Category Archives: Ships

More on US Navy ship naming

A member of the MARHST-L discussion list pointed out a fairly recent Congressional Research Service document about the naming of US Naval vessels, titled “Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress“. It’s an interesting read. As a CRS document, it just provides background, and doesn’t discuss whether previous actions are right or wrong, but it sure does highlight how mixed-up the US Navy’s current approach to ship naming is.

I assume (but don’t know for sure) that this report is part of the response to a Senate Amendment to the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act, adopted November 30, 2011, which called on the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress within 180 days that contained an overview of the past naming of navaly ships, and recommendations for the future. This document is dated January 6, 2012, so I imagine it makes up the first part of the report to Congress. I would be interested to see how long it takes the Navy to develop the ‘policies’ part of the response.

I certainly hope the Navy, and its Naval History and Heritage Command, comes up with some much more specific policies on how ships should be named, and then sticks to them. It makes sense that aircraft carriers should be named after presidents (but should they only be named after good presidents?), and that, say, attack submarines should be named after states, and destroyers named after naval leaders and heroes. And so on, and so on. What seems most important to me is that they develop a sensible policy, and stick to it. It would be nice to be able to identify the type of vessel based on its type of name. (I realize that wouldn’t always be the case, but it’d be nice if it were nearly always the case.)

There should also be an inviolate policy that no individual be considered to have a ship named after them until 12 months have passed since their death.

But we’ll have to wait and see. If you hear of the release of the final document before I do, please let me know here.

From the 9th Maritime Heritage Conference, Baltimore

I’m writing from the 9th Maritime Heritage Conference, in Baltimore, right now. The Maritime Heritage Conference takes place every three years, and I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few conferences in the past. It’s neat to get reconnected with friends in the maritime history community, and find out what’s been happening in the maritime history community.

Given the subject, we’ve had some great conference receptions on board ships, and I must admit I’ve failed to take advantage of seeing the most of these ships. I certainly attended, and wandered around a bit, but (so far) I didn’t explore the vessels as much as I should have. On Wednesday evening, when I arrived, we had a reception on board the Liberty Ship John W. Brown. The folks running the Brown have done a great job in putting together a walking tour of an incredible amount of the very large ship. The Brown is also nicely represents a specific time – 1944, when it’s getting ready to travel on a convoy across the North Atlantic. The folks working and volunteering on board the Brown have had a lot of history with these ships, and some attendees told me about talking with the volunteers, some of whom began working on these ships when they were operating in convoys, or soon after the War.

Last night’s reception was on board USS Constellation, and again I enjoyed it, but didn’t take advantage of going through all levels of the ship. However, I understand today that I can board any time during the conference, so I hope to get a chance to go again.

Tomorrow morning, there’s a tour of NS Savannah, the first nuclear merchant ship, which is moored in Baltimore while its future is being decided. I hope I’ll be able to participate, though the tour is quite long and I am also giving a talk about tomorrow afternoon and need to be sure I’m fully ready to give this presentation.

Tomorrow evening, we’re scheduled to have a reception on board USCG Barque Eagle, which arrived in Baltimore today. It may have done so; I haven’t looked out yet to see if there’s a new set of masts in the Inner Harbor. I feel certain we won’t be able to go below on board Eagle, so I should feel OK about just standing on the deck tomorrow evening!

This Day in History, 1620 – Mayflower Set Sail

On this day in 1620 (old style; September 16, in new style), Mayflower sailed from Southampton, England. She arrived in the hook of Cape Cod on November 11. The rest is, as they say, history.

Nathaniel Philbrick published his book about the ship in 2006; it’s titled Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War. My feeling was that the book should have been titled “King Philip’s War,” since it was much more about the interactions between the settlers and the Native Americans they encountered once they arrived, than it was about the voyage or the vessel, but very little is known about those subjects. Nevertheless, it made for an interesting story.

If you have other opinions about the book, please don’t hesitate to share.

This Day in History, 1939 – First British Ship Sunk by Germans

On September 3, 1939, the British passenger liner SS Athenia was sunk by the German sub U-30. This was the first British ship sunk in World War II, and because it was a passenger vessel, rather than a cargo ship, it was a violation of existing treaties between Germany and England. In fact, the Germans did not admit to sinking Athenia until well after the end of the war. Many didn’t believe that the Germans would have sunk a passenger liner, as there was much to lose, and little to gain, by doing so.

118 people lost their lives, from more than 1100 on board, and much that loss occurred during the rescue. Because the seas were calm, many vessels were able to assist Athenia, and most did so successfully. A Norwegian vessel, Knute Nelson, caused about 50 deaths when it suddenly steamed full speed ahead, sucking a full lifeboat that was aside it into its propeller.