United States Navy

Anchors Aweigh

Something for the weekend.  Anchors Aweigh.  The fight song of the United States Naval Academy, it was composed in 1906 with music by Charles A. Zimmerman and lyrics by Alfred Hart Miles.  Universally regarded as the song of the United States Navy, it has never been officially adopted, although that has not stopped it being loved by most of the sailors who have served in Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Father of the United States Navy

 

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(First published in 2009, the 238th birthday of the United States Navy is a good day to post it again.)

 

 

1745 was a busy year in the history of the misnamed British Isles, with Bonnie Prince Charlie doing his best to end the reign of the Hanover Dynasty in England, so I guess it is excusable that no note was taken of the birth date of John Barry in Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland.  During his childhood John received, along with all the other excellent reasons given to Irish Catholics over the centuries to love Britannia, good reason to look askance at the British when his father was evicted from his poor little farm by their British landlord, and the family went to live in the village of Rosslare.

Yet the nameless landlord, completely unintentionally of course, did John a good turn, because it was in Rosslare that young John found his life’s calling:  the Sea.  Nicholas Barry, his uncle, lived there and was captain of a fishing skiff.  John decided to follow in the footsteps of his uncle and seek his fortunes on water.

This was a completely rational choice on the part of John.  The British imposed penal laws, summarized by the great Edmund Burke as follows:   “For I must do it justice;  it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts.   It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”   Rendered helots in their own land,  almost all ambitious Irish Catholic lads and lasses had to seek their fortunes elsewhere.  Additionally, for a poor ambitious young man in Europe in the Eighteenth Century, the Sea offered a path to wealth and social advancement.  If he was willing to work hard, learn to read, and learn enough math to chart the course of a ship, a poor sailor, with luck, could rise to be captain of a ship one day.  Compensation for the crew of a merchant vessel was often based on a share of the profits, with the merchants who bankrolled the vessel usually taking between a half to two-thirds with the remainder being divided among the crew:  the greater the rank, the larger the share.  An able captain could eventually become a wealthy merchant.  His daughters might marry into the aristocracy.  His sons might become wealthy bankers and eventually be ennobled if they played their political cards right.  Although this path was precluded to Irish Catholics by the anti-Catholic Test Act, a poor sailor in the Royal Navy might end his days as an admiral, and there were always a few admirals in the Royal Navy in the Eighteenth Century who had begun their careers in just such a fashion.

However, if the Sea offered opportunities it also had severe risks.  Life aboard ship was cramped and unpleasant, with bad food and putrid water tossed in as a garnish.  Discipline was often brutal and risk to life and limb was an every day occurence.  According to Dr. Samuel Johnson,  “No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.”   Ports were filled with crippled sailors who eked out a miserable existence with any light work they could get, selling wood carvings and begging.  As Lord Nelson noted, the average British sailor, due to a hard life, was dead by forty-five.

Defying all challenges, John flourished at sea.  Flying through the ranks of cabin boy, seaman, able seaman and a mate’s rating, he proved himself tough and determined.  It also didn’t hurt that he was as strong as a sea-going ox, and grew into a giant  of a man, standing six foot and four inches in a time when the average height of an adult male was five feet and five inches.  During his career he would suppress three mutinies aboard his ships single handedly, and his great physical strength was a key asset in the very rough world afloat.  In 1766 he achieved his dream of becoming a captain and skippered the Barbados with a home port of Philadelphia.  It was on the Barbados that he began his habit, that he kept up in peace and war, in having the day start with a reading from the Bible to the crew.  Captain Barry fell in love with Phillie, a town where he could freely practice his Catholic faith, and a bustling, prosperous port. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Happy Birthday Swabbies!

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I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.

Captain John Paul Jones, November 16, 1778

 

Resolved, That 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 cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruize eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct.

That a Committee of three be appointed to prepare an estimate of the expence, and lay the same before the Congress, and to contract with proper persons to fit out the vessel.

Resolved, that another vessel be fitted out for the same purposes, and that the said committee report their opinion of a proper vessel, and also an estimate of the expence.”

Continental Congress, October 13, 1775 →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Black Cats Hunt by Night

World War II in the Pacific was often an improvisational war for the US in the early years, before US war industries came fully on line and the US buried Japan under a wave of ships and planes to seize control of the air and the sea.  Before that took place, the US had to fight cagily and make do.  No better example of this spirit of improvisation can be found than the PBY Catalina night bomber squadrons that wreaked havoc on Japanese shipping in daring nighttime raids seventy years ago.

The PBY Catalina flying boat, was an amphibious plane and the workhorse plane for the US in the Pacific.  Used for everything from anti-submarine patrols, to air-sea rescue and cargo transport, its most unusual incarnation was as a night bomber against Japanese shipping. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

“We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours”

A guest post by my friend Jay Anderson of Pro Ecclesia:

Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie by Currier and Ives.

On this day 200 years ago – 10 September 1813, Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry, United States Navy, won a resounding victory over a British fleet near Put-in-Bay, Ohio, in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812:

At dawn on the morning of September 10, 1813, a lookout spotted six  British vessels to the northwest of Put-in-Bay beyond Rattlesnake  Island. Immediately Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry issued a  flurry of orders and made preparations to sail forth to engage the  British.   

Oliver Hazard Perry by Gilbert Stuart

With Perry’s fleet on Lake Erie the British supply route from Fort  Malden to Port Dover had been severed. The British had to either fight,  or abandon Fort Malden. The British squadron consisted of six ships with sixty-three cannons, while the American flotilla comprised nine vessels and fifty-four guns. The British were armed with long guns that could  throw a cannonball approximately one mile, accurately to about one-half  mile. The American ships primarily armed with carronades had less than  half the range of a long gun. The carronades could inflict much more  damage at close range. Perry needed the wind to his back to close within carronade range. When the squadron sailed from Put-in-Bay harbor at 7 a.m. the American  vessels were steering west-northwest; the wind was blowing from the  west-southwest. For more than two hours Perry repeatedly tacks his ships in an effort to put the wind to his back, but with no success. The  frustrated Perry, conceded to mother nature at 10 a.m., issuing orders  to turn his fleet in the opposite direction. But before the order could  be executed the wind suddenly shifted and blew from the southeast,  placing the wind directly behind the Americans. Perry’s opponent, Commander Robert Heriot Barclay, was an experienced  Royal Navy officer who had fought with Lord Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805, and two years later he lost an arm fighting the French. Barclay’s  options did not alter when the wind shifted, so the Scotsman pointed his bow sprits to the westward, and hove to in line of battle. With the wind at his back and the British battle line finally revealed,  Perry made his own tactical adjustments. The Schooners Ariel and  Scorpion were placed off the flagship’s weather bow to engage the first  British vessel and to prevent the enemy from raking his fleet. The  Lawrence, a 20-gun brig serving as Perry’s flagship, was third in line  and would engage the Detroit, Barclay’s 19-gun flagship. Next in line  floated the Caledonia, a small brig with only three guns. Fifth in the  American line of battle was the Niagara, Perry’s other 20-gun brig and  the Lawrence’s sistership. The Niagara, captained by Master Commandant Jesse Elliott, would engage  the 17-gun Queen Charlotte, the second largest British ship. Lastly came the smaller schooners and sloop; these would engage the smaller British vessels. Just before the engagement opened Perry hoisted his battle flag to the  flagship’s main truck. The large navy blue banner was emblazoned with  the crudely inscribed words, “DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP”. For his battle  slogan Perry used the dying words of Captain James Lawrence, a friend of the commodore who was killed on June 1, 1813. Perry’s flagship was  named for the fallen Lawrence, and the dead hero’s inspiring words  clearly indicated Perry’s determination to prevail.

Perry’s Battle Flag, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”
U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, MD →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Song of the Seabees

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Construimus, Batuimus (We Build, We Fight)

Something for the weekend.  Judy Garland singing The Song of the Seabees seems appropriate for a Labor Day weekend.

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At the outset of World War II, the Navy faced a task of unbelievable difficulty.  Around the globe, and especially in the Pacific, the Navy would be fighting in regions practically untouched by the modern world.  Everything to support military operations would have to be built from scratch:  bases, ports, airstrips, and an endless parade of other facilities.  The task was daunting, perhaps impossible.  However, the Navy had a secret weapon:  the American worker. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The American Revolution at Sea

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I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.

Captain John Paul Jones, November 16, 1778

Yesterday was the 237th birthday of the United States Navy.  On October 13, 1775 the Continental Congress passed the following resolutions:

Resolved, That 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 cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruize eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct.

That a Committee of three be appointed to prepare an estimate of the expence, and lay the same before the Congress, and to contract with proper persons to fit out the vessel.

Resolved, that another vessel be fitted out for the same purposes, and that the said committee report their opinion of a proper vessel, and also an estimate of the expence.”

Congress thus threw down the gauntlet against the mightiest sea power in the world.  Vastly outnumbered by the Royal Navy, the United States Navy gave a good account of itself, raiding British commerce, bringing desperately needed supplies to Washington’s Continental Army, shipping diplomats like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to Europe to enlist the aid of France and other sympathetic countries, and demonstrating to an astonished world, again and again, that it was possible to beat a British warship in battle, as John Paul Jones did commanding the USS Bonhomme Richard against HMS Serapis on September 23, 1779:

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Padre of Guadalcanal

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(This is a post I did in 2009.  It seemed appropriate to repost it today.  Father Gehring pray for us that we may have the courage to face our challenges in life and win victories over them.)

 

Frederic Gehring was probably lucky that he was born and reared in Brooklyn.  It has always been a tough town and it prepared him for the adventurous life he was to lead.  Born on January 20, 1903,  he went on to attend and graduated from Saint John’s Prep.  Setting his eyes on being a missionary priest, he entered the minor seminary of the Vincentians, Saint Joseph’s, near Princeton,  New Jersey.  Earning his BA in 1925, he entered the seminary of Saint Vincent’s in Philadelphia.

Ordained as a priest on May 22, 1930, he was unable to immediately go to China due to military activity of the Communists in Kiangsi province.  For three years he traveled throughout the US raising funds for the missions in China, and, at long last, in 1933 he was able to pack his bags and sailed for China.  Laboring in the Chinese missions from 1933-1939 in the midst of warlordism, civil war and the invasion of China, commencing in 1937, by Japan must have been tough, but Father Gehring was always up to any challenge.  For example,  in 1938 Japanese planes strafed a mission he was at.  Father Gehring ran out waving a large American flag in hopes that the Japanese would not wish to offend a powerful neutral nation and would stop the strafing.  The Japanese planes did fly off, and Father Gehring was pleased until someone at the mission pointed out that maybe the Japanese had simply run out of ammo!  In 1939 Father Gerhring returned to the States to raise funds for the missions.

 

Immediately following Pearl Harbor, Father Gehring joined the Navy as a Chaplain.  In September 1942 he began an unforgettable six month tour of duty with the First Marine Division fighting on Guadalcanal.  Marines, although they are often loathe to admit it, are a component of the Department of the Navy, and the US Navy supplies their support troops, including chaplains.  (One of my friends served as a Navy corpsman with a Marine unit in Vietnam.  After his tour with the Navy he enlisted with the Marines, was commissioned a Lieutenant, and spent his entire tour with a detachment of Marines aboard an aircraft carrier.  As he puts it, he joined the Navy and spent his time slogging through the mud with Marines.  He then joined the Marines and spent his time sailing with the Navy.)

Guadalcanal marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific.  In August 1942 the US went on the offensive for the first time when the First Marine Division, the Old Breed,  landed on Guadalcanal and took the Japanese air base there.  This set off a huge six month campaign, where US forces, often outnumbered on land, sea and in the air, fought and defeated the Imperial Army and Navy.  The importance of Guadalcanal is well captured in this quote from Admiral William “Bull” Halsey: “Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure. After Guadalcanal, he retreated at ours”.

Guadalcanal

Upon arrival on Guadalcanal, Lieutenant Gehring quickly became known as “Padre “ to the men of the Old Breed, the title usually bestowed upon chaplains, especially if they were Catholic priests.  He soon became known for wanting to be where the fighting was in order to help the wounded and administer the Last Rites.  Initially this took some of the Marines by surprise.  Jumping into a foxhole during a heavy fire fight, a shocked Marine already in the foxhole, noticing the crucifix dangling from his neck, cried out to him, “Padre, what are you doing here?”  Gehring calmly replied, “Where else would I be?”  He would routinely say Masses so close to the fighting, that the Marines said that he would say Mass in Hell for Marines if he could drive his jeep there.  The Marines quickly decided that it was a lost cause asking the Padre to stay behind the lines.  They were doing well if they could convince him to stay within friendly lines!  Three times he went out on behind the line missions to rescue trapped missionaries on the island, mostly Marist priests and sisters, rescuing 28 of them, assisted by natives of the Solomons.  For this feat he was the first Navy chaplain to be awarded the Legion of Merit by the President. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Guadalcanal: America Turns the Tide

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Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure. After Guadalcanal, he retreated at ours.

Admiral William “Bull” Halsey

Seventy years ago Marines of the First Division, The Old Breed, launched the first offensive of America in World War II, by landing on Guadalcanal and seized the Japanese air strip, named Henderson Field by the Marines.  This set off a huge six month campaign, where US forces, often outnumbered on land, sea and in the air, fought and defeated the Imperial Army and Navy.

Once the Marines seized Henderson, the Japanese commenced a cycle of shipping troops by sea to Guadalcanal, called by Marines the Tokyo Express, to take it back.  The Imperial Navy, waged battle after battle with the US Navy to cut the supply line of the Marines. In the skies above Guadalcanal the Japanese sent wave after wave of fighters and bombers to establish air supremacy and to make Henderson unusable through bombing.

The Japanese were unable to establish air supremacy due to the “Cactus Air Force”, Cactus being the Allied code name for Guadalcanal, heavily outnumbered Marine aviators, who, operating under the most primitive conditions imaginable, successfully contested Japanese control of the air, and, eventually, with American carrier based air, established American air supremacy above Guadalcanal.

The US Navy, in seven large battles against its Japanese counterpart, eventually established naval supremacy in the seas around Guadalcanal.  The battles were hammer and tongs affairs, with some of the most desperate naval fighting in the entire War.

The Marines on Guadalcanal learned many useful lessons in fighting and beating the Japanese: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Sunday in Paradise

 

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Lieutenant j.g. Aloysius Schmitt had just finished morning mass aboard the USS Oklahoma.  Acting chaplain of the Okie, a Sunday meant a busy day for him, a relaxed day for almost everyone else on board the ship.  Since they were in port and the country was at peace a Sunday was a day of rest.  Besides,  the port was a tropical paradise.  Life was good for the crew of the Okie.

Father Schmitt, born on December 4, 1909, was an Iowan, about as far from the sea as it is possible to be in the US.  Studying in Rome for the priesthood, he was ordained on December 8, 1935.  After serving at parishes in Dubuque Iowa and Cheyenne, Wyoming, Father Schmitt received permission to join the Navy and was commissioned a Lieutenant j.g. on June 28, 1939.

On December 7, 1941 at 8:00 AM the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor began.  The Oklahoma and the other battleships on battleship row were the primary targets.  Alarms began to sound on the Oklahoma, and the ship was hit almost immediately by nine torpedoes from Japanese torpedo bombers.  The ship began to list badly and every sailor knew that it was probably just a few minutes before the Okie would capsize. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Fighting SeaBees

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Construimus, Batuimus (We Build, We Fight)

At the outset of World War II, the Navy faced a task of unbelievable difficulty.  Around the globe, and especially in the Pacific, the Navy would be fighting in regions practically untouched by the modern world.  Everything to support military operations would have to be built from scratch:  bases, ports, airstrips, and an endless parade of other facilities.  The task was daunting, perhaps impossible.  However, the Navy had a secret weapon:  the American worker.

Forming Navy Construction Battalions, (C-Bs), the Navy turned to the civilian construction trades and asked for volunteers.  The response was overwhelming with civilian workers flocking to the task, and placed under the leadership of Navy officers.  These were older men, the average age of the volunteers being 37, and masters in their trades.  They formed the bedrock of the eventual 325,000 men who would serve in the Seabees during the War.  By V-J Day they had completed construction projects on six continents and 300 islands, many of the islands bearing strange and unfamiliar names like Guadalcanal, Tinian, Saipan, Tarawa and Iwo Jima.  They went about their work often under fire, sometimes participating directly in combat, and usually in conditions that were miserable beyond belief.  Tropical jungles, deserts, alpine mountains, arctic wastelands, nothing stopped them from doing their jobs, and usually completing their tasks ahead of schedule. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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