Thursday, May 23, 2013

USS Razorback Aground This Day in 1944

On May 23, 1944, USS Razorback departed from the Submarine Base in New London, CT, in order to conduct surfaced night gunnery training with her 4" - 50-caliber main deck gun as well as with her smaller guns.  In total, Razorback's crew fired 15 rounds from her 4" gun, 240 rounds from her 20mm guns, 120 rounds of .45 caliber pistol ammunition and 600 rounds of .30 caliber ammunition.

During the attempted transit back to the submarine base, Razorback ran aground on Fisher's Island in Block Island Sound near Race Rock Light, one of the most well known navigational lights in the area.

On the morning of May 24th, 1944, a number of vessels were on the scene to assist Razorback, including USS Nawat (YNT-23) (a Yard Net Tender), USS Falcon (ASR-2) and USS Catclaw (AN-60).  All torpedoes were unloaded from the forward torpedo room, undoubtedly a difficult process.  In addition, Razorback's deck log mentions unloading ammunition from the forward torpedo room as well.

Razorback was refloated at high tide, at 1342 on May 24th.  She then returned to the Submarine Base in New London, CT.

This video was located in the National Archives in College Park, MD and shows Razorback aground.

A Board of Inquiry was held, and LCDR Bontier, Razorback's Commanding Officer was relieved of duty on June 5th, 1944.  The Officer of the Deck at the time of the grounding, LT(jg) Alvin Hersh was given a letter of reprimand.  He would remain aboard Razorback and would receive the Silver Star for his actions as Assistant Approach Officer.  The citation reads (in part) -
"his aggressive spirit and proficiency contributed immeasurably in sinking 20,000 tons of enemy shipping and damaging an additional 5,000 tons."
AIMM has a number of photographs of Razorback while she was aground. Some of these photographs were likely taken from USS Falcon (ASR-2), but no identifying information is known for certain.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New Scorpion Memorial at AIMM

This past weekend, Bob Nesbitt of Flooring Consultants, Inc., began work on a memorial to USS Scorpion on the grounds of the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum.  While a few details remain to be “touched up”, the memorial is complete enough to show.

The memorial is outside the gate, so it will be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The text at the bottom reads:

In Memory of ETN2 Richard G. Schaffer
1963 Graduate of Sylvan Hills High School
Crewmember USS Scorption (SSN-589)

Dedicated to the 99 Men of the USS Scorpion (SSN-589)
Declared Lost With All Hands 5 June 1968

To All Those on Eternal Patrol

Bob and his company donated all the design work and are installing the memorial for free.

Detail of Memorial

Detail of the Memorial

Scorpion Memorial at Sea - 2004

In 2004, as USS Razorback was being towed from Turkey to the United States, she took a short side-trip to the approximate location where Scorpion was lost.  A memorial service was held at sea, and a duplicate of the plaque you see here was placed in the water at the site.

In Memory of the Loss of USS Scorpion (SSN-589)

Forty-five years ago today, on May 22nd, 1968, the 99 officers and crew of USS Scorpion (SSN-589) lost their lives.

Scorpion was one of only two United States Navy nuclear-powered submarines to ever be lost.

Scorpion was a Skipjack-class nuclear-powered attack submarine.  Designed during the 1950s, she incorporated the virtually unlimited underwater endurance of nuclear power along with the best submarine warfare knowledge and all the technological advances gained during World War II.

Scorpion's wreck lies in approximately 9,800 feet of water, approximately 400 miles southwest of the Azores Islands.  She is in four major pieces:
  • Forward hull section (including torpedo room and part of the operations section)
  • After hull section (the aft section of the engine room has "telescoped" into the forward part)
  • The sail
  • The propeller and shaft

The cause of her loss has never been definitively established.

There are several books about Scorpion's loss in the AIMM library.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command, which holds a large collection of images related to Scorpion.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Long-Serving Submarine Commissioned This Day

This plaque was recently donated to AIMM, and researching the background of this artifact revealed a story that needs to be told...

On this day in 1944, USS Baya(SS-318) was commissioned.  At the time, no one had any idea that they were commissioning a submarine that would stay in service for nearly 30 years.

Baya completed five war patrols during WWII, winning four battle stars.  However, it would be her peacetime service that would be far more important to the the Navy.

Baya was decommissioned shortly after the war ended, but her inactive status would last only a short time.  She was converted into an experimental submarine and re-commissioned as AGSS-318, an "Auxiliary Research Submarine".

From 1948 until 1972, Baya conducted countless experiments with different kinds of Sonars, different fire control systems and many, many other kinds of research.  There are at least ten photographs of Baya during this period, and every picture shows her in a different configuration, with different equipment.  A complete history of her activities would probably require a very large book.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

National Maritime Day Recognized by the Dem-Gaz

Wednesday is National Maritime Day, which gives us the opportunity to reflect on the role Arkansans have played in American maritime activity.
For a small land-locked Southern state, Arkansas has a surprisingly rich maritime history.
For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, Indians living in what is today Arkansas made impressive use of the state’s rivers. Canoes carved from tree trunks were used by Indians for fishing, transportation of goods, and as Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto discovered, in warfare. A few prehistoric canoes have been found in Arkansas.
The arrival of the first steamboat in the Arkansas Territory in 1820 ushered in a new era of commerce and travel for the newly created territory. Within a few years it was possible to make a trip from Little Rock or Camden to New Orleans, conduct business, and return home in less than a week. Cotton, deer hides, be aroil and countless other products of Arkansas forests and farms could be shipped to markets in a planned and timely manner. Within a few years of its arrival, the steamboat had become an integral part of the economy. It also brought romance and drama to towns across the state.
Archaeologist and historian Leslie Stewart-Abernathy summed up the rapid growth and penetration of steamboats in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture: “By about 1875, steamboats had reached everywhere in the state, up the Little Red River, into the Fourche La Fave, up the St. Francis River and Bayou Bartholomew, and eventually up the Buffalo River as far as Rush.”
Arkansas earned a note in American maritime history on April 27, 1865, when the steamboat Sultana exploded on the Mississippi River upriver from Memphis, killing about 1,800 people, mostly Union army soldiers on their way home. The Sultana explosion has been called America’s worst maritime disaster, causing more deaths than the sinking of the Titanic. It is believed that the Sultana, probably containing human remains, lies buried in Mississippi County.
Arkansas has lent its name to several warships, including a wooden steamer during the Civil War, a single-turret monitor launched in the 1890s, and the battleship USS Arkansas. During the Civil War, the CSS Arkansas had a short but brilliant history as a ram on the Mississippi River in defense of Vicksburg. The commander of the CSS Arkansas, Lt. Isaac Newton Brown, was awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor for successfully making his way through a dense Union blockade into the port at Vicksburg.
The USS Arkansas, launched in January 1911, participated in both world wars and received four battle stars for service in World War II. The vessel measured 562 feet by 93 feet, had a crew of 58 officers and 1,005 men, and could make a top speed of 21 knots. She was armed with 12 12-inch guns with a 16,000-yard range.
The city of Little Rock was the namesake of a light cruiser that was launched late in World War II and saw little action. The USS Little Rock went through several incarnations during its life. In 1957 the Little Rock was converted to a modern guided missile cruiser, becoming the first U.S. Navy vessel to carry the new Talos missiles, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead about 700 miles. The USS Little Rock was the first ship to come to the aid of the USS Liberty, which had been attacked by Israeli naval and air forces on June 8, 1967. In 1969-70 it was the flagship of the Sixth Fleet. Decommissioned in 1976, the Little Rock was donated to a military park in Buffalo, New York.
In 2011 Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that a new combat ship will be named the USS Little Rock. Mabus, who served as a youthful and bewhiskered lieutenant (junior grade) aboard the Little Rock in 1971-72, is proud of his service on the ship.
The new USS Little Rock will be what the Navy calls a Littoral Combat Ship, with the purpose of defeating “growing littoral [near-shore] threats and [providing] access and dominance in the coastal waters,” according to a Defense Department press release. This would include “missions close to the shore, such as mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and surface warfare.” With a length of 378 feet, the craft will displace about 3,000 tons.
That is quite a maritime history, and I did not even mention Pine Bluff-born Admiral John S. Thach, famed for developing a maneuver which helped stave off defeat in the early days of World War II in the Pacific.
Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist living in Farmington, Ark. Email him .
Editorial, Pages 74 on 05/19/2013
Print Headline: Arkansas at sea
Reprinted from the Sunday, May 19th, 2013 issue of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette with the kind permission of the author.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Behind the Scenes

Just because we aren't open to the public, doesn't mean we aren't BUSY.  In fact, giving tours may be one of the EASIEST parts of museum work.

Recently, AIMM's Curator, Mike Hopper, took advantage of the nice weather to do some of the outside maintenance that seems to never end...

Monday, May 06, 2013

Hey, are you qualified to operate that Radio?

This time of year, AIMM gets lots of visitors.  The turtles are starting to come back, as are the catfish.  Several species of geese have stopped by on their migrations north over the years, and the mudbanks are always popular with local songbirds as they build nests.

And, occasionally, one of our non-human guests decides to try out a piece of equipment...

Apparently, this chickadee has dreams of being a radioman, or maybe a homing pigeon...