Norman’s Corner: My Adopted Brother

By Norman Polmar

(Editor’s note: This is the 24th in a series of blogs by Norman Polmar—author, analyst, and consultant specializing in the naval, aviation, and intelligence fields. Follow the full series here.)

Thomas B. Allen

Thomas B. Allen

The U.S. nuclear attack submarine Thresher sank during sea trials off the New England coast on 10 April 1963, with the loss of all 129 men on board. The Thresher was the world’s first nuclear submarine to be lost and, in terms of casualties, remains history’s worst submarine disaster.

A week or so after her loss, I received a call from Lieutenant Commander David Cooney of the Office of Navy Information. He said that a major publisher wanted to produce a book on the Thresher disaster and that he had recommended me. Would I talk to the publisher? My first book—entitled Atomic Submarines—was about to be published and Cooney felt that I was in a good position to write about the disaster. (Cooney later served as Chief of Navy Information for five years and retired as a rear admiral.)
I was very hesitant. The Thresher was the Navy’s most modern submarine: Details about her were highly classified, and the Navy would probably not talk about such a major disaster so soon after the event. But I agreed to meet with the publisher. A short time later I was having dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Washington, D.C., with Thomas B. Allen, managing editor of Chilton Books.

Subsequently, with the encouragement of two of my mentors, Rear Admiral F.J. (Fritz) Harlfinger and Commander Dominic Paolucci, I agreed to undertake the project. Through their efforts I was able to meet and interview the Thresher’s first commanding officer, Commander Dean Axene, as well as several other Navy officers and civilians associated with the submarine. *

Tom Allen/Chilton Books published Death of the Thresher in 1964. It was a success, having eight printings with a revised edition being published in 2001. My conclusion that a “reactor scram” was the incident that began the chain of events that caused the loss of the submarine has stood the test of time.
Chilton arranged for me to do several radio and television interviews about the book. I did a couple of shows in Philadelphia and Tom was kind enough to invite me to stay at his home in nearby Wayne, Pennsylvania. I met his wife, Scottie, later an accomplished potter, and their three children.
I learned that Tom had joined the Naval Reserve at age 18, and in the 1950s, as a journalist, spent almost two years on active duty at the naval training center at Bainbridge, Maryland. His “sea time” in the Navy was a couple of two-week cruises in a destroyer. Thus, he had a “soft spot” for Navy-related books.

Leaving Chilton in December 1965, Tom joined National Geographic Books in Washington, D.C., and moved to nearby Bethesda, Maryland. We kept in close contact and we saw each other, often with our wives, on a regular basis. Later we all would take mini- vacations together and we all had a two-week, research-holiday trip to England and Italy.

In the late 1960s I began writing a biography of Admiral H.G. Rickover, head of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program. I had spoken to Rickover on several occasions (by telephone)—see the earlier blog in this series—and I had read his many volumes of congressional testimony and his articles with keen interest. Having by then written two books about nuclear submarines (Atomic Submarines and Death of the Thresher), as well as several articles on the subject, I had made many friends and contacts in the field, I felt comfortable writing about the nuclear submarine programs and the Navy with regard to Rickover’s career and activities. But I was uneasy when it came to the “people” side of the Rickover story.

After several discussions, Tom—at the time senior book editor at National Geographic —and I agreed to collaborate on the biography. Following many interviews and considerable research, and threats by Rickover to halt the publication of the book, Rickover: Controversy and Genius was published by Simon and Schuster in early 1982. Its publication was almost simultaneous with Admiral Rickover being forced out of the Navy. The book was a success, subsequently appearing in a revised paperback edition.
Meanwhile, Tom and I went on to write books on our own and with other collaborators. Tom has written some 30 books, several novels among them, one made into a movie for television. But as our close relationship continued “post-Rickover,” we realized that our joint effort had been both productive and enjoyable. Thus, over the next couple of decades Tom and I collaborated on another half-dozen books:

All of these books originally were in hard back editions with subsequent paperback printings; most also were translated into other languages, especially Russian, Polish, and Japanese. And, with our friend Cliff Barry, Tom and I wrote the book CNN: War in the Gulf: From the Invasion of Kuwait To the Day of Victory (1991), which sold a couple of hundred thousand copies in English and Japanese editions.
Tom and I also coauthored several articles for newspapers and magazines, including a cover story on anti-submarine warfare for The New York Times Sunday magazine. Tom and I shared the Rear Admiral Ernest M. Eller Prize for writing from the Naval Historical Center in 1996, and Tom’s writing for Naval History magazine earned him the Naval Institute’s author of the year award in 2004.

Despite our very different political views, Tom and I got on famously—and continue to do so, on both a professional and personal basis. Tom had two sisters and I have one. Neither of us had male siblings; consequently, over time we came to look at each other as “brothers.” Yes, we argue—almost invariably over politics; but we are always “there” for each other; we are each other’s greatest critics when it comes to writing, but also each other’s greatest supporters.

Fifty years ago Tom thought that a book on the Thresher disaster had to be written. He was correct… and I like to think that he and Dave Cooney were correct in getting me to write it.

* Harlfinger retired as a vice admiral; Paolucci as a captain; and Axene as a rear admiral.

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New Aircraft Additions to the Cold War Gallery

LCDR Michael "Pyscho" McLeod, USN (Ret) adjusts the Fj-4b Fury model during its installation in the Cold War Gallery.

LCDR Michael “Pyscho” McLeod, USN (Ret) adjusts the FJ-4B Fury model during its installation in the Cold War Gallery.

The first thing visitors see when they walk through the doors of the Navy Museum’s Cold War Gallery is the massive Trident I C-4 Missile.  Looking left, an impressive glass case sits right next to the Ready Room Theater.  The case houses a wide array of 1:48 scale models of aircraft developed and flown during the Cold War era.  Once complete, this collection will include nearly forty models that highlight the history and achievements of modern naval aviation.

World-class model builder and retired naval aviator LCDR Michael “Psycho” McLeod recently added four new aircraft models to the case.  All of the models were researched, designed, and built by McLeod.  NHF volunteer Captain Ted Bronson, USN (Ret), the coordinator of this aircraft model project, was also on hand to help “Psycho” organize and place the models into the case.

“Psycho” is extremely humble about the craftsmanship of his long time hobby.  The Satellite Beach, Florida resident and Delta Airlines pilot works hard to ensure every iota of detail is included with each aircraft, often with little photographic evidence. The level of care taken to construct the scaled planes is impressive, even for the unassuming visitor.  Enthusiasts of history and model making will marvel at his ingenuity for years to come.

McLeod wants to be clear: he does not build toys. He builds MODELS. In part, they are much more than that.  Most military models, like tanks and ships, represent a specific series or class of machines manufactured in times of war and peace.  Most planes in any Revell model kit are exactly the same.  What makes McLeod’s models so significant and unique are the touches of personalization.

Like the pilots that flew them years ago, there is a unique story to every aircraft in the model case.  Each model is individually matched to the man or woman that sponsored or dedicated the plane to be built by “Psycho.”  It is the men and women that fly the planes, not the planes itself, that make the story.  He is not only making models, he is making miniature monuments.

F-11F Tiger "Blue Angel," sponsored by RADM William A. Gureck in honor of Captain Robert L. Rasmussen

F-11F Tiger “Blue Angel,” sponsored by RADM William A. Gureck in honor of Captain Robert L. Rasmussen

The most recognizable of the four planes added last month is the F-11F Tiger, dedicated in honor of Captain Robert L. Rasmussen.  The plane is painted in the likeness of Captain Rasmussen’s plane during his 1956 tour with the flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels.  It was sponsored by RADM Bill Gureck, who was the Blue Angel PAO during this time. The Blue Angels flew the Grumman Tiger for approximately 12 years.  Prior to his tour with the Blue Angels, Captain Rasmussen flew F-8 Crusaders.  A long time friend to the arts and education world, Rasmussen serves as the director of the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.

F7U-3 Cutlass, sponsored by RADM James M. Gleim

F7U-3 Cutlass, sponsored by RADM James M. Gleim

The F7U-3 Cutlass, sponsored by RADM James M. “mac” Gleim is by far the most unusual and short-lived aircraft.  RADM Gleim flew the plane with the VA-34 “Blue Blasters” in 1956.  The version he flew, the F7U-3, is considered the best version of its various prototypes.  The plane was seen as a mechanical blunder for the Navy, as several of its test pilots and pilots died while in the cockpit of the aircraft.  The Navy produced 192 of the F7U-3 type in the early to mid 1950s.

FJ-4B Fury, sponsored by VADM Gerald E. "Jerry" Miller

FJ-4B Fury, sponsored by VADM Gerald E. “Jerry” Miller in honor of LCDR Richard King

The FJ-4B Fury sponsored by VADM Jerry Miller was created in honor of LCDR Richard King.  King was the skipper of VA-214 (“Volunteers”) in the mid 1950s.  The Fury is a very distinctive aircraft.  The specific FJ-4 Fury single seat model is a fast fighter-bomber powered by a 7,700 lb. turbojet engine.  The Navy and Marine Corps used Fury aircraft extensively during its service in the 1950s and 1960s.

F4D-1 Skyray, sponsored by Captain Thomas Wimberly

F4D-1 Skyray, sponsored by Captain Thomas Wimberly

The final model, the F4D-1 Skyray, is sponsored by Captain Thomas Wimberly.  During 1957,  Wimberly and his Skyray flew with VF-141 aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard (CVA-31).  Captain Wimberly, among other career accomplishments, was the XO of VF-74 (“Be-Devilers”) flying F-4 Phantoms during the 1967 fire aboard the USS Forrestal (CV-59).  “Psycho” McLeod conducted extensive research to make sure the Skyray was set to its 1956-1957 specifications.

Special thanks to LCDR McLeod for his hard work and dedication in making these models.  Visit the “Fly Navy” page of the Cold War Gallery website to see photos of the other aircraft models now on display.

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Former NHF Staff Member Completes LEGO USS Lexington Model

Dave Colamaria and the "Lady Lex"

Dave Colamaria and the “Lady Lex”

By Dave Colamaria

This week is the annual LEGO Shipbuilding Contest at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, and I’ve finished my contribution to the event in the nick of time. This weekend I completed work on a 7 foot long version of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV 2).

USS Lexington2 16The project took me a little over 2 months, and I estimate that I used between 10,000 and 11,000 LEGO bricks. I’m mostly pleased how it turned out, though there are always challenges trying to make curvy naval shapes with blocky LEGO bricks. I decided to focus on Lexington’s early configuration, from the late 1920’s. Over the following decade, numerous changes were made, including the addition of a significant number of anti-aircraft guns, as well as the widening of her flight deck at the bow. I liked her clean, simple lines from the late 20’s best, and settled on that look for my model. I designed 3 different types of biplanes for her air group. I have small float plane scouts (with black tail colors), two squadrons of fighters (blue and white tail colors) and a squadron of large torpedo planes with red tails. Each squadron’s leader is indicated by a fuselage stripe matching the squadron’s tail colors.  I decided to build the wooden flight deck using a brown color with white stripes. At various points Lexington and her sister ship Saratoga had different stains on her flight deck (including what must have been a rather garish looking maroon stain with orange striping) but I liked the brown and white contrast. I am very much looking forward to the event next weekend, especially all the wild and crazy creations that people will be bringing from home! In addition to Lexington I’ll be bringing a long a 5 foot long Fletcher class destroyer made from LEGOs, I hope to see you there.

More pictures to follow.  If you want to see the full scale, you should come to the event!

For more information about the event, please go to the HRNM Facebook Page.

Dave's Impressive Fleet!

Dave’s Impressive Fleet!

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Shipping Out: My Experiences on a Commercial Tanker (Part II)

This is the second of three articles that describe my experiences while serving as an engineer aboard commercial tankers in 1961. These articles provide a perspective on the different engineering practices between the Navy and Merchant Marine in the post-World War II era.  (READ THE FIRST ARTICLE HERE)

I just completed a stint of vacation relief as Third Assistant Engineer on the Texaco Minnesota (These experiences are described in Part I of this series). Texaco only operated two ships on the West Coast at the time, the Minnesota and Delaware, so jobs were rather limited. They needed a vacation relief for the 3rd Assistant Engineer on the Delaware, so I was offered an immediate reassignment. I was warned ahead of time that I might find the new ship a bit peculiar. Yet I was happy to take the assignment. I packed my bag and caught a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle. From there, I took a bus to Anacortes, Washington where I was to meet the ship. I arrived at the pier around 9PM.

Texaco Delaware was not a T-2, but a close cousin. It nonetheless forms part of the story of my experiences in the Texaco fleet. It was probably the most unique steamship I ever set foot aboard. The ship was built alongside the Texaco Minnesota at Sun Shipbuilding in Chester, PA, and it entered service around the same time in 1943. It was similar in size to a T-2. But the lines were somewhat different. A prominent feature was a very fat stack located at the forward end of the deckhouse, rather than aft on a T-2.

Texaco Delaware

Texaco Delaware

Texaco operated five ships of this type in 1961. They were not a standard Maritime Commission design. They were specially designed for Texaco with the idea in mind of outrunning submarines. The ships were slightly smaller than a T-2 and had a lower cargo capacity. The power plant was geared turbine, with a maximum rating of 10,500 SHP. This gave the ship a service speed of 16 knots. But in a lightly loaded condition the ship was known to make speeds upwards of 18 or 20 knots.

The ship’s listed homeport was Wilmington, California. It actually spent most of the time in the Pacific Northwest, carrying petroleum products of all types to different ports in the Puget Sound area. We made two trips to Portland, Oregon and one to Los Angeles each month. At least 50% of our time was spent in restricted waters.

I learned my lesson aboard Minnesota the hard way. After reporting aboard, I joined the Second Assistant Engineer on the mid watch for a tour of the engine room. Compared to a T-2, the machinery spaces were relatively compact. There were a lot of strange features.

The engine was a conventional cross compound Westinghouse geared turbine. The double reduction gears were of the nested type. It was a fairly neat installation. The gears were very noisy in operation compared to those aboard a naval vessel. Control was by a set of fairly conventional throttle wheels located on the main gage board at the front of the engine. The engine room looked basically the same, as shown in the following illustration:

Engine Room
The fire room was immediately forward of the engine room on the upper level. It was accessible through a watertight door to the left of the throttle platform. The first unusual feature was the boilers themselves. There were two Foster-Wheeler “M” type boilers located side by side. The boilers were divided furnace with controlled superheat. They produced steam at approximately 450 psi and 740ºF. There were three burners in the saturated side and two in the superheater furnace. The boilers were basically scaled down versions of those found on most naval surface combatants of that era. Boilers of this type, however, were very rarely found aboard commercial ships. They took up less space than the sectional header boilers on a T-2 tanker and were more responsive to changes in steam demand. Boiler control was done by a Bailey pneumatic system similar to the one on a T-2, except that there were steam temperature and pressure controllers on the panel. During maneuvering and port operations, it was our practice to keep one burner in use in the superheater furnace with the temperature controller at its minimum setting of approximately 630°F. Operation of the boilers could be a bit confusing to someone who had never seen them before.

When you got away from the firing aisle, the fire room was quite dark. It seemed like everything was covered in a layer of soot. I never dared go all the way to the top of the space because of the many uptake and casing leaks. When you blew tubes, it seemed like soot flew around everywhere. It was necessary for everyone in the fire room to wear goggles.

The cargo pumps were steam turbine driven. They were located in a amidships pump room. There was no automatic dump valve to the main condenser. The auxiliary exhaust valve located on the throttle platform had to be manually regulated to maintain an operating pressure of about 7 to 10 psi in the cargo pump exhaust line. It could not be left unattended without risking the loss of vacuum in the main condenser.

While we continued our tour of the lower level, the Second Assistant made a point to show me how to inject sawdust into the seawater circulating side of the main condenser. I wondered about this. I would find out why later on.

The electrical installation was straight out of the early century. It was 230 volts DC. There were two 250 kW turbo generator sets located on the starboard engine room on the upper level. The generators were of open construction with commutator, brushes, and windings completely exposed. They accumulated a lot of carbon dust during operation, so each set had to be cleaned once a month.

The main switchboard was of the live front type with all bus bars, fuses, and circuit breakers completely exposed. All that separated you from electrical shock was a small wooden handrail. It was of similar construction to the main switchboard on a Liberty Ship, shown in the following illustration:

Open Front Switchboard

Open Front Switchboard

The ship’s lighting system was supplied from a pair of 25 kW 230/115 VDC motor generator sets. Because of their limited capacity, the Chief Engineer was instructed to only use 25-watt bulbs around the ship. The combination of mahogany lined passageways and 25-watt bulbs resulted in an atmosphere akin to a 1910 ocean liner.

It was the practice aboard Texaco tankers to assign a full time electrician to T-2 tankers with AC distribution systems. On gear driven ships like the Texaco Delaware, this duty was assigned to the Third Assistant Engineer. Therefore, I doubled as the only electrician. This policy made no sense to me. DC machinery requires more maintenance than AC machinery because of the presence of commutators and carbon brushes. I found many of the ship’s motors caked with carbon dust and controllers with dirt and lube oil inside. The first time I took Megohmmeter (Megger) readings, I found around 5 motors with zero grounds. For some reason, the main circulating pump and LP air compressor motors were mounted with the rotors athwart ships. It was very difficult to keep brushes in them. With the exception of the main feed pumps, cargo pumps, steering gear, and major deck machinery, most of the auxiliary machinery was electric motor driven.

I had the same duties I had aboard Texaco Minnesota for the periodic cleaning of the main lube oil purifiers and strainers and maintaining lube oil levels in all equipment. This made for a very full plate. I looked on this as an excellent opportunity to learn something. I figured that I could not mess up the electrical plant any more than it was already. Armed with my Megger, some rags, cleaning solvent, and a copy of the Navy EM 1&C training manual, I undertook its cleaning. I also enjoyed the fact that I could collect overtime for going around the ship and changing light bulbs. I had a locker that contained a supply of light bulbs and brushes.

The ship’s refrigeration plants were in a compartment in the after part of the engine room. The machines were of the ammonia type. Ammonia is of course poisonous. One day, after the First Engineer had changed over machines, the entire engine room stank like a baby’s diaper for several hours afterwards.

Last but certainly not least was the steering gear. I have never seen another like it. It was of the steam screw type, about 20 feet in length. A small, two-cylinder steam engine drove a right and left hand screw shaft through a set of spur gears. The screw shafts ran through a pair of large nuts that were connected through link arms to the tiller head. Rotation of the screw shafts caused one nut to be screwed forward and the other aft. This action caused the rudder to be turned. Remote bridge control was by hydraulic telemotor. You could hear a rattling noise from the steering gear all over the after part of the ship whenever the rudder was put over.

Steam Screw Type Steering Gear

Steam Screw Type Steering Gear


Hydraulic Telemotor

Our procedure for getting underway was a lot less formal than it was aboard a naval vessel. On the turboelectric T-2s, we started answering bells as soon as STANDBY was received on the telegraph with no testing whatsoever. There was a little more to it on the Delaware. Prior to assuming the watch, I would venture out to the cargo deck to check the sailing time posted on the blackboard at the gangway. Underway preps required about 45 minutes.

The first step was to start up the standby generator. Two persons were required for this operation. The oiler would go below to open the exhaust valve, line up the auxiliary circulating and condensate pumps, and then come up to operate the hand lube oil pump while the engineer started up the unit. DC generators do not require synchronization, so all that was necessary was bringing the oncoming unit up to bus voltage. One of the generators was replaced at some time in the ship’s life due to damage from excessive water slugs in the turbine, so the two sets aboard Delaware were of different models and the startup procedures were somewhat different.

My next step was to go up on deck and look over the stern. If there were any small boats in the area near the propeller, I would shoo them away. I was the only engineer on the ship that did this, but it was what I was taught at MMA.

I would then stick my head out into the fire room and tell the fireman I was going to put steam on the engine. The oiler would go up to open the bulkhead stop valves while I disengaged the jacking gear.  That usually required the use of a pipe wrench on the motor shaft to release the torque.

I went back to start spinning the engine. The procedure was to first go astern and then back and forth until the main steam line temperature was up, finally leaving the engine to turn over slowly ahead at about 3 to 5 RPM.

About then, the whistle would blow overhead. It was time to go and test the steering gear. The first step was to take a swab and smear lube oil over every moving part in sight. It was necessary to then crack the steam valve slightly with the cylinder drains open to work out the water. The final step was to engage the telemotor by dropping a large pin into place and report to the mate that the gear was ready for testing. He would then cycle the rudder to hard over. It was a bit of a scary sight with lots of clattering and banging and parts flying around.

It was then time to test the EOT. Nothing on this ship was simple. The telegraph was operated from the bridge by about 300 feet of bicycle chains. To get it to ring, you had to swing it all the way to the FULL position and back again, like you saw in the movie Titanic. This took a considerable amount of effort. Complicating things was the fact that the chains would stretch or go slack, depending on the loading condition. Sometimes, the engine room pointer would wind up on the line between the SLOW and HALF positions. This required calling up the bridge to find out what the bell was.

The throttles themselves were easy to operate. Because of the noisy reduction gears, you could always tell when the shaft started to rotate without needing to look at a mirror. One significant difference from U.S. Navy procedures was that we treated every STOP bell as a stop shaft bell by the use of astern or ahead steam, as appropriate.

On the first FULL bell, the salinity indicator would frequently peg out accompanied by an audible alarm. The procedure was to turn the throttle over to the oiler and run down to the lower level. Next to the main circulating pump was an eductor arrangement with a funnel on the suction side that discharged into the condenser circulating water inlet piping. It was necessary to align the eductor and pour a bag of sawdust into the funnel until you heard the salinity alarm stop ringing. Sometimes, more than one bag would be required. The idea was that particles of sawdust would be drawn into tube leaks by the condenser vacuum, swell, and plug the leak. It was an old engineer’s trick that actually worked for short periods. We never could get the Chief Engineer to properly shut the plant down and fix the leaking tubes because of the requirement to handle the main cargo pump exhaust when in port.

Once during a tour of a shore side generating plant, I discovered a similar arrangement for sawdust injection in order to avoid the shut down of a large generator with disruption to the electrical distribution system

One time when we were in port, the salinity alarm went off and would not stop. I finally gave up after pouring five bags of sawdust and went up to see the Chief Engineer. This chief was not one to get involved in the day-to-day operations of the plant. But he had a remedy for me. He proceeded to the galley and got me a can of oatmeal. It worked.

By now, I knew that the boilers had to be hopelessly salted up. Both the First and Second Assistant Engineers were off the ship, so it was up to me. I proceeded up to the boiler chemistry sink in the fire room, picked up the Bull & Roberts manual, and proceeded to teach myself how to test water. I finally figured out how to test for salinity. Naturally, the readings were way up there. I traced out the chemical injection system and figured out how to inject chemicals. Naturally, this took a few hours. From there, I decided that I better give the boilers a bottom blow. I had to ask the fireman where the valves were. They turned out to be in back of the boilers down in the bilges. I had the fireman raise the water level and went back behind the boilers. There were no lights and it was pitch-black back there. I had to hunt for the valves with my flashlight. When I opened them, everything started rumbling and soot flew all over the place. I admit to being a bit scared. Fortunately, the First Assistant arrived back on board in time to bail me out.

Another incident that I remember occurred while we were transiting the Columbia River. All four main turbine glands started throwing copious sprays of water into the engine room. We had panic buttons at the throttle board so we could call other engineers for help when required. I pushed all of them with no result. They were all up in the forward deckhouse playing cards. I decided that the problem had to be drains backing up from the gland exhauster. I went down to check the LP drain tank. It was an oddball arrangement with a horizontal centrifugal pump located on top of the tank. I tried shifting to vacuum drag. But that just caused a loss of vacuum in the condenser. The pump was still running, but it had lost suction. I had a bright idea. I told my oiler to get some rags, wrap them around the pump casing, and start pouring cold water on it. He looked at me like I was nuts, but did as I suggested. Darned if it didn’t work. He was quite impressed.

I am sure the question is arising in one’s mind:  “Wasn’t it awful to have to sail on such a rust bucket? The answer is on the contrary. I enjoyed this tour more than either of the other Texaco ships that I served aboard. I learned an awful lot in a very short time. It was a great training experience, and I found it very useful during my subsequent naval career. I was sorry to leave when the time came. Texaco Delaware was scrapped in 1970.

You can still find devices such as a steam steering gear, hydraulic telemotor, and bicycle chain operated EOT aboard the Liberty Ship SS John Brown, which runs periodic daytime cruises out of Baltimore, Md.

By now, I had worked six months and accumulated 3 months’ vacation. Since Texaco only operated two ships on the West Coast, I was told that I would probably have to go to the Gulf if I wanted to stay with the company. They operated 23 ships out of Port Arthur at the time.

There is still one more ship to discuss in this series. It was a bit more conventional than the Texaco Delaware. But, there are plenty more adventures to talk about.

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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Norman’s Corner: An Airman’s Airman

By Norman Polmar

(Editor’s note: This is the 23nd in a series of blogs by Norman Polmar—author, analyst, and consultant specializing in the naval, aviation, and intelligence fields. Follow the full series here.)

Vice Admiral Donald Engen, USN Photo courtesy U.S. Naval Institute

Vice Admiral Donald Engen, USN
Photo courtesy U.S. Naval Institute

I knew Don Engen for a very brief period. Still, he had a significant influence on me.

Vice Admiral Engen dropped out of college shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and enlisted in the Navy.  He entered the Navy’s aviation cadet program in 1942.  He flew an SB2C Helldiver attack aircraft from the carrier Lexington (CV 16) in 1943-1944, taking part in the savage battles for Leyte Gulf.  In this period he was awarded the Navy Cross-second only to the Medal of Honor-for pressing home an attack against a Japanese warship. After the war, he was a civilian test pilot for Consolidated Vultee and studied at the University of California at Los Angeles.

He returned to active duty and became a fighter pilot, seeing combat in the Korean War, flying from the Valley Forge (CV 45), the first carrier in action in that conflict.  Subsequently, he attended the Empire Test Pilots School in Britain and served in a variety of naval aviation billets, both ashore and afloat.  After attending the Naval War College, he commanded the carrier America (CVA 66) in 1966-1967.  The carrier was in the Mediterranean during the 1967 Arab-Israel conflict.  When ordered to launch aircraft when the U.S. spy ship Liberty (AGTR 5) was under attack by Israeli air and naval forces, Engen refused.  His ship was in the midst of a nuclear weapons drill, and did not want to conduct flight operations until all nuclear weapons were secure in the magazines.

(The carrier Saratoga/CVA 60, also in the Mediterranean, did launch several aircraft—with conventional weapons.  They were recalled when it became known that the Liberty had been mistakenly attacked by Israeli forces.)

After commanding the America, Engen served in several key billets in the Pentagon and in the fleet.  He retired in 1978 as a vice admiral.

He worked in industry for a brief period and then reentered government service.  Engen served on the National Transportation Safety Board and, from 1984-1987, served as Federal Aviation Administrator.  He later held the Admiral Ramsey chair of naval aviation history at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.  In July 1996, he became the director of the National Air and Space Museum.

I met Engen on 31 January 1996, at an all-day seminar for aviation historians sponsored by the Association of Naval Aviation (ANA).  Early in the session, the attendees made brief comments about their on-going projects.  Engen introduced himself and said a few words about plans for forthcoming changes at the museum that he foresaw when he officially became director.   When my turn came, I said a few words about my aviation projects.  Turning to Engen, I asked, “When are you going to put the NC-4 on display at the museum?”

The Glenn Curtiss NC-4 had been the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic, in 1919.  Congress later passed legislation directing that the aircraft be placed on display at the museum, when the structure was built.   Engen explained that the NC-4 was in the museum collection, but was on loan to the Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.  Okay. I again asked when it was going to be placed in the Washington museum.  The chairman of the session suggested we take a coffee break.

At the museum, Engen immediately raised morale—a problem after the earlier Enola Gay exhibition fiasco.  He also began a successful fund-raising campaign to build the massive museum annex adjacent to Dulles international airport.

Engen and I again met almost a year later—on 23 January 1997—at the next ANA session for aviation historians.  The program was the same.  After Engen spoke, I again asked him about the NC-4.  He again said that the aircraft was in the museum collection, on loan to Pensacola.  I pushed harder.  He pushed back.  Oh, well.

Someone from the museum who was with Engen asked that I make an appointment to see him.  It was some time before we met.  When we did, he asked me to accept the Admiral Ramsey rotating history chair at the museum.  The reason for his invitation, he explained, was that my book, Aircraft Carriers: A History of Carrier Aviation and Its Influence on World Events, was an important publication.  Having been published in 1969, it was out of date.

If I accepted the Ramsey chair, he wanted me to revise and update the book.  I would receive a significant stipend, plus some expense funding.  After further discussions, I accepted and became the National Air and Space Museum’s Ramsey fellow on 1 October 1997.

I learned a lot about aviation during the next year.  I came into the museum a couple of times a week, carried out research for the book revision and met and got to know many of the museum staff (some of whom remain good friends).

Increasingly, I became the “naval expert” for the staff, answering questions about naval aviation and identifying naval aircraft in photographs.  My research for Aircraft Carriers included a trip to Russia, partially paid by the museum, for discussions of Russian carrier programs at the Nevskoye warship design bureau in St. Petersburg.  (In that period I regularly visited Russia to work with the two major submarine design bureaus, Rubin and Malachite.)

From time to time, Engen would drop into my office, sit down on the couch, and talk about museum publications.  He wanted a new series of monographs describing the key icons of the museum—aircraft and spacecraft.  Thus, in my “spare time,” I began researching past museum publications and similar efforts by other museums in the Smithsonian family.  My main effort at the museum was Aircraft Carriers, which was successfully revised, updated, and published in two volumes (2006, 2008).

As my tenure as the Ramsey fellow drew to a close, Engen offered me a position at the museum.  For several reasons, I could not accept.  In response, he asked if I would be the (paid) ombudsman for the museum.  I would come in once a week, look at exhibits, talk to the staff, mix with the approximately nine million (!) annual museum visitors, and recommend possible changes and improvements.   I accepted with alacrity.

Engen continued to fly and loved soaring in gliders.  The museum staff and many others were shocked when, on 13 July 1999, he was killed when the powered-glider he was flying in broke apart over Nevada and crashed.  He was wearing a parachute, but to no avail.  At the time he was 75-years-old.

I knew him for a very short time.  He impressed me tremendously—his intelligence, dedication, personality, and attitude.  With respect to the last, the only plaque mounted on the walls of his office was from the maintenance staff of the museum, thanking him for recognizing its efforts.  He encouraged the staff to “mix” with visitors, and tried to do so every day he was in the museum.  And, of course, he was largely responsible for raising the funds to construct the massive F. Udvar-Hazy annex to the museum at Dulles.  His legacy includes an excellent autobiography, Wings and Warriors: My Life as a Naval Aviator (1997).

Don Engen was an outstanding person in many, many ways.  I am in debt for the brief times that we met, talked, and schemed together.

Posted in Featured, History, News, Norman Polmar | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

World War Two and the Vitamin Sea: Navy Propaganda Posters of the Florida Citrus Commission

Florida Citrus Commission Advertisement, 1944 (LIFE Magazine)

Florida Citrus Commission Advertisement, 1944 (LIFE Magazine)

FIGHT Colds!
FIGHT Fatigue!
FIGHT Weakness!
FIGHT Infection!
FIGHT Absenteeism!

One of the more fascinating aspects of the Second World War was the use of propaganda on home front society.  In Propaganda, Edward Barnays notes the limited use of the practice prior to the First World War.  By the time hostilities erupted in 1914, however, governments around the world used propaganda and the politics of persuasion to mobilize and persuade its citizens and military.  Propaganda was a burgeoning business, and business was booming.

Many propaganda advertisements once again targeted the home front during World War II.  Home front Propaganda existed to “sell you” something, both tangible and figurative.  During the war, the concepts “sold” to the public could be a variety of things: war bonds, scrap drives, victory gardens, ride-shares, or secrecy.  They even sold the American public on grapefruit juice.

The Florida Citrus Commission began advertising the state’s orange, grapefruit, and tangerine crops in the years before World War II.  Many growers and cooperatives came about in the 1930s, such as Florida’s Natural Growers (Now called Florida’s Natural).  The Commission set up to promote the two main citrus crops, oranges and grapefruits, due to the competition from California.  Their base of operations moved to Lake Wales, Florida, outside of Orlando.

(Photo: State of Florida Division of Citrus)

(Photo: State of Florida Division of Citrus)

During the war, Florida’s Natural Growers produced concentrated orange juice for the military.  Because of the increased demand, most of the crop produced went to the government for distribution.  Millions of cans were sent to both theaters of operation.  The Florida Citrus Commission did their fair share of lobbying, both for their product and for the War Production Board (WPB) that supervised governmental production.  Both were successful.  By 1944, shipments were made regularly from Florida, surpassing their California competitor as the top dog of Vitamin C.

Florida citrus became big business during the war, paving the way for a blossoming $100 million industry.  The crop was also the subject of many famous propaganda posters.  The demand left the popular product vacant on store shelves around the country.  The Commission produced these propaganda posters shown below as a way to inform the general public WHY their grapefruit and orange juice was gone, and how it was helping win the war.

Florida Grapefruit World War II_2

(Photo: State of Florida Division of Citrus)

According to The Ads that Won the War, the Commission produced advertisements that were both “typical and classic” of the era.  Like other propaganda focused on the military, the Commission made sure they all had their fighting boys in the midst of action or combat.”  You this clearly with the anti-aircraft advertisement above.

The commission paid to advertise in major magazines like LIFE.  The most important and central theme in all of the advertisements was that, despite its shortage, the delicious orange and grapefruit concoctions would come back.  In the meantime, the civilian sacrifice meant that countless sailors, airmen, soldiers, and Marines would get their needed Vitamin C.

Several Florida Citrus Commission advertisements featured the United States Navy.  The May 1944 example shown below is full of illustrations, themes, and logos.  The Florida Citrus Commission was quite clever with their slogans.  Many advertisements would posit that canned grapefruit juice was the “Commando Fruit.”  Others proclaim their fighting boys were filled with cans of “victory” Vitamin C.

(Florida State Photographic Collection/State of Florida Division of Citrus)

(Florida State Photographic Collection/State of Florida Division of Citrus)

Each advertisement had a small line of text that typified the central message.  The small inscription in the bottom right of the advertisement reads:

“So rich are oranges and grapefruits in vitamin C, that Uncle Sam has set aside the entire supply of canned grapefruit sections, canned orange juice, blended juice and concentrates for the armed forces.  Fortunately one of the juices – grapefruit juice – is so plentiful that a moderate amount is available for civilian use”

You can also see it is part of the “Food fights for Freedom” home front campaign, which featured other popular commercial characters like the Campbell Soup Kid.

The Ads That Won the War and others will be available at this week’s NHF Book Sale inside the U.S. Navy Museum from Tuesday to Friday (9am to 3pm) of this week.   Stop by and get some great deals on some books!

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Shipping out: My Experiences on a Commercial Tanker (PART I)

By Captain George Stewart, USN (Retired)

This is the first of three articles that describe my experiences while serving as an engineer aboard commercial tankers in 1961.  These articles provide perspective on the different engineering practices between the Navy and Merchant Marine in the post World War II-era. As will become apparent, there were some very sharp differences.  

I served for five years on active duty in the U.S. Navy after graduating from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1956.  My active duty assignments during that period included service as Chief Engineer aboard a Fletcher Class destroyer and as Executive Officer of a minesweeper.  Afterwards, I resigned from the Navy for family reasons and look for a shore side career.  My purpose in “shipping out” commercially was to gain some hands-on experience and to build up a nest egg for my family. At the time, the pay for a Third Assistant Engineer on a commercial ship was nearly triple what I had made as a naval officer.

It was January 1961. We were living in Long Beach, California.  I intended to go down to the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA) union hall on a Monday morning to wait for an assignment. However, I received a surprise phone call from the port captain at the Texaco marine office in Wilmington, California on a Saturday evening. He said that an emergency requirement had come up for a Third Assistant Engineer aboard the SS Texaco Minnesota. He asked me if I could be aboard for the 0800 to 1200 AM watch on Sunday morning. I said that I would be there on time.

I packed my bag and my wife drove me down to the Texaco refinery at Wilmington, located between Long Beach and San Pedro in Los Angeles Harbor.  The Texaco Minnesota was sitting at the dock. There was a blackboard at the head of the gangway. It indicated that the ship would get underway at 11:30 AM. I asked the gangway attendant where I should sign on. He told me to go up and see the Radio Officer who doubled as the ship’s secretary. I went up and signed the crew register. I went aft and found the Third Engineer’s Cabin and changed into my dungarees. My cabin proved to be very adequate by navy standards. It was larger than the commanding officer’s cabin on my two navy ships.  It even had its own bathroom. I posted my Coast Guard license outside my cabin and got ready to go below.  I assumed that I would be getting some help when it was time to get the ship underway.


Texaco Minnesota was a T-2 Tanker built in 1943 as SS Churubisco (Hull No. 254) at Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock, Philadelphia, PA. It was a standard Maritime Commission T2-SE-A1 design. The ship engaged in the coastwise trade, carrying fuel oil from the refinery at Wilmington to paper mills in various ports in the Pacific Northwest. It would be in and out of homeport on roughly a biweekly basis.

The T-2 Tanker has to be considered as one of the world’s greatest ships. Along with the Liberty and Victory ships, they formed the backbone of the US Merchant Fleet during and after World War II. The most common variety was the standard United States Maritime Commission type T2-SE-A1. Between 1942 and 1945, 481 were built. The ships were 523’ long and had a full load displacement of 21,800 tons. They had a turbo-electric propulsion system rated at 6000 SHP. Service speed was 14.5 knots. The crew consisted of 38 persons, far less than a comparable naval vessel. A number of modified versions of the T-2 design served as naval fleet oilers during World War II. Some tankers remained in service under the Military Sealift Command well into the mid 1970s. Its naval service crews consisted of over 250 personnel.

In 1961, Texaco operated a fleet of twenty-five coastwise tankers, fourteen of which were T-2s. The coastwise fleet sailed under the U.S. flag because the 1920 Jones Act required that ships carrying cargoes between American ports be registered in the United States (still true today). The bulk of the Texaco coastwise fleet operated out of Port Arthur, Texas, carrying petroleum products of all types to ports in the Northeast. At the time, Texaco only operated two ships on the West Coast, the SS Texaco Minnesota and SS Texaco Delaware. I would end up serving on both ships, as well as the SS Texaco Washington, which operated on the East Coast. Texaco also had tankers in offshore trades. But these were all of Panamanian or Liberian registry.

TEXACO T-2 Tanker

TEXACO T-2 Tanker


A commercial ship was manned much differently than a naval vessel. In general, the crew was far smaller, but older and more experienced. The Captain of a merchant vessel is called the Master.  While the Commanding Officer of a U.S. Navy destroyer was usually between 35 and 40 years old, the Minnesota’s Master was in his sixties. The four licensed deck officers consisted of the Master, Chief Mate, 2nd, and 3rd Mates. There were four licensed engineers, the Chief, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Assistants.  The Radio Operator and Chief Steward were also considered officers. The officers were not unionized, but the 25-30 unlicensed crewmembers belonged to the National Maritime Union (NMU).  The unlicensed personnel performed the duties prescribed in their union contract.  That was about all they would do. As an example, it was specifically stated that they were not required to blow boiler tubes. That duty was left to the watch engineer.

A major difference between a naval and merchant vessel is the position of the Chief Engineer. Aboard a naval vessel, he is a department head.  On a merchant ship, he ranks slightly below the Master.  He draws approximately the same pay and operates independently of the Master. In the officer’s mess, the Master sat at the head of the table and the Chief Engineer sat at the opposite end. The Chief Engineer of the Minnesota had many years at sea.  Like the Master, he appeared to be in his 60’s. He rarely came to the engine room. In general, the only time I saw him was when I delivered the Engine Room logbook or gave him a lube oil sample at noon. This organization would never work aboard a naval vessel, yet it works successfully on merchant vessels of virtually every maritime nation. On modern automated commercial ships, the Chief Engineer can monitor plant performance directly from a workstation in his stateroom.

The Chief Engineer was a non-watch stander. He had to come up through the ranks in order to achieve his position. The duties of the three assistant engineers aboard Texaco tankers were as follows:

  • The First Assistant Engineer was in overall charge of the machinery spaces. He was assigned to the 0400-0800 and 1600-2000 watches. He also came down to the engine room to supervise during maneuvering watches.
  • The Second Assistant Engineer was in charge of the fire room. He performed all of the duties assigned to the Oil King on a naval vessel, including responsibility for boiler water chemistry. He stood the midnight to 0400 and 1200-0600 watches in the engine room. His duties did not include responsibility for cargo operations, as these came under cognizance of the Chief Mate.
  • The Third Assistant Engineer, which was my assignment, stood the 0800-1200 and 200o-2400 watches. He was required to relieve the First Assistant Engineer around 1700 for a half hour at dinner. Additional duties included the responsibility of maintaining proper levels of lube oil in all equipment plus daily cleaning of the lube oil purifier.  He also had that responsibility on gear driven ships without a full time electrician.

The three corresponding deck officers had the same watch rotation as the engineers. The Chief Mate was responsible for all cargo handling and deck seamanship operations. The Second Mate served as the ship’s navigator, while the Third Mate provided assistance to the Chief Mate. Anything outside of our watches was considered overtime, which we would receive extra pay at an increased rate.

I found the door to the engine room and entered the space.  It did not look much like a naval engine room. It resembled a shore power station. The space was very roomy and it extended all the way up through the superstructure to a skylight on the uppermost deck. During one trip to San Francisco, I remember seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in the skylight as we passed under.  Most of the un-lagged machinery was painted bright green with a red trim instead of the characteristic “navy gray.”  The machinery was all running and the space was filled with noise. I went down the ladder to the control platform.  There was a night relief crewman on watch. He waved at me and went up the ladder, leaving me alone with all of the operating machinery. There was nobody else in sight.  I was in a state of total disorientation.


The ship had a turbo-electric propulsion plant manufactured by General Electric. I had never been on a ship with this type of plant. The ship was propelled by a large electric propulsion motor, which received power from a main steam turbine-driven generator. Most ocean-going ships in the US Merchant Marine had geared turbine propulsion. Turboelectric propulsion was chosen because there was a shortage of gear manufacturing capabilities during the war. Actually, the T-2 propulsion systems which were manufactured by General Electric and Westinghouse had many features in common with the turboelectric propulsion systems aboard the Buckley (DE 51) and Rudderow (DE 224) class destroyer escorts that were built during World War II.

The system was AC-AC drive. Power was supplied from a single steam turbine directly to a 5400 kW 2300 VAC main generator that operated over a speed range of about 900 to 3600 RPM. The generator supplied power to a synchronous motor with a continuous rating of 6000 SHP at 90 RPM. Overload rating was 6600 HP at 93 RPM. It was directly connected to the propeller shaft. Power to the propulsion motor was supplied through manually operated contactors controlled by operating levers at the control cubicle.

Because the system operated at variable voltage and frequency, the main generator could not be used to supply auxiliary power, except when the ship was in port. In a modern integrated electric power system, the main generators are operated at constant speed and voltage, and the power to the propulsion motors is controlled by solid-state frequency changing devices. On systems of this type, the main generators supply both propulsion and ship service power.

Variations in propeller speed were controlled by varying the speed of the main turbine generator by means of the governor control lever at the propulsion control cubicle. The directional rotation of the propeller changed by closing contactors that effectively interchanged two of the three phase leads to the motor stator. Full power was available in both the ahead and astern directions.

A synchronous motor is not self-starting. During the starting period, the turbine was at idle speed. When the motor was ready to be synchronized, as indicated by flickering on the ammeter, DC field excitation was applied to the rotor and the generator excitation was reduced to normal. When the motor was “in step” with the generator, you could increase turbine speed. All steps during the starting process were controlled manually by the engineer. The generator had two poles, while the motor had eighty. This gave a speed ratio of 40:1 between the main turbine and propeller shaft. So the overall effect of the electric propulsion system was to act just like a reverse-reduction gear for the main turbine.

The main turbo generator was driven by a 10 stage single casing steam turbine. The maximum continuous rating was 5400 kW at 3715 rpm, 2370 volts, 3 phase, 62 Hz, 1.0 power factor. The generator was driven directly from the turbine by a solid coupling. The generator was mounted forward of the turbine. It was fully enclosed with a seawater to air cooler mounted on top.

The main thrust bearing, one line shaft bearing, the main feed pumps, and the stern gland was all located in the shaft alley. The stern gland was the old flax packing type you had to keep slacked just enough to keep a small stream of water running continuously to the shaft alley bilges.

Most of the auxiliary equipment in the machinery spaces was electric motor driven. Steam driven auxiliaries included:

  • Two turbine driven main feed pumps located below the fire room in the shaft alley.
  • One turbine driven forced draft blower that could be lined up to supply combustion air to either boiler. I never saw it used.
  • One turbine driven fire & Butterworth pump. The ship operated with a dry fire main. The Butterworth system was used for tank washing.
  • Reciprocating auxiliary feed and general service pumps.
  • Most major deck machinery. This was in order to facilitate speed control.

Some other significant differences that existed between auxiliary systems aboard commercial and naval ships included:

  • Gravity lube oil systems. All main turbo generator and propulsion motor bearings and the main thrust bearing were lubricated from overhead gravity tanks located high in the space. An advantage of this type of system was that it provided sufficient time to stop the propulsion machinery in the event of pressure loss from the main lube oil pumps.
  • The deareating feed tanks were located high in the fire room, thereby negating the requirement for feed booster pumps.
  • Steam at reduced pressure for feed water heating was provided from the main turbines by way of stop check valves. These were referred to as bleeder or extraction connections. These valves had to be closed during maneuvering and in port operations.
  • There was only one distilling plant which was used to make boiler feedwater. Because of the small crew size, it was always possible to obtain sufficient potable water from pierside in order to support the crew.
  • The ships burned “Bunker C” heavy fuel oil. A continuous supply of steam was supplied to heating coils located in each of the fuel tanks. The fuel supply to the burners had to be heated to 180° F. Cleaning fuel oil strainers was a very messy job.
  • The main condenser seawater inlets were not fitted with scoop injection.
  • The steering gear was electro – hydraulic with two motor driven pumps. Bridge control was by means of a hydraulic telemotor. There was no provision for quick changeover between power units. Our practice was to have both units on the line when entering or leaving port. Each power unit was fitted with manually operated valves. The steering gear room was never manned continuously when we were underway. It was only manned when testing the gear prior to getting underway and when placing the standby unit on or taking it off the line when entering or leaving port.


There were two auxiliary ship service generators. Each generator consisted of a steam turbine driving three generators through a reduction gear. From forward to aft, these generators were:

  • 400 kW, 440-Volt AC Ship Service Generator.
  • 75 kW DC exciter to furnish power to the field circuits of the main generator and motor.
  • 55 kW, 120 volt DC generator that supplied power to the excitation bus for the AC generator.

Because of their long stack up length, these generators appeared to be as big as the main generator, at first glance. The gears emitted a high-pitched noise that would have been considered intolerable in naval vessels of later design. But none of us ever wore any type of hearing protection. There was an auxiliary condenser. But it was rarely used. The generators normally exhausted to the main condenser. All normal underway and in port operations were carried out on one auxiliary generator on line. For maneuvering in and out of port, we would bring the second unit up to speed and put it in a standby condition, without putting it on the line. At the end of every trip, we would parallel and shift generators.

On the lower level was a 2300/450-volt transformer for supplying AC power for the cargo and stripping pumps. There were three 200 HP cargo pumps and two 50 HP stripping pumps. The motors were located on the lower level at the forward end of the engine room and they drove the pumps by way of shafts through the bulkhead into the Pump Room, located immediately forward. These pumps were normally supplied with power from the main generator when the ship was in port. When the main generator was used for cargo pumping operations, it had to be brought up to the nearly full rated speed of 3600 RPM with some variation as requested by the cargo pump operator over the telephone. The pumping operations were a cooperative effort by the pump man and the watch engineer who had start-stop and speed control of the motors from a panel on the Main Switchboard.  Actual pump speed was controlled by the main turbine generator governor control lever. The watch engineer had to watch the pump motor ammeters which would drop to zero in the event of loss of suction.

None of the three Texaco tankers that I served on had an emergency diesel generator. There was a small 50 kW steam turbo generator in the after starboard corner of the engine room upper level. But I never saw it operated. We were just very careful never to put the lights out. In the event of a dark ship condition, it would have been necessary to supply Diesel fuel to one of the boilers by means of a hand pump.


The arrangement of the machinery spaces was somewhat similar to that aboard the Naval AD 37 Class Destroyer Tenders with the fire room aft of the engine room. It was not necessary to go “up and over”. Direct access between spaces was by hydraulically operated watertight doors which were normally left in the open position. The engine room had two levels. On the upper level were the main and the two auxiliary ship service generators. Across the front of the space was a very large Main Switchboard. The main control cubicle was located on the left side. On the lower level were the main and auxiliary condensers, main propulsion motor, various pumps, and other auxiliary machinery.

The fire room was located immediately aft of the engine room’s upper level. It was normally manned by a single fireman, even when entering and leaving port. It contained two oil fired sectional header boilers mounted side by side, which provided superheated steam at 435 psi and 725°F to the main and ship service generators. The boilers were provided with Bailey pneumatic automatic combustion control systems. These systems did not come into common use in the U.S. Navy until the early 1960s. Otherwise, the T-2 plants made no more use of automation than naval vessels of that era.
Each boiler was fitted with four oil burners. The burners were not of the wide range type. It was necessary for the fireman to cut them in and out manually in accordance with steam demand. When going from a STOP to a FULL ASTERN bell, for example, the fireman had to run across the firing aisle, cutting in as many as six burners. Boiler water level control was by a single element feed water regulator. The lone fireman was aided by the engineer who controlled acceleration and deceleration rates, and to some extent, the boiler water levels with the main turbine governor lever. This method of boiler control would seem very peculiar to operators of naval boilers of that era.



Unlike the boiler shown in the above illustration, the T-2 boilers were fitted with air preheaters rather than economizers. The preheaters had to be bypassed when maneuvering and during in port operations. The main and auxiliary steam stop valves were of the stop-check type, making it relatively easy to take a boiler off the line when necessary.

On all of the tankers that I served on, there was a placard on the Bailey boiler control board stating “Warning, Anyone Caught Making Unauthorized Adjustments to This System Will be Discharged in the Next Port.”

When I took over the watch, both boilers were on the line. The main turbo generator was idling and one of the two auxiliary generators was on the line supplying electrical power. All of the major auxiliaries were operating and a loud whine permeated the space. The common practice on these ships was to keep the plants steaming all the time, except during shipyard overhauls. As previously discussed, the main turbo generator was used to supply power to the electrically driven main cargo pumps when discharging cargo in port.

I looked for the other members of my watch. About 12 watchstanders would have been required to operate an equivalent naval vessel, but Texaco Minnesota only operated with a 3 man engineering watch consisting of a licensed engineer, fireman, and an oiler. The underway deck watches consisted of a mate, able seaman/helmsman, and an ordinary seaman who acted as lookout. An additional engineer was present during maneuvering operations to keep the “Bell Book”. All logging was accomplished manually.

I went out into the fireroom and found the fireman. He said that everything was functioning normally and was going up to use the toilet. The idea of leaving two boilers steaming unattended was foreign to me, but I did not question it. I finally located the oiler in the engineroom. His functions were to assist the engineer in the operation of the engine room. He was a Cuban and did not speak very good English.  Over at the corner of the switchboard, there was an imposing looking control desk with some large levers sticking out of it. The machinery was controlled from this location in response to orders received over the engine order telegraph from the bridge. The control levers were very similar in appearance to those aboard the turboelectric destroyer escorts and conventional diesel submarines of that era.  Since I knew that the watch engineer normally operated the controls himself, I asked the oiler how to work the levers. His answers were half in English and half in Spanish. I began to think that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I hoped that someone else would show up in time to help me get the ship underway at 11:30.

At about 11AM, the phone rang and I answered it. A voice at the other end asked who this was. When I responded he hurriedly hung up and I heard the door slam up above. A rather harassed looking individual arrived on the floorplates and demanded to know what I was doing down there. When I responded that I was hired by the port captain the night before, his response was, “Why the hell didn’t he tell me you were here?” Obviously, I had no satisfactory answer to this question. When he asked me if I had ever steamed a turboelectric ship before, my response was, of course, negative. He introduced himself as the First Assistant Engineer. He then pointed out that we were getting underway at 11:30 and had better get to work.

The following illustration shows a General Electric control cubicle on a T-2 tanker. The main turbo generator governor can be seen at the left side of the illustration.



To get underway, it was only necessary to start up the standby ship service generator, go aft to the steering gear room and start up test the electro hydraulic steering gear, test the engine order telegraph, and close one switch on the control panel. The whistle blew overhead, the telegraph swung to “STAND BY,” and we were ready to start maneuvering.

The engine order telegraph had different markings than those aboard naval Vessels as shown in the following illustration.


The “STAND BY” position was used whenever the bridge was ready to start maneuvering, both when entering and leaving port. The bridge could also ring up a “dead slow” bell by ringing the “SLOW” bell twice. There was no revolution telegraph. All the engineer had to remember was 20, 40, 60, and 80 RPM.

I thought it was rather peculiar that we did not test the propulsion system prior to getting underway. When asked, the First’s response was, “How would you know that it is going to work the next time?”

The telegraph swung to “HALF ASTERN”. The First threw a control lever to the “START ASTERN” position. There was a thump and the main motor started.  He moved the lever to the “RUN ASTERN” position. He grasped the main turbine governor control lever until the engine made a satisfactory whine. He then turned the operation over to me.

I have to confess that I was not very good. The control levers took a great deal of effort to operate and I tended to overshoot the desired position, in the process creating lightning bolts behind the switchboard. After a number of maneuvers, we were finally underway with the propeller humming away at about 90 RPM. About that time, the Second Engineer arrived on the floorplates to relieve me. On the way up to lunch, the First took me in and introduced me to the Chief Engineer who was in his cabin. It was the first time that I had seen him.

The First Engineer became my mentor. He was extremely dedicated and driven, but I can say that he broke me in quite well.  He taught me how to operate every piece of machinery in the engineering plant.  I was required to trace out and sketch every piping system and At sea and in port, I was required to take a complete tour of the machinery spaces, including the steering gear room prior to taking over the watch. Unless the ship was in a maneuvering situation or fog, I did not have to remain on the control platform at sea.  I spent most of my watches performing maintenance tasks or working in the machine shop leaving the oiler alone on the throttle platform. I had to be there at the beginning, mid point, and end of each watch while the Oiler made his rounds and took readings.

All licensed engineers were required to be proficient in lathe operation. This was a carry over from the days of reciprocating steam engines where the crew was required to make their own engine parts. One of my duties was care of the lube oil systems including daily cleaning of the purifier and strainers and ensuring that proper oil levels were maintained in all equipment. I was also responsible for any required repairs to the lagging and insulation. In the process, I was probably exposed to plenty of asbestos. I was also required to blow boiler tubes immediately prior to or after leaving port. Many people would have considered it to be a boring routine, but it wasn’t too bad once you got used to it. In port, we did not break sea watches, as we were always engaged in loading or unloading cargo. We did get some relief by night crewmen in our homeport.

I found that civilian crews tended to follow much stricter operating practices than those aboard naval ships. But they were not as good as U.S. Navy crews at cold plant lightoff and shutdown due to the fact that the plants were rarely shut down except during a shipyard overhaul period. From this standpoint, I found my previous naval experience quite valuable. In addition, none of the crewmembers were required to conduct U.S. Navy-type engine casualty control exercises.  There were no written casualty control procedures. It was left up to the watch engineer as to determine how to control casualties with assistance from the Chief or First Assistant Engineer. This sounds like a peculiar way to do things to those accustomed to naval procedures, but we managed to make it work quite well.  We had no blackouts during my time at sea aboard these ships.

There was little in the line of social life on the ship. Turnaround times were kept to an absolute minimum, as the ship only made money for the company when it was at sea or loading and discharging cargo in port. The ship rarely spent more than 12 to 16 hours in port at a time. The only way that this routine was made bearable was by liberal vacations.  You accumulated 1/2 days vacation for every day worked. The normal rotation was 6 months on and 3 months off. A new officer like me had to start by working as a vacation relief. After one year of service, you obtained regular status.

As I previously mentioned, the ship was primarily engaged in delivering fuel oil to paper mills in the northwest. Much of our time was spent maneuvering in and out of port and conducting dockside loading or unloading of cargo. I remember visiting Hoquiam, Aberdeen, Port Townsend, Everett, Port Angeles, and Portland, among others. Our itinerary resulted in a return to our homeport of Wilmington every 2 weeks, approximately. Just prior to arrival, I would visit the Radio Officer (Who doubled as the ship’s secretary) and draw whatever pay I had accumulated in the form of cash. I would then deliver nearly all of it to my wife on arrival. She never knew exactly how much she was going to get. By 1961 standards, it was always fairly substantial.

After about 3 months on the Minnesota, the regular 3rd Engineer was returning from vacation. I made a good impression on the ship, so the company decided that it was in their interest to keep me working. I was asked to take another three-month assignment as a relief 3rd Engineer aboard the SS Texaco Delaware. This was the only other Texaco ship that operated on the West Coast. I was warned by the people on the Minnesota to expect a very different experience. That would prove to be very true as described in the second article in this series. Texaco Minnesota was “Jumboized” by addition of a 72’ midship section in 1964. The ship was finally scrapped in 1990.

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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Norman’s Corner: Everybody Likes Fred Rainbow

By Norman Polmar

(Editor’s note: This is the 22nd in a series of blogs by Norman Polmar—author, analyst, and consultant specializing in the naval, aviation, and intelligence fields. Follow the full series here.)

Fred Rainbow (AFCEA Photo)

Fred Rainbow (AFCEA Photo)


Everybody likes Fred Rainbow.  At least that is a widely held perception.  At times it has gotten embarrassing.  For example, when Fred was editor-in-chief of the Naval Institute Proceedings magazine, as award winners were called up to receive their prize they usually thanked their wife or girlfriend, for tolerating their time locked in a study spent  writing an essay, or for typing the essay.  But many, many prize winners went out of their way to thank Fred for his time in working with them to produce a “winner.”

Of course, not  everyone was a fan of Fred, especially a couple of senior U.S. Navy admirals.

Fred, commissioned via Officer Candidate School, served on active duty in the Navy from 1971 to 1975 as an intelligence officer.  Based in Norfolk, Virginia, for most of that time, he regularly flew to U.S. East Coast  ports  to brief crews of U.S. warships deploying to the Persian Gulf/Indian Ocean on the political-military situation in the area.  He also flew to Mombasa, Kenya, to spend  three months at sea aboard the destroyer Sellers (DDG 11) to get a first-hand look at the area.  And, he edited the Navy publications Indian Ocean Fleet Book and Monthly Intelligence Digest.

When he left active duty in 1975, Fred went to New York, seeking a position with one of the major oil companies as a Middle East expert.  He found that those firms did not have “intel staffs,” but relied mainly on people on the ground in the Middle East  and commercial information services.

One of Fred’s friends recommended that he apply to the Naval Institute Proceedings, the privately published, professional magazine based in Annapolis.  He did so and was promptly hired as an assistant editor of the magazine.

That July—part of the celebration of 200 years as a nation—New York City hosted “fleet week” for scores of U.S. and foreign warships.  On 4 July,  I rode a small boat, along with several other writers and journalists, zig-zaging among the ships anchored in the Hudson River.  Fred, however, got to see the ships from the air.  His father, Ab, was a fighter pilot in World War II and then a commercial airline pilot.  He owned a Waco biplane and he and Fred—illegally—flew over the fleet.  Only helicopters were allowed over the Hudson River and New York City that day.  But one of Ab’s friends worked for the Federal Aviation Agency and a “glitch” in their computer listed the Waco  as a helicopter!

That evening my wife and I hosted a small dinner party at Mama Leones, a popular Italian restaurant in Manhattan, for Fred and a few other  writer-editor friends.  Fred and I hit it off immediately.  We kept in close contact and at his request  I wrote a few articles for the Proceedings  over the next couple of years.

In this period I became author of the Naval Institute’s reference book Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, published at about three-year intervals.  Fred suggested that  I write a regular column for the Proceedings—the “U.S. Navy”—to regularly update the book.  The first column appeared in November 1978 and continues, with my usually writing six to ten columns per year, depending upon my other commitments.

Beyond our social and professional contacts, Fred and I have “gone to sea” together.  In 1982, we were aboard the British carrier Hermes, returning from the Falklands conflict, and later, with members of the Naval Institute staff, we went to sea in the carrier John F. Kennedy.

In 1985, Fred was named editor-in-chief of the Proceedings.  By that time his “fans” included novelist Tom Clancy.  Fred took Tom’s first  telephone  call to the Naval Institute when he was proposing a short article on MX missile basing, and Fred was a key player in Tom bringing his book The Hunt for Red October  to the Naval Institute Press.

While Fred had numerous fans, he also had several  disparagers.  The Proceedings was begun in 1873 as an objective “forum” for naval-maritime issues.  On at least three occasions, articles appeared in the magazine that “upset” the Navy’s  senior  leadership: One article was highly critical of the direction the Canadian Navy was going, another addressed the vulnerability of U.S. carriers operating in Northern waters against the Soviets, and a third was a satirical piece about political correctness in the military.

Senior Navy leaders brought considerable pressure upon the Naval Institute’s executives to fire Fred after these articles were published.  Fortunately, Fred’s supporters—in and out of the Navy—immediately rallied to his support.  His supporters’ friendship and efforts on his behalf included some of us coming to his home (uninvited), bringing wine, cheese, and good cheer for Fred and his wife, Peg.  He weathered those storms.

Fred became director of periodicals and seminars in 1990, with responsibility for  Naval History, a magazine that  he initiated, as well as for the Proceedings  and the Institute’s numerous seminars and history programs.  He served as interim chief executive officer before departing the Naval Institute in 2005—exactly 30 years to the day after he had arrived there.

He immediately became vice president for education of the Armed Forces Communications-Electronics Association and executive director of the AFCEA Educational Foundation.  Fred had started several joint activities with AFCEA while he was at the Naval Institute.

We are still close friends, although he has a much busier schedule than when he was at the Naval Institute.  And, on occasion, he asks me to speak at  AFCEA seminars.  His time at AFCEA has increased by scores the number of people who like Fred Rainbow.  And I am one of them.

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Remembering Admiral Kinnaird McKee

Admiral McKEe“Kin had the intelligence, integrity and industry in a measure you rarely see. He had the ability to voice the unpopular truth, to say, in a gathering, what others wished they  had the nerve to utter.”

Bruce DeMars
Admiral U.S. Navy (Retired)
NHF Chairman

 “Smart, no-nonsense, dedicated, always focused on the job.  first classmate to be selected for flag rank; only one to make four-stars”

Robert F. Dunn
Vice Admiral U.S. Navy (Retired)
Former NHF President

We would like to acknowledge the passing of a friend and Life member of the Naval Historical Foundation for 26 years, Admiral Kinnaird McKee.

McKee graduated from the Naval Academy in 1951 and served within the Submarine Force for several tours. Selected as a Flag Officer in 1972, he served as the superintendent at the U.S. Naval Academy during its transition to a co-ed institution. He later relieved Admiral Rickover as Director Naval Reactors. He retired from the Navy in 1988. McKee was a strong supporter of naval history and served as a commentator in a 2002 submarine history symposium (co-sponsored by the Naval Submarine League and the Naval Historical Foundation) with fellow Director Naval Reactors Admirals Bruce DeMars and Frank “Skip” Bowman to discuss the legacy of Adm. Hyman G. Rickover. McKee passed away on December 30, 2013.

Below is an excerpt from a biographical interview by David Winkler with Admiral Kinnaird McKee conducted on March 21, 2000. Admiral McKee discussed his “unusual tour” commanding the experimental submarine X-1 with NHF historian Dr. David Winkler.  McKee regarded his time aboard the X-1 as his favorite tour in his long and illustrious career.

Receiving Command of X-1

McKEE:  As I understand it, in the period shortly after the war, there were a number of new submarine applications under consideration.  The submarine community decided it would be a good idea to borrow one of the British X-craft to see if it would be useful to our Navy.  Those small submarines carried what were called side charges; big mines.  They also had diver lock-out capability.  The crew included qualified divers.  Those divers would use hydraulically-operated net cutters to enter an enemy harbor, cutting their way through anti-submarine nets, so the boat could enter and place its mines underneath the target ship.  The mines were timed to allow the delivering submarine to escape before the explosion.  In practice, they rarely did.  The crews were usually killed or captured.  The Italians also had small submarines, as did the Germans and the Japanese.  Anyway, back to my X-1.

As I understand it, arrangements were made with the Royal Navy to borrow one of their X-craft.  As the story goes, one or more politicians from New York became interested in the acquisition decision.

Fairchild Aircraft offered to design and build an X-craft that would be faster and dive deeper, but they had never built a submarine.  They were an aircraft manufacturer.  They got the contract, and spent several million dollars on the project to create an X-craft.

Fairchild did undertake to build a very sophisticated small submarine.  The configuration was different.  It had no bow planes, only stern planes.  It had a Hydrogen Peroxide Diesel engine.  In fact, it was a Hercules truck engine that ran on air and Diesel fuel on the surface (like any other Diesel engine) but substituted the decomposition products of Hydrogen Peroxide (Oxygen and Steam) in about the same proportion as Oxygen and Nitrogen in air for submerged operation on the engine.  Logical.  The theory was okay.  The boat would run faster submerged than it could on the surface.  It had a longer submerged range and was very quiet.  The engine was beautifully sound-isolated.

When I received orders to the boat, it was in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.  After I relieved Red Hanlon, I was told by the squadron commander that I probably would not be there very long.  “We’re going to put that thing out of commission; it doesn’t work.”  That upset me.  This was my first command and they were going to put it out of commission?

Boat Explosion

McKEE:  Initially the engine worked very well.  We went to sea, and made what I was told was the first successful deep dive for that small submarine.  We thought our problems were over, then a few days later the other end of the boat blew up.  That was the end of its career as a warship.

What had happened was this: The Hydrogen Peroxide (90% unstabilized) was contained in a polyvinyl chloride bag in the bow compartment.  There was an arrangement by which that compartment was pressurized to send Peroxide back to a catalyst chamber where it decomposed into Steam and Oxygen for submerged operation.  The boat had had such trouble before our overhaul that the bag apparently had never been fully emptied and refueled.

After the explosion we also concluded that the bag had simply been in place too long.  We were running it hard.  We were collapsing the bag and inflating it as we burned fuel and replaced it.  We had just come back in from a demonstration in the river.  We refueled, then left the boat moored to the barge and went home.

The bow blew off.  The bag had become brittle and cracked.  It contained ninety percent unstabilized Hydrogen Peroxide.  The Peroxide was heavier than water, so it immediately went to the bottom of the compartment.  A pipe connected to the bottom of the compartment to pressurize it and move the Peroxide to the catalyst chamber was silver-brazed.  Silver was the catalyst used to initiate decomposition of the Peroxide into Steam and Oxygen, so when the Peroxide collected around the silver-brazed joint, the resulting rapid decomposition blew the nose off the boat.

Fortunately the boat was bolted together.   The nose was bolted to the operations compartment just like a torpedo.  There was a solid bulkhead protecting that compartment.  When the explosion occurred it sheared all the forward section bolts and the nose came off.  Chuck Swanson was eating supper nearby.  He saw the nose sail through the air and sink.   The boat quickly filled with Peroxide fumes and smoke.

I was home eating supper when all this happened.  The phone rang and a second class petty officer (who was the duty officer) said, “Captain, you’d better get down here quick!”

I said, “What’s the problem?”

He said, “The boat just blew up!”

I said, “Is it still afloat?”

He said, “I don’t know,” and hung up.

I did indeed get down there quickly.  The boat was still afloat when I got there, so I jumped in, started the engine and ventilated the compartment.

After the accident, the squadron commander sent a team to investigate.  I wasn’t smart enough at the time to realize that I might have been in a heap of trouble.  After all, I was the skipper, and my submarine blew up.  His staff scrubbed us hard, but we came away with a clean bill of health.  We had the necessary procedures, a solid training program, and good records.  Everything was in good order.  I was relieved, and went off to Nuclear Power School.  The boat went to Annapolis where the Engineering Experiment Station removed all of the Hydrogen Peroxide systems and ran it as a conventional Diesel-electric submarine.  That’s where it stayed until it settled in the Naval Academy yard.

That was the end of my X-1 tour.  I wouldn’t take anything for having had that first command.  It was an exciting time.  And I had tremendous support from people I didn’t even know very well.  They encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do to make it work.  That was a unique situation.


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McPherson at SMH Dinner: “The Moral Courage of Risk Taking”

By John Grady

James McPherson speaking at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, September 2013

James McPherson speaking at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, September 2013

The Navy was more successful in its campaigns like Port Royal, S.C. and New Orleans than the Army during the American Civil War particularly in the Virginia Theater.  According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson, it was “partially due to the professionalism of Navy leadership in high positions.”  Dr. McPherson answered these and other questions on 4 January during a speaking engagement at the Society for Military History George C. Marshall lecture series in Washington, D.C. 

James McPherson discusses the role of naval operations in the war in his most recent work, War on the Waters: The Union & Confederate Navies, 1861-1865.  Concerning his talk, he argued that “determined commanders can make [some of] their own luck,” as Ulysses S. Grant and David G. Farragut did at Vicksburg and Mobile Bay, respectively.

WAR AND CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  CIVIL WAR/LEADERSBoth Grant and Farragut shared the “moral courage to take risks and accept failure.” Citing Farragut’s decision to press forward at Mobile Bay after his lead ship Tecumseh struck a mine and sank, while Brooklyn, second in formation, veered off course and stopped.  It was at this point that Farragut could have said, “Damn the torpedoes!”  He added that Mobile Bay “was the first unequivocal Union victory of 1864,” followed by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s takeover of Atlanta and Brig. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s burning of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  McPherson stated that these three victories secured Lincoln’s re-election and the Union’s determination to win the war.

Farragut knew all too well about the willingness to accept failure and take risks.  Farragut spent sixty of his sixty-nine years in the Navy.  Despite this, his loyalty came into question at the beginning of the war.  According to McPherson, he “was the opposite” of Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont.  At Charleston, Du Pont found himself constantly at odds with Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox over the practicality of taking the South Carolina port “in an all Navy affair.”  He wanted to do as he did at Port Royal earlier in the war.  He would be backed up this time by the latest class of ironclad Monitors and a specially constructed frigate, New Ironsides, to run the harbor’s ring of batteries, forts, and waters filled with mines and deadly obstructions.dup

admiral-samuel-dupontTo Lincoln, Welles, and Fox, Du Pont’s pessimism about the ability “to beat our Southern friend and beat the Army” in subduing Charleston sounded more and more like the letters sent by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s explaining why the Army of the Potomac failed to move against the Confederates after success at Antietam.

Du Pont, who spent 45 years in the Navy and served on the Blockade Strategy Board in the beginning of the war, told Fox to “think cooly.”  “There’s no running the gauntlet of forts like [Farragut did] at New Orleans” as he pressed repeatedly for a combined Army-Navy operation with the soldiers taking the batteries and forts with supporting fire coming from the Union fleet in covering their attacks.

McPherson felt that Farragut believed he would “have found a way” to carry out the attack that the president and civilian Navy leadership wanted. When Du Pont finally attacked, his fleet of ironclads managed to get off 151 shots while the Confederates, having set up range finders all around the harbor, fired 2,209 rounds.  Over five hundred of those struck Union ships, sinking the ironclad Keokuk in the process.  After a council of war with his ship commanders, Du Pont, who originally considered pursuing the assault the next day, “decided not to pursue the attack.”  Quoting from Welles’ diary said, McPherson said that Du Pont “had a reputation to protect not to make,” and like McClellan that sealed his fate.  Despite his good family name and pedigree, Du Pont was removed from command. He left his position as “a bitter and broken man unwilling to take risk.”

In the public’s mind and the administration’s, the Navy “was expected to do the heavy work” in the taking of New Orleans, as it had at Port Royal.  Later successes, even Mobile Bay, were given little public recognition at the time, an oversight that is changing now.

Gideon Welles was also a risk taker.  He did not adhere to the Navy’s reliance on seniority to promote commanders, McPherson said.  With Farragut, he found a commander who would take those risks.  When Virginia seceded, he “stood by the flag” despite his local connections.  Before leaving for New York in the spring of 1861, Farragut presciently warned his friends and in-laws in Norfolk:  “you fellows will catch the devil for this business.”  Welles was not so lucky with Du Pont and Charleston. He wrote in his diary, “If anything is to be done, we must have a new commander.”  He tapped the president’s naval confidante, Flag Officer John A. Dahlgren, for the position.  Dahlgren would fare little better than Du Pont at the seat of secession.

John Grady is a veteran military affairs correspondent and NHF volunteer oral historian.  He also writes for the Civil War Navy Sesquicentennial

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Norman’s Corner: Who is Nigel West?

By Norman Polmar

(Editor’s note: This is the 21st in a series of blogs by Norman Polmar—author, analyst, and consultant specializing in the naval, aviation, and intelligence fields. Follow the full series here.)

Rupert Allason

Rupert Allason

Nigel West is not a spy.  Some people think that he is.  British journalist and documentary film producer Jon Ronson, in his book Them: Adventures with Extremists (2002), described him:

He wore a blue blazer and an open-necked shirt.  His hair was bouffant, and his glasses were tinted.  All in all, he cut a dashing figure….He was the image of a debonair gentleman spy.

But there is no Nigel West.  It is the pen name of Rupert Allason.  He was born in London, an archconservative, and from 1987 to 1997 the member of Parliament representing Torbay, in southwest England, for a decade.   Of course, he sat in Parliament as Rupert Allason.

He lost his seat in Parliament in the 1997 elections when the Labour Party was swept into power.  He was defeated by twelve (!) votes.

(On the evening of the election, May 1st, 1997, my wife, Beverly, and I were in London dining with a group of Conservative friends.  As we kept learning of the details of the Conservative defeat the whole table continued to moan with disappointment.)

Rupert’s pseudonym was created on the spur of the moment as he was on the telephone arranging to interview convicted Soviet spy John Vassall.  He thought that was a rudimentary precaution that might be appropriate for the occasion.  (Vassall was a British Admiralty clerk who spied for the Soviet Union; in 1962 he was arrested, confessed, and tried.  He served ten years of an 18-year prison sentence.)

Thus, under the name Nigel West, since 1980 Rupert has written or coauthored more than 30 books—two are novels—about espionage and spies.  Several of these books are considered classics in their time.  And, he edited the massive anthologies The Faber Book of Espionage (1993; 610 pages) and The Faber Book of Treachery (1995; 576 pages).

A frequent lecturer on espionage and intelligence in numerous countries, he has spoken at Russian intelligence headquarters in Moscow and at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  He continues to speak and to write, and is on the faculty of the Center for Counter Intelligence and Security Studies in Falls Church, Virginia.

Of course, not everyone likes or agrees with Rupert and what he has written. He has sued or been sued on several occasions. Billionaire publisher Robert Maxwell sued him for libel.  Representing himself, Rupert won the Maxwell case.  He lost in a suit against British journalist Alastair Campbell, whom Rupert sued for malicious falsehood.  But in a retrial he was awarded £1,000 in damages plus most of his costs.  There were several other legal battles; all of which, I believe, he won or in which he eventually was vindicated.

Rupert asked me to come to London to testify in one of his cases, but, as I recall, it was settled out of court and I didn’t appear in the witness box. This related to the Amerasia affair of the 1940s, in which that magazine published classified U.S. Government documents.  Several of the magazine’s staff and writers were current or former members of the Communist Party.  Among those involved were a State Department official and a Naval Intelligence officer.

I had first met Rupert when we both were attending a conference at the National War College in Washington.    I walked up to him and started to introduce myself.  He interrupted, looking at my name tag, “I know who you are and I’ve read some of your books.”


After that Rupert and I met a few times, and kept in contact via e-mail.  In 2004 he kindly wrote a glowing foreword for the second edition Spy Book: The Random House Encyclopedia of Espionage, which I coauthored with Thomas B. Allen.  Mentioning two previous, significant books of this type, Rupert wrote that they “neither compare nor come anywhere close to achieving the comprehensive nature and intrinsic accuracy of this updated edition of Spy Book.”

My wife and I attended a book party for him in London, and whenever he came over to the United States we would try to meet for dinner.  Our last dinner was on Saturday evening, December 7th, 2013, at Athena Pallas in Arlington, Virginia.  But as my wife, Rupert, and I sat and dined, talked, and drank wine, I made a startling discovery:  Rupert drank white wine, even with lamb!

We still e-mail.  And, I can certainly accept his obsession for drinking white wine with lamb.

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BOOK REVIEW – U.S. Marines in Battle: An-Nasiriya 23 March – 2 April 2003

USMC-battle-an-nasiriyahBy Col. Rod Andrew Jr. USMCR, U.S. Marine Corps History Division, Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA, (2013)

Reviewed by Col. Curt Marsh, USMC (Ret.)

This booklet documents a notable battle in Marine Corps history.  Colonel Andrew is a professor of history at Clemson University who served as an artillery officer during Operation Desert Storm.  Andrew relied on official unit reports and interviews with the imbedded field historian and key individuals.

The details of the battle for An-Nasiriya are well presented with special emphasis on the specific units involved and the key battlefield leaders.  The fight for Nasiriya was conducted by Task Force Tarawa, one of four combat elements under II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF).  Their mission was to secure the town of Nasiriya to open an additional main supply route for the 1st Marine Division.  The roads in southern Iraq were fairly restricted.  Nasiriya was a major choke point between the US Army V Corps to the west (left) of II MEF.  The main highways converged there with two sets of bridges over each of the Euphrates River and Saddam Canal.

The original plan was to take the southeast bridge over the Euphrates and the northeast bridge over the Saddam Canal.  The problem was a stretch of road between them that cut through the edge of town, referred to as “ambush alley.”  Shortly after their initial assault, the Marines ran into a damaged Humvee with some soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company that inadvertently ran into the city the night before.  The movement to take the NE bridge over the Saddam Canal became a classic fog of war scenario with bad radio communications.  There was confusion where the other units were located.  This directly led to an authorized airstrike by National Guard A-10s on friendly troops, killing at least 8 Marines and destroying several amtracks.

The account of the battle reveals bravery and outstanding leadership at various levels of command through difficult and confusing circumstances.  There is an excellent review of the friendly fire incident, noting a number of lessons learned on conducting Close Air Support.  Of note is how well Task Force Tarawa worked with other joint forces such as Army and Navy Special Operations forces.  These units shared valuable intelligence and worked closely together on the mission to save Army PFC Lynch who was held at a hospital in the city. This cooperation, along with the determined effort of Marines to save other soldiers of the 507th, was a testament to how joint forces learned to treat each other as brothers in combat.  Another takeaway is how well US forces learned to use combined arms, including artillery and air support, and both rotary and fixed wing aircraft to overwhelm a determined enemy.

This battlefield account is well presented and in an easily readable format.  The maps and pictures are very helpful.  There are numerous footnotes and references as should be expected from a publication of this nature.  The only minor gripe I had was an overly flattering description of several of the commanders in the first part of the account.  Perhaps they deserved it.  Regardless, this battle was a difficult one led by very professional and capable commanders and worthy of being officially documented.

Col. Marsh is a retired Marine Corps officer and naval aviator who flew the A-4M Skyhawk.

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BOOK REVIEW – A Family Saga: Flush-Deck Destroyers 1917-1955

Dickey, John - A Family SagaBy Lt. Cdr. John L. Dickey; Revised by David W. McComb, Merriam Press, Bennington, VT, (2013)

Reviewed by Samuel Loring Morison

Not since the U.S. Naval Institute published Commander John Alden’s famous Flush Decks and Four Pipes in 1965 has such a study been published. A Family Saga is twice the length of Commander Alden’s study.  Lt. Cdr. John L. Dickey and editor David W. McComb discuss the 278 flush deck destroyers of the Caldwell and Clemson classes in rich detail.  This is a worthy addition to one’s library as a supplement to Alden’s book. The appendix alone has data unseen in the earlier work. A Family Saga, for example, occasionally lists two dates for disposal of a ship. Dickey and McComb did this because they may have uncovered two official documents with two different dates. Typos aside, one document may come from the Navy saying the ship has been sold to the buyer on the date indicated, while the second document may come from the purchaser with an entirely different date.  Anyone experienced in the study of U.S. naval ships and their history knows this type of error can and does happen.

There are small typos in the book that should be brought to McComb’s attention for correction in the next edition. Otherwise, the late Lt. Cdr. Dickey and Mr. McComb are to be heartily congratulated for their epic work.

Samuel Loring Morison has written nine books and over 350 articles in naval and military affairs.


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BOOK REVIEW – Recent Works in the Naval War of 1812

Screen shot 2013-12-30 at 3.06.32 PMThe Naval War of 1812 “America’s Second War of Independence:” Collections of William I. Koch and the U.S. Naval Academy Museum

By Dr. William S. Dudley with Dr. J. Scott Harmon, United States Naval Academy. Annapolis, MD, (2013)

In Their Own Words: The Navy Fights the War of 1812

By Vice Adm. George W. Emery, USN (Ret.), Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, DC, (2013)

Reviewed by Cdr. Dan Somma, U.S. Coast Guard



Enthusiasts of the War of 1812 will benefit from two brilliantly laid out and finely compiled volumes for 2013. Both books transport the reader back to the days of the fighting sail with thrilling reprints of art and documents of the period.

Drs. William S. Dudley and J. Scott Harmon’s The Naval War of 1812 is a “Cadillac” on the “showroom floor” of War of 1812 writings. The print quality is truly superb.  One must open the book to hear the static cling seal give way to the incredible prints of 1812 battles, artifacts, and portraits. The battle scenes are accompanied by remarkable line drawings by Helen Riegle, who masterfully shows ship locations, headings, and land topography.

There are terrific insights into the lives of the brilliant characters of these extraordinary battles. One such story is of Thomas Macdonough.  His days as a lieutenant taking “command of a minuscule force of two row galleys, formed to discourage smuggling with Canada. Macdonough showed himself to be a man of great activity, immediately purchased one sloop and rented two others…” His story, like many others, celebrates the resourcefulness (and daring) of our officer corps which the service carries to this day.

The book offers new insight into all maritime operations rather than focusing only on the battles. The well-written section on the 1813 British Blockade gave some background into the politics and personalities of blockade and the U.S. counter effort. The pages come alive with the portraits of the ruddy-cheeked Captain James Lawrence and the great majesty of British Captain Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke. The two portraits capsulate the adversaries themselves; Lawrence representing the U.S. as the sanguine upstart group of colonies seeking true nation approval, and Bowes Vere Broke as the proud, dominant parent nation.

Mention of the merchant marine was especially poignant; the figurehead of the American privateer General John Armstrong shows a bearded, armor-chested, U.S. flag-bearing man from the Naval Academy’s own collection. The caption of “unknown artist” tells the story of the numerous sailors and merchant men who, like the artist, went unknown but can be remembered and celebrated by similar volumes.

InTheirOwnWords1812Emery-1024x791Vice Admiral Emery’s In Their Own Words gives the reader plenty of opportunities to find something to cherish.  This volume is a collection of personal favorites from Emery’s collection of documents of the early U.S. Navy.  The carefully chosen documents capture the fighting spirit of the fledgling Navy.

The collection opens with a letter from Stephen Decatur, well known for his daring raid on the frigate Philadelphia at Tripoli.  Decatur tells a subordinate that the Navy’s reputation is in their hands. The mere words draw the reader on to turn the page and find Isaac Hull’s own hand expressing his challenge in getting Constitution to sea. The two documents contrast each other brilliantly; the first showing the excitement of building the Navy from the keel up, and the second with the harsh reality of doing so.

What is remarkable about these and so many other documents is their relevance to the Navy’s story. The accompaniment of many of the documents with full-color oil – painting reprints from the Naval History and Heritage Command photo archives made the documents come alive.  The lithograph by Nathaniel Currier of Privateer General Armstrong was a favorite.  I felt like I was watching the Battle of Fayal up close.

 In Their Own Words assumes the reader has a basic understanding of the timeline and importance of the various actions in the war.  In that regard, it is not a great book for a layperson.  Those with a moderate or higher level of understanding of the conflict will certainly find much to love.

Both volumes are great opportunities to get underway with the Navy of 1812 and are worth the investment for serious readers of the period.

Commander Somma is currently assigned to Military Sealift Command


In Their Own Words can be ordered online from the US Navy Museum Store at this link.

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BOOK REVIEW – Naval Air: Celebrating A Century of Naval Flying

Kaplan-naval-airBy Philip Kaplan, Pen & Sword Books, Ltd, South Yorkshire, UK, (2013)

Reviewed by Jan Churchill

Eminent aviation historian Philip Kaplan, an American living in Cheltenham, England, wrote a compelling book that explores the most significant aspects in the development of naval aviation over the past century. When air power became a major factor during World War II, the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the primary capital ship of the world’s most powerful navies. This comprehensive and detailed account takes the reader from early development through wartime deployment in the words of the past century’s greatest naval and marine aviators.

Attention is paid to key landmarks in naval aviation history, such as Taranto, Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, Midway, and the Korean campaign. Throughout the book, there are quotes from the flying aces about the high points of their combat careers. There are quotes from American, British, and Japanese pilots. This history concludes with the chapter “To The Fleet” describing the carrier air wing.

After a chapter on the first carriers, Kaplan discusses the Washington Naval Conference and Japan’s role in discussions prior to the U.S. declaration of war. The winds of war were blowing in the 1930s and 1940s.  Kaplan explains how Japan talked peace while preparing for war and expansion in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The author knew General James Doolittle. The chapter on the April 1942 Doolittle Raid on Japan in April 1942 presents the details that made it so successful. A chapter titled “The Fighting Lady” discusses movies from the early years to World War II. Bringing history up to date, there is a chapter titled “Women on Board” as women flew from carriers starting in 1995. The progress and achievement of women aviators in the United States Navy has advanced in considerable measure. There is a section dedicated to the helicopter, its varying uses, current disposition and the status of various types in the U.S. and British navies.

Anyone interested in personal stories of naval aviators will find this fascinating reading. Quotes from numerous interviewees tell how pilots pursued their profession.  Much of the material is new.

Throughout the book, Kaplan gives all the specifications of the various naval airplanes used.  These include not only by the U.S. and Great Britain, but also the other countries that had naval aviators such as Japan, Argentina, France, and New Zealand.  Kaplan weaves multiple threads to produce a comprehensive and detailed history. This is more than a history of the various aircraft.  Naval Air tells the reader about the men and women who got them off the deck and flew them into a new century. The book is complemented by a collection of interesting photographs that will appeal to aviation enthusiasts. This 208 page book includes a bibliography and a detailed index.

Churchill was a former U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary-Pilot


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