Friday, December 30, 2016

Eyewitness to the attack on Pearl Harbor

Sketch of attack on Pearl Harbor from USS Swan
Gift of Mrs. Buren B. Wilkie through the Naval War College Foundation

Seaman Second Class Blaine N. Seeley was serving in the seaplane tender USS Swan (AVP-7) on the morning of 7 December 1941. This drawing, which Seeley likely produced from memory after the attack was over, shows battleship row shortly after the raid began. USS West Virginia (BB-48) can be seen listing in the water just to the right of center. In the far right, USS Arizona (BB-39) burns after a bomb ignited her forward magazines. A damaged Japanese aircraft trails smoke above Arizona while another flies over USS Oklahoma (BB-37) to the left of center.

Swan was in dry dock when the air raid sirens sounded and had no hope of getting underway. Her captain, Lieutenant Commander Finley Eliott Hall, ordered the crew to man the antiaircraft guns and open fire. Fortunately for small auxiliary craft like Swan, the Japanese concentrated their firepower against the battleships. Swan received no damage during the attack and claimed one enemy aircraft destroyed by her 3-inch battery. Hall wrote in his after action report:

The entire crew showed exceptional calmness and courage throughout the action. The two officers on board when the initial action began showed exceptionally keen judgement in diagnosing and controlling the situation.

USS Swan (AVP-7) pictured in 1943 at Mare Island Naval Shipyard
Courtesy of NavSource Online

Following Pearl Harbor, Hall received an early promotion to commander for meritorious combat service.  He subsequently earned a posthumous Silver Star Medal for heroism as the Executive Officer of USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) during combat operations off Makin Island in November 1943.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Remembering Pearl Harbor

To mark the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Naval War College Museum opened a small exhibit today highlighting the art and artifacts in our collection that relate to the events of December 7, 1941. Among the pieces on display, we were fortunate to receive an incredibly detailed diorama of USS Arizona (BB 39) on loan from its builder, Mr. Robert D. Bracci. The diorama is entitled “Last Liberty” and depicts a poignant scene on the evening of December 6, 1941, as many of Arizona’s crew prepare to go ashore for what will turn out to be their final evening of rest and relaxation. The 1/48 scale vignette features 97 individual figures and uses compressed depth to force the perspective and place focus on the individual sailors. Mr. Bracci carved the ship from two blocks of foam and cut the planks from basswood sheets. He utilized several methods to give his creation added realism, such as making bellbottoms for the sailors’ trousers out of epoxy! Other notable details include the Vought OS2U Kingfisher aircraft and the crew working beneath it to set up a canvas awning for religious services on Sunday morning (which were never held).

“Last Liberty” is a unique addition to this exhibit and we are grateful to Mr. Bracci for making it available to us. It will be on display through June 1, 2017.

Rob DoaneCurator, Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Shrapnel from USS Arizona

CAPT Luksovsky holding the metal
fragment that lodged in Quarters H
Last week we were delighted to receive a visit from CAPT Kyle Luksovsky, a Supply Corps officer stationed at Pearl Harbor, who dropped by to see an artifact that has very special meaning to him. He and his wife Katrina live in Quarters H on Ford Island which is located just a few hundred yards from the USS Arizona Memorial. Shortly after they moved to Hawaii in 2013, Katrina took a historical tour of nearby Hickam Field and became interested in finding out who lived in their house on 7 December 1941. Research revealed that it was CAPT Errol Willet, a Navy dentist, and his wife and two children. Katrina went on to identify the families that lived in the 18 other homes in their neighborhood and had signs produced for display outside each house that list the occupants of 1941. But she didn’t stop there – over the next year, Katrina tracked down survivors of the attack who were children during the war, organized a reunion for them in February 2014, and published a book containing their eyewitness accounts of the raid.

The Luksovsky’s interest in the attack on Pearl Harbor also stems from the fact that Quarters H was hit by metal shrapnel, some of which embedded in the side of the house and remained there for years. One of those metal fragments, believed to be from USS Arizona, was donated to the Naval War College Museum in 2002. CAPT Lukovsky dropped by the museum to see it while he was in town, and we were thrilled to show it to somebody who truly appreciates its significance. Thank you to CAPT and Mrs. Lukovsky for the important work you have done helping to keep history alive at Pearl Harbor!

Metal fragment believed to be from USS Arizona (BB 39)

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Monday, August 15, 2016

An Olympian Takes the Helm at the Naval War College

Rear Admiral Harris Laning

If you’ve been watching the Olympics this week, you may have seen Ginny Thrasher of the United States win the first gold medal of the 2016 games while competing in the ten-meter air rifle event. Did you know that the Naval War College has a special connection with the Olympic rifle competition? Admiral Harris Laning graduated from the NWC in 1922 and served on the staff from 1923-24 before ascending to the Presidency in 1930. Laning was a proponent of wargaming and emphasized the study of tactics during his term. Ten years before he first arrived in Newport, Lieutenant Commander Laning achieved a different honor when he was named captain of the U.S. rifle team for the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.

Lieutenant Harris Laning (center in white uniform) with the 1907 Navy rifle team

At that time, responsibility for organizing the U.S. team lay with the National Rifle Association. In March, the NRA requested that the Navy assign Laning to be the team captain, probably due to the fact that he had been captain of the Navy rifle team in 1907. Tryouts for the team took place at the USMC Rifle Range in Winthrop, Maryland in May. The organizers planned to send an all-military team to Stockholm, so they invited the Army, Navy, Marines, and National Guard to send their best shooters. From that pool, the top eight made the team:

Captain Allan Briggs, Army
Captain Cornelius Burdette, West Virginia NG
Captain Fred Hird, Iowa NG
Lieutenant Carl Osburn, Navy
Ensign Harold Bartlett, Navy
Sergeant Harry Adams, Army
Sergeant John Jackson, Iowa NG
Hospital Steward Warren Sprout, Navy

1912 U.S. Olympic rifle team

Once the team had been selected and turned over to Laning, his job was to form the eight individual shooters into a team. For that, he took them to Annapolis for two weeks of practice at the Naval Academy’s rifle range. While each man was an expert shot, doing well in the team competition would require them to work together by sharing information about wind and light conditions on the range before shooting. Laning drilled them in the correct procedures until they performed to his satisfaction. The team then traveled to New York and boarded SS Finland which had been chartered to transport the entire U.S. Olympic team to Sweden. Some of them may have met a fellow Olympian, Second Lieutenant George S. Patton, who was competing in the modern pentathlon.

Most of the athletes found time to train during the six-day crossing, and the rifle team was no exception. While they could not conduct live fire on the passenger ship, Laning set up a practice range for the team so they could perfect their shooting positions and practice focusing on the target. The extra training served them well. Despite being the last team to arrive at the rifle range just two days before the competition, the United States won the gold medal in the team match, beating out Great Britain and Sweden for the top spot.

Following his term as President of the Naval War College, Laning went on to serve many more tours of duty at sea and ashore before retiring from the Navy in 1937. He died in 1941 and is buried at the Naval Academy.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Happier Times: USS Indianapolis before World War II

USS Indianapolis (CA 35) is a ship whose name will be familiar to any student of World War II. After delivering the atomic bomb to the island of Tinian on 26 July 1945, she set a course for Leyte Gulf to join with the rest of the U.S. fleet in preparing for the invasion of Japan. Just after midnight on 30 July, the Japanese submarine I-58 spotted Indianapolis and fired six torpedoes. One hit the bow and the other struck amidships next to the fuel tank and magazine. Within minutes, an explosion ripped the ship apart. Of the 900 men who made it into the water, only 317 were rescued after a five-day ordeal that subjected them to exposure, starvation, thirst, and shark attacks.

It is unfortunate that this tragic end overshadows other events from earlier in the ship’s fourteen-year operational history. Prior to World War II, Indianapolis carried out an important diplomatic duty when she transported President Roosevelt to the 1936 Pan-American Conference in Buenos Aires. Captain Henry Kent Hewitt assumed command of Indianapolis in March of that year. The cruiser sailed to Panama for tactical exercises before returning to the east coast where she operated through the fall. On 18 November, Roosevelt boarded Indianapolis in Charleston, SC, following installation of a special elevator for the President’s wheelchair. USS Chester (CA 27) served as an escort and sailed in the lead during the voyage south to prevent any possibility of the President’s ship being involved in a collision.

Arthur Beaumont, 1936
Gift of Mrs. Floride H. Hewitt to the Naval War College Foundation
NWCM 1973.06.01

Given Roosevelt’s strong naval background (he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913-1920), it is not surprising that he took a strong interest in the ship’s activities. Hewitt recalled one such instance as the ship set out from Charleston:

Commander Badger reported the ship ready for getting under way and the lines singled up. Just as we let go, and the ship began to move ahead, two bells were struck. Later, as we left the harbor and steadied on our southerly course, the president commented to me, "Skipper, I noted that you were right on the bell." He knew nautical terminology and liked to be treated as a flag officer. Throughout the cruise, he had charts—with courses plotted—parallel rulers, and dividers in his admiral's cabin, and he was always furnished with the 8 a.m., noon, and 8 p.m. positions, which he plotted and checked.

LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin over Rio de Janeiro
Undated photograph

Indianapolis ran on a tight schedule and maintained an average speed of 25 knots in order to ensure that Roosevelt reached the conference on time. They had two notable encounters along the way – one with the German airship Graf Zeppelin on its way home from Brazil, and another with a German cruiser whose crew manned the rails and fired a twenty-one gun salute. Both events, though peaceful, underscored Germany’s growing interest in South America.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaking before King Neptune’s court
during the crossing the line ceremony on USS Indianapolis
Photograph courtesy of FDR Library

On 24 November, Indianapolis observed the traditional “crossing the line” ceremonies as the ship passed over the equator. King Neptune’s court arrived in full regalia and proceeded to put the ships’ pollywogs – those who were crossing the equator for the first time - through the usual initiation rituals. President Roosevelt, himself a pollywog, was spared from the harsh treatment that accompanied these ceremonies, but he insisted on appearing before King Neptune in keeping with the spirit of the day. His only punishment was to explain to the crew over the ship’s public address system why he had lost the states of Vermont and Maine in the recent presidential election.

Indianapolis reached the harbor of Rio de Janeiro the day after Thanksgiving. Somewhat to Hewitt’s embarrassment, rough seas had washed away patches of the ship’s paint causing Indianapolis to enter the harbor with bare spots on her hull. If Roosevelt was displeased, he did not mention it. They continued on to Buenos Aires and arrived two days early for the conference, a testament to the ship and its crew. Hewitt was promoted to rear admiral in 1939 and commanded naval forces that supported Allied landings in the Mediterranean Theater during World War II. He served as an advisor at the Naval War College during his tenure as Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, after the war. The College honored him in 1976 by naming Hewitt Hall in his honor.

Rob Doane,
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Crossing the Line

1825 engraving by the English artist George Cruikshank depicting a typical crossing the line ceremony in the Royal Navy

The museums’ latest exhibit is Crossing the Line: Unofficial Traditions of the U.S. Navy. Nobody knows exactly when the crossing the line ceremony started, but the first documented instances can be found in the accounts of French sailors from the early sixteenth century. As European powers became interested in overseas exploration, their ships crossed the equator with increasing regularity. A number of traditions sprang up to mark the first time a sailor crossed over 0° latitude. These early ceremonies were comprised chiefly of two parts: a religious ceremony of thanksgiving, and an initiation that marked the transformation of inexperienced sailors into trusted crew members. The participants were put on trial, both in the literal sense during the ceremony, and in the figurative sense because the ritual was partially a test of their strength and resolve. By the mid-sixteenth century, sailors had begun to regard it as an ancient right that they baptize those who had not been over the equator before, and they did so by blacking themselves and dressing up in costumes. Many at that time believed that anyone of another race who crossed the equator would become an African. The ceremony not only served as an initiation ritual, it also reflected Europeans’ curiosity about the rest of the world and the superstitions they held about it.

King Neptune and his court in a crossing the line ceremony from 1953

The elements of the ceremony have undergone some modification over time and vary a little between nations, but a few components tie them all together. The sailors to be initiated are referred to as Pollywogs while the experienced crew members who plan and conduct the ceremony are known as Shellbacks. A group of Shellbacks, usually the highest ranking enlisted sailors, dress up as King Neptune and his assistants. Once the ship has crossed the equator, the Pollywogs receive a summons to appear before King Neptune’s court. There they are accused of various farcical misdeeds and are given punishments that must be endured in order to attain the title of Shellback. These punishments were originally quite rough and included beatings, throwing the victims overboard, and dragging them through the water. As late as the mid-twentieth century, Pollywogs could still find themselves covered in garbage and rotten food or being poked with electrified pieces of metal. Over time, the hazing aspects of the ritual have been toned down with greater emphasis placed on building camaraderie among the crew and celebrating a rite of passage shared by sailors all over the world.

Shellback certificate earned by CAPT H. Kent Hewitt while in command of USS Indianapolis (CA 35). President Franklin Roosevelt was on board during this cruise to attend the Pan-American Conference in Buenos Aires.
Naval War College Museum Collection

Having passed the test, Pollywogs receive certificates that announce their initiation into the Ancient Order of Shellbacks or the Ancient Order of the Deep. The next time they cross the equator, they will be the ones putting their inexperienced shipmates to the test. Other landmarks now have similar rituals to accompany their passage including the Arctic Circle, Antarctic Circle, International Date Line, Panama Canal, and Cape Horn.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Who helped raise the flag on Mt. Suribachi?

Last week, a special committee convened by the Marine Corps reignited an ongoing debate about the identities of the men pictured in the iconic WWII photograph of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi. The committee met to consider evidence that suggested one of the men in the photo had been misidentified. After examining other film and photographs taken that day, the committee concluded that the second man from the left was Private First Class Harold Schultz, and not Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class John Bradley as previously believed. Schultz did take part in the first flag raising that day, but he died in 1995 having never spoken publicly about participating in the more famous second flag raising that was immortalized by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal.
Photograph by Joe Rosenthal with PFC Harold Schultz highlighted
Image courtesy of USA Today

These developments illustrate how difficult it can be for historians to reconstruct the past. Even with movie cameras and photographers present to document one of the most iconic moments of the twentieth century, we have not managed to establish with 100% certainty who was present at the top of Mt. Suribachi on 23 February 1945.
Plaster model of Iwo Jima memorial by Felix de Weldon

Sculptor Felix de Weldon used Rosenthal’s photograph as the basis for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA.  De Weldon produced 36 plaster studies of the six men raising the flag before finishing the full size monument. Fortunately for the Naval War College, he worked in Newport and donated three of the studies to the Museum in 1973. One is currently on display outside Spruance Auditorium. The nine and a half years he spent working on the monument left de Weldon feeling a profound connection with the men whose images he had worked so hard to capture in bronze. At the dedication for the memorial in 1954, he told the audience that

To put my true feelings into words would be beyond my own powers of expression. I am sure it is not necessary to “tell it to the Marines.” Work on this statue has been almost my entire life these past years and now that it is finished, I am afraid that I shall feel lonely and a little lost. A sculptor does not work with words. His medium is bronze or stone and through this medium I have expressed my true feelings for the Corps and for those who died fighting with the Marines since 1775.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sino-Japanese War prints

Today’s post highlights one of our recent acquisitions from a conflict that doesn’t get much attention in the United States. Recently, we were fortunate to receive a donation of eight Japanese woodblock prints showing scenes from the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). This event was an important conflict in Japanese history that marked Japan’s emergence as a modern military and industrial power in the late nineteenth century. China’s defeat and subsequent loss of influence over Korea signaled a shift in regional dominance and foreshadowed future conflict with the expanding Japanese empire.

click to enlarge

The Sea Battle Victory at Hioake Yama, c.1894
Ogata Gekko (1859-1920)
Woodblock print, ink and color on paper
The largest naval engagement of the war took place on 17 September 1894, one day after a Japanese victory on land at the Battle of Pyongyang. The Chinese faced a difficult problem in attempting to reinforce their army. Given the poor condition of the roads, the only practicable way to move a large body of troops and supplies was by sea. Doing so, however, would force the Chinese to risk their best ships in battle. The newest vessels were bigger and more heavily armed than their Japanese counterparts, but they suffered a significant disadvantage in speed. For this reason, they usually avoided open water where the quick Japanese ships would have the greatest advantage. Nevertheless, the Chinese ruler, the Guangxu Emperor, ordered his fleet to push back the Japanese and keep the coastal routes safe. After completing a convoy escort, the Chinese encountered an attacking Japanese force late on the morning of the 17th near the mouth of the Yalu River.

Deficiencies in ammunition and training also limited the effectiveness of the Chinese fleet. Signaling confusion and poor seamanship resulted in the Chinese starting the battle in a wedge formation rather than a line, their preferred tactic. Seeing this, Admiral Ito Sukeyuki ordered his fleet to split into two columns and circle around behind to engage the weakest Chinese ships. Using their speed to avoid incoming fire, the Japanese sank five ships and damaged three while suffering only four heavily damaged of their own. The remnants of the Chinese fleet retired to their base at Lüshunkou for repairs and were later destroyed in a combined land and naval attack.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

100th Anniversary of the Battle of Jutland

Painting of the Battle of Jutland showing the opening battle cruiser action
Oil on canvas by Claus Bergen

From 1919-1935, the Battle of Jutland received an abundance of scholarly attention at the Naval War College. Lieutenant Junior Grade Holloway H. Frost produced a report on Jutland in November 1916 that became the standard work on the subject for students at the College. He later expanded his study to a book that was published posthumously in 1936. Visiting lecturers from Great Britain and Germany, some of whom had served at Jutland, traveled to Newport to weigh in on the controversies surrounding the battle. Students also spent a significant amount of time playing war games during this period. Most classes in the interwar years participated in three major games as part of their studies: a hypothetical war with Japan (ORANGE), a hypothetical war with Great Britain (RED), and a historical battle. Jutland and Trafalgar were the two most gamed historical battles and, more often than not, faculty and staff chose to game Jutland as the historical battle, especially in the decade following World War I. After studying the battle in the classroom, students replayed the action using war gaming models and debated with one another about which side maneuvered more effectively. Each student then wrote a paper in which he presented his conclusions and identified lessons to be learned.

In general, the students covered the battle in comprehensive fashion for the first eight years after the battle, devoting most of their time to analyzing the tactics employed by both fleets. Beginning in 1925, the paper topics became narrower and more focused, presumably because the overall events of the battle were well known by that point. General discussions also suffered from the fact that student research was confined to the same set of sources found in the Naval War College library. The result was that from year to year, students reached similar conclusions and tended not to advance any truly new viewpoints for discussion.

U.S. Navy doctrine of that era emphasized offensive action as the preferred mode of warfare.  Naval War College students thus came down harshly on Jellicoe for acting too cautiously during the battle. Many blamed him for turning away from the High Seas Fleet at the critical point in the battle, allowing it to escape. They also faulted him for exercising rigid control over the Grand Fleet and failing to encourage his subordinates to act on their own initiative. Most students commended Beatty for his aggressive maneuvering while engaging the German battlecruisers, though they also recognized that he failed to report critical information to Jellicoe. Scheer received criticism for reversing course multiple times, a maneuver considered to be indecisive.

Chart from The Diagrammatic Study of the Battle of Jutland (1921) by LCDR Holloway H. Frost

The most common criticism offered by the students was that British Admiral Jellicoe acted too cautiously. Reflecting the idea of the decisive battle that featured prominently in the Naval War College curriculum, the consensus was that Jellicoe could have destroyed the High Seas Fleet if he had acted with an offensive rather than defensive mindset. Many students also questioned German Admiral Scheer’s decisions, especially his turn back towards the Grand Fleet after the first battle turn away, though in general they felt that the Germans exhibited more spirit in the attack than did the English.

In later years, focus shifted to the various components of the fleets and how they were used. Between 1925 and 1931, the actions of the destroyers on both sides received a good deal of scrutiny. Student opinion ran almost universally against the British on this subject, with most arguing that the Royal Navy wasted its destroyers in a defensive role and had no real doctrine governing their use. The Germans again received more favorable commentary for at least using their destroyers to attack, even more so because their attacks were coordinated to support Scheer’s battle turn away from the British line.

By the mid-1930s, naval technology had advanced to the point where the tactics employed at Jutland no longer held much relevance. Study at the tactical level began to drop, but interest in the strategic lessons to be learned remained high. Students writing during this period began to back away from the generally positive commentary that earlier classes offered on the German navy. Many argued that while individual German ships were technically superior to their British counterparts, the German high command never articulated a coherent strategy for the High Seas Fleet's use.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Telebus Comes to the Naval Training Station

Photos of Naval Training Station Newport during World War II are always fun for us to look at, as we never know what they will teach us about the past. Sometimes they reveal bits of Newport’s history that have been forgotten, like a building that no longer stands or a course that is no longer taught. One photo we recently received shows how the Navy came up with an innovative way to ensure that its sailors stayed in touch with their friends and families back home.
New England Telephone & Telegraph Company telebus
Official U.S. Navy photograph
NTS Newport underwent an enormous expansion starting even before the United States entered the war. Funding for new construction on the base came through in June 1941. After Pearl Harbor, the Secretary of the Navy approved an expenditure of $10,000 for new housing and mess facilities. The number of recruits on base rose from 2,800 to 8,600 in little more than a month. Many of these men lived in Quonset huts that were set up as temporary housing on Coddington Point. Though they met the basic needs, Quonset huts were never meant to provide the modern conveniences of life.

Though most sailors were limited in their contact with the outside world during training, the officers in charge of NTS Newport did try to allow recruits to make occasional phone calls home. But how to do this in an age before cell phones and the internet? The answer was to bring the phones to the sailors. The New England Telephone Company had a fleet of buses with phone banks inside that could be connected to local phone lines. These “telebuses” drove to wherever they were needed, hooked up their phones, and welcomed callers to come onboard. Originally intended to support large public gatherings, events, and celebrations, the telebuses were the perfect solution to the Navy’s problem. As long as the men weren’t expecting to have a private conversation, of course!
Sailors waiting their turn to use the telebus
Official U.S. Navy photograph
Telebuses survived long after the war and were used at the Newport Jazz Festival as late as 1957. New England Telephone merged with other companies and changed names several times over the years, but its survives today as part of Verizon Communications.

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum Curator

Friday, May 6, 2016

HMS Endeavour in the news

HM Bark Endeavour Replica
Operated by the Australian National Maritime Museum

Newport made the news earlier this week with the announcement that researchers from the Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project are getting very close to discovering the wreck site of HMS Endeavour in Newport Harbor. Endeavour gained fame as the ship that Lieutenant James Cook commanded on a three year voyage of scientific discovery in the Pacific Ocean. Among other stops, Cook visited Hawaii, New Zealand, and the east coast of Australia from 1768 to 1771. Although he did not find the fabled continent of Terra Australis that was part of the reason for his voyage, he did record the locations of several Pacific islands on European maps for the first time.

The Royal Navy sold off Endeavour in 1775, but shortly after the outbreak of war in the American colonies, the Admiralty found itself in need of more ships to carry supplies across the Atlantic. Endeavour’s owner renamed her Lord Sandwich and sold her back to the navy, which promptly changed the name to Lord Sandwich 2 since another ship already carried the original designation. She set out in a fleet of 100 vessels from Portsmouth, England in May 1776 carrying two companies of Hessian soldiers bound for New York. Shortly after New York fell to the British, they occupied Newport which became the home of Lord Sandwich 2 for the next two years. Her end came in 1778 when she was scuttled along with twelve other ships in an attempt to stop the French navy from entering Newport Harbor.

Wood fragments from HMS Endeavour

The search for the wreck of Endeavour has produced a fair amount of confusion for historians over the years. We have in our collection a few small pieces of wood from La Liberté, a French whaling ship that ran aground in Newport Harbor in 1793. When these pieces came to the Museum in 1954, it was thought that La Liberté was the renamed ship that had originally been Endeavour. Parts of La Liberté found their way to museums all over the world and even flew on the Space Shuttle! Years later, new evidence suggested that La Liberté was actually another of Cook’s ships, HMS Resolution. Cook made his second and third voyages to the Pacific in Resolution and was so impressed with her performance that he declared her “the ship of my choice.” So, while we may not have any artifacts from Endeavour as we originally thought, these scraps of wood form an 18th century wreck in Newport represent another possible connection with Captain James Cook.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, March 4, 2016

Mystery Solved! A Lost Print Resurfaces

Miraculosa Victoria à Deo Christianis Contra Turcas Tributa
Engraving by Giacomo Franco, 1517-1610?

If you’ve ever watched the TV show Mysteries at the Museum, you know that museum collections occasionally contain puzzles for the staff who maintain them. Artifacts donated decades ago sometimes lack information about what they are or who owned them. They can be mislabeled, misplaced, or mistaken for another artifact. As time passes, the circumstances that led to the dilemma in the first place become more difficult to pinpoint. We at the Naval War College Museum are happy to report that we recently solved one of our own collection mysteries involving one of our oldest artifacts, a four hundred year-old Venetian print of the Battle of Lepanto.

Detail of Miraculosa Victoria à Deo Christianis Contra Turcas Tributa

The story begins in 1973 when the Naval War College Foundation purchased a copy of Giacomo Franco’s Miraculosa Victoria à Deo Christianis Contra Turcas Tributa for deposit at the Museum. The print, published sometime between 1571 and 1610, depicts the victory of the Holy League over the Ottoman Empire at Lepanto on 7 October 1571. This battle halted the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe and was the last major naval engagement in the Mediterranean fought entirely between galleys.

Museum records indicate that the print went on temporary exhibit shortly after its arrival. Once that exhibit ended, the print went back into storage where it seems to have disappeared with no detailed or accurate location ever recorded. No current staff member could recall seeing it in the last two decades. Recognizing the historic value of a print this old, we initiated a search of our collection storage area as well as the Naval War College campus. Until recently, those efforts yielded no results. That changed on Thursday, 18 February, when our Collections Manager, Walter Nicolds, found the print buried in a flat file drawer while conducting an inventory of our collection storage facility! Thanks to his sharp eye, this valuable piece of art is now being tracked and stored in accordance with museum standards.
Walter Nicolds, Naval War College Museum Collections Manager
holding Giacomo Franco's print of the Battle of Lepanto

In addition, further research revealed that the engraver was misidentified when the print first arrived. It was originally attributed to “Ferrando and Ferdinando Beretelli” of Venice. This seems to be a reference to the Venetian printmaker Ferrando Bertelli (also known as Ferdinando) who produced a well-known painting of the battle that hangs in the Vatican Museum. It may be that our print was mistakenly identified as a reproduction of that painting. When we matched our copy with others that reside at libraries in Italy and Portugal, we confirmed that Giacomo Franco was the engraver. Now that we have the correct artist and location in our computer system, we plan to be extra diligent to ensure that our records remain up to date!
Ferrando Bertelli painting of the Battle of Lepanto

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum Curator

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Artifact Spotlight: Operation DEEP FREEZE cruise book

Today's blog post was written by Jessica Analoro, our new intern from Salve Regina University. Jessica is a senior history major participating in the Pell Honors program and we are very excited to have her working at the Naval War College Museum this semester!

The Naval War College Museum’s new temporary exhibit, “Operation DEEP FREEZE,” features paintings, illustrations, and artifacts which span several decades of U.S. Navy missions to the Antarctic. In addition to this material, we recently added a cruise book from Task Force 43 (Deep Freeze I) which was generously loaned to us by Mrs. Daisy Potter of Middletown, RI. Her late husband served with Task Force 43 and kept the cruise book as a memento of his service in the Antarctic. Cruise books typically feature photographs of personnel and recount memorable or amusing events from the deployment.

The image below features the late William B. Potter practicing signaling to the other ships in the task force. The rest of the cruise book contains images and information about  the Seabee’s mission. The Seabees, or Naval Construction Battalions, date back to 1942 when they were formed in Davisville, Rhode Island. They came about at the request of the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, who believed that organized construction and engineering support was needed at  remote Navy bases in case of attack, and that using civilian contractors was no longer an option.


The famous Seabee logo was created by a North Providence native, Frank Iafrate, a civilian file clerk working for the Naval Air Station (NAS) Quonset Point in Quonset, Rhode Island. He chose the bee as the ideal symbol for men busily working at sea and on land. The Seabees first deployed to Antarctica in 1955.

Jessica Analoro
Naval War College Museum Intern

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson

Earlier this month, we observed the 210th anniversary of Admiral Lord Nelson’s funeral in 1806. Two of the prints in our new exhibit, The Face of Nelson, depict scenes from the funeral that illustrate the lavish decorations and attention to detail that were part of this event. HMS Victory returned to England carrying Nelson’s body on 4 December 1805. His body was placed in a wooden coffin made from the mast of L’Orient, the French flagship at the Battle of the Nile whose explosion placed an exclamation point on one of Nelson’s greatest victories. The Commissioner of the Sheerness dockyard transported his coffin to Greenwich Hospital where it remained in a private room before officially lying in state beginning on 5 January.
Funeral procession of the late Lord Viscount Nelson, from Greenwich to Whitehall. On the 8th of January, 1806
Engraving by John Hill, 1806
After a drawing by Charles A. Pugin
On loan from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University

On 8 January, the coffin was transported by the King’s Barge up the Thames River to Whitehall Steps. Spectators lined the shore to watch as a two-mile procession of boats followed the barge. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Peter Parker served as the Chief Mourner. The next day, the citizens of London turned out in the thousands to watch the funeral procession march from the Admiralty at Whitehall to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The procession included royalty, nobles, ministers, high-ranking military officers and at least 10,000 soldiers. Nelson’s body rode in an ornate funeral car that invoked the likeness of HMS Victory and carried trophies from some of the ships he defeated in battle.

An exact representation of the grand funeral car which carried the remains of Lord Nelson to St. Paul’s on Thursday, January 9th 1806Aquatint, c.1806
Artist unknown
On loan from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University

The funeral service itself was attended by 7,000 people including 7 royal dukes, 16 earls, 32 admirals and over 100 captains together with 48 seamen and 12 marines from HMS Victory. The five-hour service concluded with Nelson’s coffin being lowered into a marble sarcophagus that was originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York and one-time Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII.

The Face of Nelson is on display now at the Naval War College Museum and runs through 30 September 2016.

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum Curator

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Rhode Island Story

     The odyssey that was to ultimately become Relentless Pursuit: The Untold Story of the U.S. 5th Air Force’s 39th Fighter Squadron began with the 1948 article in The Providence Journal that told of the war crimes trials in Japan of the people responsible for the torture and murder of 2nd Lt. Robert E. Thorpe on the island of New Guinea.  Of the seven determined to be involved, two committed suicide, one was hanged in 1949, with the remaining receiving life sentences.  Those life sentences would be commuted after only three years, however under General MacArthur’s general amnesty and the pre-mature termination of Class A, B, and C war crime prosecutions by the government of the United States.  
     The family of Robert Thorpe received no closure with these trials and sought detailed information surrounding the death in the hope of having his body returned to his hometown of Cranston, Rhode Island.  They ran into a brick wall as all of the court records had been classified by the government and were unavailable to the family.  According to the government, Robert Thorpe’s remains were unrecoverable.
     Enter author Ken Dooley who grew up in the same neighborhood as Bob and was a friend of his younger brother, Gill.  In 2007, after speaking with Gill and hearing the difficulties they had had gaining information, Ken said he would help and, through the Freedom of Information Act, he was able to get released over 1300 pages of courtroom testimony.  After reading the transcripts, he knew the story needed to be told but it would not be a pretty one.  The original title of the book was to be Broken Trust.
     With his research, however, Dooley was able to meet members of the 39th fighter Squadron and conduct interviews about their time in the South Pacific Theater during World War II.  Providing an intimate look into the war, family letters between 1st. Lieutenant George Morgan to his family and his wife, 2nd Lt. Mary Scott, an Army nurse, were provided by their daughter, Mary Morgan Martin.  George Morgan would be killed prior to the birth of his daughter.  Another story began to emerge and that became Relentless Pursuit.
     The book evokes a variety of emotions as you read of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, governmental expediency, denial, loss, and triumph.  The book is a must read and highly recommended.  Information about the book can be found on the website and it will inform you on where you can purchase the book.

John Kennedy
Director of Education and Community Outreach

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Naval War College Museum Reopens

            With the completion of the overhaul to the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system, the museum staff has been busy with the re-installation and update of the various exhibits around the museum.  A visit to the Naval War College Museum is one of the best offerings in Newport and, with no admission fee, it is definitely the best value.
            When the Naval War College Museum on January 4, the public will be able to view the two new exhibits that have been installed.  The DEEP FREEZE:The Seabees in Antarctica, 1955-1956 with its art and artifacts.  Rhode Island had a strong connection with Operation DEEP FREEZE.  For over twenty years the mission was supported by the Seabees from MCB (Special) Detachment One based at Davisville, Rhode Island.  Their specialty was the use of materials and equipment designed for extreme cold weather.  Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6) provided air logistical support to the units on the ice.  Their homeport was NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island, until the base was closed.

            The second exhibit being shown, The Face of Nelson, will have the life mask of Admiral Lord Nelson along with period art.  The life mask is dated 1798 and this was a most eventful year is Nelson’s life as he gained fame for his defeat of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile.  During the battle Nelson received a near-fatal head wound and was sent ashore to recover in Naples where he was entertained by Sir William and Lady Hamilton.  Nelson would die during the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.  His body was carried back to England and he was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

            Museum staff have installed a new conservation frame for a recently conserved c. 1890 instructional illustration of a spar torpedo boat. This "torpedo linen" is mounted to a specially designed panel using rare earth magnets. The non-invasive mounting system will allow the museum to rotate more of these drawings for future exhibition. Until now only one of the thirty-three drawings in the museum's collection has ever been exhibited.
            As you can see, we have a lot going on with the Naval War College Museum.  So, whether you want to visit a favorite exhibit or see our new offerings, please stop in Mondays- Fridays from 10:00 to 4:30.  For more information, contact the museum at 841-4052/2101. 

John W. Kennedy
Director of Education and Community Outreach