Thursday, July 31, 2014

50th Anniversary of an All-Nuclear Task Force

"This Day in History"

July 31, 1964

"The Beginning of the Nuclear Surface Navy"

Operation Sea Orbit was a 64 day mission by the United States Navy for Task Force One to orbit the earth without refueling or resupplying.  This task force consisted of the following ships: an attack carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65), a guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN-9), and a guided missile frigate USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25).  This mission covered 30,500 miles with 57 actual steaming days crossing the equator four times.

Photograph of USS Enterprise, USS Long Beach, and USS Bainbridge.
Photograph courtesy of

The purpose of Operation Sea Orbit, according to Rear Admiral Bernard M. Strean, U.S. Navy Commander, Task Force One, stated simply were:
  • To test the capability of these nuclear powered ships to maintain high speeds for indefinite periods over long distances in all environments of weather, seas, and seasons, without refueling or replenishment of any kind.
  • To demonstrate the mobility, flexibility, and strength of this element of U.S. power for keeping the peace.
  • To show these powerful, modern ships, and aircraft to peoples in remote areas of the world.
  • To familiarize Navy personnel with infrequently visited ocean areas.
  • To provide training and experience designed to improve our staying power at sea, particularly in remote areas.
  • To demonstrate our ability to reinforce or to bring U.S. power quickly to areas far from established bases, and to arrive with that power ready to fight.
  • To enhance the military and political image of the United States.
The motto of the cruise was "Nuclear Power for Peace."  Enterprise hosted "underway" visits from foreign government officials which included briefings and a view of an air fire-power demonstration.  These governments included: Morocco, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.  These friends of the United States were able to view first hand the powerful and modern ships and up-to-date weapons and aircraft available to the United States Navy in 1964.

Operation Sea Orbit map courtesy of U.S. Navy All Hands magazine January 1965.

While the ships did not resupply during the cruise the crews did enjoy liberty in Pakistan, Australia, and Brazil.  The Task Force One's complement was 6,057 officers and enlisted men.  These liberties did not have a single incident that involved a U.S. sailor and members of the local populations; which is quite a feat.

Operation Sea Orbit allowed the United States Navy to display its nuclear power force to the world during the Cold War.  The U.S. Navy has not looked back.  The Naval Historical Foundation produced a video to salute the accomplishments and legacy of the 1964 Operation Sea Orbit cruise.  The video was created by J. Mark Huffman at 26th Street Media.  Click here to watch the 6 1/2 minute video.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

SEALAB: Habitats Under the Water

"This Day in History"

July 22, 1964


On July 22, 1964, SEALAB I submerged with four Navy divers aboard.  SEALAB was an experimental underwater habitat developed by the United States Navy to test the theories of saturated diving and the ability of humans to live and operate at extreme pressures. 

SEALAB I was lowered off the coast of Bermuda to a depth of 192 feet.  It was constructed from two converted floats and held in place with axles from railroad cars.  The four divers were LCDR Robert Thompson, MC; Gunners Mate First Class Lester Anderson, Chief Quartermaster Robert A. Barth, and Chief Hospital Corpsman Sanders Manning. SEALAB I was commanded by Captain George F. Bond, also called "Poppa Topside,” who was key in developing theories about saturation diving. 

Captain Bond and the first aquanauts with SEALAB I in 1964.

The project attempted to evaluate man’s capability for extensive underwater work by carrying out such tasks as: precision bottom charting and mapping; marring biological investigations, structural inspection of the Argus Island tower, and, of equal importance, project SEALAB evaluated the vessel, SEALAB I, so that the engineering data obtained could be used in the design of SEALAB II and, in follow-up experiments scheduled to be carried out subsequently at 300-foot and 600-foot depths.

The mission called for the four divers to stay submerged for three weeks, but the project was stopped only after 11 days due to threat of a tropical storm which posed a danger to the ocean surface support staff.
SEALAB I proved that saturation diving in the open ocean was viable for extended periods. The knowledge gained helped advance the science of deep sea diving and rescue, and contributed to the understanding of the psychological and physiological strains humans can endure.

SEALAB I on display at the Museum of Man in the Sea.

SEALAB I is on display at the Museum of Man in the Sea, in Panama City Beach, Florida, near where it was initially tested offshore before being deployed. It is on outdoor display. Its metal hull is largely intact, though the paint is faded to a brick red.

To learn more about SEALAB I you can visit Naval History Blog. To learn more about life under the sea please visit the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum’s USS Razorback where tour guides explain life underway in a submarine during World War II.

Author: Allison Hiblong

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Port Chicago Disaster

"This Day in History"

July 14, 1944

The Port Chicago Disaster was the largest homeland disaster during World War II.

World War II was in full swing by 1944, and the United States needed to develop an additional munitions facility to help supply the war effort. Port Chicago, north of San Francisco, was created and by the summer of 1944 the port could load two ships at once around the clock – including dangerous cargo. 

Diagram of the Port Chicago loading pier.
These operations were handled mainly by African-American units, many whom were not trained in handling dangerous cargo.

Photograph courtesy of the National Park Service.

On July 17, 1944, the SS Quinault Victory and SS E.A. Bryan were being loaded with 4,600 tons of explosives, including depth charges. In addition, 400 tons of explosives lay nearby on rail cars. Around 10:18 pm, massive explosions destroyed everything in the vicinity, and took the lives of 320 workers who were at or near the pier at the time. The blasts were so extensive, that they were felt as far as away as Nevada and the damage extended up north to San Francisco. Smoke and fire destroyed everything within a two mile radius of Port Chicago.

Remains of the pier.  Photograph courtesy of

Of the 320 workers, two-thirds of them were African-American, which contributed to 15% of all African-Americans killed during World War II.  The remaining men were transferred to Mare Island to serve the rest of their enlistment. The Port Chicago disaster stands as a testament to the implementation of safer procedures when handling and loading dangerous cargo, including proper training for individuals handling ammunitions. Though the Port Chicago legacy is tainted with disaster, we can use the example to help further not only regulations and training today, but technology and even civil rights issues.

Photograph courtesy of

USS Razorback was an active war vessel during World War II, capable of holding 24 torpedoes, a Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon and two five-inch 25 caliber deck guns.  Fortunately for the submarine, the crew was well trained in munitions and dangerous cargo. No internal explosions marred the record, but Razorback did carry material that would make civilians question stepping onto the deck.  USS Razorback stands today as an example of daily submarine life and World War II technology and is located at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Author: Nicolette Lloyd

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

CSS Arkansas 23 Days of Service

"This Day in History"

July 15, 1862

CSS Arkansas, a Confederate Ironclad ram, was constructed in Memphis, Tennessee, but was incomplete when Union forces were closing in. She was towed down to Yazoo City, Mississippi, where she was completed, on July 15, 1862. 

Her commanding officer, Lt. Isaac Newton Brown CSN, then took her down the Yazoo River, where Arkansas encountered the U.S. gunboats Carondelet and Tyler and the ram Queen of the West, which she left the Carondelet and Tyler badly damaged.

Going from the Yazoo River to the Mississippi River, Arkansas, fought her way through the assembled Union fleet, and came to rest under the protection of the Confederate fortress at Vicksburg. While there, she was attacked by the Queen of the West and ironclad Essex, but was not badly damaged. While still needing repairs, Arkansas steamed down the Mississippi River to assist Confederate forces in an attack on Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

On August 6, 1862, Arkansas suffered a severe machinery breakdown during an engagement with the Essex. After she drifted ashore, she was burnet to prevent capture.

Author: Lyle Grisham
Completed as a student intern through the University of Arkansas at Little Rock History Department.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Memorable Firsts

"This Day in History"

July 10, 1934

It is not uncommon for a President of the United States to achieve many ‘firsts’ while in office. It is just the nature of the job when you are responsible for the execution of federal law, alongside the responsibility of appointing federal executive, diplomatic, regulatory, and judicial officers, and concluding treaties with foreign powers (Wait! There’s more!). Plus the more active the President, the more chances for Presidential firsts. One of the most active Presidents in our history was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was the 32nd President of the United States. He served four terms from March 1933 to his death in April 1945. His Presidency dealt with the majority of the Great Depression and World War II. President Roosevelt was the first President to set up the precedent of the first hundred days. He is the only President to serve more than two terms in office (a first and only because it led to the 22nd Amendment, limiting the terms of a President to two.) So it would be logical to assume that his Presidency came across many firsts.

"To reach a port we must set sail. Sail, not tie at anchor.  Sail, not drift." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

July of 1934 saw three firsts. July 1, 1934, President Roosevelt boarded USS Houston (CA-30), which was a Northampton-class heavy cruiser nicknamed the "Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast" and a personal favorite of Roosevelt. The voyage departed from Annapolis, Maryland, went to the Caribbean, South America, and Hawaii before returning to Portland, Oregon, on August 2, 1934. This month long journey could have been easily accomplished in one day aboard Air Force One today.

USS Houston (CA-30) in Honolulu, Hawaii
The first ‘first’ was July 10, 1934, when Roosevelt became the first United States President to visit South America while in office. Houston docked at Cartagena, Columbia, and entertained President Enrique Olaya Herrara and Mr. Sheldon Whitehouse, United States Minister to Columbia. Afterwards, President Roosevelt went ashore and visited the countryside for a few hours. The President departed Columbia aboard Houston the same day.

President Roosevelt's Schedule on July 10, 1934.
The second ‘first’ was the next day, July 11, 1934, at the Panama Canal. While other Presidents visited the canal, Roosevelt was the first sitting United States President to traverse the canal. Houston began her transit at 10:00am and concluded at 6:00pm. That evening Roosevelt dined with the President of Panama aboard Houston, docked at Balboa, Panama. The cruiser departed the next day.

President Roosevelt in Panama departing USS Houston.
The third ‘first’ was July 24, 1934, when President Roosevelt became the first United States President to visit Hawaii. He visited various locations across the Territory such as Kailua-Kona, Hilo Harbor, Pearl Harbor, and Honolulu. His visit to Hawaii determined the need for greater military presence at the islands because it was America’s primary outpost to the Pacific.

"Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort."  -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

The interesting thing about these ‘firsts’ is that this was done on Roosevelt’s vacation. This was a fishing expedition to Hawaii. What better time than summer to make memorable ‘firsts’. We at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum want you to make memorable vacation ‘firsts’ as well. If you have not visited us and taken a tour aboard USS Razorback (SS-394), then we recommend you to come and have yourself a memorable ‘first.’

Author: John Jones

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

United States Navy, 100 Years of an Alcohol Free Navy

"This Day in History"

July 1, 1914

In 1794, Congress established the daily ration of alcohol for the United States Navy to be "one half-pint distilled spirits," "or in lieu thereof, one quart of beer."

Fast forward 120 years to July 1, 1914, and all of that changed.  No longer would alcohol be allowed on United States Navy vessels because of Josephus Daniels and General Order 99.

"On July 1, 1914, Article 827, Naval Instructions, will be annulled and in its stead the following will be substituted: 'The use or introduction for drinking purposes of alcoholic liquors on board any naval vessel, or within any navy yard or station, is strictly prohibited, and commanding officers will be held directly responsible for the enforcement of this order.'" --Josephus Daniels, General Order 99

Josephus Daniels was born in Washington, North Carolina, May 18, 1862.  At the age of 18, Daniels bought out a local newspaper, Advance, in Wilson, North Carolina.  "Daniels used his position at the helm of the Advance to address political issues ranging from trade to temperance," said North Carolina Encyclopedia online.  Daniels promoted Woodrow Wilson for the 1912 presidency.  Wilson was victorious and appointed Daniels as Secretary of the Navy in return for his services.  

Josephus Daniels

Josephus Daniels, was Secretary of the Navy from 1913-1927.  Daniels wasted no time enforcing what he felt strongly about.  On June 1, 1914, Daniels issued General Order 99 and the order took effect on July 1, 1914.  Legend has it that the term "Cup of Joe" began because coffee became the strongest drink a sailor could get issued on a United States Naval vessel.

The United States established the prohibition of alcoholic beverages in the country with the 18th Amendment in 1920.  This amendment was repealed in 1933 with the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.  Interestingly enough General Order 99 has never been reversed.  An order set in motion 100 years ago is still in effect today.  A full list of the rules about alcohol in the United States is available here.

Visitors of the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum often ask about alcohol consumption aboard the submarine USS Razorback (SS-394).  We can officially say that the United States Navy has been "bone dry" since 1914.

Author: Ashley Hopper
Completed as a student internship through the University of Central Arkansas in the History Department.