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.
WWII@75: V-E Day
On May 8, 1945, the Allies in Berlin ratified the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. The event came to be known as V-E Day (Victory in Europe). In the months leading up to Germany’s surrender, the Third Reich’s situation was bleak. After crossing the Rhine in late March, U.S., British, and French forces had established positions on the east bank of the river. By the beginning of May, the Allies in the west had surrounded and destroyed several German army groups in western and central Germany and had met Soviet troops at the Elbe River. Hundreds of thousands of German troops were prisoners of war. On May 2, German forces in Italy and Austria surrendered to Allied forces as they advanced northward through Italy. Despite encountering ferocious German resistance, the Soviets had fought their way through eastern Germany and had surrounded Berlin. The Battle of the Atlantic ended the day prior to Germany’s formal surrender. For more, read “Victory in Europe: Germany’s Surrender and Aftermath,” an essay by NHHC’s Carsten Fries at NHHC’s website.
UK Issues Protections for Sunken American Landing Ships
On the advice of Historic England, the United Kingdom Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport issued protections for two sunken U.S. amphibian landing ships (LST) located off Slapton Sands in Devon, UK. LST-507 and LST-531 were sunk by the German navy in April 1944 during Exercise Tiger, which was a training exercise meant to prepare troops in the buildup to the invasion of Normandy. “The work by Historic England in getting these sites protected by the UK government is vital in protecting these war graves from unauthorized disturbance,” said Dr. Robert Neyland, NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology branch head. “While these ships are protected under international and U.S. law, the fact that they reside in UK territorial waters and that the government has created additional safeguards ensures the safety and security of these historic sites, honoring our fallen service members and preserving their final resting place.” For more, read the release at NHHC’s website.
WWII@75: William D. Halyburton
On May 10, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, Pharmacists Mate Second Class William D. Halyburton heroically sacrificed himself while serving with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. On that day, heavy Japanese mortar, machine gun, and sniper fire swept the Marines as they advanced to a strategically important area, pinning down the leading squad. As the squad continued to fight, Halyburton moved through enemy fire and reached a wounded Marine. As he administered first aid, a Japanese bullet struck his patient. With complete disregard for himself, Halyburton shielded the Marine with his own body while he continued to treat the patient. While administering aid, Halyburton was hit by Japanese fire that would take his life. For his extraordinary heroism, Halyburton posthumously received the Medal of Honor. USS Halyburton honors this World War II hero.
Happy Birthday, Naval Aviation!
On May 8, 1911, 109 years ago, Capt. Washington Chambers prepared the requisition for the first U.S. Navy seaplane, the A-1 Triad, marking the birth of naval aviation. Before the Navy purchased the aircraft, it had a keen interest in aviation. In 1910, the Navy appointed an aviation officer, Eugene Ely, whom Glenn Curtiss offered to train for free at his aviation camp. Ely, whose accomplishments of firsts in naval aviation are many, demonstrated that an aircraft could take off and land on a ship. From those humble beginnings, the Navy’s aircraft inventory has grown exponentially in both size and capability. Naval aviation has been pivotal during peacetime and war, and its capabilities are the envy of the world. Happy birthday, naval aviation!
National Nurses Day—May 6
National Nurses Day is celebrated annually on May 6 to raise awareness of the important role nurses play in society—especially this year with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The day marks the beginning of National Nurses Week, which ends on May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale (1820–1910). On May 13, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Naval Appropriations Bill authorizing the establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps. The original cadre of women to serve in the U.S. Navy as nurses were known as the “sacred twenty.” The group included Lenah Sutcliff Higbee, the first female to be awarded the Navy Cross. For more about nurses and Navy medicine, go to NHHC’s website.
WWII@75: Last German Submarine Sunk
On May 6, 1945, destroyer escort USS Farquhar sank German submarine U-881 while conducting hunter-killer operations in the North Atlantic. Early that morning, the ship made sonar contact with the enemy submarine and subsequently dropped 13 depth charges on the vessel. No further contact was made with the U-boat. Post-war evaluation revealed Farquhar was the last American ship to sink an enemy submarine in the Atlantic during World War II by sending U-881 to the ocean’s floor. For more on the Battle of the Atlantic, go to NHHC’s website.
Military Spouse Appreciation Day—May 8
On May 8, National Military Spouse Appreciation Day will be celebrated to honor the contributions of the military spouse to keeping our country safe. America’s military spouses are the backbone of support for our nation’s military and are the silent heroes who are essential to the strength of the nation. Their service to the country is as important as the servicemember in that they are there during the mission, deployments, reintegration, and reset. Military spouses embody service to our country and love for the servicemember who carries out the duties to make our country safe. On Friday, remember to thank a military spouse for his or her service.
Morrison Commissioned to Document WWII
On May 5, 1942, Samuel Eliot Morrison, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, was commissioned a lieutenant commander, USNR, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to document the history of World War II “from the inside.” He led a cadre of Sailor-historians collecting wartime documentation that would be the foundation of his 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. During the war, Morrison witnessed many actions under enemy attack, including the bloody Battle of Okinawa. In September 1946, he was released to inactive service with duty at Harvard University where he maintained an office in the Navy Department under the Director of Naval Records and History. The first volume, The Battle of the Atlantic, September 1939–May 1943, was released in 1947. The 15th and final volume was released in 1962.
U.S. 7th Fleet Controls Tomahawk Launch from 5,000 Miles Away
On May 5, 2010, 10 years ago, USS Cheyenne, in conjunction with Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, and members of Naval Special Warfare Group (NSWG) 3, successfully fired a Block IV-E Tomahawk land-attack missile (TLAM). The launch took place off the California southern coast into the China Lake Test Range, CA, marking the first time a forward-deployed operational command acted as the Tomahawk strike coordinator and primary missile controller for an operational test launch. NSWG-3 provided updated target data used by 7th Fleet to modify the missile’s flight path, resulting in a destroyed target. The test launch demonstrated complex strike capability and was a tremendous success for all involved.
History of U.S. Navy Education and Reforms
In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, Cmdr. BJ Armstrong, USN, PhD, of the U.S. Naval Academy’s History Department discusses the history of education reforms in the U.S. Navy. 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 loaded recently are the U.S. Naval Academy’s international programs and the response to COVID-19 and Julius Caesar’s Navy: The Gallic War and the Invasion of Britain. In addition, the academy’s shift to online teaching during COVID-19 has been published. In the podcast, Dr. Karyn Sproles, director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Center for Teaching and Learning, discusses how her office worked with faculty to shift to online teaching during the current crisis.
NHHC Webpage of the Week
This week’s Webpage of the Week is an essay by NHHC historian Guy Nasuti—“Those Suicide Pilots Knew Where to Hit”: The Sinking of USS Little. In May 1945, Little was ordered to patrol the waters of Picket Station No. 10. Operating with destroyer minelayer USS Aaron Ward and other smaller ships, the ship’s personnel provided early detection of impending air attacks. The operation was intended to help prevent attacks against the fleet’s much larger vessels, but it also increased the likelihood that Little and her companion vessels would themselves become targets. Although well prepared, Little’s crew was surprised by the unprecedented degree of coordination and tactical innovation exhibited by the Japanese kamikaze pilots. For more, read the essay. New content is continually being added to the Battle of Okinawa webpage during the 75th anniversary of the event. Check it out today.
Today in Naval History
On May 5, 2012, USNS Cesar Chavez was launched at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego, CA. The Military Sea Lift Command’s (MSC) dry cargo ammunition ship honors the prominent civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, who served in the Navy during World War II and later founded the National Farm Works Association, which became the United Farm Workers Union. Chavez died peacefully in his sleep on April 23, 1993, near Yuma, AZ, a short distance from where he was born 66 years before. On April 29, more than 50,000 mourners gathered at the site of his first public fast in 1968 and his last in 1988. He is interred at the National Chavez Center in Keene, CA. On Aug. 8, 1994, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Freedom posthumously to Chavez. His widow accepted the honor on his behalf. Cesar Chavez began service with MSC on Oct. 25, 2014.
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