Arkaneers, Highlanders, and Nazis: USS Arkansas’ Practice Cruise, 1935
“Hail Scotland!” read the weekly newsletter of USS Arkansas (BB-33) on June 22, 1935, after casting off from the United States two weeks earlier. The battleship had just arrived in Edinburgh, the first port of call during her 1935 practice cruise throughout Western Europe. The voyage took midshipmen of Arkansas and her sister ship, USS Wyoming (BB-32), from Edinburgh to Oslo, Copenhagen, Gibraltar, and Madeira, a Portuguese island off the coast of North Africa.
Arklite was a four-page periodical published weekly on Arkansas. It featured articles on a variety of subjects including ship news, sports, and American history.
Why was this US vessel sailing around Europe during peacetime? Arkansas frequently served as a training vessel between the First and Second World Wars. This gave new recruits valuable hands-on experience manning and operating a fully functional battleship, even when the nation was not at war. First- and third-classmen from the United States Naval Academy, numbering 410 in total, embarked on the 1935 summer cruise from the beginning of June to the end of August.
Midshipmen aboard Arkansas and Wyoming had plenty of free time while docked throughout Europe. Tours of town, trips to the beach, sightseeing excursions, and sporting events were all popular activities. The crews of the two battleships were particularly competitive when given the chance. The “Arkaneers” would play baseball against Wyoming if they could find a suitable baseball diamond, and the two crews held boxing matches with the locals in Edinburgh and Copenhagen. A lieutenant aboard Arkansas even organized a pistol team to challenge the Scottish Gordon Highlanders to a shooting match.
Aside from the scheduled ports of call, crewmembers also had the chance to take tours elsewhere in Europe. While en route to Copenhagen, Arkansas’ weekly periodical Arklite encouraged the crew to “take advantage of the Berlin tour,” calling it “an unusual opportunity.” Indeed, a leisurely trip to Hitler’s Nazi Germany was quite the unusual opportunity: On July 15, during the crew’s excursion, a series of anti-Jewish riots broke out in Berlin. In the course of the riots, E. W. Wood, a midshipman aboard Wyoming visiting Berlin, witnessed a man attack two Jewish women. Wood intervened in defense of the women, and a fistfight ensued only to be broken up by the police. Aside from this, Arkansas prided itself on the relatively low number of reported onshore incidents involving crewmembers.
From Central Europe the battleships veered southward, docking in Gibraltar and Madeira. In late August, after nearly two months abroad, Arkansas returned to Annapolis, Maryland, thus concluding the 1935 practice cruise.
The information in this post was made available by a donation from James Clifford Wilkins in the late spring of 2012. The collection includes thirteen complete issues of Arklite and various photo souvenirs from the summer cruises of 1935 and 1936. An Arkansas native, Wilkins was born in Lamar, AR, in October of 1912. He started his naval service aboard Arkansas in 1934, and fought during World War II. Wilkins passed away on June 11, 2012. He was 99 years old.
|James C. Wilkins, CM 3/C, aboard Arkansas, circa 1935.|