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.
The Loss of Flight 19—75 Years Ago
Shortly after 2 p.m. on Dec. 5, 1945, five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers departed U.S. Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, FL, for a routine navigational training flight with Lt. Charles C. Taylor as the flight’s leader. The group of aircraft, dubbed Flight 19, was to execute Navigation Problem No. 1, which was to fly to the east from the Florida coast, conduct bombing runs at a place called Hens and Chickens Shoals, turn north, and then proceed over Grand Bahama Island. The flight’s last leg was to fly back to NAS Fort Lauderdale. The weather was projected to be relatively normal except for a few scattered showers. Shortly after the second leg of the flight, the aviators reported they were lost. Within minutes, tower personnel scrambled two PBM Mariner flying boats carrying rescue equipment to head for Flight 19’s last known estimated position. About 10 minutes into the rescue flight, personnel from both planes checked in with the tower, but that was the last time one of the planes transmitted back to Fort Lauderdale’s flight operations. After an extensive search, nothing was ever found from the six lost aircraft and their crews. Because of the tragedy, 27 men lost their lives. For more, read The Loss of Flight 19 at NHHC’s website.
Doyle, Coast Guard Intercept Drug Smuggling Vessel—10 Years Ago
On Dec. 6, 2010, USS Doyle and her embarked U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment intercepted smuggling vessel Rio Tuira in the eastern Pacific about 180 miles from Panama. They seized 22 bales of cocaine with an estimated street value of $15.4 million. Doyle had an extensive history in counternarcotics operations. During a 2005 Caribbean deployment, the frigate made a total of five interdictions that led to the apprehension of 28 narco-terrorists and the seizure or destruction of an estimated $315 million worth of cocaine—83 bales during the first month of the deployment alone. Doyle was decommissioned about a year after the 2010 deployment.
Naval Historical Center Established
On Dec. 1, 1971, the Naval Historical Center was established by consolidating the Naval Historical Display Center—now the National Museum of the U.S. Navy—and the Naval History Division. In 1982, NHC moved into a new building complex named in honor of Commodore Dudley W. Knox located on the Washington Navy Yard. Also during that year, the Naval Historical Foundation donated its collection of art and artifacts to the Navy Museum. In 1991, oversight of the USS Constitution Maintenance and Repair Division—known today as Detachment Boston—was transferred to NHC, and in 1996, the Underwater Archeology Branch was established. In 2006, NHC was given oversight of all SECNAV-designated Navy museums. On Dec. 1, 2008, through OPNAVNOTE 5400, NHC was renamed the Naval History and Heritage Command in recognition of its broader responsibilities. For more, read the origins of NHHC at NHHC’s website.
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Museum established
On Dec. 3, 1954, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Museum—predecessor to the Puget Sound Navy Museum—was established. The museum idea originated in 1951 when Karl Wood, a shipyard employee, noticed a retired bell stored near his worksite. He speculated that there were probably quite a few other interesting historical items stashed away in closets and offices throughout the shipyard. The museum officially opened to visitors with 600 artifacts on display in the local naval recreation facility known as the Craven Center.
Preble Hall Podcast
In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, Jeff Bowdoin, head of the Curator Branch at NHHC, and Hans van Tilburg, a maritime archeologist with NOAA, discuss the shipwreck of Saginaw in 1870, the heroic journey of five to save their shipmates, and its discovery off Kure Atoll in 2003. 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.
The Museum That Fell From the Sky
Famous museums such as the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City reside in impressive structures, but a museum that highlights a part of Navy history lives in a refurbished camping trailer that is towed around by a pickup truck. Inside the mobile museum is a priceless collection of the Navy’s first rigid airship cared for by an Ohio woman who has a passion for history and preservation. The airship Shenandoahwas the pride of the Navy when it was christened in 1923. It was the first rigid airship to be inflated with helium and the first to fly across the United States. On Sept. 3, 1925, while flying over Ohio, Shenandoah ran into a severe storm that broke the airship in two, killing about half the crew. In the wake of the tragedy, thousands of people made their way to the scene of the accident and scavenged anything that could be torn loose or taken. Although the U.S. government confiscated most of the items that were taken from the scene of the accident, some items were never recovered and have become treasured family heirlooms. “We still get donations after all these years like when someone is clearing out an older relative’s home, and they come across a piece of Shenandoah’s framework in the attic,” said Theresa Rayner, who cares for the artifacts. For more, read the article. For more on airships and dirigibles, go to NHHC’s website.
The Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet Gets Even More Super
While on a bike ride in the hills above San Diego, CA, in December 1990, Navy test pilot Rob Niewoehner and a fellow naval aviator took a break to discuss the Navy’s decision to cancel the F-23 fighter program. “I was not happy,” Niewoehner recalled. The experimental YF-23 and the McDonnell Douglas A-12 attack airplane project were advanced-technology stealth programs, so-called fifth-generation jets. The two were the leading candidates to replace combat aircraft on the decks of Navy aircraft carriers. To Niewoehner, abandoning the programs meant the Navy was turning its back on the latest technology. Now a U.S. Naval Academy professor teaching the next generation of aviators at Annapolis, MD, Niewoehner says, “At the time, I was feeling like we’d been sold out. Now I look back and think, ‘Wow! Those guys were so wise. They saved naval aviation!’ ” It is a message he delivers to his students about what he considers one of the most significant eras in naval aviation history. For more, read the article.
Webpage of the Week
In commemoration of the 79th anniversary of “a date which will live in infamy,” this week’s webpage of the week is the Pearl Harbor attack page on NHHC’s World War II pages. Read stories of heroism, survivor reports, intelligence documents, and much, much more. Watch an interview with NHHC historian Robert J. Cressman as he discusses Japan’s strategic objective, and view a story map that outlines the attack. Also, explore the Pearl Harbor remembrance section that provides the history, imagery, and resources about the day that killed more than 2,000 Americans and left about 1,000 more wounded. The memory of Pearl Harbor inspired perseverance through the challenges of the years ahead and remains a reminder of the sacrifice of servicemembers past and present.
Today in Naval History
On Dec. 1, 1842, Midshipman Philip Spencer, Boatswains Mate Samuel Cromwell, and Seaman Elisha Small of the Bainbridge-class brig Somers were executed for mutiny. Spencer was the son of then-Secretary of War John Canfield Spencer. An onboard investigation indicated the three men were plotting to take over the ship and use Somers for piracy. Somers’ officers reported they had “come to a cool, decided, and unanimous opinion” that the prisoners were “guilty of a full and determined intention to commit a mutiny.” All three men were hung. Upon Somers’ return to New York, a naval court of inquiry investigated the mutiny, execution, and subsequent court martial. Both proceedings exonerated Somers commander, Alexander Mackenzie, who initially ordered the arrest of the mutineers.
Download your copy of this week’s Navy History Matters here.