Friday, July 31, 2015

Historical Paraphrasing – Battle of Mobile Bay


Commander T.A.M. Craven, commanding the monitor Tecumseh, was in the lead as four monitors formed a single column to the right of the wooden ships entering Mobile Bay.  The lead wooden ship was Brooklyn, Captain James Alden commanding.  This was the vanguard of Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s Western Gulf Squadron as they attempted to run into Mobile Bay, passing through the Confederate torpedo field blocking the way, on August 5, 1864.
At 0647, Tecumseh’s guns opened fire but the wooden ships had to endure the enemy’s fire for one-half hour before being able to bring their broadsides to bear with any effect.  Knowing the wooden ships would have to withstand the initial attack, Rear Admiral Farragut, ordered the ships to be formed into a double column and then lashed in pairs.  His flagship, USS Hartford, Fleet-Captain Percival Drayton commanding, was tied to Metacomet with Lieutenant Commander James E. Jouett commanding. 

Farragut took a position in the port main rigging, a few ratlins up, so he could view everything around him while still being able to converse with Drayton and Jouett.  As the battle progress and visibility was obscured due to smoke, Farragut would ascend the rigging as required.

It was 0730 when Commander Craven made his fatal error.  In his haste to engage the Confederate ship Tennessee, he chose to pass to the west of the buoy marking the eastern end of the torpedo line.  Tecumseh struck a mine and, within two minutes, sank with the loss of one hundred and thirteen men.  Brooklyn, seeing what had happened to Tecumseh, began to slow causing the following ships to converge and creating a state of confusion.
Realizing that his plan could turn into a disaster very quickly, Farragut asked what was the trouble.  The answer came back, “Torpedoes!”  To which Farragut uttered his famous response, “Damn the torpedoes!  Four bell! Captain Drayton, go ahead!  Jouett, full speed!”

This response, of course, has been shortened and paraphrased over time to “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” 
by John Kennedy, Director of Education
picture showing Farragut "Lashed to the Shrouds" from Library of Congress Collection


Monday, July 27, 2015

Artifact in the Spotlight: Beginnings of the Coast Guard

The Revenue Cutter Service was established by Congress on August 4, 1790.  Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and prevent smuggling. The service received its present name, U.S. Coast Guard, in 1915 under an act of Congress that merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the Life-Saving Service, thereby providing the nation with a single maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation's maritime laws. (Artifact in the Naval War College Museum collection)

by John Kennedy
Director of Education

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

From Hero to Penury

On July 18, 1779, Commodore Abraham Whipple’s squadron, consisting of Continental frigates Providence, Queen of France and sloop Ranger, captured the largest value of prize vessels during the American Revolution.  Having left from Boston one month prior, they sailed east toward the Newfoundland Banks where they met and captured 11 British vessels sailing from Jamaica, later valued in excess of one million dollars.
Abraham Whipple was born September 26, 1733, in Providence, Rhode Island, to Noah and Mary (Dexter) Whipple.  Taking to the sea at an early age, Whipple learned seamanship and navigation and quickly established himself as a captain plying the West Indies trade routes.  But it was during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) that his courage and daring gained him success as a privateer operating against French vessel.  During the period 1759-1760, he is credited with capturing thirty-three prizes, a number that attests to his skill and daring.
As a ship captain, his reputation continued to grow; however, it was in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War that Whipple stepped up and became one of the early leaders of the cause for freedom.  It was on the night of June 9, 1772 when the HMS Gaspee ran aground.  Whipple led a group of fifty men to capture the vessel and burn it to the waterline, shedding what was arguably the first blood shed in the revolutionary cause. 
Upon the creation of the Rhode Island Navy, Whipple became its first commodore.  In the sloop Katy, he immediately sought out the enemy.  His first effort was in Narragansett Bay when he engaged the tender Diana, capturing and sending her into Providence. 
Appointed to the rank of captain in the Continental Navy by the naval committee on December 22, 1775,  his commission as captain of the Providence was not signed by John Hancock until October 10, 1776. 
Shortly after his success off of the Newfoundland Banks, however, his luck ran out.  Sent to augment the defenses of Charleston, South Carolina, which was being besieged by the British, Commodore Whipple and his squadron were outmanned and outgunned and ultimately captured when the city fell. 
He, as the commander of naval forces, was placed on a parole of honor by British Vice Admiral Arbuthnot and, as he was not quickly exchanged, he saw little action during the remainder of the Revolutionary War.
Upon returning to his farm in Cranston, RI, Whipple is unable to pay debt that had accumulated during his absence as Congress refused to disburse back pay to the captain who had captured over a million dollars’ worth of trade.  When pay was finally forthcoming, he had to sell the securities at an eighty percent discount.  In 1788 he moved with his wife to the Northwest Territory, present day Ohio, where he is forced to apply to Congress for a pension.  He was awarded a pension of $30 dollars per month, considered half-pay for a captain at the time.
He died in Marietta, Ohio, May 19, 1819, at the age of eighty-six.
By John Kennedy, Director of Education

The WAVES Arrive

            It was on July 30, 1942, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the act establishing the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).  Initially established as a subset of the Naval Reserves as the U.S. Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve), the acronym WAVES stuck.  The word “Emergency” had been inserted into the name to give an implicit understanding that women would not be allowed to continue following the war’s conclusion.  Despite the negative reception that was initially received by the women, from society at large  unprepared to accept women in a military role and by males in general, the women served well in any role given, even though their participation was severely restricted to opportunities in the continental United States. 
            It was not until the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act (Public Law 625) on June 12, 1948, that women achieved a permanent, regular status in the Navy.  Women were still excluded, however, from vessels that might see combat.

            During the World War II, the accession programs for women entering the Volunteer Reserve had been the V9 WAVE Officer Candidate Volunteer Program and the V10 WAVE Enlisted Rating Volunteer Program.  With the transition to regular status, the programs were renamed to W9 Women’s Officer Training and W10 Women’s Enlisted Training programs.
            Newport, Rhode Island, a town of many naval firsts (first Naval Training Station, first War College) soon added a new first by establishing the first indoctrination unit for women naval officers in the United States.  It was advertised as the “Annapolis for Women.”

The Women Officers Quarters (WOQ) was Building 113 and was located across from the garage on Perry Street, the site of the recently demolished Building 444.  They ate at the Commissioned Officers’ Mess (Closed) in Building 108, which is now the parking lot across from Brett Hall.  Their average mess bill was $42.00.  As outlined in the 1951 Officer Indoctrination Unit (W) Handbook, “Faultless grooming shall be observed at all time” and “Religion, politics, men and women are not discussed at the mess table.”
Captain Joy Bright Hancock was promoted to the rank of captain in July 1946 and appointed to lead the WAVES.  She was one of the first eight women to be commissioned in the regular Navy and then continued to lead in the position of Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Women until 1953.  In the OIU (W) Handbook, Captain Hancock listed four rules for a successful woman naval officer: (1) Know and obey the regulations; (2) Know your enlisted personnel and discharge unceasingly your responsibilities to them; (3) When assigned, give that assignment everything you possess, be the job routine or difficult; and (4) Bring only credit to your service by your personal appearance and your conduct.  She stated, “The easiest way to live up to this fourth rule is to remember always that you are a lady – for a lady in the truest sense of the word is a woman whose habits, manners, and sentiments are those characteristic of the highest degree of refinement.” 
Congratulations to the WAVES and their proud history, as well as those who have followed.
Posted by John Kennedy, Director of Museum Education

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bennington - A Hard-luck History

            Located in the southwest corner of Vermont, Bennington was the site of a battle that took place in 1777 as a part of the larger Saratoga campaign that led to the surrender of General John Burgoyne.
            The Navy commissioned its Bennington on June 20, 1891.  It was Gunboat No. 4 and was part of a new class of steel-hulled gunboats.  On July 21, 1905, she experienced a boiler explosion and sank with the loss of one officer and 65 men being killed.  All of those who survived suffered some injury.  Although refloated, her condition precluded repairs and she was scrapped.
            The second Bennington commissioned was USS Bennington (CV-20).  Following sea trials in December 1944, she saw extensive action in the Pacific during the final phases of World War II.  After the war, Bennington was decommissioned and mothballed as part of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.  Four years later, she was modernized to be able to accept the new jet aircraft and placed in active service with the new designation of an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-20). 
            While on a training cruise in 1953, Bennington suffered an explosion in her number 1 fireroom.  While the fire claimed the lives of eleven men, the damage control team was able to minimize damage. 
            The following year, USS Bennington was conducting carrier qualifications for the embarked Air Group 181.  On the morning of May 26 as she began to launch aircraft, a series of explosion rocked the ship as the port side catapult accumulator burst and released vaporized lubricating oil which then detonated, enveloping the wardroom and crew’s mess.  While the crew fought the fire and tried to save their ship, they were able to launch all aircraft.  Ninety-one men were killed outright and twelve would die later from their injuries.  Over 203 were injured. 
Eighty-two casualties were brought to the Naval Hospital in Newport, many in serious and critical condition.  They had been brought by helicopter to the hospital pier and by ambulance the rest of the way.  Local civilian physicians and nurses augmented naval medical personnel from the base and the fleet.  Over 1600 blood donors were received on the first call.  Many of the lives that were saved were the result of helicopters evacuating the wounded to shore facilities for rapid treatment and  the long hours of dedicated care by medical personnel. 
            Bennington went through extensive repairs and, while in the yards, received an angled flight deck for improved air operations and an enclosed hurricane bow for protection in heavy weather.
            In 1995, the Bennington became the first aircraft carrier to be sold for scrap outside the United States.  There has not been another naval vessel named Bennington.
            On May 26, 2004, a bronze plaque was located at Fort Adams State Park to memorialize the event and the crewmembers who died.

John Kennedy
Director of Education