Monday, September 29, 2014

Flight of the Turtle, September 29, 1946

On September 29, 1946, a P2V-1 Neptune, nicknamed the “Truculent Turtle,” took off from Perth, Australia, bound for Washington, D.C. The airplane was named “The Turtle” after the Lockheed project to extend the Neptune’s range: Operation Turtle. The crew added the adjective truculent, meaning defiant, or aggressive.

Heavy fuel consumption caused by winds and rough weather did not allow the plane to reach Washington. The aircraft flew for 55 hours and 17 minutes without refueling, and landed in Columbus, Ohio, on October 1st. The 11,235.6-mile flight broke the world distance flight record.  The Turtle was manned by Cdr. Thomas D. Davies (pilot), Cdr. Eugene P. Rankin (co-pilot), Cdr. Walter S. Reid (navigator), and LCdr. Roy H. Tabeling (radio officer). The only cargo on the flight was a gift from Australia to the people of America – a nine-month kangaroo named Joey.
Norfolk hosted three of the four crew members for a 10th anniversary of the flight. Left to right they are Cdr. Roy H. Tabeling, Capt. Eugene P. Rankin, and Capt. Thomas D. Davies. Visible behind the men is the nose art of a determined turtle astride a bicycle sprocket turning a propeller. A cartoonist at Walt Disney Studios designed the image. The turtle is smoking a pipe and has a rabbit's foot dangling on his keychain - a humorous reference to the Aesop Fable in which the tortoise and the hare have a race. 
After retirement in 1953, the aircraft became a familiar sight to travelers in Norfolk when it sat on the corner of Granby St. and Taussig Blvd. In 1968 the expansion of Interstate 64 forced the Turtle to relocate to the grounds of the Naval Air Station. It remained an attraction there until 1977, when it moved via barge to the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.  The “Turtle” resides there in our sister museum with other historic aircraft.

As for Joey the kangaroo?  After the brief stop in Columbus, he ended his trip at the Washington Zoo.

The Turtle welcomed arrivals at the Naval Air Station for nine years.
When it was time for the Turtle to be moved to Pensacola, the airplane was towed to Pier 12,
where it was partially disassembled and loaded on a barge. In this image, note the cherry-picker
lifting electrical wires as the plane transits down the tow-way.
(This blog post was written by HRNM Curator Joe Judge.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

USS Ranger's (CV 4) Keel is Laid, September 26, 1931

Anyone who has been around the Navy for even a brief period (or had lunch in a Navy club) knows that the sea service remembers events with plaques. Some are humorous, some sentimental, some serious, but perhaps the ones that resonate most are “builders’ plaques” (also known as “historical data plaques”). Mounted on a vessel's quarterdeck or in special spaces, they remind one and all of a ship's origins. On decommissioning, these are removed and shipped to the Navy’s Curator for preservation.
One of the special plaques in the museum is the builder’s plaque for USS Ranger (CV 4). On September 26, 1931, Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company laid the keel for Ranger. She was the first U.S. Navy ship to be designed and built from the keel up as an aircraft carrier. Ranger was subsequently commissioned on June 4, 1934, at the Norfolk Navy Yard.
USS Ranger before commissioning, in Newport News.

Ranger was a ship that made history in the Atlantic theatre during World War II. She took part in Neutrality Patrols after war broke out in Europe in September 1939, operations that became increasingly intense during 1941. In November 1942 she was an important element in Operation Torch, providing air cover for the invasion of Morocco. Ranger was assigned to work with the British Home Fleet in the northeastern Atlantic from August to November 1943, during which time she launched strikes on German shipping along the Norwegian coast. Ranger was sold for scrapping in January 1947.
USS Ranger underway in Hampton Roads, August 18, 1942. Note partially lowered aft
elevator and flight deck identification letters "R N G R" still visible just ahead of the ramp.
A Douglas SDB Dauntless dive bomber goes around for another landing attempt, after being "waved off"
by the Landing Signal Officer on USS Ranger (CV 4), circa June 1942.
(This blog post was written by HRNM Curator Joe Judge.)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Baseball in World War II

I'm a Baltimore Orioles fan, so those of you who follow baseball will know that I'm pretty excited this year. As my fellow Orioles fans and I prepare ourselves for what we hope will be a great postseason, I will be writing several posts about the Norfolk Navy's World War II baseball teams, and I'll also be sharing some images that many people haven't seen before.

After the United States entered the Second World War, baseball fans across the country worried that their sport would end, much like it had in World War I in 1918. President Franklin Roosevelt thought differently. On January 15, 1942, Roosevelt wrote a letter to the head of baseball, saying, "I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going." He added that he would like to see more night games for people to attend, and that, though the quality of the teams might be lowered by the greater use of older players replacing young men going into military service, this would not dampen the popularity of the sport.

While major league baseball continued throughout the war, more than 500 major league baseball players swapped their baseball uniforms for military uniforms. Players such as Bob Feller, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, "Pee Wee" Reese, "Ace" ParkerPhil Rizzuto, and Fred Hutchinson joined the military, and several of these famous players came right here to Norfolk for their military service. Some of those players played the game at the athletic field shown below, at present-day Naval Station Norfolk. This athletic field is the second-oldest brick baseball stadium in the country, beat only by Chicago's Wrigley Field.
Present-day photograph of McClure Field's main entrance.
In 1944, the athletic field was named "McClure Field" in honor of Navy Cross-recipient Captain Henry McClure, the commanding officer of Naval Training Station Norfolk from 1941 to 1944. McClure had little knowledge of the game itself, but he loved it and knew baseball's value in raising his sailors' morale. In 1943, McClure sent a message to the field, telling the players to start the game but "not to score until he got there"!

This 1944 photograph of Captain McClure shows him watching Dom DiMaggio during batting practice at McClure Field. Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto and Eddie Robinson stand next to McClure. (Norfolk Public Library image)

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Navy at Inchon

Today marks the 64th anniversary of the Inchon landings, which helped turn the tide of the Korean War. By late August 1950, the allied forces were pushed back towards the city of Pusan (now Busan) near the southeastern tip of the peninsula. The situation was desperate as U.N. and Republic of Korea forces tried to hold back the communist NKPA's assault. Gen. MacArthur's bold yet risky plan was set in motion, and a huge naval armada headed toward the city of Inchon, near Seoul, on the west coast. Inchon was notorious for its extreme tides and expansive mudflats. Any amphibious operation there had to be planned very carefully.
A Navy F-4U "Corsair" from USS Philippine Sea (CV 47)  flies over part of the armada assembled for the Inchon landing. USS Missouri (BB 63) is visible directly below.  
On the morning of September 15, 1950, Navy ships headed up the channel at Inchon and shelled targets on Wolmi-do and in Inchon as landing craft full of Marines headed ashore. The operation was a huge success and soon the US forces were heading toward Seoul to cut off the supply route of the NKPA troops attacking the Pusan Perimeter. 

In addition to the importance of the Navy fleet's role in this amphibious operation, one particular individual is worth noting. Prior to the invasion, Lt. Eugene Clark and two ROK officers were sent to a small island near Inchon to gather intelligence. With the help of some locals, Clark's team pinpointed gun emplacements, noted troop concentrations, swept for mines, checked tidal patterns, measured sea walls, and evaluated possible landing sites. His intelligence was invaluable to making the landings a success.  
Lt. Clark at right with part of his team.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Thirteen-Star Flag from the Civil War

By Joseph Judge
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Curator

The museum always tries to highlight a unique artifact during the annual CPO Heritage Days event in August. This year we displayed one of the highlights of the collection, recently transferred to HRNM from the (now closed) Supply Corps Museum.

The artifact is a 13-star American flag, made during the Civil War. Gunner’s Mate James Smith made this flag while on board USS Hartford, Admiral Farragut’s flagship. Of course, the American flag carried 33 stars at the beginning of the war, and later more as Kansas and West Virginia joined the Union. But the impulse to celebrate the Revolutionary generation was strong during the crisis years of the Civil War. Both North and South looked to America’s eighteenth century for intellectual and emotional justification for the actions of the 1860s.

As for James Smith, little is known about the Sailor who decided to celebrate American history during America’s greatest crisis. A US Navy gunner’s mate named James Smith was at the Battle of Mobile Bay – but aboard USS Richmond, where he earned the Medal of Honor. The citation reads (in part): “As captain of a gun on board the U.S.S. Richmond … Despite damage to his ship and the loss of several men on board as enemy fire raked her decks, Smith fought his gun with skill and courage throughout the prolonged battle which resulted in the surrender of the rebel ram Tennessee and in the successful attacks carried out on Fort Morgan.”

It would be tempting, but unfortunately unjustified, to claim that the USS Richmond’s James Smith is the maker of the USS Hartford 13-star flag. A future, and very thorough, archival search will be required to establish a real connection, if one exists.

We do know how the flag came into the Navy’s collection. It was donated in 1991 by the former Chief of the Navy’s Supply Corps, Rear Admiral Daniel McKinnon, Jr. Admiral McKinnon was described by “The Supply Line,” a Navy newsletter of the day, as “a history buff” who “had been holding on to some treasures.” 

Monday, September 8, 2014

USS Yankton & Rum Running: A Black Mark on an Illustrious Career

USS Yankton at Hampton Roads, December 10, 1916.

Built as a luxury yacht in 1893, the Navy acquired USS Yankton in May 1898. Commissioned at Norfolk, it was prepared for operations in the Spanish-American War. As part of blockading duties off Cuba, it participated in shelling Spanish gunboats and land batteries. After the war, Yankton was converted to a fleet tender. In December 1907, it sailed out of Hampton Roads as part of the Great White Fleet for that around-the-world cruise, returning in 1909.

After the cruise, the converted yacht continued as a fleet tender until America's entrance into WWI. In 1914 it participated in Navy operations off Mexico during the Vera Cruz Crisis. During the war Yankton performed convoy escort duty off of Gibraltar, rescuing a damaged Italian merchant ship from a U-boat at one point. By September 1918, the yacht was summoned back to the United States to operate with the Atlantic Fleet.

Shortly after the Armistice, Yankton was sent back overseas, this time to the Barents Sea off of northern Russia. From February to July 1919, the yacht and a handful of other American ships (including subchasers) supported operations against the Bolsheviks in Murmansk and Archangel. For the remainder of the year it was stationed off England before returning stateside in January 1920.

Decommissioned soon after returning, the vessel was sold in 1921. Two years later the ship sprang into national news. Operated as part of a rum running ring, the yacht was captured in New York by customs officials. It was registered as a British ship and according to reports, had come to “Rum Row” (a group of smuggling ships anchored outside of the maritime limit) from the West Indies with a valuable cargo of illegal rum worth $500,000. The ship was eventually returned to civilian maritime service but was scrapped in 1930. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The 40mm Bofors Gun

A quad 40mm Bofors gun crew in action.
One of the most effective anti-aircraft guns of World War II, the 40mm Bofors gun played a vital role in defending Navy ships. Originally of Swedish design, but obtained from the British, at the outset of the war the Bofors gun was not standard on U.S. Navy ships. This changed by 1942, when American designers updated the gun and improved the ammunition. The 40mm guns replaced previous ineffective guns and provided an upgrade by becoming one of the prime anti-aircraft batteries for the Navy, alongside the larger twin dual-purpose 5-inch guns and smaller 20mm guns.      

The Bofors guns were usually arranged in either dual or quad positions, and less commonly as a single barrel. The arrangement generally depended on the size or layout of a ship. For instance, USS Wisconsin (BB 64) had twenty quad 40mm mounts (80 gun barrels), whereas a destroyer escort might only have several  dual 40mm mounts. 

The gun crew consisted of eleven men for the quad guns, with two loaders needed for each barrel. The sailors worked as one unit under the gun captain, who was able to direct the gun quickly on a fast moving turret. The gun was improved when it was combined with the new Mk 51 gun director which enabled greater accuracy. Between October 1, 1944, and February 1, 1945, the Bofors/Mk 51 combination was credited with 50% of all Japanese aircraft shot down by U.S. Navy ships.
A painting showing a dual 40mm mount on an aircraft carrier from Task Force 58 in the Pacific. All the main carriers in this Task Force were built in Hampton Roads. Note the Mk 51 director in the foreground.

Quad mounts firing on an Iowa-class battleship
The Bofors gun enjoyed wide popularity during World War II as it was not only used by the Navy, but was utilized by other branches as well. Of course, the British also used it, but it is worth noting that both the Japanese and Germans used captured guns or tried to replicate their own when they could do so. They remained popular long after the war, and a few militaries still employ variations of the 40mm gun to this day.