Thursday, April 24, 2014

Norfolk Navy Yard Workers in World War II

This picture of the Norfolk Navy Yard was taken in October of 1941 by Alfred T. Palmer. A protégé of Ansel Adams, Palmer was a prolific photographer by the end of the 1930s. Working for the National Defense Advisory Commission of the Office of Emergency Management (O.E.M.), Palmer participated in a massive public information push by the government.

After Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, President Roosevelt pushed for a buildup of American military forces, including making the Navy a true two-ocean force. The photography section of the O.E.M. was tasked with showing the American public how their tax dollars were going to work in the military buildup. Palmer traveled across the country photographing not only the technical side of industry, but also the human side seen in the workers. This is evident in the photograph above, which shows workers relaxing and heading to lunch, in among the implements of heavy industry. A destroyer is seen in the foreground to the left, and a battleship is seen in the background.

Both Norfolk Navy Yard and Newport News Shipbuilding became hubs of frenzied maritime activity during World War II. In total, the shipyards built over 100 ships during the war years, including battleships and aircraft carriers. Norfolk Navy Yard also conducted repairs on numerous battle-damaged ships.

(This post was written by HRNM educator Elijah Palmer.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Local Sailors Engaged at the Battle of Vera Cruz, 1914

As the diplomatic crisis with Mexican military government continued to deteriorate, President Woodrow Wilson decided to act. Each of the battleships off of Vera Cruz was to assemble a landing team of armed Sailors and Marine detachments. Reinforced by land-based Marines, the force landed with orders to seize the city's custom house and secure the city. The landing itself went on without much issue. But shortly after the landing, local Mexican forces opened fire on the Americans. Here are some of the images we have of sailors from locally-based ships preparing for action or already in the middle of it.

You can see other images in our collection of the Vera Cruz intervention here here, and here. For an excellent political and military overview of the expedition, we encourage you to read naval historian Jack Sweetman's Naval History magazine article or his book The Landing at Veracruz: 1914.

Sailors from USS Michigan's (BB-27) Fifth Division make final preparations to go ashore at Vera Cruz.  While most sailors went into combat wearing either their summer whites or winter blues, Michigan's sailors felt their uniform needed to be more suitable for possible urban combat.  They decided on a khaki-colored uniform.  As this was not standard issue, the sailors soaked their uniforms in the battleship's large coffee vats and boiled them in hot coffee.  During anti-sniper sweeps, one Michigan sailor was credited with taking out an enemy sniper from 100 yards away at night with one shot from his Colt revolver.   
Signalmen from the USS Florida (BB-30) detachment prepare to go ashore.  During the fighting, these men exposed themselves to enemy fire to keep American flag officers informed on the progress of the battle. 

USS Louisiana's (BB-19) company of Sailors and Marines prepare to land at a moment's notice (note that the ship is underway).  While Michigan's and Louisiana's companies arrived too late for the April 21-22 street fight, American flag officers welcomed their arrival and used them to help secure the city and the outlying areas.

USS Utah (BB-31) sailors in action during the heavy fighting with Mexican forces on April 21.  The Mexican forces consisted of Mexican Federal soldiers, local militiamen, and Mexican Naval cadets.

Sailors and Marines, possibly from Florida's company, take up anti-sniper positions.  Once the heavy fighting stopped on April 22, Mexican soldiers constantly harassed American forces with snipers. 

The Newport News-built and locally based USS Montana (ACR-13) gets underway for New York City, carrying twenty-two American Sailors and Marines killed in the fighting.  The fallen were given a public funeral in New York City. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Battleship Squadron Leaves For Mexico, 1914

A newspaper photograph of Atlantic Fleet battleships deploying from Hampton Roads to Mexico,
April 15, 1914.  It should be noted that the newspaper's caption have the wrong ship names.
One hundred years ago yesterday, acting on instructions from President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels ordered the Hampton Roads-based ships of the Atlantic Fleet to mobilize and head to the east coast of Mexico. The first squadron to deploy included the new battleships USS Arkansas (BB-33), USS Utah (BB-31), and Florida (BB-30); the older battleships USS New Jersey (BB-16) and USS New Hampshire (BB-25); and the dispatch boat/armed yacht USS Yankton. Daniels had specifically ordered the squadron to Tampico and Vera Cruz. Daniels deployed the squadron of heavy ships to reinforce a smaller squadron already on the scene.

The deployment of American battleships came from a culmination of a series of international incidents. A few days before, Mexican authorities had arrested several American sailors in Tampico, and later a Marine who got lost while trying to deliver official mail. These arrests occurred during the latest civil war in Mexico. There was also an American belief that European powers were attempting to intervene in the war. Thus, tensions between Mexico and the United States were high.

Mexican authorities agreed to release the American servicemen, but some senior U.S. Naval officers, and later President Wilson himself, beleived American honor had been insulted. They demanded official apology and a 21-gun salute to the American flag by the Mexican government. When the Mexican reply to the American demands was not forthcoming quickly enough, Wilson put the Navy's ships on alert.

While Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt commented to the press that the Navy was prepared for anything, there is evidence that the mobilization order caught the Atlantic Fleet somewhat off guard. Several of the ships were not prepared for an extended deployment. New Hampshire's sailors, for example, worked through the night and early morning of April 15 loading 1,600 tons of coal on board. The Navy quickly called up all sailors stationed at St. Helena Naval Training Station and on board the local receiving ships Franklin and Richmond, regardless of rate, sea experience, or enlistment status, to fill in personnel gaps. Many other ships in the Atlantic Fleet were not ready, including the battleships Texas (BB-35) and Delaware (BB-28) and several repair vessels and coal colliers.

Even though the initial operation was only a partial mobilization of the Atlantic Fleet, the five battleships' deployment raised American jingoism to a fever pitch. Most Americans fully supported the deployment and even offered to help in their own special way. The Governor of Texas, for example, offered to invade Mexico on behalf of the United States. The President politely declined.

Monday, April 14, 2014

USS Wisconsin Veteran's Photos, 1953-1955, Part 2

Here is batch number two of the photos we recently received from a battleship Wisconsin veteran. The veteran served on the ship between 1953 and 1955. Once again, we are looking for assistance identifying certain pictures.

"Crossing the Line" ceremony just underway, June 1953

Crossing the Line ceremony, June 1953, with polywogs ( on the left) about to go through the line.
USS Samuel B. Roberts is in the background making her way through rough seas.

King Neptune and Court for the Crossing the Line ceremony, June 1953.
We think this is Wisconsin in New York City, 1955, for Armed Forces Day; however, we are not sure.

We know this is the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CV-41) and the picture was
taken from Wisconsin. But where was the picture taken? One guess is Naval Station
Norfolk as the Navy homeported both ships there in the 1950s. 
This one has us stumped. It looks a Marine landing exercise, maybe off Puerto Rico?

Another stumper- Guantanamo? Naval Station Roosevelt Roads? You tell us!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

USS Wisconsin Veteran's Photos, 1953-55, Part 1

We recently received copies of photographs taken by a veteran of the battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64). He served on the ship from 1953 to 1955 and took these remarkable color photographs with a camera his father gave him right before he shipped out. In 1953, Wisconsin went to Japan before returning to Norfolk, then she headed out to sea again for training exercises and midshipmen cruises in 1954 and '55.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to identify many of the pictures and we would appreciate any help you can provide. Please comment if you can provide any further insight into these images!

Sixteen-inch shells being loaded on board Wisconsin, Sasebo, Japan, 1953

Setting up for divine services on Wisconsin's fantail, Sasebo, Japan, 1953

After being relieved by Wisconsin as flagship of the 7th Fleet,
USS New Jersey (BB-62) begins her long trek home to Norfolk. 

Here is one of our mystery photos- We think this is Wisconsin
at Pier 4, Naval Station Norfolk, 1954. What do you think?

Here is a rare shot of a submarine coming alongside a battleship!  Specifically,
this is USS Grenadier (SS-525). The story behind this encounter was that the
submarine needed cash to make payroll. So, she surfaced and came alongside
Wisconsin to ask for money. 

USS Furst (DD-882) coming alongside Wisconsin.  We think
this was taken in 1953.

Here is another mystery photo- All we know is that the sailor took<
the picture from Wisconsin in the 1950s.
We got an answer! This ship is the
destroyer escort USS Tweedy (DE-532) in June 1953.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Class Picture Day- Submarine Flotilla Division 4, 1916

Shown here are the early submarines USS K-5 (SS-36) and K-6 (SS-37) alongside their tender, the monitor USS Tallahassee (BM-9) (ex-Florida), in Hampton Roads, December 1916. The Navy homeported Submarine Flotilla Division 4 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Due to several surprise breaches of American neutrality by both Germans and their French and British opponents, the Navy moved the submarines and their tender to Hampton Roads. This move was designed to reinforce local maritime forces, if the Navy's heavy ships (battleships and cruisers) were off conducting exercises in the Caribbean. The five vessels also participated in drills with surface ships in the Chesapeake Bay.

Nominally, the flotilla had four "K" class boats assigned to it: K-1K-2K-5, and K-6. But it would seem that the Navy swapped out K-1 and K-2 with USS L-1 (SS-40) and L-3 (SS-42). The "L"-class were newer boats and the "K"-class had major defects with their engineering plant.

The Navy's use of monitors was a creative idea to give purpose to ships that never really should have been built in the first place. There were still a few holdouts who believed that steel-hulled monitors with battleship-type guns had a major battle role in the U.S. Navy. It soon became clear that the vessels were too slow and too unseaworthy to be of use out in the open ocean. However, their extremely low free board (a characteristic of all monitors) made them useful supply and ordnance tenders to submarines. As the Navy had yet to build dedicated submarine tenders, the monitors filled the role wherever submarines were to be found.

USS K-5 (SS-36) at anchor in Hampton Roads
USS L-3 (SS-42) at anchor in Hampton Roads.

USS K-6 (SS-37) at anchor in Hampton Roads
USS L-1 (SS-40) at anchor in Hampton Roads

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Old Man Graham Tells Richmond Kids to Get Off His Lawn...err...Ships, 1891

USS Manhattan on the James River, 1880s
In the years following the American Civil War, the Navy placed its monitor-type ironclad warships in a reserve status. In its search for a suitable place to lay up these ships, the Navy decided that City Point, Virginia, on the James River would be a good place for six of the monitors.

The squadron consisted of Ajax, Canonicus, Catskill, Lehigh, Mahopac, and Manhattan. The squadron was not a "ghost fleet" per se because the Navy assigned a small contingent of officers and sailors to watch over the ships. In charge of this squadron was Commander Felix McCurley of Baltimore, Maryland. At 74 years old, McCurley entered the Navy as one of the hundreds of "volunteer" naval officers at the beginning of the Civil War and experienced his fair share of combat and diplomatic standoffs (in the Kingdom of Hawaii, for example). McCurley possessed an easygoing personality.

While at City Point, McCurley's sailors became restless and openly expressed their displeasure at being assigned to such a backwater location where there was nothing for them to do while off-duty. To accommodate them, McCurley received permission to move the squadron closer to Richmond.

The change of base piqued the curiosity of the locals. The public wanted to walk the decks of the historic warships, even if they were Yankee warships against which their fathers had fought. All of the ships in the squadron had been in battle during the late war. McCurley welcomed excursion boats that frequently passed by the ships and he was happy to have visitors on board. One newspaper report commented that the visitors had made the monitors "a resort," implying that they did more than just walk the decks of the ship.

Lehigh's turret with battle scars caused by Confederate
guns guarding Charleston, South Carolina.
In 1891, McCurley received orders to take command of League Island (Philadelphia) Navy Yard. His relief was Commander James Duncan Graham and the fun came to a sudden end. A member of the U.S. Naval Academy's class of 1857 and a veteran of many battles on the Mississippi River during the late war, Graham had a much more serious view of his duties. He proclaimed to the press that he was issuing a strict policy regarding ship visitation. The result was a revolt among the local boaters. As Graham described the situation to a local reporter, "The good people of Richmond have no idea of the indignities, insults and other annoyances the officers and men on board the monitors are subjected to, particularly on Sundays and holidays. People come down the river in boats and insist upon coming directly abreast the monitors, and using the most vile language, shouting at the tops of their voices, and jeering at the men aboard ship." Fearing for his own family's safety, he moved his wife and children north.

After a quick fix at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the
Navy moved the James River monitors to League
Island (Philadelphia) Navy Yard.
Navy leadership saved everyone additional trouble by ordering all six monitors to be taken to Norfolk Naval Shipyard for minor repairs and then to League Island for their new permanent station. It is not clear whether public threats made by Richmond boaters had anything to do with the transfer. The Navy would later mobilize the squadron for the Spanish-American War.

But in the opinion of Graham, one thing was for sure: these were ships of war. A newspaper commented, "The foundation of adverse feeling in [Graham] is simply owing to the fact that he had never considered it commensurate with his duty to permit the monitors to be used as a public museum or a Pleasure Resort."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

USS Alabama @ NNSY as Drawn by Illustrator Thorton Oakley, 1942

Oakley's rough sketch
of the painting shown above.
 Illustrator Thornton Oakley created this interpretation of the battleship USS Alabama (BB-60) at Norfolk Naval Shipyard preparing for launch. The illustration was part of a series he painted of American war industries during World War II. The point of this series was to show the industrial side of the war effort. Oakley was active in making patriotic art during both of the World Wars.

National Geographic showcased his work several times during WWII as part of its coverage of the war. Oakley also worked as both an illustrator and writer for many publications, such as Harper’s Monthly and Scribner’s. He also taught at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art for many years. As an artist, Oakley favored the use of primary colors, such as blue, red, and yellow. This is evident in this particular painting as he has worked several different hues of these colors into the scene for a striking effect. National Geographic originally published this work in their December 1942 issue.

Compare Oakley's work to Arms' interpretation of Alabama and one can quickly see the difference in styles. Even though both men studied architecture at college, Oakely also trained as an illustrator under the great illustrator Howard Pyle. As a result, Oakley's interpretation is more active and action-oriented than Arms' drawing of the battleship, which was still and highly detailed-orientated.

Editor's note: HRNM educator Eljiah Palmer composed this entry.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Few Words from a USS Cumberland Marine, 1861

We are fortunate to have received a copy of the letter book and journal of Charles H. Bunker, a member of the sloop-of-war USS Cumberland's 53-man Marine Corps detachment from 1860-62. A native of Harlem, Bunker enlisted in the Marines as Cumberland prepared for a deployment to Mexico. Bunker's letter book is valuable not just because Civil War letters from enlisted sailors and Marines are rare, but also because Bunker recorded his experiences as a Marine in great detail. From Bunker's letters, we find that the Cumberland's company was quite active even if they were not in combat. Through the letters, we learn about...

War Messes With Your Dreams - April 3, 1861: "The 3rd [dream] was as we lay at Norfolk; I thought I was again in Harlem (after a long cruise) and I happened to go in one of Mrs Liscombs Brick houses on 3rd avenue where there was a young Widow. She proved to be an old schoolmate of mine, and as she made me an offer of marriage, I took up with it as she had a good set of furniture, etc. but I was once more interrupted by the word being passed for all hands to up anchor for the Navy Yard."

War Messes With Your Dreams, Part 2 - April 26, 1861: "I will mention one more dream as a specimen of many of the same sort. A few nights ago I thought the Ship was attacked by a large number of boats with about 50 men in each. I thought the Officer of the Deck gave the order to beat to General Quarters when I was interrupted in my dream by General Quarters in reality, a Steamer coming in with troops."

Creative Ways to Stay Awake on Watch - April 30, 1861: "At night we have General Quarters as soon as a Steamer or large vessel come in sight so we very seldom get more than 2 or 3 hours in our hammocks at one time, getting but little sleep we are in danger of falling asleep on Post. I have on several occasions been obliged to put a grain of tobacco in my eye to keep them open. If we were found asleep on post we would be Court Martial and severely punished."

Best Way to Drink From the Ship's Water Supply - May 6, 1861: "Today a tank of water was opened which we had taken on board at Vera Cruz but it was very bad [editor's note: about six months old and mixed with sea water], we have to drink or go without as we can not get more from the City. With us it is: Shut your eyes-Hold your nose, Open your mouth-And down it goes. But as it is the last tank it will soon be over."

An Unthreaded Needle is the Worst...Thing...Ever - May 8, 1861: "An article in the Providence Journal replies to the suggestion that work bags with pins, needles, thread, scissors and buttons will be useful; to the Soldiers and Sailors, says but thread the needles. Don’t send them to the poor boys unthreaded. There is not a man in the Ship who would not rather undertake to thrash a Secessionist than to thread a Needle. That’s so true."

Charles Heywood-Bunker's commanding officer
on Cumberland shown here as the Marine
Corps' first flag officer. 

Town of Hampton Pillaged...For Its Flowers - May 14, 1861: "Almost all the inhabitants of Hampton which joins the Fort have left for the interior of the State. Some of them have left gardens of the most beautiful flowers and a large variety of them. Every time a Boats Crew goes to the Store in the Fort they take large bunches of them of which the two Lady Passengers get a good share."

Career Path Regret - June 3, 1861: "I would rather be cook, as it pays better, all cooks, receiving $7.50 a month and excused from sentry duty, where a corporal gets but $2.00 more a month."

Stand Up Comedian/Tough Crowd - June 3, 1861 "One night the men would not let me go to sleep, even after 9 o’clock, until I gave them something original. I then asked why a young Lady deserted by her Lover was like a certain US weapon and as none could answer, I told them it was because she was a Cut Lass (Cutlass). The next morning they managed to raise a splendid Leather Medal with a rope yarn to put around my neck, strong enough if I was suspended to break my neck."

Pre 4th of July Fireworks - July 2, 1861 "9 PM a very bright comet was seen for several hours after." Editor's note: This was the "Great Comet of 1861" (since labeled C/1861 J1) that passed very close to Earth and had been witnessed by thousands of observers from Australia, Europe, and the United States.

A sketch of "The Great Comet of 1861" as drawn by European observers
on June 30, 1861. Bunker witnessed it on July 2. More information can be
found at
Accounts of Death Were Greatly Exaggerated - August 29, 1861 [Hatteras Expedition]: "If he does not turn up all right (as I hope he will) his shipmates will lose a good friend and comrade. A few days ago he was writing your address on an envelope but getting a blot on it he laid it one side. I picked it up to do some figuring upon thus I got the address as the ship is cruising around. I do not know when or where she will sail next, but it is supposed she will go to Fort Monroe again in a few days so my name is not necessary or to answer this. Hoping for the best. I remain his and your Friend until I write again if necessary. One of C.H. Bunker’s Shipmates."

A Previously Unknown Raid - October 3, 1861: "I am with 12 more of the guard volunteered to go on secret service, which we soon after found out was to destroy a rebel floating battery. We started when the moon went down, in three boats with their crews, but when we got to where the battery was, we found it had been removed... We heard the sergeant of their guard ask the sentry if he did not see that boat; they said yes, but I thought it was our sloop. At this we gave them the contents of our boat--howitzer and muskets, which made them leave their camp fire in a hurry."

No Sport Hunting While on Duty - November 6, 1861: "There is now large flocks of wild ducks here, which would afford fine sport for the sportsman, if it was not for this war. The soldiers are not allowed to shoot them yet for fear of accidents. "

He Tripped, Sir - January 3, 1862: "One of the sailors while ashore, had got whiskey enough to set his tongue a going and 'put him on his muscle'; the Captain ordered him to be gagged and put in double irons. He had also to be tied down to the deck; as he bruised the sergeant and myself with his irons, as we were putting them on, so a little court plaster is very useful 'now and then.'"

Friday, March 14, 2014

Prepping for Byrd Expedition III- USS Bear at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, 1939

The USS Bear is shown here at Norfolk Naval Shipyard loading up for Admiral Richard Byrd's third expedition to the southern polar region. Bear was an ex-19th century whaling ship that had been reconstructed for polar service. Even though this was Byrd's third trip to the southern polar region, it was the first under official U.S. Government sponsorship. With the sponsorship came access to the Norfolk Navy Yard. A photojournalist from the Norfolk Ledger-Star took these pictures and was particularly fond of the ninety Greenland Dogs and Canadian Eskimo Sled Dogs that Byrd's team brought with them. Read more about the other photos and artifacts of Byrd Expedition III that the museum recently received in our recent blog post. 

Pictured here holding two Eskimo Sled Dog puppies is Hollis "Pop" Richardson.  He
served as Byrd's lead sled dog trainer/driver/musher for the expedition.

The bow ornament of USS Bear-Originally built in 1874 as a civilian whaler, the ship served in
 the Revenue Service, the Navy, and the Coast Guard until being decommissioned in 1944.
The ship in the background is the airship tender USS Patoka (AO-9).

Men working aloft on USS Bear while at Norfolk Navy Yard. 
Even though the ship was made of wood, the hull was
 built strong enough to resist ice flows from cracking the hull.
She is  considered to be America's first icebreaker.

Three more of Richardson's Eskimo Sled Dog puppy brigade that came along on the Expedition.
Three Greenland Dogs on the deck of USS Bear.  First used by the Inuit people for both hunting and
sled pulling, Greenland Dogs are considered to be among the oldest dog breed in the world.
Eskimo Sled dogs take a snooze on the deck of USS Bear.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Photographing Local Ships in the Korean War

During the early 1950s, there was a saying around Atlantic Fleet headquarters that the Korean War was "Pacific Fleet's problem, not ours." The reluctance to send ships from Norfolk to Korea was based on a reasonable assumption that the fighting on the Korean Peninsula was just a small part of a coming global conflict with Communist forces, and the Atlantic Fleet wanted to be ready to fight the Soviets in European waters and the Atlantic Ocean. Despite this feeling, the Atlantic Fleet did contribute quite a number of ships to Task Forces 77 and 95 (the Navy's two battle squadrons off of Korea). It was fortunate that the Atlantic Fleet agreed to cooperate, because by 1953, the Navy as an institution was facing an issue with the American public regarding why the Navy was sending any ships to the Far East, not just Korea, in the first place.

As part of the plan to educate the American public, Admiral William Radford, then Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, and soon to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, penned an article explaining America's interests in the Far East and why the Navy sent ships there. Of interest, however, is where the Navy chose to publish the article: National Geographic. Possibly attempting to reach an audience with a more international perspective of the world, National Geographic not only agreed to publish the article, but also deployed nationally-renowned photojournalist J. Baylor Roberts to photograph the Navy in action.

Here are some of the images of locally-based ships and sailors taken by Roberts and Navy photojournalists that National Geographic published alongside Radford's article. The article and photos originally appeared in the March 1953 issue of National Geographic. 

Editor's Note: HRNM Educator Elijah Palmer contributed to this article.

Roberts took this photo of USS New Jersey (BB-62) off the North Korean coast
during the battleship's second war tour.  In the 1950s, the Navy homeported all
four Iowa-class battleships in Norfolk.
A Navy photojournalist took this photo of USS Missouri (BB-63) en route to
Korea during the battleship's second war tour.
Roberts took this photo of F9F Panther fighter-bombers from NAS Oceana-based squadron
VF-91 and NAS Alameda-based VF-94 being refueled and rearmed onboard USS Philippine Sea (CV-47).
An F9F flies across the carriers USS Essex (CV-9),  Norfolk-based Intrepid (CV-11), and
Bon Homme Richard
(CV-31) en route to Korea.
Official Navy photo of USS Wisconsin (BB-64) with USS AFDB-1 in Guam, 1952.  This was taken
after Wisconsin's first war tour in Korea.  This dry docking was at the time the heaviest ship
  AFDB-1 had ever taken on.