Tuesday, March 25, 2014

USS Alabama @ NNSY as Drawn by Illustrator Thorton Oakley, 1942

Oakley's rough sketch
of the painting shown above.
 Illustrator Thornton Oakley created this interpretation of the battleship USS Alabama (BB-60) at Norfolk Naval Shipyard preparing for launch. The illustration was part of a series he painted of American war industries during World War II. The point of this series was to show the industrial side of the war effort. Oakley was active in making patriotic art during both of the World Wars.

National Geographic showcased his work several times during WWII as part of its coverage of the war. Oakley also worked as both an illustrator and writer for many publications, such as Harper’s Monthly and Scribner’s. He also taught at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art for many years. As an artist, Oakley favored the use of primary colors, such as blue, red, and yellow. This is evident in this particular painting as he has worked several different hues of these colors into the scene for a striking effect. National Geographic originally published this work in their December 1942 issue.

Compare Oakley's work to Arms' interpretation of Alabama and one can quickly see the difference in styles. Even though both men studied architecture at college, Oakely also trained as an illustrator under the great illustrator Howard Pyle. As a result, Oakley's interpretation is more active and action-oriented than Arms' drawing of the battleship, which was still and highly detailed-orientated.

Editor's note: HRNM educator Eljiah Palmer composed this entry.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Few Words from a USS Cumberland Marine, 1861

We are fortunate to have received a copy of the letter book and journal of Charles H. Bunker, a member of the sloop-of-war USS Cumberland's 53-man Marine Corps detachment from 1860-62. A native of Harlem, Bunker enlisted in the Marines as Cumberland prepared for a deployment to Mexico. Bunker's letter book is valuable not just because Civil War letters from enlisted sailors and Marines are rare, but also because Bunker recorded his experiences as a Marine in great detail. From Bunker's letters, we find that the Cumberland's company was quite active even if they were not in combat. Through the letters, we learn about...

War Messes With Your Dreams - April 3, 1861: "The 3rd [dream] was as we lay at Norfolk; I thought I was again in Harlem (after a long cruise) and I happened to go in one of Mrs Liscombs Brick houses on 3rd avenue where there was a young Widow. She proved to be an old schoolmate of mine, and as she made me an offer of marriage, I took up with it as she had a good set of furniture, etc. but I was once more interrupted by the word being passed for all hands to up anchor for the Navy Yard."

War Messes With Your Dreams, Part 2 - April 26, 1861: "I will mention one more dream as a specimen of many of the same sort. A few nights ago I thought the Ship was attacked by a large number of boats with about 50 men in each. I thought the Officer of the Deck gave the order to beat to General Quarters when I was interrupted in my dream by General Quarters in reality, a Steamer coming in with troops."

Creative Ways to Stay Awake on Watch - April 30, 1861: "At night we have General Quarters as soon as a Steamer or large vessel come in sight so we very seldom get more than 2 or 3 hours in our hammocks at one time, getting but little sleep we are in danger of falling asleep on Post. I have on several occasions been obliged to put a grain of tobacco in my eye to keep them open. If we were found asleep on post we would be Court Martial and severely punished."

Best Way to Drink From the Ship's Water Supply - May 6, 1861: "Today a tank of water was opened which we had taken on board at Vera Cruz but it was very bad [editor's note: about six months old and mixed with sea water], we have to drink or go without as we can not get more from the City. With us it is: Shut your eyes-Hold your nose, Open your mouth-And down it goes. But as it is the last tank it will soon be over."

An Unthreaded Needle is the Worst...Thing...Ever - May 8, 1861: "An article in the Providence Journal replies to the suggestion that work bags with pins, needles, thread, scissors and buttons will be useful; to the Soldiers and Sailors, says but thread the needles. Don’t send them to the poor boys unthreaded. There is not a man in the Ship who would not rather undertake to thrash a Secessionist than to thread a Needle. That’s so true."

Charles Heywood-Bunker's commanding officer
on Cumberland shown here as the Marine
Corps' first flag officer. 

Town of Hampton Pillaged...For Its Flowers - May 14, 1861: "Almost all the inhabitants of Hampton which joins the Fort have left for the interior of the State. Some of them have left gardens of the most beautiful flowers and a large variety of them. Every time a Boats Crew goes to the Store in the Fort they take large bunches of them of which the two Lady Passengers get a good share."

Career Path Regret - June 3, 1861: "I would rather be cook, as it pays better, all cooks, receiving $7.50 a month and excused from sentry duty, where a corporal gets but $2.00 more a month."

Stand Up Comedian/Tough Crowd - June 3, 1861 "One night the men would not let me go to sleep, even after 9 o’clock, until I gave them something original. I then asked why a young Lady deserted by her Lover was like a certain US weapon and as none could answer, I told them it was because she was a Cut Lass (Cutlass). The next morning they managed to raise a splendid Leather Medal with a rope yarn to put around my neck, strong enough if I was suspended to break my neck."

Pre 4th of July Fireworks - July 2, 1861 "9 PM a very bright comet was seen for several hours after." Editor's note: This was the "Great Comet of 1861" (since labeled C/1861 J1) that passed very close to Earth and had been witnessed by thousands of observers from Australia, Europe, and the United States.

A sketch of "The Great Comet of 1861" as drawn by European observers
on June 30, 1861. Bunker witnessed it on July 2. More information can be
found at http://cometography.com/lcomets/1861j1.html.
Accounts of Death Were Greatly Exaggerated - August 29, 1861 [Hatteras Expedition]: "If he does not turn up all right (as I hope he will) his shipmates will lose a good friend and comrade. A few days ago he was writing your address on an envelope but getting a blot on it he laid it one side. I picked it up to do some figuring upon thus I got the address as the ship is cruising around. I do not know when or where she will sail next, but it is supposed she will go to Fort Monroe again in a few days so my name is not necessary or to answer this. Hoping for the best. I remain his and your Friend until I write again if necessary. One of C.H. Bunker’s Shipmates."

A Previously Unknown Raid - October 3, 1861: "I am with 12 more of the guard volunteered to go on secret service, which we soon after found out was to destroy a rebel floating battery. We started when the moon went down, in three boats with their crews, but when we got to where the battery was, we found it had been removed... We heard the sergeant of their guard ask the sentry if he did not see that boat; they said yes, but I thought it was our sloop. At this we gave them the contents of our boat--howitzer and muskets, which made them leave their camp fire in a hurry."

No Sport Hunting While on Duty - November 6, 1861: "There is now large flocks of wild ducks here, which would afford fine sport for the sportsman, if it was not for this war. The soldiers are not allowed to shoot them yet for fear of accidents. "

He Tripped, Sir - January 3, 1862: "One of the sailors while ashore, had got whiskey enough to set his tongue a going and 'put him on his muscle'; the Captain ordered him to be gagged and put in double irons. He had also to be tied down to the deck; as he bruised the sergeant and myself with his irons, as we were putting them on, so a little court plaster is very useful 'now and then.'"

Friday, March 14, 2014

Prepping for Byrd Expedition III- USS Bear at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, 1939

The USS Bear is shown here at Norfolk Naval Shipyard loading up for Admiral Richard Byrd's third expedition to the southern polar region. Bear was an ex-19th century whaling ship that had been reconstructed for polar service. Even though this was Byrd's third trip to the southern polar region, it was the first under official U.S. Government sponsorship. With the sponsorship came access to the Norfolk Navy Yard. A photojournalist from the Norfolk Ledger-Star took these pictures and was particularly fond of the ninety Greenland Dogs and Canadian Eskimo Sled Dogs that Byrd's team brought with them. Read more about the other photos and artifacts of Byrd Expedition III that the museum recently received in our recent blog post. 

Pictured here holding two Eskimo Sled Dog puppies is Hollis "Pop" Richardson.  He
served as Byrd's lead sled dog trainer/driver/musher for the expedition.

The bow ornament of USS Bear-Originally built in 1874 as a civilian whaler, the ship served in
 the Revenue Service, the Navy, and the Coast Guard until being decommissioned in 1944.
The ship in the background is the airship tender USS Patoka (AO-9).

Men working aloft on USS Bear while at Norfolk Navy Yard. 
Even though the ship was made of wood, the hull was
 built strong enough to resist ice flows from cracking the hull.
She is  considered to be America's first icebreaker.

Three more of Richardson's Eskimo Sled Dog puppy brigade that came along on the Expedition.

Three Greenland Dogs on the deck of USS Bear. First used by the Inuit people for both hunting and
sled pulling, Greenland Dogs are considered to be among the oldest dog breed in the world.
Eskimo Sled dogs take a snooze on the deck of USS Bear.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Photographing Local Ships in the Korean War

During the early 1950s, there was a saying around Atlantic Fleet headquarters that the Korean War was "Pacific Fleet's problem, not ours." The reluctance to send ships from Norfolk to Korea was based on a reasonable assumption that the fighting on the Korean Peninsula was just a small part of a coming global conflict with Communist forces, and the Atlantic Fleet wanted to be ready to fight the Soviets in European waters and the Atlantic Ocean. Despite this feeling, the Atlantic Fleet did contribute quite a number of ships to Task Forces 77 and 95 (the Navy's two battle squadrons off of Korea). It was fortunate that the Atlantic Fleet agreed to cooperate, because by 1953, the Navy as an institution was facing an issue with the American public regarding why the Navy was sending any ships to the Far East, not just Korea, in the first place.

As part of the plan to educate the American public, Admiral William Radford, then Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, and soon to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, penned an article explaining America's interests in the Far East and why the Navy sent ships there. Of interest, however, is where the Navy chose to publish the article: National Geographic. Possibly attempting to reach an audience with a more international perspective of the world, National Geographic not only agreed to publish the article, but also deployed nationally-renowned photojournalist J. Baylor Roberts to photograph the Navy in action.

Here are some of the images of locally-based ships and sailors taken by Roberts and Navy photojournalists that National Geographic published alongside Radford's article. The article and photos originally appeared in the March 1953 issue of National Geographic. 

Editor's Note: HRNM Educator Elijah Palmer contributed to this article.

Roberts took this photo of USS New Jersey (BB-62) off the North Korean coast
during the battleship's second war tour.  In the 1950s, the Navy homeported all
four Iowa-class battleships in Norfolk.
A Navy photojournalist took this photo of USS Missouri (BB-63) en route to
Korea during the battleship's second war tour.
Roberts took this photo of F9F Panther fighter-bombers from NAS Oceana-based squadron
VF-91 and NAS Alameda-based VF-94 being refueled and rearmed onboard USS Philippine Sea (CV-47).
An F9F flies across the carriers USS Essex (CV-9),  Norfolk-based Intrepid (CV-11), and
Bon Homme Richard
(CV-31) en route to Korea.
Official Navy photo of USS Wisconsin (BB-64) with USS AFDB-1 in Guam, 1952.  This was taken
after Wisconsin's first war tour in Korea.  This dry docking was at the time the heaviest ship
  AFDB-1 had ever taken on.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Rapid Rise and Fall of Army Supply Base Norfolk, Part 2

Maryland Ave and Army Supply Base Norfolk, 1920.  This is now Hampton
Boulevard and Norfolk International Terminals
As part of the 1918 cease-fire, the Germans handed over hundreds of
artillery guns to the Allies.  While Congress debated how to partition
the American portion of the cache, the Army stashed the weapons at
Army Supply Base Norfolk.
When the war ended in November 1918, the Army Supply Base became surplus after only a few months of war use. Within a year, the Army made plans to unload the property to the City of Norfolk. The City was seeking to improve its standing with international shippers by creating a proper international terminal. Before the Army officially handed the base over, though, it hosted two major events.

The first was the arrival of USS Naiwa (ID #3512). This short-lived transport vessel arrived in Hampton Roads in 1919 with hundreds of artillery pieces that the Germans handed over to the Allies as part of the November 1918 cease-fire agreement. Upon hearing about the captured guns, several dozen American politicians demanded that their town, city, and/or Congressional district receive part of the loot as war trophies. You can read about that occurrence in a previous post on USS Naiwa. While the Secretary of War and Congress worked out the details, the Army unloaded Naiwa and placed the guns in an open field at the Army Supply Base. 

The Army prepares to ship the German guns out across
the  country. 
The second event brought the fallout of World War I to the shores of Hampton Roads. One of the dramatic stories of the Great War is the Czechoslovak Legion. Made up of Czech and Slovakian nationalists, this unit fought alongside the Russian Army and against the forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the war. Their collective hope was an independent homeland in the Bohemia region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Russians, however, surrendered in 1917, which was followed by a civil war between the "Red" and "White" factions of Russian society. Now trapped in Russia, the Western powers attempted to get the Legion out of the country. After a legendary fight across Siberia, the Legion made it to Vladivostok. There, the USS Mount Vernon (AP-22) picked up the Czech portion of the Legion, with the intention of taking them back to Western Europe.

Unfortunately, Mount Vernon broke down just off the coast of Virginia and made port in Norfolk. While pulling into Norfolk, the legionnaires got a good look at the Navy's new base and remarked to each other in awe about the number of warships. While workers repaired the ship, the U.S. Army made Supply Base Norfolk available to the legionnaires as a temporary home. The unit was very popular in the United States, as the soldiers symbolized the fight against both imperial oppression (i.e. the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Communist oppression (i.e. the fight against Bolshevik soldiers after the 1917 surrender). Thousands of Czech expatriates came to Norfolk to visit the Legion and provided them with food, money, and other comforts of home.

The mayor of Norfolk joins with Czech expatriates from New York City in welcoming the Czech soldiers
to Norfolk at Army Supply Base Norfolk.
A Czech soldier met up with his brother, who had already immigrated to America.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Rapid Rise and Fall of Army Supply Base Norfolk, Part 1

Artist's conception of Army Supply Base Norfolk
Since this is a blog about local U.S. Naval history, we would not normally write about a U.S. Army installation. However, in the case of Army Supply Base Norfolk, the facility was so tied to the creation of Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads in 1918 that it would difficult to separate the two.
An unknown artist drew this
interpretation of workers laying
concrete pilings at the Supply Base

When the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, the infrastructure to launch and support a major expeditionary force from the United States to Europe did not exist. The Navy needed a major shore installation for its "Second-to-None" fleet expansion that began in 1916. To accomplish this goal, the Navy started Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads at Sewell's Point. 
1919 map of Norfolk showing NOB Hampton Roads
and Army Supply Base Norfolk

For its part, the Army needed facilities to support the American Expeditionary Force (the main U.S. Army outfit in France) and began building a series of supply bases in major American ports on the East Coast. These bases would collect war supplies shipped in by rail and then load them on Navy or Army transport vessels, which then took them to the front lines.

The Army intelligently located these depots near the Navy's warships. This way, transport vessels would not have to go far to pick up their armed escorts to shepherd them across the U-boat-infested Atlantic Ocean. Thus, the Army began building Army Supply Base Norfolk right on the Elizabeth River, just a mile south of Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads.

The Army awarded the construction contract to the Porter Brothers Company out of Spokane, Washington. Construction began in late 1917 and the contractors finished two modern concrete piers with warehouses by mid-1918. The contractors also constructed a small headquarters and a hospital. With the Virginian Railroad servicing the base, the ships immediately began using the new facility to ship war supplies across the Atlantic.
Pier 1, Army Supply Base Norfolk, with two transports ready to take supplies overseas.