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.
Galvanic: Beyond the Reef—Tarawa and the Gilberts
NHHC has published its second historical summary in the U.S. Navy Operations in World War II commemorative series: Galvanic: Beyond the Reef—Tarawa and the Gilberts, by NHHC historian Nicholas Roland. “Galvanic” was the joint operation led by the U.S. Navy Central Pacific Force to capture the Gilbert Islands, a Central Pacific chain straddling the equator. The operation’s primary objectives were the capture of Apamama, Makin, and Tarawa atolls for future use as forward airfields to support subsequent operations in the Central Pacific. Approximately 200 ships and more than 35,000 Soldiers and Marines would face around 5,600 Japanese combat and support troops. Despite the American preponderance of force, the Japanese would prove to be a tenacious foe. Download the free electronic version of this World War II title from NHHC’s website.
On July 9, 1960, 60 years ago, USS Thresher was launched at Portsmouth, NH. The submarine was commissioned on Aug. 3, 1961. On April 10, 1963, in company with USS Skylark, Thresher reached her assigned test depth and communicated with Skylark by underwater telephone, apprizing the submarine rescue ship of difficulties. Listeners on Skylark heard a noise “like air rushing into an air tank”—and then, silence. Efforts to reestablish contact with Thresher failed, and a search group was formed in an attempt to locate the submarine. The rescue ship USS Recovery subsequently recovered debris, including gloves and bits of internal insulation. Photographs taken by Bathyscaphe Trieste proved that the submarine had broken up, taking all hands onboard. Thresher was officially declared lost in April 1963.
Mariner: First Woman to Command Aviation Squadron
On July 12, 1990, 30 years ago, Cmdr. Rosemary B. Mariner became the first woman to command an operational aviation squadron when she led Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 34 (VAQ-34) during Desert Storm. She was one of the first women to become qualified as a naval aviator in 1974 and one of the first women to fly light attack aircraft. Mariner attained the rank of captain before retiring in 1997. Over the course of her 24 years of service, Mariner had more than 3,500 flight hours in 15 types of aircraft. After she packed away the uniform for good, Mariner taught military history at the University of Tennessee and continued to serve as an advisor on national defense policy and women’s integration into the military for the Navy and various media sources. She passed away on Jan. 24, 2019, at the age of 65. In honor of her trailblazing service, the Navy coordinated an all-female flyover at her funeral.
Navy Capt. Jordine Skoff Von Wantoch Broke Barriers for Working Moms
Born a coalminer’s daughter, Jordine Skoff Von Wantoch forged a path like no other woman who came before her. She was 89 years old when she passed away recently in her Coronado, CA, home with her daughter by her side. Von Wantoch served 30 years in the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of captain before she retired. Although attaining the high rank was a big achievement, it is not what she was known for during her career. In 1970, she became pregnant with her daughter, Lian. Von Wantoch was the first naval officer in the United States allowed to remain on active duty and complete a normal career while raising a child. This opened the door for a policy change about women in the Navy with children. “She was a great role model,” said Lian of her mom. “I was so impressed by her tenacity and her not taking no for an answer that it inspired me. She is the reason for things that I take for granted about the role of women. She showed me what was possible if you just persevere.” For more, read the article in The San Diego Union-Tribune. For more on women in the U.S. Navy, go to NHHC’s website.
First Director of Naval History
On July 12, 1944, Adm. Edward C. Kalbfus was assigned as the first director of Naval History. He would hold the position until 1945. During his tenure, he requested that major fleet and shore-based commands submit narratives of their wartime experiences. Over the course of his career, Kalbfus participated in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, the Cuban Pacification, and the Mexican occupation in 1914. He was captain of USS Pocahontas during World War I, and later commanded USS Iowa, USS Trenton, USS California, and was a member of the staff of the Naval War College, 1927–1929. He was chief of staff of Battleship Divisions, Battle Fleet; director of War Plans, Navy Department; commander of Destroyers, Battle Force, U.S. Fleet; president of the Naval War College; member of the Navy General Board; and a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission. He died on Sept. 6, 1954, and is buried with his wife Syria at Arlington National Cemetery.
Preble Hall Podcast
In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, Capt. Tal Manvel, USN (Retired), USNA Class of 1972, gives his eyewitness account of how the change in mandatory chapel attendance impacted him and how an understanding of the U.S. Constitution helped, on this 50th anniversary of the decision Anderson vs. Laird. 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 Persian Empire and its Navy, The Slave’s Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812, and Service, Citizenship, & Starship Troopers where, in 2017, Marine and Congressman Mike Gallagher spoke at the museum’s first NavyCon about Robert Heinlein’s book Starship Troopers and the real meaning of citizenship. Heinlein, an author of science fiction, was a 1929 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Official Records Gathering of Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion Began
On July 7, 1884, the project to gather, edit and publish the official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion began under the direction of Professor James R. Soley, U.S. Navy, at that time in charge of the Navy Department Library, afterward Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The first volume, “Operations of the Cruisers from Jan. 19, 1861, to Dec. 31, 1862,” was published in 1894. The thirtieth and final volume was published in 1922.
This U.S. Navy Ship Was Actually Built by the Soviet Union
The Navy’s Military Sealift Command has a number of odd-looking ships in its inventory, but one has the distinction of having been built in the former Soviet Union. USNS Lance Cpl. Roy M. Wheat, originally built as the Vladimir Vaslyaev, is a cargo ship used to carry supplies for the Marine Corps. The ship was built in the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine and bought on the open market by the U.S. Navy in 1997. She was commissioned in 2003 and operates in the Mediterranean. The ship is named in honor of Marine Lance Cpl. Roy M. Wheat, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously during the Vietnam War. Wheat gallantly gave his life for his country when he threw himself on an antipersonnel mine—saving the lives of those around him—in the vicinity of the Dien Ban District, Quang Nam Province. For more, read the article in Popular Mechanics.
Webpage of the Week
This week’s Webpage of the Week is an updated ship history on NHHC’s DANFS index. Named in honor of Ensign Leon W. Canfield, who was killed in action while serving aboard USS South Dakota at Guadalcanal, USS Canfield was commissioned July 22, 1943. Canfield began her wartime service when she deployed in June 1944 to the Marianas Islands as part of Task Group 51.18, screening a convoy of ten ships. Canfield would go on to operate in the Philippines and participate in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Canfield received two battle stars for her service in World War II. For more on the ship, read the history authored by NHHC historian Jeremiah D. Foster.
Today in Naval History
On July 7, 1846, during the Mexican-American War, Commodore John D. Sloat disembarked from his flagship frigate, USS Savannah, at Monterey and claimed California for the United States without firing a shot. The Pacific Squadron, under the command of Sloat and Commodore Robert Stockton, would go on to claim San Francisco and San Diego as well. The war ended on Feb. 2, 1848, with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico agreed to extend the southern border of Texas to the Rio Grande River, and ceded present-day California, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada, as well as parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming, to the United States.
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