Veteran’s Day and the Tomb of the Unknowns…or how “The War To End All Wars” was initially remembered, and how that eventually evolved into America’s Veteran’s Day, and Memorial Days around the Globe.

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Nov 11 2014

Before I get to the end, I just want to say, “Thank you” to all Veterans, past, present and future.  As a civilian, I want to say thank you for being willing to do what you do and allow me and my family to live in freedom safe from war on my doorstep.  I hope everyone enjoys this post detailing the memorials that sprang up after WWI, and how they developed into Veteran’s Day as we recognize it today.

 

Memorial Day, (in America celebrated on the last Monday in the month of May) began as a way to honor the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. Graves were decorated, people remembered those who lost their lives in the conflict, and honored the Civil War dead  Before long, the war dead of 1812, Barbary and the Revolution were also being honored.  But then a conflict known as WWI began.  Though the United States mostly stayed out of the conflict until April 1917, WWI raged across Europe for four years, destroying pretty much anything in its path.  Even 90 years later, portions of France are still pockmarked from exploding mines and bombs, and the re-buried trenches have started to collapse on themselves, snaking their way across now-peaceful farmland. To look at these photos now, and realize just how terribly torn the land had to be in 1918 to remain so marked now, is sobering.

While the final treaty ending WWI wasn’t signed until 24 July 1923, the fighting ended (temporarily then permanently) on 11 a.m., November 11, 1919.  On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, arms were laid down and the soldiers began the long process of returning home, and remembering the nearly 35 million souls, both civilian and military who had perished.

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Armistice Day, Munitions Centre, painted by Frederick Etchells. Oil Crayon on canvas, currently in the collection of the Canadian War Museum, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. This painting, depics the celebrations in Canada when the announcement of the Armistice was announced. The crowd waved flags of the many Allied nations, while dancing to the music of the organ grinder. Image from Wikipedia.

It became known as Armistice Day at first, and was celebrated as the end of the War to End All Wars.  The effects of WWI were long, and far reaching, and even a year later in 1919, and people all over the US and Europe sought a way to celebrate and commemorate their lost men.

The concept of a Tomb of an Unknown Soldier or Unknown Warrior was also started at this time.  A British Chaplain by the name of David Railton was working in France and came across a rough wooden cross marking a grave.

The war Grave of an unknown soldier of WWI. It was such a grave as this that inspired the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Britain and France, and later, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in America. Image from the National Library of Scotland

 

The cross read “An Unknown British Soldier”, and Railton had the idea of bringing one of these unidentified boys back and burying them in Westminster Abbey, alongside the Royalty, artists, explorers, authors and other notable and distinguished personages of Britain, to stand for all the men who would never come back home.  It took a very short while for the idea to take root and get going, and on November 11, 1920, both Britain and France laid an unidentified man to rest in locations befitting the highest honors their countries could bestow. (In England, inside Westminster Abbey, in France, Under the Arc de Triumphe.)

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in France, as it appears today. Image Source: Wikipedia.

 

In France, eight bodies were exhumed from the fields of Flanders , Artois , the Somme, Ile de-FranceChemin des Dames , ChampagneVerdun and Lorraine , placed in oaken caskets and brought to a bunker in Verdun.  The caskets were rotated and shuffled many times until no one could remember which casket’s remains came from which battlefield.  The next morning, during the ceremony, the orphaned son of a lost fighter of WWI, Auguste Thin, was handed a bouquet o red and white carnations and asked to select one of the caskets on behalf of France.  Now a soldier himself, Auguste chose the sixth one he passed in honor of his own Sixth Corp and 132nd Regiment (1+3+2=6, or so his logic went).  The chosen remains were interred under the Arc De Triomphe, where the flame is still re-kindled every night by French veterans.

In the British case, a set of unidentified remains were exhumed from the battle graveyards of the four major British Graves, Aisne, Arras, the Somme, and Pyres.  Each set was covered with a Union Jack flag and taken to a chapel where Brigadier General Wyatt and Colonel Gell of the Graves Registration Department placed their hands on one set, neither knowing anything about which remains came form which battlefield.  Those  remains not selected were respectfully reburied, but the chosen one was placed in a plain coffin and escorted with full honors to a castle in Bologne. There, the coffin was further enclosed  in a  casket made of timbers from the Royal Palace of Hampton Court, bound with iron and a Medieval sword, selected by King George V from the Royal Collection, and a shield bearing an inscription “A British Warrior who fell in the Great War for King and Country.”

A replica of the oaken coffin the Unknown Warrior was placed in. One can see the Iron banding, and the sword beneath the epitaph shield. The replica is on display in in railroad car in which the original casket with the Warrior was transported from Dover to London. The car was also used to transport many remains repatriated after WWI including executed nurse Edith Cavell and executed civilian ship’s captain Charles Fryatt. This photo, taken by Hugh Nightengale on June 5, 2012, shows the sixty red poppies adorning the replica are in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. The Queen’s Mother lost her brother during WWI, and left her bridal bouquet on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior on her way out of the chapel after her wedding–a tradition continued by every royal bride since, including her Majesty Elizabeth and Kate Middleton. Image Source, Wikipedia.

He was laid to rest, after a long, ceremonial trip, in the West Nave of Westminster Abbey, where soil from each major battlefield covered his grave and 100 women who had lost their husband and all sons to the war stood in attendance, along with the Royal Family.  Today, he rests beneath a black granite stone, engraved with brass melted down from war ammunitions, and wreathed with silken poppies.

I got to see the grave a few years back when I spent an incredible five hours touring Westminster (and it wasn’t nearly long enough).  There are graves EVERYWHERE there, and despite what my parents taught me about being polite in graveyards and not deliberately walking on anyone, you can’t help it.  Except for that grave.  No one, king or commoner, Brit or foreigner, is allowed to step on it, and it’s just incredible how it sits at  the Western door to the Abbey and despite the babble of voices checking out the graves of the Tudors, Edwards the Longshanks, Oliver Cromwell, Chaucer, Dickens, and so so so so many more, that section of the church, voices just fall silent, and people so very carefully, respectfully, move around the soldier, and give him his peace. Foreign heads of state often lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, and he has been decorated with many foreign decorations and awards in the 91 years he’s slept, including the American Medal of Honor. (The only time any of this caused a problem was when a Nazi official laid a Swastika wreath at the tomb in 1933.  A British WWI Veteran  threw it in the Thames.)

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The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior a it appears today. The wreath of silk poppies is a permanent fixture, the three wreaths at the foot and the candelabra bases were placed there the day this photograph was taken–the 90th anniversary of the Warrior’s internment. Image Source: Wikipedia

To this day, November 11 is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, and the day to honor Britain’s fallen.  This year, with the Centennial anniversary of the start of WWI, the Tower of London hosted a new public installation, “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Read”.  It’s field of poppies–888,246 handmade ceramic poppies were planted in the dry moat, each memorializing a men who was killed or went missing during WWI.  It’s taken from August to November 11 to install each Poppy..  The last was placed this morning at 11 am in Britain.

All 888,246 poppies have now been planted in the dry 16-acre moat, heralding the completion of the poignant memorial

The field of poppies circles the ancient castle. It put things in perspective, at least, for me. This photo is from this article in the UK’s Daily Mail.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior idea soon inspired America.  Four of America’s  warriors from different battlefields were disinterred  and brought to a city hall in Chalon-en-Champagne, where US Army Sgt. Younger laid a spray of white roses on one casket, which was returned to the USA and laid in state until Armistice Day, 1921, when he was laid to rest among the best and brightest of our honored military dead in Arlington National Cemetery.  The ceremony was attended by US President Harding, and, representing WWI ally Britain, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Beatty, who awarded the American Unknown with the highest honor Britain can bestow, the Victoria Cross, which was placed with him before burial.  The marble sarcophagus was built over top his grave in 1926.

The Casket of the WWI Unknown, as he disembarked from the USS Olympia on the shoulders of his fellow servicemen. Colorized Photo, Wikipedia.

The marble for the grave was quarried in Vermont, and it known as Yule Marble, among the whitest, purest marble available.  The Unknown is buried in the earth, with the tiered monument placed above and around him.   Most visitors to Arlington National Cemetery can see the writing on the original tomb: “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known But to God”.  on the reverse of that, on the side facing the Capitol, are carved three allegorical figures:  A female Victory flanked by a male Valor figure, and a female Peace figure.

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The rarely-photographed east and southern sides of the Unknown’s original Tomb. Here you can clearly see the Allegorical figures and the inverted wreaths and doric columns that adorn the side. Image from flickr, taken by Tim Evanson. Date of photo: 5 April 2012.

 

After WWII, the Tomb was expanded.  One unidentified soldier from the European Theater and one from the Pacific Theater was exhumed, placed in identical caskets aboard the USS Canberra, where corpsmen and Medal of Honor recipient William Charette, not knowing which casket was from which theater, chose one to join his WWI brother.  A similar method was used to selected the Korean unknown from four candidates as was the Vietnam Unknown.  (In 1998, using DNA technology, the Vietnam unknown was identified and released to be buried with his family)

At first, there was no guard at the Tomb, but as reports came in of people standing on, or even eating Picnics on the Tomb (!) a guard was posted during the public hours.  This guard was expanded to the current 24/7 watch on July 2, 1937, and it has been guarded continually ever since.  Very few of the volunteers who come forward to be one of the guards make it through training, and even fewer are accepted.  Those who are live in a barracks below the Tomb, and must abide by strict rules, some, (like the prohibition against alcohol and swearing) for the rest of their lives.  The pin designating such a guard is the second most rarely awarded pin in the military*.  If, at any time during their lives, both active and retired, a guard, current or former, conducts himself in such a way as to dishonor the Tomb, the pin is revoked.

Their uniforms are unique, lacking all marks of the guards’ own ranks, lest they inadvertently outrank any of the Unknowns.  The changing of the guard is a carefully orchestrated, precise ceremony that is counted down to the second.  The guards change every 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on the time of day and the weather) and continues around the clock regardless of weather.   While there is a contingency plan for the guards to watch over the Tomb from a special location in the Trophy Room overlooking the Tomb in case of inclement weather (provisions specifically mention winds in excess of 120 mph) , no one has yet done so…despite blizzards, hurricanes, and superstorm Sandy.

A Changing of the Tomb Guard in the midst of winter. Photos alleging to be during Superstorm Sandy are posted on the Internet, but most are not real…though the Old Guard reported that the guard went on through the storm. Image Credit: US Army

One final interesting fact about these devoted guards is their uniform must be absolutely perfect at all times,in honor of the fallen Unknowns.  Such meticulous attention to detail means they spend FIVE HOURS A DAY on maintaining their uniforms to the proper standard for guard duty.  That’s in addition to their actual guard duty, and assisting with the many wreath laying ceremonies that take place at the Tomb.

 

Armistice Day was supposed to help us remember the war that ended all wars, but sadly, WWI ended up being a prelude.  After WWII,  Armistice Day developed into a National Day of Veterans Remembrance in many countries of the world.  It is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom which celebrates with two minutes of national silence.

But since the US already had a “Memorial Day” to honor our war dead, Armistice Day evolved rather differently here.  With more veterans in the American population due to WWII and the the Korean conflict, Armistice Day officially changed to Veterans Day in 1954, a day in which we honor all our veterans, those that died, and those that lived and returned.  In the USA, it is celebrated through a variety of observances, the most famous of all has to be the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.  This year (2014) as President Obama is abroad, Vice President Joe Biden will lay the wreath.

 

So today, I honor all those who have served, are serving, and will someday serve in our Armed Forces, keeping us safe and defending our freedoms with their years, training, and sometimes, their lives. May we keep reminding ourselves of history so that you may never again find yourselves in another World War.

You, and your services, are Never Forgotten.

More Links:

Photos of WWI Battlefields, 90 years on

Underground tunnels discovered in WWI Battlefields

Newly uncovered WWI Diary with haunting drawings made at the front

Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier

Facts about Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Website of the Old Guard, the men who guard the Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Other photos and links to various Tombs of the Unknowns around the World

As an end note, America founded more Tombs for Unknown Soldiers int he latter half of the 20th century.  In 1954, America  founded a Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier in Philadelphia, and the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier in Biloxi Mississippi in 1981.  (Arlington National Cemetery, of course, was founded as a burial site, originally, for Union Soldiers, many of whom were also unidentified.)

*In case you’re curious about the rarest award in the military, it’s the Astronaut Pin.

The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast a Ghost no more! The USS HOUSTON is found!

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 19 2014

The US Navy announced today that a wreck in the Sundra Strait is indeed the USS HOUSTON.  The “Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast” is found after 72 years.

If you’ve ever wondered how she got there, and her gallant crew’s impossible fight for survival, read on.

February 1942:

The Japanese empire is spreading with terrifying rapidity.  Pearl Harbor was just the first move in a terrifying campaign.  Within hours, Wake, Guam, Manila, Singapore, Siam among others, were attacked.  Just over two months later, Japan’s military controlled a massive portion of the Pacific.

The cruiser HOUSTON had been assigned to Manila’s Naval yard but on the morning of December 8 (December 7 in America, over the International Dateline) she was patrolling near Borneo–thus missing the attack.

The next few months were in disarray.  The American Navy quickly retreated to what they believed to be more defensible ports, but the Japanese were faster than anyone had dared dream.  And with the American, British, Australian, and Dutch forces in various stages of disarray, retreat, and damaged vessels and planes, their collective defensive positions couldn’t match the Japanese juggernaut that had been planned for years.

The HOUSTON, now one of a small collection of ships which had not been destroyed in December 1941, fought in the Battle of Makassar Strait, and many smaller skirmishes, while escorting and evacuating ships and troops out of soon-to-be-conquered territories.  She survived ships exploding next to her while at anchor under air raids.  The Japanese reported her sunk so many times, the crew nicknamed the HOUSTON “The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast”.  No sooner had the Japanese declared her destroyed than she appeared miles away, causing havoc for the enemy.

Then came the Battle of the Java Sea.  The Allies had built a new base in Surabya, on the coast of the Java Sea.  Any further south, they would have to retreat to Australia, or worse, even India of Hawaii.  Thousands of miles from the active front, the Allies would be at a disadvantage–patrols would have to be several hundred miles and weeks longer, just getting from base to the front.  Supply lines would be stretched longer, and longer lines were, by nature, thinner, and more vulnerable.  Therefore, the newly formed American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Command, were determined to hold the Malay Line.

But the Japanese, with no oil fields of their own, needed to control the Dutch East Indies with not only oil fields, but rubber and metals the Japanese required to build their ever larger military that had to cover an area much bigger than ever before.  They couldn’t afford the Allies controlling those resources, nor having a base so close to their desired empire.  And here, in these weeks, the Japanese finally proved the point of Aircraft Carriers as dangerous weapons compared to the battleships and cruisers most other militaries had spent millions of resources and time building.   Air raids destroyed ship after ship, pre-war bases, and even, on February 19, the city of Darwin Australia.

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One of the last photos of the USS HOUSTON and several other ships in Darwin just days before the Japanese attack. navsource.org

 

As the closest Australian port to the Malaysian Islands, Darwin’s harbor was now so choked with half-sunken hulks and her infrastructure so utterly burned that if the Japanese pushed the Allies out of Malaysia, they would HAVE to retreat thousands of miles to south Australia, India, or even Hawaii or the American West Coast.

Then the Japanese took Bali–the Malay barrier was starting to fall.

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Taken less than a month before her loss, the HOUSTON at anchor in Tjilatjap, Java. Her flag is at half mast as the crew buries men who were killed during an air strike that disabled HOUSTON's turrets a few days earlier. Photo credit: Naval History Association, National Archives

 

February 24: Allied Intelligence learns the Japaneses are preparing a force apparently headed to Bali.  Unable to intercept with surface ships, the Allies send in their few older submarines that had escaped the carnage at Manila.  They are successful at tracking and sinking a few of the ships, and reporting movements of the enemy.  That’s when the submarines discovered this initial convoy was only one of THREE.  Two more were sailing from the north and northeast.

Admiral Helfrich ordered all available ships and submarines to gather in the Java Sea.  The surface attack fleet woudl be under the command of Captain <SOMEONE>

He had three Dutch Submarines (O-19; K-8; K-10) One British (HMS TIRANTE), and two American boats (USS S-37; USS S-38) that weren’t already attacking the lead force available.  In addition, he had two Heavy Cruisers (USS HOUSTON ans HMS EXETER) three light cruisers (HNLMS De RUYTER, HNLMS JAVA, HMAS PERTH) and nine destroyers (HMS ELECTRA, HMS ENCOUNTER, HMS JUPITER, HNLMS KORTENAER, HNLMS WITTE de WITH, USS AIDEN, USS JOHN D EDWARDS, USS JOHN D FORD, and USS PAUL JONES)  .  Twenty ships in total from four different navies.

And coming was the Japanese Heavy Cruisers NACHI and HAGURO; Light Cruisers NAKA and JINTSU; Destroyers YUDACHI, SAMIDARE, MURASAME, HARUSAME, MINEGUMO, ASAGUMO, YUKIKAZE, TOKISUKAZE, AMATSUKAZE, HATSUKAZE, YAMAKAZE, SAZANAMI, and USHIO.   Twenty-eight ships.  One Navy.  One coordinated, trained goal: conquer the Malaysian Islands.

The Allies fought bravely over the seven hour battle, but it was, in the end, a rout.   The Japanese jammed radio frequencies, preventing the Allies from coordinating with each other.   Two of the light cruisers (De RUYTER and JAVA) and three destroyers would eventually be lost due to this battle (KORENAER was lost, JUPITER hit an Allied minefield in the chaos and sank, WITTE de WITH was severely damaged and sank a few days later.)  2,300 sailors died in those seven hours.  By contrast, the Japanese only suffered 36 casualties, and one damaged destroyer, the ASAGUMO.

HOUSTON went into this battle already damaged, two of her eight guns had been damaged in an air raid (see photo above). When the ABDA forces finally were forced to flee in the early hours of February 28, she an the Australian ship PERTH, following the last orders of Admiral Doorman before he went down on the DeRUYTER, fled to Tanjung Priok in Jakarta.  The remaining surviving ships headed east and skirted between Java and Japanese-held Bali, heading south.

The efforts of the Allies did not stop the Japanese, but it did delay the Java invasion by a day, a day that allowed many to flee to Australia or to the highlands of Java itself.

HOUSTON and PERTH limped into Jakarta at 1:30 pm on February 28.  They pulled in near the Dutch Destroyer Evertsen, who had been docked there for a few days  .  As the captains of the PERTH and HOUSTON quickly disembarked to warn their respective Naval Officials of what had happened the HOUSTON sailors desperately moved ammunition from their damaged turrents to the remaining working ones. The work stopped at one point, as a Japanese bomber bombed a patrol at the harbor’s entrance.  It missed, but it was a horrible reminder of how close the enemy was.

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The HOUSTON in her short-lived WWII Configuration Source: National Archives

 

Despite this, the HOUSTON’s own crew reported everyone was in high morale:

“…The morale of the ship’s company was excellent .  The ship had been continually engaged with no opportunity for rest since the opening of hostilities with Japan…These duties were carried out under conditions wherein normal supply and repair facilities were entirely lacking.  Operations under the command of an in company with ships of other Allied Navies rendered the normal peacetime traniing and doctrine inapplicable.  Admiration for the Captain and Executive Officer, and the intense pride of each individual in the performance for the HOUSTON in preceding engagements overcame all adverse influences to morale and spirit through the ship was maintained at an incomproably high level.  In contrast, with the high state of morale, the physical condition of both officers and men was poor and in some cases treatment for exhaustion was necessary…Meals had been necessarily been irregualar and inadequate…”   USS HOUSTON Report

At 1930 (7:30 pm local time) the HOUSTON and PERTH, with only six hours to get few supplies or fuel, were ordered to return to Java, to Tjilatjap to help evacuate the many civilians trying to flee the invasion from the north.  It is also possible that HOUSTON and PERTH had been selected to evacuate Admiral Glassford and his staff from the temporary Allied Headquarters there.   The Dutch Destroyer EVENSTEN, which they had docked near, was to join them, but needed another hour before departure.

And, only by chance, PERTH and HOUSTON ran into the main Japanese invasion fleet heading, not for north and northeastern Java, as was believed and reported, but WEST Java, directly in the small convoy’s way.  Twenty Japanese warships and fifty-eight Japanese troop transports against three damaged and depleted ships from three different Allied countries.

Today, it’s called the Battle of Sundra Strait.

(The Above movie includes survivors accounts of what happened in this battle and later)

It was dark, only 45 minutes from midnight.  The battle was lit by the full moon and the flares of the massive guns from all sides.  PERTH,  already in the lead, took lead and soon vansihed in the smoke from the gunfire.  When HOUSTON saw her again, she was already sinking, just 30 minutes into battle.  HOUSTON was now alone.

She fired all her batteries at the enemy which attacked in small groups of ships at a time, while the troopships tried to land and disembark their cargo.  HOUSTON’s gunners and pointers, half blinded by the flashes and constantly shifting battle groups in and out of the smoke, found it hard to keep a target in sight for long.  But while the HOUSTON could fire at anyone and everyone, the Japanese had to be much more careful–at least three of their own ships were destroyed by friendly fire.

High above in the superstructure,  the Japanese scored a hit, sending the superstructure into flames for twenty minutes before it could be gotten under control.  Down below, a torpedo ripped into HOUSTON’s after engine room, destroying it.  Rescue parties had to turn back, the steam was burning everything in sight–no further communications were recieved from the engine room.  The venting steam and heat however, blinded t he Anti-aricraft director and forced temporary evacuation from the aft guns.

Then another torpedo took out the Communications and Plotting Room.  The fire and heat forced what few survivors there may have been to abandon and seal those sections–each man on the HOUSTON was now their own fighting unit, independent of each other, but on one floating platform.

Ten minutes later, a direct hit blue the powder magazine in Turret Two, forcing the Conn to evacuate.  Over the radio, survivors remembered heare “Fire in Turret Two’s Magazine”  “Flood Turret Two’s Magazine”  “Fire in A-415-M”   “Flood A-415-M”  “Fire in A-410-M”  “Flood A-410-M”

to this day, no one knows how these fire stared.  But flooding Turret Two’s magazine, left Turret One with no more ammunition.

Fire broke out in lifejacket storage.  With flames licking out of her, HOUSTON became a glowing target, one which the JApanese could not miss.  She took hit after hit.

Five minutes after Turret Two was hit and encircled by enemy ships in point blank range, Captain Albert Rooks announced “Abandon SHIP!”  Moments later, a shell struck the communications deck, and killed him.

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Another Torpedo hit on HOUSTON’s Starboard side brought HOUSTON to a halt, dead.

A survivor later recalled:

“..The Japanese had encircled the Houston, illuminated it with searchlighst and were raking the HOUSTON wiht shells and machine gunfire.  And exploding shell killed Captain Rooks.  Then some shrapnel hit me.  I entered the water with the goal of distancing myself from the ship.  The Japanese contined to rake the survivors.  I’d swim under for as long as I could, surface, glance at the HOUSTON and submerge.  Finally, the HOUSTON adn the Japanese vanished….”--David Flynn

The men scrambled to their stations to abandon ship.  The Executive Officer, now Captain was last seen going aft to make sure the men could get into lifeboats.  Moments later, that section took a severe shelling and he was not seen again.

Twenty minutes after ABANDON SHIP had sounded, an hour after PERTH had sunk, ninety minutes after the battle had started, HOUSTON listed Starboard, rolled, and sank.

Of HOUSTON’s 1,061 men, only 368 were ever found.  All of these men were captured.  of PERTH’s crew of 681,  328 remained, all but four (who died after reaching shore) were captured.

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The end of the HOUSTON, as painted by a Japanese propaganda postcard. From navsource.org via Arnold Putnam

 

In the dark, none saw the Dutch Destroyer EVERTSEN.  Warned by the flashes and flares far ahead in the night, EVERTSEN sailed around the PERTH and HOUSTON’s battle, heading south to warn those expecting them.  Then she suddenly encounted two more Japanese destroyers, who chased her through the night.  AFter a few hits, and with her stern aflame, EVERTSEN tried to beach herself.  her crew escaped into the Javanese forest, where the survivors were taken prisoner.

Three ships were gone, with them, their crews, and no one in the Allied bases evacuating Java or establishing themselve in Australia knew what had happened.  Altogether, 1,071 Allied had gone down with their ships, and 675 survived.   And they had fought hard: sinking or forcibly grounding four troopships, damaging one cruiser, killing ten men and wounding 37 (and another minelayer had been sunk in friendly fire in the confusion.)

The survivors were taken to Jakarta, now, only a few days later, in Japanese hands.

It wold be 1945 before the fates of these ships would come to light in the faces and collective memories of the surviving POWs.  Meanwhile, the city of Houston Texas, learning of their namesake’s ship missing status, raised enough funds to build a second HOUSTON in her honor–and a second ship, the small aircraft carrier SAN JACINTO. (and now  a third HOUSTON, submarine SSN-713 serves in the Navy).

 

But the resting places of these ships would take longer.

PERTH was found earlier, and by 2013, it was noticed that she had been so stripped by salvagers that her superstructure is largely gone.  As neither Indonesia or Australia are part of the international pact that criminalizes such slavage, there is not much to be done but guard her for the future.

diagram of the wreck of the HMAS PERTH, who lies close to the HOUSTON. You can see the severe damage she took in the course of her short 30 minute fight in the Sundra Strait. Photo credit: Perthone.com

 

And today, after nineteen underwater surveys and years over documentation, the confimation of HOUSTON’s resting place has been announced.  Sadly, her wreck proves that people have also been salvaging from her for a long time, but now that her identity has been confirmed, the Navy can better preserve and protect this ship and her gallant crew.  Her resting place has been fiarly well known for years, but only now, with the documentation, can the NAvy confirm her, and claim her as a war wreck and grave. And as a certified graveyard, she is protected from further intentional damage by our international pacts.

USS Houston final resting place

The US Navy lays a memorial wreath at the site of hte HOUSTON's grave on June 11, 2014, before the news is publicly announced. Photo Credit: MC Christian Senyk of the Associated Press from this article.


(Wreck footage begins at 50 second mark)

Thank you HOUSTON, PERTH, EVENSTEN and your men for performing beyond the call of duty.  May we never forget.

 

Sources:

Office of Naval Intelligence: The Java Sea Campaign, Combat Narrative. 

USS Houston, Senior Survivor (former Gunnery Officer) US Archives, fold3.com

The Ghosts that Died at Sundra Strait by Walter Winslow, HOUSTON survivor.  (Google Books)

A Survivor’s Story: David Flynn USN

USS Houston Survivor’s Association

Photos of USS HOUSTON

USS PERTH AND USS HOUSTON WRECKS (one of the documenting phtoographers was Kevin Denlay, who helped find and document the USS PERCH, a US Submarine whose wreck was found in 2006.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tribute to the Flier, the Families and so many more…

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 13 2014

It’s hard to believe, it’s 70 years ago today.

One of the last photos taken of Flier, less than four months before she sank.

70 years ago that Flier, still a new boat, hit a floating mine and sank in seconds, taking more than 70 souls with her the the bottom of the Balabac Strait.

In only seconds, still running full speed, she collided with the stony floor, crushing and twisting her bow, until it fell.

Above, thrashing in the water now blackened with the diesel and oil bleeding out of Flier’s wound, floated fifteen of her crew.  Some were uninjured, having been many feet above the ocean’s surface when she hit. Others, having hit portions of Flier’s structure during her sinking, were gravely injured.

Through the night, they would swim north, trying to reach one of the tiny islands where they could rest and figure out where they were.  Charts detailed the oceans: the depths, the currents, traffic lanes, tidal tables, dangerous shoals,anything and everything to navigate the smallest fishing vessel, to the largest freighter to the submarines under the surface.  But islands were blanks.  No longer able to collectively lurk beneath the enemy’s oceans, the surviving Fliers were now fleeing the enemy utterly blind, hoping against hope, to escape somehow.

They also had no way of knowing that the Filipino people had not taken the Japanese invasion lying down.  They may have had to allow the Japanese to take certain cities and villages, they may have had to allow Japanese garrisons and outposts, (to resist otherwise would have brought huge detachments of enemy military to utterly destroy their islands) but, the Filipinos, those who had grown up on these islands, who knew every nook and cranny, every cave and hunting and fishing spot, every alley and family nearby,  had not gone down quietly.

The few Flier survivors who managed to survive, and hang on through seventeen agonizing hours of swimming, were swimming into a quiet war they didn’t know existed.  On Palawan, the nearest large island, the native people made sure the Japanese were nearly trapped in their own garrisons.  There were locations where the Japanese occupying force steered clear of.  The costs had been high: one of the guerrilla leaders, Dr. Higinio Mendoza, had been snatched from his family’s home on the one night, his wedding anniversary, he’d sought to join his family for a few stolen hours together.  He would later be forced to dig his own grave before he was killed.  His widow, Trinidad, with small children to care for while under Japanese surveillance and occupation, would take his place, coordinating men and forces and collecting information.  Dr, Mendoza would not be the only guerrilla to sacrifice everything

Other Filipinos deserted their coastal villages, building new lives in the mountains, braving malaria.  And these small families and groups would be called upon to shelter the odd service man who survived his crash landed plane, or those who managed to break out of a POW work camp, or even the occasional refugee still on the run from the Fall of Manila and the Philippines over two years earlier, and those American neighbors who had lived among them before 1941 and now had prices on their heads.

The Fliers were hoping to survive until maybe the Americans would re-invade the Philippines, or the end of the war.  But the Filipinos they were unknowingly swimming towards were already organized, networked, and looking for Allied survivors.

Moreover, the American invasion had already begun months earlier.  Spies, men of Filipino descent, had been selected, trained and sent behind enemy lines via FLIER’S sister submarines to watch enemy movements, reporting back weather patterns, enemy installations, strength, numbers, traffic patterns, changes, so General Mac Arther in Australia could co-ordinate his landings in two months.

So these men had radios, and radios can not only send information out, they can ask for help.

The Flier survivors were about to do something that had not been done by the Pacific submariners yet during the war…they were already swimming home.  And they were committed to helping the families of their lost friends bear the burden of their grief and memories.

But to protect this secret military network of volunteer men, women, and young boys, to protect the secret spies broadcasting from all over the Philippines, the Flier’s story would be quietly buried under red tape and classified gag-orders, and slowly forgotten by all save those who had known the Flier  crew and the people who helped get the survivors home. The memories of her crew who went down with her would remain vivid in the memories of their families, and their surviving crewmates for the decades to come.

 

A memorial to the USS Flier. The wreck image was compiled from footage in the show "Dive Detectives: Submarine Graveyard" from YAP Films. This image is also in the book Surviving the Flier.

The Flier herself would remain quietly buried until her discovery in April 2009.    Her crew would be honored by a collective memorial service in 2010, three years ago today.

 

Today, I want to honor all those who gave during WWII for our modern freedoms: those who, like many in the Flier crew, gave their all. To those who, like the survivors, tried to keep going one stroke, one step at a time to get home and stand as a memory, to live with the ghosts of those who had gone while they continued to live here.  To those who found themselves living in a battlefield, and refused to simply accept it, who worked and organized in secret to do the right thing, to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves, who fed the weakened and old, who taught children amidst ruins.  To those at home, unable to help their loved ones directly as often as they would have wanted, who waited, and prayed, and did without so those who had to fight had everything they needed.  And even to those among the enemy to  did the right thing, often in direct contradiction of their culture, orders, and at great risk to themselves and their families. [1]

WWII cost us all, and still directly impacts our modern world today.

And while today marks the anniversary of the loss of one boat among hundreds, one very small crew among many detachments, squads, divisions, and ships…let us not forget these groups were made of individuals.  Individuals who had families, who did their duty in spite of fear and loss.  And may we remember AND LEARN, not only in gratitude, but so future generations won’t have to repeat their sacrifice on different battlefields.

But when they must, because human nature is what it is, may we honor those on the front lines, and at home doing their best, whether home is safely away, or under direct assault.

 

 

 

[1]  It amazes me, the more research I do, how much an enemy quietly helping a POW or a lost person, touched so many.  If there was a guard who faked a beating to avoid killing a POW in a camp, the POWs remembered.  POWs would return home and vouch for guards who made sure they got extra food, or kept their superior officers from finding out about underground food networks, got the sick extra help, among other things. Powerless to stop the camp and the abuses, there were those who helped where they could at great personal risk.  I’ve also run across many small, quiet stories of people in surrounding villages and towns in the European and Pacific fronts who would leave food where families in hiding or POWs, or concentration camp refugees could find it, who would hide “undesirable” people in their homes or on their properties, who would quietly give money to those who needed to escape ahead of enemy invasions, and those who would speak out against abuses, frequently costing them their lives.  It’s one thing, living in a country who fought on the victorious side of WWII, to remember those ‘on our side” who did the right thing…but more and more, I’m finding those who saw what their own country was doing, and chose to follow their own inner voice against their own culture.  And I admire those people too.  As Allies we stood together hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder…but there were Italians, Germans, and Japanese, who stood alone, sometimes against an oncoming flood they couldn’t stop, but stood anyway.  There were Filipinos, Malayans, Austrians, French, Dutch, Belgians, Russians, and so many others who lived under brutal conditions, “conquered” peoples, who kept their humanity through starvation, and hardship.  These stories need to be told too.

 

The Griffon hunt heats up: First a “bowsprit” and now a debris field–has Griffon been found at last?

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 24 2014

Last summer, I covered the search for “Le Griffon” (or le Grifon, Griffen, Griffin, non-standard spellings of the 17th century are so much fun) in Lake Michigan.

The Griffin is the holy grail of Great Lakes Shipwrecks.  While it’s highly unlikely that it’s the oldest shipwreck out there (there have to be some native vessels like canoes resting down there too, after all) it’s the oldest named boat known to be in the Upper Great Lakes, and even more interestingly, it is the first ship built by Europeans on the Great Lakes using native timbers.  Her discovery, if confirmed, could shed light on the very earliest shipbuilding in the New World, and even more interestingly, a ship built on temporary shipyards constructed because no one could get around Niagara Falls!  (The “shipyard” was destroyed shortly thereafter.)

Back in 2001, Steven Libert found a timber jutting out of the sandy Lake Michigan bed, one that was obviously squared off with wooden pegs embedded within it. He believed that it was a portion of the Griffin, hopefully, the bowsprit or the mast and the rest of her was buried beneath.

But the archaeological laws in Michigan are complex.  The shipwreck barely lies within the Michigan property lines that run through Lake Michigan.  The Michigan laws state that all archaeological finds beneath Lake Michigan belong to the state itself.  This is in part to prevent salvage or destruction or theft before scientific study.

The side effect, however, is that discoverers, like Libert, can often be pushed out of any subsequent explorations, and he wasn’t about to let that happen. In a twelve-year-long negotiation, Libert kept the location of the suspected “Griffon” a secret while he negotiated with the state to be part of the exploration.

But, in another twist, the French government, claiming that the Griffon, or any remains thereof, having been built by a Frenchman in French-claimed territory at that time, belongs to France.  It lead to an international exploration last summer.

The French archaeologists on the exploration declared that the exposed beam shared many characteristics with French bowsprits from the late 17th century.

But the Griffon was not beneath the “bowsprit”.  After digging around the base, the bowsprit came free, revealing nothing but sand and bedrock below.  It was a disappointment, and a huge question: where was the Griffon? IF this “bowsprit” was her, where was the rest of her?  If it wasn’t the Griffon, and the initial core tests which indicated it was from the late 17th century were accurate, what on earth was this thing?

As the permitted time to explore closed, the “bowsprit” was taken to Michigan State University for further tests, the results to be shared with the state archaeologists and the French team.

Samples were sent to be carbon-14 dated in Florida, and a CT scan in a Gaylord Hospital allowed for tree ring analysis without having to take a sample and thus potentially destroy some other evidence.

The "bowsprit" inside the CT scanner from Ostego Memorial Hospital in Gaylor MI. "Please hold your breath and remain as still as possible" Betcha that was easy this time around.

Nothing came back definitive, but at the same time, nothing came back excluding the “bowsprit” from potentially belonging to the “Griffon”  That is to say, the carbon dating suggests that the beam could be as old as the Griffon is supposed to be [1](the most recent carbon-14 test suggests the tree was cut down between 1680 and 1740, well within the margin of error for a 1679 “Le Griffon”) but in order to exclude a more modern date, different tests will be needed.

And there were 29  clear tree rings documented in the CT scan done by Otsego Memorial Hospital’s CT scanner. These were sent to Cornell University so Carol Griggs, an expert at the Tree Ring Laboratory at Cornell, can compare it to other trees of the same location and time period in Cornell’s database.  The hope was she could match these tree rings to another tree of the same region and species to “date” the bowsprit to a specific time period.  But in the end, she concluded at least 50 tree rings are needed to make a definitive match to a specific time period, so this test, too, fell through.

So nothing has yet said, “Nope—this is too young to be part of the Griffon”, which really, is the best you can hope for at this point. Of course, nothing has definitively said, “Yes this IS the Griffon!” either. What role this “bowsprit” will play in history’s future depends on what happens next.

Is it the Griffon?  There are now two camps about that.

In the “yes/it’s possible” camp are Steve Libert, its discoverer,  and the three French archaeologists headed by Michel L’Hour, director of the Department of Underwater Archaeological Research,  who joined the expedition last year.

Evidence that this is the Griffon’s bowsprit includes the beam’s general length and width, and shape of the buried end of the post.

Keep in mind, wood does not rot in the same manner in Lake Michigan as it does in the salt water of the oceans.  The cool water of the Lake keep wood in better condition for much longer.  While 19th century wooden shipwrecks are often mostly disintegrated by the 21st century, in Lake Michigan they are mostly intact.

So the buried end of the “bowsprit” shows signs of being beveled to an edge, but not sharpened to a point.  Buried as it was, this beveled edge is most likely deliberate, and original to the “bowsprit”.

A photo from the French Ministry of Culture showing the beveled, buried, end of the "bowsprit". From this article.

 

This beveling on the end is consistent with how bowsprits were shaped to be fitted to the ship itself.  The other end, with the two man-made holes and pegs could be the attachement the “elbow” used to belong to, which would then attach to the flagpole.  This type of bowsprit is at least consistent with the “La Belle”, built by La Salle five years after “Le Griffon”.

 

 

Among the inidividuals in the “no” camp is state archaeologist, Dean Anderson, and two scientsts who were on the 2013 expedition: Misty Jackson and Ken Vrana.  They believe that the “bowsprit” is most likely a stake from a “pound stake net”.

What’s a “Pound Stake Net”?

A pound stake net is a net strung among a number of submerged, vertical stakes pounded itno the sandy Lake Michigan bed 35 or more feet below the surface.  Shaped like nested hearts, or hearts in bowls, these nets allowed large schools of fish to swim inside in large numbers, but few could find the way out.

 

http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/bigs/figb0153.jpg

These diagrams of Atlantic Pound Stake Net designs show how such things worked. Schools of fish could easily enter the large opening of the "Heart" end of the nets, but them swim through the small opening at the end of the heart into the "bowl" where they would be unable to find their way out again. From here, it's easy to retrieve your catch. The locations of the poles are also easily seen on the left and center diagrams. If the "bowsprit" really is a pole from this method of fishing, others may be nearby, or records of recovered poles may exist. Diagram from NOAA. Click to see larger resolution.

 

A diagram from this article which better shows how a pound stake net works, and what it looks like from the surface. http://www.chesapeakeboating.net/Media/Feature-Stories/What-Lies-Beneath.aspx

 

These nets were so successful at capturing fish that whole populations of fish, especially the prized lake Whitefish, disappeared in the Green Bay region, where the “bowsprit” was recovered.

During the summer 2013 expedition, no one mentioned the Pound Stake Theory, because none of these recovered stakes had the type of cross-way pins that the “bowsprit” did.

But a modern fisherman, Bob Ruleau of Wisconsin, submitted a photograph of a pound stake his nets had recovered years earlier.  His recovered artifact revealed that pound stakes had, at times, been spliced together using cross-wise pins. (see the photo here)

Moreover, each pound stake was pounded in deeply once, using a pole driver, a method that would lead to a single erosion ring right at the surface of the lake bed.

http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/bigs/figb0174.jpg

A Pole driving boat in Lake Erie. According to the caption, this boat would both drive the stakes, using a pile-driver set up, and remove them at the end of the season. Makes sense in a way--winter is brutal on such semi-submerged objects, so may as well remove them, and reuse the following season. Photo from NOAA

Photograph supplied by Bob Ruleau who also supplied documentation on the splicing of the pound stakes, this photo more clearly shows how the floating pile driver would pound the stakes in. You can also see the stakes also protrude from the water by about 5 feet. If the "bowsprit" is one of these stakes, it must have broken off some time ago.

The “bowsprit” has this type of fairly clean erosion line, leading many to believe that whenever and however the “bowsprit” was driven into the lakebed, it was driven extremely forcefully.  How could the ship-side end of the bowsprit be driven so forecefully that there is only one clear cut erosion line, but no remains of the ship?

The erosion line on the "bowsprit". Photo taken by Laura Herberg from IPR for this article

Of course, where the “bowsprit” was found was similar to an underwater sand dune area.  Any Michigander knows the dunes, left to their own devices, occasionally move around, sometimes extremely rapidly (there are dozens of petrified forests around, having been buried very quickly, also an occasional hous or building has been swallowed by the dunes.)  Dunes also tend to form around protruding items, like forests, or structures.

Is it possible that the “bowsprit” broke off, and embedded itself in a small amount of sand, and thus created a catalyst for a dune to form around it within afew days?  The storm that sank the Griffon was four days long, and very violent, so such a thing would be possible.

Or is is a partically spliced pound stake left over from 19th century fishermen looking to make a large catch?

Only one way to find out.

Libert went back to the site and began to search around. Now, he’s announced that there is a large field of debris about 120 feet (36 meters) south-west from the original “bowsprit”, and hopes to gain the archaeology permits in time for another exploratory excavation in September of this year.

While the new “debris field” has yet to yield any definitive artifacts like cannon marked with the correct French seals, it does, apparently, have a partial ship’s pow, several kinds o fnails and hand hewn boards.  The nails within the debris field are consistant with a known La Salle shipwreck from the Gulf of Mexico, the “La Belle”.  If this is the case, it’s a circumstantial point to this “debris field” potentially being the Griffon.

If all goes well, this fall could be a very exciting year for Michigan archaeology!

Maybe I should do an entry on the “La Belle” and how what we’ve learned about her by studying her shipwreck could impact the search for the Griffon.

 

More information:

Bowsprit or Pound Stake Net remains?

Wooden Beam Gets CT Scan (This article supplies great photos of the “bowsprit” in the CT machine–really gives nice views of the formerly exposed end with the cross pins and holes)

Article about the new debris field from MLive, the Michigan digital paper cooperation.  They follow this story closely

 Daily Mail’s article about the new debris field; great photos


70 years after D-Day, May We Pause to Remember…

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 06 2014

When my kids bounced on me this morning, it was already past 7.  My brother lives in Germany, and has told me that they’re six hours ahead, likely five hours ahead in Normandy.  It struck me, on this 70th anniversary of D-Day, that for those families at home, getting up this morning 70 years ago, the invasion that would come to be one of the seminal moments of history, was already secure.

It was 1 am here in the Midwest, when the boots of Americans, Canadians and Englishmen hit the beaches and parachuted out of the skies, and glided in on wooden gliders (that tended to break on impact).  By 7 am here in America and Canada’s eastern regions, the German stations were silent, manned by the dead that remained when the prisoners were taken.

An Aerial view of Omaha beach taken June 6, 1944. This is only one beach of five, and I think gives a glimpse of the massive scope of this part of the operations. Wikipedia.

 

As I’ve been watching documentaries and reading articles and papers about D-Day the past two weeks, I’m amazed at what went wrong, (a lot!), what went right, what the Germans had done that we didn’t expect (steel rebar-reinforced bunkers crossed with paranoid over-engineering), and what we did that the Germans didn’t expect (The Ghost Army and Operation Bodyguard), and how that all played out on the actual field of battle.  As one military tactician said, “No battle plan survives reality”. All sorts of improvisation moment-by-moment on June 6, saved the day.

A unique color photograph showing some of the ships getting ready to sail for the Normandy invasion. The Higgins boats that will deliver the infantry men to the beach are in the foreground off to the right. Wikipedia commons.

The reality was, Hitler didn’t expect the Allies to land at those beaches.  There were two main reasons for this.  The first was he and his advisors knew that any invasion would need to be reinforced by supply ships and more troops, and therefore, the Allies, when they landed, wherever they landed, would need to land in a place that had a deep-water bay and port that those ships could use.

He didn’t forsee that the Allies were already working on floating, pre-fab wave breakers to make an artificial bay, and floating pre-fab docks for an instant port.

The other reason was simple: Hitler expected us to land at the port city of Calais…because we told him so.  All sorts of tent cities, and inflatable (not a typo—inflatable) weaponry and vehicles were stationed all around Dover where the German submarines and spies could easily see them, all ready to head to Calais. All sorts of double agents reported the movements of phantom troops heading to Dover with orders for Calais.  Lots of radio traffic was intercepted all saying the same thing, Calais…Calais…Calais.  Hitler built up Calais and the surrounding area, leaving the rest of France, including the soon-to-be-famous Norman beaches 150 miles away, relatively undefended.

But that didn’t mean that it was going to be easy.  Hitler and Rommel had built “The Atlantic Wall” to keep the Allies out—a massive string of bunkers shielding massive guns and machine guns nests intended to drive out any invaders.  Submarines spent the spring and summer of 1944 quietly watching the targeted beaches, looking for positions, landmarks, painting the landscape to help teach the coming troops, many still on their way from Canada and America, where they were and where the Germans were going to be.  Whoever stepped foot on the beaches first, regardless of when or where, was going to face a hailstorm from even the few Germans left to defend it. The troops, from Eisenhower on down, knew it.

A photo of one of the bunkers the Allies were up against on June 6, 1944. The Germans had, unknown to us, invented steel rebar reinforced concrete structures, making them much tougher to destroy than we were expecting. This bunker still exists off of Normandy's beaches, still structurally sound 70 years on. Photo Credit "Bunker" by strengthsofcow. Flickr.com, Creative Commons License.

Due to the top secret nature of D-Day, known that day as Operation Overlord, the men involved couldn’t inform their families.  Many wrote letters to be sent if they didn’t return, and the first groups to hit the beaches had more than 90% fatality rates, so many of those letters did find their ways home.

Beginning at midnight, the invasion quietly began with paratroopers and minesweepers, and by dawn, the largest naval invasion force ever assembled and coordinated, swept into the narrow lanes cleared through the minefield surrounding France, disembarking troops to re-take the captive nation.  Many of these troops had been in school on December 7, 1941, when America entered the war.  And too many wouldn’t make it past the beaches.

Just hours later, the engineers sank their artificial floating blocks to form the sheltered bay and linked the pre-fab floating docks for the ships together.  LST ships, specially designed for this type of landing, hit the beaches (literally), discharging their cargoes of tank and trucks safe from the massive guns and machine gun nests now silent along the ridge.

A rare photo of the pre-fabbed docks that were created for this invasion. one of them was destroyed by a storm a day later, but by then, it didn't matter as much, the beach head was secure and most of the supplies that needed to come off of the ships down these docks had already done so. Source: US Archives via Wikipedia.

So much had gone wrong.  The Aerial bombs intended to destroy the German positions had missed by three miles due to fog, the naval bombardment hadn’t accounted for the steel skeleton within the concrete German bunkers, preventing their destruction, and the floating tanks designed to come in before the troops and demolish what remained of the German positions, could not withstand the rough water, and sank in the bay.  When the troops ran down the ramp of their Higgins boats, they faced the full fury of the nearly unscathed German positions.

And yet…yet…the insistent constancy of the brave men continuing to run across the hedgehog-studded beach through the hail of gunfire had won the day.  Despite what the Germans threw, the men kept coming, running, improvising attacks that took the Germans from their vulnerable side—from behind.  By noon, the worst of the initial landing was over.

Another view that gives an idea of hte scope of the landings once the beach was secure. Wikipedia Commons.

Now the fighting would take place hedgerow by hedgerow, fighting through the ancient stone walls and bushy fences built by a millennia of farmers.  Many would consider this much more dangerous than the beach landing, but that was still largely in the future by noon on June 6.

The cost had been high: over four thousand Allied dead that morning[1], and they had to be take care of.  With no access to embalming or means to take the dead home to their families, the names were recorded and the dead were interred in unofficial cemeteries.  The English, Canadians, and Americans took care of their own, and also the Germans who had fallen in the battle and retreat.  Still, a fifty-mile long battlefield was extensive, and many were missed for days, and then many were unable to be identified.

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery. You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to Omaha beach. Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated. Photo Source: fold3.com

After the war, everyone returned.  Wounds had to be bound up, and the dead collected.  The country of France gave land, in perpetuity, free of taxes or fees, to France, America, Britain, Canada, and even Germany, to allow them to inter the dead.

This is La Cambe Cemetery. On June 5, 1944, it was two adjoining farm fields. Following June 6, it became a dual cemetery. On one side, (I'm guessing the right) was the American dead. On the other side, German soldiers rested. After the Americans chose the Omaha Beach site for their official cemetery, they disinterred their dead from La Cambe, leaving the German dead behind. France then allowed Germany to take full possetion of this property, creating LaCambe German War Cemetery (see below). Source: fold3.com

As an American, when I think Normandy Cemetery, I instantly picture the row upon rows of white crosses set perfectly within a carpet of green at the Normandy American Cemetery.  As vast as it is, however, when you go to the Normandy cemetery, you only see ONE-THIRD of the casualties in Normandy.  When the remains of the men who died in Normandy were recovered in the years following the war, their families were given the choice to have their loved ones returned home or allowed to remain with their brothers in arms there in Normandy.  Nearly two-thirds of the families asked for their sons and brothers and husbands to come home.  In addition to those who died on or after June 6, a number of airmen who were shot down and died as early as 1942, were also returned by the French people who had buried them in honor within their own cemeteries.  Despite all the records, there were still over 1,500 missing men, and their names were inscribed on a wall near the entrance to the cemetery.  As the years have passed and more remains from this time were recovered, bronze rosettes were set next to those names whose remains were identified.  Many names, however, remain unmarked.

The walls upon which the names of the American missing are inscribed at the Normandy American Cemetery. There is a bronze sculpture in the center entitled "Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves". Photo from Wikipedia

 

The truth is, however, there are thirteen cemeteries honoring the dead of just the Norman invasion of WWII.

The Americans have the one Normandy American Cemetery.

The crosses of the Normandy American Cemetery. Wikipedia.

The Canadians maintain two cemeteries: Bény-sur-Mer Canadian Cemetery and Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery.

Teh Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Cemetery. Wikipedia Commons.

There are four British Cemeteries: Bayeux War Cemetery, Ranville War Cemetery, Banneville-la-Campagne and St. Manvieu War Cemetery

, have now set free the Conqueror's Native Land." In addition, there is a German section, where 466 German soldiers rest, their graves also maintained by the same Commonwealth War Graves Commission that maintains this cemetery.   Wikipedia Commons."”]And the Germans needed six cemeteries for their dead: La Cambe German War Cemetery; Champigny-St. André German War Cemetery, Marigny German War Cemetery, Mont-de-Huisnes German War Cemetery, Orglandes German War Cemetery, and Saint-Désier-de-Lisieux German War Cemetery.

The German La Cambe cemetery. Of the 12,000 German soldiers buried here, most fell between June 6 and August 20, 1944. The soldiers here originally rested in 1,400 unofficial or quickly organized battlefield cemeteries all over northern France. The youngest men here were 16. The oldest were 72. The large hill to the right topped by the cross is a mass grave for 296 German men, most un-identified. (It may be the site of that circular path in the 1946 La Cambe photo above). The tombstones here are low and flat, you can see them behind the large basalt crosses in the foreground. Wikipedia Commmons.

Today, as many heads of state gather over those bluffs, remembering that day when young soldiers charged through blood-soaked sand to re-take a tiny piece of France, may we all pause.  So many young people, from the infantry men who faced near certain death, to the paratroopers landing behind enemy lines, to the doctors and nurses who had to treat horrific injuries in field hospitals and ships at sea, chose to re-enter the war, and take down the Nazi regime because they believed in a good beyond themselves, and greater than their individual lives, that had to defeat the evil the Nazis wanted to take world wide.  They chose to face death and the death of those around them, in order that those left behind them at home could continue to live free, and those living under enemy rule could re-gain the freedom lost.

The cost lies under so many “white trees” along that fifty-mile beach, and all over Europe and the Pacific, and within America’s borders.

Freedom truly isn’t free.  And that proud tradition continues today with our men and women in uniform.

To those who gave their all and sleep beneath stones, thank you for giving it all up for me, and my family, and us all.

To those who continue to serve, thank you, and I pray that you do not need to lie beneath a tombstone for my sake, but thank you for being willing to do so.  May we honor your service now and always.

And to those who lived through hell, who question, “why me?  Why did I survive when so many good men and women did not?” I say, “I don’t know.  But tell me about them and what happened.”  May those of us who come after, listen to the cost, remember those who passed, and know that we stand on the shoulders of those willing to see and live beyond their own small world.

 

Thank you.

 

For more information:
The 607th Quartermaster Graves Registration History.  These personal photos taken in the aftermath of D-Day and the subsequent weeks and years show how the temporary cemeteries were created and later consolidated.  Warning, these are personal, uncensored photos.  Some may find the visual records of how these dead soldiers wer interred disturbing, but they are a unique view into this part of American military history.

[1] As a comparison, in the eight years of fighting the Revolutionary War, the Americans had lost about 8,000 soldiers.  Half of that number fell in just a couple of hours on June 6, 1944.

Horace Hunley and the Civil War Underwater Experiment Part 2: The AMERICAN DIVER submarine

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 22 2014

Summer, 1862:

The South is being squeezed by the North, but the war is nowhere near finished, or even, as things turned out, half over.  The Union had the advantage in numbers of people, industries, railroad connections and the military/government complex already made and tested.  The Confederates, forced to create and develop everything from Constitutions, capitals, governments, military complete with command structure and resources, on the fly or on the run while defending their boarders,  had nonetheless had a number of early, major victories.

Though eleventh in chronological battles, the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas, is considered the first major engagement between the Confederate and Union troops.  Less than 20 miles from Washington DC and connected by good roads and rails, the Battle of Bull Run/Manassas, was a complete rout, with Union troops breaking and running, with some civilian observers, back to Washington DC in a near-panic.  (It was a 10 hour carriage drive, so we’re not talking a complete gallop the entire way)

File:MNBPRickettsBatteryPainting.jpg

Painting "Capture of Rickett's Battery" by National Parks Painter, Sydney E King. Now on display at Manassas National Battlefield. Wikipedia.

According to the common warfare of the time period, many on the Union side believed that the Confederates would follow and attempt to capture Washington DC the next day or two. DC residents scrambled to gather their personal effects, important government papers, artifacts, and abandon town before the Confederates 1812’d the place and “White House III” needed to be re-built–again.  Certainly President Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States, there on the field of Manassas, urged his generals to do just that, capture DC, sue for peace, and put this war behind them.

But it never happened. The Confederates rested their troops, the Union regrouped, and the war dragged on.  And the weaknesses of the South’s economy began to show.

The South’s economy was based on agriculture, specifically “King Cotton”.  Prior to the invention and patenting of the cotton gin in 1793,[1] cotton was a laborious crop, requiring so much work to raise, pick, process, and weave that the resulting cloth was a luxury good only the rich could easily afford. The South primarily grew tobacco, which was losing popularity. By the end of the 1780’s ,the large plantations and the slavery on which they depended, were slowly dying away. Then the cotton gin eliminates one of the most problematic and labor-intensive parts of cotton’s cycle from plant to fabric: removing the seeds.  (Seriously, one pound of cotton needs 10 hours to de-seed by hand.  The early 19th century gins can handle 50 pounds a day.)

Suddenly, cotton cloth is cheap and there’s a whole new market for cotton all over Europe and America. They couldn’t get enough of the stuff.  The South churned out millions of bales a year to feed that appetite, increasing plantation size, numbers of slaves, and wealth.  But that means they develop industry only in so far as it helps increase cotton production, and transportation thereof to sea ports.  The North develops industry, including manufacture of steam engines, laying of railroads, mining metals, and growing grains and foods in fertile valleys that are too cold to support cotton.  Many of these things take up land that could be used for cotton, so the South’s economy benefited the most from selling as much cotton as they can produce and purchasing anything they might need from the North and Europe.

But when push comes to shove, and suddenly you can’t ship your product out, you discover….cotton’s USELESS.  You can’t eat it.  You can’t use it.  You can’t make it into weapons to defend yourself, you can’t build with it, you can’t do anything other than trade for stuff you can use.  You can make cloth and tents and clothes with it…but the looms for these things were in the North and Europe.  Cotton was shipped out in bales, not bolts. So long as the Union blockade remained and grews, millions of tons of cotton bales built up in warehouses and sea ports [2], but the economy of the Confederate States teetered  on the brink of collapse. [3]

Taken in June 1862, these are part of the Confederate fortifications of Yorktown. You can see what they used to buttress the fortifications and absorb gunfire. Well, when you have MILLIONS of bales of the stuff lying around...you've got to do SOMETHING.... Photo credit: About.com "Secondary Education: Confederate fortifications at Yorktown"

There are blockade runners, but they have to be built for speed to outrun the Union ships, so they can’t carry enough freight to balance the ships which are still being held hostage.  The South HAS to break the blockade to survive.  And despite having to sink her, the PIONEER proved to be one of the most promising ships that could blow up, sneak around, or break the phalanx of Union ships that kept Confederate frigates in, and European frigates out.

Now in Mobile Alabama, Hunley, McClintock and Watson need a new place to build their next boat, and they found it, and two new partners in the bargain: Park and Lyons Machine Shop, the business of Tom Parks and Tom Lyons.

http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/0844318.jpg

Taken about 100 years later, in 1960, this shop would have been one of the centers of technological industry in Mobile during the Civil War. navsource.org.

This new boat was supposed to advance on the PIONEER in a few ways: she would have a longer hull with more room for men.  Her knife-like bow come to a vertical blade rather than a point, which would allow her to cut through the water easily, while giving vertical stability.  But most importantly, Hunley and his team hoped to revolutionize underwater navigation with a new engine propulsion system.

Even into the twentieth century, underwater propulsion had a central problem: combustion engines required air, and anything that’s watertight is also airtight.  Within seconds to minutes, the engine sucks all the air out of the vessel and your lungs start to take issue with this idea.  That’s why the diesel submarines of WWII were not diesel boats in the strictest sense, they were diesel electric.  Submarines would run the engines on the surface with special induction valves allowing air in, the engines would run generators, the generators would charge batteries.  Once charged, the engines could be shut down, the intakes closed, and the submarine, now running solely on electric batteries, could take to the depths. Until battery power ran out, the submarine could remain underwater. (Modern subs also function on this principle, but nuclear plants do not require air to function, so modern subs remain underwater as long as food stores and crews’ patience holds out.)

But that innovation was still thirty-five years or so in the future.  Hunley and his team of four had a lot to work through, and no time to screw up.

File:American Diver.jpg

You can see in this cross-sectional diagram, allegedly done by McClintock, that AMERICAN DIVER was meant to have only one crewman provided the engine idea worked. (engine off to the left). Wikipedia.

The original engine idea was a electric-magnetic engine.  Sadly, there are no specifications beyond this description, so no one knows how they were going to design or rig this thing in any configuration.  The only thing we know is the engine, once fitted within the hull of the PIONEER II (now called AMERICAN DIVER), was not powerful enough to propel the submarine fast enough to overcome even the simplest current.  With no documentation of the engine, or the tests used before the engine was removed and destroyed, we’ll never know how close we could have come to a unique engine propulsion system, or how much earlier the NAvy could have used submarines.

With the electric-magnetic engine abandoned, the group turned to a custom built small steam engine.  Any engineer is going to see the problem with this idea–same as the combustion engine idea-fire needs air and air in a submarine is in short supply.  The best historians can figure, this engine may have been designed to build up significant pressure, then, once the fire was doused, the crew could dive the boat, and function on the graduated release of the built up pressure.  An interesting idea, but didn’t work well enough again.  We’re back to a few strong men turning a crank.

Изображение

A second diagram of the DIVER, mislabeled the Hunley, but most assuredly the DIVER. Here you can see the hand crank for the propeller is now incorporated (on the right).

It was now January, 1863.

The Great Ironclad MONITOR and MERRIMACK had already fought each other to a draw.  The Battle of Bull Run/Manassas (no. 2) had happened with another Confederate victory, but things were slowly turning against the South.

AMERICAN DIVER however, was a bright spot.  she handled, she turned, she seemed to be ideal to drag a contact mine behind her and take out the ships blocking Mobile’s harbor.  This links to the best drawing I’ve seen about how her crew were positioned and worked within AMERICAN DIVER.  (Couldn’t get permission to post in time, so the link is the next best thing)

By February 1863, the Confederates decided to try the DIVER against the blockade.  The crank was physically hard on the men of the DIVER, and Mobile was over twenty miles from the mouth of the bay. So, the DIVER was towed from Mobile to Fort Morgan, located on a little spit of sand guarding the harbor’s entrance.  Between Fort Morgan and Fort Gains, across the way, the DIVER and any of her targets would be in closest proximity until a target was close enough for a mission.  Here’s where the story of the DIVER differs slightly, though the ending is the same.

In the first version, as DIVER was approaching Ft. Morgan, a storm, which had been building as DIVER and her tow reached their goal, swamped the DIVER.  The tow ship was soon forced to cut the t0wline, lest DIVER take on water and draw her tow down with it.  With her prospective crew on the towing ship and safe, DIVER went down alone.

In the second version, the DIVER made it to Fort Morgan, and out and back on her first mission, but the attack was unsuccessful. A second attack was planned, and it was at this juncture, heading out on her second mission, that the DIVER was lost in the storm. [4]

This 1861 map of Mobile Bay shows how small and up-river Mobile is compared to modern day, and also how far the AMERICAN DIVER had to be towed to get to her operational area. Despite continuing as a busy and well-mapped port, Mobile Bay still hides the secret of AMERICAN DIVER's resting place. Image is larger than it appears, click for full details.

Whatever happened, the DIVER was gone, and with it, the time, money and resources the Confederates had put into her.  None of those where easily replaceable, not any more.

But both the PIONEER and the DIVER had been so promising, Hunley and his team were determined to try again.  With money and materials scarce, in order to build her, they were now going to have to sell shares of any future loot this next submarine, called “The FISH BOAT” or “PORPOISE” on paper, would someday capture.

Try, try, again.

 [1] Archaeological evidence shows that the ancient Indians (as in, subcontinent of,) had a type of cotton gin as far back as 500 AD.  There were also types of roller cotton gins in the Bahamas in the 19th century.  In addition, there are claims that Eli Whitney was not,  technically, the first inventor of the cotton gin–just the first one to try and patent it for mass-production.  Whatever the truth (which is usually tangled), Whitney did not make much money on his gin…later he invented the rifle with inter-changeable component parts for easy assembly and repair.  THERE’s where the money was!

[2] Ironically, in 1861, after the South started to secede, but before the North decided to blockade the ports (see note [3]) the South decided to economically force the North and Europe (actually, England, or if all else fails, France) to either sue for peace (North) or intercede and mediate for peace (Europe).  They did this by voluntarily refusing to ship cotton out of the South, devastating the European and Northern cloth shipping, weaving, textile, and clothing markets.   Or so they thought.  The North wasn’t interested, and thanks to the South’s extreme sucess at growing cotton, they’d actually grown more than could be USED in the past year.  (The English also had seen this war coming and had stocked up…just in case)  So warehouses were bulging with cotton on both sides of the Atlantic.  The 1861 crop was not, strictly speaking, needed.  Moreover, England didn’t want to upset the North, putting trade for grain and corn and goods at risk, and they most certainly didn’t want the North invading Canada in retribution…again (War of 1812).  There was some economic fallout, see “Lancashire Cotton Famine” in Whikipedia.  But it wasn’t bad enough for the English to risk jumping in the middle of this mess.  France didn’t want a divided America, they wanted a strong America who could balance the English in trade and military naval might in the Atlantic. So, they didn’t interfere and hoped for a Union success.  And then Egypt and the Bahamas said, “If you’re looking for cotton…we’ve got plenty!”  So this failed on a catastrophic level. (Let that be a lesson, unless you have ABSOLUTE 100% control of a good or service and there is NO substitute, more often than not, hoarding stuff only provides others the opportunity to fill the market you vacated!)

[3] Ironically, (there’s just too much irony!)  by “blockading” the Confederate States, the Union States were tacitly acknowledging the Southern states HAD the right to secede and form an independent nation, and thus, this isn’t a rebellion, this was a war against a seperate nation that used to be part of their own.  After all, you block someone else’s ports.  You simply close your own to trade.  By “blockading” the South rather than closing her, the North showed that despite rhetoric, they, on some level, believed it was true the South had the formed a second nation.  (Another little known fact: NEW ENGLAND came within a hairs-breadth of seceeding from the union during the War of 1812, when Federal policies de facto prevented trade with France and England both–killing New England’s economy.)

[4] Clive Cussler, the novelist of the Dirk Pitt adventures (love ‘em!) was part of the team which located and helped raise the HUNLEY in 2000.  He’s now searching for the AMERICAN DIVER in Mobile Bay.  I do hope he someday finds her, and the HUNLEY and DIVER can be exhibited together.

Horace Hunley and the Civil War Underwater Experiment Part 1: The PIONEER submarine

Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 18 2014

That line between Genius and Insanity is razor thin…just ask Horace Hunley, lawyer and submarine inventor.

The Hunley submarine, the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in war, sank 150 years ago today (within minutes of completing her claim to fame).  I will be putting together a week long blog about her development, sinking(s), crew, sisters, and finally, rediscovery.

The CSS HL HUNLEY, in her refrigerated conservation tank in Charleston, South Carolina. (only a few miles from the AMBERJACK's memorial, come to think of it.) Public Domain

It’s a fascinating story…but has several moments of, “Wait, they did What?  AGAIN?!” in it.

Most people don’t know this, but the CSS HUNLEY, who is getting all the attention this week, was the youngest of a submarine trio, and only one of MANY submarines designed and constructed for both sides of the American Civil War.  her two older sisters were the PIONEER and AMERICAN DIVER.

Despite the fact the Hunley is officially the first submarine to sink an enemy warship, it is not considered to be part of the official history of the Navy’s submarine force.  The Submarine Force’s start date is April 1, 1900, when the Navy purchased the HOLLAND (VI) from its inventor John P. Holland.

Of course, technically, the HUNLEY was invented, served, and was lost under the flag of the Confederate States of America, not the United States of America, so I suppose on some level, it makes sense.

Despite the use of submarines during war on American soil (the Turtle’s attack on the HMS EAGLE in 1776, and two more ‘submarine attacks” on British Ships during the War of 1812), and a number of other submarine developments and inventions world-wide, by the mid 19th century Navy of the USA did not have any plans to pursue submarines.   In fact when Hoosier SHOEMAKER Lodner Philips invented and successfully tested two submarines in Lake Michigan, in 1852, he offered to sell them to the US Navy.  Their response?  “No Authority is known to this Bureau to purchase a submarine boat…the boats used by this Navy go on, not under, the water.”

But of course, necessity is the mother of invention…and invention’s unspoken father? Desperation.

Just as soon as the United States split along the Mason-Dixon line, both the US Navy and the brand-spanking squeaky new Confederate Navy are willing to consider and even encourage any new technologies, no matter how cutting edge, dangerous or even foolhardy.

Leaving the Union and their “Alligator” for the moment, since this IS an article about Hunley and The Hunley, we’ll head to New Orleans.

Horace Hunley was a New Orleans lawyer, and like many men in the Americas at this time, liked to wear a few more hats, serving in the Louisiana Legislature as well as inventing.

As soon as what would become known as the American Civil War broke out, The Confederate Government authorized private citizens to operate as privateers (cause the new Confederate Navy is missing several critical items: ships!  (well, at least seaworthy ones, they didn’t have many of those).

Knowing that it would take years they didn’t have for the Confederate Navy to come close to matching the Union Navy in terms of ship numbers, the Confederacy turned to technological innovation, trying to make each ship more than a match for any on the other side.  Ironclads, torpedo boats, and even revisiting the submarine question.

Submarines became even more important as President Lincoln and the Union Navy, taking advantage of their pre-existing personnel, resources and numbers of ships, took advantage of the Confederacy’s Achillies Heel, and blockaded the new nation into its own boarders. Despite the wealth the South exported in the form of cotton to Europe, it had little infrastructure compared to the north, and required trade with the north and Europe to sustain its economy.  The blockade would end up destroying the South’s economy.

A submarine however, theoretically, could either run under the blockade itself, or attack and destroy enough Union ships that the  South could break through and trade with Europe or even gain recognition from European countries for its status and standing in the world.

Enter Horace Hunley in New Orleans. (New Orleans was one of the principal ports of the South and one of the particularly blockaded ports from the North.)

Hunley and two friends, Machinists James McClintock and Baxter Watson, began designing submarines. They quickly built one submarine, the PIONEER, and tested her in NOLA’s Lake Pontchartrain. Thirty feet long, four foot diameter, she had a hand cranked propeller, it was crewed by three men.  Two turned the propeller, and the third guy  got to do everything else.

File:PioneerSubDrawingStauffer.jpg

Sketches of the PIONEER showing the exterior, and interior plan. You can see the hand-cranked propeller on the right, towards the stern. The "periscope" in a way, is object "C". navsource.org

PIONEER proved she was seaworthy (after some modifications to stop small leaks), including being able to stay safely underwater up to two hours. Some accounts state that she sank a schooner and a couple of target barges using towed Torpedoes in Lake Pontchartrain.  (A Torpedo at this time was what we’d consider a “sea mine” today, an explosive device that blows on contact).  According to Donald Cartmell’s The Civil War Up Close: Thousands of Curious, Obscure and Fascinating Facts, two men died in the course of dive tests, though there does not appear to be evidence that the PIONEER herself sank.

http://www.hunley.org/final_images/contentlarge/HS_0146.jpg

This shows the eventual HUNLEY, but you can clearly see how a submarine could easily sink something while dragging a buoyant "torpedo". The submarine, being underwater and several feet ahead and below the explosion (and presumably on the opposite side of the affected target) would probably have been well-shielded from the blast and sinking. from hunley.org

As with most inventions, once you have one, you start going, “Oh, next time we should do this, and this, move this here, that over there…”  As PIONEER continued her trials, Hunley, McClintock and Watson began designing a sister on paper.  But in the meantime, they received a letter of marque from the Confederate government, turning the PIONEER and any of her potential crews into legal pirates, allowed to attack ships and capture booty–so long as they limited themselves to Union ships and booty.

But New Orleans was too important to the Union Troops.  A year after the war began, Union troops landed in massive numbers, overwhelming NOLA’s defenses.  The  inventors had to evacuate to Mobile, Alabama with as many blueprints, designs and drawings they could carry, but there was no way to move PIONEER in time, and no way to reliably take her by sea to a safer port.  She had to be scuttled, better lost to all now than show the incoming Union troops what Hunley and his team had already accomplished.

Sadly, the attempt didn’t work.  The PIONEER was found and raised by Union troops.  U.S. Navy Lieutenants Alfred Colin and George W. Baird of the USS Pensacola‘s engineering department thoroughly studied this strange ship and forwarded their drawing to their fleet engineer.  These documents were lost until around 1994, when historian March Ragan found them in the National Archives.  The drawing below was included in that report (note the “Rebel” in the “Rebel Submarine Ram” title.)

File:PioneerSubDrawingShock.jpg

The Union Troops drawing of the PIONEER. This was the drawing that finally proved the submarine on display for years in New Orleans wasn't the PIONEER. (see below). From navsource.org

 

The PIONEER remained high and dry until 15 February 1868, when she was sold at auction for $43 worth of iron scrap.  And so ended one of the great experiments in marine technology.

Strangely though, PIONEER apparently had some competition.  In 1878, while dredging the St. John Bayou channel, another iron submarine was discovered. Incorrectly identified as the “Pioneer” for years, (because no one seems to have made the connection between the weird vessel sold ten years earlier for scrapping and this thing) it’s now known that this was a different boat altogether.  But that’s about all that’s known.  To date, no one has been able to conclusively find any records, documentation or any indication of what she was called, who designed or built her, or anything else.  As mysterious an artifact as you’ll ever find from the Civil War, it underwent conservation in 1999 (to remove the cement “conservators” filled her with in 1908!) and is now on display in the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.

(Apparently, there is a current theory regarding this strange boat.  Historian Francis Chandler Furman theorizes that this vessel might have been a scale model working prototype of what should have been a much larger vessel to be constructed in Confederate shipyards.  If true, it would have been made at Tredegar Iron Works of Richmond Virginia (makers of steam engines, rifles, cannons and  iron cladding for CSS VIRGINIA, among other things) and may have been sent to New Orleans through Edward M. Ivens, Tredegar’s New Orleans agent, possibly for testing, or even to be the pattern for the New Orleans shipyards.)

 

File:Subsoldiershome.jpg

The unknown submarine, at its outdoor display site, where it remained until 1999. It's now housed inside the Louisiana State Museum. wikipedia.org

Based on the blueprints left behind, a life-size PIONEER has been re-created and is now on display at the Lake Pontchartrain Museum in Louisiana.

Meanwhile, back in 1862, on their way to Mobile, Alabama, with as many designs as they could salvage, the Hunley trio already had a new name in mind: AMERICAN DIVER.  And unlike her now-lost older sister, she’d have a new innovation: engine power.

 

More Information:

The HL Hunley in Historical Context

 

USS Amberjack: Lost around 16 February 1943

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 17 2014

The Amberjack sat on her building ways on December 7, 1941.  One of many planned submarines, she was soon finished, tested, commissioned and sent to the Pacific, where she and her sisters were, in many respects, the largest and most complete line of defense against the Japanese.

AMBERJACK just before her commissioning. navsource.org

Her first patrol was extremely successful for a new crew.  AMBERJACK’s commanding officer, John Archibald Bole, had commanded the S-21 before the war, but the AMBERJACK was one of the new fleet boats, will all the luxuries the S-boats lacked: air conditioning, clothes washers, refrigerated food storage, and a bunk for (almost) every man.  Amberjack, like her sisters, was also longer, wider, deeper diving, and farther ranging than the old S-boats.  Bole was expected, especially with the new unrestricted warfare declaration for the submarine force, to go deep in Japanese territory and bring the war to the enemy before the surface fleet could even start to refloat and recover.

Her first patrol was amazingly successful.  Leaving Pearl on 20 August, 1942, AMBERJACK headed for New Ireland and the Solomon Islands.  Three days in, she fired at her first target, but the torpedoes missed.  She didn’t miss her second chance, which came the next day, and broke the troop ship SHIROGANE MARU in two, sending her to the ocean’s floor.

Three weeks and two failed attack later (including AMBERJACK’s first thorough depth charge attack,) she fired two torpedoes at a coal freighter.  One blew the bow open, but the ship doggedly cdrive herself forward, trying to escape.  AMBERJACK took up the chase, with both vessels firing deck guns at each other an hour in.  The freighter hoped to scare off her hunter, the Amberjack tried to finish the job.  Both stayed too far out of range to do any damage.

The sun set, and AMBERJACK lost sight of her target.  The freighter may have breathed a sigh of relief.  But AMBERJACK’s new Radar system pinged the freighter 8,000 yards off the starboard bow.  AMBERJACK moved closer, startling the freighter, who zigged out of the way of AMBERJACK’s first shot.  Amberjack fired again, and caught her prey, the SENKAI MARU.  She sank, many of her crew evacuating on lifeboats for nearby Kavieng.

A few days later, lurking in Kavieng Harbor, AMBERJACK fired at four vessels sitting anchored, hitting and sinking the Tonen Maru II.  A whale (slaughter) factory ship now converted tanker, it sank to the bottom of the harbor…which was too shallow to fully engulf the TONEN.  Amberjack claimed her kill, believing the TONEN MARU too damaged to be used again.

(Indeed, five days later, the Allies, who had long since cracked the Japanese military’s secret codes, intercepted this message, which AMBERJACK included in her War Patrol Report:

Excerpt from War Patrol Report, First War Patrol, USS Amberjack, SS-219, page 18. From fold3.com. The Japanese eventually raised the TONEN MARU (II), and put her back to work. Submarine PINTADO put a permanent end to her on 22 August, 1944.

 

But now AMBERJACK was running into trouble.  She decided “it was not advisable to linger around” (you think?) and headed to sea.  But the calm seas betrayed her.  AMBERJACK’s ballast tanks had started to leak under the pressure of the patrol’s many attacks and counterattack, and streams of bubbles trickled out of ballast tanks #2 adn #6.  The planes guarding Kavieng Harbor tracked her down, dropping multiple depth charges, forcing AMBERJACK to stay down.  In addition, the attack periscope was broken and nearly useless, and sonar had been knocked completely out, renderning AMBERJACK deaf (and to a submarine, half-blind as well).

Bole decided to head for the nearest safe port, Espritu Santo Island.  While her own crew tried to repair her ballast tanks to get her safely to Australia, the Navy decided, “As long as you’re here, could you swing by…” AMBERJACK would transport aviation gas (in a modified fuel tank), bombs and fifteen pilots to Pacific battlefield Guadalcanal (and halfway there the Navy woudl say, “Wait, never mind, drop them off a Tulagi instead.” [1]

She returned to triumph at Brisbane, claiming three sinkings for her first patrol, a very respectable record.

Her second patrol was more disappointing.  No torpedoes hit their targets (this was during the time the Mark XIV torpedoes were proving they had multiple problems) and AMBERJACK had several close calls.  She returned to Brisbane on January 11, 1943, claiming no kills.

There was, however, an interesting surprise on this patorl, the morning of November 29, 1942.

Just south of Shortland Island, the AMBERJACK, patrolling submerged, saw a bizarre submarine.  Before the war, all navies kept records on the silhouettes and capabilities of other navy’s ships.  The Americans knew about the Japanese K and J type submarines (the submarines that acted as mother subs for the midget subs that attacked Pearl Harbor in conjunction with the airplanes on December 7, 1941. ) and had provided photographs and silhouettes of these submarines to American submarine crews.

But heading into Shortland’s south harbor, was a Japanese submarine AMBERJACK’s CO had never seen.   She was too far away to attack, and moved so fast, AMBERJACK soon gave up the chase, but she looked so different, the CO drew a picture, complete with labels to show the unusual aspects of the submarine, and included it in the War Patrol Report.  Here it is: Ship Contact #5, the strange submarine:

Taken from the Appendix of Second War Patrol, USS AMBERJACK, 1942-1943. from fold3.com. You can clearly see some of the unique aspects of what will later become known to the American's as a B-type Japanese Submarine. Image is larger, and more detailed. Click for larger copy.

As it would turn out, this was one of Japan’s newest submarines, the B1 Type submarine.  They were similar to the Gato-class submarine the American Navy was using, in that they were numerous and the workhorses of the Japanese Submarine Force.  But there were some interesting differences the Japanese were experimenting with.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/I-15.jpg

The B1 type submarine (the I-15 in this case), which is the class of submarine AMBERJACK saws the morning of 29 November 1942. Wikipedia Commons.

 

That “island” in front of the conning tower?  That’s an airplane hanger for a small scouting plane, the Yokosuka E14Y1 Glen Seaplane, which was used for scouting missions.  AMBERJACK apparently wouldn’t see the collapsable airplane crane that was lashed to the foreward deck, and of course, the launching catapult was folded flush under the deck when the plane wasn’t in use.

How does a plane fit in there?  They were modular, and the wings were removed and stowed alongside the body.  This cross section, courtesy of this blog, shows how this submarine was put together.

Cross Section of a B1-type submarine, similar to the one spotted by AMBERJACK. From this blog

The B-type Japanese submarines were a really interesting bunch, and would accomplish a number of fascinating missions, including going to Europe, lifeguarding Japanese pilots…off Hawaii’s coast, and attacking the US Mainland (successfully).

The submarine AMBERJACK spotted that morning was likely the I-31, one of several submarines that were supplying the Japanese forces on Guadalcanal and other Solomon Island strongholds, by smuggling in men and supplies from Truck (Chuuk Atoll) to Guadalcanal, to Shortland Island, and back.  I-31 was the only Japanese submarine to dock at Shortland, coming from the southerly direction of Guadalcanal, as AMBERJACK reported.  I-31 was only 6 months old when she was spotted, and only had another six months or so to live.  On 12 May, 1943, while running cargo between Japanese installations on the Alaskan Islands of Attu and Kiska, she fired a torpedo at the American Battleship, PENNSYLVANIA, survivor of Pearl Harbor.   PENNSYLVANIA’s aerial escort dropped a smoke bomb to mark the submarine’s postition, and three nearby destroyers, the USS PHELPSUSS FARRAGUT ad USS EDWARDS hunted her down.  Ten hours of relentless cat-and-mouse-and-depth-charges later, the I-31 was forced to surface–and cut down by EDWARDS’s guns.  She sank in nearly 6,000 feet of water, and has not been discovered as of this date.

But all of that was in the future, and AMBERJACK, who spotted the strange new submarine I-31 that morning, had a shorter lifespan than the sub she’d just reported.

AMBERJACK’s third patrol was her final one, and what she did was pieced together by the Navy afterward.

She left Brisbane on January 26, 1943, to once again patrol the Solomon Islands and provide support for the ongoing Guadalcanal Campaign.  The JApanese were frantically evacuating over 117,000 troops from Guadalcanal, and using submarines as cover.  AMBERJACK’s mission would have involved reconnaissance in addition to “unrestricted warfare” (i.e. “If it flies a Japanese Flag and you can get a good shot, SINK IT!” On February 3, she radioed base, reporting that she’d made contact with a Japanese submarine south of Shortland Island (again) on Feb 1 (Was likely the I-9 running between Guadalcanal and Shortland, arriving at Shortland that day), and sunk a two masted schooner on the 3rd. The next day, the 4th, she radioed home to say she had hit a freighter, which as apparently carrying a large supply of explosives, with the results one would expect from blowing apart an explosives-laden freighter.

This sinking inspired this painting "Night Battle" by E.V. Vandos. Part of the Naval History Department. From navsource.org

However, in the process, A Lt. Stern was hit in the hand from gunfire from the freighter’s crew.  When Pharmacist’s Mate Arthur Beeman ran to help the Lt., he was hit and killed.

The next day, she radioed to report that after her last report, she’d been chased and forced down by two determined Japanese destroyers.  On surfacing, AMBERJACK discovered a Japanese Aviator floating in the sea.  His plane had come down, and AMBERJACK took him aboard, intending to bring him back to Brisbane.  (Apparently) in response to HQ’s question, AMBERJACK decided they did not need to replace their Pharmacist’s mate immediately, and would finish out their patrol.

It was the last message AMBERJACK ever sent.

For three week, HQ sent message after message to AMBERJACK, telling her to move here, or there, or perform reconnaissance on various islands.  AMBERJACK never responded, but this wasn’t unusual: submarine CO’s were allowed to not respond if they felt the chance the Japanese would intercept a radio message and use it to track down a submarine was higher than the value of responding to a simple “move here”, message.  But on March 5, with AMBERJACK’s scheduled patrol winding down, HQ ordered her to respond and check in.

No response.

Five more days passed, and AMBERJACK was due to arrive in port.  Submarines were supposed to radio ahead with an ETA so the various aerial and sea patrols did not attack and sink a friendly submarine returning from patrol.  AMBERJACK never showed.

The Navy decided that she must have been lost sometime after Valentine’s Day, 1943. The families would have to be told.

Then, fifteen days later, on March 25, military intelligence, still reading Japan’s “encrypted” radio messages, intercepted and decrypted a notification that proved to be AMBERJACK’s final chapter.  She’d been lost on February 16, two days after her final message.  The message, as it now appears in AMBERJACK’s file, appears below:

Taken from "Report of the Loss of AMBERJACK". From hnsa.org

AMBERJACK’s loss was publicly announced around 13 June, 1943, nearly four months after her loss.

In honor of AMBERJACK and her lost crew, AMBERJACK’s name was given to a new, planned TENCH-class submarine.  Completed after the war, AMBERJACK (II) had a long and successful career during the Cold War.  Eventually, she was sold to Brazil, who changed her name to the Ceara.  I cannot find any publicly available documentation about AMBERJACK (II)’s disposition, so it is possible that she is still around somewhere in Brazil’s Naval dockyards.

AMBERJACK (II) following her GUPPY conversion ca. 1947-1948. navsource.org

 

In the 1970’s a memorial to AMBERJACK and her lost crew was erected in Charleston, South Carolina.

 

The Amberjack Memorial as it currently appears in Charleston, South Carolina. Image courtesy of Ted Kerwin, flickr.com. Creative Commons attribution license.

 

To date, her wreck has not been found or documented.

To the crew of the AMBERJACK, “May you rest your oars, sailor”.  And Thank You.

For more information:

On Eternal Patrol’s Page honoring AMBERJACK’s lost crew

 

[1] Tulagi is a small island just north of Guadalcanal, which the Marines had taken after a one-day battle the August 7, earlier that year.  It also was the base to a PT-boat contingent, including one PT-109 and it’s soon to be commander, a young John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

 

 

 

Shirley Temple and her (short) Submarine History

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 11 2014

Saw the news this morning of child actress Shirley Temple-Black’s passing. Another golden age icon gone.

While I’m reading all these news reports about Temple, I’m noticing that one of her many accomplishments that’s being (I’m sure inadvertently) overlooked is her support for the military, before and during WWII.  It’s not surprising really, as many stars at that time did anything they could, and many did it quietly, with no press releases or announcements.  The only reason I stumbled across it was from a tiny photo.

USS Flier’s Chief Radioman was Walter Joseph “Bud” Klock, originally from St. Paul, Minnesota.  He joined the Navy to get training and work, but also support his single mom and little brother.  The Submarine Base in Honolulu was a far cry, in distance and environment, from his mother’s little apartment, and Klock wrote her frequently, sending all sorts of accounts of this things he was doing. (Two years into his hitch, he wrote home complaining that it was a cold 60 degrees in Honolulu that winter’s day.  I wonder what his mother, still in St. Paul, thought of that!)

Prior to WWII, servicemen like Klock, even aboard submarines, were allowed to take photos aboard, and write home talking about what they were doing and where they were serving, and Klock, armed with his old camera, sent dozens of photos home.  Sometime while he served on the massive ARGONAUT, Klock got to see a performance by Shirley Temple, and snapped a photo of her being escorted across the deck of his boat to send home.

After WWII started, letters from Klock became fewer and shorter.  Fewer because he could only send letters when he was in port, and shorter because the Navy had all sorts of rules against mentioning place names, ship and boat names, personal names of other servicemen, any information that could identify military tech in case a spy intercepted the letter (which, in the submarine force’s case, the entire boat was the latest technology, so nothing to see here!), and on and on and on. Some men complained that the only thing you could do was write, “As of today’s date, I’m somewhere in the world, doing something I can’t tell you, and I’m still breathing and healthy.  How are you?”

Klock sent his last letter home in mid-July, 1944, and died with the Flier on 13 August, 1944.  His mother and wife Velma, kept all of the letters, which were passed on to Klock’s nephew, whom Walter never had an opportunity to meet.

Klock’s nephew allowed me to see and transcribe these letters before their donation to the USS Silversides Submarine Museum in Muskegon, Michigan. While sorting them and putting them in chronological order, I found that fun little photo of Shirley Temple, in the late 1930’s (August 11, 1937: see update below), visiting the USS Argonaut (likely in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu).

Taken in the late 1930's when Temple was between 8 and 11 years old, then submariner Walter Joseph "Bud" Klock took this photo of Shirley visiting the USA's largest submarine at that time, the 358 foot Argonaut. To the left, the Argo next to a "standard" sized (between 207 and 240 feet) S-boat. The Fleet Boats of WWII were still largely in the planning stages, but would still be a good forty-six feet shorter than the Argo. Argo was lost with all hands on 10 January 1943. She would retain her "largest submarine" record until 1959 when the USS Triton (SSRN-586 ) and USS George Washington (SSBN-598) were commissioned, coming in at 447 (Smashing Argo's record) and 381 feet long, respectively. Photos courtesy of the family of Walter Klock.

 

Temple was thirteen when WWII began for the USA, and seventeen when it was over.  As an established celebrity, and moreover, a celebrity associated with positive, feel-good movies, she was valued as a morale booster for the country and the military. She worked for War Bond Drives, in both America and Canada, in her movies, making personal appearances, and serving and performing at the famed Hollywood Canteen.

The Canteen was a restaurant/entertainment venue for servicemen regardless of race (this was a segregated time period in American History, so a racially integrated venue, even for working servicemen, was extremely unusual) that was staffed and headlined by Hollywood’s best and brightest.  Chaired by Bette Davis, who had no problems calling personal celebrity friends from all over Hollywood, including from multiple studios (something that got her in trouble once, but as usual, she quickly pointed out that if the Hollywood head’s had trouble with their stars working together, doing their bit for the boys in uniform, she’d have no choice but to follow their wishes…and then call a press conference!  Studio heads promptly decided they had no problem with it!) celebrity chefs, anything and everything to entertain the boys. At one point, apparently, when meat rations were too scarce for The Canteen, Davis even called DC to inform them that as the Canteen served servicemen, she should be allowed to get better rations to serve them.  DC made that happen. Temple was one of her regulars, holding signs pointing the way, serving punch or cake, and performing. (Check out the link for tons of pics and a great story about the Canteen.  It was really something!)

Image

A Teenage Shirley Temple serving cookies to the troops at the Canteen ca. 1942-43. The Canteen would close in 1944. Photo from silverscreenoasis.com

 

After the war, she married two WWII servicemen (the first marriage ended in divorce) which, all things considered, wasn’t all that uncommon.  She later became one of the first women to publicize her battles with breast cancer, and even became an American ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

A truly remarkable women, who, when she was a child, brought smiles one day to a submariner who snapped a picture for his mom, far away in St. Paul. Let this desire to serve men and women in uniform, also be a part of Shirley Temple’s remembered legacy.

(BTW, if anyone can help me date the Shirley Temple submarine photo, please contact me at ussflierproject@gmail.com  I’d love to be able to add some more context to the photo for its records)

The Argonaut’s story on this website (includes more candid photos courtesy of Walter Klock and his camera)

 

UPDATE:  Talking to another person who inherited another photograph of Shirley that same day on the Argonaut gave me some new ideas for web searches.  Thank goodness for online archives and newspaper archives.  We now have a date!  Shirley Temple visited the Argo at Pearl Harbor on August 11, 1937, when she would have been 9 years old (and a six-year veteran of the movie industry already!)  A sailor wrote an account of the visit and sent it to the Chicago Daily Herald, which printed it!  It’s an interesting little article, though as a writer, I had to laugh a little bit towards the end when he describes Temple.  It’s also an interesting note in that Temple was given an officer’s dolphin pin during her visit.  This almost NEVER happens.  I know of only a few times a civilian has been bestowed with a dolphin pin, and here one.  Enjoy!

Chicago Daily Herald, Friday, September 10, 1937, pg 8 column 2

“Bronco Forszen helps Entertain Shirley Temple

“Merlin (Bronco) Foszen, who is a member of the US Navy and is stationed at Pearl Harbor Hawaii, has written an interesting account of the recent visit of Shirley Temple to Pearl Harbor and the Submarine USS Argonaut, which gives a first hand picture of the most popular juvenile star of the movies.  Mr. Forszen’s story follows:”

“On Wednesday, August 11, 1937, the officers and enlisted men of the Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, T[erritory of] H[awaii]  were honored with a visit by Shirley Temple.

Miss Temple was due to arrive at 10:30 a.m and all Navy Children were invited to be present.  Several house before Miss Temple was scheduled ot arrive a strained and somewhat tenseness wrapped itself around the base.  Every sturdy man O’Warsman tried hard to conceal the fact that he was just a little thrilled at the thoughts of seeing the little star.  And as could be expected, most of them were down on the dock fully three quarters of an hour before she came.  At 10:35, she arrived, her car stopping a few yards from the gangway of the USS Argonaut, the submarine she was to visit.  She was immediately swarmed by move photographers, autograph hound, and ardent admirers.

Due military honors were bestowed on the little Colonel, as the boatswain piped the six side boys to a “hard salute” as she came across the gangway.  Genial Lt. Commander L.C. Walton, skipper of the Argonaut, on receiving his honored guest, presented her with a gold submarine insignia.  Following this came an informal inspection of the ship’s crew, and the topside.  Points of interest were explained by Captain Wilson, Miss Temple’s Naval Aid, and skipper Walton.

On leaving the ship Shirley gave each of the side boys a snappy salute, and walked fearlessly into the surging crowd of women and children.  She was quickly freed and slipped in to an official car.  The car pulled away and the crowd quickly broke up.  But the little ray of sunshine and happiness hadn’t left as everyone one thought she had.  The reason for this was that she wanted to see the big submarine shove off and go to sea.  As the mechanical fish grew small in the distance, Miss Temple was taken to the Submarine Officer’s quarters.  Once there she had to go through the trying and tiring experience of being hostess to approximately seven hundred small children.  They touched her golden curls, felt her white silk dress, crowded around her, inspired by her presence, and no doubt longing and praying to trade places with her.

No amount of descriptive words can adequately describe the splendid character, vivacious personality and cool nonchalance that this internationally famous little girl possesses.  She could receive pompous military men, celebrated statesmen, pious clergymen, and stately demigods and still predominate the setting with her spakrling [sic] blue eyes, winsome smile, golden hair and above all, her outstanding, electrifying personality.

Miss Temple’s visit here made many children happy and relieved many men of heavy hearts and spirit.  No one could be dull or unhappy with an enchanting bundle of humanity like Shirley Temple around. 

I would like to thank both Mr. and Mrs. Temple for the honor and privilege they bestowed on the Naval Service by this visit.

98 Years ago–the E-2 blows up in Dry Dock

Lost Subs | Posted by Rebekah
Jan 15 2014

(I wanted to post this in commemoration of E-2’s explosion, 98 years ago today…I made it with 15 minutes to spare.  Pics will have to come tomorrow…I’m too tired right now!)

 

Early in submarine history, submarines were more of working laboratories than anything else.  The men manning these boats were constantly working at the bleeding edge of science, and deadly consequences occurred with no enemy other than the basic forces of nature and chemistry.

Case in Point: the USS E-2.

Originally named “Sturgeon” while under construction, the re-named “E-2” was commissioned on 14 February 1912, just a few weeks before the other great Technical nautical wonder, the Titanic, would set sail on her maiden and final voyage.

She served for a number of years, patrolling around the New England coast, then Guantanamo Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Like most submarines, E-2 was an engine/battery submarine.  While on the surface she would run on her diesel engines (E-2 was one of the first to run on diesel, rather than the more unstable/explosive gasoline engines) and these engines would charge her batteries.  Unlike the engines, the batteries, producing no fumes and needing no oxygen, would run the submarine’s systems while underwater.  When the batteries ran out, the sub had to surface.

The trouble with these wet-cell batteries, however appeared frequently and caused some limitations in maneuvering. Submarines could only dive and surface at less than a fifteen-degree angle or the batteries would have trouble.  Any salt water at all hitting the batteries would cause deadly chlorine gas to form, asphyxiating the crew or even, causing an explosion.

In fact, the first sub fatality in the American Navy, the F-4, in 1915, was partially caused by a corroded battery case, leading to a loss of control, and implosion during a dive.

These issues lead American Inventor, Thomas Edison, as Chairman of the Naval Advisory Board,  to invent a new battery that would be more stable, less prone to the angles of a submarine’s dives and ascents, and eliminate the chlorine gas.  After five years of work, he believed he had a stable working model, which was photographed and proclaimed from this Washington Herald newspaper from October 1915 feature section:

 

Based on a nickel-potash solution, the battery could not produce chlorine gas, nor should it be unstable if doused with seawater for any reason[1].  Lighter, stronger, it could potentially allow submarines to maneuver at up to a sixty-degree pitch, allowing for faster, tighter, maneuvering.  Even more importantly, it could be charged within one hour, allowing submarines to remain hidden longer in enemy waters.[2] With WWI already in full swing, and the US possibly heading to war, the possibility for greater flexibility and safety combined, was enticing, even if the Edison battery was nearly three times as expensive as the current lead-acid batteries.

By this time, the E-2, the selected test submarine, already had two 400-cell Edison batteries installed,[3]  and was undergoing dock-side tests, charging and discharging her batteries under carefully controlled conditions.  [4]

Interestingly enough, the E-2 had already experienced battery failure with her old led-acid batteries. In September 1914, the E-2 was fifty feet underwater when, unbeknownst to the crew, the lead acid of the battery chewed through the battery tanks and into the seawater ballast tanks. Ensign Edward Gillam, E-2’s Commanding Officer, detected the feared chlorine gas leaking from the battery compartment, and drove the sub to the surface, using her pumps, rather than blowing the ballast tanks (the chlorine gas could have released inside in a cloud if he had, killing his crew).[5]  The crew managed to venting the gas but the brief exposure to the gas still injured and incapacitated nearly every one of the nineteen hands aboard[6], forcing the submarine to be towed back to port.  (Later tests would show the acid had deeply pitted the entire battery tank, forcing all D and E class subs to port to replace and double-line their battery tanks.) Gillam’s lungs, however, were badly scarred, would need a year to recover, and a new CO, Charles “Savvy” Cooke, was chosen to replace him.[7]

On December 7, 1915, the E-2 made her maiden voyage with the batteries.  The initial test was successful: the batteries “produced better speed on less fuel.”[8] The experiments also proved that the Edison battery generated “nearly double the ordinary amount of hydrogen during the process of charging, but on discharge or while lying idle, gives off much less…observers aboard…reported that while in operation not enough gas was produced to be dangerous.”[9]

But Savvy wasn’t comfortable with the amount of hydrogen gas the batteries produced.  Dangerous as chlorine gas was, you could smell it, and react, hopefully in time.  Hydrogen gas is odorless, and could build up with no one knowing.  He requested the Navy’s Bureau of Steam Engineering install hydrogen gas measuring devices in the E-2 as a safety feature.  And was denied.  He suggested installing individual voltage meters for all 800 battery cells to see which ones produced hydrogen gas under certain conditions.  And was turned down. By both the Navy and the Edison Company.  (Hutchinson said they would increase the chances of a short circuit).[10]

More tests would be needed, but the early results were encouraging enough that the Edison Battery would be installed on one of the newest boats, the L-8[11], under construction in Portsmouth.  E-2, along with three other submarines, entered Brooklyn Navy Yard on December 30, 1915.  As a standard safety precaution, all four submarines were stripped of their torpedoes and drained of all fuel, and they were each about fifty feet away from her closest neighbor.

On Saturday morning, January 15, several civilian and Naval personnel went inside the E-2, down to the battery compartment.  New canvas pipes and fans had recently been installed to see if the new ventilation would cool the batteries uniformly, and so, that day, the men were measuring the voltage output and temperature of the batteries over a complete discharge, followed by a seven hour charge.[12]  For this first part at least, no one was expecting any hydrogen gas build up, though the fans and vent pipes were kept running as safety protocols demanded.  At least five men, two Navy sailors and three civilian contractors, were inside the after battery compartment, and another ten worked throughout the vessel on multiple projects.

At 1:16 pm,[13] there was a devastating explosion deep within the E-2. One man, standing the deck hatch, was blown twenty feet into the air, before landing on the drydock floor, thankfully with only minor injuries.  The ladder he had been standing on was also blown sky-high, finally landing 150 feet away.

E-2 roared, the sound of the explosion rumbling and bouncing around the confined space.  Within the battery compartment, four men, Roy Seaber of Cincinnatti, James Peck, civilian from Brooklyn, John Shultz, civilian from Brooklyn, and Joseph Logan, Civilian from Brooklyn, lay dead, and the man in charge of the discharging procedure, Chief Electrician’s Mate LL Mills, was badly injured.  Another nine men lay too injured to move, forced to breathe in the searing gas fumes which now suffocated through the submarine.[14]

From the outside, the E-2 looked was perfectly fine.  The hull designed to withstand the ocean’s pressures from the outside had contained the explosion within, though her internal space was “badly shattered.”[15]  Then the rescuers coming from the dry dock discovered a new twist: the watertight hull trapped the gasses inside the sub, forcing would-be rescuers, led by E-2’s Savvy, to don diving helmets while other men tried to pump pressuriezed air into the E-2, forcing the gas out.

Ambulances and medical personnel were on hand when the first of the injured men were hauled out to the open air.  Many were badly burned.  When the bodies of the men near the battery compartment were finally retrieved, they spoke of the severity of the explosion: all were badly burned, one was missing an appendage, and another was crushed.

Within hours, reporters were clamoring for the reason why. The navy offered one initial suggestion: that the hydrogen gas that the batteries built up when charged, had somehow been ignited by a spark.  However “It is too early to state definitely the cause of the explosion,” Said acting Secretary of the Navy, (and future president) Franklin Roosevelt.[16]  But the batteries, as it turned out, had been discharging, and shouldn’t have been throwing off enough hydrogen to spark anything, much less a massive explosion.  .  The only two other immediate theories were the explosion was caused by the diesel-oil engines…but no diesel had been onboard and the engines were intact…or an air flask nearby had exploded…but an explosion of one of those should have blasted metal shards throughout the battery compartment, which hadn’t happened.[17]  Another option, intentional sabotage, was ruled out by January 17.[18]

A Naval inquiry would be required, and the coroner of Brooklyn also announced and inquiry on behalf of the three dead civilians.

Despite not being on board the E-2 at the time of the explosion, and leading the rescue effort, as CO, Savvy’s career was potentially on the line.  He needed a defense counsel, and chose a fellow submarine officer: Chester Nimitz, future WWII Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Now Hutchinson and Savvy were at polar ends, each believing the other’s people or devices had to be the cause of the explosion.  During the inquiry and the many press releases surrounding it, many conflicting statements were made:

  • Hutchinson, inspecting the E-2 the day after the explosion, stated that the batteries were intact and undamaged, proving that the explosion, even if it happened in the same vicinity, had to have come from somewhere else.[19]
  • Naval Lt. C.S. McDowell, stated that he too had inspected the remains of the E-2, and said the after compartment of the Edison batteries “were completely ‘blown up’ [and] the forward batteries also damaged.”[20]
  • Savvy revealed his requests for safety devices, only to be turned down. [21]
  • Hutchinson announced that the Edison battery was safe, and as proof, it was currently in use in three “non-German” European submarines, currently waging war in Europe.  One of those unnamed subs had sunk seventeen ships thus far.  This surprised many people, as it was assumed the US Navy would have exclusive rights to the Edison Battery if it passed its tests.[22]

While the investigation continued, a fifth man succumbed to his injuries.  But some of the others, crucially, Chief Electrician’s Make Lewis Miles, were slowly improving.

As soon as the survivors were stable, they started to give testimony.  Five men were able to speak, though from reports, they had to speak through a head-full of bandages, only their eyes and mouths visible.[23]

They were adamant about several points, however

1.)     No one was smoking[24]

2.)     There was a blinding flash, then they were all insensible[25]

3.)     There was no smoking or sparking wires on the E-2 on January 15[26]

The two critical testimonies came from Raymond Otto, a second class electrician’s mate from E-2’s crew, and Chief Electrician Lewis Mills, who had been in the battery compartment when the explosion happened.  Otto, who had been partially blasted through E-2’s hatch, and burned his legs, was able to testify around January 19, but Miles, forever confined to a bed, and whose voice permanently restrained to a whisper, couldn’t testify until early February.[27]

Both men, however, recalled the same unusual thing: four of the Edison Battery cells had depleted their charge, and were bubbling moments before the explosion.  The bubbling was hydrogen gas, being produced as the cells, depleted of their charge, had begun to recharge ahead of the others.  If they had produced enough hydrogen gas to stay ahead of the new ventilation system, a random spark (though from what, no one ever saw) could have, may have, caused the explosion.

By the end of January, the civilian coroner’s jury found that the cause of the civilians’ death was an “explosion of gases.” However, they also “were unable to determine the cause of the gases” [28] Despite testimony from naval and civilian experts, the civilian jury was not able to find any new conclusions regarding what gasses or sparks may or may not have sparked the explosion.

In the end, on the 19th of February 1916, the Naval Court of Inquiry wrapped up, though the results were strangely, not made public after conferences with officers of the Navy and Secretary of the Navy, Josephus  Daniels.[29]  The official conclusion did, however, absolve Charles “Savvy” Cooke from any blame.[30]

The press reported that the “court reached substantially the same decision as the board of investigation appointed by the navy commandant immediately after the accident” most likely buildup of hydrogen gas and a stray spark, though the “spark’s” origin was never discovered.[31]

The Navy decided to pull the Edison batteries from the under-construction L-8 in Portsmouth, but turn the E-2 into a floating laboratory, testing the Edison battery further.

They also pulled Savvy from his boat, reassigning him as an engineering officer on the Receiving Ship USS Salem in Boston.[32]  It was a step down in career, though the worst, for Savvy, was the sleepless nights wondering if he could have saved his crew, somehow.  He wouldn’t be given command of another submarine until after WWI…and then he would, once again, be in the news for a submarine incident that almost, again, took the lives of him and his crew.  Quick thinking on Savvy’s part, however would save them.  Just watch.

 

The E-2 would recover, and spend the next two years near the Navy Yards, testing the Edison and Ironside batteries thoroughly (some naval records state that as the Edison batteries themselves survived the 15 January explosion (one count that suggests the batteries were nto the cause of the explosion itself) they had to be tested cell by cell, to find the problem.  None was ever found.).  The Edison batteries were eventually passed over.  USS E-2 was recommissioned in 1918, and served in WWI running anti-U-boat patrols off Cape Hatteras.  None the worse for WWI, and having completed longer patrols than ever before, E-2 was decommissioned on 20 October 1921, and sold for scrap on 19 April 1922.



[1] Hill, A.J. Under Pressure: the Final Voyage of the Submarine S-Five  2002, Free Press, New York, New York.

[2] “Battery Approved by Edison’s Expert” New York Times, January 20, 1916.  From New York Times Digital Archives, Accessed 15 January 2014: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FB0910FF3C5E11738DDDA90A94D9405B878DF1D3

 

[3] “E-2 Commander Testifies He Warned of Gas Menace: Asked Navy Department for Hydrogen Detector and Battery Charge, but Was Ignored” Chicago Tribune, 20 January 1916, Pg. 4.  Retrieved 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[4] Hill, A.J.

[5] “US Submarine Crew Had A Narrow Escape” 7 April 1915, New York Times.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from New York Times Digital Archives: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F70611FB355A15738DDDAE0894DC405B858DF1D3

[6] “Blas Wrecks US Submarine While in Dock” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 16 January 1916, pgs. 1 and 2.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com.

[7] Hill, A.J.

[8] “Explosion on Submarine Kill Four: E-2 Wrecked by Internal Blast Which Puzzles Experts; Diver Was Equipped with New Type Edison Safety Batteries” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 16 January 1916, pgs 1 and 15.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[9] Fort Wayne; 1916 pg. 15

[10] Hill, A.J.

[11] “Blame Battery Trouble for Explosion on E-2: Navy Board of Inquiry Says Excessive Gas was Generated nad Ignited by Spark” Chicago Tribune, 19 January 1916, Pg 2. Accessed 15 Janauary 2014, from fold-3.com.

[12] “Navy Heads Warned of E-2 Months Ago” New York Times, 20 January, 1916, accessed 15 January 2014 from New York Times Archive: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FB0C1EFD3B5B17738DDDA90A94D9405B868DF1D3

[13] “Naval Board Named to Make Inquiry” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 16 January 1916, pg 15.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[14] “E-2 Blowup Due to Gas” Washington Post, 19 January 1916 pg 2.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from Fold3.com

[15] “4 Killed, 10 hurt by and explosion on Submarine E-2” The Atlanta Constitution; 16 January 1916, pgs. 1 and 3.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com.

[16] Chicago Tribune, 16 January 1916.

[17] “4 Killed, 10 hurt in E-Boat Explosion: Mysterin in Disaster at New York Navy Yard” Washington Post, 16 January 1916, pgs 1 and 4. Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[18] “Court Named for E-2” Washington Post, 18 January 1916, pg 2.  Retrieved 15 January 2014, from fold3.com

[19] “Edison Expert Asserts Battery Did Not Explode: Chief Enginner Says There Must Have Been Some Other Cause For Blast,:” Chicago Tribune, 17 January 1916, Pg. 4.  Retrieved 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[20] “Crew of the E-2 Showed Bravery” 19 January 1916 pg. 4.  Retrieved 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[21] Chicago Tribune , 20 January 1916.

[22] “Foreign Navy Uses Edison Battery Too” New York Times, January 17, 1916.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from New York Times Digital Archive: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F30B17FB355C13738DDDAE0994D9405B868DF1D3

 

[23] “US Submarine Survivors Deny anyone Was Smoking: Five of Crew, Recovering in Hospital Say there was a Blinding Flash—Then Lost Senses” Chicago Daily Tribune, 21 January 1916, Pg. 9. Retrieved 15 Janaury 2014 from fold3.com.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Navy Heads Warned of E-2 Months Ago” 20 January 1916, NY Times

[27] “Deny Exposed Lamp was Burning in E-2: Crew of Submarine presents 20 Points why it Should Be Held Blameless: Inquiy Board Held at Hospital—Take Testimony of Electrician Permanetly Injured in Explosion—Hearing Near the End”.  New York Times, 11 February 1916. Accessed  15 January 2014: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9D02E3DF1F38E633A25752C1A9649C946796D6CF

 

[28] “E-2 Blast Due to Gas: Coroner’s Verditct Condemns Authorities in Charge of Boat” Washington Post, 28 January 1916, pg. 2.  Accessed 15 January 2014 from fold3.com

[29] “E-Boat Blame Unfixed” Washington Post 20 February 1916, pg 2.  Accessed 15 January 1916 from fold3.com

[30] Hill, A.J.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Hill, A.J.