Thursday, December 30, 2010

Artifact Spotlight: Bowl Made from MK 6 Mine

---Joshua Howard, Curatorial Volunteer

Mines were used as weapons since the dawn of naval warfare and have held a prominent place in all of the major conflicts in American history. This week’s blog is about a copper bowl made from a MK 6 mine used during the North Sea Mine Barrage of the First World War.

During the late months of 1917 and early months of 1918 over 76,000 MK 6 mines were laid across the North Sea in a joint Anglo-American operation. The "minefield" stretched some 230 miles between the coasts of Scotland and Norway.  The barrage was designed to trap the German submarine force operating and resupplying in the North Sea and prevent them from attacking Allied shipping lanes in the Atlantic Ocean. The field was finished shortly before the war ended and is credited with sinking at least four submarines.

Officially retired in 1985, the MK6 mine is one the US Navy’s longest-serving weapons.   The bowl in the museum collection  is actually made from part of the float used to suspend a copper antenna attached to the mine itself. When a steel warship struck the wire, the resulting electrical charge detonated the submerged mine's 300 pounds of TNT.

The bowl, donated in 1975 by Mrs. Alexander Thompson, was part of a gift to the Naval Historical Collection that included the papers of Chester T. Minkler.  Minkler was an ordinance engineer who worked at the Naval Torpedo Station and experimented with  new types of depth charges and mines from 1917 to 1952. 
The outside of the bowl bears the inscription, “North Sea Barrage, 14 Submarines, 1918”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Artifact Spotlight: USS BROOKLYN Christmas Menu, 1903

Far from home on cruises all over the globe, naval officers and enlisted men have always celebrated the  holidays with special meals. This 1903 menu for Christmas dinner shared by the officers of the USS Brooklyn (CA-3) is just one of several interesting Christmas holiday-related documents in the Naval War College Museum collection. 

The famous armored cruiser, well-known for her role at the Battle of Santiago (1898) and for carrying the remains of John Paul Jones from Cherbourg, France to Annapolis, Maryland (1905), was on station with the newly reformed European Squadron at the time. Not content to simply list the evening's courses, the menu is annotated with quotes from Shakespeare, Lord Byron, the New Testament, and others.

Click on the image to enlarge

 The menu was donated to the Naval War College Museum in 1997 by the late Ambassador Dwight Dickinson.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Artifact Spotlight: Silk Banner from the Great White Fleet

--Joshua Howard, Curatorial Volunteer

On the 103rd anniversary of the departure of the Great White Fleet for its cruise around the world, this week's blog focuses on a recent acquisition tied to the epic voyage.

Painted Scene of the Great White Fleet from Silk Banner
On 16 December 1907, sixteen new battleships steamed out of Hampton Roads, Virginia on a journey that led them straight into the pages of naval history. These steel ships, painted white and adorned with gilded scroll work made up the new Atlantic Fleet created under President Theodore Roosevelt. Their circumnavigation of the globe was a demonstration of  America's military might and growth as a world power.

The Great White Fleet's fourteen-month journey brought them to over twenty ports of call. At San Francisco, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans the original commander of the fleet was replaced by Rear Admiral Charles Sperry due to illness. Sperry, who previously served as President of the Naval War College (16 November 1903- 24 May 1906) broke his flag on board USS Connecticut and the fleet steamed on across the Pacific for Australia, Japan, and the Far East.  The fleet made a number of stops in the Pacific before heading through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean. After passing the Strait of Gibraltar, the fleet steamed home and arrived back in Hampton Roads on 22 February 1909.

"In Memory of Our Famous
 Cruise Around the World."

The museum collection includes a silk banner acquired by sailor Joseph Pomelek as a souvenir during the voyage. Embroidered panels such as this were produced in Asian ports and sold to sailors eager to commemorate the voyage and arrival of the Great White Fleet.  Pomelek likely acquired the banner between 18 October 1908 and 3 January 1909 when his ship the USS Connecticut made a number of stops throughout the Far East. The banner is titled, "In Memory of Our Famous Cruise Around the World,"  and is dominated by a majestic eagle perched above a decorative array of American flags. Depictions of stacked shot, a life raft, two crossed naval guns and the motto, E Pluribus Unum adorn the bottom of the piece. The array of flags form a frame  for three photographs and a painted scene of the Great White Fleet in Asian waters.

The center photograph is of President Theodore Roosevelt. To the left is a portrait of Rear Admiral Charles Sperry. Appropriately, Pomelek has recorded his participation  in the global event by also inserting a photograph of him and his wife on their wedding day. It was very common for sailors to personalize these panels with something from their own lives or an experience from their journey with the Great White Fleet. It is probable that the oval on the right originally contained a photograph of  Rear Admiral Robley Evans, the first commander of the Great White Fleet. Pomelek, originally from Czechoslovakia, began his tour with the Navy here at the Newport Naval Training Station and upon retiring settled in Newport. The silk banner was graciously donated to the museum in 2008 by Pomelek’s great-grandson Eric Vaas and his wife Jean Vaas. Visitors to the museum can see it on display in the Sailors and Scholars exhibit.


Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

--Post has been updated since its original publication

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Artifact Spotlight: Medals and Awards of VADM Bernard L. Austin

--Kassie Ettefagh, Curatorial Volunteer
--John Pentangelo, Curator/Registrar

One of the strengths of the Naval War College Museum collection is the wealth of uniforms, medals, and personal items related to the careers of the Presidents of the Naval War College. From the officer’s sword belonging to second president, Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (recently featured in this blog) to a portrait bust of the college’s fifty-second (and current) president, Rear Admiral James P. Wisecup, these artifacts are crucial in interpreting college history because they often reveal how the personal lives and careers of these officers shaped their administrations as well as “naval thought” in general.

VADM Bernard L. Austin
Vice Admiral Bernard L. Austin was the president of the Naval War College from 30 June 1960 to 31 July 1964. A collection of his uniform items, medals, ribbons, and other personal effects was recently transferred to the museum from the Curator Branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington DC. The collection was originally donated to the Naval Historical Foundation in 1979.

The college’s thirty-second president, Austin’s tour was the longest in college history up to that point. During World War II, he served as a destroyer captain and squadron commodore and later joined the staff of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. Between 1951 and 1954 he played an important role in creating the college’s Naval Command College for international officers. He attained the rank of vice admiral while serving as Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, DC. Prior to his command at the college, he was Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans and Policy).

This collection contains 160 items, most of which are uniform accessories, medals, or ribbons. Additionally, there are belts, buckles, shoulder boards, pins, identification tags, and uniform buttons. His medals and ribbons denote participation in the American, African-European-Middle Eastern, and Asiatic-Pacific Campaigns of World War II. Other medals include the United Nations Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and a Bronze Star. Austin was awarded the Navy Cross with gold star (for second award) as well as a Silver Star for his gallantry as commander of Destroyer Division FORTY-SIX during actions in the Solomon Islands in November of 1943.

Bar of medals worn by VADM B.L. Austin

Of immediate interest is his Navy Distinguished Service Medal with two gold stars for subsequent awards (second from left). The President of the United States awarded Austin his second award of the Distinguished Service Medal for his service as President of the Naval War College. According to the citation, “Vice Admiral Austin drew upon his great wealth of wisdom and experience in a dedicated effort to enrich the postgraduate education of students at the Naval War College in the field of maritime strategy and its relationship to overall national and allied objectives and strategy.” The award also recognized Austin’s role in the development of a program of annual conferences of Presidents and Directors of the War Colleges of the Americas. These conferences, the citation reads were, “highly beneficial to professional and diplomatic relationships among the participants.” Austin’s Second Gold Star (third award) recognized his service as Chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board from 1964-196. The board fostered collaboration of member nations in security issues that affected the region. These medals remind the reader of the Naval War College tradition of international partnership and an artifact’s ability to tell a larger story.

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Artifact Spotlight: Pearl Harbor Drawing

--Joshua Howard, Curatorial Volunteer

1. Pencil Drawing of the Attack on Battleship Row, Pearl Harbor
 As we approached the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, museum staff searched for an appropriate artifact in the collection for this week's artifact blog. After pouring through a small group of photographs, artifacts, and documents, we settled on an artist's depiction of this monumental event that brought the United States into the Second World War.

The Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor was designed to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet's ability to play a decisive role in the empire's future actions in Southeast Asia. Two waves of Japanese aircraft completely destroyed almost two hundred airplanes, sunk or damaged eight battleships in addition to several cruisers and destroyers, and killed 2,402 servicemen. The sketch above shows the devastation on Battleship Row and Ford Island. The battleships, in view are (from left to right) USS California, USS Maryland, inboard of a capsizing USS Oklahoma, and USS Tennessee inboard of USS West Virginia.

USS California was struck by two torpedoes causing massive flooding before a bomb hit exploded her ammunition magazine and tore a large hole in the bow.  It took three days for California to sink to the harbor bed.  California was later re-floated and re-entered the war with a redesign that used as much of the original hull and ship components as could be salvaged. The artist has placed California closer to the other ships than she actually was on that day.

The USS Maryland was protected from torpedo attack by the USS Oklahoma but took two bomb hits during the raid. Flooding from one of these hits, the ship stayed afloat and sent out rescue and firefighting crews to its neighboring vessels. After the raid, USS Maryland made it to the repair docks and returned to the war in February, 1942.

The USS Oklahoma, shown turning over while crewmen jump overboard, was struck by five torpedoes during the attack. The first three hits forced the evacuation of the ship. Many of the crew swam over to the neighboring USS Maryland where they continued the defense. The last two torpedoes hit in quick succession and caused the battleship to completely roll over with her masts pinning the ship in its overturned position. Over 400 of the crew were killed but 32 sailors were rescued as their fellow servicemen cut holes through the hull to free them.
USS West Virginia, shown on the sketch engulfed in smoke and flames, was hit by six to seven torpedoes as well as two bombs. Over 100 of her crew perished in the attack and the ensuing fires. West Virginia sunk where she was moored, pinning the USS Tennessee in place between Maryland and USS Arizona. When West Virginia was raised and sent for repair, workers discovered the bodies of crew members in a sealed supply compartment. The men lived off rations until December 23 when their oxygen ran out.

Tennessee sustained two bomb hits but suffered severe damage when USS Arizona's  forward magazine took a direct hit and exploded. Large amounts of Arizona's oil  rained onto both Tennessee and West Virginia's decks and caused massive fires. As depicted in the sketch, large pools of oil from the damaged vessels of Battleship Row had formed all along the harbor and often caused further destruction. After the raid, Tennessee maneuvered out of her position and was sent for repairs. The battleship later took part in actions off Saipan, Guam, Leyte, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Awarded 10 service stars, Tennessee was placed out of commission in 1947 and scrapped in 1959.

2. Japanese aerial photo of Ford Island and Battleship Row
looking east. Swan's location was in the vicinity of the
hammer-head crane in the top right of the photograph
The sketch was donated to the museum in 1987 by  Lieutenant James E. Wilkie. The artist, known only as "Selley" from his signature, gave the sketch to the donor's father, Buren B. Wilkie, who served in the navy from 1929 to 1949. According to museum records, the artist was a crew member of the tender USS Swan (AVP-7) during the attack. On December 7, Swan was sitting on a marine railway across the water from Ford Island while undergoing boiler repairs. The image of the devastation depicted by "Seeley" appears to be from a vantage point he may have had from this section of the Navy Yard. Swan joined the fight with her 3” anti-aircraft guns, shooting down one confirmed plane and firing on two others that went down in the harbor. The tender received minor damage from machine gun fire and was underway again by mid afternoon. After the attack, Swan remained at Pearl Harbor aiding in the salvage operation of all the damaged and partially sunken vessels. She was decommissioned at Newport Naval Station in 1946.

This sketch offers a personal glimpse into the horrors and destruction of that day, as well as the courage of men in uniform as they fearlessly defended their ships and risked life and limb to save their fellow servicemen.

1. Naval War College Museum
2. Naval History and Heritage Command