Wednesday, October 12, 2016

In Memorium: The Navy Tiara

Each new Navy birthday brings with it a sense of accomplishment and pride in that this great institution has stood the watch and fulfilled its duty around the world for another year.  To commemorate this accomplishment, thousands of current and former members of the naval service, as well as their friends and loved ones, will adorn themselves in their finest for the annual Navy Ball.  Most members of the armed services who attend will wear their respective services' mess dress uniform, usually worn only for "black tie" events.

With each new birthday, however, some old things pass away, and the fanciest Navy uniform has not escaped unscathed.  Amidst the truly historic Navy personnel news of late we have this item concerning the demise of a relatively obscure uniform item.  As of October 1, 2016, in accordance with Article 3501.86 of Navy Uniform Regulations, the Navy Tiara is no longer authorized for uniform wear.
The Navy tiara of Captain Ruth Moeller, USN (Ret), part of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum collection. (HRNM-2015.008.003. Photograph by M.C. Farrington
This H. Charles McBarron Jr. illustration of the service dress mess (also called dinner dress blue jacket) uniforms of 1967 shows the Navy tiara as it would have been worn by a female Navy lieutenant, junior grade. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
The uniform change was mandated last year, along with the elimination of boat cloaks for male officers and chief petty officers and navy blue capes for females.  Both were worn for most of the twentieth century, although the navy blue cape, like the tiara, was part of the dress mess ensemble. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Navy Specialty Mark, 1866-2016

As we move toward a Navy where Sailors may hold multiple occupations, rating titles will no longer be applicable. 


Two-thousand-sixteen has been a year of dramatic change with regards to the naval uniform.  Not a single seabag of any current member of the United States Navy will emerge untouched by the profound changes that have been mandated this year through the Navy Uniform Matters Office.  

Although the decade-long saga of the controversial blue-and-gray camouflage Navy Working Uniform has entered its final chapter and the same Navy headgear is now worn by both male and female personnel, the latest change might prove to be the most profound.  A tiny part of the standard enlisted dress uniform is to be eliminated after almost 150 years, and this will literally change the way Sailors view their occupations.     
Detail of an illustration by H. Charles McBarron, Jr., from the collections of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, showing a Boatswain's Mate 1st Class dress uniform, behind typical officer uniforms of 1898. Aside from the elimination of port (left sleeve) and starboard (right sleeve) positioning of rating badges in 1949, the appearance of the rating badge itself remained fairly constant from 1886 until 2016.  By comparison, nothing resembling officers' service and full dress uniforms such as those shown here is worn by today's naval officers.   
In contrast to the rather ostentatious gold trimmings symbolizing prestige or power on officers' uniforms that have come and gone over the last 241 years, the more modest specialty mark of the enlisted uniform has been an ubiquitous symbol of Navy professionalism since the first eight types were authorized in December 1866.  

Emerging with the "New Navy" of the 1880s, the positioning of the roughly one square-inch occupational symbols between the eagle (commonly called a "crow") and the chevrons of the petty officer rating badges first authorized in 1886 has remained essentially unchanged since America's emergence as a world-class naval power. 
This rating badge of a Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class, circa-1898, the oldest one of its kind in the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, can be seen in the museum's Steel Navy gallery.  The specialty mark is the crossed-anchors symbol at the center of the badge.  The image has not been "flipped." The eagle atop the rating badge faced either right or left depending upon which sleeve it was worn.  (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Long before the advent of the Steel Navy, Sailors in certain specialized shipboard occupations began embroidering their own specialty marks to distinguish themselves from the rest of the crew.  A woodcut in the Naval Magazine of November 1836, for example, shows a Boatswain's Mate with crossed anchors on his jacket sleeve. 
Nestled within another illustration by H. Charles McBarron, Jr. from 1966, we can see roughly what the enlisted specialty mark of a Boatswain's Mate looked like during the 1830s.  Although no regulations specified the wearing of such occupational symbols at the time, the specialty marks Sailors had been putting on their own uniforms for years were ultimately incorporated into regulations drafted in 1866.  
Although a general sleeve insignia for petty officers was authorized in 1841, the uniform regulations of December 1, 1866 introduced eight specialty marks for petty officers.  The ever more sophisticated naval vessels coming into the fleet over first few decades that followed, particularly during the 1880s, necessitated further division of labor.  With it came more specialty marks, including those for the rank of Chief Petty Officer, established in 1893.  Five years later, there were 15 specialty marks for enlisted personnel.  A century later, there were 71.

A World War I-era Chief Storekeeper rating badge.  The job specialty itself, along with its specialty mark, was merged into the Logistics Specialist rate in 2010. (Jim Leuci Collection)
Over the twentieth century, hundreds of different ratings emerged with new technologies and missions, then disappeared or merged into other rates as those technologies and missions receded.  At the time the decision was made in September 2016 to replace Navy ratings with an alphanumeric Navy Occupational Specialty code (with no corresponding specialty mark), 57 distinct specialty marks remained.
A closeup of a Master Chief Boatswain's Mate rating badge from the late-1950s. (Jim Leuci Collection)
Although specialty marks might not completely disappear, it appears that they will never symbolize the jobs that U.S. Navy Sailors do in the same way that they have for the last 150 years.  Nevertheless, you can trust that the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and the other museums under the Naval History and Heritage Command will preserve these small yet profound symbols of professionalism in our collections as long as the Sailors of today  have a job to accomplish.  

Friday, September 30, 2016

In the Limelight: A Civil War Military Innovation

By Reece Nortum
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

 Certainly you've heard the expression (or a variation of) "You're in the limelight." Did you know that there was such a thing? In 1825, Michael Faraday, the famous English chemist and physicist, demonstrated that if an oxygen-hydrogen flame were directed against a piece of quicklime, the heated lime produced a brilliant yellowish light.  

Once refined, these chemical lamps used super-heated balls of lime, or calcium oxide, to create an incandescent glow. The lights, known as limelight or calcium lights, began appearing in lighthouses and theaters during in the 1830s.

The idea of using the lights to turn night into day occurred to Union commanders in July 1863, as they contemplated operations on Morris Island, located at the outer reaches of Charleston Harbor. Union forces, most notably the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment (the famous African-American unit depicted in the 1989 film Glory), had sustained heavy casualties that month attempting to capture Fort Wagner (also known as Battery Wagner) on Morris Island.  Early on, Brigadier General Quincy Gillmore and Rear Admiral John Dahlgren hoped the lights would illuminate targets at night or give their own engineers greater visibility while constructing the works. The lights proved less than perfect for these ideas. But with the siege lines closing on Fort Wagner in late August, Union forces turned on the calcium lights again. This time, the intent was to place the Confederates directly in the limelight.

A night raid upon Fort Wagner (also known as Battery Wager) supported by calcium lights.
In addition to focusing on Battery Wagner, the calcium lights also illuminated the ironclads anchored offshore and to aid detection of spar torpedo craft. Against Battery Wagner, the desired effect of the brilliant light was to hinder operations. Any movement on the parapets, or even openings in bunkers to fire, was visible from Union lines. Not only did this hinder defensive fire, but also repairs to the battery. In reaction, Confederates attempted to extinguish the lights with long range artillery fire. In the early morning hours of Sept. 6, Major Edward Manigault, commanding artillery at Legare’s Point on James Island further inland, directed fires from Battery Haskell on the calcium light. Neither Union nor Confederate accounts indicate Manigault’s gunners met with any success. Gillmore’s engineers were the first to adapt the calcium light for combat, allowing them to illuminate their artillery target while simultaneously blinding Confederate gunners and riflemen.

During the siege of Charleston, the Union Navy also focused “limelights” on Fort Sumter while they pummeled it into rubble. In a dispatch to Captain Stephen Rowan, commanding USS New Ironsides, Rear Adm. Dahlgren wrote from Morris Island, “I have just received your signal dispatch in reference to the use of my calcium light on the New Ironsides. I placed at your disposal with great pleasure, and have little doubt that it will aid you in keeping the torpedo vessel.”  

Dahlgren made the following request to his superiors in Washington D.C. on April 6, 1864:

SIR: I beg leave to acknowledge the receipt of your communication enclosing a suggestion made to the Department that small steams with a calcium light would increase the security of our vessels against the rebel torpedo boats. A calcium light is always kept in operation on board the Ironsides, unless there be a good moonlight, I intended also to mount one on each monitor; the trial was made on one of them [New Ironsides, at the battles at Charleston Harbor], but not continued, because the commanding officer thought it a disadvantage. After a close observation of the one in use, I think it probable that the small angle at which the rays the water detracts from its efficiency. Small steamers are always kept in motion in advance of the picket monitors. As many as six have been on duty in a single night, besides a number of picket boats, making it exceedingly difficult for any object on the water to escape them unnoticed; which is confirmed by the fact that the efforts of the rebels were directed against the Housatonic, which was out in the open sea, while the monitors were inside the bar, within range of the rebel batteries and infinitely of more consequence. If any of the torpedo boats should elude the pickets, they would be stopped by nettings in the vicinity of the ironclads. There is no remedy for the outside cruisers except to be kept constantly underway, and I should pursue the same course inside with the monitors, but it is impossible at night in channels lined with dangerous shoals and heavy batteries. With an increased number of steam tugs and some torpedo boats like those of the rebels, added to the measures already taken, I should feel no apprehension whatever from this base style of rebel warfare. 

With his requests' approval, this new technology was sent to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for use in the North and South Atlantic Blockade Squadrons. Additional requests came flowing in, after great success was reported in stopping Confederate blockade runners. The order came via the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron flagship USS Malvern that five locomotive lights were to be brought and attached to the bow and sterns of several ironclads within the Hampton Roads area in 1864. During 1864 and 1865, the Navy ordered 300 calcium lights to be installed as standard issue aboard all ironclads built in the area.

These calcium floodlights were later used as searchlights to spot Confederate warships and blockade runners. In early 1865, a Union light even helped detect a Confederate ironclad fleet as it tried to move along the James River under cover of darkness. A Southern officer later noted that a planned sneak attack was made impossible in part because of the Union’s “powerful calcium light.”
Equipped with calcium lights, the Union Navy was able to continue, even on the darkest nights, the bombardment of Fort Sumter and Battery Wagner, ushering in a decades-long period in which the “Spotlight” was an important and well-used tool for peacetime, and war, aboard naval vessels.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Twenty Years Ago: Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP) Norfolk Closes

On September 20, 2016, visitors to National Maritime Center Nauticus get an advance look at a portion of the new Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP) Norfolk exhibit, "Without Us, They Don't Fly" just outside the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM).  The completed exhibit, featuring many of the NADEP artifacts maintained by HRNM, opened the following day. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
On September 25, 1996, the largest employer in Hampton Roads officially closed its doors. The Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) had voted on June 26, 1993, to close Naval Aviation Depot, Norfolk. It became one of 32 major closure and realignment recommendations submitted to President Bill Clinton on July 1. That September, the commission’s recommendations became law, and NADEP Norfolk was tasked with closing within three years.
This would prove to be a formidable task on many different levels.  NADEP Norfolk had in one form or another served the Navy’s aviation community since 17 mechanics belonging to Naval Air Detachment Curtiss Field in Newport News first arrived at the newly-established Naval Operating Base at Sewells Point in October, 1917. Over the next seven decades, through two world wars as well as the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the facility had grown to employ 4,300 civilian mechanics, engineers, and support staff.  By 1976, the facility covered 174 acres and included 175 buildings.  From the 1970s to the 1990s, its workers restored or repaired F-8 Crusaders, A-6 Intruders and F-14 Tomcats, among other aircraft. 

The one war that NADEP Norfolk could not survive without, however, was the Cold War. The general conception among Pentagon analysts that the dissolution of the Soviet Union rendered many of our military installations unnecessary spawned five different BRAC rounds over a 17-year period, resulting in the closing of more than 350 military installations.

Two of the three commanding officers who led NADEP through a process that they called “Closing with Class” during that three-year period, Capt. Bruce Pieper, USN (Ret.) and Capt. Ted Morandi, USN (Ret.), will be speaking during a special event at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum being held at 6 pm on Thursday, September 22.  Dr. William Whitehurst, who as a member of Congress also had a front-row seat to the decommissioning process, will also be speaking.

For almost 80 years, the mechanics and engineers of the Naval Aviation Depot kept naval aviators flying with confidence.   Workers here set the standards for aircraft overhaul and repair, aircraft modification, and the manufacture of aeronautical parts.  In 1917, NADEP originated as the Construction and Repair Department of a military detachment at the Norfolk Navy Operating Base. Its first mission was supporting seaplane and dirigible operations during World War I.  The facility became the Assembly and Repair Department in 1922.  Among other duties, the Sailors constructed unassembled aircraft received from manufacturers.  The first civilians, 50 workers from the Norfolk Navy Yard, arrived in 1930.
A functional diagram of the Construction and Repair Department of Naval Air Station Norfolk during the 1940s. (HRNM Collection)

During World War II, the department grew to over 8,000 workers operating seven days a week. In an average month they would process over 300 aircraft, 400 engines, 500 propeller blades, 8,000 instruments, and more than 11,000 accessories.  In 1948, the facility was renamed the Overhaul and Repair (O and R) Department and received the Navy’s first jet aircraft for repair.

As the Korean War heated up in the early-1950s, the Engine Overhaul Division became the Navy’s largest. It performed production prototyping for aircraft modernization, manufactured aircraft parts, and accomplished large emergency repairs.

In 1961, during the Cold War, O and R became the East Coast repair center for the infrared, heat-seeking AIM-9 “Sidewinder” air-to-air missile. To help with military readiness, the workers supported “Operation Compression” with the motto, “Back to the Fleet in 23 Work Days.” 

A-6 Intruders undergo depot-level maintenance at Naval Aviation Depot, Norfolk during the 1980s. (HRNM Collection)

In 1967, O and R became the Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) Norfolk. During the Vietnam War, NARF kept the A-6 Intruders, F-8 Crusaders, P-2 Neptunes, and P-3 Orions in top shape. Unfortunately, the first A-6 reworked by NARF was lost in combat. Its crew is commemorated on the A-6 displayed at Ely Park near Gate Four on Naval Station Norfolk.

NARF’s first chance to work on an F-14 Tomcat came in 1973 when NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, delivered a damaged Tomcat by barge. By 1980, NARF was the designated overhaul point for the F-14 Tomcat, the A-6 Intruder, and the EA6-B Prowler.

Naval Air Station Norfolk's Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) during the mid-1980s. (HRNM Collection)

By 1980, with 4,200 employees, NARF was the largest employer in Norfolk. In addition to onsite work, NARF sent field modification teams to aircraft carriers in every ocean and to sites in North Africa, Europe, Scandinavia, and the Far East. The Naval Air Systems Command also sent NARF’s industrial engineers to installations stateside and to foreign countries to assist in modernization.

In 1987, NARF became Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP), Norfolk. NADEP’s workers, skilled in over 80 trades, became known for award-winning excellence. Among their many accolades were the U.S. Senate Productivity Award, the Secretary of Defense Productivity Excellence Award, and the Action Plus Excellence Award for Quality and Productivity.

During the 1991 Gulf War, many NADEP workers served in the conflict with their reserve military units. At home, they completed 85 Sidewinder missiles in six weeks. Meanwhile the Depot’s voyage repair “Tiger Teams” worked around the clock on aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf to keep catapult and arresting gear running.

In 1992, NADEP opened its 90,000 square-foot Materials and Standards laboratory, the most modern and complete engineering laboratory on the East Coast. The lab is now part of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center.

After the 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to decommission NADEP Norfolk, the employees set about “Closing with Class.” They continued to win awards and completed the F-14D(R) conversion program. In January 1996, they rolled out the first F-14 to complete the F-14 A/B Upgrade Program. This was the first acquisition and design program totally accomplished by Navy field activities.

Although NADEP Norfolk officially decommissioned on September 25, 1996, its legacy has lived on. Its former personnel have continued using their talents at other Navy facilities, and some of the aircraft once maintained by NADEP, such as the EA6-B Prowler, continued to take to the skies until 2015.