Yorktown Hosts Historic Ships Conference
Ships “are more than just hunks of steel,” said one presenter kicking off the Historic Naval Ships Association’s (HNSA’s) annual conference, “they are living entities.” Held on board the USS Yorktown (CV/CVA/CVS-10) at Patriot’s Point, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, from 26 to 29 September, the conference brought together a thriving community of professionals to share and discuss issues germane to the future of historic naval ships worldwide. A keynote address by the Naval Institute’s Chairman of the Board, Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.), thanked HNSA members for their continuing work to preserve the great legacy of world sea power and make it accessible and relevant for the present-day general public, whose relationships to naval power—whether by familial or personal service—are not as great as in the past. But, said Stavridis in praise of the association, “Keeping history alive—that is service.”
Though some talks centered around general topics such as development, marketing, and education, other ship-specific subjects such as preservation and anticorrosion measures were widely discussed. A more solemn talk by Joe Weatherby of Artificial Reefs International centered around the fate of ships that can no longer be preserved—those facing “the heartbreak of ‘we can’t save her’” in Weatherby’s words—such as the USS Clamagore (SS-343), the last surviving example of a postwar GUPPY III submarine. Berthed at Patriot’s Point since 1981, the Clamagore is slated to become a recreational diving reef off Key West, Florida, in her former patrol grounds. While options for drydocking, land-berthing, and transferring the sub were explored, the cost was simply too great, leaving scrapping or turning the ship into an artificial reef the only options, according to Patriot’s Point Director of Operations Bob Howard. “Reefing,” said Howard, is a “dignified way to continue [the Clamagore’s] existence in another mission.”
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the conference was a discussion and tour of the progress of work on the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center at the Clemson University Restoration Institute in the old Charleston Navy Yard. Conservators, who have worked on the Civil War submarine for the past 17 years, have finished removing concretions from the hull’s exterior and now have begun working through the interior of the sub. Their painstaking work, building on an already robust primary dataset, continues to reveal new knowledge of the workings and design of the sub. More recent 3-D modeling, for example, indicates there may have been too little space within the Hunley for the crew to have sat on the sub’s wooden benches (which analyses have revealed were painted white) and crank the propulsion system at the same time—meaning they likely had to stand to do so.
The Friends of the Hunley Executive Director and President Kellen Correia noted in an interview with Naval History that the answer to what sank the Hunley after her successful attack on the USS Housatonic still has not been determined with certainty—despite a recent Duke University study purporting that injuries from the explosion of the Hunley’s spar torpedo killed her crew. “We would love to solve the mystery,” Correia said, but unfortunately the Duke study, though a worthy effort, was simply “not accurate” based on the available primary data accumulated by those working directly with the boat.
As the staff of conservators and scientists continue to deconcrete the interior of the Hunley, Correia noted, it is likely that archaeological evidence will point toward one factor or a combination of factors, but there is “still so much we just don’t know.”
2017 Knox Award Recipients Honored
Three noteworthy historians—Dr. Edward J. Marolda, Commander Paul Stillwell, USN (Ret.), and Dr. Jon Tetsuro Sumida—were honored as this year’s recipients of the Naval Historical Foundation’s Commodore Dudley W. Knox Award. Inaugurated in 2013, the Knox Award honors individuals for lifetime achievement in the field of naval history.
The dinner honoring the awardees capped off the U.S. Naval Academy’s 2017 McMullen Naval History Symposium, held in Annapolis on 14–15 September. More than 100 attendees gathered to honor their work.
Stillwell, the first editor-in-chief of Naval History magazine and author of The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers (Naval Institute Press, 1993), ran the Institute’s Oral History Program from 1993 to 2004. Marolda, a current Naval Institute oral historian, is known for his groundbreaking work on the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War, as well as the numerous books he has authored and coauthored, including the prize-winning Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War (Naval Institute Press, 2001). Sumida, a scholar and teacher who has had a major impact on the study of naval history for more than three and a half decades, is the author of In Defence of Naval Supremacy (Naval Institute Press, 2014 reprint edition), a bulwark of scholarship that still resonates today.