With a crowd of curious Doughboys looking on, a dozen Bluejackets in peacoats and watch caps gaze at the camera, most smiling broadly. It seems ironic; their disheveled appearance and torn clothing are evidence of hard service in the field. The sailors’ unusual rifles with improvised slings—waist belts or rope—lend further mystery to the photo (pp. 16–17).
I first came across this captivating image in the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive some 11 years ago, and a copy has hung in my office nearly ever since. I knew from its caption that the sailors were part of a USS Olympia (C-6) landing party that had been fighting Bolsheviks in 1918, but not much more, until I read the manuscript for this issue’s cover story.
In “Bluejackets vs. Bolsheviks,” Robert Willett recounts those Olympia sailors’ ordeal battling “Reds” as part of a multinational Allied force intervening in the Russian Civil War. In duty far removed from typical shipboard tasks, the sailors, commanded by a Naval Reserve ensign, struck out into the wilderness where they fought hordes of Bolsheviks before using dead reckoning to make their way back to Allied lines.
Willett’s account provided a good opportunity to revisit the Olympia, the oldest steel-hulled warship still afloat. In “Olympian Effort to Save the Olympia,” Carl LaVO takes a broad look at the famous cruiser’s history, both as a U.S. Navy warship and as a museum ship that’s often faced an uncertain fate. Fortunately, this national naval treasure’s future looks much brighter.
The Olympia was serving as a U.S. Naval Academy training ship when the subject of Andrew Jampoler’s article, the Tennessee (ACR-10), was commissioned in 1906. “The Short Life and Hard Times of an Armored Cruiser” makes strong use of imagery to tell the story of the Tennessee, which was renamed the Memphis three months before her untimely demise a century ago on 29 August 1916.
Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., President Woodrow Wilson signed a landmark naval bill into law that set the U.S. Navy on course to rival the power of the mighty Royal Navy. In “How Promise Turned to Disappointment,” Norman Friedman describes the background, diplomatic repercussions, and legacy of the Naval Expansion Act of 1916. Although few of its capital ships were completed, that may have been for the better. The phrase “A navy second to none” frequently is used to describe the naval act’s intent and often attributed to Wilson. But the legislation’s original goal was parity, not superiority.
In preparing each issue of Naval History, one of the staff’s regular stops is the National Archives in nearby College Park, Maryland; for us it’s a well-organized cornucopia of World War II photographs, ship histories, and action reports. During a visit there several years ago I came across an account by Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class John Bradley of his role in the famous Iwo Jima flag raising on Mount Suribachi—the subject of Joe Rosenthal’s immortal, iconic photograph, which was the basis for the Marine Corps War Memorial.
When news recently broke questioning Bradley’s role in the flag raising—and presence in the photo—I remembered that account, the transcript of a Navy interview with the corpsman recorded less than three months after the famous event. This important piece of evidence in the ongoing case is presented here as “Flags Not of Our Fathers?”
Obscured by the controversy over Bradley’s role in the flag raising are the facts that the pharmacist’s mate received the Navy Cross, for coming to a wounded comrade’s aid while under heavy fire at the base of Mount Suribachi two days earlier, and the Purple Heart, for wounds received 17 days later.
Richard G. Latture