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Adapted from "Commander Griffith Baily Coale, United States Naval Reserve, Retired" [biography, dated 22 September 1948] in Modern Biographical Files collection, Navy Department Library.

  • Art
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  • Biography
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  • World War II 1939-1945
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  • NHHC-Library

Griffith Coale

21 May 1890-20 August 1950

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Commander Coale was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 21, 1890, son of William Ellis Coale and Mrs. Mary Ella Baily Coale. He is a graduate of Maryland Institute where he was President of the Art Students Association for two years. He studied abroad for three years as a pupil of M. Heyman in Munich, Richard Miller and Lapparra in Paris, and for a short time in Italy and Spain. He painted professional in Baltimore for seven years, during which time he served as Marine Camoufleur E.F.C., US Shipping Board, in 1917-1918.

Moving to New York City in 1922, Commander Coale completed many murals, portraits, and decorative paintings for building in that city, including the New York Trust Company; New York Athletic Club; Lee, Higginson and Company; City Bank Farmers Trust Company; Dry Dock Savings Institution; Home Office of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company; Criminal Courts Building; and others. In 1939 he completed a painting of the visit of the King and Queen of England to Columbia University, to be hung in the University Library, and the following year did two large exterior murals on the Rail Building an the Crosley Building at the New York World’s Fair. He also has many painting in other cities in the East.

A mural painter by profession, Commander Coale is an expert on small boats and ship models and a small boat sailor by choice and avocation. The late Stephen Vincent Benet said of him, “You can’t talk to Coale for half an hour without realizing that his first love is, and remains, the sea, and that he has a wide and accurate knowledge of ships and sailormen, past and present, that he knows as much about salt water as he does about paint”

 Commissioned Lieutenant Commander in the US Naval Reserve to rank from August 8, 1941, he received a spot promotions to the rank of Commander, to date from May 16, 1946. He was transferred to the Retired List of the Navy in the rank of Commander, on November 1, 1947.

Commander Coale’s first assignment took him, aboard a vessel of a convoy, to Iceland. His book, “North Atlantic Patrol,” the log of a seagoing artist, resulted. Illustrated with his painting of the varied activities aboard ship- blacked out quarters, men standing watch in icy weather- it tells of that hazardous journey in the submarine-haunted waters of the North Atlantic. His experience, so vividly portrayed by brush and pen, are a veritable adventure to the reader; to Coale and his comrades, a duty packed with thrills and excitement. This is a book of exciting facts rather than fiction, of men and ships carrying out orders, the Navy its subject- a Navy of glorious history, fine traditions- an old service engaged in a new war.

In the springs of 1942, Commander Coale went to Hawaii, where from the dock at Pearl Harbor he reconstructed in mural design the sneak attack of the Japanese on the morning of December 7, 1941. The Battle of Midway in progress about that time, he packed up his canvas and left to gather material for painting which would record that epic operation. Some of these pictures were brought together to illustrate a second book by Commander Coale, entitled “Victory at Midway,” as masterful as the first.

Commander Coale was next assigned to cover naval action in the Southeast Asia’s Command, under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. He went to India via London and Cairo, and returned through the Pacific, thereby traveling completely around the world. The many and colorful activities of the joint American-Britain Naval forces in the areas visited are the subjects of another great series of pictures.

Commander Coale’s final work for the Navy was a large mural portraying American planes attacking Japanese battleships during the Battle of Midway, featuring the importance of the Navy air arm. This is in the Naval Academy Mess Hall, at Annapolis, Maryland, along with others painted by artists of the Combat Art Section f the Navy’s Public Information Division.

For meritorious service during World War II, in the Atlantic, Pacific, and East Asia Theaters, Commander Coale received Letter of Commendation (with ribbon) from the Secretary of the Navy. He is also entitled to the American Area Campaign Medal; the European-African Middle Eastern Area Campaign Medal; the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.


Published: Wed Apr 07 12:41:11 EDT 2021