Thursday, May 23, 2019

Seventy-Five Years Ago: The Depot that Supported D-Day

A group of Landing Craft, Vehicle (LCVs) maneuver in the Chesapeake Bay off Camp Bradford, Little Creek, Virginia, in 1943.  (Naval History and Heritage Command image)
As the world prepares to focus once again on the beaches of Normandy and recognize the men who gave their lives to cross them on June 6, 1944 to free France from German occupation on D-Day, it's worth mentioning the simple but brilliantly conceived landing craft, commonly known as Higgins boats, that got them from their hulking transport vessels to those beaches.

Not to be forgotten as well are those who trained their operators and maintained the myriad types of landing craft that ultimately paved the way back to Europe.  Much of the training and maintenance that paid dividends during Operation Neptune (the littoral phase of Operation Overlord), as well as earlier operations in North Africa and Europe occurred all over Hampton Roads. 
Dozens of Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVPs) under construction at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1943. More than 23,000 LCVPs were made at numerous shipyards across the nation during the war, but just two major depots were established by the Navy to refurbish them, one just a couple of miles away from the shipyard. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum file)
The first and most numerous of what became over a dozen varieties of Higgins boat, known as the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) entered U.S. naval service in June 1941 after the first nine of them rolling into Norfolk aboard rail cars from Andrew Jackson Higgins' factory in New Orleans.  The LCVP was originally made from Higgins' Eureka boat, a favorite of Prohibition-era smugglers as well as their Coast Guard adversaries, modified with innovations rooted in Japanese designs noted by Marine Corps Lieutenant Victor "Brute" Krulak while he was stationed in China a couple of years before.

This illustration by combat artist Mitchell Jamieson depicts the old wooden barque Marsala, anchored off Little Creek in Chesapeake bay, which was the first ship used by the new Amphibious Training Command to instruct Soldiers and Sailors in boarding and debarking transport vessels. Many of the trainees pictured would go on to participate in the invasion of North Africa in November 1942, Sicily and Southern Italy the following year, and, ultimately, France in 1944.  (Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection)   
From North Carolina's Outer Banks to the Ocean View section of Norfolk to Naval Amphibious Training Base Solomons, Maryland, halfway up the Chesapeake Bay, hundreds more LCVPs and their larger cousins, the Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCMs), Landing Craft, Vehicle (LCVs) and a dozen other variants would perform rough duty loading and landing trainees over and over on beaches throughout the Mid-Atlantic for the duration of the war.  After endlessly bobbing and banging against the transport vessels to load personnel and pounded by the surf disgorging them on local beaches, it became readily apparent that specialized facilities were needed to keep the boats, constructed from five-eighths inch plywood, from falling apart. 

The Naval Landing Force Equipment Depot in Norfolk, one of only two established during the war (the other being in Berkeley, California), began before the war as a small activity known as the Base Material Office on the Naval Operating Base (now known as Naval Station Norfolk) with a staff consisting of eight officers and 271 enlisted personnel.
This 1923 map of Norfolk showing sections of the city south of the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River shows the neighborhood of Newton Park, home to Ford's Norfolk Assembly Plant for over eight decades, except when the facility served as a Naval Landing Craft Equipment Depot during World War II. Norfolk Naval Shipyard in nearby Portsmouth and its St. Helena Annex across the Elizabeth River's Southern Branch can clearly be seen east of the facility. (Courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library)
By June 1942, 738 personnel maintained a pool of 397 new landing craft in their modest five-acre stowage yard and had 32 under repair. They were also training operators who would accompany the landing craft to their new commands.  The hundreds of landing craft converging upon Hampton Roads and the thousands of personnel needed to operate them were overwhelming the small facility, but help arrived in the person of  Henry Ford's son, Edsel, who sold his sprawling vehicle assembly plant along the south bank of the Elizabeth River's Eastern Branch to the Navy for $2 million on September 8, 1942.   

The first Model T to be produced at the brand new assembly plant in Norfolk is pictured with an assortment of local Norfolk city officials, bankers, and businessmen on April 20, 1925. The car was bought by the city and driven off the assembly line by Mayor Seth Tyler. The plant quickly became the largest non-maritime employer in the city. (The Virginian-Pilot Photograph Collection, courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library)
The Ford Motor Company invested in a major expansion of infrastructure at their Norfolk plant during the 1930s. The nearly-completed pier seen here in 1938 was designed to offload components and load completed vehicles directly onto ships on the Elizabeth River, but it also proved ideal for loading and unloading landing craft from military vessels in the river during the war.(The Virginian-Pilot Photograph Collection, courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library)
Sailors quickly emptied out the three small buildings and stowage yard they maintained at NOB in October and moved 20 miles south into a main building measuring roughly 300 feet by 1,400 feet containing office spaces, a large galley, mess halls, and recreation areas in the southern end, and storerooms, repair shops, classrooms, paint booths on the north end, where as many as 25 railroad cars could be loaded or unloaded under its roof at one time.  The facility was equipped with a practically new 400-foot pier and was surrounded by 65 acres of stowage.  By March 1943, Naval Amphibious Force Atlantic Fleet was finally ready to maintain and refurbish the many thousands of landing craft required to prosecute the war in North Africa and Europe. 
In regular operation for only two months, the Naval Landing Force Equipment Depot, made from the former Ford assembly plant in the Newton Park section of South Norfolk, was packed with hundreds of landing craft in various states of repair on May 4, 1943. (National Archives and Records Administration image, Hampton Roads Naval Museum file  
By October 1943, the depot, which boasted a staff of 1,117 enlisted men led by 70 officers, had repaired or overhauled over 10,000 landing craft, with thousands left to go.  After D-Day, however, the work load eased as more and more landing craft were transferred to the Pacific.  
The Naval Landing Force Equipment Depot at the height of its activity in October 1943.  At the time, 103 landing craft were under repair in the quarter-mile-long assembly building and 1,463 boats (many of which can be seen in the photograph) were available for issue at the sprawling 65-acre stowage yard.  (Hampton Roads Naval Museum file)   
The need for such a large depot on the East Coast evaporated after the war, so the Ford Motor Corporation scooped the facility back up from the Navy on February 25, 1946, for $1.6 million–$400,000 less that it had sold it to the Navy for for less than four years earlier.  Nearly that much had to be invested into the empty facility to begin cranking out vehicles again, which it did in August.  The assembly plant continued to produce vehicles of all types, from sedans to trucks to school bus chassis, for decades until the last F-150 rolled off the assembly line there in April 2007. 
The empty interior of the mammoth Navy Landing Force Equipment Depot is shown on January 22, 1946, just before the Ford Motor Company reacquired it on February 25 for $1.6 million, $400,000 less than the company had sold it for in 1942. The company then invested $1.5 million to resume full production of cars, trucks, and school bus chassis later that year. (The Virginian-Pilot Photograph Collection, courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library)
On August 7, 1946, the first Ford truck to roll off the assembly line since reacquiring the facility from the Navy is driven by Acting City Manager Henry H. George (left) and Norfolk Mayor James W. Reed. The last of the Ford trucks made in Norfolk, an F-150, would roll off the assembly line in 2007. (The Virginian-Pilot Photograph Collection, courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library)

Monday, May 6, 2019

"Deeds Gave this Crown:" The Cup of the Savior of Monticello

At Monticello, the estate established by Thomas Jefferson near Charlottesville, Virginia, flowers burst forth on grounds meticulously maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation around the equally well-maintained house, which was completed in 1809, the last year of Jefferson's presidency. At the urging of the Marquis de Lafayette, Navy Lieutenant Uriah Phillips Levy first visited Jefferson's former estate and was appalled that, according to scholar Melvin Urofsky, "The house was deserted, the lawns a jungle, the flowerbeds that Jefferson had so carefully planned all gone to seed."  Part of the main roof had fallen in, the terraces had collapsed, windows were broken and shutters were hanging askew. Levy made the agreement to buy the property in 1834, and, after a litigious interlude after the commodore's death in 1862 during which the mansion again fell into disrepair, his nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy again restored the house until selling it to the Foundation in 1923. (M.C. Farrington)
By Alicia Pullen
HRNM Educator

In examining Post-Revolutionary War America and the Age of Sail, lies a compelling story of the first Jewish Commodore, Uriah Phillips Levy, who was influential during the early years of the United States Navy. Throughout his tenure in the Navy, Levy was instrumental in dismantling antisemitism, promoting justice through the abolition of flogging, and preserving Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello.
Lieutenant Uriah P. Levy, painted sometime between the time of the War of 1812 and March 1837.  Fresh from bringing a six-and-a-half-foot high bronze of Jefferson he had commissioned in Paris to present as a gift to the American people in Washington DC,what remains today the only privately-financed statue in the United States Capital Rotunda, Levy bought the neglected estate of his hero with the same sense of mission, declaring to a friend that "The homes of great men should be protected and preserved as monuments to their glory." (Corcoran Gallery of Art via Naval History and Heritage Command)
Uriah Phillips Levy was born on April 22, 1792 into a Jewish family from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Levy was the youngest of three siblings and at an early age was determined to live his life at sea. By the age of ten, Levy left home and began his Naval career as a cabin boy aboard the New Jerusalem in 1802. He later became a sailing master and fought in the Barbary Wars. During the War of 1812, Levy was assigned to the USS Argus as a supernumerary sailing master. Argus destroyed several British ships until it was captured by the British on August 14, 1813.

An engraving by T. Sutherton, after an artwork by Whitcombe, showing the capture of USS Argus by HMS Pelican on August 14, 1813. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Levy had meanwhile been appointed as a prize master aboard the Betsy, one of the British vessels captured by Argus, and after the unarmed ship was recaptured around the same time as Argus, he along with the ship’s prize crew were imprisoned in Great Britain for 16 months until the war ended.

(Photo by M.C. Farrington)
Upon Levy’s return from British imprisonment in 1814, he was presented with a julep silver cup in Norfolk, Virginia, which remains in the Hampton Roads Naval Museum collection today. On the side of the cup, bears the initials “ULP” for Uriah P. Levy and the inscription: Dant Facta Hanc Coronam (“Deeds gave this crown”). This family motto also appeared on the headboard belonging to Uriah’s nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, in the ground floor bedchamber at Monticello. The motto or crest does not appear in either Levy’s maternal or paternal line, which suggested that Uriah Levy may have created the insignia to celebrate his 1814 release from English military prison. The base of the cup is engraved with the date 1814, likely celebrating Levy’s return home. 

(Photo by M.C. Farrington)
After returning to the United States, Levy was assigned to USS Franklin as a sailing master. During this time, Levy was promoted to lieutenant in 1817, master commandant in 1837, and became captain in 1844. This achievement was uncommon in the Navy, having started as a cabin boy and promoted to captain. Later, Levy commanded the Mediterranean Squadron and was given the title of Commodore, then designated as the highest rank in the U.S. Navy.
During his naval career, Levy faced considerable antisemitism. This first began while aboard the New Jerusalem in which his “adherence to the Hebrew belief brought him chaffing from the crew.” Later, while aboard Franklin as a young sailing master, some crew members resented his Jewish heritage which nearly ended his naval career. After being promoted to designated officer, “he found himself the victim of increased religious hatred and intolerance particularly among the midshipmen, who had expected to eventually outrank him.” Levy also faced discouragement from his family who warned him about the “dangers or seafaring life” and felt that as a member of the Jewish community, he should pursue a professional career. Moreover, Levy’s forbearance towards antisemitism demonstrated his bravery and commitment to serving the U.S Navy and ability to break through the barriers of religious bigotry.
This undated engraving, possibly based upon a photograph, shows Levy at the apex of his career. (Library of Congress via White House Historical Association)
As a promoter of justice, Uriah Phillips Levy launched a controversial campaign against flogging in the U.S. Navy. Having witnessed the physical results of flogging on Sailors early in his naval career, Levy refused to accept the brutal practice and if ever given authority, “he declared, he would abolish the lash.” Levy wanted to “improve human relations in the Navy” and encourage “better treatment for the common sailor.”  In 1845, Levy began his anti-flogging campaign by publishing articles in the Washington paper and New York Globe that criticized corporal punishment and its negative effects on Navy Sailors. Later, Levy traveled to Washington on several occasions to inform Congress of the evils of flogging by giving lectures and passing around the cat-o’-nine-tails, used for flogging, so that the congressmen could test the implement on their own skin. In reaction to Levy’s attempts, Senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire along with a few other senators introduced a bill that would abolish corporal punishment in the Navy. The legislation was debated over for many years until it was outlawed completely on July 17, 1862.
Uriah Levy brought his 67-year-old mother Rachael to Monticello from Philadelphia in the spring of 1837 to live there permanently.  After she died on May 7, 1839, while he was at sea, she was buried near the plantation house where her grave remains today. (M.C. Farrington)
However, perhaps Uriah Levy’s most significant contribution to the American people was his effort to preserve, conserve, and repair President Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello. Towards the end of Jefferson’s life, he had fallen into debt which forced his family to sell the estate. In May of 1836, Levy, who admired Jefferson as a patriotic leader of the free world, acquired Monticello. During the first few years of ownership, Levy oversaw “slaves and hired workers who labored to resurrect the long- neglected house,” which had been in ruin. (68)

Prior to Levy’s death in March of 1862, he wanted to give the estate to the United States Government, which refused it on account that they did not preserve the homes of former presidents. Later in March of 1879, Levy’s nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, purchased the home at a public auction. Monticello remained in his care until it was purchased by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923. The Levys' efforts in restoring one of nation’s most notable historic landmarks demonstrated their devotion and understanding for historic preservation as a way of maintaining the legacy of its leaders and the past.

The Commodore Levy Chapel, located at Naval Station Norfolk, is the oldest land-based Jewish chapel in the Navy. Established in 1942, it was rededicated under Levy's name in 1959.  The Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center at the U.S. Naval Academy, completed in 2005, is another much larger facility named for the antebellum naval officer, who is remembered not only for his religious devotion, but his devotion to preserving the memory of the man who he believed made the free exercise of his religion possible.   (M.C. Farrington)    

Fitzpatrick, Donovan. Navy Maverick: Uriah Phillips Levy. New York: Doubleday, 1963.

Leepson, Marc. Saving Monticello: the Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001.

Urofsky, Melvin I. The Levy Family and Monticello, 1834-1923: Saving Thomas Jefferson's House. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2001.