Friday, March 24, 2017

One Century Ago: The President's Words of War

By Reece Nortum
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator
President Woodrow Wilson asks Congress to declare war on Germany on April 2, 1917. Two days later, SS Marguerite was sunk in the Mediterranean by German u-boat U-35, while SS Missourian was sunk by u-boat U-52. In total, 19 US merchant vessels were sunk by German u-boats since 1917 began. (Library of Congress)
When hostilities broke out between several nations of Europe in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson was quick to declare America’s intent to stay neutral and called on all Americans to remain impartial in thought as well as in action. However, the United States found it increasingly difficult to remain in a neutral state due to incidents like the sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania in May 1915, which killed 124 Americans. After the attack on the British liner Sussex the following March, during which more Americans were killed, the Germans pledged to cease attacking ships without warning after Wilson had threatened to sever diplomatic relations. The pledge did not extend to the activities of German agents ashore. On July 30, 1916, the Black Tom ammunition depot in New Jersey, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, was blown up by German saboteurs. 

Early 1917 brought new attacks by Germany against America and their interests, mainly because of the German navy’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, which resumed on February 1. This led to the sinking of the American cargo ship Housatonic on February 3. The furious President broke off diplomatic relations with Germany the same day. Meanwhile, British Intelligence had decoded and informed the U.S. government of a secret message sent by the German foreign secretary, Arthur Zimmermann, to the German ambassador to Mexico. The “Zimmermann Telegram” proposed a Mexican-German alliance if the United States were to enter WW1 against Germany. Zimmermann promised Mexico financial and territorial rewards for its support, including Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The Zimmerman Telegram appeared in America’s newspapers on March 1, provoking a great storm of anti-German sentiment among the U.S. population. President Wilson was to finally deliver his war message to Congress on April 2, 1917. German submarine warfare had continued, resulting in the sinking of additional ships, and the terrible loss of American lives.
“Crime by Moonlight,” painted by H.R. Butler, shows a German U-boat sinking an Allied vessel during World War I. (Naval History and Heritage Command via Flickr)
Wilson’s words to Congress brought to light many of the injustices done to America and its people. He said, in part:

It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it. The choice we make for ourselves must be made with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our character and our motives as a nation. We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion. 

Four days later, Congress overwhelmingly passed the War Resolution, which brought the United States into a war of unprecedented dimension.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Survivor: The Tidewater Industrial Tiger

Recently, bloggers and meme-makers around the world were saddened by the loss of an Indonesian tiger who served as the mascot of Subdistrict Military Command (Koramil) 1123 under the Siliwangi Military Command in West Java. It can be said that an army fears ridicule just as much if not more than an actual attack, and this case was no exception. Because the tiger elicited so much more laughter than the reverance or even fear that he was intended to inspire, the order was given to destroy him.

Maj. Gen. Herindra of the Siliwangi Military Command told the BBC that other similar mascots would be inspected to determine whether they are, in his words, “consistent with the original [military] emblem.”

Lest I lead you to believe that real animals are being destroyed during this army purge, I should clarify that these are statues; three-dimensional representations of unit emblems. It is with this in mind that I introduce you to the "Tidewater Industrial Tiger," who wrapped up a successful career as Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP) Norfolk’s mascot at Naval Air Station Norfolk over 20 years ago.  

Although the facility has long been closed, its mascot lives on.

Once the largest single employer in Norfolk, Virginia, Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) Norfolk's name was changed to Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP) Norfolk in 1987.  In 1993, the Base Realignment and Colsure Commission (BRAC) voted to close the facliity, which was carried out in 1996. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum)
His three-dimensional counterpart played a prominent role, in two-dimensional form, within a recent commemorative exhibit at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum about the closing of NADEP Norfolk in 1996.  

The exhibit, "Without Us, They Don't Fly: The Story of NADEP Norfolk," ran from September 2016 to March 2017. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)

The Tidewater Industrial Tiger, on display at a public event sometime during the 1980s. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum file photo)
Similar to his ill-fated Indonesian cousin, the wooden statue, created by workers at the facility that overhauled and repaired naval aircraft for most of the 20th century, was not the spitting image of its namesake emblem.  Nevertheless for thousands of attendees of airshows, parades, and open houses over the years, he was the embodiment of the facility. The tiger's image actially started out 50 years ago as a hand-painted sign at the entrance to Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) Norfolk, as it was known at the time.  

The entrance to the Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) Norfolk, which gained that name in 1967, featured an early version of The Tidewater Industrial Tiger. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum file photo)  
Although he was never accessioned into the collection of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, the former Tidewater Industrial Tiger is safe from harm, and, at least until the writing of this post, has never appeared in a meme.  He currently serves as the mascot of a high school in Southeast Virginia.  

The former Tidewater Industrial Tiger as he appears today, sans globe, at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia, home to one of the top ten high school football teams in the state. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington

Monday, March 13, 2017

Women in the Navy: The Century-Old Question

Just over a century ago, a very important man asked his legal advisors a very simple, yet profound question:

"Is there any law that says a yeoman must be a man?"

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. (Naval History and Heritage Command photograph)
The questioner was Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, and, while he might not have been the first person to ask such a question, he was evidently the first to have the power to affect the answer. This factor ultimately resulted on March 19, 1917, in the Naval Reserve becoming the first of any branch of the United States armed forces to allow women to enlist into their ranks.

By March 1917, with the war in Europe approaching its third year, the realities of modern warfare had forced Germany's leaders to radically change the Mahanian naval strategy they had originally envisioned.  Her commerce raiders and forward-deployed cruisers had been either sunk, captured, or were interned in neutral ports (such as Norfolk, Virginia) earlier in the war.  The Battle of Jutland in May 1916, while far from a victory for the British in a tactical sense, had achieved an important strategic objective by keeping the remaining major German surface combatants in port from then on. Far from the series of decisive naval body blows its leaders expected to mete out before the war's outbreak, Germany's submarines were subjecting Britain's merchant fleet and the Royal Navy instead to a death by a thousand cuts, as it were.  Although they were loath to admit it, even to the British people, the Admiralty in London knew that the strategy was working. Valuable war material was going to the bottom faster than it could be replaced, even with America's tacit assistance.  To win the war at sea, the Americans would have to formally enter the fight.

Thanks to the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in February and the sub rosa overture to Mexico that had been blasted across the front pages of America's newspapers at the beginning of March, Germany had made the US Navy's official entry into the war inevitable.  Secretary Daniels had studied developments during the conflict closely and had concluded that the Navy was not ready to enter the war with the men and material on hand. Moreover, a strategic vision commensurate with the task at hand was also required. Well ahead of other members of President Woodrow Wilson's cabinet, he realized that, in his words, the Navy's "most important task [would be] to land American soldiers on French soil." A Navy ultimately capable of transporting 2,017,000 American military personnel to Europe across dangerous waters, along with safeguarding the commerce of the allied nations against the submarine threat, would be required.  The Navy had a little over 300 ships during the prelude to the war.  By November 1918, it would exceed 2,000.  How in the world was the Navy to recruit and train enough Sailors to man the ships, much less staff billets ashore?
Yeoman 3rd Class (F) Julia W. Allen, photographed in 1918 in Norfolk, Virginia.  She is wearing her uniform coat-cape turned back on her shoulders to show the Norfolk jacket.  The jacket was not named for the city.  Rather, it was a style that until then had been popular with both hunters and police officers. (Courtesy of Julia Allen-Green/ Naval History and Heritage Command photograph)
That was ultimately the question Secretary Daniels was posing when he inquired as to the legality of enlisting women into the Navy.  The aim was to free up as many men as possible for sea duty.  Daniels might have embraced many populist causes, but in this regard he was not a progressive in any sense that would have been recognized as such, then or now.  

The former North Carolina publisher was derided by some for his lack of military experience, but no one could question his political acumen and his lifelong adherence to social causes benefitting those he saw as the downtrodden, often at the expense of the privileged.  The man who had almost unilaterally banished alcohol from American naval vessels in 1914, despite the protest of senior officers, would with the same disregard of customs and tradition begin the process of allowing women to serve in the Navy.  Biographer Lee A. Craig wrote that his "soft, reedy voice and coastal plain accent ... could easily cause a potential opponent to confuse Daniels's good manners and reserve with an absence of gravitas and thus lead that opponent to underestimate the intelligence and drive, both physical and mental, of the down-home editor." 

Daniels's legal staff pored over naval regulations in order to give him a definitive answer.  Within the Naval Reserve Act of 1916 that established the Naval Coast Defense Reserve, they found that "persons," rather than "males," were specified.  The answer to his question was, in effect, no. 

"Good," responded Daniels.  "Enroll women in the Naval Reserve as yeoman, and we will have the best clerical assistance the country can provide."

Yeoman 3rd Class (F)
Caroline Smith of 
Norfolk Naval Shipyard, 
as featured in the October
1918 Navy Life magazine. 
(Courtesy of the Portsmouth
Naval Shipyard Museum)

Of course, this was only the first of a multitude of questions which followed this watershed decision.

Were women to be limited to clerical duties?  The answer was also no, as women were also to become radio and telephone operators, chemists, pharmacists, draftsmen, and accountants.

Another question followed:  What shall they be paid in comparison to their male counterparts?  To Daniels this was an impertinent question.  "A women who works as well as a man ought to receive the same pay," was his reply.  

When it came to what kind of recruit training they were to receive and what uniforms they were to wear, things got fuzzier.  By the time war was officially declared on April 6, over 200 women had already become yeomen, yet without formalized military training whatsoever, and with only armbands over their civilian clothing denoting them as such.

Although military training would follow on an ad hoc basis for the majority of female enlistees during the war, the process of becoming a female Navy yeoman, including filling out the application forms and passing a physical exam, typically took less than a day. They then began work immediately at duty stations across the nation, often before anyone knew that they had enlisted.

Estelle Kemper, a young recruit from Virginia, actually reported for duty on the same day she enlisted.  "By nightfall," she recalled decades later, "I felt like an old hand.  After dinner I phoned my family in Richmond.  My father answered the phone and I told him proudly that I had joined the Navy.  Never immune to my bombshells, he gulped and said quickly, 'I'll call your mother.'"        

This identification badge belonged to Ruth Adella Ellwood, one of 700 female yeomen and telephone operators who served at Norfolk Naval Shipyard during World War I. Before the war, the shipyard only had one female employee.  (Courtesy of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum)
As for the question of uniforms, Daniels played a role in answering that question as well.  As he recalled it:

Some people thought they ought to wear something like pants.  Some had different ideas.  The length of the skirt, that was a serious problem. Should we have a long skirt that would sweep the decks?  Or something that revealed more leg?  Never in my life have I attempted anything, great or small, without the wise counsel of the women.  We decided on [skirts] about eight inches from the ground.

After a few female Yeomen reported to the ships they had been assigned, their assigners not yet cognizant that they were women, a parenthetical "F" was inserted next to their rate to stem the tide of clerical oversights.  Nevertheless, another term popped up to describe the new enlistees, "yeomenettes."  The term generally stuck, to Daniels's chagrin.

"I never did like this 'ette' business," Daniels said later.  "I always thought if a woman does a job, she ought to have the name of the job."

Although the recruitment of women for naval service was intended as a temporary measure to deal with an unprecedented problem, the impact was by no means temporary to many of the first generation of female Navy enlistees.  Even after the last of approximately 11,274 women who became enlisted Sailors during the war was released from active duty in July 1919, hundreds would continue to work directly for the Navy, even throughout the Second World War, in the civil service.  At least 100 rejoined the Navy on active duty as Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES).  Some of them served as commissioned officers this time around, something that had been denied them during the Great War.

In September 1938, as war began consuming Europe yet again, Daniels told a group of female Navy veterans, "You more than came up to my expectations. I feel it is one of the greatest honors of my life to have been associated with you in the days of emergency and war."
Original photographs and artifacts related to the Yeoman (F) program on display at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
During the century that has transpired since Secretary Daniels posed his question, many others have been posed and answered by naval leaders.  Does a naval aviator have to be a man?  Can women handle the rigors of life on a deployment?  Are men the only people qualified to operate submarines or command a strike group?  These are among the thousands of questions that have also been answered, some only within the past couple of years, with history being made in the process.

--Editor's note: Diane L. Cripps, Curator of History at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum in Portsmouth, Virginia, contributed to this post. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lord Dunmore's Navy in Hampton Roads, 1775-1776, Part III: From Great Bridge to Gwynn's Island

By Matthew Krogh
Contributing Writer

Editor's Note:  This is the third installment in a series about Virginia's last royal governor, John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore, who tried to establish a base of operations in Hampton Roads in an attempt to retain power during the early months of the Revolutionary War. 

Reenactor Ted Yates of the 7th Virginia Regiment sends his regards to forces loyal to the erstwhile governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, at the most recent reenactment of the 1775 Battle of Great Bridge. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
At the beginning of December 1775, Lord Dunmore sensed that victory was at hand against his rebellious subjects, writing that he would soon “reduce this colony to a proper sense of their duty.” His recruitment of several hundred slaves and loyalists resulted in two units he called the Queen’s Own Loyal Virginia Regiment and the Ethiopian Regiment. Despite these advantages and his optimism, Dunmore’s infantry forces were soundly beaten at Great Bridge.

This map, entitled "A View of the Great Bridge near Norfolk in Virginia where the action happened between a Detachment of the 14th Regt. & a body of Rebels," shows, from north to south, (A) "A Stockade Fort thrown up before the action by the Regulars;" (B) "Entrenchments of the Rebels;" (C) "A narrow Causeway by which the Regulars were forced to advance to the attack;" and (D) "The Church occupied by the Rebels." It is believed to have been made by Lieutenant John Batut, who oversaw construction of Fort Murray. (Courtesy of the Clements Library, University of Michigan.)  
There, Dunmore constructed Fort Murray on a marshy promontory on the Elizabeth River but sallied forth with his soldiers and sailors to thrash the Americans massing on the other side of the bridge. The one sided defeat caused him to return his troops and supplies to Norfolk as he licked his wounds under the protection of the Royal Navy. Many loyalists packed up what they could aboard their own schooners and sailed to the British fleet for protection. Dunmore did not depart, however, and many wayward shots were fired at the Otter and other ships after Colonel Woodford and Colonel Robert Howe occupied Norfolk on December 14. The suffering increased as cold weather, starvation, and disease set in. Dunmore himself wrote, “It was a melancholy sight to see . . . whole families obliged to betake themselves on board of Ships.” With circumstances worsening, corpses were often dumped unceremoniously into the Elizabeth River by the British and several hundred men from the Ethiopian Regiment died.
Reenactors portraying sailors from HMS Otter join soldiers of the 14th Regiment of Foote defending against Virginia militiamen during the most recent Battle of Great Bridge reenactment, held in Chesapeake, Virginia.  (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Out of options, Captain Matthew Squire, whose ship Otter came under fire daily, sent boats ashore to obtain supplies. Citizens in Norfolk later met to discuss trade with Dunmore’s Navy but the motion was denied. On December 17, the Otter and Kingfisher sailed toward the Norfolk distillery where they expected to protect the recently seized brig Snow loaded with 4,000 bushels of salt. With 15 sailors rowing toward the Snow, patriots on shore warned them to turn back. Captain Squire and Colonel Howe then engaged in a verbal duel. Squire wanted the Snow released and threatened to attack Norfolk. Howe held fast and confirmed that he would “give orders to fire upon any boat that attempts to take her away.”

On December 21 the Liverpool under Captain Henry Bellew arrived along with the store ship Maria and 400 marines changing the odds in Dunmore’s favor. Lord Dunmore, in a rash move, positioned the Liverpool, the Otter, the Kingfisher, and the Dunmore abreast of Norfolk’s waterfront. This formation triggered a mass exodus from Norfolk by its citizens as an attack appeared imminent. With this show of strength, Captain Bellew again requested supplies from the Virginians adding that he wished to avoid the “effusion of the blood of the innocent.” On December 30 Bellew and Howe exchanged heated pleasantries as Bellew demanded that American militia “avoid being seen” and implied that all women and children should leave Norfolk. On New Year’s Day 1776, 100 ships’ guns opened a terrific fire with shot and shell upon a mostly empty Norfolk continually for 25 hours. Torch bearing British marines soon followed and fought hand to hand combat with sentries onshore. Dunmore even managed to have the Snow burned during the general confusion of the attack. Although driven back, the marines managed to burn 19 houses along the waterfront. Conversely, American troops burned over 800 in the next few days in a drunken melee of savagery and vengeance against this tory bastion. When the flaming bacchanalia subsided, over one-third of Norfolk had been destroyed, although Colonel Howe stopped the depredations by January 3. The Liverpool and Otter traded fire with Virginians on shore on January 21 in a final attempt to burn the few remaining dwellings. Dunmore no longer need worry about holding Norfolk.

Lord Dunmore had made a strategic mistake by putting Norfolk to the torch amidst his own tempestuous attitude. He did this despite recruiting thousands of men from Norfolk to his standard. With triumph slipping through his fingers he sought to destroy what he could not have resulting in a pyrrhic victory. Indeed, firing on Norfolk was considered barbaric and ill advised by most Britons since it was the best staging area and supply center in the Chesapeake. On January 5 the Naval Committee wrote to the Virginia Convention saying “The Congress attentive to the safety and security of every part of the united Colonies, and observing the peculiar distresses that the Colony of Virginia is liable from a Marine enemy, have with all possible expedition fitted out a small fleet of Armed Vessels, which they have ordered in the first place to the Bay of Chesapeak, if the winds and weather permit.” Dunmore’s time was running out as colonial leaders moved resources to Hampton Roads.
This closeup of a 1781 map made by Lieutenant James Straton of the Royal Engineers, under the command of General Benedict Arnold and Colonel John Graves Simcoe after the British returned to Hampton Roads, shows the Gosport Yard just south of Portsmouth.  Note the reference to the road to Great Bridge, the strategic point on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. (Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division)  
With Norfolk destroyed, Colonel Howe’s men attempted to destroy Dunmore’s original headquarters – Gosport, the naval supply empire built by Andrew Sprowle. British marines tried to protect the buildings there but Patriot forces succeeded in burning the distillery, warehouses, and homes. The frigate Roebuck arrived in the Elizabeth River with additional troops in February. With Norfolk untenable, Dunmore relocated to Portsmouth a few days later where he continued his forays into the countryside and into the Chesapeake Bay. In March 1776, General Charles Lee arrived in Williamsburg to take command of Virginia’s forces and made it a priority to rid the Old Dominion of Lord Dunmore and his navy. He stationed detachments in a ring around Portsmouth, seized the properties of loyalists, and attempted to burn merchants vessels offshore at Norfolk. On May 20, Lee fought a repeat of the Battle of Hampton when he attacked Dunmore’s fleet from the safety of the ruins of the Norfolk wharf.
This 1777 pilot's map published in London, which is oriented at a 90-degree angle to most typical maps, shows Norfolk, shown as "burnt," and Gwynn's Island, where Dunmore's fleet relocated four months after the burning of Norfolk. (Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division)    
Dispossessed of his will to continue in the present condition Dunmore set sail soon after with 100 vessels and several hundred former slaves, marines, troops, sailors, and loyalists, including Sprowle. They headed for Gwynn’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay where Dunmore hoped to establish a new beachhead for the British. He had not given up on Virginia yet.

Editor's note: Matthew Krogh is a reenactor with HM Sloop Otter