Tag Archives: United States Navy

It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious… George Washington

There are many storied ships and commanders in the United States Navy but it would be harder to name two whose destinies intersected in such a dramatic way. The USS Sailfish had been built as the Squalus – lost at sea in a time when that meant certain death for the crew through bravery and ingenuity they were saved – she was salvaged and sailed again to glory against the Empire of Japan. John Phillip Cromwell was a lowly lieutenant in those days but his bravery would surpass even the heroism of the Squalus. John F. Kennedy said, “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy,'” the crews of both these submarines could certainly answer that in the affirmative.

Medal of Honor citation for Captain John P. Cromwell "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commander of a Submarine Coordinated Attack Group with Flag in the U.S.S. Sculpin, during the Ninth War Patrol of that vessel in enemy-controlled waters off Truk Island, November 19, 1943. Undertaking this patrol prior to the launching of our first large-scale offensive in the Pacific, Captain Cromwell, alone of the entire Task Group, possessed secret intelligence information of our submarine strategy and tactics, scheduled Fleet movements and specific attack plans. Constantly vigilant and precise in carrying out his secret orders, he moved his underseas flotilla inexorably forward despite savage opposition and established a line of submarines to southeastward of the main Japanese stronghold at Truk. Cool and undaunted as the submarine, rocked and battered by Japanese depth-charges, sustained terrific battle damage and sank to an excessive depth, he authorized the Sculpin to surface and engage the enemy in a gun-fight, thereby providing an opportunity for the crew to abandon ship. Determined to sacrifice himself rather than risk capture and subsequent danger of revealing plans under Japanese torture or use of drugs, he stoically remained aboard the mortally wounded vessel as she plunged to her death. Preserving the security of his mission at the cost of his own life, he had served his country as he had served the Navy, with deep integrity and an uncompromising devotion to duty. His great moral courage in the face of certain death adds new luster to the traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country."

Medal of Honor citation for Captain John P. Cromwell “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commander of a Submarine Coordinated Attack Group with Flag in the U.S.S. Sculpin, during the Ninth War Patrol of that vessel in enemy-controlled waters off Truk Island, November 19, 1943. Undertaking this patrol prior to the launching of our first large-scale offensive in the Pacific, Captain Cromwell, alone of the entire Task Group, possessed secret intelligence information of our submarine strategy and tactics, scheduled Fleet movements and specific attack plans. Constantly vigilant and precise in carrying out his secret orders, he moved his underseas flotilla inexorably forward despite savage opposition and established a line of submarines to southeastward of the main Japanese stronghold at Truk. Cool and undaunted as the submarine, rocked and battered by Japanese depth-charges, sustained terrific battle damage and sank to an excessive depth, he authorized the Sculpin to surface and engage the enemy in a gun-fight, thereby providing an opportunity for the crew to abandon ship. Determined to sacrifice himself rather than risk capture and subsequent danger of revealing plans under Japanese torture or use of drugs, he stoically remained aboard the mortally wounded vessel as she plunged to her death. Preserving the security of his mission at the cost of his own life, he had served his country as he had served the Navy, with deep integrity and an uncompromising devotion to duty. His great moral courage in the face of certain death adds new luster to the traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

A tale of two subs : an untold story of World War II, two sister ships, and extraordinary heroism New York : Grand Central Pub., 2008  Jonathan J. McCullough World War, 1939-1945 Naval operations Submarine Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. viii, 294 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

USS Sculpin (SS-191)Off San Francisco, California, on 1 May 1943, following an overhaul. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.

USS Sculpin (SS-191)Off San Francisco, California, on 1 May 1943, following an overhaul. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.

On November 19, 1943, the submarine USS Sculpin, under attack by the Japanese, slid below the waves for the last time in what would become one of the most remarkable stories in U.S. Naval history. Not only did several crew members survive the sinking – an extremely rare event in World War II submarine warfare – but several were aboard a Japanese aircraft carrier en route to a POW camp when it was in turn torpedoed and sunk by the Sculpin’s sister ship, the USS Sailfish.

USS Squalus (SS-192)Fitting out, at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine, 5 October 1938. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS Squalus (SS-192)Fitting out, at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine, 5 October 1938. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

At the end of World War II, several unlikely survivors would tell a tale of endurance against these amazing reversals of fortune. For one officer in particular, who knew that being captured could have meant losing the war for the allies, his struggle was not in surviving, but in sealing his own fate in a heartbreaking act of heroism which culminated in the nation’s highest tribute, the Medal of Honor.

USS Squalus (SS-192) Rescue Operations, May 1939 Squalus' Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Oliver F. Naquin (center, hatless, wearing khaki pants), with other survivors on board the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane, bound for the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine, following their rescue, 25 May 1939.

USS Squalus (SS-192) Rescue Operations, May 1939 Squalus’ Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Oliver F. Naquin (center, hatless, wearing khaki pants), with other survivors on board the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane, bound for the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine, following their rescue, 25 May 1939.

Sculpin Lt. Commander John Phillip Cromwell was one of the few who knew that American Naval Intelligence had succeeded in cracking Japan’s top-secret codes. Cromwell also knew that if the Japanese confirmed this by torturing him, it would force Naval Intelligence to change their encryption, which would potentially change the course of the war. This is Cromwell’s story as well.

USS Sailfish (SS-192)Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 13 April 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS Sailfish (SS-192)Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 13 April 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

The incredible interconnection of the Sculpin and the Sailfish has been thoroughly researched by Jonathan McCullough. Through access to the few living survivors, scores of oral histories, never-before translated Japanese war documents, and interviews with Navy veterans, McCullough delivers a gripping and, intimate account for the reader.

USS Sailfish (SS-192)Crewmembers pose by the after end of the conning tower, while Sailfish was at Naval Submarine Base, New London, Groton, Connecticut, in 1945. Her Presidential Unit Citation flag is flying behind the periscope sheers, in upper center. Original photo is dated September 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Sailfish (SS-192) Crew members pose by the after end of the conning tower, while Sailfish was at Naval Submarine Base, New London, Groton, Connecticut, in 1945. Her Presidential Unit Citation flag is flying behind the periscope sheers, in upper center. Original photo is dated September 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

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I do not love the bright sword for it’s sharpness, nor the arrow for it’s swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend… J.R.R. Tolkien

Improbable warriors: women scientists and the U.S. Navy in  World War II Annapolis, Md. : Naval Institute Press, c 2001 Kathleen  Broome Williams World War, 1939-1945 Science Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xvii, 280 p.: ill.; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 259-269)  and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No  highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

American women have always been involved in war work, although they frequently have gone unnoticed. Running the gamut of performing the small and large tasks commonly known as “keeping the home fires burning” to taking up arms and going into battle, women have played essential roles in every war fought by the United States. This is not to say that these roles, although vital, have been understood, appreciated or even acknowledged. In fact, these roles are often soon forgotten or minimized by historians. Often, the women themselves have not recognized the vital nature of their work, saying that they were only “doing what needed to be done.”

Historians like Kathleen Broome Williams understand the value of spotlighting the war work of women. In Improbable Warriors: Women Scientists and the U.S. Navy in World War II, Williams introduces us to four women who, while “doing what needed to be done” changed the face of the U.S. Navy and the futures of their respective scientific disciplines. As representative of the small community of women in science, the work of these women showed that the search for the best minds in science cannot be limited by gender.

Williams gives a short overview of the war effort’s mobilization of women to be trained in technical fields. By the end of the war, more than 100,000 women served in the Waves alone. Many were trained for highly technical jobs, taking stateside positions to free up men for assignments overseas. The women recruits were well suited for this advanced training; in fact many women who enlisted in the military were better educated than their male counterparts. Special technical training programs designed especially for female recruits were sponsored on many of the top women’s college campuses, including Pembroke, Skidmore, Smith, Radcliffe, and Wellesley. The Navy vigorously recruited female college students and faculty in the scientific fields, but women with no prior scientific training also performed vital work. Praised for their attention to detail and their ability to perform even the most monotonous tasks with accuracy and pride, women showed the desire to “do what needed to be done” no matter how big or small the job.

Women joined the military for a variety of reasons both personal and patriotic. This wide picture of work, duty, and honor shows us that the work of women, though often unheralded, was anything but routine. Within this wider picture, the focus on a few individual women helps us to understand the true importance of the role that each woman played. Williams tells the stories of four improbable warriors, each an academic who left her teaching position to work for the Navy. Dedicating a chapter to each woman, Williams weaves the woman’s story with a detailed account of the war work of her respective agency. Three of the women served in uniform, while one served as a civilian employee. Dr. Mary Sears, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute‘s planktonologist, headed the Hydrographic Office’s Oceanographic Unit, developing new field and laboratory military oceanographic techniques. Dr. Florence Van Straten, a New York University trained chemist served as an aerological engineer, analyzing the effects of weather on combat and the uses of weather as a combat strategy. Dr. Grace Hopper, a Harvard trained mathematician, was instrumental in advancing programming techniques for the Mark I, one of the first computers. Dr. Mina Spiegel Rees, a University of Chicago-trained mathematician, was the chief technical aide (a title that belies its depth and complexity) to the Applied Mathematics Panel of the National Defense Research Committee.

Williams’s stories of each woman’s work are inspiring and affecting. Each woman worked within a system that valued her presence because of the special circumstances of wartime; brought to her role skills enabling her to make a unique contribution essential to the war effort; and worked well with her colleagues and was highly regarded by both supervisors and workers. All attained high status among their peers who actually understood the complexity of what they had accomplished. These improbable warriors were women who understood studying and working in fields where they were always in the minority. They were women whose brilliance was uncontested, whose work was an exemplar of scientific and mathematical excellence, and who served their respective communities with vigor, foresight, humor, and fortitude.

Each of the improbable warriors took pride in her contributions, yet often spoke of these inestimable contributions to their scientific fields and the roles of women in science in self-deprecating terms. At one time or another, each woman noted that she did her work without a thought to a larger feminist agenda. Each broke through innumerable barriers, and consciously or unconsciously challenged the remaining barriers. Williams helps us to understand these women, their motivations, and their work, with a direct and engaging style, reminiscent of the direct, focused desire of the improbable warriors to use their skill to “do what needed to be done.”

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Tell the men to fire faster! Don’t give up the ship! Captain James Lawrence

Tradition has it that Captain James Lawrence said these heroic words after being mortally wounded in the engagement between his ship, the U.S. frigate Chesapeake, and HMS Shannon on the  1st of  June 1813. As the wounded Lawrence was carried below, he ordered “Tell the men to fire faster! Don’t give up the ship!

Although Chesapeake was forced to surrender, Captain Lawrence’s words lived on as a rallying cry during the war. Oliver Hazard Perry honored his dead friend Lawrence when he had the motto sewn onto the private battle flag flown during the Battle of Lake Erie on the 10th of  September 1813.

The citizens of Alexandria, Virginia, are ridiculed in this scene for their lack of serious resistance against the British seizure of the city in 1814. At left two frightened gentlemen kneel with hands folded, pleading, “Pray Mr. Bull don’t be too hard with us — You know we were always friendly, even in the time of our Embargo!” In the center stands a bull in English seaman’s clothes, holding out a long list of “Terms of Capitulation” to the Alexandrians. He says, “I must have all your Flour — All your Tobacco — All your Provisions — All your Ships — All your Merchandize — every thing except your Porter and Perry — keep them out of my sight, I’ve had enough of them already.” His allusion is to American Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and Captain David Porter. At right, a soldier and sailor carry off spirits, saying: “Push on Jack, the yankeys are not all so Cowardly as these Fellows here — let’s make the best of our time.” and “Huzza boys!!! More Rum more Tobacco!”…Library of Congress print

Perilous fight : America’s intrepid war with Britain on the high seas, 1812-1815 New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2010 Stephen Budiansky United States History War of 1812 Naval operations Hardcover. 1st. ed. xvi, 422 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps, ports. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [391]-402) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

“Captain Decatur wounded” Engraving after an artwork by J.O. Davidson, published circa the later 19th Century, depicting the wounding of Captain Stephen Decatur during the action between USS President, under his command, and a British squadron on the 15th of January 1815…U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

In Perilous Fight, Stephen Budiansky tells the rousing story of the underdog coterie of American seamen and their visionary secretary of the navy, who combined bravery and strategic innovation to hold off the legendary Royal Navy.

Engagement between USS Chesapeake and HMS Shannon, 1 June 1813 Colored lithograph by M. Dubourg after a drawing by Heath, published in England circa 1813. It depicts the officers and crew of Shannon, commanded by Captain Broke, boarding and capturing the Chesapeake. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Budiansky vividly demonstrates that far from an indecisive and unnecessary conflict—as historians have long dismissed the War of 1812—this “forgotten war” had profound consequences that would change the course of naval warfare, America’s place in the world, and the rules of international conflict forever. Never again would the great powers challenge the young republic’s sovereignty in the aftermath of the stunning performance of America’s navy and privateersmen in sea battles that ranged across half the globe. Their brilliant hit-and-run tactics against a far mightier foe would pioneer concepts of “asymmetric warfare” that would characterize the insurgency warfare of later centuries.

Print shows the Constitution, in the background, firing on the wreckage of the HMS Guerriere, the last remaining mast is falling, in the aftermath of the battle between the two ships. Includes additional text about the battle and a remarque showing bust portrait of Isaac Hull…Library of Congress print

Above all, the War of 1812 would be the making of the United States Navy. Even as the war began, the nation was bitterly divided over whether it should have a navy at all: Jeffersonian Republicans denounced the idea as a dangerous expansion of government power, while Federalists insisted that America could never protect its burgeoning seagoing commerce or command respect without a strong naval force. After the war, Americans would never again doubt that their might, respect, and very survival depended upon a permanent and professional navy.

Drawing shows the British frigate HMS Java, commanded by Captain Lambert after it lost in the clash with the USS Constitution, commanded by Commodore William Bainbridge, off the coast of Salvador, Brazil…Library of Congress print

Drawing extensively on diaries, letters, and personal accounts from both sides, Budiansky re-creates the riveting encounters at sea in bloody clashes of cannonfire and swordplay; the intimate hopes and fears of vainglorious captains and young seamen in search of adventure; and the behind-the-scenes political intrigue and maneuvering in Washington and London. Throughout, Perilous Fight proves itself a gripping and essential work of American naval history.

Print shows portraits of Oliver H. Perry, Stephen Decatur, Johnston Blakeley, William Bainbridge, David Porter, and James Lawrence surrounding a vignette of the battle of Lake Erie…Library of Congress print

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Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.

Capt. E.S. Gorrell, U.S.A.; Ass’t Nav. Con. J.C. Hunsaker, U.S.N.; Lt. J.H. Towers, Capt. V.E.Clark, U.S.A.; Lt. Com. A.K. Atkins, & Maj. B.D. Foulois… Library of Congress photo

Jerome C. Hunsaker and the rise of American aeronautics Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Press, c 2002 William F. Trimble Aeronautical engineers United States Biography, Hunsaker, Jerome C. (Jerome Clarke), 1886-1984 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xi, 284 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 265-276) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Jerome C. Hunsaker’s cumulative effect on both American aeronautics and engineering is immense. Early in his career, he established the aeronautical engineering program at MIT and organized the U.S. Navy’s aviation design and procurement program during World War I. This meticulous chronicle of Hunsaker’s six decades in aeronautics traces both his incredible accomplishments and dispiriting setbacks.

The U.S.S. Macon inside the Goodyear Zeppelin Airdock in Akron, Ohio

Hunsaker’s career parallels the rise of aviation in America. Whether looking at the years he spent working on aerial navigation systems for Bell Labs or commercial airships with Goodyear-Zeppelin, Trimble shows how Hunsaker drew from a varied background in the sciences to solve many difficult technical and administrative problems. Serving for fifteen years as chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics — the forerunner of NASA — was both Hunsaker’s greatest challenge and his crowning achievement. In presenting such a detailed account of Hunsaker’s influential career, Trimble also traces major trends in engineering and technology in the United States.

USS Macon (ZRS-5) Flying over New York Harbor, circa Summer 1933. The southern end of Manhattan Island is visible in the lower left center. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

USS Macon, sister of the 6,500,000 cubic foot rigid airship Akron (ZRS-4), was built at Akron, Ohio. She first flew in April 1933. Following a series of test flights, one of which took her from Ohio to Wisconsin and back, she was commissioned in June. Macon was based at Lakehurst, New Jersey, during mid-1933 and made several development and training flights during this time. In October she flew by way of her name city of Macon, Georgia, and Texas to Moffett Field, California, where a new airship hangar awaited her.

During the rest of 1933 Macon and her embarked airplanes began what would be an extensive program of participation in exercises off the Pacific Coast, testing her abilities for fleet scouting and other missions. In April 1934 she flew east, again via Texas, to Opa-locka, Florida. Weather damage received in this trip was repaired in time for her to participate in Fleet Problem XV in the Caribbean during May, after which she returned to Moffett Field. Macon made a long-distance flight over the Pacific Ocean in mid-July to intercept the cruiser Houston (CA-30), which was carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt from Panama to Hawaii. During this mission her F9C “Sparrowhawk” aircraft were operated with their wheeled landing gear removed, a performance-enhancing practice that was thereafter normal when these small fighting planes were embarked on the airship.

 

 

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For extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force and going beyond the call of duty… The Navy Cross

Birds eye view of the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku steaming to her rendezvous with American fighter bombers.

During the Japanese Navy‘s “Sho-Go” operation that produced the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Zuikaku was flagship of Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, commander of the operation’s northern force. Ozawa’s was a desperate mission — provide an attractive target for U.S. Admiral William F. Halsey‘s Third Fleet, hopefully pulling the powerful American “fast carriers” north so that Japanese surface ships could slip in and attack U.S. invasion forces off Leyte. His ships were not expected to survive their diversionary employment.

Ozawa’s ships, Zuikaku and the light carriers Zuiho, Chitose and Chiyoda, two battleships, three light cruisers and a modest number of destroyers, steamed south from Japan on 20 October. They carried only 116 planes, much less than their normal capacity and nowhere close to a match for the aircraft of Halsey’s task forces.

Despite their role as “bait”, the Japanese carriers sighted Halsey first and launched a strike in the late morning of 24 October. This accomplished nothing, and only a few planes returned to the carriers, leaving them with less than thirty. The Japanese ships tried hard to be conspicuous, and U.S. aircraft finally spotted them in mid-afternoon. Admiral Halsey, believing that his aviators had driven the other Japanese forces away, headed north to attack.

At about 0800 on the morning of 25 October, American carrier planes began a series of attacks on the Japanese ships, making one torpedo hit on Zuikaku and sinking the Chitose. A second strike came in around 1000, stopping Chiyoda and leaving Zuikaku making only about 18 knots. Somewhat later, Vice Admiral Ozawa moved his flag from the crippled carrier to the light cruiser Oyodo. In a third attack, shortly after 1PM, Zuikaku received three torpedo hits and was soon dead in the water.

In the early afternoon of 25 October 1944, after the third U.S. air attack of the day, Zuikaku was stopped, listing severely to port, and clearly sinking. Surviving crewmen mustered on the flight deck, gave a final “Banzai” cheer and abandoned ship. Zuikaku, last of the six carriers that started the Pacific War with the Pearl Harbor attack almost three years earlier, capsized and sank shortly afterwards.

However, her sacrificial mission had been successful. A powerful Japanese surface force, headed by the huge battleship Yamato, entered the Pacific, and, as Zuikaku and her consorts were undergoing the first of the day’s fatal attacks, encountered a force of U.S. escort carriers, producing the epic Battle off Samar.

Sinking the Rising Sun : dog fighting &  dive bombing in World War II : a Navy fighter  pilot’s story    St. Paul, Minn. : Zenith Press,  2007  William E. Davis ; foreword by  Jonathan Winters World War, 1939-1945 Campaigns  Pacific Area Hardcover. 304 p. , [8] p. of  plates : ill., map ; 24 cm. Clean, tight and strong  binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting,  underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG   

Awarded the Navy Cross, Lieutenant William Davis, III, of the United States Naval Reserve was cited for “extraordinary heroism” while serving as pilot of a carrier based fighter aircraft on 25 October 1944. “Flying through intense anti-aircraft fire,” the citation read, “he made an aggressive attack on a Japanese carrier, first strafing and then delivering a well placed bomb from low altitude. After this attack the carrier was left burning and subsequently sank.” The burning carrier was the Zuikaku, the last Japanese carrier afloat that had taken part in the Pearl Harbor attack.

In this gripping memoir, Davis gives us a fighter pilot’s view of World War II. Recreating the life-and-death drama of dog fighting and dive bombing over the Pacific, Davis recounts how his squadron shot down 155 enemy planes while losing only 2 of their own in aerial combat. No torpedo bomber or dive bomber they escorted was ever downed by an enemy aircraft. His is a story of “courage and skill in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval service,” as his citation noted. It is also a rare true-life account of what such heroics feel like behind a cockpit, in the face of a deadly enemy.

After a last “Banzai” the crew of the sinking Zuikaku abandons ship

 

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