Washington Navy Yard:
History of the Naval Gun Factory, 1883-1939
The Establishment of the Naval Gun Factory
The transition of the Washington Navy Yard from an agency primarily for the care and maintenance of ships to one devoted almost solely to ordnance production began in 1883. On March 3 of that year an act of Congress called for a report on the following points:1
1. Which of the Navy Yards or arsenals owned by the Government has the best location, and is best adapted for the establishment of a Government foundry.
2. What other method, if any, should be adopted for the manufacture of heavy ordnance adapted to modern warfare, for the use of the Army and Navy of the United States.
3. The cost of all buildings, tools, and implements necessary to be used in the manufacture thereof, including the cost of a steam-hammer or apparatus of sufficient size for the manufacture of the heaviest guns.
The first question very obviously pointed to the creation in the near future, of a Gun Foundry, which would be under the absolute control of the Government and would be directed and supervised by officers of the National armed services. The answer to the question would involve merely a decision as to suitability, among the Navy Yards and arsenals at that time owned by the Government.
Question number two called for suggestions by the investigating agency as to any other method by which the purpose of ordnance production could be achieved. By implication, it clearly referred to the possibility of making contracts with private firms for this production.
Acting on the Congressional authorization, Chester Allan Arthur, then President of the United States, took action. He instructed the Secretaries of War and Navy, Robert Todd Lincoln and W. E. Chandler, to appoint members to comprise a Gun Foundry Board. The Secretaries complied at once, and the Board held its first meeting on April 10, 1883, at the Commandant’s Office, Navy Yard, League Island, Philadelphia. Commodore Edward Simpson, United States Navy, was president and the other Navy Members were Captain Edmund O. Matthews and Lieutenant William H. Jaques. The Army members consisted of Colonel Thomas G. Baylor, Lieutenant Colonel Henry L. Abbot, and Major Samuel Elder. Commodore Simpson had for some time been recognized as an ordnance expert. His series of articles in The United Service, a few years earlier, entitled “Wants of the Navy- Cannon”, had showed intensive study and acute observation regarding gunnery, particularly in the leading European Countries.
The Gun Foundry Board, on beginning its deliberations, decided to consider the subject from three points of view, each of which represented a potential future policy:
1. The possibility of supplementing the plants of various steel producers of the country with additional tools and implements, such as would enable them to turn out finished steel cannon.
2. The letting of government contracts large enough to enable the Nation’s steel producers to supply finished guns without direct government aid.
3. The further possibility of establishing on government owned land a plant for the fabrication of cannon, and, at the same time, of contracting with private industry for the necessary forged and tempered material.
Having determined to investigate all possibilities the Board address circular letters to several American steel manufacturers, including two companies already partly engaged in making cannon. The letters, each enclosed a copy of the President’s declaration in appointing a Gun Foundry Board, and then asked several pertinent questions. Of these, the most important was the following: “Given your present plant, what aid would you require from the government in order so to enlarge it as to be able to manufacture the heaviest ordnance, the work to include the entire process of manufacture from the casting of ingots to the finishing of the gun. The Board would require an itemized statement of buildings, tools, hammers, or apparatus, with estimates of cost.”
The companies approached by the Gun Foundry Board were the South Boston Iron Works and Paulding Kemble and Company, both already engaged in some output of cannon; Park, Brother & Co., of Pittsburgh; Naylor & Co., of Boston; The Pittsburgh Steel Works; the Midvale Steel Company, of Nicetown, Pennsylvania; the Springfield Iron Company, of Springfield, Illinois; and the Cambria Iron Company, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Replies which soon came in from these firms proved satisfactory.2The executives who wrote the letters naturally required more information than the Board could furnish at the time. Since the subject was a new one to all parties addressed, the expense could not be calculated on any known basis. The Board had no authorization to state definitely the number of guns that would be required, nor could it make guarantees as to the length of any potential contract the government might negotiate. It was also clear that several of the firms doubted the serious intention of the Government to go very far in the matter. As the Pittsburgh Steel Work’s official wrote, “We would not entertain a proposition that would leave us high and dry when the present honorable commission retired, but must be guaranteed or subsidized for at least ten or fifteen years. This would insure safety to ourselves for changing, or allowing to be changed, our present plant, which is already adapted to turn out in the neighborhood of 12,000 tons of steel per annum, and would, we feel, be more satisfactory to the Government.” Only one company, the South Boston Iron Works, came anywhere near offering a satisfactory reply, and even its president asked for several months in order to study the question thoroughly.
From the tone of the several answers, it became evident that this line of investigation would lead to little or nothing. The Congressional Act of March 3 had called for a declaration on “the cost of all buildings, tools, and implements necessary . . . for the manufacture of heavy guns.” Such information, due to lack of American experience, simply could not be obtained in the United States. On the other hand, various European Governments had experience of joint action with private artillery establishments. Hence the Board made this fact known to the Government and soon received orders to proceed to Europe to investigate the subject at first hand.
On July 18, 1883, the Board members left for England, on board the Cunard Royal Mail Steamer Servia. On arrival in London, the president, Commodore Simpson, communicated with the American Minister to England, Mr. James Russell Lowell, and secured his help in obtaining permission for the members to visit the British arms establishments. There was no difficulty experienced in gaining access, so during its stay in England the Board visited the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, the oldest British producer of ordnance, and the Elswick Works at Newcastle-on-Tyne, then under the control of Sir William Armstrong. Visits were also made to seven steel manufacturing plants in the United Kingdom, all of which made ingots and steel masses for the casting of cannon.
The British seemed to have no hesitation about imparting information to the official American visitors, and the Board spent the longest pact part of its foreign tour in England. 3
In the latter part of August, the officers crossed to France and visited the principal gun factories there. Most important were the plants at Bourges, Puteaux, and Tarbes, which supplied guns to the French Army, and those at Ruelle and Nevers, which furnished the same service to the Navy. In France, the Board members found with interest, Army and Navy ordnance were manufactured in separate establishments, whereas the English producers were less specialized and served both branches of the service. For several reasons, the American officers preferred the French policy in this respect, though they were careful to say that this preference did not necessarily extend to general methods of production.
Before leaving London, the Board had opened correspondence with the local representatives of Friederich Krupp, head of the already famous Krupp works at Essen. It had been hoped that permission might be obtained to visit the firm’s great plant, but in dealing with Krupp Commodore Simpson and his associates met their only European rebuff. Krupp’s position, as brought out in the correspondence, was as follows. He stood willing, and even eager, to enter into a contract with
the United States to supply Krupp guns for the American Army and Navy. Should such an arrangement be negotiated, he would consent to the normal procedure of having the products tested in his plant by properly qualified representatives of the United States. But as for a visit to the Essen works by the Board, he refused permission, since, as his tone plainly revealed, he feared an attempt to discover trade secrets. He did offer to place at the Board’s disposal the practice ground at Meppen, where the members might see a demonstration of the efficiency of Krupp guns. In vain Commodore Simpson assured him that the Board had the “system of manufacture” as its object, not a consideration of artillery efficiency. Krupp refused to be convinced that he could safely allow the Americans in his Essen plant, so the negotiations terminated. The great industrialist’s refusal was due to his competitive commercial instinct and not to his German patriotism. There is, in fact, abundant evidence that the Kaiser’s Government at this time was thoroughly dissatisfied in its dealings with Krupp.
While the Board deliberated in France, it appointed a committee to pursue similar investigations in Russia. Captain Matthews, Lieutenant Colonel Abbott, and Lieutenant Jaques traveled to St. Petersburg late in September. Through the offices of William H. Hunt, United States Minister to Russia, they secured permission to visit several ordnance plants. Those inspected were the St. Petersburg Arsenal ([“]Oronduinoi Fawod”), the Aboukhoff Steel Works and Gun Factory, and the Naval Torpedo Manufactory.
In Russia, the members learned, ordnance production was by private enterprise with government subsidy and backing. Guarded statements by Russian officers, who did not care to commit themselves fully, indicated that the latter felt the situation would be improved if the Government had complete control of the works. Apparently the Government expected soon to purchase enough stock in the companies to make it the owner of two thirds of the whole. With the status thus changed, the Russian officers felt, expense of production could be cut considerably.
With the return of all its members to London, the Board concluded the European investigations and returned to the United States, arriving near the end of October. It then made the necessary tour of Government Arsenals and Navy Yards, and went through some final deliberations in Philadelphia before submitting the report. The latter was completed and adopted February 8, 1884, after which the Board adjourned sine die. By order of the Secretaries of War and of the Navy, however, it reconvened briefly in May, for an additional report on plans and estimates.
In its major points, the report of the Gun Foundry Board gave approval to the practice followed by the French; that of employing the government establishments as gun factories, but only as gun factories, and of depending for foundry work upon the private industries of the country. Therefore, the Board recommended by third proposition laid down in the
original congressional act:
“That the Government should establish on its own territory a plant for the fabrication of cannon, and should contract with private parties to such amounts as would enable them to supply from private industries of the country the forged and tempered material.” 4
This meant rejection of the idea of a gun foundry operated by the Government, for all material used should, in the opinion of the Board, be purchased from private producers.
Moreover, as to location, there was a recommendation that two gun factories be established under Government control. For the Army, Watervliet Arsenal, West Troy, New York, was the place advocated, and for the Navy, Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia.
The Board was strong in the recommendation that the Army and Navy be provided with separate establishments. It had reached this conclusion through its observation of European practice, especially that of England and France. In the British case, the system of serving the two branches from the same factories had brought bad results, while the French appeared to have profited greatly by their policy of segregation. The Board went on to point out that, in the Administration of the American War and Navy Departments, each service has charge and direction of its own distinct system of artillery. Thus, if but one gun factory were provided, control must rest in the hands of a mixed commission. This, in turn, could not help
resulting in a conflict of authority with embarrassments of all kinds, in which the head of Departments would necessarily become involved.
Neither site selected was regarded by the Board as ideal in every way, but as the scope of the choice was limited these two offered the greatest advantages. The Board refrained from suggesting the purchase of new sites, even though in some ways this might have been the best course. The disadvantage lay in the fact that there would have been competing bids from all over the country and local interests would have been aroused.
In conclusion, the Board stated that three years would be needed to complete the tools, construct the shops, and establish the plant. Such a factory would be able to turn out annually fifty 6-inch, seventeen 12-inch, and twelve 16-inch guns, or a proportionally larger number of smaller calibers, at a yearly expense of about $2,000,000. No exactness was claimed for the figures, but the Board felt sure of their approximate accuracy.
Secretary Chandler gave the substance of the Board’s report in one of his own, covering the year 1884, which he delivered to Congress. He reiterated that there were enough steel manufacturers in the country to supply, if their plants were properly adapted, metal for the heaviest guns. For fabrication of such guns, it was proposed to set up at the Washington Navy Yard a factory building constructed of iron
and brick. This should occupy three sides of a rectangle 600 feet long by 390 wide, with an enclosed courtyard 500 feet long and 140 wide. Since the greater part of the Navy Yard was wet and marshy, the factory should be built on the solid ground east of the Avenue (Dahlgren ) leading south from the main gate to the Commandant’s office (Building I, now the Communications Building). A structure already occupying that site (copper rolling mill) should be removed to make way for the new one. The new construction involved the necessity of purchasing about 300,000 square feet of land, located on the eastern edge of the Yard, since the proposed building would exceed the space then available. It would also be necessary to connect the northern part of the building, the part nearest the gate, with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The southern ends of each wing and the exits of the main building would connect by track with the water front.
The main structure would cover a shrinking pit, 16 feet in diameter and 18 feet deep, with horizontal re-heating furnaces abreast. Two traveling cranes would be set up, one of 100 tons and the other of 25 tons capacity, both with 50 feet hoist and a span of 60 feet. The east wing was the one planned to contain the tools for making the larger classes of guns, up to 16-inch caliber. For smaller guns the west wing would be used. The boiler house could be placed in the courtyard, surrounded on three sides by the gun factory.
Regarding the cost of the new installations, the Secretary offered figures that had been worked out by Civil Engineer A. G. Menocal of the Navy in connection with the Gun Foundry Board. For the purchase of the land and the building of the factories they estimated that $511,556 would be required, to which they added $580,000 for the needed tools and implements, bringing the total to $1,091,556.
Congress favorably considered the reports of both the Gun Foundry Board and Secretary Chandler, but delayed voting the appropriation, even under the constant prodding of the Secretary. Not until 1885 was the money forth coming, at which time the Army also received its share of the appropriation. Work could not be undertaken, however, until 1886, by which time Mr. W. C. Whitney had become Secretary of the Navy, the Cleveland Administration having replaced that of Arthur in March, 1885. By that time, since the United States had been aroused by the writing of Mahan and others to its almost total lack of national defense, Congress was in the mood to begin the construction of a modern Navy which would restore the one-time power and prestige of the nation on the sea. The place of the Washington Navy Yard in the new situation was made clear by the transfer of most of its facilities from the various other Naval Bureaus to the Bureau of Ordnance, a change which had taken place by October 1, 1886.
Toward the end of 1886, Theodore D. Wilson, Chief of Construction and Repairs, reported as follows:
“The establishment of the Gun Factory at Washington, and the introduction by the Bethlehem Iron Works of a plant to furnish heavy armor and forging, will make the United States absolutely independent of [other] countries in the construction and armament of her ships of war, and if the work of rebuilding the Navy is only kept up as it is now going, we shall soon have a Navy that will be a credit as well as protection to our country and our country’s interest.”
This was an optimistic statement, but it described the situation of the future, not that of the moment. The work of getting the Yard into full ordnance production for the new American Navy went slowly. Construction and work on the buildings and installation of machinery all took a longer time than had been anticipated. In the actual establishment of the Gun Factory, the plan finally followed differed in important respects from the original one. No new building was constructed on the site of the copper rolling mill. Instead, part of the factory was installed in the structure formerly serving as the forge and the anchor shop. This served for making of the guns up to 8-inch. Immediately adjoining it, to the north, a new large building was erected for the finishing of large size guns.
Most of the transitions of the Navy Yard from its former varied activities to a concentration on the production of ordnance was accomplished under Captain R. W. Meade, who held command of the Yard from September 15, 1887, to September 15, 1890. During his time the building and equipment for the
Naval Gun Factory were brought a long way toward completion, and various improvements were made in the direction of modernization, in line with the up-to-date policy of the Navy. An electric light plant was installed, which lighted the entire Yard. Telephone communications, with wires extended to all parts of the Yard, connected the establishment with the Navy Department and the City of Washington. A private line extended from the Commandant’s office to the Baltimore and Ohio freight office. On Captain Meade’s recommendation, an electric fire alarm and “watchman time-detector” was installed to spread instantly the report of any fires and to make sure of the vigilance of the night watchman. Finally, by the establishment of a railroad track in the Yard, connections now existed with the Baltimore and Ohio, by which heavy guns could be transported anywhere and heavy materials easily and quickly brought to the Yard. A change along different lines, the nature of which may be surmised from the words themselves, was the introduction of “business” as contrasted with “quarterdeck” methods in the work of manufacturing ordnance. With the Yard now chiefly a manufacturing plant, employing mostly civilians, there could be no point in maintaining the fiction that its problems were essentially those of a ship. Consequently, much naval nomenclature had to give way to the terminology of modern industry.
At this time also, there began the practice of giving courses of instructions to Naval personnel at the gun factory.
About forty men, taken from the general service, spent a period of six months during 1887 at the Yard, where they were trained in the use of tools, the manner of building up the new guns with their varied attachments and breech blocks, and learned how to control their machinery. They also learned how new ammunition was prepared, how to handle machine-guns, and perfected themselves in the control and care of search lights. A little later the Bureau of Ordnance recommended that all line officers off duty be given facilities for the study of gun construction at the Yard. So successful did this type of study prove that in 1891 two U.S. Army artillery officers obtained permission to take the same course of duty as the Naval officers assigned to the Gun Factory.
By 1892 the new ordnance plant could be described as in full operation, although there were some items of equipment yet to be installed. The report of the Secretary of the Navy B. F. Tracy for that year describes the plant as having been developed “until it is acknowledged to be one of the foremost establishments of the kind in existence both for efficiency and economy of work.”
The Washington Navy Yard from 1892 to 1939
A summary of the Secretary of the Navy’s report for 1892 will furnish a good idea of the condition of the Navy Yard and Gun Factory soon after the inception of the latter. The factory had run full time throughout the year, giving employment to 989 civilians. In that time, 12,000 cast iron common shells had been made, ranging in caliber from 4 to 13 inches. Principal operations for that year had been the manufacture of guns and mounts of the same 4 to 13 inch calibers. Much miscellaneous work had accompanied the major enterprises. Gun lathes contracted for in the previous year had been installed and were now in successful operation. Along with the lathes was used a special apparatus, recently designed by Mr. William Sellars of Philadelphia. This involved an independent movement of the boring bar which rendered it possible to regulate the [turning] speed and at the same time to bore under the conditions of greatest efficiency. The rifling machine in operation for the heaviest guns was one designed and manufactured in the Yard. The hot air furnaces in the shrinking pit had been in operation nearly a year and had been an unqualified success. The Yard had constantly maintained a class for enlisted men and during 1892 qualified 37 of them as seamen gunners.
The following years, 1893 and 1894, proved also to be busy ones. By this time the “New Navy” of the United States
was well under way, and the number of launchings or approaching launchings, demanded a heavy output from the Gun Factory. During these years, the Navy Yard finished ammunition hoists for the New York, prepared others for the Columbia, and designed the same for the Montgomery, Maine, Texas, Amphitrite, Monadnock and Puritan. A little later it supplied complete outfits of ordnance for the Marblehead, Columbia, Olympia, Cincinnati and Raleigh. It is scarcely necessary to add that several of these ships were to gain fame, for one reason or another, in the war with Spain which was now a matter of the near future.
The Washington Navy Yard and Gun Factory could by now be called the most up-to-date maker of ordnance in the world, and certainly none surpassed it in efficiency. In construction, the system employed was essentially the same as is still used in making the larger number of the Navy’s guns. Guns consisting of concentric rings of steel forgings were built up by heat and shrinkage, the net result being to give strength to the finished product that it could never have if composed of a single sheet of steel. Since, however, there were other systems and other ways of making guns, the Navy Yard Factory devoted part of its energy to research and to keeping abreast of the times, in order that the country might never again fall so far to the rear of the Naval procession as it had been a few years earlier. All this work had a training value for the personnel of the fleet, as the Yard now became the
logical school for seamen gunners. Mention has previously been made of the classes set up at the Yard. These were continued and became an established part of the picture. During the decade of the 1890’s about 75 men usually received schooling at the Yard in the course of a year, and of these about 25 could be found in attendance at any given time. About 40 would normally be expected to qualify as seamen gunners during the course of a year.
Until the outbreak of War with Spain in April, 1898, the Navy Yard Gun Factory maintained a constant and fairly even output of ordnance equipment, with personnel that varied but slightly in number. These were very busy times. Nearly every ship soon to appear prominently in the Spanish War was a new ship and had been commissioned and had her armament installed within the last few years. In addition to the work performed for the ships already mentioned, the Yard in 1895 made ammunition hoists for the Indiana, Oregon, and Massachusetts, and torpedo launching tubes for the Maine and Texas, in addition to its large routine output of guns, gun mounts, and projectiles. It is true that as the number of guns authorized for the new ships neared completion the work threatened to become slack and there was some danger that the force of skilled workmen would have to be cut. The Bureau of Ordnance realized that to layoff or discharge key employees would be penny-wise, pound-foolish, economy. Hence it urged that appropriations be made for reserve guns and
guns for auxiliary cruisers, the real motive being to supply work to enable the retention of workmen whose valuable experience, gained over the years, rendered them irreplaceable if lost. Nevertheless, the statistics show that the reduction tendency had begun to operate, due chiefly to the Yard’s successful completion of the bulk of its task of arming the Fleet. In October, 1897, there were 893 employees on the roll, whereas five years earlier the figure had been larger by nearly a hundred. War with Spain, of course, completely reversed the trend.
The opening of 1898, with the war threat steadily mounting, due to conditions in Cuba, promised the United States Navy its busiest year since 1865. The Yard foresaw this eventuality and began to overhaul its stock of slow-fire guns in preparation for transforming these into what then were known as quick-fire guns. This involved mainly an alteration from percussion firing to the electric firing type.
The visit of the Maine to Havana Harbor, and her destruction there on February 15, have no immediate connection to the history of the Navy Yard. It did, however, lead to a declaration of War on Spain on April 24, and even before this, in March, the Yard had begun to hire additional men at a rapid rate. By the end of the actual hostilities, which concluded with the August Armistice, the employment figure had mounted to 2255, a total which was not equaled again for years. The Yard went on a 24 hour working basis, divided into shifts of 12 hours each, the one exception being Sundays,
when the only work performed was that urgently required by an emergency. In July, just after the destruction of Admiral Cervera’s Fleet off Santiago de Cuba, an order came from the Navy Department to rush all constructive work. The reason was the Navy’s project of sending a strong fleet under Admiral Watson to carry the war into the home waters of Spain. Perhaps if hostilities had continued this plan would have materialized, since, with the destruction of the Spanish ships in Cuba and the Philippines, and with Admiral Camera’s fleet, Spain’s only remaining force, inactive in the vicinity of the Suez Canal, the Atlantic Coast of Spain lay helpless and exposed. The British would probably have permitted Watson’s fleet to use the facilities of Gibraltar and would have allowed a liberal interpretation of the laws of neutrality. Actually Spain sued for peace before this threat could materialize, and the widespread knowledge of the American project seems to have hastened slightly the end of hostilities.
The brevity of the Spanish-American War did not permit the Navy Yard time to get new pieces of ordnance to the fleet during hostilities. All American ships that took part in the battles did so with the gunnery equipment they already had on board. Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron had been in the Far Eastern Waters for some time prior to the outbreak of war. Following the victory at Manila Bay, Dewey remained there until the news of peace came, more occupied with the scarcely veiled hostility of the German Admiral, Von Dietrichs, and
with problems presented by the Filipino insurrectos, than with the tottering remnants of Spanish power. Sampson and Schley’s forces left the United States immediately following the declaration of war, and stayed in the vicinity of Cuba until the battle of Cervera on July 3. Save for an occasional bombardment of a shore position, such as Cienfuegos and a few random shots exchanged with the Spanish ships in Santiago Harbor, they made no real use of their guns until the day of the decisive engagement. The Oregon, the one powerful reinforcement received by Sampson during his Cuban blockade, had just made her way around the South American continent, her starting point being Bremerton, Washington. All Naval reinforcements for Dewey came from the Pacific Coast.
It can thus be seen that if the Naval Gun Factory had not produced a gun or shell from April to August, 1898, this would not have effected the course of the war as it actually ran. But this fails to tell the real story, which is that in the years preceding the hostilities the Yard had made its contribution to success by arming the ships of the fleet. It had done its work so well that the guns were able to pound out a quick victory, without the need for replacements. Actually Yard production stepped up rapidly during the brief war period, and had the decision been longer in coming, this reserve would have counted. Most of the production ranged from 4-inch to 13-inch guns, including one 8-inch Gatling.
Experimentation was carried on with a newly designed breech-mechanism, submitted by Fletcher and Dashiell. Commodore Charles S. Norton held command of the Yard from May, 1896, to October 1898, and thus was Commandant during the military phase of the war.
In the closing months of the year, the nation began its usual rapid transition from a war to a peace-time basis. There was the customary slowing up of all Military and Naval activities, as part of which the Yard and Gun Factory reduced drastically its operating force. Work became scarce in November, and on December 15 the largest personnel cut in the Naval history, up to that time, took place.
Production output for 1899, however, was large, because much work initiated during and as a result of the war came to completion the following year. Also some replacements for the Navy were required, as well as batteries and ordnance outfits for a few small Spanish craft captured in the course of the war. Sixty-three guns for the main batteries of ships were completed during the year and 17 more brought to an advanced stage. At this time the Navy adopted the Welin-Screw breech plug for all its new guns above 4 inches in caliber. The Welin type plug had a block divided around its circumstance into a number of groups of threaded sectors, separated by blanks. The threaded sectors were of increasing radius, so that when the plug was unlocked the smaller threaded sectors cleared the next larger threaded sectors of the screw box. Three or
four such groups of sectors were arranged around the circumstances of the plug. This arrangement of threads gave a large percentage of holding strength for a given length of plug and required of a minimum amount of rotation to open and close. The Welin plug had proportionally larger threaded area than the old type of plug, which permitted the use of a relatively shorter and lighter plug than what was previously used. In heavy guns this was a matter of considerable importance.
A new lot of 12-inch guns, each with its mount, was being developed at the close of the war with Spain. These new guns had great increase in energy over those of the same caliber already in service. So fast had the development of the new 12-inch models gone that they seemed superior to the 13-inch type already installed on some battleships. It was expected that capital ships commissioned in the near future would carry them, as their superior [efficiency] more than counterbalanced the single inch lost in caliber.
Reduction of the Yard personnel at the close of the Spanish War need not be taken to mean that the physical needs of the Yard underwent reduction, for the reverse was true. Most of those ephemerally employed during 1898 were comparatively unskilled workers, or at least were not highly trained. But changing methods of production, new ideas which were constantly being put into practice, and a Navy which recommenced its growth shortly after the conclusion of peace, necessitated constant enlargement of the facilities as well as repair of older
buildings that had suffered with the passage of time or had become inadequate due to new demands imposed on them. The succession to the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, in the summer of 1901, following the assassination of William McKinley, was in itself a guarantee that Naval business would boom. The new president was a “Big Navy” man, a disciple of Alfred T. Mahan, and himself a noted writer on naval subjects. His Naval War of 1812 continues to this day to rank as [the] best work on the subject. Besides this, he had been Assistant-Secretary of the Navy under McKinley just prior to the outbreak of the war. It has long been well known that, chiefly due to Roosevelt’s foresight, Commodore Dewey had been sent to the Asiatic Squadron, posted in the proper place, and given the right orders to enable him to attack Manila immediately following the outbreak of hostilities. With this vigorous new executive and advocate of preparedness in the White House, there could be no expectation that the interests of the Fleet would be neglected.
In 1901 there was an event connected with the Navy Yard that possessed, if little historical importance by that time, at least considerable historical and public interest. This was the convening of the Winfield S. Schley Court of Inquiry, the aftermath of an unofficial controversy already three years old. The difficulty originally arose from the fact that Rear-Admiral William T. Sampson, Commander of all U.S. Naval forces blockading Santiago, had been absent from the battle
on July 3, 1898, leaving Commodore (later Rear-Admiral Schley) in command at the critical moment. The victory was won, but Sampson evidently did not believe that Schley had managed the affair well, and also had not felt satisfied with the operations of the Flying Squadron off Cuba in the days before his own arrival with the main fleet. Sampson of course did not talk for publication, but it was plain to everyone that relations were far from cordial. Other people in the Navy also believed that Schley’s conduct of operations had been decidedly happy-go-lucky and a few were a little too frank about expressing themselves. Newspapers took up the matter, and as Schley had been the man present when the victory occurred he naturally became the hero favored by the press. Meanwhile, it came out that Sampson had made some complaints about his immediate subordinate, Schley, to the Secretary of the Navy. For three years debates concerning the pro’s and con’s of the Santiago Campaign went on, until Schley asked the Secretary (John D. Long) for a Court of Inquiry to investigate his entire conduct during the late war. The request was granted, and Admiral Dewey was ordered to the presidency of the court which held its meetings, beginning September 12, 1901, in the Sail Loft over the Gunners' Workshop in the Navy Yard. The court remained in public session until November 7, 1901, and then for over a month engaged in private deliberations. The public part of the hearing drew many visitors, since the loft was large enough to accommodate fairly large crowds of people. The Yard employees during their
lunch hours frequently dropped in to hear portions of the interesting testimony. One of the lawyers engaged by Admiral Schley died during the course of the investigation, which in itself had the effect of heightening public interest. A long succession of witnesses was called and interviewed, the persons ranging from Rear Admirals to common seamen, with every intervening rank and rating being represented.
If Rear Admiral Schley had hoped for a triumphant vindication, he was bitterly disappointed, as the finding of the Court was somewhat against him. Admiral Dewey and his associates found that he had been slow in obedience to orders and lax in his exercise of command, as well as somewhat inaccurate and misleading in his reports. On the other hand they found his [personal] conduct commendable, save in one particular, during the battle on July 3. Schley did not accept this as satisfactory and appealed to the President for further action in the matter. But in an excellent memorandum Theodore Roosevelt concurred in the Court’s recommendation that the affair be ended then and there. Moreover, he said, as between Sampson and Schley there was really nothing to decide as to the battle itself, since the former was absent and the latter, except for whatever command he exercised over his flagship, Brooklyn, gave no orders to the rest of the ships. “There was really nothing done in the battle that warranted any unusual reward for either.” "It was a captain’s fight," rightly decided the President.
Although the opening years of the 20th century were busy ones for the Yard, the Naval Gun Factory by 1903 was falling steadily behind in its work. This could not be charged to inefficient management or faulty methods, for the Bureau of Ordnance and the Secretary of the Navy made no such suggestions and seemed satisfied that everything possible was being accomplished. The Yard’s failure to keep up with the ordnance demand came from the unprecedented size of the new American Navy and the heavy requirements thus imposed. Through the years 1901, 1902, and 1903 the plant kept on a round-the-clock schedule, with three 8 hours shifts constantly at work. The number of employees had risen again, and the figure now ran in excess of two thousand. The general condition of the shops was described by the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance as excellent. Yet, by the end of 1903 no work had started on the batteries for twelve important ships. The vessels ranged from 2 to 46 percent toward completion, and it required as much time to make a battleship’s armament as to build the ship itself. Therefore, the logical thing was to begin work on the armament at the time the ship was started. This ideal policy the Navy Yard had been unable to follow. To take up the slack, the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance made contracts, in 1903, with private firms for the manufacture of twenty-four 8-inch and thirty-six 7-inch guns and mounts for the ships whose date of completion was still far in the future. The price stipulated was $2,000,000, and
the Bureau, to place the contracts, had to pay 36 percent more than the same work would have cost at the Naval Gun Factory. Even then, the Chief thought, it might be uncertain whether these guns and mounts would be finished within the stipulated time. He much doubted that they would, judging from his Bureau’s past experience with contract work. Nevertheless, he thought, the actual situation, which promised to become more acute, required an immediate investigation of the question of allotting contracts to private manufacturers. His own recommendation was that the Government invest more money in its own shops, rather than continue contracts with private parties. The result would be a savings in the long run, since the Gun Factory already had a thorough knowledge of the subject which it would take private operators years to acquire. Added to this was the fact that private establishments were more subject to strikes and business reverses necessitating delay than were Government plants.
The Navy Department acted on the Bureau Chief’s recommendation, and appointed a new Gun Foundry Board, similar to Commodore Simpson’s twenty years earlier, to investigate and report. After going into the matter thoroughly, the new Board announced its findings, which showed a situation approaching the crisis stage. Leaving out unfinished work on ships nearly completed, there awaited armament 12 battleships, 8 armored cruisers, 3 protected cruisers, and 2 gun boats, totaling 25. For their main batteries, these would require a total of
918 guns of assorted calibers, to make no mention of several hundred small guns for secondary batteries. The Board, therefore recommended that over $24,000,000 be expended on the Naval Gun Factory, specified the number of shops and other improvements that seemed to be required, and gave estimates of their costs.
On examining this report, the Bureau of Ordnance decided not to advocate so extensive a program, for several reasons. It felt that the unusual conditions then prevailing might not occur again, and also believed, with better logic, that the improvements could not be made in time to have any bearing on the existing situation. Perhaps also, the suggested program, even if carried out with all possible speed, would fail to meet requirements when realized. The Bureau of Ordnance, therefore, suggested a conservative and admittedly makeshift alternative. The Army was undergoing no expansion comparable to the Navy’s, so its Watervliet Arsenal did not work under such a strain. It stood willing to make 5-inch and 8-inch guns to Navy specifications. Therefore, these could be bought from the Army, while the mounts, which were not as difficult to make as the guns themselves, could be contracted for by private manufacturers. Meanwhile, a few important improvements would increase productivity at the Naval Gun Factory. Army help, plus private industry, plus a limited expansion at the Navy Yard, would perhaps tide over the present emergency and avoid undertaking at the time an ambitious ex-
pansion program that might prove wasteful or needless.
We do not hear directly of this matter again for several years. Then, in 1906, the Secretary of the Navy, Charles J. Bonaparte, in his report for the year, states that through the combined efforts of Watervliet, the Naval Gun Factory, and the various private industries engaged, the manufacture of Naval guns had made good progress. Apparently the work turned out at private establishments had been of good grade, because the products had passed tests by the standards of the Gun Factory. A distinctly new policy, for the time being at least, had been instituted.
All attempts to have the Yard facilities substantially increased had failed, through the unwillingness of Congress to grant a substantial appropriation. Facing the situation squarely, the Department had been compelled to pass over most of the work to private industry. Working the Gun Factory employees and machinery three shifts, day and night, proved no answer to the problem. The equipment deteriorated rapidly and labor costs ran too high. Meanwhile, contracting shipbuilders usually turned out their products on time and were ready to hand them over to the Government before the latter was ready to receive them. In 1883 when the first Gun Foundry Board made its investigation, American industry had been found unprepared to take over any large amount of ordnance production. Now, after more then twenty years had elapsed, the situation had altered materially. While financially the Govern-
ment would still be the gainer if it did all its own work, there was no other reason why such firms as Bethlehem Steel and Cambria Steel could not turn out satisfactory ordnance. There would be the advantage of keeping private enterprise in touch with Navy work, while the Yard, slowing down to a single eight hour shift, and not working at full capacity, could make needed repairs and be in a position, if necessary to raise its output exceedingly to cover any emergency.
The frank adoption of this policy in 1905 slowed down the Gun Factory and drastically cut the number of employees. Only 339 were on the rolls when the year ended, and much of the machinery was idle and undergoing reconditioning.
With the great deal of the Gun Factory’s work satisfactorily [farmed] out, and with the Navy Yard operating under reduced pressure, the principal matters of record for the next few years have to do with the details of the Yard improvement and administration. Also, a number of the distinguished visitors, both American and foreign, came for brief inspections and were received with suitable honors. In the course of 1906, for instance, the Yard was visited by the Chinese Imperial Commission (China being then a monarchy), the Governor General of Canada, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a French Rear Admiral and his staff, the Secretary of the Navy and staff, the Secretary of the Navy and party, the Italian Cruiser Fieramosca, with a Rear Admiral on board, and the Secretary of State. President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Yard several times to embark on
the Presidential Yacht, Mayflower.
An event worth noting for 1907 was the unveiling, on November 28, of the bonze tablet to the memory of Commodore Thomas Tingey, first Commandant of the Yard, who served in this capacity from 1800 to 1829. The unveiling, accompanied by impressive ceremonies, took place in the presence of the Secretary of the Navy, who delivered an address, followed by a salute of 7 guns. The tablet was placed on the west side of the Commandant’s house, then occupied by Rear Admiral E. H. Leutze, where it has stood for nearly forty years.
The problem of the Yard’s railroad connections about this time became a matter for serious consideration. An act of Congress abolished grade crossings in the District of Columbia and provided that by January 1, 1908 they should all be changed to underground or overhead. The Pennsylvania Railroad at that time entered the Yard on its northern boundary, crossing M Street and coming in through what was called the North Railroad Gate, a few blocks from the Western end of the Yard. According to the Congressional ruling this entrance must be closed the first day of 1908 unless the law could be changed. The arrangements, as it existed, was good one for Yard purposes, because just inside the entrance all the main branches forked out to various activities. If a new track system must be devised, it would involve bringing the line in at the southeastern side near the water-front. The railroad siding was at the northwest, just inside the North Railroad Gate,
so a great deal of extra motion and difficulty would be required to get cars to this point. The southeast arrangement, therefore, called for the purchase of additional area on that side of the Yard, in order to provide adequate space near the new proposed entrance for loading and unloading. It was out of the question to attempt to create either an overhead crossing or an underpass where the track entered the Yard from the North.
The Naval authorities greatly preferred to have matters left as they were, a sentiment heartily [concurred] in by the Pennsylvania Railroad Officials. About 2500 cars a year, amounting to roughly 7 a day, passed over the branch line into the Yard. The Commandant, who then was Rear-Admiral Leutze, stated that it would be perfectly feasible to have a day’s entire traffic limited to two hours during the night or early morning.
The Yard secured a slight extension of time, from the first of 1908 to April 28 of that year. Meanwhile Congress directed the railroad company to build at its own expense a branch track from its line near the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge (now known as the John Philip Souza Bridge) along the river front to the southeast corner of the Navy Yard. The work should begin within six months and be completed in two years. Pending this construction, Congress ruled, the existing track connection through the North Railroad Gate should be maintained. But the company declined to build the new branch
line under the conditions imposed by Congress. So the Yard faced the alarming possibility, when the time limit expired in 1910, of being entirely without railroad connections, for then the North Railroad Gate line would have to be torn up. In that contingency the only means of shipment of guns and receipt of new materials would be over water, a slow and awkward process. The situation, therefore, would have to be dealt with soon by Congress, either by retaining the old track or by building a new line at Government expense. By the Commandant's reckoning, the cost of the latter would exceed $300,000. As might be expected, the easier solution was the one finally adopted. Though the matter of a change was kept in mind for future reference, the Navy Yard continued to use its North Railroad Gate connection for a good many years.
Due to mounting ill-feeling between the United States and Japan, due partly to his own mediation of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, President Roosevelt decided that a sizeable naval demonstration in the Pacific would have a salutary effect. For this purpose, the bulk of the American Navy received orders to round South America (the Panama Canal being uncompleted) and visit ports on the Pacific Coast. The ships departed in December, 1907, and during the spring and early summer of 1908 visited San Francisco and other places. In July, orders took them across the Pacific, to Hawaii and Australia, and from there they proceeded to Japan, where, to
the surprise of many, they were received cordially and with every demonstration of friendship. Roosevelt had guessed correctly when he [assumed] that Japan, for the present at least, was not willing to risk war with the United States. The fleet returned to the United States via the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean, arriving at Hampton Roads in February 1909. The demonstrated ability of the U.S. Navy to circumnavigate the globe, engaging in practice maneuvers at various places along the way, impressed other nations visibly and raised American Naval prestige to a new level.
When it became known that the fleet would sail to the west coast and the date of departure announced, requisitions began pouring in to the Navy Yard for large quantities of material required by the different ships. Added to this was the considerable amount of extra work ordered by the Bureau of Ordnance, which it desired to have supplied before the ships left Atlantic ports. Without deviating from its regular schedule of supplying ships under construction and refitting, the Gun Factory was able to ship every article called for by requisitions. When the fleet reached the west coast and received preparatory orders for its voyage across the Pacific another flock of orders descended upon the Gun Factory. All of these had been filled before the ships steamed out of San Francisco Bay. In the space of three
months the following articles were shipped for the use of the fleet in connection with its forth coming voyage around the world: 172 gun sights, 432 telescopes, 156 sets of friction training gear, 150 firing locks, 130 guns of various calibers, 11,158 spare parts for breech mechanisms and gun mounts, 314 pieces of gun accessories, cartridge cases, powder tanks, etc. The total of materials sent to the fleet during this period came to 140,786 pieces.
During 1909 and 1910 a good many improvements in the physical structure of the Yard plant took place. Many worn-out machines in the different shops were surveyed, appraised, and replaced by up-to-date equipment. Two boilers, the coal pockets, and the coal handling machines in the old boiler house in the quadrangle were surveyed, appraised, sold, and removed. In the building was installed an oxy-acetylene cutting and welding plant. The foundry received a new annealing furnace, using fuel oil, for annealing steel casings. In connection with the boiler house, an important change was the utilization of the water from the condensers in the power house. This water, discharged into a hot well, and then pumped into the feed-water heater and through the economizers, was raised 50 degrees in temperature on being brought into the boilers. It was believed that over $11,000 might be saved on coal bill alone.
In the gun shop a great improvement came from raising the roof of one end and installing there an 80-ton crane and
at the same time remodeling an existing 100-ton crane. This facilitated the handling and reassembling of 14-inch 45-caliber and 12-inch 50-caliber guns. Several gun lathes were remodeled at the same time. Numerous smaller devices and aids to production were also purchased and installed.
Every change of any consequence at the Gun Factory involving financial outlay, and important alterations invariability required it, brought up the difficulty of getting funds from Congress. The legislative body, under the ceaseless urging of President Roosevelt, followed to a milder degree by that of Taft, was proving amenable about authorizing the construction of war vessels especially capital ships. A battleship could be seen and appreciated, and furnished a tangible return for the taxpayers' money. A thing not so easily apparent was the need for expenditure on items not readily visible such as the care, up-keep and replacement of the armament aboard. The public and the Congress did not quite appreciate the fact that the guns deteriorated rapidly from use, thus decreasing the efficiency of the strongest ship in a short time unless steady maintenance was available. The Superintendent of the Gun Factory, in his report to the Bureau of Ordnance for 1910, wrote: “The difficulty in obtaining the many needed additions in the way of the shop and machinery appliance for the Gun Factory as requested in the estimates heretofore submitted, is apparent.
The bureau being thoroughly familiar with this subject, it is hardly necessary to say anything further. There are some improvements, however, which are earnestly needed, and for which the necessary funds from Congress to obtain the same should be gotten.”
The beginnings of Naval Aviation at the time are to be noted, as they were directly connected with the Navy Yard. On November 14, 1910, Eugene Ely made an experiment at Hampton Roads in flying a Curtiss biplane in a take-off from the deck of the Cruiser Birmingham. The object was to test the feasibility of an airplane leaving a ship for the scouting purposes. A temporary platform, placed forward on the Birmingham, was designed to help the aviator with the ship’s speed. Ely managed without this help, however, and made his take-off while the cruiser was at anchor. The Secretary of the Navy took notice of the experiment and reported that planes seemed destined to play some part in the naval warfare of the future, though he expressed the opinion that this would be limited to scouting.
A year later, in compliance with a letter from the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, the Gun Factory started work on the development of an air catapult. A design drawing was made, some material from the Yard scrap pile was rigged up, and a catapult devised, on the principle of a pulley and falling weight. After proving the apparatus with several dummy shots, the Yard sent the catapult to the Naval Academy, where it was set up on the Santee Dock. The first “live shot” was tried on July 31, 1912,
with a plane piloted by Lieutenant T. G. Ellyson. The experimenters had neglected to provide any way of securing the plane float to the catapult car. About midway on the run the nose of the float lifted away from the car and the plane crashed nose first into the water. Pilot Ellyson received no serious injury.
Following this, the catapult came back to the Yard to be modified to meet the obvious needs. For the next experiment the catapult was installed on the deck of a low free board float, or camel. On November 12, again with Ellyson as pilot, a successful experiment was made, in which the plane got into the air. Before the end of the year, Lieutenant Ellyson repeated the experiment, this time using the Curtiss Flying Boat.
During 1913 the old foundry was dismantled and the new one put into operation. Shifting from one building to the other was carried out systematically, with very little work time being lost. This portion of the plant was now thoroughly up to date and able to turn out castings of the largest size that might be required for ordnance work in steel, cast iron, and bronze. The Commandant in reporting the installation of the new foundry, was careful to point out the difficulty constantly experienced of keeping down the cost of steel castings. The work, due inevitably to the circumstances of a Government plant, was constantly fluctuating in amount and this factor counted heavily in the matter of cost. The Commandant ex-
pressed the wish that the Navy Department in assigning additional work to the Yard in the future would do so on such a basis that it could be taken up whenever the opportunity offered. [Thus] it could be sandwiched during slow spells, and in this way provide a steady flow of work without necessitating any idling of the equipment.
The year 1914 saw the outbreak of the great war in Europe, but the only military operations carried on by the United States were those connected with the capture and occupation of Vera Cruz in April. Due to the activities of the Huerta Government of Mexico, which the Wilson Administration (in office since March, 1913) found objectionable, orders were given for the Navy to occupy the seaport city, which it did with a small loss of life, prior to turning it over to General Funston’s Army of occupation. American forces held Vera Cruz until the latter part of the year, but the half-expected war with Mexico did not materialize. Neither in connection with this incident nor the great European War is it possible to observe, from the activities of the Yard, any particular symptom that the American Government had such expectation of being at War in the near future. During the first part of 1915 the Gun Factory completed 14-inch triple mounts for the new battleships Oklahoma, Nevada and Pennsylvania and two for the Arizona, but this was all work that had been arranged for long in advance. There was even considerable delay here because several
of the slides (the cylindrical casting within which the gun slides axially in recoil and counter-recoil) were rejected after being furnished by the contractor. Defects showed up after a large amount of machine work had been done on them, and the expenditure of wasted labor came to several thousand dollars. Once the faults had been detected and corrected, however, a very fine brand of work was accomplished. After completion, the slides were carefully measured and the greatest variation in any part of them did not exceed ".005.
By the beginning of 1916, war did not seem as remote as it had a year previously. The Navy had undertaken another large building program and orders had been received for twenty-four 14-inch 50 caliber guns, which were to be used to arm the heavy cruisers scheduled for completion in 1917. An even more powerful gun was in process of development for the battleships to be completed in 1918, whose main batteries would consist of 16-inch guns. The 1916 appropriation bill carried with it funds for the buying of additional land adjacent to the gun factory. The Yard already extended west as far as 4th Street, and it was now planned to push it several blocks farther. On the extra ground thus acquired a new gun shop would be erected. That, plus the existing facilities, would double the Yard’s capacity for building and relining guns. While the administration was still committed to a peace policy and in foreign affairs seemingly placed more emphasis on its Mexican difficulties
than on European conditions, every passing month drew the country closer to war. The Yard began to hire more man rapidly, and pushed its work on ordnance.
At the opening of 1917, the Yard went on a war basis fully two months before the declaration in April. One measure of additional security was a special order by the Commandant, Rear Admiral E. H. Gleason, to the effect that all employees should submit five identical photographs of themselves to the Security Officer by the end of February. All received warning that unless they submitted proper pictures at once they would probably experience considerable difficulty in entering the Yard. Three sets of colored passes were made for employees to carry: green for the normal day shift, pink for those working between 1600 and midnight, and yellow for midnight to 0800 shift. This new arrangement went into effect on March 10, to be rigidly adhered to thereafter. Next the Commandant ordered that all officers on duty at the Gun Factory make arrangements to keep in touch with it by telephone at all hours of the day and night. In practice this meant never leaving home in the evening without making arrangements to be reached by phone if necessary. As soon as the President signed the Act of Congress declaring war on Germany, the Commandant took measures to strengthen the guard at the gate and also placed two officers on patrol duty every night. On June 8 the Commandant received a telegram from the Secretary of the Navy, who stated that he had reason to believe that information of a character most
valuable had reached the enemy. In all probability this had resulted from carelessly made statements by officers in the presence of intimates or families. The latter, failing to understand the gravity of the offense or nature of the information, passed it on until it reached the enemy. For this reason, officers, enlisted personnel, and civilian employees, were strictly prohibited from discussing military matters other than officially. The Secretary’s telegram stated specifically that families and relatives were to be considered as “outside the Naval Service.” All people who attempted to get prohibited information from those in Naval Service should be regarded with suspicion and reported to the proper authorities without delay. Naval personnel or civilian employees who learned of a violation of this order were to report the matter to the Navy Department for disciplinary action. Next came tightening restrictions involving written matter. Paper thrown into waste baskets or other receptacles could not be deposited carelessly but must be so mutilated that it would be impossible to obtain any information therefrom.
During the entire period the Gun Factory operated at maximum capacity, and its production rate accelerated constantly. For the year 1918 the figures for labor employed and material used were approximately three times as great as for 1917. When the draft went into effect the Yard, somewhat felt the loss of employees. However, as the selective service act took only men between the ages of 21 and 31, and
as the bulk of the key employees were over 31, production was not greatly hampered in consequence. Shortly before the end of the war the act was amended to include men between 18 and 45, but the time remaining was so short that very few were affected by it. During 1918, the War Department initiated a policy of granting furloughs to mechanics who were needed in industry. Some of these detailed to the Yard, where by the Commandant’s order they received the same treatment as the rest of the employees, being forbidden to wear the service uniform while at work. Employment figures show that the Yard reached its peak on November 23, 1918, twelve days after the Armistice. On that day there were 10,095 names on the rolls, as against 9,862 for the previous June 30, and 6,362 for June 30, 1917.
Apparently the Yard did not suffer to any important extent from espionage or sabotage during the war. The great majority of the employees proved loyal to the highest degree, although investigation was constantly in progress regarding some of them, principally those whose names showed a connection by birth or parentage with one of the Central Powers In dealing with civilian employees the Yard in general preferred to use its own intelligence system and usually made investigation without calling in outside authorities. All cases reported as suspicious were checked, although the investigation usually failed to reveal anything that warranted action. Any real proof of outright disloyalty resulted in
A survey of the Gun Factory and general Yard activity for 1918 will reveal the contribution made to victory in World War I. More than 260 guns were manufactured and many others were partially built but had not been completed by the end of the year. They varied in size, all the way from 16-inch 50 caliber, to small 3-inch boat gun and 1-pounder. Private industry, of course went heavily into the gun making business, but the majority of its products, if destined for the Navy, eventually came to the Yard to be star gauged, examined, and put in condition for service.
The Gun Factory made a breech mechanism for every gun it manufactured, and large number of spares. To the work of building new guns and breech mechanism must be added the equally important labor of relining and rebuilding used guns, overhauling parts, and making many pieces of extra equipment. Good examples of miscellaneous items turned out by the Gun Factory were the making of some 12,000 pieces of wireless equipment, and almost 60,000 parts for firing and lighting circuits. The tool shop turned out jigs and fixtures, while other departments made oxygen, acetylene and hydrogen gas, mostly for the use of the Gun Factory but in some cases for the other Bureaus of the Navy.
Through 1918 the Yard’s output of good castings from the foundry was 14,655,853 pounds, representing an increase of more than 80 percent over 1917. New electric furnaces had been installed and the existing open-hearth furnaces
rebuilt and enlarged. Considerable expansion took place in the bronze casting department. The output of the cartridge case shop was greatly increased over that for previous years, particularly in larger calibers. Through the year 456,338 cases of all sizes were produced, as well as about 30,000 cartridge tanks. The Forge shop was completely reorganized in 1918, as its output in all lines rose by over 100 percent and in some cases by as much as 400. Naturally a heavy burden was thrown on the shipping department, the extent of whose problem may be judged by the statistics for the successive years. In 1916 it had 31,600,000 pounds to ship in ordnance and miscellaneous material, a figure which rose to 34,256,000 in 1917 and 52,600,000 in 1918.
Office and paper work multiplied exceedingly, as it always does under conditions. In addition to the normal clerical work, plus the increase necessitated by increased production, there was the matter of the hundreds of ships newly brought under Navy control. As fast as batteries were assigned these vessels, each one had to receive an allowance book. The burden of preparing and distributing these fell chiefly upon the office force of the Naval Gun Factory, which had to issue about 52,000 new and revised lists and to multigraph about 900,000 allowance sheets.
The production of ordnance by firms hitherto inexperienced involved the danger of considerable delay and grave mistakes to which the only alternative was careful and regular Navy
inspection. Much of this fell to the Gun Factory, and the Inspection Division was called on to make 12,000 calls for the purpose during 1918.
For purposes of centralization an entire building was erected and used as a central storeroom for all fixtures, gauges, and tools. The object was to classify and store there the tools scattered through the Naval Gun Factory. Greater economy was the motive behind this change.
Although the Yard, as well as other agencies in the country, made outstanding increases in its production, it is ironic to realize that full capacity would have been reached in 1922, had the war continued until then. When the Armistice was signed, various new shops and buildings, constructed in response to the emergency, were about ready to go into production. This was true of a brass foundry and a steel foundry, as well as a new optical shop. Calculations, based on the 1918 output, were to the effect that for the following year the Gun Factory’s productivity would be doubled in some lines, trebled in others, and quadrupled in some others. This prediction of course, was never to be realized, since the Germans surprised everyone by surrendering ahead of schedule.
Therefore, the Yard, while making a notable advance during the comparatively brief American participation in the war, was on the verge of even greater achievements at the finish. The Secretary of the Navy, in a report issued shortly after the end of hostilities, went rather lengthily into the subject of heavy guns and their construction. This supplied a
good overview of the Gun Factory’s activities for the last several years and also made clear the theory underlying recent developments.
A great deal of this report concerned 16-inch guns recently developed for the Navy. Main batteries composed of 14-inch guns had proved so successful that even prior to the war plans had been initiated to develop higher calibers. Accordingly, by September, 1914, the first 16-inch 45 caliber guns were ready for proving. The initial tests revealed the need for a few minor changes in the designs. After making the alterations, the Navy found the guns so effective that it decided to install them on several capital ships then undergoing construction. This type performed so well in operation that the next step was to raise the length to 50 calibers and on April 8, 1918, the first of this type were proved. Once again the test was successful, with the result that the Navy decided to install them in a group of battle cruisers and battleships recently authorized.
Reasons for the advance in the power of naval artillery are obvious. As the size and the weight of the projectile increases the more accurate its trajectory becomes. Hence, with increased power, the probability of scoring a hit increases. Likewise it had been found that the smashing effect of a large, heavy shell proved greater in practice than mathematical formula would indicate. When a gun was increased in size the power gained was such that a limited decrease in muzzle velocity might be permitted. Added to this is the fact that lessened
muzzle velocity reduced the effects of erosion, thus giving longer life to the gun.
In comparison, then, the 16-inch 50 caliber type was not only a more powerful but probably a more durable weapon than its predecessor of the 14-inch type. In one of its important recent achievements, however, which was the mounting of the heavy Naval guns on railway cars for use in France, the Gun Factory had not attempted to go above 14-inches. But with all the advances that had been made in the art of forging and casting, the increase in the size of cannon had become possible to the point where with its 16-inch gun, about 70 feet in length, the Navy now had a weapon representing the most advanced stage so far realized.
The Secretary also dwelt on recent experiments successful in making radically expanded guns, though this had been limited to the smaller calibers. The principle, basically, was to apply an internal hydraulic pressure, which could be run up to about 100,000 pounds to the square inch. With the withdrawal of the pressure, the gun was left in a strained condition. When fired, the strain would be communicated to all layers equally, with enhanced strength resulting. Since the gun was made in one piece, a great amount of machine work could be eliminated. Because of its greater strength, the radially expanded gun could be lighter in relation to the power it had. So far, by 1919, a radial expansion had been applied successfully to guns
up to 5-inches. Despite less weight and cheaper construction, these proved as accurate and durable as the other, or “built up” type.
All this considerable development in the gun construction and general ordnance production was interrupted sharply by the Armistice. It could easily be foretold that, in conformity with traditional American policy, the loosened purse strings of the government would be shut tightly again as soon as the firing stopped in Europe. Already, by the start of 1919, a new policy became noticeable, though less sharply evident than it became two years later when the Harding Administration succeeded Wilson’s. When on April 30, 1919, Captain A. L. Willard was relieved as Yard Commandant by Rear Admiral A. W. Grant, he issued the customary farewell to the employees and raised the point which was bound to be somewhat in every mind. He warned that Government expenditures would from now on be checked, criticized, and reviewed with the utmost care. The Gun Factory, which made nothing but war materials, could have no hope of retaining any real popular favor. Moreover, if any private industry believed it could make ordnance products as well as the Gun Factory, that industry might have the backing and support of the public and of individuals in the Government. Only by the most rigid application to duty and a close scrutiny of quality, quantity, and economy and its product in every detail, could the Navy Yard plant continue to keep the place it had won by so much work over so much time. Competition, Captain Willard
thought, would be the theme in the future, and the Gun Factory, despite its official standing, could not be expected to be able to stand aloof.
At the beginning of the post-war era it seemed as though the Navy Yard might, despite everything, have enough work to keep the plant and a large force occupied for a considerable time. The Armistice had found the United States engaged in a considerable Naval Building Program. Presumably, ships and armament already provided for by Congress would be carried on to completion. Throughout 1919 and 1920, the Gun Factory worked on the 16-inch guns for new battleships and heavy cruisers. It continued to work on the radial expansion method, and began the manufacture of 6-inch guns, by this process. Improvements and developments in broadside gun mounts were taken up and several new types developed. The Yard devoted considerable activity to the arming of submarines. Some building activity went on, and the new physical laboratory kept very busy with tests.
Consequently, down to 1921, it could not be said the Yard had suffered too severely. Stoppage of the excess production required for the war was only normal and probably highly desirable. A sufficient production went on to supply the needs of the now very large American Navy, which had prospects of soon becoming the first in the world. In July, 1920, the employees on the rolls numbered just short of eight thousand, a figure far in excess of anything that had been maintained before the war.
With the coming of the new administration to the power in March, 1921, the economy note became more pronounced. The new
Secretary, Mr. Edwin Denby, in general order dated June 30, pointed out that the Naval Appropriation Bill for the forthcoming year involved a substantial reduction, since the country demanded economy. He therefore ordered the strictest care and conservation in all matters, pointing out that the aggregate of small things could mount up to considerable totals. There must be no loss or wastage, even in matters as minor as small tools or nails. The Secretary’s order was to be published at general muster aboard ships and posted on bulletin boards at Navy Yards and Stations.
With funds for the Yard and Gun Factory now running low, reduction of employees could no longer be postponed. The country was then going through minor industrial depression, which would make a wholesale discharge of employees a more serious affair than would be true in better times. Some had to be dismissed outright, but to keep as many on the rolls until general employment conditions were better, the policy was adopted of putting the Yard on a five day week. This, it might be added, applied to all shore establishments throughout the service with the single exception of the Navy Department[.] Saturday was eliminated as a work day and employees lost one day’s pay a week. Repair work, which had hitherto been performed on Sundays while the plant was not in operation, would now be shifted to Saturday. The Navy had no intention of making this a permanent policy but designed it solely to tide over a situation. The desire was to return to a six day week as soon as possible, at which time many would have to go, but it was hoped they would then be surer of
finding work in private industry.
While there is no specifying in detail the directives that came from the Navy Department in the course of the year, it is worth noting that several of these placed further emphasis on economy.
But all this would have been of minor importance had it not been for the international steps taken toward the close of the year leading to naval reduction. President Harding invited the principal military and naval powers of the world to the conference in Washington, beginning in November, 1921, to discuss disarmament. The main result of this, from the present point of view, was the famous 5-5-3 ratio agreement regarding capital ships, between the United States, Great Britain, and Japan. Briefly, the treaty signed early in 1922 left the British and Americans with 15 battleships apiece, totaling 525,000 tons, and gave Japan 9, with a tonnage of 272,070. None but capital ships were involved in the agreement.
For each of the three powers involved, reducing to the agreed limit meant something different. To England it meant scrapping old battleships and ships under construction. Japan was in almost the same position but refused to part with the Mutsu, her newest ship which was over 90 percent finished. Japan won this point, and an adjustment made in her favor permitted her to keep the Mutsu. The United States had to scrap several old ships, two new ones already launched but not quite finished, and seven battleships and six heavy cruisers under construction. Although in no way bound by the treaty regarding anything but capital ships, this country, from motives of economy or pacifism, or both,
failed to lay a single keel of any kind for three years. During the following three it built very sparingly.
At the Gun Factory, work on the 16-inch 50-caliber program stopped completely. Both Bethlehem Steel and the Midvale Steel Company had also been at work on these guns, and each had completed more than twenty.
The weapons were all accepted and tested, but could not now be installed on ships. To use the 16-inch type as replacements for the battleships still kept in commission was not a feasible idea, because a clause in the treaty stated that no alterations in side armor, in caliber, number or general type of mounting of main armament should be permitted. The older battleships chiefly used 14-inch guns, the new type having been intended for capital ships not yet placed in commission and now prevented from ever being used. Since the army had no limitations imposed on it by the treaty, the War Department arranged to purchase some of the surplus guns.
On February 9, as a result of the Disarmament Conference, there took place the largest discharge of employees in the Navy Yard Annals. On that day 1500 were dropped from the rolls, and the number still remaining was 4,999, a figure destined to be reduced further in the near future.
Navy Day was first observed in 1922, when Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday, October 27, received that designation. Though in after years the Yard became the center of the ceremony for Washington area, this was not true on the first occasion.
The only Yard contribution then was participation by several of its officers and enlisted men in a general procession and ceremony at the grave of the unknown soldier. Subsequently, of course, Navy Day observance became more elaborate.
For the next few years the work of the Gun Factory showed little variety in its main points. With the number of battleships reduced and no others under construction, orders for material naturally dropped off, so both output and personnel declined. Figures for the latter fell to 3,098 by March, 1923, and were below the three thousand mark at the end of the year. At this point, however, the decline was arrested and personnel remained fairly constant for a good while, even showing a slight increase during the next two years. The Yard Commandant, Rear Admiral B. F. Hutchinson, in his 1924 report, called attention to the necessary reductions in personnel, and expressed the hope that further cuts would not be necessary. “There is no doubt,” he wrote, “that it will be to the government’s interest to keep it on an efficient working basis, and building it up as much as practicable, in order that it may be readily available for any Naval military demand, and also to perform any work that may be required for other branches of the Government.” The Commandant also pointed out the difficulty that would be involved should an emergency suddenly necessitate operating the plant to full capacity without a competent nucleus of trained employees. He [seemed] to feel that with three thousand
still on hand, the Yard had stayed above the danger point, but that further reduction would seriously affect future potentialities.
Heavy guns made at the Yard during this time were entirely for replacement purposes. Some lighter ordnance were also produced for carriers which had been started before the Armament Limitation Conference and which were being brought to completion. The most important work of an original nature carried out at the Yard in this period was the development of the powder type airplane catapult gun. The Bureau of Aeronautics, which was very new, having been organized in 1921, had cognizance of the Naval catapults, which at the time used compressed air as motive power. This Bureau asked the Bureau of Ordnance to investigate the possibility of designing a powder type catapult. In answer to this, Mr. Carl F. Jeansen, an engineer, was placed in charge of the experiment, working in liaison with Lieutenant E. P. Stone of the Bureau of Aeronautics.
Investigations proceeded, drawings were made, and an experimental powder type catapult was built which was ready for testing by October 23, 1922. The first proof firing took place on that date at the Navy Yard. Powder pressures were measured by a Tabor Steam Indicator and the speed of the launching car by an oscillograph. Several accidents befell the catapult car before it finally made a successful run of the track. Once the friction brake did not hold and the car slipped into the river. Another time it jumped the track, due to the heaviness of the charge. Finally, however, the tests
were completed, and concluded by what is called a lock shot, meaning a shot with the car fastened securely to the track and unable to move, the purpose of the shot being to test the cable strength. The verdict reached on the trial of this catapult was favorable, so, as soon as it could be made in efficient numbers, it was issued to the service. Reports which came in declared this a great improvement over any catapult previously supplied to the Navy. By 1925 a wide distribution had been made.
During these rather uneventful years of the 1920’s, the Yard did not depart widely from routine procedure. Personnel had now been stabilized at a figure approximating three thousand, from which it varied only slightly. Since the size of the Navy no longer fluctuated, the amount of ordnance work necessary could be calculated with reasonable accuracy in advance. The day-to-day log of the Yard was largely a record of inspections and visits by distinguished persons. Changes in the plant were mostly gradual and accomplished a little at a time. Unit cost of production tended to be high, due to the diminished work load, yet every report by the Secretary of the Navy spoke highly of the Yard and its efficiency. These reports also urged, in words that scarcely varied from year to year, the desirability of giving the Gun Factory as much work to do as possible, and emphasized the fact that it could be of service to branches of the Government other than the Navy Department.
The year 1927 saw an increased gun production, because of the manufacture of castings for the 8-inch cruiser program. This
necessitated the fullest development of precision castings of very light cross section, lighter then had ever been attempted before in ordnance manufacture. The work had to be at a higher unit cost of production than previously, because the tonnage increase was all out of proportion to the extra amount of work required on the light section castings.
During 1928 the upward trend continued, which showed in personnel figures as well as output. The number employed exceeded 4,000 by the end of the year, with reasonable anticipation that it would go even higher in the near future. As a result, work on guns, mounts, turrets, and other ordnance details, kept pace with the progress of the cruisers for which they were being constructed.
Production output for 1929 made a rather impressive showing. New construction, with the exception of capital ships, was under way in the Navy again, and many vessels were now in need of gun replacements. A replacement battery for the battleship Maryland, consisting of 16-inch guns, went from the Yard to Puget Sound to be installed. Orders for forging and finished guns for cruisers were placed with the Bethlehem Steel Company and the Midvale Steel Company, the Erie Forge Company and Watervliet Arsenal. In the course of the year, the Naval Gun Factory put the finishing touches on twenty-seven 8-inch 55-caliber guns, eighteen of which had been entirely built in the Yard, the remainder being chiefly constructed by Watervliet and Midvale. Besides this, the Gun Factory completed twenty 5-inch
anti-aircraft guns and relined or modified other weapons, ranging all the way from 16-inch 45’s to 3-inch 59’s.
One unusual event for 1929 was the departure of the Presidential Yacht Mayflower from the Navy Yard, where she had been stationed for so long a time, for the Philadelphia Navy Yard, to be decommissioned. Because of her history and the number of Presidents she had served, this ship has some claim to fame. The yacht was completed in 1897, at Glasgow, Scotland where she had been built for the American multi-millionaire, Mr. Ogden Goelet. The Mayflower was a two masted yacht, displacing 2,690 tons, and having a speed of 16.88 knots, then considered very fast. Being intended for a rich man’s pleasure, she naturally received elegant furnishings.
Goelet died during his first trip aboard the Mayflower to the Mediterranean, and his estate sold the yacht to the Government early the next year for use in the Spanish American War. The New York Navy Yard armed her as a scout-ship and mounted several light guns. She then went to Cuba and took part, first in the blockade runner and attempted to pick up Hobson’s men when they tried sinking the Merrimac at the entrance to Santiago Harbor. At the end of the war the Mayflower was decommissioned for a short time, but soon went into service as the official yacht of Governor Allen of Puerto Rico. At the end of fourteen months of this service the ship returned to New York, and, it being felt that the position
of a President of the United States now warranted his having a yacht for his own personal use, the Mayflower received a thorough overhauling and was turned over to Theodore Roosevelt. During these early years the yacht spent most of the time at Oyster Bay, the Roosevelt summer home, where the President had greater need of it than at Washington. The Mayflower, in 1905, had an important part in the entertainment of the Japanese and Russian delegates, when Roosevelt acted as arbiter between their two countries, and carried the Russian diplomats to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where the treaty was finally signed.
Successively, the Mayflower was used by Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge, and was still in commission when Herbert Hoover took office in March, 1929. The new President however, made no use of the yacht himself and soon had her placed in ordinary and sent to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, as stated above. A fire soon damaged the ship so badly that she was sold to a coal company which used her as a coal barge. But a distinguished career did not end thus tamely. With the outbreak of World War II, need appeared for ships of the Mayflower type. Hence the old Presidential yacht was repurchased by the Government for the Coast Guard, and once more went into active service.
In 1930 the Commandant of the Yard reported to the Secretary of the Navy that attempts were being made, through semi-weekly inspections, to clear out obsolete and useless material. These inspections had the further purpose of securing more orderliness in the internal arrangements of shops, offices and storehouses
and of assuring their cleanliness. Such measures had the effect of raising the spirit and morale of Gun Factory workmen. A special Board had been at work for a year making a survey of ordnance material at the Yard and Bellevue Magazine with a view to separating the serviceable from the unserviceable. By 1930, great masses of obsolete equipment had been disposed of with this Board’s approval. Previously this antiquated material had been received the same care in handling and storage as up to date gear, with unnecessary cost resulting and valuable storage space being monopolized. Cleaning out the now useless accumulation of many years to the accompaniment of economical salvage, where possible, represented a definite advance in efficiency.
During the same year, the Gun Factory virtually brought to completion its construction program of 8-inch mounts for cruisers under construction. Consequently, with the termination of a large part of the work in hand, and with an insufficiency of orders coming in for new construction, the Yard passed into another of its lulls during 1931.
In the early 1920’s the Yard began a program of apprentice training. Since the Gun Factory was an institution with peculiar needs, requiring a high degree of skill and versatility of its workmen, there had in recent years been a problem in securing the desired type of mechanic in sufficient numbers. The general trend toward mass production in industry created specialists in certain kinds of operations rather than workmen skilled in numerous branches. More versatility being required of Gun Factory
employees, the Yard undertook to add to the education of apprentices being promoted to minimum rate journeymen. This was accomplished in the main by diversification of training an apprentice received. He could be put to utilitarian work, instead of mere practice projects, in the early part of his service. The operations he performed were, of course, the simple ones, but this saved the time of experienced labor and turned out work designed for use. By transferring the apprentice frequently between various shops and departments, the Yard made sure that he got a sound training and learned the use of many kinds of tools.
Some academic instruction, in such subjects as mathematics and reading of mechanical drawings, went with the training, but this part was kept to a minimum, with greatest emphasis being laid on practical application in the shop. The apprentice learned how to reduce his calculations to the fewest possible steps and became versed in all the short cuts available. A school attendance of six hours per week during apprenticeship proved generally sufficient to give the young workmen what the Yard desired him to have. This versatility not only increased his value to the Navy but proved of personal benefit to the man. In case of severance of his connection with the Gun Factory, he stood a much better chance of being absorbed by private industry, due to his acquaintance with a variety of subjects. A Yard apprentice could handle shop problems involving quadratics by the end of his second year, trigo[no]metric problems dealing with plane triangles at the end of his third, and any involving forces,
levers, friction, traction, hoist, falls, and steam and gas engines by the time of his promotion. He also learned some mechanical drafting, letter and report writing, standard safety measures, and general hygiene. The extent to which any of these was stressed depended on its apparent importance to the future mechanic.
That the policy paid dividends can be proved from the number of former Gun Factory apprentices, presently found holding responsible positions both inside the Yard and out. The Naval Gun Factory had, in short, developed a self-sustaining source of labor more highly skilled than could normally be obtained elsewhere.
As has been stated, work fell off at the Yard during 1931, but some modifications of the elevating gear for the 14-inch turrets of the battleships New York, Texas, Oklahoma, and Nevada, and the making of training gear brakes for above water torpedo tubes, took up some of the slack. Nevertheless, the force of the employees had to be reduced by over 500. The great depression had by this time made its effect felt all over the country, and again much emphasis had to be placed on economy.
One of the foreign visitors to the Navy Yard in 1931 was the French Premier, M. Pierre Laval. He arrived on the afternoon of Sunday, October 23, and embarked on the S.S.Sequoia, a sail down the Potomac. The usual honors were rendered, namely the firing of a 19-gun salute for the departing French official. The future head of the Vichy Government proved very
affable on the occasion of this visit, and seems to have left a good impression.
A little later in the year the Yard received another distinguished visitor, the U.S.S. Constitution. The historic frigate had been freshly reconditioned and at that time was making calls at seaports on both American coasts in order that she might be inspected by the general public. On Armistice Day, 1931, President Hoover inspected the ship, being greeted with a 21 gun salute as he went on board. Similar salutes were fired as he left the Constitution and when, a little later, he departed from the Yard. Hundreds of visitors boarded “Old Ironsides” during her stay, schools in the District being dismissed to permit the children to see the famous vessel. The Constitution departed on November 18, under tow of two Navy tugs, to continue her tour of the principal Atlantic coast cities.
The year following saw, in the interests of efficiency, economy, and better supervision, a reorganization in the shops of the Gun Factory. One major change came in shop 20, formerly comprising the Cartridge Case, Boilermakers, Plating and Polishing, and Sheet Metal Activities. Each of these now became a separate unit, established as a shop in its own right. During the late war, in 1918, there had been constructed, as previously noted a separate new building to serve as a Central Tool Shop and to house all tools previously scattered throughout the Naval Gun Factory. Though the original purpose had been economy and centralization, the idea had not worked out for the best.
Now, therefore, the activity was suspended, or rather divided and incorporated into other shops.
Other important changes occurred in the administration department. An officer received a specific assignment as Planning Officer, and five others, who formerly had been Assistant Inspectors, now became assistant to the Production Officer. Two Sections, Survey and Requisition had their status changed by being joined to Divisions, the former to Planning and Production and the latter to the Planning Section as a Subsection.
The Yard’s principal ordnance work during 1932 consisted of relining guns, particularly the 14 and 16-inch 45-calibers for battleships. Due to the disarmament treaty, still un-abrogated, the United States Navy could not manufacture guns over 8-inch except for replacement purposes, so work undertaken on the heavy cannon at this time [was] almost certain to be that of reconditioning.
The Constitution, which had had an extremely close association with the Washington Navy Yard in their respective early histories, paid two more visits in the course of the year. She came the first time in April and departed in May, as usual under the tow of two tugs. Her second arrival was in October, in order to be available for Navy Day, which was now a great annual ceremony at the Yard. This time she received a visit from the Secretary, and was subsequently boarded by many thousands of civilians whom the Yard Administration welcomed on Navy Day. A diversified Navy program was presented for the spectators, who were allowed
to visit all the shops of the Gun Factory. They also witnessed guard mount, fire drills ashore and afloat, gun drills, an air circus, and heard an almost continuous concert by the Navy Band. The Constitution remained at the Yard for nearly two weeks following Navy Day. The public had permission to inspect the ship every day, and took full advantage of the opportunity. On the final departure she left for the Pacific Coast, likewise for exhibition purposes.
During the year 1933, economy considerations dealt a heavy blow to the excellent system of apprentice training initiated at the Yard a few years earlier. While the system had great advantages, these only applied in event of apprentices being promoted with regularity to journeyman status. During 1933 almost nobody was advanced from the apprentice class, not because of lack of eligibles but because of economy necessitated by current conditions. For this reason no apprentices were taken on during 1933 and the training had to be practically dropped.
Ordnance activities of the Yard for 1933 may be summarized briefly. A number of Mark VI catapults underwent tests. To the routine proof shots, required in proving all catapults, there had to be added some special tests required by the Bureau of Aeronautics. This raised to a total of 154 the number of launching made at the Yard in connection with these catapults. The Bureau of Ordnance requested that tests also be made on a handfire extinguisher. The idea in brief, was, in the event of a hang-fire in a bag gun, to inject water from the sprinkler system into the chamber of the gun through the primer vent. This test
had as its object to determine the length of time in which a hang-fire could be extinguished. Those in charge of the experiment finally discovered that the air space outside the powder bags in a 16-inch chamber could be filled with water in about 6 minutes with a pressure on the sprinkler system of 150 pounds per square inch.5 The Yard also supervised tests of an experimental installation of an hydraulic drive for the lower power hoist of 8-inch turrets for heavy cruisers using Vickers hydraulic units. The experiments showed that a very satisfactory system of control for these hoists could be obtained consequently a contract was let out for the necessary hydraulic units and the blueprints were reached. For the remainder of its year’s work the Gun Factory modernized the 14-inch turrets of the Mississippi class battleships and improved the small mounts on several of them.
By this time the U.S.S. Sequoia had become the successor to the Mayflower as Presidential Yacht, and put in and out of the Navy Yard bearing the Executive and his guests as frequently as had the predecessor. Among the foreign notables who paid visits in 1933 the one commanding the greatest interest was Prince Ras Destur Bentu, a member of the Ethiopian royal family and son-in-law of the Negus, Haile Selassie. The Prince, then serving as his country’s special envoy to the United States, received customary honors while passing through the Yard to embark on the Sequoia for a brief trip down the Potomac.
On August 23, 1933 the Yard suffered heavy damage from unusual high water in the Anacostia River. In the evening, just before dark, water began coming above the quay wall. It continued to advance until flood conditions were general through the streets and shops in the central portion of the Yard. Great damage occurred to shop motors and controls on the ground floors of buildings, as well as to under floor wiring, steam pipes, and other underground structures. In some cases block and other wooden floors were badly damaged, or even demolished. The streets and buildings did not suffer greatly, but considerable time and expense later had to be devoted to cleaning away slime and debris both inside and outside the shops. The principal sufferer was the power plant where water reached a point eleven feet above the [mean] low water. This shut down the plant and compelled the Yard for a time to use power from the Washington City System. Counting damage which occurred to Navy property at Alexandria and the radio station, the bill for repairs came to more then a quarter of a million dollars. No personnel injuries occurred. By working hard and largely disregarding normal labor hours, the Yard staff, military and civilian, put essential services on a functioning basis again within a comparatively few days.
By 1934, the policy of the National Government with regard to the Navy had materially and visibly changed. As is well known, the United States, which had voluntarily limited the size of its fleet by the treaty of 1922, had gone a step further and refrained from building up to the size allowed by the agree-
ment. The Roosevelt Administration, dating from March 4, 1933, from the double motive of aiding national defense and stimulating industry, decided to build up to the top limit. The President signed the Trammel-Vinson Act, which established the strength of the Navy and authorized the construction of vessels and aircraft to replace units as they became overage. A brief glance at world conditions at the time will show that this rearmament trend came not a moment too soon. With Hitler already, installed in power, Nazi Germany at once became a threatening potential. Italy talked of aggression and had already cast covetous eyes on Ethiopia. Japan, having seized Manchuria and adjoining provinces of China, threatened to continue her career of conquest, and was now in every way an uncomfortable trans-Pacific neighbor.
Within a year this policy could be seen reflected in institutions within the Navy. Altogether, the Naval Construction Program then undertaken by the United States involved 70 vessels of every category limited by the treaties. About 30 months, it was estimated, would be required to complete the construction, at the end of which time the Nation’s sea strength would still fall short, by 78 ships, of the potential allowed by the Naval agreement. That the Navy Yard would have a large share in the program could be taken for granted, and it soon began its last and greatest expansion to date, an expansion that continued and accelerated until World War II had reached a comparatively advanced stage.
During 1934, of course, the Yard had insufficient time to
make any substantial showing by the way of providing armament. But increased activity is shown by growing employment figures, which rose to 7,982 by midyear. Another sign of forthcoming development was the great amount of repair work that went on and the unusual expenditure for improvements, though part of this is to be explained by the flood of the previous November and the ensuing necessary reconstruction. The principal ordnance production for the year was the manufacture of 5 and 6-inch mounts, torpedo tubes, and gun detectors.
The report by the Secretary of the Navy for 1935 shows the condition of the fleet then and the immediate plans regarding expansion. To the Trammel-Vinson Act, Congress had added a sizable appropriation, which would permit the continuance of construction begun under earlier allocations and would also allow 24 additional keels to be laid. The manufacture of guns had gone on, evidently with some rapidity. Considerations of security had already begun to operate, however, because the Secretary this time purposely omitted stating the number of each caliber turned out. The guns ranged from 5-inch 25’s to 16-inch 45’s, with accessories, such as breech plugs, mounts, sights, gun directors, and torpedo tubes. The foundry of the Gun Factory had made nearly 8,000,000 pounds of steel castings, and the Testing Laboratory had experienced a very busy year. Employment figures were 500 above what they had been a year earlier.
For 1936 and 1937 there is not much to record beyond the increase to be expected in the output of the plant. The Con-
gressional Appropriation Act for 1937 provided preliminary plans for two new battleships, and work on them began the following year. A similar act in 1938 provided for eight destroyers and four submarines, while by a special piece of legislation, at about the same time, Congress permitted the replacement of two overage battleships by new ones. The purpose of all this building, in line with the original provisos of the Trammel-Vinson Act, was to increase by 20 percent the under-age strength of the U.S. Navy. This normally would be reflected in the activity of the Yard, and such was the case very soon. Production increases at the Gun Factory involved so many items that it is useless to attempt a compete enumeration. Output for 1938 must be reduced to a matter of bare figures. The guns manufactured during the year, of all types and calibers, totaled 383. In addition, we have the record of 764 guns overhauled and examined, either before issue to the service or after proof. These comprised sizes all the way from 1-pounders to 16-inch. The Breech Shop manufactured 18,319 spare parts and the Optical Shop produced 5,893 instruments. The Cartridge Case Shop made 170,950 cases of all calibers. The Foundry and Forge Division turned in a heavy year’s output, with non-ferrous castings considerably in excess of the steel.
Among the miscellaneous developments were a few that appear especially worthy of note. During the years 1937-1938, the Yard’s proficiency in the art of making color lithograph illustrations for ordnance publications advanced to the point where the Gun Factory no longer had to depend upon outside governmental depart-
ments and commercial lithographers. It could now produce illustrations for all kinds of ordnance publications.
For the purpose of saving weight, a start had been made in welded construction to take the place of heavy steel castings. One good example of this during 1938 at the Yard was the deck lugs for the 5-inch 38 twin mounts, destined for three destroyers then under construction. Such castings had previously been made in one piece, but it was found that two parts, cast separately and welded together, served the purpose equally well. Welded construction in a more advanced form appeared in the case of single enclosed 5-inch 38 mounts. A design of welded construction, using high tensile steel plates, was developed for slides, carriages, and base rings of these mounts.
The year 1938 was notable for improvements, which were effected in practically all the ordnance gear under construction. Some of the modifications directly increased the efficiency of the item, while others secured greater interchangeability or cheaper manufacture. Examples of improved gear are quadruple torpedo tubes, 1.1-inch machine guns, 5 and 6-inch mounts, and chromium plated guns.
Both the Inspection Division and its auxiliary, the Metallurgical and Testing Section, were naturally kept very busy under these conditions. The former, consisting of 8 officers and 30 civilians, had inspected every completed article that left the Gun Factory and had in many cases conducted a hundred percent test of all the component parts of such articles as fuses.
The Metallurgical and Testing Section had likewise accomplished a great deal of work. Among its achievements were 425,000 physical tests on engineering materials and nearly 5,000 X-Ray examinations. Heat treatments and chemical analyses ran to nearly 40,000 in the first cast and to over 6,000 specimens.6 There had been 10,282 inspections on shipments of metal received from outside contractors.
The year had also seen considerable progress made in electric welding. A technique, recently developed, allowed the salvaging of practically all defective castings.
1 Report of Gun Foundry Board February 15, 1884, organized by the President in accordance with Act of Congress approved March 3, 1883 (H. Ex. Doc. No. 97, Forty-Eighth Congress, first session), Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1885, p.7.
Source: US Navy. Bureau of Ordnance. U.S. Naval Gun Factory. Chapters 2 and 3, pages 54-126. [Also known as United States Naval Administrative History of World War II, Vol. 129.].
Related Resource: History of the Washington Navy Yard