Exploits of Our Fledgling Navy

The commissioning of Commodore Esek Hopkins’ ship, the USS ALFRED

by Tara Ross

On this day in 1776, the Continental Navy captures the HMS Bolton. The Bolton was the second British ship to be captured in only two days.

The episode marked the first time that an American ship had been able to take an armed British ship. What a moment that must have been! If only the Americans could have maintained their momentum.

Instead, they suffered an embarrassing loss the very next day at the hands of the HMS Glasgow.

Commodore Esek Hopkins’s newly created fleet of Continental Navy ships was then returning from its maiden voyage to the Bahamas. The voyage had been a smashing success! The Americans had completed a daring raid on Nassau, and they’d taken a huge stash of ammunition for American forces.

At first, it seemed that the trip home might produce even more naval successes for the Americans. On April 4, Hopkins’s fleet spotted and captured a British ship near Long Island: the 6-gun Hawke. The next day, Americans captured the 12-gun Bolton.

Unfortunately, those victories would come at a cost.

Hopkins could not keep the British ships as prizes without also moving some of his sailors to the two captured ships. Of course, he didn’t really have enough men to begin with. So while the British captures increased the size of his fleet, now his ships were badly undermanned, too.

It wouldn’t be long before the American fleet would feel the effects of the move.

Just after midnight on April 6, a portion of Hopkins’s fleet crossed paths with the HMS Glasgow. Could Glasgow be a third prize ship? A signal was given and five of Hopkins’s ships were soon gathered, ready to attack.

The battle that followed lasted for more than two hours. The Glasgow was smaller than the American flagship, but her men were well-trained and efficient. By contrast, the Americans were not used to working together, and their ships were undermanned to begin with. “Two hours had passed,” historian Tim McGrath notes, “before three American ships were in a position to fight in unison.”

Only then did the Americans begin to get the better of Glasgow, prompting the British ship to withdraw. The Americans took off in pursuit, until Hopkins came to a startling realization: Glasgow was leading him straight toward a squadron of British vessels. There was no way that the battered American ships could withstand a second, larger battle. Hopkins turned his ships around.

All in all, the episode was a bit of an embarrassment for the new Continental Navy. How could Americans lose to a British ship when they’d outnumbered it so badly?!

Fortunately, the Navy’s story does not end there. Perhaps the sailors would have been encouraged if they could have seen what would eventually happen to their fledgling Continental Navy.

After all, that little navy was a predecessor for a far more powerful fighting force: the United States Navy!

P.S. The painting is of Hopkins’s ship, the Alfred, being commissioned in 1775.

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Editor’s Note:

The guest author of today’s article is one who frequently contributes here: Tara Ross. Ms. Ross is a mother, wife, writer, and retired lawyer. She is the author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule,Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.), & We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College. She is a constitutionalist, but with a definite libertarian streak! You can follow her for information on pretty much anything to do with the Electoral College, George Washington, & our wonderfully rich American heritage.


Anniversary of USS CONSTITUTION Launch

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Here is the story of America’s oldest warship, still serving on the commissioned rolls of the US Navy after 321 years: the USS CONSTITUTION, as told by historian and writer Tara Ross.

By Tara Ross

On this day in 1797, Old Ironsides is launched!

“Old Ironsides” is the nickname that was given to the USS Constitution, one of the first six frigates built for the U.S. Navy during the early years of our country. Initially, the frigate was used in the Quasi War with France and the Barbary Wars, but it is perhaps most famous for its performance during the War of 1812. The USS Constitution defeated four English warships!

A former captain of USS Constitution, Tyrone G. Martin, later wrote a history of the ship. He describes the effect of these victories: “The losses suffered by the Royal Navy were no more than pinpricks to that great fleet: They neither impaired its battle readiness nor disrupted the blockade of American ports. . . . What Constitution and her sister [ship] did accomplish was to uplift American morale spectacularly and, in the process, end forever the myth that the Royal Navy was invincible.”

The ship earned its nickname during a battle fought on August 19, 1812.

On that day, the USS Constitution encountered the HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia. The two ships got within about 50 yards of each other and began firing their cannons. The Constitution was causing great damage to the British ship, even as the British cannon balls were bouncing off the hard oak sides of the Constitution. One of the American crewmen saw what was happening and was heard to yell: “Huzza! Her sides are made of iron!”

The nickname “Old Ironsides” was born!

The British surrendered roughly one hour after the attack began. The Guerriere was badly damaged and had to be sunk after the battle. The British captain later reported: “The Guerriere was so cut up, that all attempts to get her in would have been useless. As soon as the wounded were got out of her, they set her on fire; and I feel it my duty to state that the conduct of [American] Captain Hull and his Officers to our Men has been that of a brave Enemy.”

If the victory provided a psychological boost to Americans, it seems that it was equally demoralizing to the British. The London Times mournfully reported: “Never before in the history of the world did an English frigate strike to an American.”

Old Ironsides has been preserved and can still be seen at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Massachusetts. It’s well worth the visit!
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John S. McCain III: US Senator, US Naval Aviator, and Vietnam Prisoner of War dies at 81

 

 

John S. McCain III, senior Republican Senator from Arizona, passed away today from brain cancer. He was 81 years old.

Just yesterday, his family and he announced he had decided to cease taking his medications for the cancer. He must have known then that the end was near.

Senator McCain came from a line of distinguished naval officers. His father and his grandfather were both Admirals in the US Navy. Senator McCain also served in the Navy, flying A-1 Skyraiders on the aircraft carriers USS INTREPID (CV 11) and USS ENTERPRISE (CV 6). Later, he requested a combat assignment and flew A-4 Skyhawks aboard the USS FORRESTAL (CV 59) and USS ORISKANY (CV 34). It was while serving in FORRESTAL that his aircraft was involved in a shipboard fire that resulted in 134 Sailors dying in the fire. He was transferred to ORISKANY soon afterward. It was on October 26, 1967, while flying combat missions as a Lieutenant Commander from ORISKANY that he was shot down over Vietnam, captured, and held as a Prisoner of War. He was ultimately released from imprisonment in North Vietnam after five and a half years on March 14, 1973. He retired from the United States Navy on April 1, 1981, at the rank of Captain after 22 years of service.

Senator McCain was elected to Congress as a Republican US Representative from Arizona in 1983. Senator McCain advanced to serving in the US Senate in January, 1987, after his election in November, 1986. He frequently referred to himself as a “maverick Republican” during his time in the Senate.

He published his memoir, Faith of My Fathers, in August, 1999. He ran against Texas Governor George W. Bush in the Republican primaries, losing to Governor Bush who would go on to win the presidency in 2000. Senator McCain ran again in 2008, as the Republican standard bearer, but lost the presidency to President Barack Obama.

Senator McCain served six terms as the Republican Senator from Arizona. He last cast a vote in the US Senate in December, 2017, after which, he returned to Arizona to continue treatment for brain cancer.

He and his family announced yesterday that he would no longer undergo cancer treatment. He died today, August 25, 2018, at 4:28 p.m. local time, surrounded by his wife, Cindy (Hensley) McCain, and his family.

Rest In Peace, Shipmate. We have the Watch.

 

 

 

Another Momentous Day in the US Navy

 

Today is a momentous day in the US Navy.   It was on this day, August 3, 1945, that the last of the survivors of the sinking of the USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA 35), were pulled from the waters of the Pacific Ocean.  They had floated there since the sinking of their ship, four days before on July 30, 1945, by a Japanese submarine.

The INDIANAPOLIS had been on a secret mission to deliver the parts for Little Boy, the first atomic bomb, to Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean.  The bomb would be dropped on August 6, 1945, on Hiroshima, Japan, leading to the unconditional surrender of the Japanese and the end of World War II.

After delivering the bomb parts, the ship departed for Guam and then on to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, but was sunk en route.  Of the 1,200 Sailors aboard the INDIANAPOLIS, about 900 survived the initial torpedoes and went into the water.  Of those 900 men only 316 Sailors would survive the next four days, floating in the shark-infested waters of the Pacific before being rescued.

Here is Texas historian and author Tara Ross’ account of the rescue of these brave men as the last survivors are pulled from the water at dusk on August 3, 1945.  May they all Rest In Peace.

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By Tara Ross (c)

On this day in 1945, the last survivors of the USS Indianapolis are pulled from the Pacific Ocean. They’d been there since a Japanese submarine had torpedoed and sunk Indianapolis on July 30.

They had just finished delivering parts for the Little Boy atomic bomb to American bombers! Now, because of communication gaffes, their ship was missing, but no one knew it. (See July 29 history post.)

Survivors were waiting for a rescue that was not coming.

The men were floating in small groups, strewn out across the last miles of Indianapolis’s journey. Survivors were covered in oil. Some were wounded. The Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Haynes, tried to care for his boys as best he could, but he knew some would not make it. Some hadn’t even survived the initial disaster.

As dead men were found in the water, Haynes later reported, “[w]e would then laboriously take off their life jacket and give it to men who didn’t have jackets. In the beginning I took off their dogtags, said The Lord’s Prayer, and let them go. Eventually, I got such an armful of dogtags I couldn’t hold them any longer. Even today, when I try to say The Lord’s Prayer or hear it, I simply lose it.”

Shark attacks were another problem. “They were continually there, mostly feeding off the dead bodies,” survivor Loel Cox later reported. But then the sharks began attacking men who were still alive. “We were losing three or four each night and day,” Cox said. “You were constantly in fear because you’d see ‘em all the time. Every few minutes you’d see their fins—a dozen to two dozen fins in the water.”

As the days wore on, the men became dehydrated. Some of them began to hallucinate. “[T]hey were goin bezerk,” survivor Woody Eugene James later testified. “They’d tell you big stories about the Indianapolis is not sunk, its’ just right there under the surface. I was just down there and had a drink of water . . . .” At other times, the hallucinations caused hysteria and fighting. Haynes spoke of men who would think “[t]here’s a Jap here and he’s trying to kill me.’ And then everybody started to fight. They were totally out of their minds.”

When help finally arrived, it was completely by chance.

Lt. Chuck Gwinn happened to be patrolling the area from the air, looking for Japanese submarines. He saw an oil slick! He thought perhaps it was a disabled Japanese submarine, so he prepared for a bombing run. As he got closer, he realized that there were people in the water. They needed help.

He still didn’t know if these people were friend or foe, but he began dropping life vests out of his plane. He radioed a message back to his base. It was then 11:25 a.m. on August 2.

The ordeal was far from over. Official rescue efforts were beginning, but it was a slow process.

Fortunately, a quick-thinking pilot with access to an amphibious plane heard one of Gwinn’s radio messages. Acting on his own initiative, Lt. Adrian Marks took off for Gwinn’s location. When he and his crew arrived hours later, he could see sharks circling in the water. The crew watched as multiple men were attacked, right in front of their eyes. They had to act!

Marks decided to act against standing orders. He would attempt a dangerous open sea landing. He knew that his plane could capsize, but he had to try.

Thankfully, he made it, and his crew began pulling survivors out of the water. They even tied survivors to the plane’s wings so they could get more people aboard! By nightfall, Marks had rescued 56 men from the water.

The first rescue ship arrived hours later, just before midnight.

The last men wouldn’t be found and pulled from the water until dusk on August 3. These men had been in the water for 112 hours, and they’d drifted more than 120 miles from Indianapolis’s original location.

The Little Boy bomb would be dropped on Hiroshima only 3 days later. Most of the heroes aboard Indianapolis would never know that they helped bring an end to World War II.

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Editor’s Note:  I was privileged to know one of these survivors: the late LT (Junior Grade) Charles McKissick.  Mr. McKissick was a retired optician, living in McKinney, Texas, when I met him there in 1991.  Every year, he would travel to Indianapolis, IN, to attend the USS Indianapolis Survivors Reunion there.  He was a fascinating man who collected USS Indianapolis memorabilia and talked of that tragedy as if it was yesterday.  May he and his other Shipmates Rest In Peace.  

 

 

Always Remember, that Day in December!

December 7, 1941 photo

Today, December 7, 2015, is the 74th anniversary of that “…day that will live forever in infamy” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it.  The below was written by my good friend, Jeff Morley.  He has described that day and its remembrances far better than I could.  His essay is published here with his permission.

By Jeff Morley, Guest Contributor

Today some 74 years ago in history, the USA was dragged kicking and screaming into war. Before then, we told the Axis powers to leave us alone and Churchill told us he needed our help. If the Axis Powers had paid attention to what we’d told them, England, France, and practically all of Western Europe with a good portion of Eastern Europe along with Africa would have had a drastically different history, a much darker history at that for most of those places. But the Axis Powers paid us no heed. We said don’t mess with us and they delivered one hell of a sucker punch to us in Hawaii on a sleepy Sunday morning. They should not have done that. They should have left this peace loving nation alone.

The world should never forget December 7th of 1941…unfortunately, most of the world has, to their peril. The United States should not either…unfortunately too many of our people have, to our peril.

I thank the US Navy for their sacrifice that day and I honor the sacrifice of our service men and women today in remembrance of that day “that will live forever in infamy”

Remember Pearl Harbor, remember the sacrifice of those brave sailors while you say a prayer for our men and women making the same sacrifices today, but most of all, teach this next generation about our past and the wounds of our predecessors.

God bless the warriors that guard our seas today, God bless the memory of those that guarded our seas yesterday.

Memorial Day, 2015

Remembering Their Sacrifice

Today is Memorial Day, 2015. Many people forget that this is a day to remember the fallen, those who gave their last full measure of sacrifice for our Nation and for their comrades-in-arms. The following essay was written and posted by my good friend, US Navy Retired Chief Petty Officer Robert N. (Bob) Jenkins. I thought it said it all, in a MUCH better way than I ever could and so I am borrowing his essay and re-posting it here. Today, when you are tempted to “thank a vet” for Memorial Day, I hope you will remember Bob’s words here. Thank you, Shipmate Bob Jenkins.

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Pardon me for getting on a soapbox for a minute, but I want to draw a distinction between Memorial Day and other patriotic holidays. Many earnest and sincere well wishes are sent out to all members, past and present, of our nation’s armed forces on Memorial Day. Most of these wishes should be sent on Armed Forces and/or Veterans Day. Memorial Day is meant for paying homage to those who have given their life in service to our nation and the freedom we enjoy.

The origin of Memorial Day dates back to the Civil War. There are many stories from those first years’ observances that illustrate the true purpose of this important day to honor those who died in service to this nation. Civil War deaths account for nearly half of the 1.2 million American Soldiers who died in our nation’s wars. It’s no surprise that a tradition known as Decoration Day was borne out of the tragic loss following the Civil War.

According to historians, on April 1865 former slaves helped recover 257 Union Soldiers from a mass grave in a Charleston, S.C. racetrack, a site that had served as a Confederate prison. After the Soldiers were properly buried and the area fenced in, Charleston’s residents gathered, sang hymns and laid roses on the graves.

In 1866, in Columbus, Miss., a group of women decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle, noticed the barren graves of Union soldiers and the women placed flowers on those graves, as well. The practice was repeated at multiple gravesites during the period.

After World War I, the observance was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars, and volunteers began placing small American flags on each grave at cemeteries across the nation.

From its origin to the evolution of Memorial Day observances today, one key premise remains. It is a moment in time that we all should stop, reflect and honor those who have given their all in service to this country.

Today, the American flags marking each grave at cemeteries across the nation represent an intangible devotion. Words can never express our gratitude for the service and sacrifice of our armed forces—and that of our Gold Star Families. We are forever indebted to them. We honor them by upholding the standards for which they fought so valiantly.

I urge everyone to remember the special significance of Memorial Day and what makes it so special and different from other patriotic holidays. What our fallen have paid, is a debt we cannot repay ourselves except in the honor and respect we show them.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13 (KJV)

Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, Jr. on Chief Petty Officers

Admiral Bull Halsey

Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, Jr., US Navy

At the end of WWII, all the towns and cities across the country were looking for a “Hero” to celebrate America’s victory with, Los Angeles chose Admiral Halsey and had a ceremony on the steps of the LA County courthouse to honor America’s hero and at the end of it when Admiral Halsey was leaving, they had a line of sideboys.


The sideboys were active duty and retired Chief Petty Officers that
had been brought in from all over the country who had served with
Admiral Halsey at one point in their careers.


Admiral Halsey approached one of the retired Chiefs, and they winked
at each other.


Later on that evening at a reception for Admiral Halsey, one of the civilian guests at the event asked the Admiral about the wink he shared with the Chief. Admiral Halsey explained, “That man was my Chief when I was an Ensign, and no one before or after taught me as much about ships or men as he did.


You civilians don’t understand. You go down to Long Beach and you see those battleships sitting there, and you think that they float on water, don’t you?”


The guest replied, “Yes, sir, I guess I do.”


To which Admiral Halsey stated, “You are wrong. They are carried to sea on the backs of those Chief Petty Officers.”

— ADMIRAL WILLIAM F. “BULL” HALSEY, JR.

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