Archive for July, 2009

Resurrection: Salvaging the Battle Fleet at Pearl Harbor, is the second book by Naval enthusiast Daniel Madsen. Published in 2003 by USNI Press, this fine work tells the largely forgotten tale of the Officers, Sailors, and civilians that made up the massive effort to raise and repair the battleships and other warships and auxiliaries sunk and damaged in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and began the process of returning them to war.

Madsen mentions, but does not dwell on the events leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, or the subsequent quest for answers in its aftermath. Instead, his story begins as the preponderance of the surface power of the US Pacific Fleet is shattered by bombs and torpedoes on the morning of December 7th. The real story of his book begins in the aftermath of the attack in the days and weeks following the raid, as the Fleet and its Officers take stock of the devastation and begin the long process of readying the clogged anchorage for the task of supporting a fleet at war and salvage of the ships who lay in the mud near Ford Island.

Having done exquisite research, Madsen grabs the reader with the thorough and eloquent description of the enormity of the tasks, and the paucity of resources, equipment, labor, expertise, and time in which to perform them. The formation of the Base Force Salvage Organization, and its interaction with the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard and Fourteenth Naval District, Pacific Bridge Company (and other civilian contractors) highlights both the friction of competing requirements and the admirable cooperation of disparate entities to succeed in the face of a determined enemy. Routine issues, such as the stowage and repair of salvaged weapons and optics, feeding and housing large workforces efficiently, disposal of thousands of tons of flotsam from the sunken hulls, strained the abilities and capacity of men and facilities. In addition, the constant shifts in priorities as damage assessments on the sunken ships are revised and requirements for repair of battle damage to the fleet in the fight with the Japanese subsume facilities and resources, reinforces the patience and flexibility of the Officers and Sailors whose lot it was to undertake this grim, backbreaking, dangerous work.

The story the author tells is unmistakeably one of triumph and defiance in the face of overwhelming odds and supreme challenges. The reader understands the sublime sense of accomplishment for these men as they watched the battleships once burned and forlorn, with decks awash, as they glided into drydock, and then out of Pearl Harbor for repair and refit, and then to war. The narrative is compelling and poignant at times, vivid in its descriptions of conditions and events. But Madsen does not encumber us with unnecessary technical detail. He provides plenty, just enough to bring the reader into the truly ingenious planning and calculations involved in righting, patching, and pumping damaged ships afloat after months on the bottom.

Madsen shifts often between salvage projects, locations, and time, often simultaneously, a technique he employed in his first work, Forgotten Fleet. This can be confusing to the reader of Resurrection, as the chronology of events at Pearl Harbor is much more central to the theme of this book than in the telling of the Mothball Navy. Some common errors are present. Madsen makes incorrect reference to gun caliber regarding the 5″ guns then in service, annotating them as “5-inch/.51 caliber”, “5-inch/.38 caliber”, and “5-inch/.25 caliber”, respectively. Caliber in this sense refers to the length of the bore of the cannon tube as measured by muzzle opening. (a 5-inch/51 caliber weapon has 255 inches of rifling between breach and muzzle, a 5-inch/25 caliber, 125 inches, etc.) Also, the “accepted” way of referring to a ship by name by old salts I have known has been as one would refer to a person. For example, USS Oklahoma would be called “Oklahoma”, and not “the Oklahoma” (though I truthfully don’t know if this is written anywhere officially). However, these are minor flaws that do not detract from the work.

Well-illustrated with seldom-seen photos of damage and repair work in progress, Resurrection is an eminently readable book which will take and hold the interest of one who loves naval history and the stories of the men and events that made it. Among a stack of books on my nightstand (and others elsewhere throughout the house), Resurrection moved to the top of the list and stayed there until it was finished. That is no mean feat, and a tribute to Daniel Madsen. I recommend this book highly.

090724-N-3143M-034Frequent visitors here know of VADM Harvey’s straight-up engagement on a number of fronts in the comments sections. With his assumption of command at Fleet Forces Command comes a new blog (and add’l star) – the U.S. Fleet Forces Command blog. And if the inaugural post is indicative of the future (and no reason to believe it isn’t), this one will be very “hands-on” compared to “blogs” maintained by other 4-star commands. In his own words:

I plan to use the USFF Blog to help increase meaningful two-way communication throughout our organization. What I will need from you are straight-forward comments (positive and negative) about specific topics that will help us all learn, grow and accomplish our assigned missions.

I welcome all perspectives, and my first thread will be to ask for ideas from you that you would like me to address in future posts. I will not be able to respond to every post we receive in the Blog, but I will read them and do my best to respond appropriately to the issues that arise.

A noble and noteworthy effort indeed. Welcome to the Navy blogging ‘verse sir and all wishes for success in the Solomonic-task at hand.


As part of summer training, midshipmen spend time out in the Fleet, my past two summers were spent in Pearl Harbor on a submarine and a destroyer; however, this summer I was assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina attached to the II Marine Expeditionary Force Public Communication Team (II MEF PCT).

Marine Corps Public Affairs, the community’s guiding publication, opens with the following quotation from Major General Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps:
“The future success of the Marine Corps depends on two factors: first, an efficient performance of all duties to which its officers and men may be assigned; second, promptly bringing the efficiency to the attention of the proper officials of the Government, and the American people.”

On our first day with the team, MAJ Gilmore, the team’s director, gave us more than an hour and a half of his time to talk about Marine Corps public communication, emphasizing the importance of training Marines to think of communication as a two-way process of information sharing. As no public affairs team can (or wants to) completely control who says what to whom, proper training allows Marines to express themselves more effectively to friends, families, or anyone with whom they communicate.

While public affairs offices are generally perceived as providing information and assistance to the media, the II MEF PCT prefers a different approach. Understanding that the media is another party in the public domain, the II MEF PCT focuses its attention on getting its message to its “key publics,” members of the community who share an interest in II MEF-related issues. For the II MEF PCT, this means Marines, their families, and the surrounding community. Thus, the main focus of the team is not trying to target or “handle” the media, but establishing dialogue with the key publics.

This dialogue with key publics is central to II MEF PCT. For instance, the PCT responds the same way to questions from MEF family members and friends as it does with civilian media representatives. Furthermore, by calling and informing the interested parties of the press releases, the team builds connections with the community.

Blogging is a trend with some units, such as the 10th Mountain Division. Due to limitations of current policy as well the time and manpower requirements, the II MEF PCT does not operate one. However, the team does engage readers in the discussion section of blogs belonging to other groups including civilian media organizations.

The Marine Corps public affairs community only includes around 150 officers. Capt. Patrick, the team’s deputy director, served as an enlisted infantryman before accepting a commission. Coming out of The Basic School with any MOS open to him, he chose public affairs much to his peers’ surprise. “I had been reading and studying about fourth-generation warfare,” he explained, “and it was apparent that communicating information was incredibly important…Besides just basic leading Marines, I’ve never had such a broad impact.”

The Internet and “new media,” such as blogs, enable readers to draw information from sources outside the traditional media filter. How can the military and public affairs teams better adapt to these developments?

Today is the 100th birthday of former Chief Petty Officer and retired Lieutenant John W. Finn. Still known affectionately to many as Chief Finn, he earned the first Medal of Honor of World War II for actions at Kaneohe Bay, Hawai’i, on 7 December 1941. He is the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.

According to, “Kaneohe Bay was attacked five minutes before Pearl Harbor, which some might argue makes John Finn’s actions that day the FIRST Medal of Honor action of World War II. John has never seen himself as a hero. ‘I was just a Good ‘ol Navy man doing my job,’ he says humbly.” 

Chief Finn was originally transferred to the Fleet Reserve as a Chief Petty Officer but was later “placed on the Retired List in the rank of Lieutenant.”

Those of us who have had the distinct pleasure of meeting Chief Finn, hearing him tell the story of the fateful day he displayed such unique valor, will never forget it. His account of the attacks on Kaneohe Bay and Pearl Harbor, and his special way of telling it, are fantastic. It’s no wonder a man who fought so hard that day is a centenarian and the oldest living MOH recipient. He is a Navy and national treasure.

John Finn (Lucy Pemoni/AP file)

Chief Finn’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself:

For extraordinary heroism, distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, KanoeheBay, on 7 December 1941, Lieutenant Finn promptly secured and manned a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machine-gun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy’s fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. Following first-aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

See this video from NBC News marking John’s 99th Birthday. To quote the report, “there are men alive today because John Finn was on duty that day.”

Happy Birthday Shipmate!

This week, courtesy UltimaRatioRegis, is a look at the IJN post Midway. After suffering grievous losses in ships, sailors and airmen at Midway, the IJN was still far from finished-for the moment. For while Midway had turned the tide, that razor’s edge could cut the other way given the reed-thin status of the US fleet. So, what would the Japanese, led by their revered flag, Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto, the architect of the victory at Pearl Harbor, what would they do next? What *could* they do next? – SJS

Yamamoto-Isoroku-improvedContrastOn the eve of the epic fleet clash at Midway in early June, 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy had very nearly driven the US and her Allies from the seas. The US Pacific Fleet battle line sat in the oily mud of Pearl Harbor, or was in drydocks stateside for repair of bomb and torpedo damage. The collection of gallant but obsolete warships that comprised the Asiatic Squadron had been hunted down and sunk, or chased to Australia, in the months following December 7th. Fleet carrier Saratoga (CV-3) had yet to return from Bremerton, where she was being repaired due to torpedo damage suffered in January, and getting a major refit which replaced her 8” guns with much more useful DP 5”-38 twin mounts . Yorktown (CV-5) was undergoing extensive repairs at Pearl Harbor from two bomb hits suffered at Coral Sea, in which Saratoga’s sister Lexington (CV-2) had been sunk.

It was clear, however, the US Pacific would not go without a fight. The stubborn bravery of Admiral Hart’s Asiatic Fleet against truly hopeless odds, Jimmy Doolittle’s carrier-launched raid on Tokyo, surprisingly effective US carrier raids on Japanese outposts (including Tulagi), and the blunting of the Japanese stab for Port Moresby at Coral Sea, all signaled that the US Pacific Fleet remained a dangerous force with remarkable fighting spirit.

USS Marblehead (CL-12) Asiatic Fleet survivor (left) USS Houston (CA-30) sunk at Java Sea (right)

USS Houston (CA-30) sunk at Java Sea (left) and USS Marblehead (CL-12) Asiatic Fleet survivor (right)

The Battle of Midway was a catastrophic defeat for the Japanese, suffered at the hands of an inferior American force. It was a disaster from which the IJN would never fully recover. The sinking of four fleet carriers, a heavy cruiser, and loss of nearly 250 aircraft manned by veteran pilots could never be made good by the Japanese industrial base or her aviation training pipeline. US losses, carrier Yorktown, destroyer Hammann (DD-412), and 100 aircraft, were serious but temporary, and were offset once Saratoga returned to action, and the new Buchanan (DD-484) joined the Pacific Fleet in mid-June 1942.

USS Hammann (DD-412) by stricken Yorktown (CV-5) Hammann seen sinking after Japanese torpedo hit

USS Hammann (DD-412) by stricken Yorktown (CV-5) Hammann seen sinking after Japanese torpedo hit

Despite the disaster at Midway, however, the Japanese Navy held significant advantages over the US Pacific Fleet in nearly all categories in mid-1942. The IJN still badly outnumbered the US in aircraft carriers, (Shokaku rejoined the fleet after repair of damage at Coral Sea), and trumped the United States Pacific Fleet in battleships, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, and destroyers. The only warship type in which the US Pacific Fleet held an advantage over the Japanese was in submarines .

That disparity was more than simply numerical. Japan’s Navy was superbly trained and equipped, excellent in gunnery, and led by experienced and aggressive commanders. The Japanese held a decided advantage in warship and aircraft design, and fielded the finest and most lethal torpedo in the world’s arsenals. Their captains and crews were also highly trained in night surface combat.

Japan’s heavy cruisers, beginning with the four-ship Takao-class through the pair of Tones, were built in the 1930s well in excess of treaty limitations, and proved to be fast, powerful units, more than a match for American and Allied heavy cruisers of the same period. The excellent Fubuki-class destroyers and their successors were among the most heavily-armed of their types in the world until the US Fletcher-class began entering service in 1942. Follow-on classes of Japanese destroyers suffered weight issues (as did US designs) but overall were superb ships, much-respected by their opponents.

IJN Destroyer Amagiri
IJN Destroyer Amagiri
Heavy Cruiser Chokai
Heavy Cruiser Chokai

The heavy cruisers and destroyers, as well as Japan’s light cruisers, carried the deadly 24-inch Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedo. With a half-ton warhead and a range more than three times that of the American 21” Mark 14 torpedo, the Long Lance struck mortal fear into US ship captains, particularly at night. The Japanese were able time and again to inflict frightful damage to US units as the latter attempted to close range for a gun duel.

Type 93 “Long Lance” (left) and damage to USS Minneapolis (CA-36) from Type 93 hit at Tassafaronga (right)
Type 93 “Long Lance” (left) and damage to USS Minneapolis (CA-36) from Type 93 hit at Tassafaronga (right)

By contrast, problems with the US Mark 14 torpedoes, most notably the exploder, magnetic detonator, and depth-regulation, frustrated American submarine and PT skippers throughout the first two years of war. These defects thwarted what might have been several devastating attacks on Japanese carriers and capital warships.

In the air, the vaunted A6M2 “Zero” fighter had nearly swept the handfuls of obsolescent Allied aircraft from the skies of the western Pacific in the weeks following Pearl Harbor. By July of 1942, it was only the skill of US Navy pilots in exploiting the strengths of the stubby Grumman F4F Wildcat which offset the Zero’s considerable edge in climb and maneuverability, and prevented defeat in what would otherwise have been a short and unequal fight.

 A6M2 Zeroes with drop tanks (left) and B5N2 Kate taking off from Shokaku (right)
A6M2 Zeroes with drop tanks (left) and B5N2 Kate taking off from Shokaku (right)

The Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” torpedo bomber was the most advanced aircraft of its type in the world in 1939, and in 1942 was still far superior to the vulnerable, lumbering Douglas Devastator that had met with such disaster at Midway and was in the process of being withdrawn from service. In addition, the Aichi D3A “Val” dive bomber was at least a match for the Douglas SBD Dauntless, and one of the few Japanese aircraft sturdy enough to absorb punishment and survive.

F4F-2 Wildcat in early-war markings (left) TBD Devastator launches torpedo in training run (right)

Perhaps the biggest advantage the Imperial Japanese Navy held over the US Pacific Fleet in the summer of 1942 was that of training for night surface combat. The emphasis on seeking and winning night combat, like that of torpedo technology and employment, was born of necessity. The provisions of the Washington Naval Treaty ensured that the Japanese Fleet would be at a significant disadvantage in the Jutland-style fleet actions anticipated by both sides in the event of war between the US and Japan. Therefore, the IJN sought to master a doctrine that would largely negate the US advantage in numbers of ships and weight of broadside. Night tactics were the answer. Great emphasis on individual and squadron formation and maneuver procedures, communications, night gunnery, use of flares and searchlights, resulted in the skills of fighting a night surface engagement being raised to a near-art form . Conversely, the US Pacific Fleet, not wanting to squander its numerical and power advantage, emphasized a doctrine that looked to avoid night combat.

Even after Midway, the Imperial Japanese Navy remained a most formidable opponent. But the eastern horizon was growing increasingly dark. The United States Navy was expanding with lightning speed. US shipyards and factories had revved into high gear. New aircraft designs were entering service or mass production that outclassed any Japanese machines. And by August 1942, the following warships were on the ways or awaiting completion in American shipyards :

• Six Fleet Carriers

• Eight Light Carriers

• Twenty-two Escort Carriers

• Five Battleships

• Four Heavy Cruisers

• Nine Light Cruisers

• One hundred thirteen Destroyers

• Twenty-nine Submarines

US Gleaves-class destroyer construction at Boston Navy Yard, 1942
US Gleaves-class destroyer construction at Boston Navy Yard, 1942

Yamamoto’s “sleeping giant”, was awakening. The Japanese had tipped the hourglass at Pearl Harbor. By August of 1942, the sand that measured the Japanese Navy’s pre-eminence in the Pacific had all but run out. The coming clash in the Solomons represented the last real chance for the Imperial Japanese Navy to inflict a strategic defeat upon the US Pacific Fleet.

USS Essex (CV 8) Launch, July 1942
USS Essex (CV 9) Launch, July 1942

Walter Cronkite- anchormanWith the invasion of Normandy, the tragedy of the Kennedy assassination, the triumph of the first moon landing and the nightly drama of the Vietnam conflict, few people have been a witness to as much history as Walter Cronkite. Even fewer people have had his gift to eloquently convey historic events in a manner that made his audience feel as if they were not merely spectators, they were participants. In a 1994 issue of Naval History Magazine, the Naval Institute was fortunate to have Cronkite share some of the most memorable experiences from his storied career. In addition to discussing his early days as a navy correspondent, Cronkite was kind enough to mention that one of his favorite segments from the award winning program “The 20th Century” was originally inspired by an article in Proceedings Magazine.

Tom Wilkerson
Major General, USMC (Ret.)
U. S. Naval Institute CEO


The retired anchor of “The CBS Evening News” recently told Naval History editor Fred. L. Schultz that World War II was much different from the other wars he covered in his long news career. Unlike some subsequent conflicts, in World War II the American public never questioned “the nature of the enemy or the necessity of the fight,” he said.

 A former naval correspondent for the United Press, he accepted a late offer to join the Army’s Eighth Air Force for the Normandy Invasion. Minutes before the attack 50 years ago, Cronkite watched the drama unfold from a B-17 Flying Fortress. At age 28, he quickly had become a veteran reporter and quite proficient in his craft. Of a bombing raid over Wilhelmshaven in February 1943, he wrote that it was “an assignment to hell – a hell 26,000 feet above earth, a hell of burning tracer bullets and bursting gunfire, of crippled Fortresses and burning German fighter planes, of parachuting men and others not so lucky.”

Cronkite won the George Foster Peabody Award in 1962 for his news reporting and for his popular series, “The Twentieth Century,” but he is probably best remembered for his coverage of the space program and for his sometimes controversial reporting on the Vietnam War. His grave television announcement of President John F. Kennedy’s death left an indelible image in the memories of many.

Today, Cronkite has an office at CBS in New York and maintains a busy schedule of interviews, narrations, and a Discovery Channel series, “The Cronkite Report.”

Walter Cronkite-WWII

Cronkite appears here late in WWII, posing with the crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress in occupied France. He was a naval correspondent for the United Press until signing on to cover the Army's Eighth Air Force

Naval History: I understand you were a Navy correspondent early in World War II. How did that come about?

Cronkite: I think I was one of the first correspondents accredited after Pearl Harbor. I was with the United Press in Kansas City when they brought me to New York and sent me down to the Navy office at 90 Church Street to be accredited.

In about March 1942 I went out on my first convoy – at that time the biggest, fastest convoy that had ever been put together. It was a huge assemblage of all the former passenger queens that took the nucleus of the Eighth Air Force overseas. It included a battleship and a cruiser-destroyer escort force and steamed at 15 to 17 knots, which was much faster than any of the others at the time. All the ships were over 20,000 tons.

On the trip over, to Greenock, Scotland, we had a couple of alarms but no actual attacks. The destroyers went chasing off after various pips that came over their sonar, but we never experienced any attacks. We had one problem with an old Dutch ship. She was an old three-stacker that couldn’t keep up. She was making smoke every day, and that created a lot of problems for Commodore [C. F.] Bryant.

 The Manhattan burned on that return trip. She had an accidental fire on board. Fortunately, she had not been sabotaged as first feared. She was bringing back some casuals, Americans who had been working in Ireland establishing bases at Londonderry. That was quite a dramatic naval story. The Brooklyn put her nose right up against the burning Manhattan to take off the passengers. It was a remarkable feat. I was the only correspondent around, so I had a nice scoop on that story.

Naval History: How did a naval correspondent manage to see the Normandy Invasion from the air?

Cronkite: Well, I did not have a reportorial assignment. I was going to write the lead story at the UP office in London. It was a kind of compliment to get that assignment, but on the other hand, I was torn in my emotions. Obviously, it would be a lot safer in London than on the beaches, but I did want to be in on the action. I was disappointed not to get an active assignment on that historic day.

But in the middle of the night, around 1:30 in the morning, a dear friend, Hal Leyshon, who was a public relations captain in the Eighth Air Force, appeared suddenly at my door. He was an old poker-playing, drinking buddy of mine, a former advertising man from New York. Many nights he’d appeared at my door at 1:30, but not in the sober condition he was this night.

He was very formal about it all, and said in somber tones unlike him, “Is there anyone here besides you?” I don’t know who he thought might have been there, but he came in after I assured him there was no one else. He looked in my closet, under my bed, and in the other room. I was a little offended at his inspection I was getting after saying nobody was there. Then he said, “I’ve got to swear you to secrecy before I tell you anything else.”

 Of course, we had been expecting D-Day at any time. Our correspondents who were to accompany the troops and the ships had been disappearing one-by-one for almost a month, as the military tried to cover up what day D-Day would be. They didn’t want the correspondents all leaving town at the same time.

We knew it was coming, so I knew as soon as he started that pledge-to-secrecy business that this had to be something about D-Day and that it might even be that day.

 The Eighth Air Force had not been planned to take correspondents on whatever its D-Day air missions might be, but when it learned that some of its planes would be bombing right behind the beaches, it was decided at the last minute that a pool correspondent representing all of the press should go. Of those correspondents qualified for high-altitude flight, I had won the secret draw.

By good luck, I was assigned to the 303d Bomb Group, with whom I had flown on the first mission to Germany and whose activities I had covered for some time.

All this Hal didn’t tell me until we were in his military car on the way to the base, safely away from listening devices or prying ears. All I knew there in the apartment was that the assignment would be dangerous, but the Eighth Air Forces thought the story would be worth the risk. Although I would be going against my UP D-Day assignment, I didn’t hesitate to grab the chance at least to have a look at the action, if I couldn’t be on the beach itself.

 As we drive toward the base, Hal also helped relieve me of any concern I had about UP reaction. I would be back, he said, perhaps even before the first stories were getting back from the beaches, and I probably would have, for a palpitating public, the first eyewitness story of the invasion.

 It didn’t turn out quite that way. I didn’t get back from our mission until almost noon, and by that time, thanks to superb military communication – particularly by the Navy – the first dispatches from the newsmen on the ships and on the beaches were coming back.

And worse, the cloud cover was so heavy that my view of the beach had been, for the most part, obscured. I did get a look at the huge armada of forces, an incredible assembly that spread as far as we could see through the clouds. Up and down the coast were battleships and cruisers firing their big guns and landing craft assembling for the attack.

 The last I saw before the clouds became impenetrable were landing craft just leaving their ships to head for the beach. But I never got a good look at the beach itself. With pathfinder aircraft accompaniment, some of the Allied air armada, including other squadrons of the 303d, were able to bomb through the clouds. Our squadron, however, was told to bomb only if we practically could see the expressions on the German faces. We were to take no chance on bombing targets of opportunity or jettisoning our bombs. Our crew was too uncertain as to where our ground forces might be by the time of the bombardment.

Led by Capitan Lew Lyle, who later became a major general, we went in at around 15,000 feet, a comparatively low level for heavy bombers. With our bombs armed and ready, the flight – in close formation through heavy cloud layers – was a hair-raising experience.

Our target was shrouded under a solid blanket of cloud. The bomb bay doors were slammed shut. Lyle hoped to make another pass, playing on the small possibility that an opening would appear in the infernal clouds.

 The clouds were so thick with aircraft, however, that he was forced to stick to the highly detailed flight plan dictated at the morning briefing. There literally was no way to get back into the queue of planes thundering toward their targets at every level in and above those clouds.

 Then, we did the almost unthinkable. We returned to base in England with our bombs still on board. Despite terrible visibility in intensifying fog, we wended our way through the traffic jam of bombers coming and going and landed without incident. But the exercise with that load of explosives was no picnic. With the light flak and absence of enemy fighters, there were no battle casualties.

Perhaps the greatest danger I faced was returning to my office, where my boss unleashed his fury before I had a chance to explain my mission. My story, competing with those of our valiant colleagues on the beaches, understandably saw light of day in few newspapers.

 Naval History: A lot of people, even in high school and college history classes, forget that the Navy was even involved in the various amphibious landings of World War II. Why do you think that might be?

Cronkite: Though this isn’t necessarily the most popular line to take with the Navy, the Coast Guard is the service that never got much credit, and it was very heavily involved. But you’re right. The Navy doesn’t get enough mention. The reason at Normandy was that the great sea battle aspect was missing. There were no enemy ships among the fleet. There were no Trafalgars, no great fleet actions to dramatize.

And the major feat was getting to the beach. The Navy provided that transport and lost a heck of a lot of people in landing craft that were scuttled and shot up. But I think it was not unnatural of the press to concentrate on the men ashore, the push against the Germans, forcing them off the beach. Naval gunfire, of course, played a major role, too. Artillery never gets much credit, nor do the transport troops. The Navy was both transport and artillery at Normandy.

Naval History: Your friend and colleague Andy Rooney participated recently in a seminar cosponsored by the McCormick Tribune Foundation and the Naval Institute. In a speech there, he said he wishes we could come up with something besides a war to rally the American people as World War II did. Do you think anything will ever come along that will get everyone that excited again?

Cronkite: Oh, not to that degree. This was four years of concentrated effort against great odds at first, with a serious danger of failure that people knew existed, despite all the morale-building and drum-beating. 

It took us a couple of tough years before we were able to get to the beaches of Normandy and put the German war machine to rout. For two-and-a-half years, from December 1941 to June 1944, we suffered several setbacks. The German invention of the V1 and then the V2 rockets was especially troubling. Fortunately, they were able to launch those only at the end, as a last gasp. But if they would have had those just a few months earlier, it might have made some difference in the outcome of the war. 

So we weren’t out of the woods for a long time, and the fact that we were in an all-out battle for the survival of our system rallied people more than anything else could.

Of course, the next great thing aside from World War II was the space program, which was a peaceful effort, but it had an underlying element for world dominance that united the American people.


Naval History: The press played a major role in rallying people during both World War II and the space program. Would you say it also played a role in reversing that feeling during the Vietnam War?

Cronkite: The situations were vastly different, so vastly different that I think the comparison is an invidious one, really. In World War II there was no question of the nature of the enemy or the necessity of the fight. In Vietnam, there was considerable doubt – reasonable, rational doubt that we should be there.

Our presence in Vietnam was an option, not a necessity being forced upon us by enemy action. After all, by December 1941 we were still dragging our feet about being part of World War II. And we probably would have dragged our feet right on through, if the enemy had not offended us, endangered us, attacked us, threatened to invade us.

That was not the case in Vietnam.

Walter Cronkite-Vietnam

The network anchor was beginning to show signs of frustration in the February 1968 interview with a Univerity of Hue professor. A week later Cronkite made his historic pronouncement that the Vietnam War would end in a stalemate. He still says he was right in that, one of the few editorials of his news career.













Naval History: I’m sure you know that Peter Braestrup, in his book Big Story (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978), criticized television news pretty strongly, as opposed to print journalism. To what do you attribute that criticism?

Cronkite: You mean in the Vietnam War coverage?

Naval History: Yes.

Cronkite: I’m not an enthusiast for Braestrup’s book for several reasons.

Naval History: I’m sure you’re not.

Cronkite: I think he misses a point. It seems to me that if the people of the United States are willing to vote and to support sending their young people – now women as well as men – into combat, they should be willing to look at what combat really is.

If they are unwilling to sit in their living rooms and see what the troops – the troops they sent to fight – are up against, they are somehow playing the coward themselves. And that is beyond anything I’d like to contemplate. I don’t think that’s what we Americans are.

Now then, does it affect the politics of conducting a war? Of course it does. But that’s for the good. It is well that we all are aware of what war really is – what it means – before we commit to it.

I do not say that we idly commit to war. I don’t think we do. I think those who are involved in policy making are rational people, and have been in most cases, but they might be a little bit wrong-headed sometimes in thinking that the expenditure of a few lives can save many. Maybe they’d better think about how many would be expended in the worst-case scenario before they get us involved.

Naval History: You said “show people what war is.” Is that the reason Braestrup criticized broadcast over print coverage? As a print journalist himself, he says they got it right, and you guys got it wrong, essentially.

Cronkite: Well, I disagree with that.

Naval History: He referred to you and Frank Magee of NBC, in particular.

Cronkite: He was talking mostly about my summary after Tet. That is the only editorial I’ve ever done on the air, other than those in defense of freedom of the press itself.

No, I don’t think I had it wrong. Admittedly, it would appear that later evidence contained in North Vietnam – now that the North Vietnamese generals have talked about the war – shows that they had suffered severely and were not capable of mounting another offensive of that nature. While that would seem to indicate that Braestrup and other critics have it right, that I was signing off a little early, it ignores the fact that General Westmoreland was asking for something over 300,000 more men in order to put a finish to the war.

Well, we’d been hearing about this escalation of forces from the time we first sent troops under President Kennedy to help instruct the South Vietnamese Army. Our people were there only for purposes of instruction, originally. From that we’d escalated into this terrible mauling that the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army planned for us. I can’t see that we were wrong in reporting about that. If Westmoreland needed that many men to build his forces for an all-out attack on the enemy, then we were promised only another massive escalation in the face of crumbling support from an increasingly divided home front.

Naval History: Some reporters have complained about Desert Storm, about limited access and censorship. And some military people have complained about instant satellite television transmission. What would you say can be done to improve military and media relations?

Cronkite: I think the way the military handled the press in the Persian Gulf was a miscarriage of the democratic process. I think it was a frightful commission against the American people not to let them know what their troops were doing in combat. We send them there. They’re our boys and our girls, and it’s our war. And we’d better know about what they’re doing – in intimate detail.

I’m not against censorship. I’m for it. I believe in censorship. Some of those in my own profession who demand live coverage from the front are simply, incredibly unrealistic. It’s impossible. It can’t be done. It shouldn’t be done. There should be no live coverage. But we should have cameras at the front recording what goes on. Then the film or the tape can pass through censors before being released. There are military secrets, clearly, and the security of our forces is the first consideration. That security should never be placed second to anything, including freedom of the press.

But you can have both, as proved in World War II. We were permitted at the front. We were aided in getting to the front in nearly every case except the most highly secret, small-unit operations. We were there, and history was recorded.

But there is no freely acquired history of the Persian Gulf War, because we weren’t there. It’s history as vetted by the military. And that’s not adequate, not good enough. They’ve got a special interest. So I’m indignant about it.


Naval History: It sounds that way.

Cronkite: But for good military and media relations, the essential is to understand on both sides the nature of the mission. If you understand the mission of the other guy, you’ve got to be sympathetic to his problems and the importance of his mission.

The military simply must realize that it is an army of a democratic nation, and a democracy demands that the people know so they can support our military actions. The public needs to know the rationale of a military action as nearly as it can be interpreted by good reporters. But there are some terrible ones. Believe me, I’m not one to defend all war reporting from the Persian Gulf or anywhere else, including World War II. An awful lot of bad reporters get out there, just like some people are promoted to lieutenancies who should not be leading troops. It happens on both sides, and we ought to understand that. Both will make mistakes.

I’ll tell you, a lot of war correspondents who wear that battle patch never leave the base command quarters. And a lot of soldiers never leave headquarters but still wear the ribbons they’re after. They’re heroes of the war who never heard a shot fired in anger. And a lot of correspondents are in the same category.

But the guys on the line or on board the ships have a great appreciation for each other – the correspondents for the troops and vice versa. Boy, there’s an appreciation. They’re in the thing together, and they understand. What it takes to understand security is to be out there with the troops. Then the correspondents want a lot of security, for obvious reasons. By the same token, those guys on the front line or in the ships want to be recognized. And they are the first to appreciate the correspondent, even as a correspondent appreciates what the grunt goes through in the dugout by being with him.

The grunts also appreciate that those correspondents are there voluntarily. I don’t know how many times I was asked during the various wars I covered, “What in the hell are you doing here? Do you have to be here? Did anybody send you here?” I would say, “Well, my office asked me if I’d come.” And they then asked, “And you accepted that? You went?” They had a great appreciation for the fact that we were up there doing the job.

So the problem is not with the troops or the correspondents in the field. It’s with the headquarters, perhaps of both. I think it’s as much fault of the networks to talk about live battlefield television coverage as I think it’s a terrible mistake for the military to prohibit cameras at the front because somehow or other our security is going to be violated. The cameras can go without satellite dishes. So there’s no reason why the war should not be recorded.

Naval History: What do you think of the information superhighway we’re hearing so much about? It seems to me that the urge and the demand for real-time transmissions are only going to get worse.

Cronkite: Well, the capabilities will be even more of a problem. You know, there will be a day in the not-too-distant future, when the satellite transmitter will fit right on the camera. But we can require that cameras going to the front line are not so equipped. I don’t think that’s so difficult to do. I can’t imagine fighting a war, under present circumstances at least, with live television coverage at the front. For one thing, the transmission could presumably be captured from the satellite by the general or the major sitting 500 yards away on the other side of the line. How can you show the deployment of troops and expect the enemy to be blind to what you’re covering? The last I heard, the television industry was still making that demand of the military, that we have that privilege. I think that’s a ridiculous request.

Naval History: We’ll wrap up with something fun. What would you say has been the most significant event that you covered as a news reporter?

Cronkite: I don’t think there’s any question about it – landing a man on the moon. Of course, as a reporter I’ve covered the wars. And those were significant events. The assassination of President Kennedy was a significant event. There were a lot of them. But for real, true historical significance, man landing on the moon is going to be the most important date in 20th century history. All the other things we’re talking about today, in the history books 500 years from now will be mere asterisks, compared to the moon landing.

When we think back 500 years now, we think of Columbus landing in 1492. But a lot of other important things happened in the 15th century – a renaissance, a black plague, an inquisition. But do you remember any of those dates? Can you even cite the events? The Columbus landing in 1492 is a different story, and the moon landing will be similar in stature.

Naval History: We understand you are writing your autobiography. How is it progressing?

Cronkite: Don’t ask. I do this instead of writing my own book.

Cronkite Cites Proceedings

After our formal interview, Mr. Cronkite related the following bonus anecdote:

You know, the Naval Institute Proceedings was a tipoff to one of the best shows we ever had on “The Twentieth Century.” We took the man who spied on Pearl Harbor for his first and only trip back to Pearl Harbor. And we barely got him out of town before the lynching.

 We were trying to keep his visit secret. He was inclined to have a drink or two and got into a Japanese bar, where the local clientele found out who he was. Word spread to the newspaper, and we had to spirit him on a plane and get him out of town.

A Marine lieutenant colonel tracked him down and was interested in just whatever happened to the guy. He found him in a successful fuel oil business in Hokkaido in northern Japan. Then the colonel wrote a piece about him. Nobody else picked it up, except a bright-eyed guy who worked for us. He brought the clipping from Proceedings, and we went right to Japan.

At first the fellow said he wasn’t going back to Pearl Harbor. He spoke virtually no English, but we finally persuaded him and got him to come. He was curious enough, so we played on his curiosity and promised him that he wouldn’t run into trouble.

And he was wonderful.

Golly, it’s been 30 years since we did that. It was remarkable. The Navy actually loaned us a boat, and we went out and he identified the ships. We took him up to the tea house where he had spied on the Pacific Fleet.

He was sent over allegedly as an assistant to the Japanese consul in Honolulu. That was his cover. He had attended the naval command school, was a trained intelligence officer, and he was to spy on the ship movements out of Pearl Harbor. Well, he tried to get a job at the Navy yard, but failed because he didn’t speak any English, among a few other problems.

So he was desperate. What was he going to do? Then he went one day to a Japanese tea house up in the hills overlooking Pearl Harbor. As he sat there drinking tea, he realized he was looking right down on Pearl Harbor. He said he could read hull numbers without binoculars. And he said to himself, “This is the best possible view.” He went up to that tea house every day, sat there all afternoon, and observed what ships were in and what ships were out. Of course, we made the great mistake of being in a routine. It was absolutely hidebound. Our ships went out on Monday and came back on Friday, and he recorded the numbers and where they were docked. That was the way he spied on Pearl Harbor. There was no undercover work. Anybody could have done it.

Naval History Magazine, May/June 1994 Volume 8 Number 3

Ten percent of the incoming Coast Guard Academy class has H1N1:

“We were expecting to see the number go up before it came back down because we had a lot of tests out still,” Petty Officer Ryan Doss, an academy spokesman, said Monday. “The flipside is that the number of people coming into the clinic feeling symptomatic has gone down. We hope it’s an indication that this is going to keep declining, but we’re going to stay prepared for anything.”

There is a decent amount of people out there with the opinion that “It’s just the flu”. They are right, it is just the flu this time. However, the procedures we put in place for the flu now will likely be the same used in an inevitable future outbreaks of a more virulent pathogen. To venture dangerously into a sports metaphor: H1N1 is simply the exhibition game before the start of the real thing. We get it right now so we know what to do when it the disease is far more serious.

Hat Tip: Matt Berger.

July 20th, 1969 we came in peace for all mankind:


Forty years later an emissary returns in preparation for a return visit and longer stay:

Tranquility Base observed by the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, 17 July 2009

Tranquility Base observed by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, 17 July 2009

(object centered in yellow box is the descent stage of the Eagle LM)

Posted by SteelJaw in History | 3 Comments
News not too long ago of a merchant sailor found shot dead on a ship released by Somali pirates is just one more example of how dangerous modern-day pirates are:

Somali pirates have released a Dutch ship they had hijacked last month in the Gulf of Aden and one crew member was found dead aboard the boat, the Dutch defence ministry told AFP.

“The pirates let the ship, in which a crew member was found dead, leave,” ministry spokesman Marcel Pullen said. “He was shot dead.”

The victim had died the day of the MV Marathon’s capture on May 7, he added. – Yahoo News(Found via EagleSpeak)

Merchant ships are being picked on by pirates simply because it is a safe bet that the merchant ships are unarmed and easy targets.

Looking at the threat, the United Nation’s International Maritime Organization, in a move certain to protect the safety of pirates only, has decided to flatly reject any suggestion of arming merchant seamen:

The MSC agreed that flag States should strongly discourage the carrying and use of firearms by seafarers for personal protection or for the protection of a ship.

Seafarers, it was agreed, are civilians and the use of firearms requires special training and aptitudes and the risk of accidents with firearms carried on board ship is great.Carriage of arms on board ship may encourage attackers to carry firearms or even more dangerous weapons, thereby escalating an already dangerous situation. Any firearm on board may itself become an attractive target for an attacker.

Carriage of firearms may pose an even greater danger if the ship is carrying flammable cargo or similar types of dangerous goods. – IMO guidance statement via EagleSpeak

This ‘professional’ guidance is a joke.

For starters, pirates are already attacking ships with fully-automatic weapons and RPGs. What is more dangerous, rounds going outbound from a ship or explosive RPG rounds coming inbound…. Crazier is the IMO suggesting that seafarers are not skilled enough to use firearms because their use requires special training. This the same group that has absolutely no hesitation in sticking seafarers in school to drill them on everything right down to how to properly wash your hands as part of ‘Personal Safety and Social Responsibility’. To this point nothing has been deemed beyond the training ability of a seafarer, so why now? I can’t think of any reason other than a desire to remove guns from the equation. Too bad for the IMO, that they have no control in removing the weapons causing the problems.

Another argument against arming merchant ships is the ‘threat of escalation’. The first question concerning that threat is with what are they are going to escalate with?

The most realistic option I can think of is that they just use more boats and RPGs. Attacks with larger numbers of boats being involved has already been seen. I can’t think of any more-powerful weapon that they could easily deploy. More advanced weapons are probably much harder to come by, and when available much more expensive, given competing interests. So even if pirates get their hands on something more advanced/powerful, they are probably not going to be so quick to use it, unless they are sure that it will result in a capture. They might as easily destroy the ship in the process. Now, they might be able to arm themselves with a cannon, but they would need a larger/sturdier boat if they wanted to use it. Acquiring a larger vessel might be more of a problem than acquiring more-powerful weapons.

Current attacks have involved small fast boats. Larger craft would probably not be able to go as fast. This will reduce the number of available targets at it becomes easier for faster ships to get away.

A bigger pirate boat, while allowing pirates a more stable platform and give the ability to field more powerful weapons, would also provide defending merchant seamen with bigger targets. Still, pirate boats are less stable platforms to shoot from than merchant ships which are large stable platforms that are not effected to any significant degree except in the harshest weather.

This brings the question, what should merchant mariners be aiming at. There are only two targets, the pirates and the boat that they are riding in. I think that it be best that if any attempt is made to arm merchant ships, then the arming should include the ability to disable pirate boats. If there is to be escalation, then it should be our side that does the escalating.

One weapon that should be considered is a 40mm grenade launcher. Here is one option:

The MGL (Multiple Grenade Launcher) is a lightweight 40 mm semi-automatic, 6-shot grenade launcher developed and manufactured in South Africa by the Milkor company (renamed Rippel Effect in 2007). The MGL was demonstrated as a concept to the South African Defence Force in 1981. The operating principle was immediately accepted and subjected to a stringent qualification program. The MGL was then officially accepted into service with the SADF as the Y2. After its introduction in 1983, the MGL was gradually adopted by the armed forces and law enforcement organizations of over 30 countries; it has since proven its effectiveness in harsh environments ranging from rain forests to deserts. Total production since 1983 has been more than 18,000 units.

The MGL is multiple-shot weapon, intended to significantly increase a small squad’s firepower when compared to traditional single-shot grenade launchers like the M203. The MGL is designed to be simple, rugged and reliable. It uses the well-proven revolver principle to achieve a high rate of accurate fire which can be rapidly brought to bear on a target. A variety of rounds such as HE, HEAT, anti-riot baton, irritant or pyrotechnic can be loaded and fired at a rate of one per second; the cylinder can be loaded or unloaded rapidly to maintain a high rate of fire. Although intended primarily for offensive/defensive use with high-explosive rounds, with appropriate ammunition the launcher is suitable for anti-riot and other security operations. – Wikipedia

Even a ‘miss’ will still have pirates thinking twice about continuing an attack against an armed vessel, probably thinking it better to search for an easier target, especially if their vessel is put at risk. And it need not be the merchant sailors that operate these weapons, but armed military teams embarked on the ships that are targeted by pirates.

There are valid reasons not to arm merchant ships against pirates, but the threat of escalation and a claimed lack of training on behalf of the crew are not. (And anyway, just where are the pirates getting their firearms training?)

So what am I missing? It seems that the threat of escalation is one that should be most risked by the pirates, not the sailors they threaten.

Note: This is cross-posted on my blog Fred Fry International.

On Defending Unarmed Merchant Ships Against Pirates

This week marks the first of our Guest Bloggers for the Solomons Campaign blog project. The author is no stranger to this or several other milblogs – he is AT1(AW) Charles H. Berlemann, Jr. Hailing from the VAQ community, Charles is a student of naval history, particularly, naval aviation history and we have kept a long correspondence with him. When the Solomons Project came along he was one of the very first volunteers, offering to provide a snapshot of period of contrasts. The US had won an astounding victory at Midway, but even as the survivors of that epic battle returned to Pearl Harbor they were met with the lingering stench of bunker oil and dredged bottom mud. The ruins of the Arizona, Oklahoma and others of the once proud battle line stood as mute witness to the attack six months previous. And the question on everyone’s mind…now what?
Presented for your edification, AT1(AW) Berlemann’s post – “Status of the United States Fleet and Plans After Midway” — SJS


If you were to step into the Wayback Machine with Mr. Peabody and Sherman, traveling back to Pearl Harbor on the morning of the 7th of June 1942, to talk to Admiral Nimitz he may have covered several issues including the current status of the fleet, current ops going on in the theater, and current discussions about what to do next. The final issue would be how to seize the initiative causing the Japanese to react to us instead of the Allies reacting to the Japanese.
The current status of the Pacific Fleet is looking pretty grim. This morning [7th of June 1942] the radio reports of the torpedoing and loss of the Yorktown would arrive.w2_cv3_saratoga_sbd_f4f_tbd_c1941 That only leaves three Allied carriers in the Pacific: USS Enterprise, CV-6; USS Hornet, CV-8; and USS Saratoga, CV-3. The Saratoga is just leaving Mare Island Naval Yard recovering from the torpedo damage she took in late May while in transit from Pearl to the West Coast. In reality the Allies only have two functional carriers deployed any place close to the Japanese fleet. However, even these two ships are nowhere near fighting trim because the air groups have been decimated by the Midway operation. Between the two ships Air Forces Pacific could build one air group, however it would be undersized on both fighters and scout bombers. Hope is on the horizon though, because Nimitz has just received the word from the CNO, Adm. King, that the USS WASP, CV-7 has just been released from Atlantic Duty with a slew of newly built ships coming to the aid of the Pacific Fleet. These ships include the USS North Carolina, BB- 55; USS Quincy, CA-39; USS San Juan, CL-54 and a slew of destroyers (all ships unfit for duty in the North Atlantic). This task force recently sortied out of Chesapeake Harbor on the 6th of June and by the morning of the 7th is sailing through the Windward Passage on route to the Panama Canal. The Saratoga is loaded to the gills with new aircraft to replace the ones lost with the Hornet and Enterprise air groups. Also there are new TBF torpedo bombers arriving to replace the TBD’s. Planes that survived and were in those two air groups are supposed to be beached at NAS Ford Island.
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