Archive for the 'naval history' Tag
He won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Marty (1955). And his many screen roles include Sergeant “Fatso” Judson in From Here to Eternity (1953), General Worden in The Dirty Dozen (1967), and Dutch Engstrom in The Wild Bunch (1969). But he is perhaps best remembered as Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale, the title character in television’s madcap sitcom, “McHale’s Navy” (1962-66). The congenial “real McHale” talked recently about his decade in the U.S. Navy and his film work with Naval History Editor Fred L. Schultz.
Naval History: What made you decide to enlist in the Navy rather than any of the other services?
Borgnine: I’m what you call a Depression sailor. I got a job immediately after leaving high school; I was lucky—three dollars a week and all I could eat, working on a vegetable truck. I had never thought of it as a career, but that was all I could find in those days. You were lucky to get off the streets. One day while riding on the truck, I saw a sign that said: “Join the Navy, See the World.” So I went to the recruiter, unbeknownst to my mother and dad, and said I’d like to join the Navy. They put me on a waiting list and asked if I’d be ready to come when they called. I said, “Absolutely!” So I got the call and, believe it or not, got in on another fellow’s case of the piles. He failed, and I made it. I believe at that time only 11 or 12 of us made it out of 12,000; that many people were ready to go into the service, simply because they wanted to get off the streets. It wasn’t that we were bums. We just wanted to help our families, as I did, and also wanted to get out there and learn something.
So I joined the Navy and went to the Newport, Rhode Island, Training Station in September of 1935. It was a whole new experience. I’ll never forget the advice my dad gave me the morning I left. He said, “You know, son, you’re not going to be tied down by your mother’s apron strings any more.” He said, “You’re going to have to go out and do it on your own.”
I remember one day—I still get a little choked up about it—I was on board a ship, the four-stacker destroyer Lamberton (DD-119), and the crew was celebrating Mother’s Day by listening to a program about it on the radio. That hit me in such a way that I sat under a ladder and cried. You can’t imagine how hard I cried. And after it was over, I suddenly realized I had cut the apron strings. But it made a man out of me. And I have never regretted one day, not ever.
It was the most ambitious, expensive, and risky oceanic engineering feat ever attempted – all for the intelligence contained in one Soviet submarine. It was also one of the most secretive operations, yet it was conducted under the spotlight of international media and Soviet intelligence. Sponsored by billionaire Howard Hughes under the cover of an undersea mining operation, Project Azorian attempted to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from a depth of 16,000 feet, far deeper than the 164 feet previously plumbed for a sunken submarine. Renowned naval historian Norman Polmar and film producer Michael White have recently published a book, Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129 (Naval Institute Press, 2010), that offers new details and convincingly answers many of the remaining questions surrounding the mystery of the sub’s sinking. Polmar recently spoke at the Navy Memorial about this new book and his exhaustive research to produce it.
The K-129 mysteriously ceased communications and disappeared in March 1968 while operating in the north Pacific. The Soviets were unable to locate it, but U.S. Air Force surveillance systems picked up unusual acoustic “events” traced to K-129 and were able to pinpoint its location within 2-3 miles. U.S. Navy submarine USS Halibut (SSGN/SSN 587) was dispatched to the area, found the wreckage and took thousands of photos – showing that K-129 was, surprisingly, relatively intact. Salivating over the potential intelligence they could collect and assuming that it was just a matter of time before the Soviets found it, the CIA embarked on what could have been considered a foolhardy salvage attempt. The likelihood of successfully raising the sub was estimated to be 10 percent, according to the authors. It required an astronomical investment in state-of-the-art and innovative equipment at a time when the U.S. was still heavily engaged in the Vietnam War – a cost the government could not justify at the time. But the opportunity to obtain a Soviet nuclear-tipped missile and its guidance system was just too tempting. However, the project of this scale needed a convincing “cover.”
So, the CIA enlisted the help of Howard Hughes, the eccentric billionaire who predictably agreed to underwrite the project. It was given a fake mission of a sea floor mining operation paid for by Hughes and it proved to be a perfect front. Openly reported in the press and with a legitimate money trail (as the government already had contracts with Hughes and the other contractors working on the project), a specially-outfitted deep sea mining ship was built in which heavy equipment – ostensibly mining – could be lifted from the ocean floor. It was brilliant.
The Hughes Glomar Explorer set out for its historic mission in June of 1974. Its task was daunting: “Beyond the lowering of the ‘capture vehicle’ or ‘claw’ at the end of a pipe-string and then recovering the submarine, the system would have to raise the capture vehicle, submarine hulk, and pipe-string up through an open well. There would be strong dynamic forces at work in the North Pacific even in summer, and it would be necessary to hold the ship in an exact position over the three-mile pipe-string. As the K-129 was raised it would be necessary to ensure perfect alignment with the opening of the docking well or moon pool. And, of course, the recovery had to be unobservable by outsiders.”
Even knowing the outcome of the adventure, the story is a riveting one. Authors Polmar and White are successful at unveiling – peeling back, really – many previously unreported details of this story through suspenseful chapter ends and a non-chronological story arc, one that keeps the reader’s attention. It could have read like an academic treatise, but it doesn’t. The authors also convincingly answer many remaining mysteries of the mission – including what caused the K-129 disaster. The book will obviously attract industry insiders, but its friendly prose and narrative style will also appeal to any Tom Clancy fan.
A full recap of all the erroneous press reports at the time also provides interesting fodder and adds some consumer color to the story, lending credence to the project’s mystique as a bona fide Cold War-era mystery. Knowing Polmar and his dry, sarcastic wit, I can tell that he held his tongue when debunking many of the theories that abounded about the demise of the K-129 and the myriad, confident journalists and authors that subsequently posited wildly off-base accounts. Polmar does not suffer fools, but he held back judiciously in this academically supported thesis. He knows that hindsight is 20-20.
The mission was partly successful, but it remains debatable as to whether the intelligence gleaned from the salvage effort was worth the estimated $500 million (1970s money!). A total of 38 feet of the submarine was salvaged; the remaining 100 feet broke off and dropped back to the ocean floor, shattering into tiny bits of debris that were impossible to recapture. The authors allege that the true story of Project Azorian represents a feat that, while only producing modest intelligence gains, was as ambitious an engineering project as landing a man on the moon. We Americans have a habit of justifying the climbing of any mountain … just because it’s there!
By The Bunny
He didn’t set out to make history. Joining the Navy just seemed like a good way out of the racist South. But fate and circumstance deposited Lanier Phillips on the frigid coast of Newfoundland when his ship, USS Truxtun (DD-229), ran aground in a vicious storm in 1942. As one of few African-American crewmembers, he was the only one of his fellow mess attendants to abandon ship. They were afraid to go ashore for fear of being lynched. But Phillips took his chances and jumped aboard a life boat. Beached at the base of terrifying cliffs that looked impossible to breach, Phillips and 45 other survivors had no choice but to wait for rescue or die of hypothermia.
Much to this desperate group’s dismay, a team of enterprising Newfoundlanders from the small village of St. Lawrence repelled down the cliffs, hauled the men up and proceeded to nurse them back to health – including Phillips. In working to wash and warm up the men, the villagers were convinced the oil that coated the shipwrecked survivors had seeped into Phillips’ skin. Wounded, frozen and helpless, Phillips was terrified to identify himself as a black man, but he had no choice.
Despite having never seen a black person, they treated him just as well as the other surviving crewmembers. Indeed, the Newfoundlanders treated him like family: giving him their beds in which to recuperate, feeding him like a child and personally nursing him back to health. They gave him the best care they knew how to give. “Not only did they save my life,” Phillips said, “they gave me a sense of value I had never had before.” As he described the experience, being treated as an equal encouraged him to start acting like an equal. He returned home, vowing to challenge the Navy’s prejudice and to return the kindness he had experienced in Newfoundland.
From that point forward, he was emboldened and determined to be in the vanguard of the civil rights movement. He wanted to challenge himself and to resist the professional barriers that were in front of him. He became the first African-American Navy sonar technician – despite his lack of higher education. He marched with Dr. King. He worked on the ALVIN deep-water submersible team and with the pioneer of undersea exploration, Jacques Cousteau, on the development of deep sea lamp technology.
And he made good on his promise to the villagers in Newfoundland. He started a scholarship program for the residents and built a playground for the town’s families. Until his health started to deteriorate, he traveled extensively to tell his story and spread the word about the good and kind people of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland. He is their de facto ambassador. “Whatever I can do for St. Lawrence is not enough. They changed my entire philosophy on life.” I’m sure he changed theirs, too.
Marines may not believe they have a bone in the fight to save the ex-USS Olympia (C-6). But they do–the vessel’s experience in the closing days of World War I helped push the Navy to think harder about expeditionary logistics:
In May 1918, two months after Russia withdrew from the war, 55 Americans from the cruiser Olympia (CA-15) joined British forces in occupying Murmansk and Archangel to guard stockpiles of arms and ammunition shipped there for the czarist army. For most of their time in northern Russia, Olympia crewmen lived on reduced rations of “two little slices of bread, . . . one spoon of stew, and one cup of coffee” per day. Despite the almost monthly arrival of supply ships, soldiers of the North Russian Expeditionary Force who reinforced men of the Olympia resorted at times to stealing food from British troops, who were far better supplied-perhaps because Britain had a long history of expeditionary warfare and thus developed the infrastructure needed to sustain it.
The experience of the Olympia’s Marines, coupled with the equally rough time the Brooklyn (CA-3) Marine detachment had in Vladivostok, helped put expeditionary logistics on the Navy’s radar screen.
At a time when the DOD is contemplating a major shift in the Marine Corps’ expeditionary capabilities, it might be wise to start remembering the teething pains America’s Marines endured back in the days when the nation didn’t appreciate the nuances of expeditionary warfare.
(Quote is taken from James C. Bradford’s Feb 2006 Naval History article, “The missing link: Expeditionary logistics.)
A few weeks after the USNI blog disclosed that the non-profit group once slated to receive the ex-USS IOWA (BB-61) was more hot air than substance, the Navy is now re-opening the bidding process for the ship!
It’s sure nice to know the Navy listens to the blogosphere…
Anybody interested in working to see the Iowa preserved in San Francisco? If so, let’s talk. Shoot me an email.
For the rest of the story, go here.
With the agreement to shed the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, the ex-USS Iowa is set to be disposed of in about seven years. To save the Iowa, the Navy’s designated partner, “Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square”, must raise $15-20 million dollars.
But the President of “Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square,” Elaine Merylin Wong, is saying some things that make me question her credibility.
Look at the recent news coverage. As the the Governor of Iowa, Chet Culver, signed on to support fundraising efforts, Wong said, according to the Des Moines Register, her organization has done quite a lot:
Already, $4 million has been raised and spent, and another $18 million to $20 million is needed to prepare the USS Iowa for public visitation, Wong said.
The article also said Wong painted a dire picture of the ship’s condition:
“Today, the ship is somewhat of a bathtub itself. It draws in copious amounts of ocean water, said Merilyn Wong”
But that…well, that horrible news on the ship’s condition totally contradicts what Wong said earlier in the month. A few days ago, the Courthouse News Service reported this:
Wong says the inside of the ship is in “pristine condition,” and says it has “received at least $1.5 million in work in the last four or five years.”
The nonprofit hopes to raise another $18 million on top of the $4 million it already has raised to restore the Iowa.
So what is the deal? Is the Iowa’s interior “pristine” or shipping a “copious” amount of water?
And… more worryingly, if the “Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square” has raised and spent $4 million dollars (never mind the $1.5 million supposedly spent on interior work–I’m assuming that’s money the government has spent on things like dehumidifying the vessel), where is it?
Where did $4 million dollars go? There’s no record of this amount of money ever entering the nonprofit’s books.
None of the $4 million dollars that the “Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square” has “already raised” shows up on the Form 990s nonprofits are required to file on an annual basis. In fact, the 990s point to an organization starved for funds. They detail an organization that is, quite frankly, a horrible–almost incompetent–fundraiser.
According to the 2006 and 2008 990s, the Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square took in $16,595 in 2002, $26,782 in 2003, $11,930 in 2004, $15,147 in 2005, $25,254 in 2006, $41,459 in 2007, and $ 30,905 in 2008.
That’s not anywhere near $4 million dollars.
So…where’s the money? For a nonprofit, the public gets to know these things.
See more at NEXTNAVY.COM
What’s the most endangered floating naval monument? Is it the soon-to-be abandoned ex-USS Olympia (C 6)? The “get-it-out-of-water-or-it’ll-sink” ex-USS Texas (BB 35)? The “dry-dock or dispose” ex-USS Yorktown (CV-10)?
If the Navy had a hefty (yet limited) amount of funds earmarked to bolster floating Naval memorials/floating landmarks, which monuments would you like to see the fund save?
Or…would you prefer funds went towards the best-preserved vessels? Or just save the ones in trouble? Do let me know!
In March of 1915 then LCDR Dudley W. Knox, USN, wrote a most challenging essay in PROCEEDINGS magazine about ”The Role of Doctrine in Naval Warfare.” His thesis was that “a fleet is something more than a mere collection of ships” and that “bare ship to ship superiority is not a guarantee of victory.” Then, in 31 pages he exhaustively examines the dual roles of command and doctrine in prosecuting successful combat operations. Ironically, almost 100 years ago, his essay becomes subject of comments from other naval officers in the next 10 pages – and we thought blogs were a modern invention! Most importantly, Knox is a poster child for one of our most important missions – providing an independent forum wherein all members, without reference to grade or resume, can share their thoughts on the state of the profession.
Knox is himself an amazing naval officer. The son of a career Soldier and an 1896 graduate of the Naval Academy, Knox served 50 years retiring as a Commodore in 1946. In that long and distinguished career he commanded at sea and ashore, taught at the Naval War College, earned the Navy Cross, the Legion of Merit and a slew of foreign honors, was twice a Gold Medal essayist with the Naval Institute, wrote the classic A HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES NAVY, and was the guiding spirit in the founding of the Naval Historical Foundation (USNI provided the first contribution of $1000 to the Foundation).
Our question is:
What might Knox say in only 3000 words about the state of naval strategy and doctrine today? Are things better; what has changed and, most importantly, what is the same or worse than when he closed his text with this clarion call, “both ashore and afloat we, therefore, imperatively need first of all a conception of war”?
United States Naval Institute Proceedings
Vol. 41, No.2 March-April 1915, Whole No. 156
The Role of Doctrine in Naval Warfare
Prize Essay, 1915
By Lieutenant Commander Dudley W. Knox, U.S. Navy
Motto: “Let us learn to think in the same way about fundamental truths.”—Darrieus
The American Navy acknowledges no superior in its ability to steam and to shoot. If nothing else was required of a fleet of ships in naval warfare we might rest securely in the belief that we are as well prepared for war as any possible antagonist. Strange to say, not many years ago this fallacious belief did permeate the service and was based upon the above narrow, unsound and short-sighted assumption.
Within the last few years, however, a fortunate awakening has come about. The navy is comprehending with greater clearness every day, that a fleet is something more than a mere collection of ships; that a bare “ship for ship” superiority over a possible enemy is not a guarantee of victory; that before ships are ready to go into action, no matter how efficient individually, they must be welded into a body, whose various members can be well controlled from a single source and can act collectively as a unit free from embarrassing internal friction; and that the problem of the proper utilization of the abilities to steam and to shoot—that is, the problem of command—is not only less elementary but also much more difficult of solution than any yet undertaken by us.
Today is another important day in Chief Petty Officer history. Fifty-one years ago today, the ranks of Senior Chief and Master Chief Petty Officer were created. Over the years they have been referred to as Super Chiefs, Star Chiefs, and probably some less desirable names.
A very comprehensive history of the Chief Petty Officer ranks, written by CWO4 Lester B. Tucker, USN(Retired), is available here.
Today is the 116th Birthday of the U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer. Established 1 April 1893 by U.S. Navy Regulation Circular No. 1, dated 13 March 1893, the rank of Chief Petty Officer holds a special place among military ranks. The Chief Petty Officer Creed very effectively tells the story of what it means to be a Chief, and much of it can be summed up with these words from The Creed: “… only in the United States Navy does E-7 carry unique responsibilities no other armed force throughout the world carries, nor which grants privileges to it’s enlisted personnel comparable to the privileges and responsibilities you are now bound to observe and are expected to fulfill.”
A very brief history of the Chief Petty Officer, marking the 100th birthday, is available here.
So, just as we honor our Marine brothers and sisters with a hearty Happy Birthday each November 10th, it is appropriate, and a much-appreciated gesture, to wish every Chief, Senior Chief, and Master Chief a Happy Birthday on April 1st. This is one of the many days in our Navy’s history that should not – but too often does – pass without acknowledgment.
Happy Birthday to every Chief Petty Officer past and present.
- Sea Control 12: Innovation
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #22: Battle of the Models: Constitution and Guerriere Square Off
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #21 Model of Demologos (USS Fulton)
- Midrats Sunday 8 Dec 13 Episode 205: “A 21st Century Navy” With John C. Harvey, Jr, ADM USN (Ret)
- USNI Happy Hour – Newport