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
Happy 246th Birthday U.S. Navy
Throughout the world, U.S. Navy Sailors, veterans, family members, civilians, and friends celebrate the Navy’s 246th birthday tomorrow, Oct. 13. On that day in 1775, a resolution by the Continental Congress established what is now the United States Navy with “a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruize of three months….” After the American Revolution, the U.S. Constitution empowered the new Congress “to provide and maintain a navy.” Acting on this authority, Congress established the Department of the Navy on April 30, 1798. In 1972, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt authorized official recognition of Oct. 13 as the birthday of the U.S. Navy. Since then, each CNO has encouraged a Navy-wide celebration of this occasion “to enhance a greater appreciation of our Navy heritage, and to provide a positive influence toward pride and professionalism in the naval service.” For more on The Birth of the U.S. Navy, visit NHHC’s website.
NPS, U.S. Navy to Host 80th National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
On Dec. 7, the National Park Service and Navy Region Hawaii, with support from Pacific Historic Parks, are scheduled to host the 80th National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration on Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam’s Kilo Pier. The ceremony will honor the more than 2,000 killed in the Pearl Harbor attack. World War II came to the United States of America on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, with a massive surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy. “Like a thunderclap from a clear sky,” Japanese carrier attack planes (in both torpedo and high-level bombing roles), supported by fighters, numbering 353 aircraft from six aircraft carriers, attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in two waves, as well as nearby naval and military airfields and bases. The enemy sank five battleships and damaged three; and sank a gunnery training ship, three destroyers, damaged a heavy cruiser, three light cruisers, two destroyers, two seaplane tenders, two repair ships, and a destroyer tender. For more information on the ceremony, read the article.
Preble Hall Podcast
In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, U.S. Naval Academy associate professor Marcus O. Jones interviews retired Navy Capt. Peter M. Swartz. They talk about his career and unique insight into strategic planning in the U.S. Navy in the late and immediate post–Cold War periods. (NHHC previously published a fascinating oral history interview with Capt. Swartz.) 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.
Sailor Killed at Pearl Harbor Laid to Rest Decades Later
After nearly 80 years, a Sailor killed during the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack was recently laid to rest at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. Navy Steward’s Mate 2nd Class Jesus Garcia was just 21 years old when he was killed, serving aboard USS Oklahoma at the time of Japan’s infamous attack. Garcia was among hundreds of unidentified service members who were killed and then buried in Honolulu during World War II. They remained unidentified for decades. However, in 2015, a team with the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) exhumed the unknown remains and began to reexamine them using modern forensic technology. In 2003, there were 394 Sailors and Marines unaccounted for that were onboard Oklahoma. Today, more than 200 of those unknown service members from Oklahoma have been positively identified. For more on Garcia, read the article. For more on the USS Oklahoma Project, visit DPAA’s website.
Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s Little Piece of German Heritage
Norfolk Naval Shipyard has a little known history of German heritage. When World War I broke out in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress stating that the United States would remain neutral. Meanwhile, Germany ordered its civilian ship crews to become raiders and loot allied merchant ships of their coal and supplies before sinking them. Two of these German ships were Kronprinz Wihelm and Prinz Eitel Friedrich. They were considered two of the country’s finest luxury liners. After spending months at sea without seeing a port, both ships fell into disrepair. Their options were limited and most ports wouldn’t accept them. However, due to the neutrality of the United States at the time, they were able to pull into Newport News Shipbuilding for much-needed repairs. Due to legalities, the ships were not allowed to stay at Newport News Shipbuilding after the repairs were completed, so the two German vessels moved to the Norfolk Navy Yard. Due to the British fleet nearby, the ships were unable to make it back to Germany. The two captains, as unhappy as they were, decided to have the two vessels interned at Norfolk, which meant sitting out the rest of the war. Approximately 1,000 German merchant sailors were allowed to take leave and freely socialize with the people of Portsmouth. After six German officers escaped with a yacht they purchased, the remaining sailors were restricted to their ships and nearby shoreline. The sailors decided to take a creative route to deal with the restrictions. They gathered scrap material and built themselves a small German village on the shipyard waterfront near the area of Dry Dock 4. For more on the village, read the article.
Five of the Rarest Unofficial U.S. Navy “Certificates”
The U.S. Navy has plenty of interesting and unique milestones for Sailors to make every effort to achieve. Though they may never appear on official paperwork, they are fun bragging rights. By accomplishing several feats, Sailors are inducted into an unofficial “order,” which in many cases warrants a specific tattoo. For instance, if you see a Sailor with a shellback tattoo, it means they were on official duty when they crossed the line (Equator). A golden shellback is even more impressive. It means they have crossed both the International Date Line and the Equator. Even rarer, crossing at the Prime Meridian grants Sailors access into the Order of the Emerald Shellback. There is also the Ebony Shellback for crossing the Equator at Lake Victoria (which is almost entirely in Ugandan waters) and a top-secret shellback for members of the submarine force who cross the equator at a “classified” degree of longitude. For more unofficial certificates, read the article. For more Naval Customs and Traditions, visit NHHC’s website.
Enterprise Engaged Multiple Pirate Ships—200 Years Ago
On Oct. 16, 1821, the schooner Enterprise, commanded by Lawrence Kearny, engaged four pirate schooners and one pirate sloop off Cape Antonio, Cuba, who were in the act of robbing two American vessels and one British ship. The pirate leader, Charles Gibbs, escaped to shore, but his ship and two others were burned. The remaining ships were sent to Charleston, SC, as prizes. During this tour in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, Enterprise took a total of 13 prizes. She began protecting American interests almost immediately after she was launched in 1799. In December of that year, Enterprise departed the Delaware Capes for the Caribbean to protect U.S. merchantmen from the depredations of French privateers during the Quasi-War with France. Within the following year, Enterprise captured eight privateers and liberated 11 American vessels from captivity. During the War of 1812, Enterprise sighted and chased British brig Boxer on Sept. 5, 1813. The brigs opened fire on each other, and in a closely fought, fierce action, which took the lives of both commanding officers, Enterprise captured Boxer and took her into nearby Portland, ME. After repairs, she captured three more prizes with brig Rattlesnake in the Caribbean. Her long career ended on July 9, 1823, when, without injury to her crew, she ran aground and broke up on Little Curacao Island in the West Indies.
Cassin Torpedoed Off Coast of Ireland, First Enlisted Sailor Killed in Action during World War I
On Oct. 15, 1917, USS Cassin was torpedoed by German submarine U-61 off the coast of Ireland. Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Osmond Kelly Ingram spotted the incoming torpedo and, realizing it could hit near the depth charges at the ship’s stern, ran aft in an attempt to release them before the torpedo impacted. However, the torpedo struck the ship before he was able to release the depth charges. For his extraordinary heroism, Ingram was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Ingram was the first U.S. Navy enlisted Sailor killed in action during World War I. In 1919, Ingram became the first enlisted man to have a ship named for him, USS Osmond Ingram.
Webpage of the Week
This week’s Webpage of the Week is one that has recently been revamped in NHHC’s Notable Ships section. USS Nautilus was commissioned at Groton, CT, on Sept. 30, 1954, with Cmdr. Eugene P. Wilkinson as the boat’s first commander. The construction of Nautilus—the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine—was made possible by the successful development of a nuclear propulsion plant by a group of scientists and engineers, under the leadership of Capt. Hyman G. Rickover, at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission. On June 9, 1958, Nautilus departed Seattle to conduct the highly secret “Operation Sunshine,” a fully submerged transit under the North Pole. However, the first attempt was blocked by drift ice in the relatively shallow waters of the Chukchi Sea, and the submarine returned to Pearl Harbor. Her second attempt, begun on July 23, proved successful. Nautilus submerged in the Barrow Sea on Aug. 1, transited the geographic North Pole on Aug. 3, and, after running submerged an additional 96 hours, surfaced off Greenland on Aug. 7. The commanding officer, Cmdr. William R. Anderson, and the crew were subsequently personally congratulated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. For more on the ground-breaking submarine, check out the page today. It contains a short history, suggested reading, selected imagery, and much more.
Today in Naval History
On Oct. 12, 2000, USS Cole was attacked by terrorists in a small boat laden with explosives during a brief refueling stop in the harbor of Aden, Yemen. The blast killed 17 members of the ship's crew, wounded 39 others, and seriously damaged the ship. In the aftermath of the explosion, the crew of Cole fought tirelessly to free shipmates trapped by the twisted wreckage and limit flooding that threatened to sink the ship. The crew’s prompt actions to isolate damaged electrical systems and contain fuel oil ruptures prevented catastrophic fires that could have engulfed the ship and cost the lives of countless men and women. The crew conducted more than 96 hours of sustained damage control in conditions of extreme heat and stress. Deprived of sleep, food, and shelter, they vigilantly battled to preserve a secure perimeter and restore stability to engineering systems that were vital to saving the ship.
- Theater of Operations--American
- Medal of Honor
- Theater of Operations--Pacific
- Terrorist Attack
- War of 1812 1812-1815
- World War I 1917-1918
- World War II 1939-1945
- Image (gif, jpg, tiff)