Thursday, July 19, 2012

Norfolk's Short Lived "Spoils of War" Ship

The museum recently received this rotary camera picture of the ship's company on the freighter USS Naiwa (ID #3512) while at Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads in March 1919. A close look at the picture of the fifty-eight man company reveals that the commanding officer took the unusual step of  bringing his wife and two children along with him. The photo was taken by Taylor's Studio, a Norfolk-based rotary camera business.

USS Naiwa, 1918
This picture is rare in the respect that Naiwa had an active service career in the Navy for only six months, and very little is known about her and her company.The Navy accepted the freighter from a Baltimore shipyard just a week before Armistice Day (November 11, 1918) and ordered her to La Pallice/La Rochelle, France. However, a few hours after leaving Baltimore, she suffered a critical steering problem and was forced into Hampton Roads for repairs at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  Once the shipyard fixed Naiwa, she resumed her original orders for La Rochelle.  Before heading out for France, Taylor's Studio was at the base, snapping several images of Naiwa and other Navy ships and their companies.

Since the ship did not leave Hampton Roads until March 1919, the trip to France and back to Hampton Roads was uneventful.The ship's cargo, however, was destined to cause a major ruckus.  Under the terms of the armistice agreement signed between the Germans and the Allies, the Germans were to hand over all their artillery and weapons of war. As part of its share of the spoils, the U.S. Army received 4,000 guns, howitzers, and trench mortars, along with fifty fighter planes and several hundred machine-guns. When word of this cache reached the United States, many politicians wanted to have these weapons for victory monuments in their hometowns. Several Congressmen immediately introduced bills earmarking a certain number of guns for their districts.Additionally, the U.S. Army wanted to reserve several hundred weapons to parade around the country as a recruiting tool and to raise money for the Fifth Liberty Loan drive.

It is not clear how many guns Naiwa brought back, though one source says she brought back over 7,000 tons worth of guns and ordnance (for reference, one artillery gun was about one ton). Other ships that participated in this project usually had anywhere between 70 to 250 artillery guns and an unknown number of artillery shells and small arms.The issue of fair and equitable distribution of the spoils was not settled for a year, when Congress passed a bill setting up quotas for each state.

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