Archive for March, 2018

Vietnam War Veterans Day

March 29 has officially been designated as Vietnam War Veterans Day as we continue to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. As the Naval History and Heritage Command said “Every facet of the U.S. Navy we know today supported the Vietnam War effort. Navy Sailors were on the sea, along the rivers and coastal waters, in the air, and on land. Today, our bilateral relationship with Vietnam demonstrates our support for a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam. Through hard work and mutual respect, we are now close partners.” To honor this day, we are sharing with you an excerpt from Sea, Air, and Land: An Illustrated History of the U.S. Navy and the War in Southeast Asia. This section is called The Final Curtain, 1973-1975.  This excerpt along with more information on the Navy and the Vietnam War can be found on the Naval History and Heritage Command website.

During the period from 29 March 1973 to 30 April 1975, the Defense Attaché Office (DAO), Saigon, administered the American military assistance to the Republic of Vietnam. Limited by the Paris Agreement to 50 or fewer military personnel, the activity was staffed predominantly by civilians and contractors. The DAO was responsible for providing supplies and material to the 42,000-man Vietnamese Navy, which operated 672 amphibious ships and craft, 20 mine warfare vessels, 450 patrol craft, 56 service craft, and 242 junks. The quality of personnel in the naval service remained adequate over the two-year period. A drastic cut in U.S. financial support, however, hurt the navy’s overall readiness. The U.S. Congress appropriated only $700 million for fiscal year 1975, forcing the Vietnamese Navy to reduce its overall operations by 50 percent and its river combat and patrol activities by 70 percent. To conserve scarce ammunition and fuel, Saigon laid up over 600 river and harbor craft and 22 ships. The enemy did not target the waterways during 1973 and 1974, but such would not be the case in 1975 when the coastal areas of South Vietnam became the war’s main operational theater.

Naval Evacuation of I and II Corps
The final test of strength between the Republic of Vietnam and its Communist antagonists that many observers had long predicted occurred in the early months of 1975. Seeking to erode the government’s military position in the vulnerable II Corps area, on 10 March Communist forces attacked Ban Me Thuot, the capital of isolated Darlac Province, and routed the South Vietnamese troops there. The debacle convinced President Nguyen Van Thieu that even the strategic Pleiku and Kontum Provinces to the north could not be held and must be evacuated. Accordingly, on the fifteenth, government forces and thousands of civilian refugees began an exodus toward Tuy Hoa on the coast but that degenerated into a panicked flight when the enemy interdicted the main road. The enemy dispersed or destroyed many of the South Vietnamese II Corps units in this catastrophe.

These events set off a chain reaction as the demoralized South Vietnamese troops abandoned port after port along the South Vietnamese coast to swiftly advancing North Vietnamese forces. Learning of the disaster in II Corps and confused by contradictory deployment orders from Saigon, the defenders of I Corps also began to crack. Giving up Hue on 25 March, Vietnamese troops retreated in disorder toward Danang. The Vietnamese Navy rescued thousands of men cut off on the coast southeast of Hue, but heavy weather and the general confusion limited the sealift’s effectiveness. On the previous day (24 March) government units evacuated Tam Ky and Quang Ngai in southern I Corps and also streamed toward Danang. Simultaneously, the navy transported elements of the 2d Division from Chu Lai to Re Island 20 miles offshore. With five North Vietnamese divisions pressing the remnants of the South Vietnamese armed forces and hundreds of thousands of refugees into Danang, order in the city disintegrated. Looting, arson, and riot ruled the city as over two million people sought a way out of the ever-closing trap.

During this period of growing chaos in South Vietnam, the U.S. Navy readied for evacuation operations. On 24 March, the Military Sealift Command (MSC), formerly the Military Sea Transportation Service, dispatched the following tugs, pulling a total of six barges, from Vung Tau toward Danang:

Asiatic Stamina
Chitose Maru
Shibaura Maru

On 25 March, the following ships were alerted for imminent evacuation operations in South Vietnam:

SS American Racer
SS Green Forest
SS Green Port
SS Green Wave
SS Pioneer Commander
SS Pioneer Contender
SS Transcolorado
USNS Greenville Victory
USNS Sgt Andrew Miller
USNS Sgt. Truman Kimbro

Noncombatants were chosen for the mission because the Paris Agreement prohibited the entry of U.S. Navy or other military forces into the country.

With the arrival at Danang of Pioneer Contender on 27 March, the massive U.S. sea evacuation of I and II Corps began. During the next several days four of the five barge-pulling tugs and Sgt. Andrew Miller, Pioneer Commander, and American Challenger put in at the port. The vessels embarked U.S. Consulate, MSC, and other American personnel and thousands of desperate Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. When the larger ships were filled to capacity with 5,000 to 8,000 passengers, they individually sailed for Cam Ranh Bay further down the coast. By 30 March order in the city of Danang and in the harbor had completely broken down. Armed South Vietnamese deserters fired on civilians and each other, the enemy fired on the American vessels and sent sappers ahead to destroy port facilities, and refugees sought to board any boat or craft afloat. The hundreds of vessels traversing the harbor endangered the safety of all. Weighing these factors, the remaining U.S. and Vietnamese Navy ships loaded all the people they could and steamed for the south. MSC ships carried over 30,000 refugees from Danang in the four-day operation. American Challenger stayed offshore to pick up stragglers until day’s end on 30 March, when the North Vietnamese overran Danang.

In quick succession, the major ports in II Corps fell to the lightly resisted Communist advance. Hampered by South Vietnamese shelling of Qui Nhon, Pioneer Commander, Greenville Victory, Korean-flag LST Boo Heung Pioneer, and three tugs were unable to load evacuees at this city, which fell on 31 March. The speed of the South Vietnamese collapse and the enemy’s quick exploitation of it limited the number of refugees rescued from Tuy Hoa and Nha Trang. Before the latter port fell on 2 April, however, Boo Heung Pioneer and Pioneer Commander brought 11,500 passengers on board and put out to sea.

Initially, Cam Ranh Bay was chosen as the safe haven for these South Vietnamese troops and civilians transported by MSC. But, even Cam Ranh Bay was soon in peril. Between 1 and 4 April, many of the refugees just landed were reembarked for further passage south and west to Phu Quoc Island in the Gulf of Siam. Greenville Victory, Sgt. Andrew Miller, American Challenger, and Green Port each embarked between 7,000 and 8,000 evacuees for the journey. Pioneer Contender sailed with 16,700 people filling every conceivable space from stem to stern. Crowding and the lack of sufficient food and water among the 8,000 passengers on board Transcolorado led a number of armed Vietnamese marines to demand they be discharged at the closer port of Vung Tau. The ship’s master complied to avoid bloodshed, but this crisis highlighted the need for the Navy to provide better security.

As the magnitude of the calamity in I and II Corps became apparent, the Seventh Fleet deployed elements of the Amphibious Task Force (Task Force 76) to a position off Nha Trang. Because of the political restrictions on the use of American military forces in South Vietnam and the availability of MSC resources, however, Washington limited the naval contingent, then designated the Refugee Assistance Task Group (Task Group 76.8), to a supporting role. For the most part, this entailed command coordination, surface escort duties, and the dispatch of 50-man Marine security details to the MSC flotilla at sea. By 2 April, the task group–Dubuque, Durham (LKA 114), Frederick (LST 1184), and the Task Force 76 flagship Blue Ridge (LCC 19)–was monitoring operations at Cam Ranh Bay and Phan Rang. That same night the first Marine security force to do so boarded Pioneer Contender. A second contingent was airlifted to Transcolorado on the fourth. Dissatisfied with the condition of reception facilities on Phu Quoc and ill-tempered after the arduous passage south, armed passengers in Greenville Victory forced the master to sail to Vung Tau. Guided missile cruiser Long Beach (CGN 9) and escort Reasoner (DE 1063) intercepted the ship and stood by to aid the crew, but the voyage and debarkation of passengers proceeded uneventfully. In addition, Commander Task Group 76.8 immediately concentrated Dubuque, guided missile destroyer Cochrane (DDG 21), storeship Vega (AF 59), and the three ships of Amphibious Ready Group Alpha at Phu Quoc to position security detachments on each of the MSC vessels and to resupply the refugees with food, water, and medicines. Naval personnel also served as translators to ease the registration process. By 10 April, all ships at Phu Quoc were empty, thus bringing to a close the intracoastal sealift of 130,000 U.S. and South Vietnamese citizens. With stabilization of the fighting front at Xuan Loc east of Saigon and the Communists preparation for the final offensive, the need to evacuate by sea diminished. By the fourteenth all naval vessels had departed the waters off South Vietnam and returned to other duties.

Eagle Pull
Meanwhile, the Seventh Fleet focused its attention on Cambodia, in imminent danger of falling to the Communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas. Since 1970, the United States had aided the government of President Lon Nol in its struggle with the indigenous enemy and with North Vietnamese forces arrayed along the border with South Vietnam. The American support included a bombing campaign launched from Navy carriers and Air Force bases as far away as Guam and the delivery to Phnom Penh of arms, ammunition, and essential commodities through airlift and Mekong River convoy. Material assistance to the 6,000-man Cambodian Navy included the transfer of coastal patrol craft, PBRs, converted amphibious craft for river patrol and mine warfare, and auxiliary vessels. Despite this aid, by early 1975 the Communists in Cambodia controlled every population center but Phnom Penh, the capital. As the enemy tightened his ring around the city, the resistance of Cambodian government forces began to crumble.

Concluding that it was only a matter of time before all was lost in Cambodia, American leaders prepared to evacuate American and allied personnel from Phnom Penh. Fleet commanders revised and updated long-standing plans and alerted their forces for this special mission, designated Operation Eagle Pull. On 3 March 1975, Amphibious Ready Group Alpha (Task Group 76.4), and the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit (Task Group 79.4) embarked and arrived at a designated station off Kompong Som (previously Sihanoukville) in the Gulf of Siam. By 11 April, the force consisted of amphibious ships Okinawa,Vancouver, and Thomaston (LSD 28), escorted by Edson (DD 946), Henry B. Wilson (DDG 7), Knox (DE 1052), and Kirk (DE 1087). In addition, Hancock disembarked her normal complement of fixed-wing aircraft and took on Marine Heavy Lift Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 463 for the operation. Anticipating the need to rescue as many as 800 evacuees, naval leaders decided that they needed all of the squadron’s 25 CH-53, CH-46, AH-1J, and UH-1E helicopters and Okinawa’s 22 CH-53, AH-1J, and UH-1Es of HMH-462. The amphibious group also carried the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, which would defend the evacuation landing zone near the U.S. Embassy, and reinforced naval medical-surgical teams to care for any casualties. Land-based U.S. Air Force helicopters and tactical aircraft were also on hand to back up the naval effort. Commander U.S. Support Activities Group/7th Air Force (COMUSSAG) was in overall command of the evacuation operation.

On 7 April 1975, the American command put Amphibious Ready Group Alpha on three-hour alert and positioned the force off the Cambodian coast. In the early morning hours of 12 April Washington ordered execution of the daring mission. At 0745 local time, Okinawa began launching helicopters in three waves to carry the 360-man Marine ground security force to the landing zone. One hour later, after traversing 100 miles of hostile territory, the initial wave set down near the embassy and the Marines quickly established a defensive perimeter.

Within the next two hours, U.S. officials assembled the evacuees and quickly loaded them on Okinawa and Hancock helicopters. Because many already had left Cambodia by other means prior to the twelfth, the evacuees numbered only 276. The group included U.S. Ambassador John Gunther Dean, other American diplomatic personnel, the acting president of Cambodia, senior Cambodian government leaders and their families, and members of the news media. In all, 82 U.S., 159 Cambodian, and 35 other nationals were rescued.

By 1041 all the evacuees had been lifted out, and little more than one-half hour later the ground security force also was airborne and heading out to sea. At 1224 all aircraft and personnel were safely on board Amphibious Ready Group Alpha ships. Although one Khmer Rouge 75-millimeter shell landed near the embassy landing zone, no casualties were suffered during the entire operation. The following day, task group helicopters flew the evacuated personnel to Thailand and the naval force set sail for Subic Bay. Thus through detailed planning, preparation, and precise execution, the joint evacuation force successfully accomplished the military mission in Cambodia.

The Fall of South Vietnam
The experience gained in Operation Eagle Pull and in the refugee evacuations from South Vietnam’s I and II Corps served the fleet well when the Republic of Vietnam, after 20 years of struggle, collapsed under the Communist onslaught. During the latter half of April, U.S. naval leaders prepared ships and men for the final evacuation of American and allied personnel from South Vietnam. The ships of the MSC flotilla were cleaned, restocked with food, water, and medicine; and deployed off Vung Tau in readiness. In addition, Marine security detachments embarked in each of the vessels and prepared to disarm boarding refugees and ensure order. Rincon (T-AOG-77) stood by to provide fuel to Vietnamese and American ships making the exodus from South Vietnam’s waters.

The Seventh Fleet also marshalled its forces in the Western Pacific. Between 18 and 24 April 1975, with the loss of Saigon imminent, the Navy concentrated off Vung Tau a vast assemblage of ships under Commander Task Force 76.

Task Force 76
Blue Ridge (command ship)

Task Group 76.4 (Movement Transport Group Alpha)
Peoria (LST 1183)

Task Group 76.5 (Movement Transport Group Bravo)

Task Group 76.9 (Movement Transport Group Charlie)
Anchorage (LSD 36)
Denver (LPD 9)
Duluth (LPD 6)
Mobile (LKA 115)

The task force was joined by Hancock and Midway, carrying Navy, Marine, and Air Force helicopters; Seventh Fleet flagship Oklahoma City; amphibious ships Mount Vernon (LSD 39), Barbour County (LST 1195), and Tuscaloosa (LST 1187); and eight destroyer types for naval gunfire, escort, and area defense. The Enterprise and Coral Sea carrier attack groups of Task Force 77 in the South China Sea provided air cover while Task Force 73 ensured logistic support. The Marine evacuation contingent, the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (Task Group 79.1), consisted of three battalion landing teams, four helicopter squadrons, support units, and the deployed security detachments.

After a dogged defense at Xuan Loc, the South Vietnamese forces defending the approaches to Saigon finally gave way on 21 April. With the outcome of the conflict clear, President Thieu resigned the same day. On the 29th, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces closed on the capital, easily pushing through the disintegrating Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces. Although U.S. and South Vietnamese leaders had delayed ordering an evacuation, for fear of sparking a premature collapse, the time for decision was now at hand.

At 1108 local time on 29 April 1975, Commander Task Force 76 received the order to execute Operation Frequent Wind (initially Talon Vise), the evacuation of U.S. personnel and Vietnamese who might suffer as a result of their past service to the allied effort. At 1244, from a position 17 nautical miles from the Vung Tau Peninsula, Hancock launched the first helicopter wave. Over two hours later, these aircraft landed at the primary landing zone in the U.S. Defense Attache Office compound in Saigon. Once the ground security force (2d Battalion, 4th Marines) established a defensive cordon, Task Force 76 helicopters began lifting out the thousands of American, Vietnamese, and third-country nationals. The process was fairly orderly. By 2100 that night, the entire group of 5,000 evacuees had been cleared from the site. The Marines holding the perimeter soon followed.

The situation was much less stable at the U.S. Embassy. There, several hundred prospective evacuees were joined by thousands more who climbed fences and pressed the Marine guard in their desperate attempt to flee the city. Marine and Air Force helicopters, flying at night through ground fire over Saigon and the surrounding area, had to pick up evacuees from dangerously constricted landing zones at the embassy, one atop the building itself. Despite the problems, by 0500 on the morning of 30 April, U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin and 2,100 evacuees had been rescued from the Communist forces closing in. Only two hours after the last Marine security force element was extracted from the embassy, Communist tanks crashed through the gates of the nearby Presidential Palace. At the cost of two Marines killed in an earlier shelling of the Defense Attaché Office compound and two helicopter crews lost at sea, Task Force 76 rescued over 7,000 Americans and Vietnamese.

Meanwhile, out at sea, the initial trickle of refugees from Saigon had become a torrent. Vietnamese Air Force aircraft loaded with air crews and their families made for the naval task force. These incoming helicopters (most fuel-starved) and one T-41 trainer complicated the landing and takeoff of the Marine and Air Force helicopters shuttling evacuees. Ships of the task force recovered 41 Vietnamese aircraft, but another 54 were pushed over the side to make room on deck or ditched alongside by their frantic crews. Naval small craft rescued many Vietnamese from sinking helicopters, but some did not survive the ordeal.

This aerial exodus was paralleled by an outgoing tide of junks, sampans, and small craft of all types bearing a large number of the fleeing population. MSC tugs Harumi, Chitose Maru, Osceola, Shibaura Maru, and Asiatic Stamina pulled barges filled with people from Saigon port out to the MSC flotilla. There, the refugees were embarked, registered, inspected for weapons, and given a medical exam. Having learned well from the earlier operations, the MSC crews and Marine security personnel processed the new arrivals with relative efficiency. The Navy eventually transferred all Vietnamese refugees taken on board naval vessels to the MSC ships.

Another large contingent of Vietnamese was carried to safety by a flotilla of 26 Vietnamese Navy and other vessels. These ships concentrated off Son Island southwest of Vung Tau with 30,000 sailors, their families, and other civilians on board.

On the afternoon of 30 April, Task Force 76 and the MSC group moved away from the coast, all the while picking up more seaborne refugees. This effort continued the following day. Finally, when this human tide ceased on the evening of 2 May, Task Force 76, carrying 6,000 passengers; the MSC flotilla of Sgt Truman Kimbro, Sgt Andrew Miller, Greenville Victory, Pioneer Contender, Pioneer Commander, Green Forest, Green Port, American Challenger, and Boo Heung Pioneer, with 44,000 refugees; and the Vietnamese Navy group set sail for reception centers in the Philippines and Guam. Thus ended the U.S. Navy’s role in the 25-year American effort to aid the Republic of Vietnam in its desperate fight for survival.

26 October 1997


Adventures in the Arctic

The Arctic. A vast land of ice with unexplored depths that have intrigued explorers for centuries. There is evidence of Arctic expeditions dating back to the Ancient Greeks.  With the discovery of the American continent, the search for a Northwest passage became the mission of many brave men who would give their lives for the discovery. This month the U.S. Navy conducted its biennial Polar exercises in the Arctic Ocean. ICEX 2018 is the product of years of research, expeditions, and our desire to be faster, stronger, and better. The roots for this five-week biennial exercise lay in the history of the Cold War and the beginning of the nuclear-powered submarine.

In April of 1909, Robert Peary claimed to be the first person in recorded history to reach the North Pole. While this claim has been disputed, it laid the foundation for future explorers to attempt the arduous journey and make history of their own. The crew of the airship Norge flew over the Pole on May 12, 1926. This claim is undisputed and has become the first noted sighting of the Pole. The first people to step foot on the North Pole were a Soviet party of scientists in 1948 under the command of Alexander Kuznetsov. One thing that all these missions had in common was that they were either done on foot with sleds and dogs or by plane. The idea of a passable sea route seemed unfathomable with the thickness of the ice in the region. That was until a submarine entered the picture.

The submarine O-12 in dry dock, before it was renamed the Nautilus.


Sir George Hubert Wilkins was an Australian polar explorer that saw the submarine as the perfect means for attaining a Northwest passage. In 1930, Wilkins along with colleague Lincoln Ellsworth laid out the plans for a trans-Atlantic expedition. They believed that a submarine would be able to be fully equipped with a working laboratory that would allow them to do comprehensive meteorological studies. Since Wilkins was not a U.S. citizen, he could not purchase a submarine, but he was able to lease a vessel for five years. He was given the disarmed O-12 which he would fittingly rename Nautilus after Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.    The submarine was fitted with a custom drill that would allow it to drill through the ice pack overhead. A crew of eighteen was chosen and the expedition was set. Losses plagued the beginning of the mission. Before ever leaving port, the Quartermaster was knocked overboard and drowned. Undeterred, they left New London, CT on June 4, 1931. On June 14, they faced engine failure and Wilkins was forced to SOS for help and was rescued by the USS Wyoming. Repairs were done and by June 28, the crew set out for their destination once again. By August, they were only 600 miles from the North Pole when they realized that the submarine was missing its diving planes. Without the diving planes, the crew would be unable to control the submarine while submerged. Upon a plea from one of his investors, Wilkins had to admit the problems with his journey and seek safe port. While heading to England, the crew was forced to stop in Norway due to a storm. The Nautilus suffered severe damage and Wilkins received permission from the U.S. Navy to sink the vessel off the Norwegian coast. While Wilkins may have failed at his specific mission, he proved that submarines were capable of operating in the Arctic seas. And it would only take a few short years and another submarine named Nautilus to prove that he was right.

On August 3, 1958, USS Nautilus became the first vessel to pass through the North Pole. During her journey she traveled the entire Polar ice cap. She returned home to a hero’s welcome and expeditions to the Arctic were changed forever. What was once seen as impossible had in one mission become a tangible Northwest passage.  On March 17, 1959, the USS Skate became the first submarine to surface at the North Pole. During the mission, the crew placed an American flag at the Pole and held a ceremony for Sir Hubert Wilkins who had passed away in 1958, unable to see his dream accomplished. During the ceremony, his ashes were left at the Pole in honor of the work he had done to make such a mission possible.

USS Skate at the North Pole

On March 7, ICEX 2018 was officially kicked off with the construction of a temporary Ice Camp and the arrival of two U.S. fast-attack submarines and one U.K. Royal Navy submarine. During the five weeks, the Navy will assess its operational readiness and develop its understanding of the Arctic environment. USS Connecticut from Bangor, Washington and USS Hartford from Groton, Connecticut will conduct multiple exercises in the region, along with the Royal Navy’s Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Trenchant. Rear Admiral James Pitts stated that “With every ICEX we are able to build upon our existing experience and continue to learn the best way to operate in this unique and harsh environment.”[1] Not only do the three submarines participate in these exercises, but the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory brings together three nation’s services and over 100 participants. The camp set up in the Pole is called Ice Camp Skate, named after the submarine that was the first to be able to lay eyes on the Pole.  This year’s ICEX takes on new importance. As sea ice disappears, largely due to global warming, new waterways have emerged, leaving open untapped natural resources and uncharted territory. The race has begun to lay claim to these previously uncharted territories and ICEX allows the U.S. Navy along with the Royal Navy to explore and learn what it has to offer.

#ArcticFunFact The aurora borealis, or the northern lights, are a spectacular color display in the sky on clear, dark nights during periods when solar storms are active. The amazing displays are produced by the solar wind, a stream of electrons and protons coming from the sun. Check out this photo of the northern lights taken from Ice Camp Skate last night! Credit- Arctic Submarine Laboratory

Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Hartford SSN 768 surfaces through the ice March 9, 2018 in support of Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2018. Credit: Department of Defense via ABCNews

SSN 22 during ICEX 2018. Credit: Artic Submarine Laboratory

Ice Camp Skate. Credit: Arctic Submarine Laboratory

BEAUFORT SEA (March 10, 2018) The Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) and the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Hartford (SSN 768) break through the ice March 10, 2018 in support of Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2018. ICEX 2018 is a five-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies and partner organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 2nd Class Micheal H. Lee/Released)


The USS Tautog and the Importance of WWII Submarines


“When I assumed command of the Pacific Fleet on 31 December 1941, our submarines were already operating against the enemy, the only units of the fleet that could come to grips with the Japanese for months to come. It was to the submarine force that I looked to carry the load. It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of great peril.”
– Admiral Chester Nimitz Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet


On December 7, 1941, there were four submarines stationed in Pearl Harbor. USS Narwhal, USS Dolphin, USS Cachalot and USS Tautog. Tautog (SS-199) was the only one built in Groton, Connecticut. She would also be one of the first to fire on the enemy on that fateful day. By the war’s end, Tautog would be one of the most decorated submarines in the war, sinking 26 Japanese ships. Her nickname? “The Terrible T.”

Tautog’s keel was laid on March 1, 1939 by the Electric Boat Company. Launched on January 27, 1940, she was sponsored by Mrs. Hallie N Edwards, the wife of Captain Richard S. Edwards, the Commander of Submarine Squadron Two. In her early career, Tautog would operate out of Naval Base New London until May of 1941 when she would move to Pearl. On October 21, 1941, Tautog along with USS Thresher (SS-200), would begin a 45-day simulated war patrol in the area around Midway Island. Unbeknownst to the crewmen, the simulated patrol would become very real, very soon. Tautog would return to Pearl on December 5, 1941.

USS Tautog – SS -199

On the morning of December 7th, torpedoman’s mate Pat Mignone was on the deck of the Tautog when he saw planes flying over Ford Island. Much of the 59-man crew was getting some much-needed rest after their 45-day patrol when Mignone realized that the low flying planes weren’t a paratrooper exercise but enemy planes dropping bombs. Mignone recalls that “The deck watch sounded battle stations, but it caught everybody by surprise. All over the navy, 8 o’clock is ‘colors’ [ceremonial raising of the flag] and when the sirens sounded, that’s what they thought it was. I went below to get a machine gun out of the ready locker. It was three decks down, so I had a hard time getting it up and getting it mounted. I had somebody else bring me ammunition. “[1] Mignone would man the machine gun as he watched low flying Japanese torpedo planes head toward battleship row. Pat remembers firing until he ran out of ammunition. These first shots fired on that day took down one of the Japanese planes, bringing it down into the channel. All eight battleships in Pearl by the end of December 7th were damaged, four having been completely sunk. There is some curiosity as to why the submarine piers were not targeted. Whatever the reason, it was a mistake that would allow the submarine force to help win the war.

Aerial view of the Submarine Base (right center) with the fuel farm at left, looking south on Oct. 13, 1941. Among the 16 fuel tanks in the lower group and 10 tanks in the upper group are two that have been painted to resemble buildings (topmost tank in upper group, and rightmost tank in lower group). Other tanks appear to be painted to look like terrain features. Alongside the wharf in right center are USS Niagara (PG 52) with seven or eight PT boats alongside (nearest to camera), and USS Holland (AS 3) with seven submarines alongside. About six more submarines are at the piers at the head of the Submarine Base peninsula. (Official U.S. Navy photograph/Released)

During the attack on Pearl, the submarine base, fuel storage depot and the munitions storages were left untouched. It has been estimated that if the fuel storage had been attacked, it would have taken over two years to replenish the supply. After the attack, the submarine force was the only force able to begin immediate war patrols. While submarines only made up 2% of the U.S. Navy, they were responsible for the sinking of 30% of Japanese battleships and 55% of all Japanese merchant ships.

Nineteen days after the attack, the Tautog would leave on a reconnaissance mission near the Marshall Islands in search of the Japanese fleet. In its next war patrol in April 1942, the Tautog would sink two enemy submarines and a Japanese cargo ship. In an article in Connecticut Magazine, Lt. Cmdr. Reginald Preston commented that “She was the ‘killingest’ submarine in the war, and notably the first to sink three enemy submarines, later tied, never bested.”[2] The USS Tautog represents the emerging of Submarine power in the 1940’s. While submarines were used during WWI, the real potential for the submarine force was still not at its height. One theory is that the submarine base wasn’t attacked at Pearl because Japan saw the surface fleet as the Navy’s major weapon. And up until that point, that was the case. But with the first shots fired by the Tautog and the USS Narwhal, submarines became as much a threat as its surface counterparts. With the Tautog’s wartime record, we see that submarines were not just for surveillance and reconnaissance. The force could stand their own and, in some case, perform in ways none of the other military branches could. Early on the United States realized the importance of the Pacific sea routes to the Japanese. The “Silent service” with the help of U.S. Navy code breakers were able to inflict major losses on the Japanese fleet that ensured victory in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and established a blockade of the home islands that strangled the Japanese economy.

With everything the US Submarine Force was able to accomplish during the war, they also paid the heaviest cost. Fifty submarines were lost, and 3,628 submariners (22% of the force) either died or were missing in action. The actions of the Submarine Force on December 7 and after only exemplify the power and strength of the silent service.



Grace Hopper

   “A ship in port is safe; but that is not what ships are built for. Sail out to sea and do new things.” –  Grace Hopper

March is Women’s History Month and we would be remiss if we let it go by without talking about probably one of the greatest women to have served in the US Navy. Grace Murray Hopper not only changed how computers worked in the Navy, but how they were used in general. For her amazing work in computer science as well as her position as a rear admiral, she is sometimes referred to as “Amazing Grace”

Grace Murray was born on December 9, 1906 in New York. She graduated from Vassar in 1928 and earned an MA and PHD from Yale University.  In 1943 she entered the US Naval Reserve and attended the UNSR Midshipman’s School-W at Northampton, Massachusetts. Originally, Hopper was turned away from joining the military because her weight was too light for her height. The military also believed that her work on mathematics at Vassar at the time was too important to abandon. She fought to join and was successfully given a waiver to attend training in Massachusetts. At 37 years old, she was one of the oldest recruits. Despite her age and weight, Hopper achieved the highest training rank- battalion commander- and graduated first in her class in June 1944.  Her first assignment was at the Bureau of Ordinance Computation Project at Harvard.

Figure 1 The Harvard Mark I. IBM Archives.

It would be here that she first learned to program a computer –The Mark I. The Harvard Mark I was the first fully functional computer and the brainchild of electrical engineer and physicist Howard Aiken. IBM funded his research and he compiled a team which included Grace.

The Mark I computer was a whopping 55 feet long and eight feet high. The five-ton device contained over 760,000 separate pieces. The U.S. Navy used the computer for gunnery and ballistic calculations and was in operation until 1959. The computer used pre-punched tape and could carry out addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It could also reference previous results and had subroutines for logarithms and trigonometric functions. All of its output was displayed on an electric typewriter. Hopper is responsible for coining the term “bug” to describe a computer fault while working on the Mark I. The original “bug” was a moth that had caused a hardware fault which Hopper got rid of, thus becoming the first person to “debug” a computer. In 1946 she joined the Harvard Faculty as a Research fellow and would continue working on the Mark I and Mark II computers for the Navy. While working on the Mark systems she would help develop Flow-Matic, the first English-language data processing complier.

Figure 2 Grace Murray Hopper (seated, second from right) and Howard Aiken (seated, center), along with other members of the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project, in front of the Harvard Mark I at Harvard University in 1944. U.S. Department of Defense.

In 1949, Hopper joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation in Philadelphia as a Senior Mathematician. The corporation was building the UNIVAC I, the first commercial large-scale electronic computer. She would serve as the company’s Staff Scientist, Systems Programming until her retirement from the company in 1971 while on military leave.  In 1959, Grace was asked to serve on a committee which would later develop the programming language COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) which is still used in order-processing business software today. While working on the UNIVAC I, Hopper would serve as the director of the Navy Programming Languages Group and was promoted to Captain in 1973. Amid all her technological accomplishments, Hopper tried to retire from the Naval Reserve twice, first in 1966 and again in 1971. Both times she was recalled to active duty indefinitely. In 1966, she was recalled to work at the Pentagon to upgrade COBOL. Versions of COBOL were having issues running on different computers. Hopper was responsible for bringing together all the incompatible strands to ensure that the language would be able to be used on multiple platforms. She did this by issuing a certifier. A certifier was a program that tested any version of COBOL and then made sure that it was truly compatible with all computers.  In 1983, she was promoted to Commodore, a title that was later renamed to Rear Admiral, lower half.

Figure 3 Grace Hopper, age 76, is promoted to Commodore at the White House in 1983. President Ronald Reagan looks on. Her rank was reassigned in 1985 to Rear Admiral

She would finally retire in 1986 at the age of 80. Upon her retirement, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. She would receive the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat award possible by the Department of Defense.

During her career, Grace Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities around the world, and awarded numerous honors. Among her many accolades, Hopper was the first winner of “Computer Science Man of the Year” in 1969. She was also honored as the Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1973, and then later became the first woman to receive the National Medal of Technology as an individual in 1991. Hopper’s role in computer science forever changed the field. She also serves as an inspiration to women working in a variety of STEM fields today.  Upon her death in 1992, she was laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. In 1997, the Navy commissioned a guided-missile destroyer to be named USS Hopper. Her legacy lives on not just in the computer science world or the Navy. Grace Hopper believed that her greatest accomplishment was the training she gave to the younger generations. “The most important thing I’ve accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ I say ‘Try it’ and I back them up.” Grace Hopper told writer Lynn Gilbert in 1981.

Figure 4

America’s First Black Sailors

This Story comes from The Sextant at the Naval History and Heritage Command

By Alex Hays, Communication and Outreach Division, Naval History and Heritage Command

“British gold and promises of personal freedom served as futile incentives among the Negroes of the American Navy; for them, the proud consciousness of duty well done served as a constant monitor and nerved their strong black arms when thundering shot and shell menaced the future of the country; and, although African slavery was still a recognized legal institution and constituted the basic fabric of the great food productive industry of the nation, it was the Negro’s trusted devotion to duty which ever guided him in the nation’s darkest hours of peril and menace.”

Kelly Miller, a premier black intellectual at the turn of the 20th-century, penned these words in 1919 to describe the patriotism of free and enslaved black Sailors during the Revolutionary War. Despite slavery and British offers of freedom, thousands of black patriots served on American vessels during the American Revolution. According to a U.S. Army report on the African American military experience, higher percentages of black men served in the naval forces than the land forces, since the Continental Navy did not restrict their service like the army and militias did. However, the Continental Navy was relatively small, and black Sailors served in even greater numbers aboard state naval vessels and privateers. These ships provided more opportunities for advancement and rewards than the Continental Navy. Detailed records of black Sailors’ service are scarce, but their stories are an important part of naval history and heritage as a group that fought on the seas for a country that denied them basic rights.

James Forten.

In American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm, Gail Buckley documents the amazing story of James Forten. Born free in Philadelphia in 1766, James Forten joined the crew of Royal Louis in 1781. This ship was a Pennsylvanian privateer commanded by Capt. Stephen Decatur, Sr. (father of Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr.). Forten served as a powder monkey, running gun powder from the ship’s magazine to the cannons, alongside a crew of 200.

On Forten’s second cruise, the ship was overrun by a British frigate and the entire crew was captured. The British captain’s son befriended Forten and the captain eventually offered him a life in England. However, Forten refused to renounce his American allegiance and was imprisoned aboard the British Old Jersey. Confined with hundreds of prisoners off the coast of New York, Forten struggled to survive (11,000 prisoners died on this ship throughout the war) while continuing to resist the British. After seven months, Forten was released and made the 100-mile trek back to Philadelphia despite severe malnutrition.

After the war, Forten worked for a sailmaker and became the owner of a sail loft. He invented a sail-maneuvering tool and amassed a $100,000 fortune. He was a strong abolitionist and a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Forten’s relatives and descendants continued his abolitionist and patriotic fights after his death in 1842. His nephew, James Forten Dunbar, served in the Navy during the Civil War. From fighting for American independence as a Sailor to fighting against slavery, James Forten showed true American patriotism.

Unlike James Forten, many black Sailors were enslaved and their records of service are even scarcer than his. These enslaved Sailors were often victims of a substitution system where they served in their owner’s place, but the owners received their pay. In The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, Sidney Kaplan and Emma Nogrady Kaplan document the lives of enslaved persons in the Virginian navy. Capt. James Barron, commander of the armed schooner Liberty (and the father of Commodore James Barron), wrote of the valor of the enslaved persons on his ship, which was involved in twenty engagements during the American Revolution:

“I take pleasure in stating there were several coloured men, who, I think, in justice to their merits should not be forgotten. Harry (a slave, belonging to Captain John Cooper) was distinguished for his zeal and daring; Cupid (a slave of Mr. William Ballard) stood forth on all occasions as the champion of liberty, and discharged all his duties with a fidelity that made him a favorite of all the officers.”

Francois, Brittain (captain’s boy), and Primus Helle (seaman) served aboard Alfred, a 24-gun ship in the Continental Navy.


Cato Calite and Scipio Africanus served as seamen on Ranger (left), an 18-gun sloop commanded by Capt. John Paul Jones.


Multiple enslaved persons served aboard Patriot, another Virginian warship. David Baker served instead of his master and was re-enslaved after the war, although he petitioned the government for freedom in 1794 because of his military service. Caesar Tarrant served on Patriot as its pilot for four years and was present when the ship captured the British vessel Fannywhich was sailing to Boston with supplies. Tarrant was born into slavery in Hampton, VA, but was freed in 1789 by the Virginian government due to his military service. Before dying in 1796, Tarrant became a landowner. His daughter Nancy received 2,667 acres of land in Ohio in recognition of her father’s service. Finally, Capt. Mark Starlin commanded Patriot. Starlin was re-enslaved after the end of hostilities, despite his accomplishments. Capt. Barron wrote that Starlin was “brought up as a pilot, and proved a skillful one, and a devoted patriot.”

1998 silver dollar commemorating black Revolutionary War patriots.

Although they all served this new country, black Sailors had vastly different experiences both during and after the war. Some enslaved persons, such as Caesar Tarrant, were freed after the American Revolution. Most enslaved persons, such as Capt. Mark Starlin, remained in bondage, and even free black citizens like James Forten continued to be treated unequally. Nevertheless, thousands of black patriots fought for American freedom, while their compatriots denied them this very freedom. In 2013, the National Defense Authorization Act approved the creation of a memorial to honor the black patriots of the American Revolution. This National Liberty Memorial is currently undergoing site selection, funding, and design.