Category Archives: Naval History


By lex, on May 6th, 2011

The last known surviving veteran of The Great War has stepped into the clearing at the end of the path:

Claude Stanley Choules, a man of contradictions, humble spirit and wry humor, died in a Western Australia nursing home on Thursday at the age of 110. And though his accomplishments were many — including a a 41-year military career that spanned two world wars — the man known as “Chuckles” to his comrades in the Australian Navy was happiest being known as a dedicated family man.

“We all loved him,” his 84-year-old daughter Daphne Edinger told The Associated Press. “It’s going to be sad to think of him not being here any longer, but that’s the way things go…”

World War I was raging when Choules began training with the British Royal Navy, just one month after he turned 14. In 1917, he joined the battleship HMS Revenge, from which he watched the 1918 surrender of the German High Seas Fleet, the main battle fleet of the German Navy during the war.

“There was no sign of fight left in the Germans as they came out of the mist at about 10 a.m.,” Choules wrote in his autobiography. The German flag, he recalled, was hauled down at sunset.

“So ended the most momentous day in the annals of naval warfare,” he wrote. “A fleet of ships surrendered without firing a shot.”

So ended the life of the last man to see it, in a Australian nursing home, much beloved by his family: “‘I had a pretty poor start,’ he told the ABC in November 2009. ‘But I had a good finish.’”



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They Came for the Weather

By lex, on February 11th, 2011

And stayed for the hot tubs:

The brilliant businessman who sold the Navy its first airplane had tried to launch his flying business in rural New York state. But winters there are less than ideal for planes that land on water.

Looking west, Glenn Curtiss found San Diego, with its protected bay and pleasant temperatures.

In 1911, Curtiss got a lease at North Island. Little more than jack rabbits at the time, the island would become the birthplace of naval aviation.

And, in the following century, San Diego supplied the heartbeat of Navy flying. The nation’s first aircraft carrier came here; aerial fighting doctrine was born here; hundreds of Navy pilots learned and honed their craft here through World Wars I and II.

Big celebration this weekend in Sandy Eggo – a 200-plane flyby from the Coronado Bay bridge up through the channel abeam NAS North Island for the Centennial of Naval Aviation. Getting aboard the air station to view the machines – which include war birds from generations past  up through front line fighters – may well be a goat rope. Your correspondent has not quite decided how he will pass his time Saturday, but it may be on Shelter Island.

They serve beverages there, on Shelter Island.

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By lex, on January 18th, 2011

One hundred years ago today, Eugene Ely made history by executing the first ever shipboard arrested landing:

Ely’s flight, which came only seven years and one month after the Wright Brothers flew their first plane, was in every way historic. Though Ely had flown a plane from a Navy ship off Hampton Roads, Va., in 1910, no one had ever landed aboard a ship.

Ely, a self-taught pilot who represented the Curtiss Airplane Co. was just the man for the job. “If I did not believe I could do it without injury to myself or my machine, I would not attempt it,” he said.

The Curtiss firm had a primitive “flight deck” 130 feet long and 32 feet wide built on the stern of the Pennsylvania at Mare Island. Canvas screens were rigged on each side to catch the plane if it missed the deck. The major problem was how to stop the airplane, which would land at a speed of 50 or 60 mph.

The solution was to rig up 21 ropes across the deck, with a 50-pound sandbag attached to each end. The ropes were designed to catch a hook rigged under the plane and stop it — a primitive version of the tail hook system used on aircraft carriers today.

The Pennsylvania was anchored 300 yards off San Francisco’s Folsom Street wharf, surrounded by small boats. The event was heavily advertised — it was part of a big air show in San Bruno — and a crowd of perhaps 75,000, “a vast multitude” the papers said, was on hand aboard boats and along the bay shoreline to see Ely’s flight.

In doing so, Ely redefined cool forever, emptied jails and orphanages, filled countless public houses, seriously damaged the concept of chastity, set the stage for ten thousand broken hearts and forever dashed the self-regard of countless Air Force pilots who – ever after – would have to content themselves with second best.

In response the Air Force turned to crud.

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The Price of Hours

By lex, on November 13th, 2010

In August of 1942, Allied amphibious forces landed in strength upon Guadalcanal, sweeping aside a small Japanese defense and seizing the airfield under construction there. With the possession of the island and its airfield, the Allies could defend the supply lines between the US, Australia and New Zealand. From August to November, the Imperial Japanese Army made serial attempts to reinforce their scattered troops on the island and re-take the runway, but the presence of the so-called “Cactus Air Force” on the island prevented them from using expansive, but cumbersome troop ships. Such forces as could be landed from the Tokyo Express of cruisers and destroyers came ashore piecemeal, lacking logistical and heavy weapon support. The Japanese forces fought bravely under difficult conditions, but were repulsed again and again, often with shocking losses.

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Ten Years Ago Today

By lex, on October 12th, 2010

The first salvo was fired on what would become the Global War on Terror, before that in turn morphed into a Pretty Serious Campaign Against Man-Caused Disasters. Seventeen US sailors aboard the USS Cole died almost immediately when a two-man al Qaeda suicide cell drove a skiff loaded with explosives along side and detonated it, holing the hull. Another 39 were injured.

The survivors struggled heroically for three days in suffocating conditions without much in the way of hot food or cold water and mostly without power to keep the ship dewatered and afloat – it was a very near run thing. At one point, with water coming in and the ship’s only generator off line, sailors formed a bucket brigade to save the ship.

When the ship was towed out of port 19 days later, someone slipped Kid Rock’s “American Bad Ass” into a rotation of patriotic songs playing on the ship’s loudspeaker system.

Navy took a hit in 2000, as required by the rules of engagement then in place.

The rules have changed since then. A lot of things have.

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Helldiver Up

By lex, on August 21st, 2010

A US Navy Curtis Helldiver that has been at the bottom of Sandy Eggo’s Otay Reservoir since 1945 has been salvaged, and the son of the pilot manning the aircraft when it when down was on hand to see the old girl out:

With a crowd of hundreds on shore, many applauding the sight, the SB2C-4 World War II Helldiver, which crashed into Lower Otay on May 28, 1945, finally was lifted from its muddy grave. Hundreds of people had gathered at the lake all week as the long and tedious process of raising the plane took longer than expected and involved more equipment. The plane was known as “The Beast” because pilots struggled to control it, and it was a monster to retrieve from Otay’s mud…

“Oh man, look at that big old engine and tail; now there’s a plane that hasn’t been in the air in 65 years,” said Richard Frazar, whose father, E.D. Frazar, of Richmond, Tx., was forced to ditch the Helldiver into Lower Otay when the engine on the plane failed. He and Army Sgt. Joseph Metz of Youngstown, Ohio, survived the crash, swam to shore and hitchhiked back to their base at Ream Field in the South Bay. Both have since passed away, but some members of their family enjoyed the day of remembrance that came with the sight of the men’s plane.

A pair of FA-18′s buzzed the lake as the aiprlane was pulled ashore, and had your humble scribe been aware, an American Champion Citabria might well have joined them.

On hand and speaking in the video was the Naval Aviation’ Museum’s CAPT Bob Rasmussen, who was commanding officer at Naval Aviation Schools Command back when your host was an ensign.


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No Fanfare

By lex, on January 4th, 2009

Roy Boehm passed into the clearing at the end of the path Tuesday night. He was 84 years old.

Boehm had served his country in three wars, including service in the largest surface-only engagement of World War II, the Battle of Cape Esperance. His ship – the USS Duncan – took multiple hits from 6″ and 8″ guns before going under the waves. Although wounded by shrapnel in his head and body, he managed to save another shipmate before the ship went down. While in the ocean he was forced to fight sharks off for his own life. For 13 hours.

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