Naval History News

According to Nicole del Harris, a research associate at the lab, scientists can determine a person’s age at death from the skeleton, especially the hips and ribs. “I can look at the hips, and I can see these changes that have taken place,” she said. The rate of bone growth is also a tip-off to the person’s age. Among the last bones to completely fuse in the human body is the clavicle. Based on this information, analysts at the FACES lab determined that the younger sailor had not yet reached age 25.

As for the sailors’ reconstructed faces, lab technicians used clay to re-create the features, based on average tissue-depth data. They placed markers on 20 locations of each skull to get the desired effect. “It’s a mixture of science and art,” del Harris noted. “You have to use some artistic license.” The hope is that someone will recognize the faces, and the remains will be buried with full military honors, perhaps at Arlington National Cemetery. “We want someone to see a face and say, ‘that kind of looks like my—’ fill in the blank.”

—Fred Schultz and Sam LaGrone

Navy Launches War of 1812 Bicentennial

The U.S. Navy staged the formal kickoff of its War of 1812 bicentennial commemoration with a March ceremony at the Library of Congress. The event was hosted by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. Representatives from the Naval Historical Foundation, the Navy League of the United States, Operation Sail (OpSail), and the National Maritime Historical Society were on hand.

After presentation of the colors by a color guard from War of 1812 veteran USS Constitution , and a rendition of the War of 1812–spawned “Star-Spangled Banner” by a U.S. Navy Band vocalist, the 600 guests heard from the hosts. Billington reminded guests of the impact of the War of 1812 on the Library of Congress, with the destruction of its entire collection when the Capitol was burned in 1814. The subsequent congressionally authorized purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s library became the foundation of the largest such collection in the Western Hemisphere at the time, and set the Library of Congress on the road to becoming the world-renowned repository it is today. Secretary Mabus described the legacy of valor, determination, and readiness to fight that the young U.S. Navy of that long-ago conflict bequeathed to the present-day Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

The Sea Services’ commemoration of the bicentennial will continue through 2015. The Navy has partnered with the International Council of Air Shows, the Navy League, the Naval Historical Foundation, and OpSail to create special activities around the country, with signature events in New York, Baltimore, Norfolk, New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, and Cleveland, and smaller events in other cities.

The festivities will include Blue Angels air shows, visits by ships of the U.S. Navy and international navies, parades of tall ships, and “Galley Wars” cook-off events.

To learn more, visit www.ourflagwasstillthere.org .

USS Slater Slated for National Historic Landmark Status

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced in March that the U.S. Department of the Interior is set to designate the USS Slater (DE-766) a National Historic Landmark. Berthed in the Hudson River at Albany, New York, the Slater is the only World War II–era destroyer escort afloat in the United States.

“This is an exciting milestone for all of us,” said Tim Rizzuto, executive director of the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum. “It represents the ultimate recognition for our volunteers who have put in 19 years and thousands of hours of working to preserve this historic ship.”

“The USS Slater played a prominent role in American naval strategy and operations during World War II and is the most well-preserved example of a destroyer escort in the world today,” Gillibrand wrote in her appeal to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “Restored officers’ quarters, artifacts, uniforms, and a complete set of signal flags help visitors to the ship gain a thorough and realistic understanding of what serving on this ship was like, as well as a better appreciation for the USS Slater ’s enormous contributions to the victory of the Allied forces.”

The ship was nominated by the National Park System Advisory Board Landmarks Committee, leaving Salazar’s approval the last step for the ship to be designated a National Historic Landmark.

Destroyer escorts were built to counter U-boat depradations of Allied shipping in the Atlantic at the outset of World War II. Combining heavy antisubmarine and antiaircraft weapons with the latest electronic equipment for detecting enemy vessels, destroyer escorts were designed to be maneuverable, high-speed, long-range vessels that could be built quickly because of their all-welded construction.

The destroyer escorts were a vital component of the Allied strategy for victory in the Atlantic. They escorted the convoys of supply ships that carried the matériel and forces needed to win the war in Europe. Destroyer escorts also served in some of the most dangerous areas of the Pacific theater. They escorted convoys, conducted shore bombardments, and served as radar picket ships toward the end of the war.

The Slater served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during and immediately after the war. Following her World War II service, the ship was deactivated until 1951, when she was transferred to the Hellenic Navy. Renamed the Aetos , she remained in Greek service until 1991, when she was transferred back to the United States under the care of the Destroyer Escort Historical Foundation, which began a painstaking restoration of the ship. Now, after years of effort, she has been restored to her 1945 configuration.

Titanic : A Century Later, a Much Clearer View

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic , researchers have unveiled what has been described as the first comprehensive map of the famous shipwreck’s 3-by-5-mile debris field. This best-ever look at the Titanic ’s resting place is the result of sonar imaging, underwater robots, and more than 100,000 photos. The researchers hope it will provide more clues about the fate of the ill-fated “unsinkable” ocean liner.

The exhaustive mapping project was conducted during a 2010 expedition spearheaded by RMS Titanic Inc., along with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of Falmouth, Massachusetts, and the Waitt Institute of La Jolla, California.

Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) combed the ocean floor day and night, slowly traversing the debris field in a back-and-forth grid pattern and surveying the wreckage with side-scan sonar. The AUVs also took 130,000 high-resolution photos, which were pieced together on a computer to provide the new detailed photographic overview.

Titanic historian Parks Stephenson told the Associated Press that studying the site with old maps was like working in the dark with only a barely adequate flashlight. But “with the sonar map, it’s like suddenly the entire room lit up and you can go from room to room with a magnifying glass and document it,” he said. “Nothing like this has ever been done for the Titanic site.”

World War II Shipwreck a Platinum Payload?

A treasure hunter claimed in February that he had located the wreck of the British freighter Port Nicholson , which was sunk by U-boat torpedoes in June 1942 and allegedly went to the bottom with a load of platinum worth nearly $3 billion in today’s dollars.

Greg Brooks of the Gorham, Maine–based Sub Sea Research said that he originally discovered the shipwreck in 700 feet of water about 50 miles off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 2008. But it was the use of a remotely operated submersible vessel last summer that positively identified the wreck as the Port Nicholson , said Brooks.

The freighter was en route from Nova Scotia to New York when she was torpedoed by the U-87 . Brooks said the vessel was hauling 1.7 million ounces of platinum—at today’s platinum-market price of $1,624 per ounce, such an amount would be valued at $2.77 billion. “If all the cargo is brought up,” Brooks announced to the press, “it will be the richest shipwreck in the world.”

Skeptics, however, have voiced doubts as to whether or not the ship actually was carrying platinum, and the legal status of any values recovered off the wreck is bound to be the subject of maritime-law debate. It may be a find of historically lucrative proportions, but the story of the Port Nicholson discovery is only beginning.

 

 
 

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