Category Archives: U.S. Navy

The Witch's Final Flight

The Witch’s Final Flight

Naval History, August 2012

On a rainy night on a remote station, the U.S. Navy paid the price for poor training and lack of vigilance when Confederate raiders seized the gunboat Water Witch.

For the officers and men of the Union side-wheel steamerWater Witch , the evening of 2 June 1864 passed quietly. On board the gunboat, nothing about the monotonous night distinguished it from any other of the previous several months. She was moored in familiar waters—Ossabaw Sound, Georgia—where, as usual, she was the lone ship blockading the large ocean inlet 15 miles south of Confederate-held Savannah.

The Water Witch ’s isolation, however, made her an inviting target. And as her crew turned in that drizzly night, nearby Confederate sailors and marines rowed stealthily through the darkness in hopes of carrying out one of the Civil War’s most audacious naval raids.

Launched at the Washington Navy Yard in 1851, the Water Witch shipped 378 tons and measured 150 feet in length and 23 feet at the beam. In early 1853 she sailed on her first mission, exploring and surveying portions of South America’s Atlantic coast, the River Plate region, and the Paraná River. As the ship ascended the Paraná two years later, she was fired on by Paraguayan forces attempting to halt her progress. One cannon shot cut away the ship’s wheel, killing the helmsman.

The incident was not forgotten. In 1858 Congress authorized President James Buchannan to dispatch a large naval force, which included the Water Witch , to strong-arm concessions from Paraguay. Along with issuing an apology and granting a favorable commercial treaty to the United States, the South American country paid an indemnity to the family of the dead helmsman.

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The Smooch that Ended World War II

The Smooch that Ended World War II

kissingOn August 14, 1945, President Harry Truman took to the airwaves to announce that Japan had accepted the terms of surrender and that the war was over. The news sparked spontaneous celebrations across the United States, including in Times Square where photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured a joyous sailor kissing a passing nurse. First published in Life magazine as part of a pictorial titled Victory, Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square has since become one of the most iconic images of the Second World War. Although several people have claimed to be the kissing couple, their true identities were a mystery until the 2012 book The Kissing Sailor revealed the results of extensive forensic analysis which determined that George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman were the sailor and nurse in the photo. Interestingly, helping establish the identity of Mendonsa’s as the sailor is that fact that his future wife can be seen just over his right shoulder. The two had been out on a date when Mendonsa felt compelled to kiss the first nurse he saw in appreciation for what they had done for the wounded during the war.

Like Joe Rosenthal’s Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square has been endlessly copied, reenacted and parodied.
Here are examples of the photo’s impact on pop culture:

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The original: V-J in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt

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Sailor and Marine Olympic Medal Winners

Sailor and Marine Olympic Medal Winners

Carl T. Osburn

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You would think that the affinity that Americans have for guns would make competitive shooting a more popular sport, but one of the nation’s greatest Olympians is largely unknown. U.S. Navy Capt. Carl Osburn won 11 Olympic medals with his rifle between 1912 and 1924. He held the record for most U.S. medals until swimmer Jenny Thompson surpassed him eighty years later in Athens.

Charley Paddock

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A gold medalist at the 1920 games in Antwerp, the flamboyant sprinter previously served as a Marine field artillery officer in World War I. His defeat by Brit Harold Abrahams at the 1924 games was depicted in the 1981 film, “Chariots of Fire.” Paddock was killed in a plane crash during World War II while serving on the personal staff of Maj.Gen. William Upshur.

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New Tomahawks Inbound

New Tomahawks Inbound

110329-N-3396H-001Raytheon Missile Systems, prime contractor for the ship- and submarine-launched Tomahawk land-attack missile, is moving into production of a new order of Block IV all-up round missiles under a new contract, valued at $337.8 million, awarded by the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in June. Deliveries are set to start in 2013.

Meanwhile, the company is awaiting a NAVAIR decision on a sole-source award for development of an offensive antisurface weapon that would adapt Tomahawk subsystems to convert missiles to that new configuration. The plan is contingent on congressional approval and availability of funding.

Tomahawk, the Navy’s primary long-range land-attack missile, is deployed to some 140 ships including Ticonderoga -class cruisers and Arleigh Burke –class destroyers, as well as Ohio -class guided-missile submarines and Los Angeles – andSeawolf -class attack subs. It also is fielded by the Royal Navy’s Astute – and Trafalgar -class submarines. The U.S. Navy plans to field Tomahawk aboard the three Zumwalt -class land-attack destroyers now under construction and on Virginia -class attack subs. The cruisers and destroyers launch Tomahawk from the belowdecks Mk-41 vertical-launch system; the SSGNs launch the missile from vertical missile tubes and the attack subs from torpedo tubes.

Block II and Block III Tomahawks were employed extensively during Operation Desert Storm, with ships and submarines launching about 290 missiles. Tomahawks subsequently were used during Operation Southern Watch in 1992, Enduring Freedom in 2001, and Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

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The Future of the Carrier Air Wing

The Future of the Carrier Air Wing

120729-N-ZZ999-001What should the carrier air wing of the future look like? The topic has taken on new significance as a consequence of an article in the July issue of Proceedings by the Chief of Naval Operations ADM Jonathan Greenert. The title of the article, “Payloads over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” its discussion of the diminishing value of stealth, and the positive mentions of both the F/A-18 Hornet and unmanned systems such as the Scan Eagle and Fire Scout led some observers to accuse the CNO of being secretly opposed to the carrier variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In response, ADM Greenert and his staff have stressed that the article did not refer in any way to the F-35, but instead to stealth in the future.

The F-35 noncontroversy aside, Greenert made a profound statement that could have dramatic implications for the character of U.S. air power, in general, and the future carrier air wing, in particular. The CNO declared “we need to move from ‘luxury-car’ platforms—with their built-in capabilities—toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection.” Why? Well, by definition “luxury car” platforms are expensive. A payload-centric approach allows for more rapid technological refresh at lower cost as well as the ability to tailor forces for the conflict du jour.

One conclusion to be drawn from the CNO’s assertion that the Navy needs to move toward “dependable trucks” is that the value of the performance characteristics associated with so-called “luxury car” platforms is declining Those characteristics include stealthiness, speed, maneuverability, perhaps even survivability. There are those who argue that the combination of advanced sensors, data fusion, high-performance missiles and directed-energy weapons will bring the era of manned fighters and penetrating bombers to an end. It is by no means certain that the U.S. aerospace industry will be able to design an affordable sixth generation manned aircraft with the combination of range, persistence, stealth, ISR, and payload required to operate in such an intensely hostile environment.

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Pigeon Holes or Paradigm Shift: How the Navy Can Get the Most of its Unmanned Vehicles

Pigeon Holes or Paradigm Shift: How the Navy Can Get the Most of its Unmanned Vehicles

Proceedings, July 2012
The U.S. Navy must combine innovation with tested ideas to make the most of its unmanned aerial vehicles.

110930-N-JQ696-401The process of assimilating a new technology is a complex one for any organization. Besides facing the resistance of those who view it as a threat, the technology’s full potential often remains unrealized because of a failure of imagination. Instead it is forced, at least initially, into existing functions and slotted into established intellectual “pigeonholes.” Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been subjected to this sort of thinking. The U.S. Navy should consider them as more than mere unmanned versions of existing aircraft and take full advantage of this new tool.

In the original version of the film Star Wars , Luke Skywalker piloted an X-wing fighter with his trusty droid R2-D2 in the back. Single-seat aviators of the 1970s noted with some glee the allegorical reference to an automated naval flight officer. It appeared that the function of piloting was inherently human; system management was something a robot could handle. However, even at their current stage of development, the flight of unmanned aircraft is considerably more automated than, say, radio-controlled model airplanes, which indeed must be “flown.” UAVs such as the Northrop-Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk are capable of autonomous takeoff, navigation, and landing. It is the pilot function that has been automated; the naval flight officer function still requires a human to make decisions.

This is the leading edge of a “paradigm shift”: pilotless aircraft operated by pilotless squadrons or perhaps by no squadrons at all. The shift may go further, possibly obviating the need for any kind of winged specialist. After all, the Navy has been operating a large fleet of highly lethal unmanned aircraft since the 1950s, controlled almost exclusively by surface warfare officers. These aircraft are called missiles.

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Arabian Gulf Mine Exercise is Needed Practice for U.S.

Arabian Gulf Mine Exercise is Needed Practice for U.S.

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When an obviously lost tourist approached Arthur Rubenstein on a Manhattan street and asked how to get to Carnegie Hall, the piano virtuoso replied: “Practice, practice, practice!”

So it is for the U.S. Navy and partner navies’ mine countermeasures (MCM) forces operating in the Arabian Gulf in mid-2012. Hosted by the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (USNAVCENT), the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (IMCMEX 12) is an international symposium and associated afloat exercise of mine countermeasure capabilities, scheduled for 16 to 27 September at multiple locations in the USNAVCENT area of operations. MCM assets from more than 20 countries on four continents will participate, making it the largest MCM exercise to date.

The operation is “a defensive exercise aimed at preserving freedom of navigation in international waterways in the Middle East,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said. Washington has warned Tehran not to mine the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which the Islamic republic has threatened to do unless international sanctions against its nuclear program are pulled back.

Although IMCMEX 12 is taking place in the Arabian Gulf, it won’t be conducted in the Strait of Hormuz, said Lt. Greg Raelson, Commander Fifth Fleet public affairs in a 20 July telephone interview. “The exercise focuses on a hypothetical threat from an extremist organization to mine the international strategic waterways of the Middle East, including the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.”

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Searching for Nelson's Quote

Searching for Nelson’s Quote

Rising young U.S. Navy officer Stephen Decatur earned famous praise for ‘the most bold and daring act of the age’—or did he?

Lt. Stephen Decatur, Naval History and Heritage Command

Lt. Stephen Decatur, Naval History and Heritage Command

Late in the evening on 16 February 1804, the ketch Intrepid , commanded by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, entered Tripoli Harbor. Almost becalmed in the dying breeze, the Intrepid drifted with agonizing slowness toward the captured American frigate Philadelphia , lying under the massed guns of the bashaw’s castle and harbor fortifications. As the Intrepid approached, a Barbary lookout on the Philadelphia spotted the Americans and cried out the alarm. The Intrepid tied onto the frigate. Decatur and 60 men boarded the Philadelphia , scattered or killed her harbor watch, and burned the ship. They then made good their escape in the Intrepid, with only one sailor slightly wounded.

The raid into Tripoli Harbor helped establish the reputation of the U.S. Navy, small as it then was, and is an iconic part of the service’s history. Almost equally known in American naval lore is that Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, upon learning of the raid, called it “the most bold and daring act of the age.” It’s no wonder such a statement has assumed a hallowed aura. Nelson was a brilliant and daring naval officer, perhaps the greatest admiral in the long maritime history of England, and if he said the raid was without equal, his audience (posterity) can accept it as truth. Equally important, there is the sense of a laying-on of hands by Nelson, who died 18 months later in the moment of his greatest triumph at Trafalgar, “blessing” a seminal event led by one of the dynamic officers in the rising navy from across the Atlantic. It’s a dramatic story, loaded with symbolism.

But did Nelson actually call the burning of the Philadelphia “the most bold and daring act of the age”?

No contemporary or near-contemporary biography of Decatur, and no early account of the Barbary Wars, contains the Nelson quote. In what may have been the first attempt to provide the public with an account of Decatur’s life, Washington Irving’s 1813 article in the widely read Analectic Magazine , Nelson’s comment is absent. An 1819 collective biography of early American military and naval officers, written when Decatur was alive, makes no reference to the Nelson quote. The first full-scale biography of Decatur, published in 1821 (just after his death), contains no hint of it, nor does the first great history of the U.S. Navy, James Fenimore Cooper’s, the first edition of which appeared in 1839. 1

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