Thursday, July 31, 2014

Naval Air Station Norfolk

World War I erupted in Europe 100 years ago this week. Though the United States managed to avoid entry into the war for over two years, the war presaged the build-up of naval forces in the Hampton Roads region. Among those forces was naval aviation, with a detachment of pilots, mechanics, and seaplanes. Initially located in Newport News, a more suitable location was identified in the fall of 1917 to establish a permanent aviation detachment.
In this photo you can view a seaplane in the foreground and the tower of the Pennsylvania House
in the background, the initial home of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in 1979.
The site selected was a plot of 150 acres on the former Jamestown Exposition, located in the northeastern corner of the Naval Operating Base at Norfolk, Virginia. With seven seaplanes, five officers, and 20 mechanics on board, the Navy constructed several canvas hangars to house aircraft, framed buildings for repair, smith, and fabric shops, and erected three two-story barracks, along with mess halls. By the end of 1917, the Navy added two H-12, one H-16 seaplane, and one Sopwith Speed Scout to the inventory of planes assigned to the unit. Other aircraft assigned included R-6 and R-9 seaplanes and the HS-2 flying boat. As the result of increased operations, four hangars, an administrative building, a lighter-than-air hydrogen plant, and a dispensary were also constructed.
P. N. L. Bellinger

By the end of the war, the air detachment was recognized as one of the most important sources of trained naval aviators. In recognition of its importance, on August 27, 1918, the detachment became Naval Air Station Hampton Roads, a separate station under its own commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Patrick N. L. Bellinger. The Naval Air Station existed as a separate command until the Navy consolidated it with Naval Station Norfolk in 1999.

(This blog post was written by HRNM Education Director Lee Duckworth.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Golden Thirteen: The Navy's First African American Officers and the Hampton Roads Connection

The Golden Thirteen were put into a consolidated training program that compressed four years of courses into three months. “We decided early in the game that we were going to either sink or swim together – even to the point of studying together after we were supposed to be in bed,” George C. Cooper stated in Paul Stillwell’s book, The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers.

George C. Cooper, a member of the Golden Thirteen, has a personal connection to Hampton Roads. Cooper graduated from Hampton Institute with an undergraduate degree in vocational education. In 1942 Cooper applied for a position teaching metal smiths at Hampton Institute and through this position Cooper met Commander E. Hall Downes, who ran the naval training school in Hampton, Virginia. 
George Cooper is directly in the center, bottom row.
Cooper joined the Navy in 1943 as a petty officer, and Commander Downes used his influence to get Cooper transferred back to Hampton. Soon Downes had another opportunity for Cooper. An opportunity of a lifetime at Great Lakes Naval Training Station awaited him. After a few rigorous months of training, Cooper became a member of the Golden Thirteen and was transferred back to Hampton Institute, where he became personnel officer for Downes. 

After one year in his new position, Cooper received orders to go to the Pacific. Before going to the Pacific, Cooper was sent to Norfolk, Virginia. While receiving his first real medical exam, the doctors in Norfolk discovered a back injury that Cooper had received while undergoing training in the Great Lakes. They refused to send Cooper to the Pacific and he was released from the Navy on medical discharge.

Cooper and the other members of the Golden Thirteen have left their mark on not just U.S. Naval history, but on American history. “I was the only one of the 13 who could go into the Navy store and put on a uniform and walk out with it,” Cooper explained to Paul Stillwell for his book, The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers. He further stated, “I was the first black man to wear a naval officers’ uniform because my size was just right.”  

(This blog post was written by HRNM Public Relations Coordinator Susanne Greene.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Captain Arthur Sinclair II, Early American Naval Hero

This historic painting depicts Virginia native Arthur Sinclair II (1780-1831), a man who became known for his naval exploits around the globe. As one of the Commonwealth’s most decorated naval war heroes, Sinclair served aboard USS Constellation in several of its important early engagements and was a Commanding Officer Afloat at Gosport Navy Yard from 1819 to 1830. Sinclair served during three wars: the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary Wars, and the War of 1812. His three sons also served in the U.S. Navy, but all three resigned in 1861 to fight with the Confederacy.
USS Constellation model 
For much of the War of 1812, Sinclair was assigned to the Great Lakes as part of Commodore Isaac Chauncey’s squadron, where he commanded the warship General Pike in an engagement on Lake Ontario in September 1813. For his valor during another engagement on Lake Erie in 1813, Sinclair received a presentation sword from the Commonwealth of Virginia (now in the Virginia Historical Society’s collection). In 1814, Sinclair commanded the Niagara on Lake Huron and Lake Superior, during which time he directed actions against Fort St. Mary’s and Fort Nautauwassauga. In September of 1818, under the direction of Captain John Cassin, Sinclair superintended the construction of a seventy-four-gun ship at Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia. The following year, Sinclair was ordered to take over the commanding duties of Captain John Shaw at Gosport and became Commanding Officer Afloat there from 1819 until 1830. In addition to these duties, Sinclair was instrumental in the establishment of a nautical school for young officers of the Navy on the frigate USS Guerriere in 1821 (the Naval Academy would not open until 1845).  The school operated until 1828, when Guerriere was ordered to duty in the Pacific.

The painting of Arthur Sinclair is currently in the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s collection.

(This blog post was written by HRNM's Public Relations Coordinator, Susanne Greene.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

We Hope to "Sea" You at the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference - September 2014

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is partnering in a week-long conference of everything maritime. If your interest is naval history, ship history, Coast Guard, or even pirate history, the downtown Norfolk Marriott is the place to be this September 17-20. In addition to several HRNM staff presenters, there will be an array of noted speakers and historians. Nationally-known author, Clive Cussler, will offer the banquet keynote. So check out the links below and register for the conference today!

(Information for this blog post was provided by HRNM Special Events Coordinator Chris Allen-Shinn.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Return of the Mayflower, by Bernard Gribble


We have several paintings in HRNM’s gallery, but one in particular stands out as we approach the 100th anniversary of the United States’ involvement in World War I. The Return of the Mayflower, by Bernard F. Gribble, illustrates Norfolk-based Destroyer Squadron 8 heading into Queenstown, Ireland, in May of 1917—only a month after the United States declared war on Germany. These U.S. destroyers were the first American ships to arrive in Europe. Britain suffered immense shipping losses due to German U-boat attacks, and this convoy helped turn the tide on the battle against underwater warfare. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt commissioned the painting in 1919. In 1933, when Roosevelt became President of the United States, the painting hung in the oval office. Our museum proudly displays a copy of the original piece (the original can be viewed at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland).

Bernard Gribble, a master in oils and watercolors, used darker tones to create a dramatic feeling while filling the canvas with a setting full of crashing waves and eerie clouds. He strategically placed a local British fisherman’s boat on the left side, full of darker shadows, expressing Britain’s despair and turmoil over the war. The fisherman’s boat fills the left side of the canvas, leading the viewer’s eye toward the center, where a United States destroyer steams straight ahead. This particular destroyer is USS Porter (DD 59), which was one of the six destroyers that was part of the mission; the rest include USS Wadsworth (DD 60), USS Conyngham (DD 58), USS McDougal (DD 54), and USS Wainwright (DD 62). The American destroyers are highlighted by sunlight peering through the parting clouds, emphasizing these ships as signs of hope. This dramatic painting not only displays the artist’s knowledge and skill in oil work, but also shows the power and hope the United States Navy provided worldwide.

(This blog post was written by HRNM Educator Diana Gordon.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

USS New Jersey (BB-16) in World War I

The picture here shows the Virginia-class battleship USS New Jersey (BB-16) in 1918. She is painted in one of the wartime camouflage paint schemes. Commissioned in 1906, she took part in the Jamestown Exposition in 1907 and sailed a few months later with the Great White Fleet for a 14 month cruise around the world. She also participated in the Vera Cruz expedition in 1914.

By the outbreak of World War I, New Jersey was too outdated to actively participate in fleet action. Like her sister ship USS Nebraska, the ship proved a valuable training tool for the wartime Navy, operating in the Chesapeake Bay. In 1923, the ship was sunk off of Cape Hatteras as part of Billy Mitchell's famous bombing tests.

New Jersey being bombed in 1923

Monday, July 7, 2014

Atlantic Fleet in Iceland, July 7, 1941

On July 7, 1941, a strong Atlantic Fleet escort force dropped anchor in Reykjavik harbor, Iceland. The U.S. 1st Marine brigade disembarked - the first large scale American military operation of World War II, the occupation of Iceland. 
The escort force steaming into Reykjavik harbor, as seen from the quarterdeck of USS
New York (BB-34). The ship astern of New York is USS Arkansas (BB-33), followed by
USS Brooklyn (CL-40) and USS Nashville (CL-43). The gun mount is a 3"/50 caliber gun.
On the left is a quick-release life ring. National Archives photo.     
Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt had become increasingly concerned about German interest in Iceland, an island which Churchill referred to as “a pistol firmly pointed at England, America, and Canada.” Iceland, which was defenseless after the German invasion of Denmark, had tried to maintain neutrality but in the end reluctantly accepted British occupation.

The United States – not yet at war – was determined to help Britain by directing American resources to places they could be legally used, like Iceland. And, as Roosevelt stressed in his message to Congress on July 7: “The United States cannot permit the occupation by Germany of strategic outposts in the Atlantic to be used as air or naval bases for eventual attack against the Western Hemisphere.” The operation was carried out swiftly and with dispatch. The Marines’ orders were to the point: “In Cooperation with the British Garrison, Defend Iceland Against Hostile Attack.”

Visible through barbed wire are USS Livermore (DD-429) and other destroyers on guard
in Reykjavik harbor, July 1941. The vessel to the right is an armed British trawler.
National Archives photo.
One very important American policy was on view at this time – the doctrine that troopships were to be massively guarded by the Navy. Admiral Ernest J. King was proud of the Navy’s World War I record of safely delivering the American Army overseas and he was determined to be equally successful during World War II. Within a few months, Iceland was an impregnable military fortress. The American action incensed the German navy, but their plea to begin attacking American warships was not heeded by Hitler, who was then preoccupied with the German invasion of the Soviet Union. 

The Marines were going with the blessing of Churchill, who had written the President earlier that: “I am much encouraged by ... your marines taking over that cold place... It would give us hope to face the long haul that lies ahead.”

(This blog post was written by HRNM Curator Joe Judge.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Development of Naval Station Norfolk

One of the next Daybooks we’re working on at HRNM is about the World War I Navy in Hampton Roads. This Daybook will be published in time for the World War I Symposium that the MacArthur Memorial is running in partnership with HRNM and Old Dominion University’s History Department (November 14-15, 2014). We will periodically preview snippets of our planned articles on the blog as we commemorate the centennial of the Great War. To that end, one of the articles I’m working on right now is about the development of Naval Station Norfolk.

The Jamestown Exposition Company used the farmland of Sewell’s Point to mount its large world’s fair in 1907, on the 300th anniversary of the landing at Jamestown. After the Jamestown Exposition ended and the Great White Fleet began its around-the-world trip, Norfolk residents began a campaign to make Sewell’s Point into a naval base. Congress’s Committee on Naval Affairs heard their arguments as early as 1908. 
The first page of the official report from the Committee on Naval Affairs, 1908.
Jamestown Exposition Attorney Theodore Wool wrote a pamphlet he called Reasons, in which he outlined the reasons he believed the Navy should purchase Sewell’s Point. These reasons included the deep anchorages of the Chesapeake Bay and the fact that it is normally ice-free; the availability of vacant land that the Navy could use for expansion; Virginia’s mild climate that supported year-round military operations; and the fortuitous existence of transportation networks in the area—both railroads and maritime.
Page one of Theodore Wool's Reasons
It took ten years and the United States’ entrance into the First World War for the federal government to purchase Sewell’s Point for Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads (later to be named Naval Station Norfolk). NOB Hampton Roads started with 474 acres and has now grown to over 6,000. Naval Station Norfolk is the largest naval base in the world.