“How Did the Titanic Really Sink?”
(See W. Garzlce and D. Brown, pp. 15-19, September-October 1996 Naval History)
The article states, in error, that at 1030 on the night of 14 April 1912, the cargo ship Rappahannock sent a message to the Titanic, warning her of icebergs. The basis of this story comes from Geoffrey Marcus’s The Maiden Voyage, in which Marcus interviewed the master of the Rappahannock, Albert Smith, some 50 years after the event. None of the Titanic’s surviving officers ever mentioned this incident when they testified at both the U.S. Senate subcommittee or the formal British wreck court. Furthermore, the owners of the Rappahannock, Messrs. Furness, Withy, and Company, informed the British Board of Trade, “We beg to advise you that we had no vessels in the vicinity when the disaster occurred to the Titanic.”
The matter is cleared up in an article that appeared in The New York Times on 27 April 1912, just 12 days after the disaster. The cargo ship had given the warning to the Titanic on the night of 13 April and not 14 April.
“Operating Under Pressure”
(See R. Bommann and J. Herman, pp. 27-30, July-August 1996 Naval History)
Charles Thorton Sweeny
Your story of the World War II subsurface appendectomies immediately brought to mind a subsequent event that occurred in late spring 1948 at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I was a hospital corpsman working in the hospital clinical laboratory as a technician. At around 2200, I was called out by the Officer of the Day, Lieutenant (junior grade) Vincent O. Eareckson, to perform some blood tests on a young girl. The patient was suspected of having acute appendicitis, so Dr. Eareckson had ordered a STAT (immediate!) white blood count and differential white cell count.
Since Dr. Eareckson and I had worked together many times, we often would chat a bit. He said that the little girl was the daughter of a Navy warrant officer—a warrant pharmacist stationed elsewhere at Camp Lejeune—who a couple of years earlier had been an independent duty pharmacist’s mate first class on a submarine and had saved a shipmate’s life by taking out his badly inflamed appendix.
Independent duty corpsmen were legendary to us short timers. They had not only special training and lots of experience but also tremendous responsibilities in their small commands. We all knew a couple of those courageous Pacific veterans who wore three-plus rows of ribbons, but we especially were in awe of those such as Wheeler B. Lipes, who actually had used ladles and serving spoons to perform major surgery. And the patients went back to duty!
The white blood cell count was in the range that one would expect to find in a case of acute appendicitis. I telephoned the reports to Dr. Eareckson, who commented that it looked as if they would operate right away. By way of being helpful, I offered to go back to the hospital galley and collect a supply of serving spoons and ladles and take them to the surgical suite. But Dr. Eareckson assured me that my services would not be needed—and that I could go off duty. Even though the doctors did not use kitchen utensils, the little girl did very well and went home a week later.
Captain Robert C. Bommann, MC, U.S. Navy (Retired) and Jan K. Herman, Editor, Navy Medicine
In rewriting our original title and introductory paragraph, you used the inaccurate phrase “ignore medical legalities of the time.” All three of the appendectomies we describe were carried out by Medical Department Representatives following the orders of, and under the authority of commanding officers of Navy warships in a combat situation. Such appendectomies were not forbidden to submarine skippers until publication of the ComSubPac directive in 1943. The important element in this story is the description of independent duty Navy corpsmen performing their jobs under difficult circumstances. The vital barely made it with their lives across the Finnish border. But as of June 1941, Soviet troops staggering backward, the Kremlin had second thoughts; a U.S. naval attache was very welcome in Moscow, plus assistants in Archangel, Murmansk, and Vladivostok, heretofore a closed city. Those in ports would be liaison for the expected U.S. ships carrying war material.
There was only one small catch: At “Vladi,” the assistant naval attache and his enlisted assistant would become clerks in civilian clothes in the U.S. consulate general. Henceforth, until the USSR’s last- minute entry into the war against Japan, Commander C. H. Taecker, and later Lieutenant Commander George D. Roullard, would rusticate in a consulate general surrounded by NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) guards 24 hours a day, brightly floodlighted at night and closely followed by a “tail” in civilian clothes whenever our men took a stroll in town. In picnic trips to the country, limited to a perimeter of 19 kilometers, the Navy station wagon was followed in its dusty wake by an NKVD sedan. Friendly, ingenuous young ladies who met in the movies or for a chat and an American cigarette on a park bench were never seen again. Roullard’s translator, a young woman of about 25, of Greek descent, born in the United States but having lived for several years in the USSR, mysteriously permanently disappeared.
In September 1943, naval attaché Rear Admiral Jack H. Duncan asked for permission to visit a navy yard. “We have no navy yards in operation now,” said the liaison officer. “They all either have been occupied or cut off by those damned Nazis.”
“Then you won’t need those cast steel stern posts.” said Duncan, with an impish Irish grin. Liaison officer Zaitsev paled. “Come back tomorrow,” he said. The following day, Zaitsev was all smiles. “Which navy yard would you like to see?” he beamed, without even awaiting his secretary and bottle of vodka. “Molotovsk or Komsomolsk?” Molotovsk was a mere 500 miles; Komsomolsk was a month’s round trip via rail through the heart of the USSR, 500 miles north of Vladivostok on the Amur River. “But you may not go to Vladivostok!”
So what were Admiral Yarnell’s impressions? Here follow a few of his thoughts in a 1 August letter to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William D. Leahy:
The officials are a rather mediocre looking lot and if they have much ability it was not apparent. . . . On the whole, they are a drab, untidy looking lot of people. . . . The buildings are unkempt with evidently no attempt at upkeep. . . . Sanitation in the city is at a low ebb. . . . The shops in the city are rather pathetic . . . . The officials are very secretive about any details of their defense or armed forces. . . . They refused to let us visit the navy yard.
It is, of course, not possible to generalize about Russia from what is seen of this one city. However, I cannot but believe that while general conditions here are worse than they are in other sections of Russia, the general appearance of the people and the attitude of the officials is perhaps typical, and if it is, God save us from communism. In order to make a success of this form of government, the following requisites seem to be necessary: first, kill off all the intelligentsia of the country; second, destroy all churches and deny all religion; third, discourage family life; fourth, have one-half of the people watch the other half.
While this visit has been interesting and instructive, I do not care to repeat it and would not advise its being made at other than infrequent intervals.
Colonel Hugh M. Thomason, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)
My brother Clyde was a private first class in the USS Augusta’s Marine detachment at the time of that ship’s visit to Vladivostok. I have letters and snapshots he sent to us during and following this visit, which he found most interesting. Quoting from one of his letters, he wrote
. . . that was some place. I really don’t know what to think of it. The people up there treated us swell. Everything was free. The uniform was the ticket. If you got hungry, go in any restaurant and eat all you wanted. Theaters, a circus, bathing beach, dances and banquets, everything we could want—we got. Everything is government-owned and they had orders to do that. Hot and thirsty? Help yourself to a cold drink, some ice cream, and pack of cigarettes. Anytime.
But as his letter continues, he described what he perceived of the restrictions, the Russian work week, and other conditions associated with life under communism that stultified the individual and were so at odds with the freedoms we enjoy. He concluded his description of the visit with these words: “Some day enough of them will get ambitious and want to get rich. And then will come another revolution.”
Not only was there a softball game, as noted in your article, but also a volleyball match between a Russian team and a team from the Augusta, which included my brother (6’ 2” in height)—alas, the Augusta team lost.
“Espionage or Negligence? A Sinking Mystery”
(See P. Huchthausen, pp. 19-24. January-February 1996; R. Freedman, p. 7, March-April 1996; P. Huchthausen, p. 6, May-June Naval History)
Commander Robert C. Whitten, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)
The career of the late Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergei G. Gorshkov caused considerable consternation among U.S. and other NATO flag officers over a period of at least 15 years. During his service as Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, he converted a coast defense force to a sea-going blue-water fleet. Then, he was more or less summarily fired by Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1985. The specific reasons are not known in the West, but it is fair to assume that his beloved Navy was consuming more than Gorbachev’s proposed perestroika could afford. The only practical solution available to the Gorbachev regime was to retire him, which the Party did in the most unobtrusive method imaginable—an obscure notice in Pravda. The admiral’s reputation also was a casualty of the Gorbachev program, with the large-deck carrier originally named the Leonid Brezhnev, then the Tblisi, and then renamed the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This downgrading of Gorshkov seems to have continued at least into 1991 (Admiral N. N. Amel’ko cited in Warship International 29 (1), pp. 66-69, 1992) and probably longer. In the February 1996 issue of Naval History, Captain Peter Huchthausen recounts the controversy surrounding the sinking of the battleship Novorosisk in 1955 and the recent attempt to place the blame on Gorshkov.
I presented a paper entitled “American Perceptions of Soviet Sea Power During the Gorshkov Years” at the Third International Conference on the Creation of the Russian Fleet by Peter the Great, held in St. Petersburg, 3-8 June 1996. I first concentrated on Gorshkov’s 11 articles, with the adjoining commentaries by retired U.S. flag officers published (in translation) in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings in 1974. I then drew a parallel between Gorshkov’s naval program and that of German Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz more than a half-century earlier, showing how geography, army opposition, and the building capacity of the adversary (the British Royal Navy in the case of Tirpitz) put the two naval leaders at a severe disadvantage. Neither Gennany in an earlier day nor the Soviet Union more recently was able to sustain its program of naval expansion, with most of the German High Seas Fleet ending on the bottom of Scapa Flow and the Soviet fleet rusting at pierside. I concluded by discussing Gorshkov’s fall from favor and apparent disgrace, citing Captain Huchthausen’s Naval History article.
The Russians in attendance, including a retired admiral; an active-duty rear admiral; and Gorshkov’s nephew, a retired captain 1st rank, assured me that Gorshkov’s reputation within the Navy is on the rise. In fact, most of the 30 minutes following my presentation were spent discussing the rehabilitation of Admiral Gorshkov. This revival is, of course, closely coupled to a strong desire of Russian naval officers to reconstitute the fleet. It was impossible to tell the degree of support for the resurgent Communist Party under Zyuganov, but one captain 2nd rank informed me that they looked back to the Brezhnev era as the “good old days.”
This ongoing rehabilitation of Gorshkov among a large circle (probably a large majority) of Russian naval officers may account for the resistance encountered by Captain 1st Rank Nikolai P. Muru (cited in Captain Huchthausen’s article) in publishing his assessment of the Novorossiysk disaster. Although Muru was never mentioned in the discussion following my presentation, my mention of Admiral Amel’ko brought forth groans of utter contempt.
“Legacy of a Fourth-Rate Steam Screw”
(See B. Thompson, p. 36-39, May-June 1996 Naval History)
“Been Blown to Atoms”
(See T. Morr, pp. 34-39, May-June 1996; P. Silverstone, p. 6, September-October 1996 Naval History)
Captain Cary Hall, U.S. Navy (Retired)
The two articles on the last days of the USS Tulip were evidently the result of considerable research but needed more editorial support. We find that the Tulip weighed a mere 183 tons. As a midshipman, I was once told by a screaming upper classman that ships only weighed anchor, and don’t you forget it! The displacement of ships is calculated, and their actual weight may not be directly related to their calculated displacement. Then, the engines showed signs of stress (how do ships show signs of stress?), and the boilers were declared unseaworthy by “the.” Who was “the”? Later, the aforementioned unseaworthy boilers were condemned. The difference is elusive. The engineers were suspended and demoted for refusing duty, but how does one “suspend” and “demote" a member of the crew? Then who operated the engines? Then we find that “out of signal distance” Captain William H. Smith, the Tulip's commander , fired up the defective boiler. Perhaps this sentence should have read, “Once underway, Smith ignored orders and fired up the boiler.”
In the second article, it would be interesting to find why scale in the Scotch (presumably) boiler threatened “imminent peril.” Inefficiency certainly, but peril? It seems that the boiler exploded either because the safety valve was not properly operative (this happened occasionally on river boats, I believe) or the boiler had been so corroded or otherwise so weakened that it would give way—explode—below the nominal 100-pound pressure limit at which the safety valve would open (always supposing that the Tulip had an operative safety valve). It would help considerably in examining this event to gain some clue as to just why the starboard boiler was “condemned.”
The crowning item of interest in “The Legacy of a Fourth-Rate Steam Screw” is the “mechanical sounding log.” The term “log” ordinarily is applied to a device for measuring speed through the water, while depth measuring devices are called fathometers or some similar term. Just how did this mechanical sounding log work, and how was the depth measured? Evidently, it provided a continual measurement of the depth of water beneath the keel, since the article says “we discovered that the gears record the Tulip’s having last traveled over 6.9 fathoms of water at 7 7/8 knots per hour.” This device presumably did not work in this era by reflected sound waves, which later replaced the time-worn heaved lead. Did the Tulip have a device to replace the messy business of heaving the lead? If so, why was this clever device not widely used, perhaps installed on the Mississippi riverboats in the post-war years?
Also, why did the Tulip have a 14-second glass? Glasses were sometimes calibrated to match a reduced distance between knots on the log line (instead of using a standard “minute” glass) and thereby to provide speed in knots (not “knots per hour”). In addition, how was this decrepit ship able to make seven and seven-eighths knots—just under her design speed of eight knots—in spite of “mechanical disrepair" and “inadequate repairs” described by Mr. Steven Schmidt in a master’s thesis?
(See T. Martin, pp. 10-14, July-August 1996 Naval History)
Commander Jack A. Vaughan, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Commander Tyrone G. Martin’s letter on reducing the number of historic ships being preserved is totally on point. As he points out, much of the information coming out is on the need for money to maintain these historic ships. His idea of classifying the ships into three classes and basing the preservation on those classes is excellent, together with the suggestion that an organization such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation take the lead in developing criteria for placing the ships in each class.
I am sure that much argument will follow from organizations that have already expended much time, money, and effort in preserving ships that under this criteria may not be eligible. However, as much as all of those who served (myself included) on ships such as these would like to see a ship or class of ship preserved, I think that it is apparent that funds and effort will be a decreasing commodity. It is necessary to look to the future when these ships begin to deteriorate at such a rate that they become a liability and not an attraction.
Surely a phase-in period would have to be established to allow those ships that are presently being preserved to be removed as attractions. It seems that a ship that can not be maintained is worse than none at all. Thank you, Commander Martin, for putting the idea forth.
“Any Purpose Designated”
(See J. B. Dwyer, pp. 22-25, May-June 1996 Naval History)
Master Chief Thomas E. Perry, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Having spent four-and-a-half years of duty as a radioman on board the USS Carpellotti (APD-136), I was pleased to read John B. Dwyers’s “Any Purpose Designated.” His reference to the “high-speed destroyer transport,” however, is incorrect. Only the first 32 APDs were “destroyers,” having been converted from four-stack destroyers. These were replaced by escort vessels (DEs), which mostly were taken off convoy duties during World War II and converted or other DEs converted during construction. The Horace A. Bass (APD-124) was one of the “Lucky 13,” laid down, launched, and commissioned as an APD (high-speed transport).
The use of the term “Any Purpose Designated” was not fashioned by the crew of the Horace A. Bass. This was the first answer I ever received when asking what “APD” stood for shortly after I reported on board the Carpellotti in April 1949. This may have been a takeoff of the term “All Purpose Destroyer” as used by the commanding officer of the USS Tattnall (APD-19) (ex-DD-125).
The photograph captioned “Rubber- suited men from the underwater demolition team lower themselves from the Horace A. Bass before they begin one of their special missions” in fact shows these men debarking from either an LCPR or LCVP into one of the UDT’s rubber boats. One can see the wheel of the landing craft with the “steering knob,” which gave the boat coxswain better control in maneuvering the boat.
The APDs did duty in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. In January 1969, their APD designation was changed to LPR with all hull numbers retained. The last of these ships in the U.S. Navy were decommissioned in January 1970. Today, APDs are still active in the Republic of China Navy. A recent video obtained by former crew members of the USS Kleinsmith (APD-134) shows that ships operating with the USS Blessman (APD-48) as the RCS Tien Shan (LPR-815) and the Chung San (LPR-843), respectively. In the video, the commanding officer of the RCS Tien Shan (LPR-815) states the ship can still do 21 knots, even though she is more than 50 years old.
“A Blind Eye Toward the Slave Trade”
(See P. Harrison, pp. 43-46, September-October 1996 Naval History)
Lieutenant Commander John S. Stillman, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)
I congratulate Lieutenant Pegram Harrison on his excellent, interesting, and informative article on the slave trade— and the U.S. Navy’s desultory effort to suppress it.
I do not believe it is generally known how long slave holding was permitted in the North, despite the strong abolitionist sentiment there. As a matter of record, the other northern states referred to (p. 44) did not follow Rhode Island’s 1774 emancipation quickly. Even though New York, which had the highest percentage of Negroes of all the northern states, banned the importation of slaves for sale in 1785, it did not set its slaves free until 4 July 1827 (Act of 1817). According to the 1820 Census, there were then 10,089 slaves and 29,278 free Blacks in New York. These slaves, however, constituted only 0.73% of the state’s total 1,372,812 population.
It appears that most of them were field slaves and not house slaves. For example, the Hudson Valley farming counties averaged more than 1,000 slaves each, while more urbanized counties, such as those now making up New York City, averaged only 652. (Compare Ulster County’s 1,523 slaves—4.9%—to New York’s 513— 0.42%. However, New York had 10,368 free Blacks hut Ulster only 597.) Historians explain this by stating that the Dutch farmers in particular used their labor.
“U.S. Navy Completes Western Expansion”
(See F. W. Sloat, p. 58, September-October 1996 Naval History)
Frank W. Sloat
The high point of Commodore John Drake Sloat’s naval career was certainly the landing at Monterey and claiming the California Territory for the United States, hut two other articles in the September- October issue cover additional aspects of his career. “A Blind Eye Toward the Slave Trade” gives a picture of naval participation in suppressing trade in human lives. In 1823, Sloat was ordered from New York to Norfolk to command the schooner Grampus for interdiction of the African slave trade and pirates. His activities in this service earned commendation from the Colonization Society.
“Goodbye, Mare Island” relates to another of Commodore Sloat’s accomplishments. In 1852, he was President of the California Dock and Navy Yard Commission. He and others of this commission sailed to California, purchased the Mare Island site for $83,491.00, and laid out plans for the Navy Yard. The contents of these three articles cover differing aspects of Sloat’s 55-year career. How interesting that they should appear in one issue.
(See A. D. Baker, p. 62, January-February 1996 Naval History)
Edward R. Emanuel
As a World War II patrol craft (PC) sailor, I was pleased and delighted to see the column featuring these tough little unsung ships. While these ships originally were intended for escorting coastal convoys, they soon were pressed into service as escorts to both England and North Africa and participated in all of the Mediterranean operations. PC Squadrons I and II played an important role in the Normandy invasion. At 0534 on 6 June 1944, PC-1261 had the somewhat dubious distinction of being the first U.S. Navy ship sunk on D-Day with the loss of 14 crewmen. In the Pacific, PCs were active in all theaters of operations, from the sinking of Imperial Japanese Navy Submarine I-9 on 11 June 1943 off Attu in the Aleutians by PC-487 (which has been described by Japanese Navy Captain Zenji Orita as being brilliantly executed) to the major role played by PC-623 and PC-1119 in the rescuing of more than 1,100 survivors of Taffy 3 in the waters off Samar Island. Also too good to be forgotten were the PC’s little brothers, the 110-foot wood-hull SCs, which took part in every combat theater world-wide.
While the USS Mason (DE-529) receives all of the accolades of being the first U.S. Navy ship with a mostly black enlisted crew, PC-1264, commissioned just a month or so after the Mason also with a black enlisted crew, was much more successful. Reporting on board PC-1264 on 3 May 1945, Ensign Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., became the first black man to integrate the wardroom of a U.S. Navy combatant ship. In May 1971, he was selected to be the first African-American Admiral in the U.S. Navy. Admiral Gravely never forgot his first ship, and since 1986 he has been very active in the organization and development of the Patrol Craft Sailors Association.