Naval History News

The Connecticut River Museum was set to christen the submarine in November and inaugurate a research project, with the participation of local high school students, to determine what became of Bushnell's original creation. Local lore has it that Bushnell hid the Turtle in his brother's barn in Old Saybrook, but the fate of the submarine after that is a mystery, Jerry Roberts, executive director of the Connecticut River Museum said. Trying to find out should prove instructive. "It's a good history lesson for everyone that the first submarine ever built was built about 20 miles away from where they are still being built today," he said.

Not a Shot Fired

The USS Texas (BB-35) won a significant battle on 7 November when Texas voters approved State Proposition 4 that includes $25 million in funding for the restoration and permanent dry-berthing of the battleship. Barry Ward, executive director of the Battleship Texas Foundation said: "This gives us a sense of validation after spending the last decade trying to preserve the ship. It is worthwhile to the people of Texas."

The Texas , on display at LaPorte, is the last dreadnought and a veteran of Veracruz in 1914 and both World Wars.

Heroic Tales Afloat

San Antonio, home of the Alamo, is a place where people know the valor of underdog heroes. Remembering the 63rd anniversary of the Battle off Samar, U.S. naval history's greatest upset victory, the city hosted veterans of the escort carriers USS St. Lo (CVE-63) and USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73) in late October 2007.

The banquet keynote speaker, Captain Robert C. Hagen, USNR (Ret.), is the senior surviving officer of one of the three ships that were sunk trying to save the carriers, the destroyer Johnston (DD-557). Hagen, then a lieutenant and gunnery officer, drew a standing ovation for recounting the details of the 25 October 1944 action against Rear Admiral Takeo Kurita's Center Force, which included four battleships, the superbattleship Yamato among them.

"Admiral Kurita had to guess whom he was fighting. Were we a fast carrier task force, or a half-fast one?" Hagen said, his wordplay drawing laughter. "He guessed wrong." Kurita's tactical errors, according to Hagen, included mistaking Taffy 3 for Admiral William F. Halsey Jr.'s Third Fleet, ordering a pell-mell general attack, and failing to turn loose his two destroyer squadrons in offensive action.

Hagen described how the destroyer's captain, Commander Ernest E. Evans, turned out of the screen to make a solo torpedo attack against the Japanese force, a feat that Hagen observed from his aerie in the destroyer's Mark 37 gun director. The Johnston opened fire shortly before launching her ten torpedoes at around 0725. When she was sunk nearly two hours later, her magazines were down to proximity-fused rounds. Hagen recalled the peppering his battery gave the Japanese with radar-detonated shells that burst in the air short of their targets.

The Johnston was the last of the Task Unit 77.4.3. screen to be sunk while fighting in defense of Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's carriers. The Gambier Bay preceded her, succumbing to gunfire from Japanese cruisers and battleships, the only U.S. carrier in history lost in that way. The St. Lo survived the surface action unscratched—then became the first U.S. warship lost to a kamikaze. More than 400 St. Lo survivors were rescued by the USS Dennis (DE-405). Hundreds more took their chances with the tides and the sharks in a two-day-long ordeal at sea. The rest of the story of the Battle off Samar can be found in history books. What won't be found there is the sense of pride that filled the room as Captain Hagen spoke—and the poignant testimony given afterward by carrier survivors to the men of the Johnston and the Dennis for putting themselves in harm's way one October morning 63 years ago.

—James D. Hornfischer
 

Home from the Seas

A likeness of famed Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (1820-1887) off the bow of the Nightingale —one of only two known figureheads saved from extreme clipper ships—is being offered at auction by Sotheby's in January. Research by its owner, Swedish antique shop operator Karl-Eric Svardskog, points to the liklihood that it is the sole extant carving done by John W. Mason of Boston, Massachusetts, in the mid-1800s. Mason is cited by many experts as the United States' foremost wood carver of the period. The figurehead was estimated to bring more than $100,000 in the auction.

Svardskog obtained the figure in 1994 when a supplier offered him a "scarecrow" that he had bought from a farmer near Gothenburg. Thus began a 13-year investigation into the origins of the depiction of a saint-like woman with beautifully sculpted hair, masterfully carved blue eyes, red mouth, and pronounced eyebrows.

The figurehead matched in considerable detail an engraving of Jenny Lind in a dramatic scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert Le Diable . With further research, Svardskog discovered that Samuel Hanscom Jr., an Eliot, Maine, shipbuilder, had named a clipper ship he launched in June 1851 the Nightingale after the "Swedish Nightingale"—Jenny Lind. After tracking the clipper's history from the Chinese "tea races" though the slave trade, Civil War service, and later freighter use, he reached a dead end with her 1893 abandonment in the North Atlantic. How did her figurehead get to Sweden—if it was her figurehead?

After reading that her last homeport had been Kragero, in southern Norway, a day's sail from Gothenburg, Svardskog contacted area residents. One, of Kirkeholmen Island off Kragero, confirmed that the Nightingale had been at the shipyard there for repairs in 1885 during which the figurehead was removed. To help close the circle, the eldest man on a farm where it was found remembered that as a child he had heard that a relative bought the beautiful scarecrow after it was taken off a large ship in Norway.

Despite the promising circumstantial evidence, Svardskog still needed to make the physical link between the figurehead in his possession and the Nightingale .

An article in the March 1932 issue of American Yachting Journal , with drawings of the ship with the figurehead clearly visible, proved devastating at first, but eventually was proof for Svardskog. The artwork showed the figure with both arms outstretched, but his Jenny's were not. Closer examination of the sculpture revealed that the left arm was not original. It was of a different type wood from the figure and anatomically incorrect for its placement. Analysis of the figure's gown showed that the original arm would be outstretched as depicted. A computer-generated recreation of the original arm, based on the existing figure's details, produced an outstretched replacement. Further, a contemporary 1854 painting of the Nightingale by James Edward Buttersworth shows the clipper under way with Jenny at the bow. The likely pose of the figurehead's original arms corresponds to how the arms are positioned in the painting.

Scottish Author Honored

Brian Lavery has been awarded the prestigious Desmond Wettern Maritime Award 2007. This honor is given to the writer, broadcaster, media person, academic or similar figure who is considered to have made a major constructive contribution to publicizing the importance of the United Kingdom's maritime interests.

Lavery, born and educated in Scotland, is curator emeritus of ship technology at the National Maritime Museum and a renowned expert on the sailing navy. He is a broadcaster and advisor to major feature films and has written a number of books that have achieved classic status. Among them are Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation 1793-1815 (Conway Maritime Press, 1990); Churchill's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation 1939-45 (Conway, 2006); Jack Aubrey Commands: An Historical Companion to the Naval World of Patrick O'Brian (Conway, 2003); and The Island Nation: A History of Britain and the Sea (Conway, 2005).

Fort Monroe and the National Park Service

It was a surprise to most observers when the historic Fort Monroe, Virginia, Army post was put on the chopping block as a result of the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission's decisions. The old fort had been a military fixture, indeed a waypoint, in the careers of some of the service's most stellar officers. Its closure has prompted discussion that is rapidly reaching the front burner. At issue is not the historic, moated area of the fort, which will be preserved when Fort Monroe closes in 2011. The questions for the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority—the planning agency for future use—hinge on the post's remaining 570 acres of land, bounded by Mill Creek to the west and the Chesapeake Bay to the east.

The National Park Service (NPS) is conducting a "reconnaissance survey" of its historic resources to determine whether Congress should authorize a more detailed study that would "determine if Fort Monroe, or portions of its historic resources, can meet the stringent criteria for congressional designation as a unit of the National Park Service." The survey is expected to take up to nine months and will involve site visits and research by a NPS team of planners, historians, architectural historians, collections and archives specialists, and those with expertise in park operations.

In a press release, NPS Northeast Regional Director Dennis R. Reidenbach noted, "Regardless of any potential future NPS involvement, the extensive resources and important American stories associated with Fort Monroe deserve to be protected and interpreted for public understanding and appreciation of current and future generations."

 

Americans at War

The U.S. Naval Institute christened the brand-new Westin Annapolis Hotel in high style, holding its annual Honors Night there in October to bestow awards on its book and magazine Authors of the Year. Earlier in 2007, the organization's leaders were trying to arrive at a dazzling central theme for the event. After weeks of deliberation and formulation of alternative plans, it actually turned out to be a no-brainer.

What had the Naval Institute accomplished over the past year that it had never done before? Simple. Its television series, Americans at War, went on the PBS airwaves for the first time. This called for a celebration, so we invited several subjects of our little 90-second vignettes to join us so we could honor them, too. With us that night were nine veterans who had shared their stories.

Only a few people knew exactly what was up our sleeve. After the powerful videos played on a wall-size screen, there weren't many dry eyes in the house. When the last of the nine had played, we asked our guests to stand and be recognized. They, in turn, received a standing ovation from the audience, most of whom had no idea until then that these heroes were actually in their midst. It was a truly magical moment.

But the magic did not end there. Each of the Naval Institute Press and Proceedings Authors of the Year subsequently delivered poignant, heartfelt, and even moving acceptance remarks. But well-known historian Richard Frank—the Naval History Author of the Year for his matchless series of articles on the World War II Guadalcanal campaign in the August 2007 issue—stunned the crowd.

One of our Americans at War honorees that night was retired Marine Corps Colonel John Ripley, who earned the Navy Cross for single-handedly blowing up the bridge at Dong Ha and thus stemming the southern movement of North Vietnamese Army troops on Easter Sunday 1972. What none of us knew was that Mr. Frank had been stationed with the U.S. Army in Da Nang at precisely that time. To the astonishment of those gathered, he proceeded to thank Colonel Ripley from the podium because the Marine's heroic act "saved my life."

Colonel Ripley's retelling of events in

the Naval Institute's Americans at War Series

The 90-second Americans at War interstitials will continue to air on PBS in 2008, and plans are in the works to produce 40 more. Already "in the can" is a half-hour special featuring the best of the first 40, and we plan to produce three one-hour documentaries, under the Americans at War umbrella, over the next year, an exciting time at the Naval Institute.

—Fred Schultz, Associate Producer

 

 

 

 
 

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