Wednesday, October 13, 2010

USN Birthday

Today is the anniversary of the “Commissioning” of the US Navy. Creation of the Navy was by vote of the Continental Congress on this day in 1775, to create a “Navy Committee” and to include the equipping of two ships and a crew for each (up to 80 men each). Back then the size of the ship was determined by the number and size of the guns emplaced on each. These ships were to carry 10 guns each. The entire lot was under the command of General George Washington who had previously commissioned three schooners to serve under his command as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. So, in a sense the “Birth” of the Navy happened before proclamation by the Congress.

Almost lost in the discussion of this day is the name of that first ship. That would be the “Alfred” named in honor of Alfred the Great. Yeah, we were pretty imaginative back then, seems this particular Alfred was the King of Wessex. The “Alfred” was actually purchased by the Naval Committee of the Continental Congress and fitted as a man-of-war. Previously the “Alfred” had been known simply as the Black Prince a merchant ship owned by the Willing, Morris & Co. based in Philadelphia.

The First ship in the Navy, USS Alfred.

As the Black Prince the ship had made two voyages to England. On the return of the last trip the Black Prince brought with it information regarding a pair of unarmed Brigs that were heavily loaded with armaments to be used by British land forces. It was this intelligence that really triggered the commission of the Navy by the Continental Congress. Shortly after this, the Black Prince was procured and converted to serve as the Alfred.

By the end of the month of October Congress would requisition additional ships carrying more guns (up to 36), all of these early ships were commissioned to serve from companies or individuals that actually owned the ships. The commission was basically a lease program where the Continental Congress rented the ship out for the duration of the war, unless the ship was actually lost in battle. In this case the Congress paid for the ship outright.

Once in hands of the Continental Navy the ship was outfitted with its complement of Guns and armament. After November of 1775, Marines became available and were loaded onboard as well, giving each ship a naval infantry capability.

Born in this time were many famous ship names, the Lexington, the Ranger, the Enterprise and of course the Constitution (still serving today oh by the way). Also, one of particular importance to me was the USS Independence.

The original USS Independence was a commissioned brigantine that served off New England but was captured by the Royal Navy in early 1777. The next Independence was a 10-gun sloop commissioned by Congress in 1777 which was lost in 1778. Then there was the first “ship of the line” in 1814 named the USS Independence. “Ships of the line” were called that because of the battle tactic of lining the ships up broadside to the enemy and then opening fire. Ships built for this kind of warfare were built to take a pounding and to dish out a pounding. This Independence carried 90 guns.
Ship of the Line USS Independence.

She would later be re-rated to 54-guns and be re-classified as a Frigate and serve on and off for 98 years. She was finally burned (or fired in appropriate terms of the day) to recover metal scraps in September of 1915 .

The next USS Independence was a steamer that was built in 1918 and served until the end of WWI when she was decommissioned and placed in storage. It would be re-commissioned in 1930 as first the “City of Norfolk” as a merchant ship serving in the US Merchant Marine fleet. Later in 1941 it would be converted into an armored troop ship and commissioned into the Navy as the USS Neville (AP-16).

In August of 1942 the CVL-22 was launched as the USS Independence, a light Aircraft Carrier. This ship was the first of a new class of carriers built on converted cruiser hulls making them fast and maneuverable compared to the Heavy Carriers that were the state of the art in that day. This Independence would serve in eight battles as part of the many fast carrier strike forces the Navy put to sea. In the end of its service life this hull was used as a target vessel for Atomic bomb tests during the Operation Crossroads test series. This Independence survived two blasts without sinking and was towed to San Francisco for analysis and testing. She was extremely radioactive but still sea worthy. After the testing she was decommissioned and scuttled in 1951.

Replacing her in name would be the CVA-62, the USS Independence that I would serve aboard. Launched in May of 1958 this USS Independence would serve for 40 years being de-commissioned in 1998. I would serve onboard this Indy (as we called her) from early 1976 to the middle of 1978 (my Air Wing being moved to the newly commissioned USS Dwight D. Eisenhower) making two deployments to the Mediterranean.

For me this ship was home and played an important role in my young Navy life.

Today the USS Independence (LCS-2) that serves in the Navy is a Littoral combat Ship sporting a trimaran hull design that is supposed to be capable of making 40 knots. The Littoral Combat ship concept is based on being able to bring the substantial naval power into the shallow or inshore areas.

When I think of the Navy Birthday I think of my time on the Indy, celebrating with surf and turf (a traditional menu in the General mess) and powdered eggs. I loved those days.

“Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive.” - George Washington

BT: Jimmy T sends.

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