Thursday, June 1, 2023

Two Navies Capture a Slave Ship

By John Pentangelo
HRNM Director

The sloop-of-war USS Constellation, launched from Shiphouse B at Portsmouth, Virginia’s Gosport Navy Yard in 1854, served as flagship of the U.S. Navy’s Africa Squadron from 1859-1861. The squadron patrolled the west coast of Africa to suppress the transatlantic slave trade and protect legal American commerce. During this cruise, Constellation captured two slave ships, and worked with the British Royal Navy to capture a third. The capture occurred during the first months of the American Civil War. Constellation was soon called home to a nation divided and a Navy with a new mission.

USS Constellation capturing the slaver bark Cora in 1860 (NHHC)

On May 19, 1861, Constellation came to an anchor five miles off Shark’s Point at the mouth of the Congo River. The Congo River Basin was a hive of slave trading activity in the region and much of it occurred upriver where large wooden warships could not approach. The paddle steamer HMS Prometheus hailed Constellation to share information about several vessels waiting to take on slaves at Punta da Lenha. The location was a major slave-trading complex consisting of fifteen slave “factories” approximately twenty miles up the Congo River. Constellation’s captain, John S. Nicholas, knew of a suspicious American vessel there but, as he informed Commander Norman B. Bedingfeld of Prometheus, he could not get up the river to investigate. Bedingfeld offered his sloop to tow a boat upriver and Captain Nicholas immediately dispatched a cutter under the command of Lieutenant Philip C. Johnson.

Armed with pistols and cutlasses, Lieutenant Johnson’s force of fifteen officers and men rowed over to Prometheus. To avoid detection, Bedingfeld waited until after darkness fell on May 20th to steam past Shark’s Point. The British commander was sure that local spies would alert traders upriver of this combined operation. They arrived at Punta da Lenha at 10 p.m. and found the American brigantine Triton at anchor.

Commander Philip C. Johnson, photo taken during or shortly after the Civil War (NHHC)

According to one Constellation crewmember, Triton’s master thought Johnson and his band were English. He hoisted the American ensign because the United States treaty with Great Britain did not give the Royal Navy rights to search American vessels. So when Johnson boarded, Triton’s master resisted inspection. The lieutenant showed his U.S. Navy buttons and the cutter’s boat flag and then proceeded to search the brig. He determined that the crew had made all preparations to take on a cargo of slaves. The party discovered a false deck where slaves would be held, coppers, and a hold full of rice and water in excess of the crew’s needs. Prometheus towed the prize to the flagship the next day. On May 25, Nicholas returned the favor by tipping Bedingfeld off to the location of the Spanish schooner Jacinto. Prometheus captured and burned Jacinto because it was in a state of disrepair.

Officers and politicians of both nations celebrated the operations. Bedingfeld lamented that this type of work had not occurred sooner, as he saw several American vessels at Punta da Lenha that later shipped slaves. Indeed, this was the sort of action required to seriously curb the trade. Like many slavers, Triton had been captured before. The gunboat USS Mystic took the brig (then registered out of New Orleans) almost a year earlier on July 16, just off of Black Point.

Captain Nicholas ordered Midshipman George A. Borchert and a prize crew to sail Triton to Norfolk. The captain asked Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to discharge the prize crew since upon reaching the United States they had served two years on station. Triton ultimately anchored at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on July 9, 1861. The U.S. government confiscated the brig after court proceedings.

With his mission completed, Midshipman Borchert, a native of Georgia, immediately tendered his resignation from the United States Navy. While aware of sectional conflict during his cruise and secession, he arrived home to find two nations at war. By the end of the month he was appointed a midshipman in the Confederate States Navy. At the same time, his former shipmates across the Atlantic were receiving disturbing mail about secessionists firing on Fort Sumter. Constellation’s capture of the slave ship Triton was a successful mission that occurred just weeks after the Confederate seizure of several federal installations such as the Gosport Navy Yard. When Constellation anchored off Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in September, Shiphouse B in Portsmouth, Virginia, was destroyed by fire and the shipyard was in the hands of the Confederacy.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

The President Warfield, Haganah Ship Exodus, and Citizens of Norfolk, Virginia

By CAPT Alexander Monroe, USN (Ret.)
HRNM Volunteer

The years following World War Two were fraught with turbulent change. The USS President Warfield (IX 169), which was taken over from The Baltimore Steam Packet Company (also known as the Old Bay Line) by the War Shipping Administration in July 1942, was bought by Haganah, a Zionist-related paramilitary organization and renamed. As Haganah ship Exodus 1947, it played a key role in the attempted resettlement of 4,514 stateless Jewish refugees in Palestine, a territory that had been under British mandate and protection since 1922. The abortive voyage was a precursor to the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, a Jewish homeland, the goal of the World Zionist organization since its founding in 1897. It was supported by prominent Jewish citizens of Norfolk, Virginia.

Old Bay Line Timetable

President Warfield was laid down at Pusey and Jones Shipyard in 1927 and delivered to the Old Bay Line in 1928. With opulent appointments and dining rooms with “white gloved waiters,” the ship provided overnight passenger/freight service between Baltimore, Old Point Comfort, and Norfolk. The ship’s berth, shared with the Pennsylvania Railroad in Norfolk, was close to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s current location. Old Bay Line provided service until July 12, 1942, when Captain Patrick L. Parker steamed to Baltimore to meet the requirements of War Shipping Administration requisition 227753. The ship was refitted, sailed in convoy to Europe, and was allocated to the United Kingdom for use at a Royal Navy/United States Navy amphibious training facility at Appledore-Instow, North Devon. On May 10, 1944, the ship returned to United States control and was commissioned into the U.S. Navy as USS President Warfield (IX 169). It became a control ship, moored to a sunken Mulberry caisson, HMS Centurion, off the Omaha landing beach in Normandy. It was later moved to Le Harve, where it served in part as a transport ship carrying troops up the Seine River to carry out offensive operations following the invasion.

USS President Warfield moored at Fort Monroe, Virginia. This photo was taken from the Chamberlin Hotel (Mariners' Museum)

By the summer of 1945, the tasks for which President Warfield was brought into the United States Navy were completed, and on July 9, the ship sailed for Norfolk. Shortly thereafter, Old Bay Line officials inspected what had become a “drab wreck” and determined that the old ship couldn’t be restored to the status of being an “aristocrat of the Chesapeake Bay”[i] without prohibitive expense. The war-weary ship was taken to the James River Reserve Fleet, near Fort Eustis, Virginia, along with other ships that had outlived their usefulness.

USS President Warfield in Norfolk, Virginia, July 1945 (NHHC)

Post-war turbulence accelerated, focused in part on the status of about 250,000 stateless Jews who had escaped death in Nazi concentration camps. According to one Norfolk citizen, Europe, “particularly for Jews was nothing but one big graveyard.”[ii] In time, a fragile solution was fashioned whereby the refugees would be settled in Palestine, a territory under the mandate and protection of the British since 1922. Resettlement was to be carried out by Haganah, an organization that began Aliyah Beth, a program to facilitate illegal immigration. It acted though the Weston Trading Company, a front organization, to purchase the Warfield. It was hazardous in part because Arabs residing nearby were opposed to it. In addition, the British government opposed the concept of resettlement. Initially the Truman administration opposed the enterprise, as well. There was no place for the refugees to go, for their homes had been destroyed or taken by others.[iii]

USS President Warfield (IX 169) at Le Havre, France, Winter 1944-45 (NHHC)

The Warfield was fitted out for its new role in Norfolk. This involved installing extra berths and assembling a crew. Some of the crewmembers and local citizens met from time to time at Saul’s Delicatessen, an establishment on Boush Street. The crew began its first attempt to cross the Atlantic on February 26-28, 1947, and barely 60 miles from Norfolk encountered a violent storm requiring the ship to return to port. Voyage repairs were done at the Main Street Pier and the Brambleton Yards of Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. Influential Jewish citizens in Norfolk raised the funds to complete the ship’s repairs. Joseph L. Hecht, chairman of the Norfolk Emergency Zionist Council, was a key figure in conducting clandestine fundraising. Mr. David Friedman, a grocer active in the Norfolk District of the Zionist Organization of America,[iv] delivered a supply of non-perishable food, including Carnation milk and Campbell soup, which “filled the storage rooms from floor to ceiling.”[v] This replaced supplies lost in the storm. During this time, figures such as Abba Eban and Golda Meir, important in founding of the State of Israel, visited and the community held fundraising events. The high level of engagement was related to the fact that the effort would bring about establishment of a long-desired permanent Jewish homeland.[vi]

Norfolk citizens reacted to the old ship in differing ways. Martin Sherman had observed some of the ”tough looking” Warfield crewmen with his friend Abbot Lutz at Saul’s. He saw the poor condition of the ship and observed that he “wouldn’t cross the Elizabeth River in that old tub, let alone the Atlantic Ocean.”[vii] Abbot Lutz, however, did make the trip to Europe.[viii]

Hans Pinn Studio Press photograph of the Exodus 1947 docked in Haifa Harbor, Palestine, 1947. (Bulmash Family Holocaust Collection)

In time, President Warfield left Norfolk, refueled in Philadelphia, and got underway to cross the Atlantic, bound for Sete, about 80 miles west of Marseilles. There, 4,514 refugees came aboard, and the crew set sail for Palestine, shadowed by Royal Navy destroyers. In the predawn darkness of July 18, 1947, heavily armed British sailors and marines boarded the ship (now known as Haganah Ship Exodus 1947) to stop the illegal immigration. Four crewmen and refugees were bludgeoned to death, and the ship was steamed to Haifa. Not permitted to step on Palestinian soil, the refugees were transferred to three British transports for an arduous 48-day journey that in a bitterly ironic end put them ashore in Hamburg, Germany, forcibly removing those who resisted.[ix] Joseph L. Hecht, Chairman of the Norfolk Zionist Emergency Council, endorsed the denunciation of the seizure of the national organization.[x] Haganah Ship Exodus 1947—previously known as USS President Warfield—was moored to buoys in Haifa and burned to the waterline in 1952.

Haganah Ship Exodus 1947 on fire at its moorings, Haifa, Israel, August 1952 (Mariners' Museum)

It is now just over 76 years since the President Warfield, which had been purchased for the purpose of illegal immigration, made its first attempt to cross the Atlantic in a new role. Its later abortive cruise, in which Jewish citizens of Norfolk played a key role, led to the steamer’s interdiction and seizure, and drew international attention to the plight of Jewish refugees. Moreover, it underscored the reversal of the policy of the Labor Party in all the years from 1918-1945. It was a resounding failure and breach of earlier pledges of support for establishment of a Jewish homeland.[xi] Ultimately, however, public response to this event assisted in the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. There is one talisman of the effort. In 1943 after the Warfield was delivered to the War Shipping Administration, its bell was delivered to the Mariners’ Museum by Old Bay Line and it rests in an honored place in the museum in Newport News, Virginia, not far from where the ship emerged to assume an important role in history.

Ship's Bell, SS President Warfield, Baltimore Steam Packet Company, also known as the Old Bay Line (Mariners' Museum)

Author’s note: The author acknowledges the assistance of Erin Miller ,Archivist, and David K. Titus, Volunteer Librarian, Bonk-Rivin Holocaust Collection, Ohef Sholom Temple. Without their help this would not have been done.

[i] Exodus 1947, David C. Holley, Little Brown and Company, 1969, p.56
[ii] “Lutz, Veteran of the Exodus is Home Again,” Norfolk Virginian Pilot, November 1947.
[iii] See remarks of Norman Hecht about his father Joseph Hecht at the opening of the Exodus exhibit at the Mariners’ Museum at Newport News, Virginia, September 1997.
[iv] These gentlemen were members of Ohef Sholom Temple on Raleigh Avenue in Norfolk
[v] “Exhibit recounts Exodus 1947 history,” Southeastern Jewish News, April 25, 1997.
[vi] “Tidewater’s Jewish Community responds to the State of Israel in 1948,” Jewish News, Southeastern Virginia, April 9, 2018.
[vii] Unpublished note from a conversation with Martin Sherman, September 30, 1996.
[viii] During the July 18th, 1947, attack by the Royal Navy destroyers, Lutz broadcast news of the brutal attack between armed Royal Navy personnel and the passengers and crew. See again “Lutz,” Virginian Pilot, November 1947
[ix] See again Holley, Exodus 1947, p.265.
[x] “ Zionists Here Join in Protest of Ship Seizure,” Norfolk Virginian Pilot, July 24, 1947.
[xi] “Exodus and Return,” Editorial pages E1-3, New York Times, September 14, 1947.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

America’s Space Goals and Reputation Rode into Orbit with Explorer I

By Steve Milner
Contributing Writer

Blog author Steve Milner with a full-scale, non-flyable Apollo/Saturn V space vehicle used to perform fit checks and mobile launcher connections, November 1967.

Sixty-five years ago, on January 31, 1958, the United States entered the space age when it successfully launched and orbited Explorer I, our nation’s first earth satellite. This 30-pound payload was launched by the Army’s Redstone rocket as the first stage of the four-stage vehicle. This payload included scientific instruments that, among other measurements, discovered an inner radiation belt around earth named for its prime researcher, Dr. James Van Allen. And incredibly, less than 11 years later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon and returned safely to earth, fulfilling President John Kennedy’s directive issued in May 1961—to achieve this monumental task ahead of the Soviet Union. But we were initially playing catch-up, because the Russians had already dazzled the world by launching Sputnik, the first earth satellite, in October 1957, nearly four months ahead of Explorer I. In doing so the Soviets used a powerful military rocket for the “push” needed to send a satellite into earth orbit.

At that time the U.S. had the rocket hardware and the smarts to beat the Soviets, but President Dwight Eisenhower wanted to show the world we would, instead, pursue space exploration by not using a proven military launch vehicle. Eisenhower’s idea was a noble one but not from a public relations standpoint—and the Soviets capitalized on their beeping Sputnik, orbiting earth every 90 minutes, repeatedly signaling its dominance in space.

Instead, the U.S. tried to launch its Vanguard satellite, using a much less powerful and unproven rocket. I clearly remember watching on live television as Vanguard exploded on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral on December 4, 1957. (The first successful Vanguard was launched from the Cape two months after the Army’s Explorer I launch.)

Three key persons involved in the successful Explorer I launch were, left-to-right: Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director, Dr William Pickering; Dr. James van Allen of the University of Iowa; and Dr. Wernher von Braun of the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency. (U.S. Army)

Finally, the United States switched gears and tasked Dr. Wernher von Braun, the former World War II German rocket engineer, and his Peenemunde team, along with U.S. engineers, to use the Redstone missile as the Jupiter-C’s first stage to launch our first earth satellite.

A modified Jupiter-C used a Restone rocket as its first stage to launch America’s first earth satellite, Explorer I, on January 31, 1958. The UE designation was a once-classified code that designated the specific Redstone used for this mission. (NASA)

Explorer I resembled a rolling pin in shape and was nearly eight feet long and six inches in diameter. It transmitted data to earth and orbited every 115 minutes. At its farthest point from earth, Explorer I’s apogee was more than 1,500 miles. At its closest point, or perigee, it orbited 225 miles above earth.

Explorer I transmitted data for about four months after it was orbited, and remained silently in orbit for another 12 years. It reentered the earth’s atmosphere on March 30, 1970, and burned up.

Artist's concept of Explorer I (U.S. Army)

During the past 65 years, the U.S. has successfully launched a variety of satellites whose contributions we take for granted. These include those used for worldwide communications and weather forecasting, as well as for the global positioning (GPS), a setting we have on our phones. And there have been many spinoff products developed during our U.S. space program, in addition to significant advancements in computer technology.

As a NASA public affairs contractor at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral (then temporarily renamed Cape Kennedy), I was privileged to have worked with some members of the Explorer I launch team a decade later.

Editor’s Note: In addition to serving as the public affairs officer for 17 years at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Steve Milner was a NASA public affairs contractor at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral for nearly a decade, during the manned Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab programs.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Artifact Spotlight: Conserving Commodore Samuel Barron’s Sword – Part 2

By Karl Knauer
NHHC Conservator

Today’s blog is part two of our spotlight on the recently conserved Commodore Samuel Barron Sword (yataghan), now back in HRNM’s collection. We are excited to have our colleague, NHHC Conservator Karl Knauer, share with us the conservation process, as well as his work on this artifact. To read part 1 of this blog, click here.

As conservators in the NHHC Conservation Branch (“COBRA”), we work on artifacts in the NHHC’s varied collections, including those of the Navy’s museums.[i] After receiving an initial inquiry from HRNM about potential conservation treatment of this Ottoman sword we were intrigued. In any conservation process we assess many aspects of the artifact, including materials and the historical context of its creation and use, to determine the best course for treatment. At first sight it was clear that this yataghan was of exquisite craftsmanship and would be a challenging yet rewarding conservation experience.

Barron yataghan and scabbard before conservation, disassembled for evaluation and treatment (Conservation Branch NHHC)

The assessment started with a thorough visual examination before other methods of analysis. Here we carefully handled the sword and scabbard to look closely from all angles. I noted a few loose and missing components, unraveling grip-wrapping, and fingerprints etched into its blade. The dark overall tarnish suggested “benign neglect,” which was potentially good news. Excessive polishing over the years could have dulled and worn away the exceptional detail of both sword and scabbard. I also examined the wooden liners of the scabbard. These components, typically hidden from view, are integral to the assembly of the ornate silver sections.[ii] A conservator’s main objective is to stabilize artifacts, not just treating its surfaces, but also making sure that the artifact won’t fall apart, and that any overall deterioration is slowed. This could involve simply providing recommendations on the best environment and preventive measures to prolong its preservation but typically involves at least some sort of cleaning to remove potentially damaging surface grime or other contaminants. For this sword and scabbard, the condition justified more interventive treatments for stabilization.

Here we can see a portion of the scabbard before cleaning (left) and after cleaning (right) (Conservation Branch, NHHC)

For structural stabilization of the scabbard and “compensation for loss” in missing areas, we aim to make these repairs reversible and “not falsely modify the known aesthetic.”[iii] However, cleaning the tarnish off the scabbard and reducing the etched fingerprints on the blade are irreversible courses of action and should be undertaken with deliberate caution. Polishing the silver was straightforward and gentle, albeit time consuming.[iv] On the steel blade, the dark, disfiguring corrosion products and etched fingerprints were more challenging and resistant to gentle cleaning methods. Such marring cannot be fully reversed and, in some respects, comprises a part of the sword’s history and age. At a minimum, we try to degrease the blade of any residual oils from past handling and make sure that such corrosive etching doesn’t further rust the surface. With careful testing I devised a form of localized electrolytic reduction that allowed for removal of the darkest corrosion products without immersing the whole blade.

Using low voltage current applied to the artifact through a mild electrolyte, rusted areas slowly yielded to selective cleaning. This process is seen here. (Conservation Branch, NHHC)

Once cleaned, I applied a stable wax paste to the steel surfaces, which slows the formation of any new rust and protects the surface from any potential contamination. Similarly, I coated the silver surfaces with a protective acrylic lacquer to help slow the rate of tarnishing in the future. I carefully stitched the fragile textile on the grip with very fine, reversible threads and filled its losses with pieces of hemp-fiber cloth. I also stabilized the wooden scabbard inserts using archival adhesive and fitted pieces of painted archival paperboard. Addressing the most notable losses on the silver scabbard was the final step. The areas around these losses were fragile and vulnerably prone to snagging and bending, so we needed to add some form of stabilization. Because these areas are so ornate, it was important to “aesthetically integrate” (or appropriately blend-in) whatever I would use to fill these voids. Fortunately, the ornate patterning on the scabbard often repeated, providing ample sources for motifs that could be copied with silicone molds. I took impressions of the required areas to subsequently cast them out with appropriate materials—but the trick in this instance was using a suitable substance that was not visually disruptive. Tests with a variety of conventional restoration materials yielded unsatisfactory results. However, recently another conservator used a nearly 200-year-old technique known as electrotyping to fabricate missing metal components in copper with excellent results.[v] Electrotyping is a technique whereby metal is deposited into a mold from an electroplating solution (something like a 19th century version of 3D printing). Experiments using this method were much more successful.

Original “filigree” collar located below the scabbard opening (left) and an electrotyped silver facsimile (right) used in creating fills to aesthetically compensate for lost areas. (Conservation Branch, NHHC)

Scaling up this technique, I was able to make repairs to the intricately detailed “filigree” areas at the opening of the scabbard, as well as the lost scabbard tip. This last section proved somewhat tricky because of the taper towards the scabbard’s end. Fortunately, I was able to use the same method as the other silver work and made a mold using the repeated patterns from the rest of the scabbard. Although the repeating pattern was easy enough to replicate, the very end was left somewhat vague, as the shape of yataghan scabbard tips can vary and I wanted to avoid falsifying the appearance. The electrotype tip was then fitted with a plastic sleeve that would allow it to be secure but easily removable from the end of the scabbard.

Here you can see the conserved sword and where new material was added to present a visually complete artifact. Replacement elements are documented and labeled so they are distinguishable from the existing historic materials. (Conservation Branch, NHHC)

As a final step, we constructed an archival housing (fitted box) to safely transport the piece back to HRNM, as well as serve as an interim storage container. It was a privilege to be able to work on such a cool piece of history and remarkable craftsmanship! Hopefully this amazing sword will serve as a touchstone to the history of the Barbary Wars for many museum visitors to come.

[i] For more information about NHHC’s Conservation Branch visit: and
[ii] Sampling miniscule slivers of this wood and looking at them under a microscope revealed characteristics typical of the hardwood known as hornbeam (Carpinus betulus or the related Carpinus orientalis). Examination of the textile wrapping on the grip under the microscope also revealed that they are plant fibers.
[iii] Conservators follow a code of ethics and guidelines that help us choose the best and most appropriate methods in undertaking conservation treatments. This code can be read here:
[iv] I made slurries of calcium carbonate (chalk) in water or solvents and gently applied these to the surface and buffed them with soft cloths and more locally with miniature cotton swabs (like mini Q-tips that we make ourselves), the residues of which were finally cleared by rinsing.
[v] Erdmann, Mark (2017). "Copper Electroforming: An Alternative to Casting for Metal Replication." AIC Objects Specialty Group Postprints, Vol. 24, 2017. pp. 445-453

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Artifact Spotlight: Commodore Samuel Barron’s Sword from the First Barbary War – Part 1

By William Clarkson
HRNM Educator

Visitors to military museums are likely to encounter a variety of edged weapons on display. Some are great examples of the development of arms, fighting styles, and doctrines over time. Others are associated with important events or individuals. Today we look at one unique example in the collection at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. In this two-part blog we will discuss an early 19th century sword from North Africa. This first part will focus on the context and association of the sword and why it is in the collection. Part two will consider the conservation process, undertaken by our colleagues at Naval History and Heritage Command’s Conservation Branch.

Commodore Samuel Barron Sword (Yataghan) in HRNM’s collection, shown here with scabbard. (HRNM)

This type of sword is called a yataghan, or yatagan, and is of Turkish origin. The sword features a single edged recurved blade, without a guard, and a distinctive flared pommel. The pommel’s shape is reminiscent of the end of a bone and harkens back to earlier yataghans, some of which used sheep thigh bones for their hilt. They were used widely in areas under Ottoman control and influence, which by the mid-17th century extended from the Caucasus to Anatolia and the Arabian Peninsula, and west into the Balkans, Egypt, and North Africa. While a functional and effective weapon, as firearms began to supplant other combat arms, many yataghans became more ceremonial and decorative, like the example above.

Here we see an illustration of an Ottoman Janissary with a sword (yataghan) thrust through the belt in the traditional fashion. This early 19th century illustration is by artist and archaeologist Otto Magnus von Stackelberg. (Wikimedia Commons)

HRNM’s yataghan is approximately 30 inches long and fits within a 26-inch scabbard. As noted previously, the single edged blade curves forward, giving the sword its distinctive shape. The blade bears a stamped seal, possibly a maker’s mark, or denoting the original owner. The grip of the sword is wood wrapped in textile, and the flared pommel covered with decorative silverwork. Likewise, the base of the blade is ornamented with silverwork extending a short distance from the hilt. The scabbard is made of wood (which you will see in part 2 of this spotlight) and sheathed in sections of ornate silverwork. While some yataghans are adorned with religious or mythological imagery or text, the decorative elements of this sword are primarily a foliate motif with garlands, flowers, and palmettes. However, it is this sword’s presumed personal association that places it in the realm of U.S. naval history and in the HRNM collection.

Details of the decorative work of the pommel (left), hilt and lower blade (center) and scabbard (right) (HRNM)

The sword was donated by members of the Truxton-Barron family (two names well known in U.S. naval history), who maintain that it was gifted to Commodore Samuel Barron by the Bey of Tripoli in the closing stages of the First Barbary War, sometime in late 1804 or early 1805. Samuel Barron was born in Hampton, Virginia, in 1765 and served in the Virginia Navy during the latter stages of the American Revolution. He then served the young United States Navy in the Caribbean during the Quasi-War with France between 1798 and 1800. In September 1804, Commodore Barron arrived in the Mediterranean (on the orders of President Thomas Jefferson) aboard the frigate USS President to take command of the squadron in operations against hostile forces operating out of Tripolitania. Unfortunately for Barron, he was continuously unwell and spent much of his command bedridden in Syracuse. Before he relinquished command of the squadron to Captain John Rodgers on May 22, 1805, he authorized diplomat Tobias Lear to conduct and conclude peace negotiations with the Bey (Pasha) of Tripoli. These negotiations ended hostilities and resulted in a peace treaty signed in June 1805.

U.S. Navy ships under Commodore Edward Preble bombarding Tripoli in August 1804. Painting by Michael Felice Corne. (NHHC)

After turning over command, and the end of the war, Commodore Barron returned to the United States. He was not active in naval service again until July 1810, when he was appointed to command Gosport Navy Yard (now Norfolk Naval Shipyard) and oversee the construction and outfitting of gunboats for the U.S. Navy. However, his tenure was cut short by his untimely death on October 29, 1810, at the age of 45. Despite the death of Commodore Samuel Barron, artifacts like this yataghan highlight an important period in the early history of the U.S. Navy. The intersection of the Navy, individuals, and global events illuminate the times and experiences that such individuals took part in and shaped. Part two of this series explores the methods by which artifacts, such as this sword, are conserved and prepared for display. Stay tuned to read about the processes and methods our colleagues at NHHC’s Conservation Branch employ to protect and maintain these artifacts for HRNM and our fellow NHHC Museums.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Flights of the Albatross, 1955-1967

By Max Lonzanida, HRNM PAO and
Alexander Monroe
, HRNM Volunteer

Universal Studios in sunny Orlando, Florida, is about 12 hours and 750 miles from the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. This resort was the destination of the Lonzanida family for a family vacation taken earlier this year when inquisitive children Stella and Noah were taken to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Minion Land. Each morning began with a water taxi ride to the theme park to partake of tourist adventures. On the first day, Stella pointed out a retired U.S. Navy Albatross HU 16 seaplane at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville cafĂ©. The plane, aptly named “Hemisphere Dancer” (Civil Registry Number N28J), attracted attention not because of its new role and paint scheme, but out of curiosity about how it had been used in the Navy. I referred the question to Captain Alexander Monroe, USN (Ret.), and what follows is the result of his investigation.

The Hemisphere Dancer in Orlando, Florida (

The Albatross aircraft on display known as ”Hemisphere Dancer” was built at the Grumman Aircraft Company at Bethpage, New York. Construction was completed on July 22, 1955, and the plane was delivered to the Navy at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California. It was one of 466 aircraft built by Grumman and was assigned Bureau Number (BUNO) 137928. The machine could operate from established runways ashore or from open-ocean by virtue of a V-shaped hull. It could take off in 4-foot seas, though Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) was required in seas greater than 8 feet. It was specifically designed for Search and Rescue (SAR) and was so used by the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force. It followed the Grumman Goose, first constructed in 1937.[i]

HU 16 Albatross (Wikipedia)

The 12-year career of BUNO 137928 began with pre-deployment overhaul at the Naval Air Station Alameda, California in San Francisco at Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron 116. Following this evolution, it was assigned to the fleet as an operational unit and joined Naval Air Station, Naha, Okinawa and then Naval Air Facility, Oppama, Japan, formerly known as Yokosuka Airfield, a Japanese Navy activity with an associated seaplane base south of Yokohama. The design noted above made it ideal for stationing close to open ocean, where SAR might be required.
Patches from FASRON 116 and NAF Oppama

In time the plane was assigned to the U.S. Naval Air Station at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands for SAR responsibilities. While in this assignment, it was assigned other duty quite different from the purpose for which it was designed: participation in atomic weapons testing. Between May and July 1956, less than a year after the plane was delivered to the Navy, it was assigned as a secondary observation aircraft in Operation Redwing, a series of detonations conceived to demonstrate the power of nuclear weapons. The tests were carried out in the vicinity of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. On June 25, 1956, Rear Admiral Byron Hall Hanlon, Commander of Joint Task Force Seven and in charge of the operation observed detonation Dakota in the northeast lagoon at Bikini from the aircraft. One crewman, AT2 Richard R. Casey, developed symptoms of radiation sickness, and the aircraft returned to Kwajalein.[ii]

Other Albatross planes were involved in historically important activities. For example, the crew of BUNO 141264 assigned to SAR duty at Naval Air Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, photographed Russian forces unloading missiles in Cuba prior to commencement of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force carried out rescue missions from bases in the Philippine Islands, Okinawa, and Da Nang in South Vietnam. Air crewmen such as Larry Barnes of the Air Force 31st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron flew close to North Vietnamese territorial waters to rescue crews whose damaged aircraft had reached open ocean and were at “feet wet” locations. These were hazardous missions, and the crews that flew them would never forget their experiences.[iii] There were other non-combatant evolutions. For example, air crewmen Dick Wilbur and Robert Prange remembered operations conducted from the Naval Station at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, in which the aircraft and their crews were used to restock green turtle sites all over the Caribbean from nesting places in Costa Rica.[iv]

The evolutions carried out had an effect on the airframe and their crewmen. Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Harry Marshall recalled that BUNO 137910 was a “good old girl,” and while assigned to Naval Station Trinidad experienced water takeoffs and landings only. He noted that, “corrosion was a big problem requiring complete overhaul of the empennage” during his tour of duty in 1965.[v] AD3 John Kaye, USCG, noted that it, “was a tough, loud aircraft that did everything asked of it,” though others later lived with the deafness caused by the extreme engine noise. He also found water takeoffs disconcerting because of excessive porpoising before getting up “on step.”[vi] Likewise, water landings required considerable attention by the aircraft commander.
Naval Air Station Norfolk patch

The crews of BUNO 13978, like other Albatross crews, carried out many rescue and support flights in its Navy service. It had operated in places named above but also in Atlantic Fleet stations such as the Naval Air Stations at Jacksonville, Florida, and Norfolk, Virginia. In so doing, the plane accumulated 2,689 flight hours. On August 1, 1967, it was retired from active service and flown to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC) at Davis Monthan Air Force at Tucson, Arizona. After intermediate ownership by others, it was sold to Jimmy Buffet in November 1995, relocated to its present location at Orlando, Florida, named “Hemisphere Dancer” and given a new paint scheme. In January 1996, it was attacked by Jamaican police who—thinking it was a narcotics runner’s plane—hit it with gunfire, and fortunately no one aboard was injured. The fortuitous sighting of “Hemisphere Dancer” during a family vacation has permitted a review of the role of the unique plane in the Navy and other armed forces in a variety of important roles.

[i] Wikipedia entry in the case of Grumman HU 16 Albatross.
[ii] Statement of Former AT2 Richard R. Casey, USN in Virtual Air Museum, November 11, 2011.
[iii] Statement of Larry Barnes, Pararescue Crewman of the 31st ARRS in Virtual Aircraft Museum of October 23rd, 2017 in Virtual Aircraft Museum website.
[iv] Statement of Dick Wilbur and Robert Prange, former personnel at U.S. Naval Station, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, in Virtual Air Museum website, August 23, 2016 and February 21, 2021.
[v] Statement of former AMH 2 Harry Marshall, In Virtual Air Museum website, September 12, 2014.
[vi] Statement of former AD 3 John Kaye, USCG, In Virtual Air Museum website, February 3, 2014