Thursday, January 11, 2018

A "Department of One" Moves On

Hampton Roads Naval Museum Public Information Officer Susanne Greene displays a model of USS Seawolf (SSN 21). (HRNM Photo)
By Joseph Judge 
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Curator

This month the museum is bidding farewell to Susanne Greene, who has ably and single-handedly been the public relations and marketing face of HRNM for several years. Susanne came to the museum in December of 2005, and now in 2018 she is leaving us to continue supporting the Navy at the Naval Safety Center.

On arrival, Susanne was immediately turned to managing public events for the museum, a job which at that time was heavily focused on USS Wisconsin (BB 64), which the museum operated from 2000-2009. She developed marketing plans for the battleship and the museum.

Susanne also embarked on a series of long and successful relationships with media outlets including WTKR NewsChannel 3, WAVY-TV 10, WVEC Channel 13, The Virginian-Pilot, The Daily Press and The Flagship Military Newspaper. Susanne also initiated an ambitious series of visitor analyses to determine the museum's marketing strategy. She has been seen conducting visitor evaluations at military family events on Naval Station Norfolk, at local YMCAs, and at local festivals in downtown Norfolk as well as on-site at the museum.

Often her plans were hamstrung by very low (or non-existent) budgets, but she patiently carried on.

Susanne was also part of our special events team, advertising the events and urging the media to turn out at our latest exhibit, lecture or Lego Day. When a dramatic news event would wipe out our coverage she would smile and say, “I’m sorry the television stations couldn’t come, but you there’s nothing we can do when a giant hurricane is lurking out there!”

Susanne also witnessed the museum’s migration to the Naval History and Heritage Command and has been an invaluable liaison the headquarters’ robust public affairs staff. She has been a valuable member of the command’s marketing committee and web design team. These roles went hand-in-hand with maintaining the museum’s own web site which underwent numerous transformations during her tenure. Susanne also worked with United States Fleet Forces on media for the Stewards of the Sea exhibit and with our partners at Nauticus regarding media policies for the battleship Wisconsin.

Her press releases and media kits are legendary products around the museum. Many the flag officer, author, or VIP has departed HRNM with one under his or her arm.

Susanne accomplished all of this activity while, at different times, serving as the museums budget officer, purchase card holder and civilian timekeeper. Oh, and shipping millions of brochures and changing the museum’s telephone messages.

Susanne completed the Defense Information School’s Public Affairs Qualification Course and is a proud holder of two degrees from Old Dominion University, and is an avid follower of the Monarchs football team.
(HRNM Photo)

More than anything else, Susanne, a true “department of one,” carried a positive attitude and a cheerful smile to work every day. For this gift we thank her and wish her the best in her new assignment. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

One Century Ago: What Cold Really Looks Like

Local headlines recently proclaimed that the Hampton Roads area is experiencing perhaps the coldest new year it has experienced in a century.  Thousands of "nonessential" workers at military bases across the Hampton Roads Region are off for the second day in a row (myself included, although I'm still on deadline for this blog post and other projects).  Many of them are busily documenting the snowdrifts and other winter wonders deposited by the recent "bomb cyclone" that made it all possible.  But what did the winter of a century ago look like to the Sailors and other photographers who were working then?  

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum recently acquired photographs taken by a young gunner's mate floating on the York River that show just how cold it got one century ago. Compared to the arctic blast of January 1918, which froze battleships into place off Yorktown and made the majority of the Chesapeake region practically impassible, the so-called "bomb cyclone" that swept through the area this week was a mere inconvenience.

Thanks to a young Sailor named Ernest A. Washburn, who was serving aboard USS Rhode Island (BB 17), we now have a better idea what the York looked like during that epic cold snap.
Two photographs taken from USS Rhode Island (BB 17) have been combined to show the monitor Tallahassee (BM 9), which served during the war as a submarine tender, and the battleship Texas (BB 35), frozen in at the location near Yorktown, Virginia, known as "Base 2" in January 1918. (E.A. Washburn Collection, Hampton Roads Naval Museum)
The battleship Virginia (BB 13) waits out the weather on the York River in January 1918. (E.A. Washburn Collection, Hampton Roads Naval Museum)
When not on patrol or in the midst of training the teeming multitudes of prospective engineers and gunners passing through Hampton Roads during the First World War, the bulk of the Atlantic Fleet, made up mostly of ships that sailed with the Great White Fleet ten years before, was bottled up behind anti-torpedo nets at "Base 2" on the York River, just off the old Yorktown Battlefield.  The area was also home to "Camp Mayo," a tent encampment serving as a provisional headquarters to the fleet while the naval operating base at Sewells Point was under construction.

One of the young officers tasked with gunnery training aboard the newer superdreadnought Texas (BB 35), future Vice Admiral Bernhard H. Bieri, recalled in an oral history he gave to the U.S. Naval Institute:
They took the whole fleet into the York River, behind the submarine nets, in early 1917.  We spent the winter of 1917 in the York River and the Chesapeake Bay.  The Germans were prowling in the Atlantic and sinking ships all over.  So we had nets up, and they put us back of those barriers in the Chesapeake Bay, where we carried out our target practices. The river and the bay froze up very hard.  We had some of the old battleships that were used as icebreakers. 
Meanwhile, Sailors at the the newly-opened naval training center at Sewells Point, about 36 miles southeast of Yorktown, were facing even more extreme living conditions than those marooned on the York.  Water pipes that had just been installed in brand new barracks began bursting and the steam plant designed to support hundreds of new recruits with hot water failed. 

Roger B. Copinger, an officer candidate from Maryland who was waiting for classes to begin at the Officer-Material School, established at the former Pennsylvania Exhibition Hall on the base, later recalled what the winter was like for him and his shipmates:

Shortly after we reported the weather became even colder. The overhead steam pipe froze, and as a result we had no heat in the barracks or hot water in the showers. We slept in our clothes, and our week end liberty became not only a relaxation but a necessity. We would usually make for the Navy Y and a hot bath, or if we had the required funds, we would team up, and three of four of us would get a room at the Neddo Hotel on Plume Street near Granby.

Chesapeake Bay from the Capes to Baltimore was frozen, and while channels in the lower portion were kept open, shipping from the Potomac north was at a standstill. The Navy finally ordered the USS Ohio to try to break out a channel in the upper Bay, but the task turned out to be too much for the old battleship, and she was likewise frozen in.

When we had a few minutes before or after classes we would walk out on the ice which extended from in front of the Pennsylvania Building almost to the channel. This was dangerous because of the thin places or holes, so we were finally ordered to discontinue this activity.
Copinger, who ultimately rose to the rank of commander while serving in Hampton Roads during the Second World War, also reported that several Sailors on their way to Sewells Point for classes in early January were diverted to downtown Norfolk to stand guard over the remains of the Monticello Hotel, which had burned on New Year's Day, 1918.  

Longtime Norfolk photographer Harry C. Mann recorded the aftermath of the Monticello Hotel fire, after which a fire engine remained frozen in place.  At far left, merchants can be seen removing whatever wares they can salvage. (Library of Virginia Digital Collections)
Construction projects at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, just south of the city of Portsmouth, across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk, as well as the new mine assembly plant at St. Juliens Creek Annex, about a mile south of the shipyard, also ground nearly to a halt.

The construction site for Dry Dock 4 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, January 8, 1918. (Courtesy of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Archives)
The dangerous conditions did not prevent these workers from venturing out to the new power plant construction site at Norfolk Naval Shipyard on January 8, 1918. (Courtesy of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Archives)
Despite the conditions, the nation was in the midst of war, and the work went on.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Seventy-Five Years Ago: The World's Greatest Industrial Power Hits its Stride

On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy had eight carriers, one more than the United States Navy. They used six of them in a coordinated operation against Pearl Harbor, one of the most devastating tactical victories of all time. Despite the fact that the Japanese added two carriers (converted from ocean liners) to their fleet during the year that followed, they lost a total of six, four during the Battle of Midway alone. On the American side, losses and urgent repairs had whittled down the number of battle-ready carriers in the Pacific to just one, the Newport News-built Enterprise (CV 6). Rather than having the Japanese on the run as the end of 1942 approached, it would seem that the two mighty fleets had battered each other down to parity, but it would prove to be short-lived.

USS Essex (CV 9) shortly after her launch at Newport News Shipbuilding on July 31, 1942. The James River Bridge can be seen in the background.  (Naval History and Heritage Command Photo)
USS Essex (CV 9) begins trials on the James River just after her commissioning on December 31, 1942. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum File Photo)
On the last day of 1942, one of the most amazing comebacks in naval history was well underway, produced by what had become the world's greatest economic powerhouse, epitomized by the commissioning of a new class of fleet carrier. They would not only be the largest American carriers commissioned during the war, but they would emerge in such numbers that task forces consisting of as many as 16 fleet (CV) and light (Independence-class CVL) carriers would become possible within the following two years. Thousands of shipyard workers, making manifest the plans of designers and naval architects, most of whom were working in Hampton Roads, made it all possible.

From its first proposal through initial construction, the design of the Essex-class carrier went through more than six major transformations and ended up nearly 30 percent larger. (Naval History and Heritage Command Image)
As has been reported previously, the nation, the Hampton Roads area in particular, had been girding itself for war far in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack. On that day, there were already five of this new class of carrier under construction, three of them at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. A year and three weeks later, December 31, 1942, the industrial might of the region, and the nation, hit its stride with the commissioning of USS Essex (CV 9), the first of ten of its class that would be constructed by the massive shipyard on the James River. Between the Essex in 1942 and Boxer (CV 21) in 1945, a carrier of the Essex class was delivered from Newport News shipbuilding to the Navy every 90 days.  Two weeks after Essex was commissioned, the keel for USS Shangri-La (CV 38), was laid at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the first of three Essex-class carriers that would be produced at the government-owned facility on the Elizabeth River.

Two Essex-class carriers, probably Hornet (CV 12) and Franklin (CV 13), are nearing completion at Newport News Shipbuilding in October 1943. Although Franklin was heavily damaged by kamikaze aircraft in March 1945 and was mothballed after the war, Hornet would undergo extensive modifications over the years, serving long enough to serve as the recovery carrier for the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.  (Hampton Roads Naval Museum File Photo) 
Freed from the constraints imposed by the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, designers could incorporate innovations that would not only give the carrier class more range and the ability to carry greater numbers of more powerful aircraft, but their triple-bottomed hulls, enhanced compartmentalization and extensive damage control features greatly enhanced their survivability. Few would dispute that if the carrier Franklin (CV 13), which had had begun construction at Newport News Shipbuilding three weeks before Essex’s commissioning, had been of an earlier design, she would have been destroyed off Japan in March 1945. Although 724 men were killed and 265 wounded in the inferno that ensued after the carrier sustained two direct 500-pound bomb hits, Franklin ultimately made it back to Pearl Harbor. 

After some gun and radar installations, USS Franklin (CV 13) passes the downtown Norfolk waterfront after leaving Norfolk Naval Shipyard in February 1944. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum File Photo)
While the 36,000-ton Franklin, also built in Newport News, took 25 months to complete, a comparable Japanese carrier, the 37,000-ton Taiho, took 32. Although a leap forward in design, incorporating an armored flight deck and belt armor earlier Japanese carriers lacked, Taiho could only carry 72 aircraft versus the Franklin’s 90. While Franklin survived the war, Taiho only lasted three months after her commissioning, sunk by a single American torpedo. 
It would seem that the dictum expressed by naval theorist Rear Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan was placed above this model of USS Essex (CV 9) at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum to give a sense of irony.  Before the Second World War, his adherents relegated aircraft carriers to the role of supporting battleships, which were considered the "backbone and real power" of the Navy.  But the Essex in particular exemplified the capital ship that not only could deliver overwhelming firepower, but take some "hard knocks"in return.  Long before the Essex class emerged, the striking power of the carrier had long since eclipsed that of the battleship, but the Essex class closed the "backbone" gap so thoroughly that battleships were not even that important as guards for the carriers during the latter part of the war, and were themselves largely relegated to supporting amphibious landings. (M.C. Farrington
Between December 31, 1942 and the end of the war, one Essex-class carrier was delivered to the Navy roughly every 90 days from Newport News Shipbuilding.  The last of the class built in Newport News, USS Leyte (CV-32), was delivered in April 1946. Of the 24 that were ultimately completed at five different shipyards, Leyte, her sister ship Boxer (CV 21), along with the carriers Valley Forge (CV 45) and Philippine Sea (CV 47) remained in active service following the war and were among the first to attack Kim Il Sung's forces during the Korean War.  Despite being decommissioned and placed into reserve status, most of the others, including Essex, would go on to enjoy careers lasting into the 1970s.   

At 70 to 78 million dollars apiece, it took a unified Congress, buoyed by a galvanized electorate, to authorize the expenditures for the Essex-class carriers and the hundreds of other vessels that won the war. It took shipyards willing to work ahead of schedule and under budget. It took Sailors willing to use these vessels bring the fight to the enemy’s home waters, braving the real possibility of death in the process. With this willingness to pay any price and bear any burden they, in service to the American people, utterly defeated a radical enemy, winning the Second World War, not only with their hearts, but with their hands and wallets.

Despite the difference in the economic situation for America with respect to its geopolitical rivals today, what was true 75 years ago is thankfully still true: The two major shipyards of Hampton Roads, Newport News Shipbuilding and Norfolk Naval Shipyard, are still open for business, and their services will be needed for the foreseeable future. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Seventy-Five Years Ago: The "Lucky Herndon" Joins the Fleet

By Steve Milner
Contributing Writer

While I'm still recalling the noteworthy observances of Norfolk Naval Shipyard's recent 250th anniversary events that I attended, I'm now writing about another story that again puts our unique facility solidly on our nation's historical map.

It deals with USS Herndon (DD 638), a destroyer that NNSY built, and later launched on February 5, 1942.  It was commissioned on December 20, 1942, and was the lead ship at Omaha Beach during the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, at the start of the D-Day effort to retake Europe from the Germans.

USS Herndon (DD 638) enters the Elizabeth River at Norfolk Naval Shipyard on February 5, 1942. (Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Film Collection, Serial #11-19, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
This ship was nicknamed the "Lucky Herndon," because it was never hit by enemy gunfire, despite being targeted by well-fortified German shore batteries.  By contrast, Herndon effectively pounded enemy gun emplacements on Omaha Beach, ahead of our first troop landings there, and was credited with firing the first naval shots of this campaign.

Although Navy artist Dwight Shepler depicted the actions of the destroyers Emmons (DD 457) and Doyle (DD 494) on June 6, 1944, his watercolor depicting the duel between the destroyers' 5-inch guns and German 88mm guns on the Normandy cliffs gives an idea of what the battle must have been like for USS Herndon (DD 638), which was the first destroyer to bombard the coast that morning. (Navy Art Collection)
Following its exemplary service in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, Herndon eventually went to the Pacific Theater in preparation for the invasion of Mainland Japan which, fortunately, didn't take place due to our dropping two Atomic bombs there.  Herndon later escorted convoys in the Pacific until World War II ended.

Here are some other statistics about the NNSY-built ship, which was a Gleaves-class destroyer: It was named for Commander William Lewis Herndon, who went down with his passenger ship, the mail steamer SS Central America, in a storm off North Carolina in 1857.  At that time, he and his crew saved more than 150 of its 474 passengers.  To commemorate his bravery, there's a monument to him at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  The towns of Herndon in Fairfax County, Virginia and Herndon, Pennsylvania, were named for him as well.

Cmdr. Herndon, who was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1813, was noted for his exploration of the Amazon, in searching for natural resources.  The reason that Herndon was commanding Central America, a commercial vessel, was because Navy captains were assigned to ships that were operated by private companies contracted to the U.S. government.

Central America was also noteworthy because it was carrying an estimated 15 tons of gold, then worth about $2 million, from California to the United States Mint in Philadelphia.  This precious cargo was retrieved in 1987.

Commander Herndon's great-grandniece, Lucy Herndon Crockett, sponsored USS Herndon, the second ship to bear this hero's name.  The first, DD 198, was transferred to Great Britain and renamed HMS Churchill, before America entered WWII.  It was then sold to the Soviet Union and was lost in battle in 1945.

Herndon was 348 feet long and had a crew of 16 officers and 260 enlisted personnel.  It had surface-to-surface guns, anti-aircraft guns, torpedo tubes and depth charge launchers.  It could reach speeds of more than 37 knots and travel 6,500 miles at that speed.  Cruising at 12 knots, Herndon's range was 7,500 miles.   

Another one of the ship's noteworthy achievements was serving as an escort vessel for USS Quincy (CA 71), a heavy cruier that transportted President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the first leg of his historic trip to the Yalta conference in Crimea in 1945, to discuss the end of the Second World War.  The other "Big Three" leaders were Great Britain's Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin.

To honor the NNSY-built destroyer and its crew, the Herndon High School marching band will travel from Virginia to France in 2019 to participate in D-Day 75th anniversary commemorations.  That is, it will with the public's financial and other support.  As they march in Normandy, each member will carry a photograph of a member of a Herndon crew member who served during WWII.  The band will also carry the American flag that flew aboard the ship on D-Day.

"What these students are doing is wonderful," said Tom Wilmore, a 92-year-old USS Herndon veteran.  "It means the world to me that they are honoring me and my shipmates in Normandy."

What a great legacy our shipyard has.  Whether it's our past, our current operations or our future accomplishments, we are proudly "America's Shipyard" that observed its 250th anniversary on November 1, with the exciting theme, "an important past, a vital future."

Editor's Note: In addition to serving as public affairs officer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard during his long and varied public relations career, Steve Milner was also a public affairs officer at Cape Canaveral, Florida, during the Gemini and Apollo programs. This article originally ran with the title, "NNSY's 250th observances were great; and here's another winner" in the November Federal Managers' Association Chapter 3 (Norfolk Naval Shipyard) newsletter.