Thursday, February 28, 2013

Navy Accused of Killing 70,000 Chickens, 1911

We previously posted about the 1911 live fire exercise Atlantic Fleet battleships conducted in the Cheseapeake Bay.  The Navy used the event to train sailors in marksmanship and to test the effectiveness of new ordnance.  The Navy also invited members of the national press to witness the exercise.  The battleships New Hampshire (BB-25), Delaware (BB-28), Kansas (BB-21), and others participated in the mass bombardment of the battleship San Marcos (ex-USS Texas) near Tangier Island.  Except for a disturbance caused by some of New Hampshire's sailors, the operation went very well.  That is, until the Navy read this headline:

We are still trying to confirm this rather bizarre story.

Monday, February 25, 2013

USS Nimitz Task Force Homecoming, 1980

This is a picture of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) arriving at Naval Station Norfolk on Memorial Day, 1980, with her escorts USS California (CGN-36) and USS Texas (CGN-39). With the stream of small boats, fire boats, and tug boats, this homecoming was the largest homecoming celebration since World War II. President Jimmy Carter and many members of his cabinet came to Naval Station Norfolk to meet the task force's sailors in person. 

An ad that appeared in Soundings newspaper,
encouraging Hampton Roads' small boat owners
to greet the Nimitz task force home. 
The reason for the huge, public display of support was because of the events that proceeded the homecoming.  The all-nuclear-powered task force left Norfolk in mid-1979, expecting nothing more than the usual Mediterranean cruise.  The task force changed course for the Indian Ocean due to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis.

While in the Indian Ocean, the task force not only had to be prepared to launch combat operations against Iran, but also needed to keep military units of the Soviet Union at bay. Soviet bombers and ships frequently attempted to get close to the task force to spy on and harass the Americans.

The Carter Administration then authorized Operation Eagle Claw, an attempt to rescue the American hostages being held in Tehran. With members of Delta Force and U.S. Army rangers on board, helicopters launched from Nimitz to a spot in central Iran labeled "Desert One." Through a series of mishaps that resulted eight American causalities and the loss of a helicopter and one C-130 aircraft, the operation was called off.

In addition to Eagle Claw's failure, the task force had been at sea for over 140 days before finally being relieved. To show support for their hard work and dedication, Hampton Roads made an all-out effort to welcome the weary task force home.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Large Refueling Station: Craney Island Fuel Depot

Craney Island as it looked in 1930

This is a 1949 aerial image of the U.S. Naval Fuel Depot at Craney Island.  Still in use today, Craney Island serves as the Navy's primary fuel storage and distribution point for ships docked at Naval Station Norfolk.  At the time of the picture, fuel entered the depot through a combination of interstate pipelines that reached all the way to the oil fields of Texas and frequent arrivals of Virginia railroad tanker cars.  The picture shows the Navy's pre-World War II expansion of the depot.

The Navy acquired the property in 1918 as part of its expansion efforts for World War I (of which the construction of Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads/Naval Station Norfolk was the primary project).  At the time of the property's acquisition, the island looked no different than when the British launched their ill-fated assault on the island's defenses in June 1813.  Upon acquiring the island, the Navy and Army Corps of Engineers "reclaimed" hundreds of acres and expanded the island into a major fuel facility. The Navy constructed twenty tanks, each capable of holding 2,100,000 gallons of fuel (or one fill-up of an Iowa-class battleship).  It also built a pipeline underneath the Elizabeth River to fuel thirsty warships at the base.

With the Navy's major draw down in the 1920s and early 1930s, far less fuel was needed and many of the tanks went unused.  Seeing the surplus tanks, the Philadelphia-based Publicker Alcohol Company, nominally a mass producer of whisky, acquired a few of them to store molasses in 1930.   At the time, the company imported millions of gallons of  molasses from Cuba with its fleet of thirteen tankers to manufacture industrial alcohol. 

With the election of the pro-Navy Franklin Roosevelt as President, the Navy began to rebuild its fleet and the demand for fuel skyrocketed.  In 1938, the Navy bought the storage tanks back from Publicker, cleaned them up, and began to use them again as fuel storage. Today Craney Island is the Navy's primary fuel depot for Atlantic-based ships.  The facility stores F-76 military diesel and JP-5 jet fuel.  According to the Navy Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP), the depot can store over 35 million gallons of diesel fuel and 38 millions gallons of JP-5.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Jamestown Exposition Plates of Pocahontas

The organizers of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition had one primary goal in mind: to make money. A sure way to make money for any tourist attraction is to sell souvenirs, allowing visitors to take their experience home. Unlike modern attractions, the Jamestown Exposition Company outsourced much of the production and marketing of souvenirs to outside vendors, with the Exposition receiving a portion of the profits. Among the items visitors could have purchased were commemorative plates. The Naval Museum has two such plates in the Jamestown Exposition gallery, both of which feature Pocahontas.  

The first plate is a "Vienna Art Plate" design, depicting the legendary scene in which Pocahontas saved Captain John Smith from the executioner. On the left and right are portraits of John Smith and Pocahontas, which are accompanied by illustrations of one of the Virginia Company's ships (on the left) and a 1907 view of the remnants of the Jamestown Colony's church.  This particular plate comes from W.H. Owens & Company of Manchester, Virginia.

Usually made from tin and hand painted, Vienna Art Plates were a popular style of commemorative plates in the early 20th century.  They were often used for advertising or as a promotion.  For example, the Anheuser-Bush company used to send one of their Vienna Art Plates for free if the drinker returned twelve bottle caps and fifteen cents. The name "Vienna" comes from the fact that designers of the American plates were attempting to copy the dinnerware pattern of the royal family of Austria.

The second plate in the museum's collection was produced by Royal Staffordshire Pottery in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, England.  The J. Seaum Book and Art Company in Norfolk, Virginia, imported this plate and sold it at the Exposition. In the center of the plate is Pocahontas as originally drawn by Simon Van de Passe in 1617. Here she is shown as "Lady Rebbeka," after she had converted to Christianity in Virginia.  Surrounding the portrait is the lengthy title given to her: "Princ Powhatan IMP Virginaiae Matoaka Ats Rebecka Filia Potentiss."  As one of Chief Powhatan's daughter, technically she was royalty and the Virginia Company investors introduced her to King James I as "Princess Rebbeka."

Additional writing at the bottom of the plate gives a short biography of the Princess, specifically who her father was (the "mighty Powhatan") and to whom she was married (John Rolfe).  On the outer edges of the portrait are scenes from early-twentieth century Hampton Roads, including Newport News Shipbuilding, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the Commerce Building in downtown Norfolk, and noted beachfront hotels in the region. The J. Seaum Book and Art Company imported several other plates of similar designs, as well. Each plate has a historic scene from the Jamestown Colony, surrounded by modern day scenes of Hampton Roads. 

Neither J. Seaum Book and Art nor W.H. Owens seemed to have their own vendor stand at the fair, as they were not listed in the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition's Department of Concessions' list.  However, several other companies sold souvenirs such as these plates.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

LEGO Shipbuilding Event Recap

One of this past Saturday's visitors enjoys the Free Play area
Well, it's officially over.

For now.

The night before the LEGO Shipbuilding Event, I laid in bed unable to sleep.  The anticipation.  The excitement.  The preparation and set up.  To be honest, I could hear my heart beating out of my chest as the doors to the museum opened. After what seemed like months of preparation, the day was here. When the time came, I was more than pleasantly surprised.  In my six years working at the museum, I have never seen a single day event so well-attended as on this past Saturday.

And what a Saturday it was.  Nearly 1,500 people came out to view or participate in the event.  This nearly doubles the number we had at the inaugural Lego shipbuilding event last year.  Drawing in crowds from across Virginia and beyond, the event went off without a hitch.

It was a special pleasure to talk to several individuals and families who came out for the second time.  One contestant, Nathan, came to several HRNM-related events this past year.  He ended up winning second place in his age category.  Congratulations, Nathan!  Nathan is pictured with his ship below.

2nd place, Age 8-12 group, Nathan, with his ship, "DragonFly"
Thank you to all who came and participated in this year's event.  A special thank you to all who participated in the shipbuilding contest.

We are always more than welcome to take your suggestions for next year's event.  It is never too late to start planning!

We would also like to thank all of the volunteers who helped out, including active duty sailors and one very helpful gentlemen from our friends at the Naval Historical Foundation.  The MacArthur Memorial graciously provided chairs and tables for the event.  There is no way we could have done this without them! Bricks 4 Kidz also provided some great Lego activities for the visitors, and we truly appreciate their time spent working with our program.

Staff at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum look forward to next year's event.  We sincerely hope that everybody who came out this year will also attend next year's event.  I can promise that it will be bigger and better!  With your help and support, we can continue to bring quality and family-fun educational programming to the Hampton Roads community and beyond.  It will be held the first Saturday in February 2014.  While you are at it, make sure to head on over to the HRNM Facebook page (and "Like" us if you haven't already) and vote for what you want to see for next year's ships.  We will also be offering LEGO Shipbuilding as a FREE educational program for school systems in the area.  If you liked the event, you will love working with LEGOs at school!

Make sure to check the Hampton Roads Naval Museum Facebook page to see the full set of pictures from the event.

Many thanks (and LEGOs),

Matthew Eng (and the entire HRNM Staff)

For a listing of our current 2013 Calendar of Events, go HERE.

For a full recap of news media on the event:

Daily Press (original article): HERE.
Los Angeles Times: HERE.
Naval Historical Foundation Blog: HERE.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Daybook: Volume 16, Issue 3-USS Chesapeake Captured

The next issue of The Daybook is currently online at In this issue, we cover the capture of Hampton Roads' own frigate USS Chesapeake by the frigate HMS Shannon.  We also look at the local operations of the United States Revenue Cutter Service during the War of 1812.   Further, the Museum Sage makes a plea to rescue the phrase "Don't Give Up the Ship!" from misuse.

Print copies of The Daybook are a benefit of being a member of the Hampton Roads Naval Historical Foundation.  Call 757-445-9932 or visit to support the foundation and the Naval Museum today!