Monday, March 25, 2013

Builder's Ship Model, Cruiser USS Virginia (CGN-38)

Currently in the museum's storage room is this builder's model of the nuclear-powered cruiser USS Virginia (CGN-38).  The Navy's Ship Research and Development Center (now known as the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center) built the model in the 1970s and has been on loan to the museum since 1984.   Although typical builder's models are purposely built with few details, this model shows a close representation to the actual ship launched.  The ship's missile and gun batteries are accurate, as are much of the electronics. 
The most intriguing aspect of the model is the inclusion of a SH-60 Seahawk helicopter  on the fantail of the ship.  At the time, the Navy looked at the SH-60 to replace the SH-3 as its LAMPS platform.  Though the aircraft would not see operational service until 1983, it would seem someone decided the best way to publicize the new helicopter was on the Navy's newest surface warship.
USS Virginia (CGN-38) prepares to deploy for the Indian
Ocean from Naval Station Norfolk in response to the
Iranian Hostage Crisis. (Soundings newspaper photo)
Virginia was the lead ship in a series of nuclear powered warships.  She was the result of over twenty years (starting in the late 1950s) worth of discussion among Navy leadership on what kind of nuclear-powered surface ship the Fleet should acquire.  Many were in favor of giving the surface fleet some type of nuclear powered ship, both to serve as an escort to the new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and as the ultimate anti-submarine warfare platform to counter new Soviet nuclear submarines. 
Four ships, Long Beach (CGN-8), Truxtun (CGN-35, ex-DLGN-35), California (CGN-36), and South Carolina (CGN-37), were commissioned between 1959 and 1972.  Naval leadership was never completely satisfied with these ships and wanted their nuclear surface ships to be more capable. 
In the mid-1970s, the concept of a "strike cruiser" finally began to take hold.  The concept called for a nuclear-powered cruiser capable of all aspects of naval warfare.  Strike cruisers needed to be prepared for offensive missile strikes as well as anti-submarine warfare and anti-aircraft operations.  This became the Virginia-class of warships.  The ship was capable of operating both independently and with a carrier task force, giving the Navy more flexibility in time of war.  In all, Newport News built four Virginia-class cruisers.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

1864 Print of USS Weehawken in a Storm

This is an 1864 lithograph currently in the museum's collection.  Prominent maritime artist Charles Parsons fabricated the original artwork, with Endicott and Company publishing and marketing the print.  The print shows the Passiac-class monitor USS Weehawken with her escort, the steam sloop USS Iroquois, fighting gale force winds off the coast of Chincoteague Island, January 1863. The museum has several Endicott prints both in storage and on display, most notably the print of USS Minnesota.   The museum also has several of Parsons' works, most notably a print of the James River Squadron at the Battle of Malvern Hill.

While print shops tended to embellish the sea state its subject ships were traveling through (rougher weather showed more action and thus, better chance of the print being sold), this particular print was drawn from actual events.  In fact, Endicott asked Captain John Rodgers to personally endorse the accuracy of the print.  In the lower left corner are the words, "Sir, In response to your note, we have to say, we do not think the gale is overdone, and the vessels seem to us, very truthfully given. -Rodgers."  An additional endorsement for this came from the ship's sailing master, who wrote, "To the Honorable Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, this print, is by permission dedicated by his obedient servant E Brown, jr."

The "gale" to which Rodgers referred almost sank his ship.  The squadron was travelling from Jersey City, New Jersey, to Port Royal, South Carolina, in preparation for an assault on Charleston.  The winds picked up, as the ships steamed past Cape May and the Delaware Capes.  Iroquois elected to seek shelter and turned back.  Rodgers, however, decided to press on. 

Weehawken in calmer waters (Harper's Weekly engraving)
Given that the original USS Monitor had been taken under by a similar storm just two weeks earlier,  Rodgers' decision may have seemed somewhat reckless.  But Weehawken and her sister ships of the Passiac-class had improved sea-keeping capabilities.  Specifically, the lower hull was now more in line with the upper hull, making the ship more stable.  Rodgers and Weehawken made it through the storm, though Rodgers decided to make port in Hampton Roads for repairs. 

Ironically, Weehawken sank at anchor off the coast of South Carolina just a few months later, taking thirty-one sailors and officers to their deaths.  After participating in the capture of CSS Atlanta and several assaults on Confederate forts, the ship foundered after more gale force winds pushed water into the ship's interitor.  A post-accident investigation discovered that the ship's ammunition had been improperly stored, causing the vessel to be unbalanced. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Short Goodbye Note

I wanted to take a few minutes this morning to say goodbye to all of you. I've taken a new job and will be leaving the Hampton Roads Naval Museum next Friday, March 22. I thought writing a short blog post would be cathartic for me--because I'm really going to miss this place and all of you--and I hope you'll forgive me for this indulgence!

I'll miss my co-workers and the friends I've made while working at the Naval Museum the most. I can't imagine life without Sebastian the Shark (shown in the photo below)...just kidding, of course. In all seriousness, I've never worked with a better group of people--both those who actually work in the museum and those who visit us everyday. It's been a great ride.

After our Halloween puppet show, 2011
I've learned a lot in my time here. When I started at the Naval Museum, my knowledge of naval history was pretty much non-existent, and while I'm nowhere near an authority, I've learned quite a bit. I've spent my time doing education programs for students, puppeteering (who knew that was going to happen? I sure didn't--but what fun!), giving talks about naval history and the Battle of Midway to naval commands, and planning the Naval Museum's wide variety of special events. One event that really stands out to me (and that all of you have heard about a million times) is Lego Shipbuilding, pretty much the best event ever. I know I won't be working here next February for this program, but I still intend to come and enjoy it!

One of the participants builds a ship at Lego Shipbuilding 2013
I could babble on for hours about this place and what it has meant to me during the last 2.5 years, but I imagine that'll get too sappy for a public blog post. In the end, I just want to say thank you and that I'll miss you all very much!


Friday, March 8, 2013

Women's History Month- USS Vulcan Deploys, 1979, Part 2

When USS Vulcan (AR-5) made her historic 1979 deployment from Naval Station Norfolk, former WAVES officer and contemporary artist Alice DeCaprio documented the voyage by painting the women sailors on board.  With the assistance of the Naval History and Hertiage Command's Navy Art Collection, we present three of Ms. DeCaprio's works here plus one other by prolific Navy artist George Gray.

On Lookout Watch by Alice DeCaprio, Acrylic Painting, 1979
Mary Kelly, USS Vulcan (AR-5) by Alice DeCapiro, Casein Painting, 1979

Quartermaster, USS Vulcan (AR-5) by Alice DeCaprio, Casein Painting, 1979

Mary Kelly, Operations Specialist 2 by George Gray, Pen and Ink Drawing, 1979

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Women's History Month-USS Vulcan Deploys, 1979, Part 1

In 1948, Congress passed the Women in the Armed Services Integration Act.  For the first time, female sailors were permitted to serve at sea.  There were, however, some restrictions.  Women could only serve on transport and hospital ships without the pleasure of becoming a permanent part of the ship's company.  Thirty years later, the U.S. Navy ran into legal trouble when a female sailor was recommended to serve on the oceanographic survey ship USNS Michaelson (T-AG-23).  The Navy's Judge Advocacy Corps recommended against the sailor being allowed to serve due to the restrictions laid out in the 1948 law.  The sailor sued in Federal court and won. 

Sensing a change in societal attitudes, the Navy decided to stay ahead of the issue and asked Congress to amend the 1948 act.   This action would allow women to serve on any non-combatant ships such as a repair ship, destroyer tender, submarine tender, or oceanographic ship. 

Congress quickly agreed to the Navy's request.  On August 5, 1978, the Navy selected the Norfolk-based repair ship USS Vulcan (AR-5) as the first ship to have women as part of the ship's company. The Navy set a goal to have ten percent of the ship's company be women. Until her decommissioning in the 1990s, Vulcan was one of the oldest ships in the Atlantic Fleet (Vulcan's hull was laid down in 1939).  Her mission was to serve as a repair shop for ships deployed overseas. 

The decision to allow women on board Vulcan and other non-combat ships created controversy. The officer in charge of the Navy's "Women at Sea"-initiative, Captain James Kelly, publicly laid out the Navy's decision to be proactive on the issue.  He even made the case for allowing women to serve on combat ships as well as non-combat ships.  In his 1978 Proceedings of the Navy Institute article, "Women in Warships: Right to Serve," Kelly wrote that the American public would no longer tolerate old attitudes about women in the workplace,  further arguing how the Navy needed women to make up for manpower shortages among the Fleet. Proceedings received a flood of letters disagreeing with Kelly's opinion.  Some went as far as saying female sailors aboard ships would lower readiness and morale.

Despite criticism, the initiative went forward.  In 1979, Vulcan deployed from Naval Station Norfolk to the Mediterranean Sea with fifty-five female sailors and officers.  The ship was the first of seventeen to have female sailors by the end of the year. 
USS Vulcan (AR-5) in Hampton Roads