(Yes, Photoshop and my new computer are still non-compatible. Musashi will come, but Memorial Day will come first, which is perfectly fine, there’s lots of stuff going on. USS INDIANA for example.)
May 18th marked the “keel laying ceremony” for the PCUIndiana! Being a Hoosier by address, this is big news in my neck of the woods.
This will be the fourth Indiana by name, and the first Indiana in nearly 68 years time. (See below for the previous Indianas in the US Navy)
A keel, in ship’s parlance, is a long beam that runs along the length of the ship. In the sailing days, the keel was the “backbone of the ship”, with ribs coming up from the keel and the skin of the hull over that. As wooden vessels transitioned to steel in the late 19th century, this keel became a long steel beam, with steel ribs and hull plating. In all cases, the keel was what gave the ship its strength and structure, any problems with the keel would create problems later.
If the Launch of a ship is her birthday, then the keel laying, is in a way, the ship’s official conception date. (Never mind that a lot of work has already been done up to this point!) From this date forward, the ship is “officially” under construction.
The Keel Ceremony and a Ship’s (Boat’s) Sponsor
A ship (or boat, as we’re discussing a future submarine here) has no crew or Commanding Officer at this point, so she her keel ceremony is overseen by her “sponsor”.
This sponsor is a civilian who acts as a “godmother” to the ship or submarine whose keel is being laid. Sometimes the sponsor is the wife, mother, or daughter of a submarine dignitary, or congressional personnel, and this person will return for her Launch, and commissioning. According to Don’t Shoot the Albatross!: Nautical Myths and Superstitions by Jonathan Eyers, the ship’s sponsor is “…a sort of ship’s mascot—even if most of her crewmates probably wouldn’t want her to join them on board.”
Some of the last several sponsors of submarines include:
- USS TEXAS (SSN-775): Laura Bush The then-current First Lady and Texas resident
- USS HAWAII (SSN-776): Linda Lingle, Governor of Hawaii in 2006, when the she boat was under construction.
- USS NORTH CAROLINA (SSN-777): Linda Bowman, wife of Adm. Frank Bowman, director of Naval Reactors.
- USS NEW HAMPSHIRE (SSN-778): New Hampshire-resident Cheryl McGuiness, widow of Pilot Thomas McGuiness , lost aboard American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11, 2001, when the plane hit the Twin Towers.
- USS MISSISSIPPI (SSN-782):: Alison Stiller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy
- USS JOHN WARNER (SSN-785) : Jeanne Warner, wife of living-namesake John Warner
- USS ILLINOIS (SSN-786): Michelle Obama, current First Lady and Illinois resident.
Ship’s sponsors come from all over, but regardless of why each person is chosen, it is a great honor to be so. The INDIANA’s sponsor is Diane Donald, wife of retired Adm. Kirkland Donald, who was a submariner. Mrs. Donald is a long-serving member of the Submarine Force Spouse Organization.
During the Keel-laying ceremony the ship’s sponsor traditionally conducted some sort of symbolic work on the keel. During WWII, they might help place a rivet (not the “Golden Rivet” of Sea Story Lore).
Modern shipbuilding methods have forced some changes to the “Keel Laying Ceremony”…including the lack of a keel. But the ceremony is still the first landmark in the life of a ship.
The Keel Authentication/Laying Ceremony
Many subs today are built in modular sections, and then welded together in the shipyard. Sometimes, by the time the “Keel Ceremony” is conducted, the ship is over half-built in various sections. The PCU JOHN WARNER was reportedly 59% complete by the time her keel ceremony took place in 2013. The INDIANA has been under construction since 2012, and is officially 48% complete as is.
And since there is no Keel to lay, per se, the sponsor no longer has a rivet to rivet. So sometimes, the “Keel Laying Ceremony” is now a “Keel Authentication Ceremony” and marks the welding of the first modules of the boat together. The ship’s sponsor will write her initials in chalk on a steel plate, and a welder will weld the initials onto the plate. The plate will then be attached to the submarine’s hull, permanently uniting the boat and sponsor.
In INDIANA’s case, the welder who did the steel rendering of Mrs. Donald’s initials was Mrs. Heather Johnson, a 37-year old welder with ten years’ experience. This marks the first time a female welder participated in this part of the Keel ceremony.
Now the INDIANA has been ceremonially put under construction. Her construction will likely take another two or more years, putting a tentative delivery date sometime in 2017 to 2018. (This is my calculation, not anything official, just based on the past several VIRGINIA-class boats)
The First USS INDIANA (BB-1)
The lead ship of the INDIANA-class battleships, INDIANA (I) holds the distinction of the being the very first modern battleship in the US Navy (BB-1). She was built by William Cramp and Sons Shipyard in Philadelphia between 1891 and 1893, and commissioned in 1895. She served through the Spanish American War, then was decommissioned. Technology had advanced in five short years, and she was now obsolete, and was modernized receiving a second commission in 1906. She served several years as a training vessel, before before being decommissioned a second time in 1914.
That year, iof course, saw the beginning of “The Great War” now WWI. The INDIANA was called up again, and served as a training ship until 1919 when she was decommissioned so her name could be given to a new construction. Deliereately grounded near Chesapeake Bay, ex- INDIANA (I) served as an aerial target by the fledgling Navy Pilots. She sank during these tests, though the water was too shallow to swallow her. Her hulk was sold in 1924, and she was removed and scrapped.
The Second INDIANA (BB-50)
This SOUTH DAKOTA-class ship never tasted water. Her name having been borrowed from Indiana (I) , her keel was laid on 1 November 1920, the fifth-such battleship
In an effort to prevent another World War (yes, we all know that didn’t work!) signers of the Washington Naval Treaty, the USA, Britain, Japan, France and Italy, voluntarily limited their navy’s ship size to 35,000 tons. Germany was barred from having any large naval vessels by the Treaty of Versailles. By keeping the size and number of ships capped, some felt that they could avert another conflict by one large power starting another war.
The treaty was signed on February 6, 1922, and by its terms the Indiana (II) and her sisters were too large. Even though most were over 30% complete, they were scrapped.
The Third INDIANA (BB-58)
The terms of the Washington Naval Treaty were due to end in 1936, with provisions for re-upping another term. By the, Japan had terminated their portion, and many in the militaries around the world could see that another war was all but certain now.
The South Dakota-class battleships were tried again. Indiana (III) (BB-58) was laid down in November 1939, but was born into war. In her five-year career from 1942 – 1947, she participated in the Solomon Islands campaign, the Marianas Islands Campaign, the fights for Tarawa, Kwajalein, and Truk Atoll, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Iwo Jima nad Okinawa.
Despite her five-year age, by this time, she was one of the older battleships that had survived WWII, and was put in reserve status. Formerly decommissioned and scrapped in 1947, Indiana (III) has several artifacts on display around Indiana: her mainmast and guns at IU, her anchor at the Allen County Warm Memorial in Ft. Wayne, her bell at the Heslar Naval Armory in Indy, and her prow at Memorial Stadium at IU.
 PCU—Pre-Commissioning Unit. A ship gains the “USS” (United States Ship) only after commissioning. Until then, she is a PCU unit, and the Navy officially does not take responsibility for her yet. The Navy may assign her first Commanding Officer, they may be overseeing her construction, they may provide a crew for her sea trials, but until she’s commissioned, she is not a USS anything. In fact, at this point, she’s officially, SSN-
 The JOHN WARNER is only the third sub to be named for a living namesake. The previous two such boats were the HYMAN RICKOVER and the current JIMMY CARTER. And yes, like the WARNER, their sponsers were also the namesake’s wives: Mrs. Elenore Ann Bednowicz Rickover and Mrs. Rosalyn Carter