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Battleships ceded their primacy to aircraft in WWII, but they still played an important role. Today’s object comes from one of the more unusual ship to ship engagements during the war, that between the USS Massachusetts (BB-59) and the French battleship Jean Bart, in Casablanca as part of Operation Torch.

As the US prepared to strike back in Europe and the Pacific, the Navy prepared for the logistical challenge by creating construction battalions, the famous Seabees. Today’s object chronicles the first time the Seabees went into combat at Guadalcanal.

As WWII raged, supply convoys from the United States and Canada faced off with the German U-boat “wolfpacks” throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Although the Wolfpacks nearly crippled the allied war effort early in 1941 and 1942, eventually the Allies were able to turn the tide, culminating in the devastation inflicted inflicted on the German submarine squadrons in 1943. May 1943 became known to the Germans as “Black May.” Today’s object was captured from a German submarine by American sailors one year later in a daring boarding of a sinking u-boat.

The development of wireless communication in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was quickly followed by the development of encrytpion for coded transmissions. The ability of the US to decipher these coded transmissions played an essential role in helping the US and her allies to victory in World War II. Today, we discuss an iconic World War II enryption tool, the German Enigma Machine.

With the battle fleet damaged at Pearl Harbor, carrier-based aircraft became the US Pacific Fleet’s main weapon. A small group of veteran naval aviation pioneers led the US carriers against the Japanese Imperial Navy, including Admiral Marc Mitscher, to whom our object today belonged.

The tension created by prolonged naval build-ups during the first part of the 20th century finally ignited into all-out naval conflict in the Pacific in 1941. The Japanese struck first at Pearl Harbor, with their carrier-based aircraft heavily damaging the anchored US battleships of the Pacific Fleet, and thus bringing the aircraft carrier to the front lines of the conflict.

Many factors combined to end the 300 year reign of the battleship, and most of them occurred during and just after World War I, from the development of aviation, to the Washington Naval Conference, and eventually the destruction of much of the US surface fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Today we take a closer look at how the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the pre-eminent ship in the US Navy.

Over the coming decade, the US Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships will be fully operational, and as we examine their designs and technological innovation, today’s episode takes us back in time to visit the newest ships of the 1750s and 1890s, some of them littoral in nature. We also head into the restoration and modeling shop of the Naval Academy museum for an up-close look at the efforts to preserve and expand the Naval Academy’s precious collection of model ships, and thus document our naval heritage.

From the 1890s until World War II, the Navy witnessed tremendous technological development. Wooden ships ceased to exist. The airplane was invented and became mainstream, and submarines entered broad use world-wide. During this same period and with the same rapidity, the Navy (and the rest of the world’s navies like Japan) adopted wireless communication, completely changing the way navies fought battles and coordinated movements. Wireless technology directly impacted the course of all future conflicts, particularly WWII, with interceptions of German and Japanese communications leading to key Allied victories. To this day, wireless communication technology continues to develop and change at incredible speed.

Commander Robert Peary made eight polar excursions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. On each one of these, he was accompanied by Matthew Henson. However, whereas Perry received wide-spread acclaim, Henson spent most of his life in relative anonymity because he was African-American. Nevertheless, Henson’s contributions to polar exploration were tremendous, and he is now remembered as one of the great American polar explorers.

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