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.
In his latest H-Gram, NHHC Director Sam Cox covers the Naval Battle of Okinawa with special emphasis on the ordeal of USS Laffey. During the 80-minute attack by kamikazes and dive-bombers, Laffey shot down at least eight aircraft and damaged six kamikazes that hit the ship. The ship’s surface and air search radars were out of action, and practically everything after the aft stack was engulfed in aviation fuel fires from the kamikaze hits. It would seem the ship was doomed, but the crew kept fighting, and damage control teams kept fighting the fires despite continued attacks. A number of the 20mm gunners “died in the straps,” firing at kamikazes until the instant of impact. Naval historian Rear Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison stated, “Probably no ship has ever survived an attack of the intensity that [Laffey] experienced.” Also covered in the H-Gram is the nearly disastrous Apollo 13 lunar landing mission of April 11–17, 1970, with emphasis on the background of the mission commander, U.S. Navy astronaut James A. Lovell Jr. For more, read H-Gram 045 at the Director’s Corner.
Navy Museums Donate PPE to Local Communities
An NHHC detachment and three U.S. Navy museums recently donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to local health care facilities to help combat the spread of COVID-19. U.S. Naval Undersea Museum, Puget Sound Navy Museum, U.S. Naval Academy Museum, and Detachment Boston USS Constitution Repair Facility donated 260 N95 masks, 36 face shields, and 70 full body Tyvek suits to Bremerton Naval Hospital, USNA Base Response Team, and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. “Detachment Boston is a production facility, so we use masks and safety glasses every day,” said Richard Moore, detachment director. “To try and help, as the amount of PPE needed is overwhelming and the number of infected cases keeps rising, we donated to one of the major hospitals in Boston.” Museums have PPE on hand to work with artifacts. Since all Navy museums are closed and most of their staffs teleworking, they decided to donate their unused equipment to where it is needed most. “Our hope is to ultimately save lives,” said Charles Swift, managing director of USNAM. “Help can come from unlikely places.” For more, read the article by Petty Officer 3rd Class Randy L. Adams at NHHC’s website.
For the Fleet Webpage
A new webpage has been added to NHHC’s website that is designed to answer commonly requested information concerning the fleet. “For the Fleet” links to information about writing and submitting a command operations report, ship decommissioning and disestablishing, gift acceptance and reporting, artifact loans, and reference information and support services. The page also provides links to information outside the responsibility of NHHC, such as retired flag officer biographies and veterans service records.
National Library Workers Day
National Library Workers Day, a day to recognize the contributions of all library workers, is today, April 21. Included in this group is the staff of NHHC’s own Navy Department Library, which helps preserve the Navy’s history and traditions and protect this repository of institutional knowledge. The Navy Department Library traces its roots to a letter dated March 31, 1800, from President John Adams to Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, directing him to establish a naval library. Today, the Navy Department Library staff continues to serve the public by acquiring, organizing, preserving, and providing access to naval and maritime history, customs, and traditions through reference services and internet outreach.
This year, April 26–May 2 is Preservation Week. Preservation Week is intended to promote the role of libraries and other institutions in preserving personal and public collections and treasures. Some 630 million items in collecting institutions require immediate attention and care. Eighty percent of these institutions have no paid staff assigned responsibility for collections care; 22 percent have no collections care personnel at all. As natural disasters of recent years have taught us, these resources are in jeopardy should a disaster strike. The American Library Association encourages libraries and other institutions to use Preservation Week to connect our communities through activities and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our shared collections. Learn about our collections at NHHC’s website.
The Epidemic Fighters: The Origin of Navy Preventative Medicine Units
On March 20, 2020, the Navy deployed a Forward Deployable Preventive Medicine Unit to ships of the 7th Fleet. Its mission, “to help combat the risk of and provide laboratory batch testing for COVID-19.” The role of these units is nothing new. They have long been on the frontlines of controlling outbreaks and disease testing. During World War I, Navy laboratory and sanitation units—the forerunner of preventive medicine units—were aboard ships and at shore installations fighting outbreaks of meningitis and influenza. In addition, they oversaw the prevention and control of other communicable diseases, conducted epidemiological studies, studied sanitary conditions, and disseminated public health information. Beginning in 1941, the units reformed as “Epidemiological and Sanitary Units.” They conducted research and implemented control measures for respiratory diseases, led studies on rheumatic fever and gastro-enteric diseases, and contributed to the control of meningitis and diphtheria. For more on the history of these units, read the blog by André B. Sobocinski at The Sextant.
WWII@75: Last American Ship Sunk
On April 24, 1945, USS Frederick C. Davis was the last U.S. Navy warship sunk by a German U-boat during World War II, 570 miles east of Cape Race, Newfoundland. U-546 fired a torpedo at almost point blank range that upon impact caused a tremendous explosion in the ship’s forward engine spaces. Nine minutes after the torpedo hit, Frederick C. Davis buckled and broke in two. She sank six minutes later. About 100 of the ship’s 192 crewmembers abandoned ship on their own initiative. Only 77 men survived the ordeal in the water, and many of the survivors waited up to three hours for rescue from other ships. Some ten hours later, USS Flaherty avenged Frederick C. Davis by sinking U-546 with gunfire after running a depth charge that forced the German submarine to surface.
WWII@75: First Bat Missiles
On April 23, 1945, Navy Patrol Bomber PB4Y Liberators (VPB-109) employed Bat missiles against Japanese shipping off Balikpapan, Borneo, in the first combat use of the only automatic homing missile to be used during World War II. Considered to be one of the most sophisticated U.S. missiles of the war, the Bat was released from an aircraft within 15- to 20-miles of its target. It carried a 1,000-pound bomb and was designed to destroy ships and offshore enemy targets. The Bat wasn’t used again after the war was over. In 1950, the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics donated a Bat to the Smithsonian where it is currently on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.
World War I and Unrestricted Submarine Warfare
In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, NHHC historian Christopher Havern discusses the sinking of the Lusitania and unrestricted submarine warfare during World War I. The Preble Hall podcast, conducted by personnel at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, MD, interviews historians, practitioners, military personnel, and other experts on a variety of naval history topics from ancient history to more current events. Also uploaded recently are Crimes in Command 1945–1985; U.S. Navy Chaplains, the Academy, and COVID-19; and Ming Dynasty Treasure Voyages and Zheng He, where maritime archeologist Dr. Sarah Ward discusses the 15th century treasure voyages of famed Admiral Zheng He and the profession of maritime archaeology.
USS Vermont Becomes Latest Virginia-Class Fast-Attack Submarine in Service
On April 18, the U.S. Navy administratively commissioned USS Vermont, the 19th Virginia-class attack submarine. The submarine was commissioned administratively due to the ongoing restrictions on crowd gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This Virginia-class fast-attack submarine will continue the proud naval legacy of the state of Vermont and the ships that have borne her name,” said Acting Secretary of the Navy James E. McPherson. “I am confident the crew of this cutting edge platform will carry on this tradition and confront the challenges of today’s complex world with the professionalism and dedication our nation depends on from warriors of the silent service.” Vermont is the third U.S. Navy vessel to honor the state. Congress authorized the first Vermont in 1816, and the second was part of the Great White Fleet. For more, read the U.S. Navy release.
NHHC Webpage of the Week
This week’s Webpage of the Week is a new entry on NHHC’s DANFS index. Named in honor of Adm. Maurice E. Curts, a former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and decorated World War II cruiser commander, USS Curts was commissioned on Oct. 8, 1983, at Long Beach Naval Station, CA. On May 17, 1987, an Iraqi aircraft fired two missiles at USS Stark, killing or wounding 37 American Sailors. Following the attack, Curts deployed to the area as part of the Missouri Battle Group and remained in the region until January 1988. On Oct. 2, 1990, Curts deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm, where she destroyed two mines and sank an Iraqi minelayer. Not long after the war ended and the ship was back in Pacific waters, a volcano erupted in the Philippines. With the volcano only a short distance from Clark Air Base and Naval Base Subic Bay, Operation Fiery Vigil was launched to provide for the emergency evacuation of all nonessential military and Department of Defense personnel and their dependents. In all, Curts evacuated 547 people. Over the course of the next few years, Curts participated in a number of exercises and deployments to support counternarcotics and law-enforcement operations. After 29 years of service, Curts was decommissioned on Jan. 25, 2013. NHHC historian Jeremiah D. Foster authored the history.
Today in Naval History
On April 21, 2001, USS Lassen was commissioned at Tampa, FL. The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer is named after Lt. Clyde Everett Lassen, a Medal of Honor recipient, who rescued two downed aviators while he was commander of a search and rescue helicopter during the Vietnam War. On June 19, 1968, Lassen was under heavy enemy fire and initially landed in a clear area but, due to the dense undergrowth, the aviators could not reach the helicopter. With the aid of flare illumination, Lassen successfully accomplished a hover between two trees at the survivors’ position, but illumination was lost and the helicopter hit a tree. Lassen expertly maneuvered his helicopter in the clear and again attempted to land, but lack of light and being dangerously low on fuel nearly squashed the rescue. On the next attempt, fully aware he would come under enemy attack by exposing himself, Lassen turned on his landing lights, and the aviators were able to board the aircraft. Lassen made his way back to his shipwith only minutes of flight fuel left.
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