Welcome to Navy History Matters—our weekly compilation of articles, commentaries, and blogs related to history and heritage. Every week, we’ll gather the top-interest items from a variety of media and social media sources, and then link you to related content at NHHC’s website (history.navy.mil), your authoritative source for Navy history.
Compiled by Brent Hunt, Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach Division
First Nuclear-Powered Frigate Launched—60 Years Ago
On April 15, 1961, the first nuclear-powered frigate, USS Bainbridge, was launched at Quincy, MA. She was commissioned on Oct. 6, 1962. On her maiden voyage, Bainbridge stopped for two days at Newport, RI, where Chief of Naval Operations Adm. George W. Anderson visited the ship. She then continued southward and reached her initial home port of Naval Station, Charleston, SC, on Oct. 13. The Cuban Missile Crisis lent an air of urgency to Bainbridge’s training, and she carried out antisubmarine warfare and gunnery training in the waters stretching from Charleston northward to the Virginia Capes. The ship then completed missile qualification firings on the Atlantic missile range out of San Juan, PR, and additional training off Norfolk, VA, into early 1963. The frigate became the flagship of Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 18 on Feb. 3 1963. Over the course of her more than 30-year career, she served in Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, and Middle East waters. She earned eight battle stars for her service during the Vietnam War. Bainbridge was decommissioned on Sept. 13, 1996. For more on the nuclear Navy, go to NHHC’s website.
Samuel B. Roberts Strikes Mine, Operation Praying Mantis Commenced
On April 14, 1988, during Operation Ernest Will, USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an Iranian mine off Qatar, which blew an immense hole in the ship’s hull. Ten Sailors from Samuel B. Roberts sustained severe injuries, including four who were seriously burned. Cmdr. Paul X. Rinn was hurt as well. The ship should have sunk, but thanks to an extraordinary damage control effort by all hands of an extremely well-trained crew, Samuel B. Roberts was kept afloat. The U.S. response was fierce. Operation Praying Mantis is the largest of five major U.S. Navy surface actions since World War II. It was the first, and so far only, time the U.S. Navy has exchanged surface-to-surface missile fire with an enemy, and it resulted in the largest warship sunk by the U.S. Navy since World War II. In the one-day operation, the U.S. Navy destroyed two Iranian surveillance platforms, sank two of their ships, and severely damaged another.
Preble Hall Podcast
In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, retired Vice Adm. Robert Monroe—U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1950—reflects on the Cold War from North Korea to the Strategic Defense Initiative. From 1977–1980, Monroe was the director of the Defense Nuclear Agency and responsible for many of DoD's nuclear weapons activities, including stockpile management, safety, security, and survivability. The Preble Hall podcast, conducted by personnel at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, MD, interviews historians, practitioners, military personnel, and other experts on a variety of naval history topics from ancient history to more current events.
National Volunteer Week
This year, National Volunteer Week runs April 18–24. Especially with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, it is vital for volunteers to step up when they can safely do so and help those in need. There have been multiple reports of volunteers helping out their favorite non-profit organizations, donating blood, and providing food for those in need and assistance to the elderly. Volunteering in our communities provides immediate assistance, and volunteering for the betterment of others is a win for everyone. Do what you can to help each other during this trying time and make a difference in your own community. For volunteer opportunities related to naval history, visit NHHC’s website.
Meet the Retired U.S. Navy Commander Who Located the Deepest Shipwreck in History
Entrepreneur, explorer, and retired naval officer Victor Vescovo is used to making headlines, but this time it was personal. On March 31, he piloted submersible DSV Limiting Factor to the deepest shipwreck discovery in history—more than 20,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. During the dive, he located a section of wreckage belonging to the World War II destroyer USS Johnston, lost at the Battle off Samar on Oct. 25, 1944. “It was a really special dive for me,” Vescovo said, just hours after the event, while still aboard his vessel DSSV Pressure Drop. “The first book I ever checked out of a library was a military history book, so I’ve been steeped in it my whole life. To be the first person to see the wreck of Johnston was incredibly moving and a real privilege.” The wreck was originally discovered in 2019 by the late Paul Allen’s R/V Petrel, but Vescovo’s team discovered the forward two thirds of the wreck, including its bow, bridge, and mid-section—key to identifying Johnston—which lay deeper than the wreckage parts Allen had sighted. “They discovered portions from the aft part of the ship, which were shattered and broken,” said Vescovo. “We expected to see something similar, yet it appears what they filmed was the wreckage that was blown off the ship when it impacted the surface. The forward two thirds of the ship stayed intact, and we were able to see all of it.” For more, read the article.
Carney Commissioned—25 Years Ago
On April 13, 1996, USS Carney was commissioned at her homeport, Mayport, FL. The destroyer was the 14th of the Arleigh Burke class and the first to be named after Adm. Robert Carney, the Chief of Naval Operations during the Eisenhower administration. On March 20, 2008, U.S. Fifth Fleet revealed that operations by Combined Task Force 150 had disrupted smugglers’ attempts to slip contraband, narcotics, and alcohol past coalition patrols in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden. Guided missile destroyers Carney, USS Winston S. Churchill, and a multinational coalition took part in interceptions that seized illicit cargoes with an estimated street value of more than $30 million. On Oct. 5, 2011, during a NATO conference, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta announced the U.S. intended to forward deploy four Aegis-equipped ships including Carney to Rota, Spain, to provide rapid and responsive support to the U.S. Africa and U.S. Central Commands, as needed. Today, Carney, home to a crew of more than 250 and equipped with some of the world’s most advanced weaponry systems, operates independently or as a member of a Carrier Strike Group or Expeditionary Strike Group carrying out the U.S. Navy’s missions well into the 21st century.
Keel Laid for Future Harvey C. Barnum, Jr.
On April 6, the keel of the future USS Harvey C. Barnum, Jr. was ceremoniously laid at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works Shipyard in Bath, ME. The ship’s namesake, Marine Col. Harvey C. Barnum, Jr., and his wife and ship sponsor, Martha Hill, attended the event. Also, in attendance were Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker and various Maine political leaders. “Colonel Barnum has spent his life in service to our country, and it is an honor to lay the keel of his ship,” said Capt. Seth Miller, DDG 51–class program manager. “This ship and all who serve aboard it will be a reminder of the honor, courage, and commitment that Colonel Barnum embodies.” Barnum served two tours during the Vietnam War. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions against communist forces at Ky Phu in Quang Tin Province in December 1965. His company came under a hail of extremely accurate enemy fire and was quickly separated from the remainder of their battalion. “His sound and swift decisions and his obvious calm served to stabilize the badly decimated units and his gallant example as he stood exposed repeatedly to point out targets served as an inspiration to all,” stated his Medal of Honor citation. For more, read the U.S. Navy press release.
Webpage of the Week
This week’s Webpage of the Week was recently been updated in NHHC’s DANFS index. USS Johnston was commissioned on Oct. 27, 1943, with Lt. Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans in command. Johnston joined Seventh Fleet’s Escort Task Unit 77.4.3—call sign “Taffy 3”—in October 1944, tasked to defend the northern Leyte Gulf, east of Samar and off San Bernardino Strait, and the Leyte beachhead for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines. On Oct. 25, a pilot reported the powerful Japanese Center Force steaming into Leyte Gulf heading directly toward Johnston and her small escort carrier task unit. Despite being heavily outmatched, Evans gave the order to attack a major portion of the Japanese fleet, seriously damaging a Japanese heavy cruiser. Noticing the Japanese ships were targeting escort carrier USS Gambier Bay, Evans gave the order to “commence firing on that cruiser, draw her fire on us and away from Gambier Bay.” One by one, Johnston took on Japanese destroyers, although Johnston had no torpedoes and limited firepower after her initial engagements. After two and a half hours, Johnston—dead in the water—was surrounded by enemy ships. At 9:45 a.m., Evans gave the order to abandon ship. Twenty-five minutes later, the destroyer rolled over and began to sink. Check out this very detailed ship history page today. It has been updated to reflect the recent discovery of wreckage positively identified as Johnston and new imagery that has never been published before has been added.
Today in Naval History
On April 13, 1960, the Navy's navigation satellite, Transit 1B, which demonstrated the first engine restart in space and the feasibility of using satellites as navigational aids, was placed into orbit from Cape Canaveral, FL, by a Thor-Able-Star rocket. Transit spacecraft were developed for updating the inertial navigation systems on U.S. Navy Polaris submarines, and later for civilian use. The receivers used the known characteristics of the satellite’s orbit, measured the Doppler shift of the satellite’s radio signal, and thus calculated the receiver’s position on Earth. Transit 1B was able to provide positional fixes to within 400 meters on the surface of the Earth, although the navigation satellite began to fail about three months after it was launched. For more on the Navy’s exploration and innovation efforts, go to NHHC’s website.
- Medal of Honor
- Marine Corps-USMC
- DANFS (Dictionary of American Fighting Ships)
- Counter-drug Operations
- Historical Summary
- Cold War
- World War II 1939-1945
- Vietnam Conflict 1962-1975
- Image (gif, jpg, tiff)