Wednesday, June 22, 2016

USS Midway Launches a V-2: Operation Sandy

By Elijah Palmer
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

After the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, the Allies eagerly studied some of the advanced German technology they had captured.  One item of particular interest was the V-2.  This supersonic missile was developed by Germany to retaliate against Allied bombing of German cities.  First launched in 1944, over 3,000 were launched against Allied cities.  American forces captured much of this technology late in the war, including material to assemble dozens of functional rockets, and also accepted the surrender of top scientists from the program.
The American government explored many uses for these rockets in the years following World War II. Military functions were the most obvious, and so it was that the Navy decided to look into the possibility of launching these weapons from ships. This potential ability would greatly increase the striking range of these missiles, providing a long-range seagoing armament. With this in mind, Operation Sandy was born in 1947, to test a V-2 rocket off of a ship.

First, an appropriate launching platform was needed. The Newport News-built USS Midway (CV 41) was selected for the test as it had plenty of space for the large missile and any launching apparatus, and also had a steel deck.  Having a steel deck was a necessity since the rocket would start fires on the Essex-class carriers, which had wooden decks.  According to an official Navy report, Midway was also selected for  "its elevator capacity, its fire fighting facilities, and because of its steadiness at sea." A support frame was designed for a quick and stable setup and launch onboard ship.
Army ordnance experts at White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico trained Sailors on the operation of the V-2.  Two missiles and spare parts were shipped across the country by rail to Hampton Roads where they were loaded onto USS Midway at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  The shipyard's iconic "hammerhead" crane at the shipyard lifted the rockets onto the flight deck.  After the missiles were onboard, two variants of a portable launching apparatus were tested with a dummy rocket and part of the crew was trained in handling it.  Firefighters also conducted extra training in case fuel spilled or the missile fell over during launch.  All of this preparation was done with tight security and armed guards.

When everything was ready, USS Midway, accompanied by four destroyers, headed out into the Atlantic. Along the way, select VIPs were welcomed aboard, including Admiral Forrest Sherman and Admiral William Blandy.  A full rehearsal was conducted the day before the launch was scheduled. On the morning of September 6, 1947, at a point about 250 miles southeast of Bermuda, the crew finalized preparations for launching the V-2. The rocket was lifted into a vertical position, secured in its launching apparatus, and finally, was fueled. 

The deck was cleared (observers went to the island) and the countdown began. 
Primary ignition started and the supports dropped from the missile. (From a US Navy documentary on Operation Sandy)
Main ignition and lift off. (From a US Navy documentary on Operation Sandy)
V-2 launching over USS Midway. (From a US Navy documentary on Operation Sandy)
During the first few seconds of lift off, the rocket tipped to a 45-degree angle, but corrected itself shortly thereafter. The V-2 reached 12,000 feet before it tumbled and broke apart. Even with this shortened flight path, the operation was deemed a success. The hope was that firing these large rockets could become a regular part of a carrier's fighting capabilities, with the whole process of setting up, launching, and clearing the deck for flight ops taking only a comparatively short time. While carriers did not adapt this form of weaponry, Operation Sandy and other tests helped further the ideas of shipboard missiles and long range firepower. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"My Home at this Minute:" A View of Norfolk Naval Operating Base in the Early 20th Century

By Katherine A. Renfrew
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Registrar

Dear Gramp,

These are the best views of the camp that I have seen giving the places that I have to stick around in. The streets are all cement and make me wish I had the motor. Am standing by for draft now and am not supposed to be here [,] but am doing this instead of eating chow. The chow is getting bum down here. They don’t give us butter any more [anymore]
and the cooking is rotten all the time. They must have released all the good cooks.

I went down to get a registered letter and found that I had two instead of one. That will last me till payday. I should get about $16 this time because I have drawn no clothes this fortnight. Your idea of this vacation and mine do not agree.

I think that they will release us soon
but do not know anything about it. Then things will happen won’t they Sports.

Taken from a postcard written by Herbert Austin Lincoln, 1919.

The Blue Jackets Manual, United States Navy 1918 states, “The U.S. Navy offers you a good position for life.”  The message above would indicate that this Sailor was not sold on that notion. Herbert Lincoln's message to his “Gramps” was written while he was undergoing basic training at Naval Station Norfolk, at the time known as U.S. Naval Operating Base (NOB). He was discharged the same year the postcard was written. Lincoln, like many young men assigned to NOB for basic training in the early twentieth century, found life challenging, with constant building construction, long chow lines, and close quarters to name a few.

The U.S. Navy began constructing NOB in the beginning of July 1917. The development of the base grew quickly. Within 30 days, housing for 7,500 men had been finished, followed by the Fifth Naval District Headquarters, piers, aviation facilities, storehouses, facilities for fuel, oil storage, a recruit training station, a submarine base, recreation areas for fleet personnel, and a hospital.

By the end of 1918, the Navy had increased their force from 4,500 officers & 68,000 enlisted men to 15,000 officers and 254,000 enlisted, which consisted of regulars, reserves and national naval volunteers.  In addition, the Navy expanded from 130 stations to 363.  In December 1942, recruit training at NOB was terminated. Officials believed the base was more aptly equipped for advanced training for personnel moving directly to the fleet.

The following images depict construction and facilities of the base in the early part of the twentieth century.

A photograph taken during the construction of the Seaman Guard barracks, taken from corner of Maryland Avenue and Piersey Street, August 28, 1917. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1917_18, RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)
View of the kitchen, block C, looking North from west to east, October 26, 1917. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1917_13 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)
Interior view of Mess Hall No. 1 in Unit C, October 26, 1917. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1917_10 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)

Photograph depicts the aviation barracks and mess hall, March 14, 1918. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1918_01 / RG 71-CA, Box 312, Folder B)

Building No. 11, boat crew barracks located in the Lagoon Unit, looking at north end and east side, May 2, 1922. The clock tower of the Pennsylvania House, which still stands today on Naval Station Norfolk, appears just to the right. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1922_14 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)
Photograph taken looking at west side and south ends of barracks, Building Numbers 8-21 located on the “sub base” area of Naval Operating Base, May 6, 1922. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1922_16 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)
Building No. 22, the base post office where Sailors picked up their packages and mail, Unit N, May 10, 1922. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1922_39 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder B)

Photograph depicts the cleared area where the barracks once stood and construction of new barracks, Unit K. View looking northwest, September 1, 1938. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1938_05 / RG 71-CF, Box1, Folder Virginia-Naval Base, Norfolk)

New barracks almost complete, Unit K, June 6, 1939. View is looking northeast. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1939_09 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder C)

Interior view of the east “dormitory” on the first floor of the newly constructed barracks, Barracks Q, Unit K, November 17, 1939. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1939_13 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder C)

Building I-AA, mess hall and galley, still stands today and is a familiar site on Gilbert Street.  This photograph was taken looking northeast from Gilbert, September 6, 1939. (National Archives and Records Administration, NSNorfolk-1939_06 / RG 71-CA, Box 322, Folder C)
This brief history of buildings serving the naval recruits is the fifth in a series of blog posts illustrating the development of Naval Station Norfolk and its neighboring facilities. Unless otherwise noted, the photographs in this series represent the results of a research project seeking images of Hampton Roads naval installations at the National Archives and Records Administration. This research, performed by Southeastern Archaeological Research, Incorporated (SEARCH) was funded by Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic as part of an ongoing effort to provide information on historic architectural resources at Navy bases in Hampton Roads. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is pleased to present these images for the benefit of the general public and interested historians. As far as we know, all of these images are in the public domain and none of them have been published before.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Not All Ironclads are Created Equal: USS New Ironsides

By Joseph Miechle
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

Drawing of USS New Ironsides shortly after commissioning in Philadelphia, PA. The ocean-going ironclad was fully rigged for sails. (Harpers' Weekly)

When one hears mention of a Civil War ironclad, images of the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia- style ships may immediately come to mind. While these two styles were certainly the predominant designs during the war, engineers tried a few other innovative variations as well. One of the lesser known, yet most effective ironclads developed during the war was USS New Ironsides. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is proud to have a model of this ship, as well as the original (functioning!) engine room clock in our Civil War gallery.

 John Ericsson’s Monitor design was not the only plan submitted when contracts were awarded to northern shipyards for production of ironclad ships that could take on the Confederate casemate ironclad Virginia, then nearing completion in Norfolk. Production on USS Monitor began after Congress had already approved work to begin on USS Galena and USS New Ironsides. Ericsson’s “tin can on a shingle” was completed quickly and placed into service before either Galena or New Ironsides was complete. Because of this, the Ericsson design won fantastic public support and political backing in the aftermath of the Battle of Hampton Roads.

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum's model of USS New Ironsides as she appeared late in the Civil War, bow view (left) and stern view (right). (Photographs by M.C. Farrington)

USS New Ironsides' powerful broadside of 8 guns could place many more shells onto a fortification than could the Ericsson style ironclads. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)

In stark contrast to the turret-based design of USS Monitor and her subsequent sister ships, New Ironsides maintained a more traditional broadside armament. The broadside configuration of fourteen 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns and two 150-pound Parrot rifled guns required upwards of 200 men to operate them. The guns also required construction of special naval carriages so they could operate in the confines of a fully armored gun deck. The opening and closing of each armored shutter protecting the gun crews required ten men to operate. When New Ironsides was operating at peak efficiency, she could deliver withering fire upon the enemy.

The original crew of USS New Ironsides was patched together with volunteers and recent recruits to the Navy. Many of the crew had no experience aboard ship prior to in Philadelphia in 1862. Fewer than one in ten crewmen had joined the Navy prior to May 1862 and over 45 percent of them were rated as landsmen or boys. The crew was drilled vigorously at Hampton Roads prior to her first combat at Charleston, South Carolina on April 7, 1863, in which New Ironsides and several Monitor-style ironclads bombarded Fort Sumter, but failed to achieve a tactical victory.

In what may be the only known combat photograph of its kind from the American Civil War, spectators along the beach can be seen observing Union ironclad ships bombarding either Ft. Sumter or Ft. Moultrie, South Carolina. USS New Ironsides can be plainly seen on the right side of the photograph on the horizon. Smoke still lingers in the air from her deadly broadside. (Chubachus Library of Photographic History)

Action by New Ironsides against Fort Wagner, S.C. in 1863 demonstrated the ship’s true ability. Confederate General Roswell Ripley wrote, “Our great enemy is now the [New] Ironsides.” The ship fired its guns in rotation, one after another. This allowed her to keep a steady stream of fire upon an enemy fortification. New Ironsides expended 464 rounds from her guns in just one day of action at Ft. Wagner.  Colonel Charles Olmstead of the First Georgia Volunteers wrote:

Her broadsides were not fired in volley, but gun after gun, in rapid succession, the effect upon those who were at the wrong end of the guns being exceedingly demoralizing. Whenever she commenced there was a painful uncertainty as to what might happen before she got through.”

New Ironsides could put over ten times as much fire onto a target in an hour than a Monitor-class ship could. Ericsson conceded that the slow firing monitors could not contend with fortifications to the degree that New Ironsides could.

(Photograph by M.C. Farrington)

New Ironsides' armor also seems to have held up better than that of the other ironclad ship designs. USS Galena was shot through by Confederate guns at Drewry’s Bluff on the James River and Confederate gunners soon realized that damage to the seam, between the turret and deck, on Monitor style ships would quickly disable their ability to rotate. New Ironsides was struck over 150 times by heavy Confederate guns throughout the war and it never impaired the ship’s ability to fight.

New weapon evolution in the Civil War is a substantial topic in itself and no new design went unnoticed by the enemy. The Confederates in Charleston, South Carolina had been working on another weapon to destroy the blockading ships, the David boat. On October 5, 1863, under the orders of Captain J. R. Tucker C.S.N, a newly designed David-class torpedo boat succeeded in detonating a charge under USS New Ironsides and escaping into the night. The New Ironsides suffered little damage in the attack and one casualty, caused by gunfire from CSS David. The ship remained on station outside Charleston for the next several months before returning to Pennsylvania for routine repairs and maintenance.

The diversity of ironclad designs is shown in this engraving of USS New Ironsides (1862-1866) (left) and the double-turreted USS Monadnock (1864-1874) (right foreground) published in Harper's Weekly on February 3, 1866, as part of a larger print entitled "The Iron-clad Navy of the United States.” (Naval History and Heritage Command, NH-61431)
The armor belt of the ship was constructed of solid iron plates, up to 4.5 inches thick at the waterline backed by oak, pine, and iron braces. The armor itself was applied in “tongue and groove” style of construction which in theory would add strength and support to adjacent pieces of plating should they be struck by a projectile. British gun tests of this design would prove to the contrary in late 1862, too late to change the design of New Ironsides.
Watercolor painting done by Ensign John W. Grattan, who observed the second battle of Ft. Fisher aboard Rear Adm. David D. Porter’s flagship USS Malvern.  A "Naval Contingent" made up of Sailors and Marines is shown attacking the fort's Northeast Bastion.  Grattan's book Under the Blue Pennant or Notes of a Naval Officer was published in 2000. (Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Grattan Collection, Naval History and Heritage Command)

After repairs and the addition of anti-torpedo fenders at the Philadelphia Naval Yard in June 1864, New Ironsides was recomissioned with Commodore William Radford of the former USS Cumberland, in command.  New Ironsides returned to participate in the Battles for Fort Fisher, NC in December 1864 and January 1865. Rear Adm. David Dixon Porter wrote of the ship’s action in January:

The vessel did more execution than any vessel in the fleet, and even when our troops were on the parapet I had so much confidence in the accuracy of [Radford’s] fire that he was directed to fire on the traverses in advance of our troops and clear them out. This he did most effectually, and but for this the victory might not have been ours.

Eight members of the crew of USS New Ironsides received the Medal of Honor for their performance during the battle.

USS New Ironsides takes aboard Sailors. Notice the Marine guard at the end of the ladder to prevent against the introduction of contraband and intoxicating liquors. Notice also the sailing masts have been replaced with signal masts. This photo was likely taken in southern waters.
Despite all of the political support for the Monitor design and actual deficiencies and shortcomings in design, USS New Ironsides truly proved to be one of the most effective ironclad ships of the Civil War. The design demonstrated that superior firepower on large ships would continue to play an important role in naval strategies well into the 20th century. Many of the battleships of the Great White Fleet of 1907 carried a broadside of secondary guns in addition to their primary guns in turrets. Unfortunately, New Ironsides was damaged by a fire after the war and broken up for scrap by 1869. For more information about New Ironsides, see the book USS New Ironsides in the Civil War by William H. Roberts.

Friday, June 3, 2016

June 1941: The first Higgins Boats Arrive in Hampton Roads

By Jerome Kirkland 
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

On June 4, 1943, 381st Port Battalion Company "C" Scouts practice disembarking from a Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCM) in Newport News, Virginia. (Army Signal Corps Photograph/ Library of Virginia) 
Many people would recognize a “Higgins Boat” if they saw one in a movie like “Saving Private Ryan”, “Sands of Iwo Jima”, or any other number of movies with amphibious landing craft “hitting” the beach during the Second World War. Few, however, may realize the battle the boat’s creator, Andrew Jackson Higgins, had to fight to get these indispensable boats accepted by the US Navy. Fewer still would realize that by September 1943, over 90% of the vessels in the US Navy would have been designed by Higgins. Nearly two decades later, none other than the former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would recall that Higgins was “…the man who won the war for us.”
Andrew J. Higgins (Wikimedia Commons)

In the years between World War I and World War II, Higgins developed a boat for shallow water use in the bayous and swamps around New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. During this same time, the United States Marines were looking for boats that would help them carry out the new amphibious assault techniques they were developing. When these two got together, the battles between Higgins and the Navy, the beginnings of a specialized amphibious Navy, and the birth of an iconic piece of WWII military equipment would all get their start.

In 1938, as war was breaking out in Europe, the US Marine Corps requested that Higgins send a 30-foot long version of his “Eureka” boat to Norfolk for testing on Willoughby Spit and Virginia Beach against other boats built by Chris Craft and the US Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair (Navy Bureau). The 30-foot length was a requirement of the Navy to fit current davits on ships for launching boats. Higgins’ boat performed well enough for the Navy to award a small order, along with Bureau versions, for further testing.

This set the stage for Higgins' first battle with the Navy. Higgins felt a 36-foot-long boat would perform and meet the services’ needs better than a 30-foot version, so in September of 1940 he built and shipped a 36-foot version of his boat, at his own cost, to Norfolk for the final round of testing. Higgins argued that the Navy should change the davits on its ships in order to get the best boat for the job, rather than accept an inferior boat. With the support of the Marine Corps, the Navy accepted Higgins’ 36-foot boat for testing. By the end of testing, the Higgins boat outperformed all the others and exceeded all requirements. The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) report to the Secretary of the Navy listed Higgins' design as the best option, followed by the Chris Craft design. The Bureau’s own design finished last, yet days after the report’s release, the Bureau ordered its own version to be built.

An LCP(L), originally invented by Higgins and designed by the Eureka Tug-Boat Company of New Orleans, is used to land Marines during the Guadalcanal Campaign (Wikipedia)
After protests from Higgins, the Marine Corps, and the US Army, the Navy finally placed their first order for Higgins’ 36-foot Eureka boat, to be called the Landing Craft Personnel, Large or LCP(L) in November of 1940. During the testing and development of the LCP(L), and the 30-foot "medium" Navy version called the LCP(M), a major drawback of the latter design became obvious: Troops and cargo had to be unloaded over the side of the boat. Modifications were made to the LCP, putting a narrow ramp between the two forward machine gun mounts, making it an LCP(R) for “ramped.” This design created a bottleneck at the bow of the boat while unloading. Higgins felt he could do better, and this would set the stage for his next battle with the Navy.

A Higgins PT boat. 
In November of 1940, with an order for LCP(L)s in hand, the Navy arrived in New Orleans to witness testing on Higgins’ Torpedo Patrol Boat design, PT-6 (prime). Higgins took the opportunity to demonstrate a new 36-foot landing craft equipped with a full-width ramp at the bow. Over the next several months, amidst complaints of unfair testing, Higgins finally won a contract for his PT boat and by the end of the war, he had built around 200 PT boats of different variations. During this time, between November 1940 and May 1941, Higgins also fought to have his wide-ramped 36-foot landing boat evaluated. By late May 1941, Higgins finally got his test on Lake Pontchartrain. With enthusiastic support from the Marines and the Army, Higgins got an order to produce the first 26 boats to be delivered to Norfolk, Virginia, by June 15. This is the iconic landing boat of the movies, called the Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP), or more commonly, a “Higgins Boat.”

A Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) belonging to the attack transport USS Darke (APA-159) off the coast of Okinawa in April 1945. (Wikipedia)  
During these battles between Higgins and the Navy over his PT boat and LCVP, the Navy was also seeking a landing barge, called a tank lighter, that could deliver a tank or artillery piece ashore. So on the same day in late May that Higgins received an order to build the first batch of LCVPs, he also received an order to deliver a set of plans for a tank lighter. This would set the stage for the biggest battle between Higgins and the Navy.

Higgins told the Navy that he would not only deliver plans for the tank lighter, but he would also deliver a completed boat. Despite claims it could not be done, Higgins took a partially completed tow and barge tender and converted it into a 45-foot tank lighter. Designing it as he built it, Higgins completed his boat in only 61 hours and tested it in front of the Navy on Lake Pontchartrain by the end of May. The design was good enough for the Navy to order six of them for testing.

Between May 1941 and May 1942, testing between tank lighters by Higgins, the Navy Bureau and others consistently showed Higgins' tank lighter to be the best, yet the Navy Bureau consistently ordered their own design to be built. This would eventually lead to Senator Harry Truman, Chairman of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, intervening and ordering a head-to-head test between boats. Starting in Norfolk, going to Little Creek to test bay and inland waters, then out to Fort Story to test ocean waters, the Higgins boat not only completed the testing course but rescued the Bureau’s boat when it foundered and nearly capsized. This was the birth of the Landing Craft Mechanized, or LCM.
LCVPs await completion and delivery at Higgins' shipyard near New Orleans. (Library of Congress)

Higgins won this battle, yet when President Roosevelt called for 600 more LCMs to be delivered by September 1, 1942, in preparation for the landings in North Africa, the Navy Bureau took advantage of this. They increased the order to 1100 so that they could have their own design built. It took protests from the Army and Marines to have Higgins’ design built before the Navy Bureau relented.

After May of 1942, Higgins was on much better terms with the Navy, designing and producing boats such as the LCP, LCVP, LCM, PT boats and others. By September 1943, of the 14,072 vessels listed in Navy rolls, 12,964 of them, or 92 percent, were designed by Higgins. It was Higgins’ innovative designs and determination to produce the best boats possible that led to his boats becoming icons of WWII equipment. Far from being a profiteer, however, Higgins often put up his own money and even renegotiated contracts with the Navy for less money, even after they were awarded, when he found ways to reduce costs.
On a Landing Ship, Tank (LST) somewhere off the coast of Sicily in July 1943, soldiers of the 45th Infantry Division get one last hour of rest before making a landing as LCVPs loom in their davits overhead. (Library of Congress)
Higgins’ determination, quality of his boats, and the shear number produced, is probably what led Adolf Hitler to refer to Higgins as the “new Noah” in an interview in the Nazi propaganda newspaper Voelkischer Beobachter. These qualities are probably what led Former President Eisenhower, in 1964, to say of Higgins “…he is the man who won the war for us.” “If Andy Higgins had not developed and then built those landing craft," Eisenhower continued, "we never could have gone in over an open beach. It would have changed the whole strategy of the war.”