Navy History Matters – May 28, 2019

Compiled by Brent Hunt, Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach Division 

Welcome to Navy History Matters—our weekly compilation of articles, commentaries, and blogs related to history and heritage. Every week we’ll gather the top-interest items from a variety of media and social media sources and then link you to related content at NHHC’s website (history.navy.mil), your authoritative source for Navy history.

USS Constitution’s Around-the-World Cruise

On May 29, 1844, 175 years ago, the frigate USS Constitution, commanded by John Percival, set sail from New York for an around-the-world cruise that covered more than 52,000 miles. During the two-year voyage, Constitution visited—in this order—the East Atlantic islands belonging to Portugal and Spain; Rio de Janeiro; Madagascar and Mozambique; the East African sultanate of Zanzibar; the Sultanate of Aceh (in contemporary Indonesia); Singapore and Borneo, a coal-rich island in the Malay Archipelago; Vietnam and China; the Philippines and Hawaii; California and Mexico; and Valparaíso on the Chilean coast. Secretary of the Navy David Henshaw sent the half-century-old sailing ship on the mission for a number of reasons but, of the priorities, collecting information on foreign waters and foreign ports was the only one deemed truly successful. To learn more, read the essay USS Constitution’s Around-the-World Cruise: Adventures and Misadventures by COD’s Adam Bisno at NHHC’s website.

The Workhorse of Normandy: Remembering the Role of LSTs in Medical Evacuation

Originally conceived to transport tanks, trucks, and personnel for amphibious landings, LSTs were recognized immediately by medical planners as a practical way of removing injured personnel from beachheads during World War II. By 1943, the Navy began adapting LSTs for medical use in the Pacific, and as plans for Operation Overlord began to be formulated, the LST was identified as the primary casualty transport ship. Between June 6–11, 1944, 106 out of the 144 LSTs at Normandy were designated as casualty evacuation ships. LSTs evacuated about 80 percent of all Allied casualties throughout the operation. To learn more, read the blog by André B. Sobocinski at The Sextant. Also, read Seventy-Five Years Ago: The Depot that Supported D-Day at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s blog. The blog provides information on the buildup and training on the many different types of landing craft that were used on D-Day.

WWII@75: Block Island Lost

USS BLOCK ISLAND (CVE-21), circa March 1943. Broadside view, starboard.

On May 29, 1944, 75 years ago, German submarine U-549 torpedoed and sank USS Block Island—the only U.S. carrier lost in the Atlantic during World War II. USS Eugene E. Elmore and USS Ahrens sunk the enemy submarine later that night. Nine hundred fifty-one of Block Island’s crew were rescued. Amazingly, only six were lost; however, of the six Wildcat fighters in the air trying to make it to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands at the time of the attack, only two survived. The next morning, Eugene E. Elmore took the crippled USS Barr—which was also struck by a torpedo—in tow along with two ships full of survivors and set sail for Morocco. They eventually pulled into the Casablanca harbor on June 1. Army-issued fresh khakis and toilet gear went to each man, but the crew of Block Island was kept in isolation for the next several days to keep news of the ship’s loss from leaking out.

LGBT Pride Month

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. Initially established as “Gay and Lesbian Month” by President Bill Clinton in 2000, LGBT Pride Month recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of the LGBT community to the military and civilian sectors. DOD began observing LGBT Pride Month in 2012. To learn more, visit the Naval Service of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender personnel historical policy overview at NHHC’s website.

WWII@75: First Blimps Cross Atlantic

On June 1, 1944, 75 years ago, Blimp Squadron Fourteen (ZP-14) airships—K-123 and K-130—completed the first crossing of the Atlantic by non-rigid, lighter-than-air aircraft. The journey began at Naval Air Station South Weymouth, MA, and ended at Port Lyautey in Morocco. ZP-14 was established on June 1, 1942, and was involved in extensive antisubmarine warfare and rescue missions while serving in the continental United States. In 1944, ZP-14 received orders to deploy overseas to serve under the operational control of Eighth Fleet in Europe and Africa. The transatlantic flight was completed in three legs with stops in Argentia; Newfoundland; the Azores; and finally ending in Morocco. Once the K-series airships arrived, their primary mission was to provide a MAD (magnetic anomaly detection) barrier at night in the Straits of Gibraltar. Other duties included convoy escorts, search for survivors of downed aircraft, and miscellaneous activities. To learn more, read the naval aviation histories of Z-21 in the Caribbean and ZP-14 in the Atlantic and Europe at NHHC’s website.

NMAS Renamed Five Years Ago

On May 29, 2014, five years ago, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus issued SECNAVNOTE 5755, which officially changed the Great Lakes Naval Museum’s name to the National Museum of the American Sailor. The name change was formally announced on July 4, 2016, by then-Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael Stevens and Naval History and Heritage Command’s Director Sam Cox. The name of the museum was changed because it better reflects the museum’s mission to capture the entire experience and history of the United States Navy’s enlisted Sailor. As an official Department of the Navy museum under NHHC, NMAS serves as a vital part of the heritage training process for all Navy recruits and connects them to the Navy’s long tradition of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. To learn more, read Our People, Our History—Introducing the National Museum of the American Sailor by Director Cox at The Sextant.

Remembering the Attack on USS Stark

A port quarter view of the guided missile frigate USS STARK (FFG-31) listing to port after being struck by an Iraqi-launched Exocet missile.

While on patrol in the Persian Gulf on May 17, 1987, USS Stark was struck by two Iraqi missiles that killed 37 Sailors and wounded another 21. The ship was in the Persian Gulf’s war-free zone on a two-day exercise during the Iran–Iraq War. Around 9 p.m., when a majority of the Sailors were asleep, an Iraqi Dassault Mirage F1 jet released two air-to-ground missiles on Stark. Apparently, the pilot believed the American ship was an Iranian oil tanker. The first missile struck the ship’s forward port side, but it did not detonate. Just seconds later, the second missile hit, and it detonated. Due to the quick actions of Sailors onboard, the ship did not sink and was escorted to the Manama port in Bahrain the next day. To learn more, read the U.S. Navy release. For additional reading on the episodes surrounding the event, read H-018-1: No Higher Honor—The Road to Operation Praying Mantis at NHHC’s website.

Strike Fighter Squadron 101 Deactivates

After more than seven years of training F-35C pilots at Eglin Air Force Base, FL, Strike Fighter Squadron 101, the “Grim Reapers,” has deactivated, May 23. This deactivation was completed to establish and mature the F-35C community at Naval Air Station Lemoore. The Grim Reapers can be traced back to 1942, when they were originally known as VF-10. During World War II, pilots flew F4F Wildcats and F4 Corsairs off USS Enterprise. After the war, the squadron was deactivated, but in 1952, VF-101 was reactivated as the Grim Reapers. The squadron continued the legacy of flying FG1-D Corsairs during the Korean War. Since then, the squadron has flown F2H Banshee, the F4D Skyray, the F3H Demon, the F-4 Phantom II, and the F-14 Tomcat. VF-101 was deactivated in September 2005, but was reactivated again and redesignated as VFA-101 in May 2012 as the first Lightning II Fleet Replacement Squadron for the F-35C. “The contributions that VFA-101 has made to the F-35C community will not diminish as this program grows,” said VFA-101 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Adan Covarrubias. “The original cadre of maintainers and pilots have left a legacy that is evidenced in all aspects of this community. Their influence will continue long after the squadron’s doors are closed.” To learn more, read the U.S. Navy release. To learn more about naval aviation, go to NHHC’s website.

Morse Code Celebrates 175 Years and Counting

On May 24, 1844, 175 years ago, the first message was sent from Washington, DC, to Baltimore using Morse code’s dots and dashes. It was the first time in human history a message containing complex thoughts was transmitted over a long distance and was received instantaneously. Prior to the message, people sent coded messages using smoke signals, drums, or printed words. During this period in time, communication, as it was known, was changing rapidly thanks to Samuel F.B. Morse. He invented the electric telegraph in 1832, and in 1843 Congress provided Morse $30,000 to string wires between Washington and Baltimore. When the line was completed, the first Morse code message was sent. Perhaps one of the most notable uses of Morse code in modern history came during the Vietnam War by Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton. In 1966, Denton was a prisoner of war, and his captors forced him to participate in propaganda videos. During the interview—which was broadcasted in the United States—Denton blinked the Morse code symbols “T-O-R-T-U-R-E.” The message confirmed for the first time the mistreatment of service members by the North Vietnamese. To learn more, read the article at Smithsonian.com.

Maine Native was Civil War Naval Hero

On June 19, 1864, a pivotal battle during the Civil War was fought off the coast of Cherbourg, France, between CSS Alabama and the Union Navy’s USS Kearsarge. On board Kearsarge was a 21-year-old Sailor from Bass Harbor, ME, who was the ship’s number one pivot gunner. John Fairfield Bickford received the Medal of Honor for exhibiting “marked coolness and good conduct and was highly recommended for his gallantry under fire….” For two years, Alabama had wreaked havoc on Union vessels, sinking or disabling dozens. Kearsarge was dispatched to end Alabama’s rampage. Kearsarge found out that the Confederate ship was in the French port of Cherbourg under repairs and, like a hungry shark, waited just a few miles outside the harbor to fight Alabama. When the two ships finally met in battle, Alabama was at a disadvantage. Her ammunition was damp, and the gunnery crew was not as experienced as those on the Union vessel. In addition, Kearsarge’s hull in the engine area had been draped with chains, making the ship essentially an ironclad. To learn what happened, read the article in the Mountain Desert Islander. To learn more about the battle, read sinking of CSS Alabama by USS Kearsarge at NHHC’s website.

NHHC Webpage of the Week

From March 24–June 10, 1999, 20 years ago, NATO conducted an air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to stop the human catastrophe that was unfolding in Kosovo. In commemoration of the 78-day peacekeeping mission, this week’s Webpage of the Week is Operation Allied Force, which is new to NHHC’s wars, conflicts, and operations page. On this page, users can explore selected articles and blogs; notable naval vessels involved in the mission; additional resources, such as lessons learned; and an array of selected imagery. Check out this page today and learn more about this significant peacekeeping operation.

Today in Naval History

On May 28, 1958, the guided-missile cruiser USS Galveston was commissioned at Philadelphia, PA. The ship was the first on Feb. 24, 1959, to fire the deadly Talos ship-to-air missile at sea during “highly successful” tests in the Virginia Capes area. The Talos missile weighed nearly 3,000 pounds, including a 40,000 horsepower ramjet engine, and had a range of 65 miles. It was designed to destroy enemy aircraft at high altitudes using either a conventional or atomic warhead.

For more dates in naval history, including your selected span of dates, see Year at a Glance at NHHC’s website. Be sure to check this page regularly, as content is updated frequently.


Downloadable version of the above information is available here.

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