Thursday, October 18, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: U-Boat Deck Gun Cartridge Case, c. 1917

UC-44 Deck Gun Cartridge Case
The Naval War College Museum has many artifacts which at first glance do not appear to be closely tied to the college or the region's naval history. While relocating some artifacts in a museum storage area, I came across this cartridge case. A brass plaque tells us this tube was recovered from UC-44 by divers of the USS Melville in 1917.

During the First World War, the German Imperial Navy employed the now famous u-boats to assault allied merchant shipping. UC-boats were a class specifically designed as coastal minelayers to disrupt traffic in Allied harbors. In 1917, British intelligence agents transmitted a false report that the area off Waterford, Ireland had been swept for mines. As expected, the Germans intercepted the message and ordered another minelayer to the harbor to deploy new mines.  The plan worked though not as intended. SM UC-44, the u-boat ordered to Waterford, was sunk on 5 August 1917 when one of its own recently dropped mines exploded.  The explosion killed all on board except the ships commander Kapitanleutnant Kurt Tebbenjohanns.

The following month, the Royal Navy raised the wreck to gather intelligence. In addition to recovering documents and equipment, divers recovered the bodies of nineteen crew members.

Besides mines and torpedoes, UC-44 carried an 88mm deck gun. After the initial salvage, divers from an American destroyer tender, USS Melville (AD-2) also recovered items from the remaining wreckage including several mines and this cartridge case used to carry ammunition for the deck gun. The case is made of copper and possibly lead, two non-ferrous metals which are resistant to sparks that could ignite black powder.

USS Melville (AD-2) in 1915
USS Melville  had many ties to the Narragansett Bay region. She was stationed at Newport, Rhode Island in 1916 before departing for Ireland when the U.S. declared war on Germany. During the war, the destroyer tender was commanded by Captain Joel R.P. Pringle. Pringle would graduate from the Naval War College in 1920, serve as chief of staff from 1923-1925, and finally as president from 1927-1930. Melville also served as the flagship of Admiral William S. Sims. Sims was President of the Naval War College in 1917 when he was dispatched to England in advance of America's entry into the war. He was appointed Commander-in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe during the war and resumed his presidency at the college after the hostilities ceased. Though we do not know exactly how the cartridge case came to Newport, it was part of a large donation of items related to the naval service of Lieutenant Commander Dallas Wait, a student at the war college during Pringle's administration.

Gift of Mrs. Dallas Wait                                                                                                               85.17.09

Image of USS Melville courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: Portrait of Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, 1945

In 1886 Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan arrived at the Naval War College in Newport to teach naval history and tactics. As he was a founder and president, his portrait is one of the treasures of the museum collection.

The following is reprinted from Faces of the Naval War College by John B. Hattendorf

Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840 – 1917) served as the College’s second president in 1886 – 1889 and as its fourth president in 1892 – 1893. In 1885, Admiral [Stephen B.]Luce chose Mahan to be the Naval War College’s first instructor in naval history and tactics. The lectures he delivered at the Naval War College in 1886 and 1887 were eventually published as The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660 – 1783 (1890). In 1892, he returned with a new set of lectures to deliver: The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire 1793 – 1805 (1892). These books were the first that drew international attention to the College. Later, he returned to lecture between 1895 and 1912.
In 1935, the Navy Department agreed to name the College’s previously unnamed library building in honor of Mahan. With the addition of a large reading room in 1938, the only thing that was lacking was a portrait of Mahan to be the focal point of the Rotunda. In 1939, the president of the College Rear Admiral Charles Snyder started a subscription campaign to fund the portrait. Following the observance of the centenary of Mahan’s birth in September 1940, Snyder’s successor, Rear Admiral Edward Kalbfus, made a direct appeal to the nearly 1,400 living graduates of the College, asking each to contribute one dollar.
The appeal to graduates was successful and the College commissioned the artist Alexander James (1890 – 1946), the son of Harvard philosophy professor William James and nephew of the novelist Henry James, to do the portrait. James used photographs of Mahan and a specially made rear admiral’s uniform from the 1906 period to paint the work.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: Red Admiral Flag, 1940

While preparing several flags in the museum collection for storage, I came across this red two-star flag. While some might assume this is the flag of a United States Marine Corps major general, it is actually a U.S. Navy rear admiral (upper half) flag. During the early 1900s, the blue flag officer's flag was reserved for the most senior officer present at a particular duty station. All other flag officers used the red flag. The tiered flag system was discontinued in about 1940.

This flag was used by Rear Admiral Sherwood A. Taffinder during his time as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet. The hoist details that the flag was presented to him by the signal force of U.S. Fleet's flagship USS Pennsylvania (BB 38)  and hoisted 10 July 1940.

Gift of Terry Taffinder Grosvenor and Lisa Stubbs                                                                             2008.18.13