Post (March 20, 2006).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.

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BOOK REVIEW – My Incredible Journey: From Cadet to Command

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 8.47.55 AM

By Rear Admiral Peter Dingemans CB DSO, Royal Navy, Brewin Books Ltd, Studley, Warwickshire, England (2013)

Reviewed by Captain John A. Rodgaard, U.S. Navy (Retired)

In his autobiography, Rear Admiral Peter Dingemans writes about his service in the Royal Navy from his days as a cadet at the Britannia Royal Navy College through his assignment as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief Fleet as a Rear Admiral. Admiral Dingemans’ book is divided into three distinct sections. The first and third parts provide the reader of his service in the Royal Navy prior to and after the Falklands War. The second part is the most detailed, as it pertains to his command of the amphibious assault ship HMS Intrepid L11, “the most challenging time in the Falklands conflict.”[1]

The Admiral’s father was from South Africa. He studied in the UK to be a doctor. He met the Admiral’s mother, a nurse, and together they established a practice in West Sussex. With the war, his father joined the Royal Navy as a doctor. He loved his wartime service and remained in the reserves through his eighties. This had a distinct influence on young Peter, who passed his entrance exams and then found himself accepted to the Royal Navy College just in time to assume his first duty as a guard among those lining the street for Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation. This thrilling event for a young “Snotty” was doused with verbal cold saltwater when the captain of the college told him and his term that they were “the worst term in the entire history of the college…” What a start to 37 years of service in the Royal Navy.

His afloat training included three months on Britain’s last battleship, HMS Vanguard, as well as another three months on the light cruiser HMS Superb. It was onboard Superb that Dingemans’ first interacted with the United States Navy occurred. I found this part of his book an interesting comparison to the curriculum between the US Naval Academy and that of the Royal Naval College. There seems to be a great deal more training at sea than in the classroom for the former during the 1950s.

Whilst Superb was anchored in Guantanamo Bay, Dingemans visited the shore facilities there. “There was Coca Cola on tap and more impressively — to ration-starved Brits — the PX/NEX stores […] selling a gang of consumer goods.” For me, reading this passage brought back a very early memory of me holding my mother’s hand as we stood in a ration queue in England during the summer of 1952.

The second part of his book deals with his command of the assault ship HMS Intrepid prior to and during the Falklands War. For me, this part of the book is worth the purchase. It provides unique insight into the realities of amphibious operations, especially in an intensive combat environment. I found his explanation of how a ship like Intrepid was able to float off and then recover its landing craft from its well deck straightforward and uncomplicated. As Admiral Dingemans said, the process “…illustrates why later in the Falklands conflict I was worried about making myself a sitting duck during amphibious landings.”

He did an excellent job discussing what it takes to bring a ship back to life and send her off to war. When Argentina invaded the Falklands on 2 April 1982, Intrepid was already in dry dock awaiting to be sold or transferred to reserve status and eventual disposal. On 5 April, Dingemans had just completed handing over his ship when he was ordered back to Intrepid to work her up as quickly as possible. This was a daunting task. As the author wrote, “A ship in Reserve resembles a filleted fish. You’re left with the bare bones and a dismembered body.” All but twenty-two of the ship’s company were returned to their old ship. In 17 days, the ship was considered ready to head south and after a working weekend, Intrepid left Portland on 26 April.

Throughout Admiral Dingemans’ experience during the Falklands War, I was reminded of how warships will perform tasks their designers never envisioned them to do. This can be seen in the Admiral’s own words when he relates the various tasks that Intrepid was call upon to do:

“Little did we realise that over the next five weeks we would play host to 4,750 visitors. We were to have on board the Commandos and Paras, the Scots Guards, the SAS and the Gunners. We would be used for the reception of casualties, prisoners, fire fighters and Special Forces. We ferried troops, went mine hunting and acted as an Exocet decoy. We repaired ships, washed laundry and operated helicopters and landing craft throughout the war.”

Admiral Dingemans goes to considerable lengths to show how versatile Intrepid was during the campaign. His story would have benefited from a map showing his ship’s positions. They would have complemented his passage reports and recollection of his part and that of his ship during the war.

I found two very useful tools a commander must be cognizant of using to support his or her subordinates in the performance of their duties whilst under the tremendous stress that only combat creates. The first Admiral Dingemans stresses is communication. “While sailing to Ascension we honed our existing communication systems so that we kept the whole ship informed […] People can cope with many terrible things if they know what dangers they face and can trust those commanding the ship to keep them up to speed.” He especially kept the communication links open to the ship’s company during the many air raids Intrepid experienced whilst operating, mostly at anchor in San Carlos Water. “Throughout the raids I had the ship’s main broadcast in my hand and as events occurred I relayed them to the ship’s company. This I was able to do while under attack until the end of hostilities some 24 days later.”

The second is the realization that one must accept the inevitability of the unexpected. It is the leader’s duty to meet the unexpected by ensuring that his subordinates are properly and thoroughly trained. However, to be able to meet the inevitability of the unexpected, the leader must emphasize that initiative is expected from all and trust is the foundation between individuals regardless of rank. This Admiral Dingemans shows in his book.

I found Admiral Dingemans’ book an important addition to the British narrative of the Falklands War, especially from the perspective of a ship’s commanding officer. For that alone I would recommend it to all who practice the amphibious art.


Captain Rodgaard heads the National Capital Commandery of the Naval Order of the United States.

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BOOK REVIEW – Crisis in the Mediterranean: Naval Competition and Great Power Politics, 1904-1914

Crisis in the MediterraneanBy Jon K. Hendrickson, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2014)

Reviewed by Richard P. Hallion Ph.D.

Author Jon K. Hendrickson’s book Crisis in the Mediterranean is most timely, as its publication happily coincided with the beginning of commemorations of the centenary of the Great War.

If, to the public mind, naval power in that war is too often neglected in favor of the mud and misery of the Western Front, military professionals and students of military and diplomatic history will recognize the influence that maritime strategy and naval developments played in the war. Churchill’s famously remarked that Grand Fleet commander Admiral Sir John Jellicoe was the only commander who could “lose the war in an afternoon.” Although he was arguably overbroad, Churchill nevertheless captured the centrality of naval power to the war.

As with the war on land and the emergence of war in the air, the war at sea witnessed the introduction of new technologies that dramatically increased the capabilities of surface combatants. In the case of the submarine, new technologies transformed the face of naval warfare itself.

The role of naval power was an accelerant to war, as exemplified by the great Anglo-German naval rivalry prior to conflict. It has been extensively studied by a wide range of historians, and is bounded, in effect, from the late Arthur Marder’s The Road to War, 1904-1914, the first of his epochal multivolume study From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow (London: Oxford University Press, 1961) to Jan Rüger’s The Great Naval Game: Britain and Germany in the Age of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

The focus on Britain and Germany has so illuminated their rival naval thinking and strategies so bright that it darkened naval thought, planning, and strategies of the “others:” those lesser naval powers that confronted the challenge of adjusting to the Anglo-German naval rivalry and their own rivalries, played out in the Mediterranean and Adriatic. While Marder and Rüger mention these nations in passing, their discussion understandably treats them as effectively a sideshow to the more dramatic naval theaters of the North Sea.

Hendrickson (the first Class of 1957 Fellow in Naval History at the United States Naval Academy) has brought into light the naval competition and maneuvering of these lesser powers. In so doing, he has added greatly to our appreciation for the complex naval environment existing at the beginning of August 1914.

Hendrickson begins by examining what he calls “The Mediterranean Equilibrium,” as the “Century of British Dominance in the Mediterranean” (p.16). It was the decline of British maritime supremacy in the Mediterranean (which, as author Hendrickson notes, it was won only after a century of conflict culminating at Trafalgar) that led to the destabilization of this equilibrium, and encouraged naval rivalries among these lesser powers that “would have ushered in a new Mediterranean equilibrium,” save for the “unexpected outbreak of World War I” (p. 1).

A chief feature of these lesser rivalries were the maritime arms races to take advantage of the naval developments of the late steel-and-steam era. This was coupled with technologies such as centralized fire control, torpedoes, steam turbines, etc. France, Italy, and Austria-Hungary—the last became an unpleasant surprise for Britain—embarked on costly force restructuring and build-up.

Italy’s position among these powers made a stable alignment of rival states into two camps an effective impossibility. Italy was nominally part of the Triple Alliance, with being Germany and Austria-Hungary, making them a rival to Great Britain and France. Their position within this alliance afforded significant security against what might otherwise have been its two great regional “threats,” France and Austria-Hungary. At the outbreak of the Great War, Italy remained briefly neutral before casting its lot in with the Allies. This led to the unexpected result that, rather than being a foe of the British-French alliance, they became an ally and a foe of its previous partners, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Stranger partnerships have rarely existed, illuminating what might be termed the “Greater Lesser Power Politics” of the time.

Between 1904 and 1914, naval spending by Mediterranean powers like Italy roughly doubled. Austrian naval investment in that time nearly tripled. Italy’s doubled. France, always spending approximately twice that of Italy and over three times that of Austria, rose by approximately sixty percent. That money bought new classes of warships that overthrew the previous “equilibrium.” By 1912, the fleets were surprisingly balanced in capabilities. Battle-line tonnage of the Austrian and Italian fleets, for example, was roughly equal (though Austria was on an accelerated growth rate that would take it past that of Italy given time), and more significantly, the broadside throw-weight of the two fleets was roughly equivalent as well (this reflects a precipitous decline in Italy’s throw-weight between 1908-09, and Austria overall doubling of its throw-weight between 1907 and 1911). (For more information, see his Tables 1.1, 3.1, and 3.2)

Thus, at least to this reviewer, a stage was set for what could have been a much-wider-ranging Mediterranean naval war more resembling more of the Second World War than the First, one that if not having, perhaps, its own “Jutland,” might well have had its own “Matapan.” [Since Hendrickson’s is largely a policy study, readers may wish to consult Siegfried Breyer’s classic Battleships and Battle Cruisers, 1905-1970 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1973) to examine the technical characteristics of the various vessels involved, many of which were surprisingly powerful, robust, and fleet-worthy ships].

Hendrickson provocatively depicts this growing naval rivalry in terms of a counterfactual “what might have been” had the Great War not occurred. Instead, as he notes:

“The stage was set for a naval race that, for a chance meeting in Sarajevo, never happened. World War I ultimately allowed Britain to reassert its place as the dominant Mediterranean power, as Italy swapped sides, the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires fell apart, and France drew down military expenditures after the war.” (p. 187)

Hendrickson’s work adds both to our understanding of Mediterranean naval affairs and the Mediterranean cockpit of potential-and-actual conflict. In recent years, a number of historians have devoted increasing attention to the Balkans, and (in particular) to Italy’s short, sharp war with Turkey in 1911-12. The author commendably moors this work to such milestones and influences, and it makes his history all the more convincing. Overall, he has done impressive research in primary sources in the national archives of the various countries, and it shows. Despite such an academic pedigree, his book is remarkably free of the kind of pedantic, formulaic writing often found among “Academy” products turned into books.

Readers will its implied lessons for our own times, on what happens when a dominant power loses its position of relative supremacy and thereby opens up an opportunity for others to attempt to fill the vacuum—and the terrible price that is typically paid by sailors, airmen, and soldiers when such occurs.

This is a most welcome, provocative, insightful, and highly recommended work, one that is, indeed, an essential reference for any student of Great War naval history and policy.


Dr. Hallion is a former Air Force historian with extensive service to various agencies.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Yankee Expedition to Sebastopol: John Gowen and the Raising of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 1857-1862

Veit_Yankee Expedition to SebastapolBy Chuck Veit, published through Lulu.com (2014)

Reviewed by Robert P. Largess

Forty years ago, I picked Commander Edward Ellsberg’s On the Bottom off the bookshelf of an elderly friend, a favorite from his own boyhood. The story of the raising of the submarine S-51 from 132 feet of seawater off Block Island in 1925 was my first introduction to the world of the salvor and the bitterly punishing and dangerous trade of the traditional “hard hat” deep sea diver. I hadn’t been back there until I read Chuck Veit’s The Yankee Expedition to Sebastopol: John Gowen and the Raising of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 1857-1862.

Most Americans know the Crimean War only through The Charge of the Light Brigade, Florence Nightingale, Tolstoy’s Sebastopol Sketches – and perhaps the armored floating batteries that provided the inspiration for the ironclad warship. However, the war crippled Russia’s naval power in the Black Sea and frustrated its designs on Constantinople for a generation. It also left the fortress city of Sebastopol in ruins and its fine harbor blocked and littered with perhaps 90 wrecks, including fifteen sailing ships-of-line and nine very valuable iron-hulled steamers. In 1856, the Russian Imperial government approached Boston entrepreneur and self-taught engineer John Gowen to undertake the task of raising this fleet – still the largest salvage operation in history and one of the first to contemplate raising large ships intact from considerable depths of 60 feet.

Who was he? John Gowen was a briefly celebrated private citizen. The author had to piece together his portrait of the man and his achievements from his speeches, contemporary newspaper reports, and letters. The story begins with his first experiments with metal helmet diving gear – invented by the English Dean brothers in the 1820’s to enable firefighters to enter a burning building without being overcome by smoke. Its potential for diving was soon recognized and was successfully used to salvage guns from a wrecked warship in 1836. Gowen and his partner Wells used it for salvage, improved it, and marketed their own version of “Submarine Armor,” basically the same design used for all diving for more than 100 years, until the invention of SCUBA gear. Its use was incredibly hazardous. “Death could come from the slightest of mistakes: the failure of the pump, a break of the supply hose, or a careless stepping on the air tube as it lay along the deck.”

It also brought great rewards. Success led to an exploit that brought Gowen to the attention of the Russian Grand Duke Constantine and the removal of the wreck of the steam paddle frigate USS Missouri from Gibraltar harbor in 1852 after she had lain there defeating all efforts of British salvors for nine years. Gowen signed a contract with Russia in 1856 to clear Sebastopol by 1862. In return, he would receive half the value of all the ships and material brought up – an estimate worth 65 million dollars – and began assembling his men and equipment in Philadelphia.

There are three basic methods for raising a sunken ship: by crane, by making it buoyant by filling its hull with air, and by attaching external flotation devices. Gowen intended to use the last, much like Ellsberg did when he raised the S-51 with pairs of metal pontoon floats. Each pair was connected by a chain slung under the keel of the sub, which supported and lifted the vessel between them. Gowen built four huge wooden “caissons” in Philadelphia, with each one 50 x 50 x 13 ft., displacing 1,040 tons, and built two more even bigger at Sebastopol, both 100 x 65 x 64 ft., displacing 4,576 tons. But it was the attachment of the chains which posed one of Gowen’s most difficult problems. All of the exposed wood of the hulls was honeycombed by the tunnels of the “teredo navalis,” or shipworm, reducing it to a state of paper like fragility. The chains could not be passed through the hulls, which was Gowen’s original plan. Only the fact that the lower sides of many hulls were covered in many feet of soft mud protected them from the shipworm and left them strong enough to be lifted. But how did they get the chains under their keels? It was necessary to devise novel ways for the divers to tunnel under their hulls so a line could be passed through to pull the chain sling out the other side of the ship.

Gowen went to work in 1857 demolishing wrecks and removing them piecemeal. It was only in 1858 that he began to bring up completely intact ships. At this point, it would be most interesting to know if he was truly the inventor of the caissons, or the first to use this technique of raising ships with such rigid external floats. This is suggested by the fact that both at Gibraltar and Sebastopol another man’s earlier invention was tried without success: “camels,” or inflatable canvas, and rubber floats. These all burst at only partial inflation pressures; plainly the materials of the time were inadequate to justify the concept. But more to the point, Gowen was the master of finding solutions that worked, adopting whatever came to hand and surmounting all unexpected technical glitches. He was a man of many parts – the epitome of the brash, self-confident, but big-hearted stereotypical American. When asked by the governor of Gibraltar if he knew that the Missouri had defeated the best of the world’s engineers, he replied “May I enquire of Your Excellency if any of these engineers were Yankees?”

He was undaunted in the face of setbacks, not the least of which were some very dirty tricks played on him by the Russian government. His can-do generosity was revealed by his personal crusade to restore and protect the graves of the English, French, and Turkish soldiers who died at Sebastopol, which he found in a state of total neglect. Chuck Veit has single-handedly rescued Gowen from oblivion and given this impressive and attractive character his place in history. As a self-taught natural engineer, Gowen’s story is inherently interesting, like that of the Wright brothers, John Holland, or Barnes Wallis. Mr. Veit does not appear to be an academic, but he writes fine history based on meticulous, imaginative research. This book will provide a rewarding read for anyone fascinated with the long story of man and the sea – but it is definitely required reading for those interested in the history of the art of the salvor or nineteenth century technology.

This book is self-published by the author, and it’s worth noting how the computer has made this type of work so much more accessible to its intended audience. In days gone by, I could only have encountered such a work by chance, browsing booksellers’ shelves or catalogs. Today they are readily available online. This goes far to make such research into the neglected corners of history far more rewarding to those of us who are addicted to it.


Robert P. Largess is the author of USS Albacore: Forerunner of the Future and articles on USS Triton, SS United States, the invention of the towed sonar array, and the history of Lighter-Than-Air.    

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Holloway_HMS WASPBy Peter J. Holloway, Book Guild Publishing, Sussex, England (2014)

Reviewed by Ed Calouro

HMS Wasp is a work of historical fiction which largely mirrors the author’s own life experiences, especially his own time in the Royal Navy. The novel’s first chapter opens in the 1950s with Edward “Ted” Harris as a probationary teacher at Blackhawk Junior, a school for disadvantaged students in the East End of London. It then goes back to tell the story of the rather circuitous journey that led him there.

The reader quickly learns Ted was not a serious student in secondary school. He did make a point to stay after school on a regular basis for instruction in English, but that was because he was enamored with Miss Joy Fielding, his beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed English teacher. Upon reflection, Ted acknowledges he did not really apply himself nor fully value his education. His lack of ambition led him to a dead-end job at a bookkeeping firm. It took something extraordinary to shake him out of his lethargy. National Service, the British equivalent of the draft, opened Ted’s eyes.

Ted was fortunate to land in the Royal Navy. After an intensive six-month training period at the RN Electrical School in Chatham, Ted was posted to the HMS Wasp, a sloop, built in the 1930s and showing her age. He, along with four other electrical mechanics second class, a leading electrical mechanic, and, most importantly, chief petty officer “RIP” Henderson, make up the Green Empire, the electrical division on HMS Wasp. It is Ted’s good fortune to serve under CPO Henderson. He is a father figure who doles out good advice to his charges. It was the chief who encouraged Harris to sit for his General Certificate of Education (GCE) exams. His passing them opened the possibility of a college education and his future teaching career.

The other major benefit of National Service was Ted’s yearlong service on the America and West Indies station. This took him to places he would not otherwise have seen, such as Jamaica; St. Lucia; Savannah, GA; Bermuda; and Nassau. A product of the 1950s, Ted was influenced by Sister Muriel at the Baptist School. She considered almost everything a sin and would have been shocked by what took place when the Wasp pulled into port. In Jamaica, Ted meets Paula, a woman of the world, who correctly pegs him as a “cherry boy.” “Having his feet under the table,” as the local expression had it, Ted quickly lost his innocence.

While he appreciates going to places he would not normally se, Ted laments that he no sooner got the feel of the place when the Navy ranked him away. He quickly concluded the navy was no place for a married man because of the long separations from family.

At the end of the year-long exotic cruise, Ted has to decide if he should sign-on for an additional five-year hitch or return to civilian life. Wisely taking the advice of CPO Henderson, he decides to further his education and heed his grandfather’s advice, “if you want to be taken seriously in England, never take a job where you get your hands dirty.” When the Wasp returns to England, Harris still has about five months shore duty to fulfill his two-year National Service. Along the way, he meets the mysterious Jean Fraser. She initially refuses to say much about herself, and there’s a very good reason, but you’ll have to read the book to find this out and what happens to CPO Henderson and the HMS Wasp.

Holloway has written an engaging first novel. The reader quickly becomes involved with the characters. Holloway’s descriptions of events are not graphic and leave much to the imagination, as befits a story set in the 1950s. The author has set the stage for one or two more novels which continue Harris’ life. The first volume is reminiscent of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. There is room here for a sequel that takes us through Harris’ college and university years. Then, Holloway might write a book similar to McCourt’s Teacher Man, to take us through Harris’ subsequent life as a teacher in a school for students at risk. Based upon his enjoyable first novel, one hopes Holloway cranks out two more volumes – soon.


Ed Calouro is an Adjunct Instructor at Rhode Island College.

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BOOK REVIEW – MAN & THE SEA – Shipwrecks of Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon 1792 – 1949

Man and the SeaBy Wayne O’Neil, Midway Printery, Long Beach, WA (2013)

Reviewed by Charles Bogart

The author uses a broad-brush definition of what constitutes a shipwreck vessel. The book covers not only ships lost from grounding, touching bottom, effects of weather, fire, and collision, but also ships that suffered non fatal hull damage from grounding and touching bottom, or were salvaged after running ashore. The history and fate of over 200 ships are chronicled in Man & the Sea. Each ship receives anywhere from a third of a page to three pages of text. The book thus can be read at random, as the only connection between the stories of the individual ships detailed in the book is that they were involved in an incident on the Columbia River or along the nearby Pacific Ocean coast.

Most of the ship stories told are supported by drawings or pictures, and a map locating the incident. The front of the book has a wonderful map of the lower Columbia River and of the Pacific Ocean coast to either side of the river. The author has annotated this map with the location of the various physical features central to the ship loses covered in the book’s text.

As one might expect, the majority of ships discussed within this book are sailing ships that voyaged over the waters off of Oregon’s and Washington’s Pacific Ocean coast between the years 1845 and 1920. Most of the sailing ship incidents recorded by the author occur as the result of weather, generally in the form of fog or storms. Steam powered ships are also covered with most of those recorded being engaged in the coastal lumber trade in the years before 1940.

The author takes time to pause in his text to cover the construction of the Columbia River’s North and South jetties and the efforts of the local Lifesaving Service. There is also an extensive glossary of nautical terms included at the end of the book. The book contains a few minor errors of fact; the most noticeable is in reference to USAT Arrow, which wrecked off the Columbia River in 1947, as USS Arrow.

The book is well written and illustrated and great for a bedtime read. It would make a great Christmas or birthday gift for the person just getting interested in the lore of the sea. As an aside, the book is printed on paper salvaged from part of the deck cargo Hawaiian Planter lost overboard on 24 January 1965 while crossing the Columbia River bar.


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

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