Home / Heritage Highlights / Navy History Matters – May 19, 2020

Navy History Matters – May 19, 2020

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.

“On the Verge of Breaking Down Completely”

On May 18, 1945, off Okinawa during World War II, USS Longshaw abruptly ran aground on a reef while on patrol conducting fire support missions. After several attempts to free Longshaw, the ship’s commanding officer welcomed assistance from fleet ocean tug Arikara. While the tug was attempting to pull Longshaw off the reef, both crews watched in horror when a Japanese shell splashed between the ships. As the Longshaw crew ran to battle stations, the enemy shore battery firing at the stationary target struck Longshaw amidships near a 40-millimeter gun. Additional shells hit the number four 5-inch upper handling room, the bridge, and the number two upper handling room, all on the port side of the ship. “The first shot went in between us and the Arikara, and the next one was right on us in the port side,” said Machine Accountant Third Class Bill N. Boston. For more, read the essay by NHHC historian Guy Nasuti at NHHC’s website. On a continuing basis, NHHC is adding content to its Battle of Okinawa webpage in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the battle. Check it out today.

Maine Celebrates Birthday with Return to Service

The gold crew of USS Maine officially returned the submarine to strategic service when it recently deployed on its first patrol in more than three years. This year marks Maine’s 25th anniversary since commissioning, and it is the state of Maine’s bicentennial. “As governor of the great state of Maine, and as a proud daughter and sister of Navy veterans, I am deeply grateful to the crew of USS Maine and to all those who have committed themselves to her continued service over the last twenty-five years,” said Governor Janet Mills. “As Maine celebrates our bicentennial in what has been a challenging year, you carry forward our proud legacy of service and sacrifice in defense of our state and nation. As USS Maine returns to her sisters in the fleet, I wish you all fair winds and following seas, and thank you on behalf of our state for your many contributions to our nation.” For more, read the U.S. Navy release.

Nautilus Designated National Historic Landmark

On May 20, 1982, historic ship Nautilus was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior in recognition of her pioneering role in the practical use of nuclear power. Nautilus was the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, commissioned on Sept. 30, 1954. On July 30, 1958, Nautilus departed Pearl Harbor, HI, under top-secret orders to conduct “Operation Sunshine,” the first crossing of the North Pole by a ship. At 11:15 p.m. on Aug. 3, Nautilus accomplished the impossible, reaching the geographic North Pole—90 degrees north. Over the course of the submarine’s 25-year career, Nautilus steamed more than half a million miles. On April 11, 1986, 86 years to the day after the birth of the Submarine Force, historic ship Nautilus joined the Submarine Force Museum as the first exhibit in the world of its kind.

Memorial Day

Observed this year on May 25, Memorial Day honors the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the nation. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official Federal holiday in 1971. A long custom in the Navy is honoring our shipmates. Read the blog “Half-Mast or Half-Staff” at The Sextant. Remember to never forget the sacrifice of our fallen Sailors and please always honor them and their families.

Maritime Day

On May 25, the United States celebrates National Maritime Day. In 1933, Congress created National Maritime Day to commemorate the American steamship/sidewheel steamer SS Savannah’s voyage from the United States to England. The crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by Savannah marked the first successful transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion. “During World War II, more than 250,000 members of the American Merchant Marine served, with more than 6,700 giving their lives, hundreds being detained as prisoners of war, and more than 800 U.S. merchant ships being sunk or damaged,” according to the Maritime Administration, Department of Transportation. For more, read National Maritime Day: Remembering the Forgotten at Navy Live.

Collection Management Facility Opens

On May 20, 2015, NHHC’s Collection Management Facility formally opened at the Defense Supply Center in Richmond, VA. Previously, artifacts had been stored in separate facilities in Washington, DC; Springfield, VA; Cheatham Annex, VA; and Memphis, TN. The refurbished building provides improved environmental control for high-risk artifacts, proper shelving and storage, and an area for preserving and conserving the artifacts. The facility also affords the Navy a central location for all the artifacts, which translates to improved management, accountability, oversight, and care of the collection. The improved facilities were mainly the result of the hard work of personnel from NHHC and a Defense Logistics Agency eager to make more efficient use of available storage space. Just over a year ago, on May 1, NHHC’s Conservation Branch officially opened its state-of-the-art artifact conservation lab at the site.

The U.S. Navy Flew Drones from Flattops … In 1969

The Navy recently purchased fixed-wing drones for aircraft carrier air wings. The MQ-25 is an aerial refueling tanker that can extend the range of carrier F/A-18 and manned F-35 fighters. The MQ-25 could be used as a reconnaissance drone or even a light bomber. Though this may seem futuristic, the Navy tried this before, in 1969. In the fall of that year, a special variant of Ryan Aeronautical’s Model 147 Lightning Bug reconnaissance drone flew from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ranger. The jet-powered drone flew 28 missions. It would photograph targets in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War and then maneuver its way back to Ranger where it would deploy a parachute and float in the ocean. Helicopters from the flattop would then recover the drone. For more, read the article at Forbes.

The Traditions of the U.S. Naval Academy Commissioning Weeks and Graduations

In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, James Cheevers, senior curator/historian emeritus of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, discusses the history of U.S. Naval Academy commissioning weeks and graduations. Cheevers served at the museum from 1967 until his retirement in 2017. The Preble Hall podcast, conducted by personnel at USNA 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, the U.S. Naval Academy Library past, present, and future podcast features Larry Clemens, director of the Nimitz Library at USNA, and discusses the history of the academy’s library since 1845, how its services to the midshipmen have changed, and how it responded to the COVID-19 semester.

NHHC Webpage of the Week

This week’s Webpage of the Week is new to the Battle of Okinawa webpage. Adm. Spruance recounts kamikaze attack on his flagship, New Mexico is a May 13, 1945, letter from Adm. Raymond Spruance to his longtime friend and former chief of staff Capt. Charles J. Moore describing the second kamikaze attack he experienced at Okinawa. He wrote the letter the day after the attack, and on the same day, he attended funeral services for 54 Sailors and Marines killed in the attack. “This is my second experience with a suicide plane making a hit on board my own ship, and I have seen four other ships hit near me,” Spruance wrote. “The suicide plane is a very effective weapon, which we must not underestimate. I do not believe anyone who has not been around within its area of operations can realize its potentialities against ships.” For more, read the letter at NHHC’s website.

Today in Naval History

On May 19, 1944, USS England sank Japanese submarine I-16, the first of five submarines the destroyer sank in a week’s time. The ship sank another Japanese submarine, RO-105, on May 30, marking six for the month of May. England was part of a three-ship hunter-killer task group that got underway after intelligence learned the Japanese were establishing a line of seven submarines between the Admiralty Islands and Truk, an area through which U.S. carriers were expected to pass. The Japanese were anticipating additional Allied landings but did not know whether the Marianas, the western Caroline Islands, or the western end of New Guinea was the target. Japanese planners thought western New Guinea was most likely due to recent U.S. carrier strikes in support of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s westward advance along New Guinea’s north coast. For their actions, England was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, and Lt. Cmdr. Walton Pendleton, England’s commander, received the Navy Cross for the six submarines sunk.

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.

Download your copy of this week’s Navy History Matters here.