Category Archives: Naval History

An Inauspicious Start

By lex, on December 13th, 2011

On this day in US naval history, the continental congress authorized the construction of thirteen frigates to guard the rebellion’s commerce and wage war upon British trading ships. Whether the number itself was unlucky, or whether we bit off more than we could chew against Nelson’s fleet, the effort was in vain. Only eight of the ships ordered made it to sea, and all of them were either captured or sunk. The rest were either scuttled or burnt to prevent their capture.

We were a little more successful on the second bout


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Golf Outing

By lex, on November 14th, 2011

Few things are as uninteresting to the non-golfer – or to the avid golfer, for that matter – than the details of someone else’s day on the links. I will spare you, therefore, the story of my thunderous drives, precision wedges and deft putting strokes, the ones that took me to the relatively pedestrian score of 84 (with two penalty strokes on 17 for an out-of-b0unds tee shot that veered wildly left and I’m practically certain that a flaw in the wind took it).

Not even going to mention it.

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Rum and the Lash

By lex, on July 19th, 2011

Via occasional reader Paul, a punishment log from the US frigate United States, over a four month period.

The master at arms was kept considerably busy, aboard that ship.

The archivist notes one man who received a dozen strokes for “doubling the grog tub”, but I thought the case of one John F. Forrester was more interesting: Thrice flogged over that short span, first for fighting, next for smuggling liquor aboard and the last time for trying to leave the ship without permission. At least he never made the same mistake twice.

Perhaps he considered the service an imperfect fit.

Flogging has gone the way of the rum ration, but for my own part, I was surprised when I was a wee nobbut to learn that a Navy captain at sea can still proscribe as punishment three days bread and water.

They do it still.

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By lex, on July 17th, 2011

Closure at last for the family of one  Texan’s native sons, too long missing in action after struck by ground fire in Laos:

“He’s finally home,” Sanders, of La Porte, said of her beloved uncle. “Our family is back together. We’re complete.”

Egan, who was born and grew up in Houston, was shot down April 19, 1966, while bombing targets in Laos. The crash site was eventually located, but his whereabouts remained a mystery. A DNA sample Sanders provided about 10 years ago was a near-perfect match for bone fragments a farmer in Laos turned over to U.S. officials in late 2009.

“I’ve been waiting for them to find him all these years,” said Anne Egan, cradling his urn. A burial for the Navy pilot is scheduled for Saturday.

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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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