1. 100th Anniversary of World War I
On 25 June 1917, the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations dropped dead from exhaustion. The pace and intensity of operations, and the accomplishments of the U.S. Navy in the first three months of the war, were truly astonishing, especially given the lack of pre-war planning. Within two months, aided by the U.S. invention of underway refueling, the U.S. Navy had deployed over 30 destroyers to European waters. These were immediately and effectively integrated into the new British convoy system. The decision to send destroyers overseas was controversial, given the surprise visits of a German merchant U-boat (Deutschland) to Baltimore and a combat U-boat (U-53) to Newport, RI, in 1916, and U-53's subsequent sinking of five merchant ships just outside U.S. territorial waters after leaving Newport. U.S. destroyers were powerless to intervene due to U.S. neutrality at the time. Of great significance, the first U.S. convoy escorted by U.S. warships left New York City on 14 June and arrived safely at St. Nazaire, France with no loss due to U-boats on 26 June, carrying 14,000 troops (including 2,700 U.S. Marines) of the American Expeditionary Force. The arrival of U.S. troops in France so soon was a profound shock to the German High Command, who did not believe that many could be transported so quickly, and a severe embarrassment to the German Navy, who had assured the Kaiser that U-boats would prevent just such an occurrence. Although the vast majority of U.S. troops did not in fact arrive until a year later, the early and safe arrival of initial elements of the AEF was a huge boost to British and French morale and resolve that contributed (along with war material safely transported by sea) to their ability to withstand the great German offensive in the spring of 1918. For more about the U.S. Navy in the first months of the World War I, please see Attachment H-008-1. Attachment H-008-2 is a famous painting from World War I in the U.S. Navy art collection showing the U.S. destroyer Allen (DD-66) escorting the troopship USS Leviathan (formerly the German liner and auxiliary cruiser Vaterland) transporting some of the 2 million U.S. troops that reached France safely thanks to the U.S. Navy.
2. 80th Anniversary of Loss of Amelia Earhart, 2 July 1937
Eighty-years ago, the famous woman aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were lost on a 2,000-mile flight from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island on the trans-Pacific portion of her attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Her disappearance resulted in the largest U.S. Navy search since the disappearance of the tug Conestoga in 1921. The aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-2) was dispatched from San Diego, along with her air group and escorts, to spend several weeks searching the remote (and poorly charted, and therefore dangerous) waters in the vicinity of tiny Howland Island. Earhart most likely ran out of fuel while trying to locate the island and crashed at sea. However, given Earhart's fame (and political connections at the highest levels), her disappearance is arguably considered one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time, and all manner of conspiracy theories and alternative hypotheses have been advanced to explain what happened (and which have sold countless books). There is, however, no credible evidence that she was on any kind of spy mission of Japanese-administered islands on behalf of the U.S. government, although many have tried to make that case. The fuel capacity of her aircraft and the distance off-track of the Japanese Mandate Islands make it virtually impossible that she would have deliberately gone so far off course (in the dark, no less), nor is it likely that she could have ended up there after missing Howland Island (450 nautical miles in a tangential direction). There is some intriguing new information that outside researchers are working on that may soon become public, which suggests she somehow ended up in Japanese hands, but I remain highly skeptical given the fuel/time/distance issues involved.
3. 75th Anniversary of World War II
Torpedo Versus Torpedo: Before World War II, the U.S. Navy received, and ignored, accurate intelligence about the capabilities of the Japanese Type 93 oxygen torpedo ("Long Lance"). More than 3,100 U.S. Sailors perished because the U.S. Navy did not understand or prepare for Japanese night torpedo attack capabilities and tactics. At the same time, U.S. submarine, surface, and air-launched torpedoes, considered by us to be the most sophisticated in the world, repeatedly failed in combat. Countless opportunities to sink Japanese ships early in the war were lost, along with many U.S. lives as a result. In one of the worst instances of attempted blame shifting in U.S. Navy history, the shore establishment (the Bureau of Ordnance, in particular) refused to believe reports from the field that U.S. torpedoes were defective, and not until tests conducted by operational forces (and bad combat experience) were severe shortcomings addressed. Even until 1943 and into 1944, numerous problems remained, and not until late 1944 did U.S. torpedoes evolve into highly effective weapons. For more on what some historians have called the "Great Navy Torpedo Scandal," please see Attachment H-008-3. Attachment H-008-4 is a photo of a Type 93 torpedo outside of the Navy Department ("Main Navy") in Washington, DC, after it had been found washed ashore on Guadalcanal. Only then, too late for many ships and Sailors, did the U.S. Navy begin to have a full appreciation of the weapon's capabilities.
Admiral Ernest J. King, Wartime CNO: Admiral King earned a reputation as the most disliked senior Allied military leader in World War II. Even the normally mild-mannered General Dwight D. Eisenhower suggested that the war effort would be greatly aided if someone would shoot King. Abrasive and blunt, King was nevertheless a brilliant strategist who achieved extraordinary results. He was not anti-British as many have claimed, nor was he against the strategy of "defeat Germany first" agreed by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. However, the British did not believe the Allies would be ready to invade France before 1944 at the earliest, and King argued that in the interim, while the buildup continued, some additional resources should be shifted to the Pacific to take advantage of the victory at Midway. He proposed commencing offensive operations to draw the Japanese into a battle of attrition that the U.S. would eventually win. The results were some truly acrimonious meetings of the U.S. and British Combined Chiefs of Staff that tested the cohesiveness of the Alliance. In King's first months as CNO, he faced profound crises in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, and many historians have blamed him for the U.S. Navy's lack of preparedness to counter the U-boats that (unlike in World War I) Germany immediately sent to the U.S. East Coast. There, before the U.S. was finally able to implement an effective coastal convoy system, they ran amok, sinking over 600 merchant ships in 1942 with a huge loss of life. The disaster that befell the Artic convoy PQ-17 in July 1942 at the hands of German U-boats and torpedo bombers, during which only 11 ships of the 35-ship convoy made it to Russia, contributed to poor relations between King and the British since PQ-17 was the first joint U.S.-British Navy effort and under British Command. King also arguably has some of the best all-time Navy quotes (most of which never made it into Reef Points.) To read more about King (and his quotes), please see Attachment H-008-5.
4. 50th Anniversary of Vietnam War: Forrestal Disaster, 29 July 1967
Fifty years ago, the aircraft carrier Forrestal (CVA-59) suffered a devastating fire while conducting combat strike operations on Yankee Station off North Vietnam. It was initiated by an electrical malfunction that ignited a Zuni rocket, which fired across the flight deck and caused an unstable bomb to cook off, resulting in a series of explosions and a massive fire that killed 134 men, injured 161, and destroyed 21 aircraft. LCDR John S. McCain III was in the cockpit of one of the first two aircraft hit by the rocket. Lessons learned (and in many cases re-learned from World War II) had a profound effect on the U.S. Navy's approach to damage-control training, equipment, and ordnance handling, and in many respects are responsible for the comparatively safe operations of the U.S. Navy today. In recent years, numerous highly inaccurate accounts about the Forrestal fire have appeared on the internet. So, if you would like more detail, as accurate as I could make it, please read Attachment H-008-6.