Thursday, May 18, 2017

USS Mississippi (BB-41)

In the summer of 1941, USS Mississippi (BB-41) departed from Newport, RI escorting a convoy to Hvalfjordur, Iceland. In Iceland, Mississippi was tasked with protecting shipping facilities. This mission expired after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Mississippi left Iceland for the Pacific on December 9, 1941. After arriving in San Francisco, she took part in exercises to prepare for initial operations against the Japanese Navy.

Ship's wheel, USS Mississippi
Throughout the Second World War, she engaged in numerous missions and earned eight battle stars. These missions include transporting troops to Fiji from 1942-1943, the restoration of the Aleutian Islands, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, the shelling of Kwajalein during the Marshall Island campaign in 1944, the liberation of the Philippines, and the battle of Surigao Strait. These are only a few of her notable contributions to U.S. forces in WWII. After Japan surrendered, Mississippi steamed to Sagami Wan, Honshu, and arrived on August 27 as part of the occupation force.

USS Mississippi passing under the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, circa late 1930s
Her fate came in 1956 when Mississippi was decommissioned and deconstructed. Today, few parts remain; those that do provide a glimpse into the past. A few of these artifacts reside at the Naval War College Museum in Newport, RI.

Andy Cirioli
Naval War College Museum intern

Andy is a student at Salve Regina University who recently completed a semester-long internship with us. He will be graduating this month, and the entire NWCM staff would like to offer their congratulations and best wishes for the future!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Patriotism or Opportunity? Naval Recruits in Newport During the First World War

Naval Training Station Newport was already a busy place when the United States entered the First World War on April 6, 1917. The base operated schools for yeomen, signalmen, hospital corpsmen, commissarymen, musicians, and firemen, as well as a preparatory school for the Naval Academy. On the eve of war, approximately 2,000 recruits lived and trained on Coasters Harbor Island at any given time. That number swelled to over 10,000 following the American declaration of war against Germany. This massive influx of men and women required new housing, training facilities, and infrastructure for the base. Almost overnight, two new training areas named Camp Palmer and Camp Sadler sprang up on Coasters Harbor Island. Tents, temporary barracks, mess halls, and auxiliary buildings filled almost every available piece of open ground. When no more room was left, the Navy bought 161 acres on Coddington Point and began expanding toward Middletown.

The Newport Recruit, vol. 1 no. 4
Box 2, News Collection 9
Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College

The base newspaper, The Newport Recruit, included an editorial in the April 1917 edition that reflected on the chain of events that had brought the country to the brink of war (it was published one day before the United States entered the conflict), beginning with President Wilson’s decision to maintain U.S. neutrality when fighting first broke out in Europe:

We saw treaties violated, international law defied, and neutral rights utterly disregarded; we saw truth, and justice, and fairplay outraged, we saw blockades instituted that were as illegal as they were indefensible, mines strewn upon the high seas in defiance of every rule of war, submarines let loose to do their will, and all the hideous nightmares of inhumanity which followed when belligerent outvied belligerent in the ghastly work of retaliation.

One month later, the editors commented on the influx of new trainees pouring into Newport. Though the Selective Service Act of 1917 required all men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service, the editors noted that the imposition of the draft did not seem to be lowering the quality of recruits who arrived at the Training Station:

We are getting the finest and the best of our young manhood, but we are delighted to find that the people’s representatives have seen fit to recognize the fact that citizenship has its responsibilities as well as its privileges and that the first and most vital of these is the duty of National Defense.

Physical training at Naval Station Newport, c. 1915
Naval War College Museum Collection
It is interesting to contrast their observations with those made just one year earlier. An editorial in the April 1916 edition of The Newport Recruit complained that in the articles submitted to the newspaper for publication, sailors usually mentioned the educational, physical, and financial benefits of joining the Navy as among their reasons for enlisting. Few, however, cited patriotism as a motive. The editors wondered aloud if the young men of that generation were too materialistic to make good sailors.

Now we don’t for one moment suppose that these young men are unpatriotic, but we do believe that material considerations have so weaned them from an unselfish point of view that patriotism instead of being the compelling impulse behind their interest in the Navy, is merely a secondary issue.

They are more concerned with pay, opportunities of advancement, opportunities of travel, opportunities of acquiring a trade, and opportunities of saving money, than they are in the honor of being enrolled as first line defenders of the Flag. All this is so close to the mercenary spirit, and so utterly divorced from the standard of value which was dear to our fathers, that it is time to make a mild protest against it.

They need not have worried. By the end of the First World War, 65,000 sailors had graduated from the training schools in Newport. Many of them went on to serve in the Atlantic Fleet where their duties included convoy protection, anti-submarine patrols, and laying the North Sea mine barrage, a defensive barrier intended to keep German U-boats out of the Atlantic. Their success in carrying out these operations ensured that American troops reached the front in Europe and contributed to the Allied victory in 1918.

Rob Doane

Curator, Naval War College Museum

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Naval Command College and the Value of International Alliances

Richard Gary Colbert.PNG
Vice Admiral Richard G. Colbert, c. 1968
In 1956, Captain Richard G. Colbert received an assignment from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, to design a new course for the Naval War College. Drawing on his experience operating in a coalition during World War II and the Korean War, Burke believed that officers from allied navies worked together more effectively when they understood something of each other’s cultures. His instructions to Colbert were to establish a course for senior naval officers from friendly and allied nations who were likely to rise to the top levels of command. This course was named the Naval Command College (NCC). Students attended NCC for eleven months, sitting in on lectures and participating in discussions with their U.S. counterparts whenever possible. The foreign officers benefited from being exposed to the latest ideas in operational theory and naval strategy. They and their American counterparts made personal contacts with officers from all over the world, and the hope was that those contacts would pay off in the future if a crisis arose that could be averted through direct communication between NCC graduates. Colbert shared Burke’s vision for the NCC and served as its director for the first two classes. He arranged for the students to travel outside Newport as well, visiting military, naval, and industrial sites around the country. He and his wife also organized social events in Newport to help foster bonds between the students that, it was hoped, would last well beyond graduation. Since its founding, NCC has graduated 2,148 officers from ninety-one nations. Along with the Naval Staff College, it represents the Naval War College’s commitment to engaging with the international community and promoting understanding and respect between naval professionals from diverse backgrounds.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower meeting NCC students, c. 1960

Colbert maintained this interest in international cooperation throughout his career. From June 1966 to August 1968, he served as deputy chief of staff and assistant chief of staff for policy, plans, and operations to Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT). SACLANT was a NATO command tasked with ensuring the security of the sea lanes to Europe. At that time, NATO conducted an annual exercise named Operation Matchmaker that gave ships from allied navies the opportunity to practice joint operations. Colbert liked the concept and proposed expanding it from an exercise to a permanent contingency force that would be available to respond to a crisis anywhere in NATO’s area of responsibility. His proposal was accepted, and the Standing Naval Force Atlantic was activated in January 1968. Renamed Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) in 2005, the force today consists of four to six destroyers and frigates, with Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, and the United States contributing one ship each on a permanent basis. In 2007, SNMG1 assisted Yemen’s Coast Guard with the evacuation of their personnel from Jabal al-Tair following the volcanic eruption on that island. It has also carried out anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden to ensure the safe transit of merchant ships from around the world. Today, SNMG1 represents each member nation’s commitment to the NATO alliance. By working together, the United States and its European allies help to keep the world’s sea lanes open for everyone to use.

SNMG1 photographed in 2007. From left to right:
USS Normandy (CG-60) - United States
Spessart (A1442) - Germany
HNLMS Evertsen (F805) - Netherlands
Colbert went on to serve as the thirty-fifth President of the Naval War College. Dubbed “Mr. International Navy” by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., Colbert continued pushing for greater ties between the United States and its allies during his three-year term. In addition to the Naval Staff College, he also founded the International Seapower Symposium, a biennial conference for admirals from around the globe. He remained a staunch advocate of NATO and never ceased working to convince others of the value of multinational forces.
Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum