Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why Craney Island Isn't an Island

By Katherine A. Renfrew
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Registrar

The true Craney Island has not been an island for more than 55 years. Extending into the Elizabeth River, the island became a peninsula when the U.S. Navy began filling in a branch of Craney Island Creek in 1938.  Now it’s the Craney Island Fuel Terminal, the U.S. Navy’s largest fuel facility in the continental United States.  It is operated by Fleet and Industrial Supply Center (FISC) Norfolk’s Fuel Department under the Navy Supply Systems Command. With 1,100 acres of above and below-ground fuel storage tanks, the terminal has extensive capabilities for fueling/defueling ships and other vessels.

Aerial view of Craney Island Fuel Depot, looking south, August 22, 1942. (National Archives and Records Administration- Craney Island-1942_02 / RG 71-CB, Box 90, Folder, Craney Island Fuel Depot, Aerial View)
The images below show the years when the Navy started rehabilitating the area for use as a fuel depot. Most of the construction was done by employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency that employed millions of people to carry out public works projects.

Workers make their way along the “bicycle path” leading to the administration building, which was formerly used as a quarantine hospital, August, 3, 1938. (National Archives and Records Administration- Craney Island-1938_01 / RG 71-CA, Box 311, Folder A)
Up-close view of workers repairing the quarantine quarters, August, 3, 1938. These buildings were considered the oldest on the island, dating back to before the Civil War. It was used as an infirmary and then a quarantine hospital for smallpox sufferers. (National Archives and Records Administration- Craney Island-1938_02 / RG 71-CA, Box 311, Folder A)

“Reconditioned quarters," looking southwest, September 1, 1938. (National Archives and Records Administration- Craney Island-1938_03 / RG 71-CA, Box 311, Folder A)

Workers grading the soil around oil tank Nos. 5 & 6 inside berm, looking east, September 1, 1938. (National Archives and Records Administration- Craney Island-1938_05 / RG 71-CF, Box 1, Folder Virginia, Naval Base Norfolk.)

View showing diesel oil line from Tank No. 4 to pump house, looking east, June 7, 1939. (National Archives and Records Administration- Craney Island-1939_03 / RG 71-CA, Box 311, Folder A)

General view of foam and diesel oil lines along southeast waterfront, looking southeast, May 4, 1939.  (National Archives and Records Administration- Craney Island-1939_12 / RG 71-CA, Box 311, Folder A)

This brief history of the Craney Island Fuel Deport is the sixth in a series of blog posts illustrating the development of U.S. Navy facilities in Hampton Roads. 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 the 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 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.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Streets of Naval Station Norfolk: Admiral Taussig Boulevard

By Elijah Palmer
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

Many people, both Sailor and civilian, drive on Admiral Taussig Boulevard every day as the road forms the main route onto Naval Station Norfolk. It runs several miles from Little Creek Road at Wards Corner and ends several miles later on the naval base, terminating between piers 5 & 6. But like many street names, it is doubtful that more than a handful know about the man whose name is honored by the road.

Vice Admiral Joseph K. Taussig was born into a Navy family in 1877, the son of Rear Admiral Edward D. Taussig.  He attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis and in 1898, while a midshipman aboard USS New York, he participated in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba.  In 1900, Taussig also was part of one of the relief expeditions during the Boxer Rebellion in China. Most famously, as a commander in World War I, Taussig was in command of Destroyer Division 8 which comprised the first Navy ships to arrive in Europe to fight against the Germans.  This event is portrayed in Bernard Gribble's notable painting, Return of the Mayflower.  When asked by a British admiral when the destroyers would be ready to join the fight, Taussig replied, "We are ready now, sir."
USS Wadsworth (DD-60), flagship of Taussig's Destroyer Division 8. This ship is in the foreground of Bernard Gribble's painting. 
Taussig was promoted to captain in September 1918. The chevrons on his left sleeve are service chevrons for being in combat zones. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for attacking a German U-boat. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Due to frequent spats with Franklin D. Roosevelt, both when he was assistant secretary of the Navy and as president, Taussig's promotions were delayed.  In 1938, his seventh year as a rear admiral, Taussig was put in charge of the Norfolk Navy Yard and the Fifth Naval District, which included Naval Operating Base Norfolk. This would prove beneficial to both Hampton Roads and the Navy.

As the Navy prepared for war in the early 1940s, Norfolk's infrastructure was stretched, with a housing shortage being a prominent problem. This of course was due to the "boomtown" nature of the area during this time, much as the city had expanded rapidly during World War I.  Admrial Taussig coordinated with Norfolk city officials to explore options to better the situation. He had the Navy build a housing development near the naval base, while Norfolk also built a neighborhood (Merrimack Park) near Chambers Field, just east of the base. Just as importantly, Taussig worked with city and federal officials to improve the roads connecting the city with the base, which led Norfolk to name the improved thoroughfare after the admiral.

Admiral Taussig Boulevard was built during the 1940s (maps and aerial photos from 1944 show it in some form) by lengthening Kersloe Road (built by 1921) which ran parallel with the Virginian Railroad line towards the base. The Kersloe road ended just south of where the main runway of today's Chambers Field is located. This stretch was extended up to connect with what was then called 99th Street, which connected Ocean View with the 99th Street Pier (near Pier 6 on the naval base today).  To the west of the this new intersection was included as part of Taussig Boulevard, while to the east, 99th Street was eventually named Bellinger Boulevard.
1939 map showing Kersloe Road ending at the rail line in the middle of the picture, and the eventual route of Admiral Taussig Boulevard in red (Map from Norfolk, Virginia: Evolution of a City in Maps by Irwin M. Berent)
The boulevard quickly became the main artery into the naval base. The intersection of Admiral Taussig and Granby Street (at Wards Corner) was a bustling intersection, and for over a decade was adorned with the famous airplane, the "Turtle," which had set the world distance flight record in 1946.
The Turtle near the beginning of Admiral Taussig Blvd at Wards Corner (from Norfolk, Virginia: Evolution of a City in Maps)
The Turtle at Wards Corner. The cars in the foreground are on Granby Street, with traffic barely visible on Admiral Taussig Boulevard to the left of the plane.  (photo courtesy of HRNM docent Ira R. Hanna)
The plane was removed in preparation for the 1970s expansion of most of Admiral Taussig Boulevard into the now three mile-long interstate classified as I-564 (although it retained its original name as well). This was a much needed renovation as during the 50s and 60s, the stretch of road to the naval base was known for its frequent accidents and fatalities. It did not help that there were no street lights illuminating the boulevard. The project was a success and greatly improved the base commute.
Near the ramp onto I-564 at Wards Corner today (Google streetview)
However with its heavy use and increased traffic volume, the route is now in need of further expansion.  The Virginia Department of Transportation is currently conducting a project to further expand Admiral Taussig Boulevard as part of a major traffic overhaul around the naval base.  While Sailors might not appreciate traffic delays stemming from this project, they should definitely be grateful for the work Admiral Taussig put forth in improving the lives of both past, current, and future Sailors.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Historic Figure: Jim Reid

By Laura Orr
Deputy Education Director, Hampton Roads Naval Museum

LT Jim Reid walks off the tarmac at NAS Oceana in 1963. (Courtesy Jim Reid)

Jim Reid is one of those people who always has a story to tell—and he always tells that story in such an interesting way that time will fly by without anyone realizing it.  Jim has volunteered at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM) for almost twenty years, beginning back in 1997.  Jim is a docent for the museum, sharing his knowledge of and experience with naval history with all of our visitors.

Jim’s favorite part of the museum is the Civil War gallery, where he will inevitably share his love for William B. Cushing—the less famous of the Cushing brothers, since Alonzo fought at Gettysburg (and recently received the Medal of Honor for his actions).  Jim’s opinion is that William’s actions were just as important as Alonzo’s, and he is just as worthy of a Medal of Honor.  He makes a good case for William B. Cushing’s worthiness, too, for he was the mastermind behind the plan that sank the dreaded ironclad CSS Albemarle, as well as a participant in the Battles of Hampton Roads and Fort Fisher.

When you talk to Jim about his Navy experiences, he will share story after story. There are times when I’ve stopped him and said, “And you didn’t get kicked out of the Navy for this?”  Jim grew up around the world as a Navy brat.  In 1947, when he was in sixth grade, Jim’s family moved to Guam.  He remembers this time clearly, as the Second World War had been over for less than two years.  The Marines on Guam still occasionally tracked Japanese soldiers on the island who refused to surrender.  Jim reminisced, “These poor guys did not believe that their country had lost the war, so they chose to evade capture by living the life of a scavenger.  They were really not anxious to be seen by anyone, so they were not a threat to us.  They avoided even us kids.  We didn’t know this, so we imagined that there might be a Japanese warrior hidden behind every bush.”  Jim also remembered playing with hand grenades that failed to explode during the war.  Luckily, they didn’t explode when Jim was playing with them, either. Thus, it was at an early age that he began to tempt death.

Jim Reid contemplates his next move in the museum's Life at Sea room. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Jim attended the Naval Academy, graduating in 1957.  He became a naval aviator who saw action during Vietnam.  Prior to Vietnam, in the early 1960s, Jim was a member of VA-85, an A-1H Skyraider/”Spad” ground attack squadron assigned to the carrier USS Forrestal (CV-59).  One of his well-told stories was about Sandblower training, which was designed to help pilots fly below enemy radar en route to a nuclear target.  Jim’s plane took off with seven others from USS Forrestal in the pitch black at 0400 in the morning for this training, with Jim wearing his exposure suit and carrying his chart, knee-board, maneuvering board, a boxed lunch, and his helmet.  Jim took off in the dark, using more fuel during the ten-hour flight than anticipated because he tried to catch up when he checked in late at one of his checkpoints.  Exhausted and hurting after sitting in the exact same position for ten hours, Jim still had to land his plane on the ship.  When the cut came from the Landing Signal Officer (LSO), he was still too high.  He put both hands on the stick and pushed, in so much pain from sitting that he didn’t care if he crashed.  At the last second, Jim pulled back from the dive and came down like a brick, hitting the deck hard.  He was so stiff that he needed three plane captains to help extricate himself from the cockpit—and, when he reached the ready room, he expected to lose his wings for such a terrible landing.  When he got there, though, the LSO said, “Okay, three.” Jim remembered, “I was astonished. ‘How could that be? It was the worst pass I ever made.’ The LSO smiled at him and said, ‘You should have seen the other seven.’”

This story is typical of Jim’s time in the Navy.  He shares his wit, wisdom, and experiences with the staff of HRNM and with our visitors who come into the museum. The museum is a much better place because of what people like Jim add when they’re here.  Jim’s favorite part of volunteering is, of course, being able to tell his stories to willing audiences, and being able to have historical discussions with our visitors.

Jim Reid discusses the circumstances surrounding the Battle of Hampton Roads with museum visitors Matthew, Ed, and Stephanie Simpson, from Charles Town, West Virginia. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Happy Birthday America & Fort Story!

By Jerome Kirkland 
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

This 1940 aerial photograph shows both Cape Henry Lighthouses and surrounding buildings at Fort Story in Virginia Beach. (Virginian-Pilot Photograph Collection/ Sargeant Memorial Collection
This July, Fort Story will be celebrating a century in operation. An official observance of this milestone will be held on Independence Day, capped by a performance by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band at the historic Cape Henry Lighthouse.

Map source: "Plan for Entrance to Chesapeake Bay, VA," Report of Completed Works-- U.S. Corps of Engineers. (October 1934, Textural Records Collection, National Archives and Records Administration) 
If you are wondering why a Navy Museum blog post would be about a celebration at an Army base, there are a number of reasons. The first reason is that Fort Story is no longer strictly an Army base.  Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek and the Army’s Fort Story combined into Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in 2009 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program, becoming the first joint base in Hampton Roads. But the connection goes much deeper, especially if you look at the WWII period.
Both before and during the Second World War, Fort Story was in the perfect location for testing and training Sailors on new types of landing craft, having shoreline on both the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

An LST photographed during training exercises at Naval Amphibious Base
 Little Creek in 1943.
In a previous blog post we talked about the Higgins Boats such as the Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), and the Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCM) that were tested at Fort Story. This was followed with training soldiers how to embark and debark from these boats. Next came the Landing Craft, Infantry (LCI), capable of delivering 250 combat ready troops directly to the shore, and the more famous Landing Ship Tank (LST) which could carry 20 or more tanks (depending on size) along with over 200 troops.

Fort Story also had a connection with the Navy by way of the US Army Coastal Defense Corps.

Before America entered World War II, the US Army Mine Planting Service, part of the Coastal Defense Corps, built a mine tending ship dock and mine storage facilities next to the Little Creek Coast Guard station, with their headquarters on Fort Story. These mine planting facilities where there before construction on the Little Creek Naval Base began and would later become part of the base, after the Coastal Defense Corps was disbanded.

Another connection between Fort Story and the Navy can be traced to the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. This treaty limited the number of battleships the Navy could have. This created a problem, because the Navy already had 16-inch guns meant for the next battleships. These guns were put in storage until the Iowa-class battleships were designed in 1938. The battleship Wisconsin was one of the four Iowa-class ships. Due to design differences, they found the 1920s 16-inch guns would not work on the Iowa-class battleships.  So, what to do with these guns?  Enter Fort Story.

Two of the guns were installed at Fort Story and two were installed on Fort Custis, at Cape Charles.  These guns helped extend the range for the coastal defense of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, which is vital for American sea power.

The Army and Navy in Hampton Roads may have not always gotten along perfectly, but the outstanding training areas of Fort Story have helped make them an unbeatable team when called upon to defend our nation.  So as we observe the 240th birthday or our nation, we at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum would also like to wish Fort Story a Happy 100th Birthday.