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Thursday, March 26, 2015

1st Ship in Dry Dock #3 ~ USS North Carolina

Blog #45.  March 26, 2015 by Marcus W. Robbins

Our shipyard has always been a home base as vessels call upon the port here on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River sometimes many times throughout their operational lifetime.  No different is the story of the USS North Carolina (Armored Cruiser No. 12) the second vessel to hold the name of the great state of North Carolina.

As taken from the Naval History and Heritage Command website the following information is presented about the ship as background to our story.

(Armored Cruiser No. 12: displacement 14,500; length 504'6"; beam 72'11"; draft 25'; speed 22 knots; complement 859; armament 4 10-inch, 16 6-inch, 22 3-inch, 12 3-pounders, 4 1-pounders, 2 .30 cal. machine guns, 4 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Tennessee)
The second North Carolina (Armored Cruiser No. 12) was laid down on 21 March 1905 by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Va.; launched on 6 October 1906; sponsored by Miss Rebekah Glenn, daughter of the Governor of North Carolina; and commissioned at Norfolk, Va., on 7 May 1908, Captain William A. Marshall in command.

And now you know the background on the birth of the ship at Newport News and its operational capacity but again look closely above; the ship was eventually completed and commissioned ready to receive its orders at the Norfolk Navy Yard as it was known at that time.  Our location was well into its second century as a naval operations base for the east coast as the Norfolk Naval Station still does not come into existence for almost another decade to assume that role just before the 1920’s.

As a vessel shakes down it begins to operate and achieve its mission but a shipyard still acts as a home port by providing a place to safely berth, take on supplies and operate from awaiting to receive orders to sail.  Such was the condition of USS North Carolina in the below photo very early in its career.

Photo #1 ~ USS North Carolina (on right)
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #607 taken on 10/26/1908)
Any place can have a river berth or a pier to safely tie a vessel up to but what sets apart a true shipyard is its ability to perform drydocking.  No different was the story at the Norfolk Navy Yard as on 30 November 1903 Dry Dock #3 began.  In future “History Matters” I shall share with you the construction of same but for now know that the original Dry Dock #3 was formally opened on 8 December 1908.  The following two photos show the immediate need to lengthen this same dock which was accomplished in 1910-1911 timeframe.
Photo #2 ~ USS North Carolina in Dry Dock #3
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #615 taken on 12/08/1908)


Photo #3 ~ USS North Carolina in Dry Dock #3
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #616 taken on 12/08/1908)
The useful inside length of the original construction of Dry Dock #3 was 550 feet and the USS North Carolina was 504 feet and 6 inches.  Our Dry Dock #3 was later extended to its present length of 723 feet and 6 inches by 1911.  You can again appreciate why as shown by the following two photos, a pretty snug fit at the time.


Photo #4 ~ USS North Carolina in Dry Dock #3
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #617 taken on 12/09/1908)

Photo #5 ~ USS North Carolina in Dry Dock #3
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #618 taken on 12/09/1908)

In conclusion look upon the final picture it has so much to tell of our heritage, yes this is the location of the modern Dry Dock #3 before another 173 feet and 6 inches were added to the headwall.  Note the 1901 construction of the Shipfitter Shop, Building 56 that was located on the southern side of Dry Dock #2 as a large brick structure.  There are two horse and carts middle ground a testament to early transportation of materials by shipyard workers. The old Belt Line Railroad swing bridge is visible in the background, also this railroad has always been our southern neighbor in the same location.  But what strikes me the most and I don’t get excited too easily is the 1830 brick boundary wall that begins in the northern of the shipyard at Building 19 is shown here at its end point extending into the river.  That brick wall my friends is a testament to the endurance that Norfolk represents over the centuries as it was placed to protect the construction of Dry Dock #1.

The middle part of the Norfolk Navy Yard was now ripe for growth to support the nation’s Navy.  It is very important to remember how those supporting events unfolded with the construction of dry dock facilities that are unique to a shipyard because –“history matters”.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Structures Standing the Test of Time

Blog #44. March 20, 2014 by Marcus W. Robbins

I get asked all the time about the history of the Navy Yard and people are amazed that routinely most of the old structures were indeed built to stand the test of time.  A 100 years old structure around here at NNSY is nothing out of the ordinary when you appreciate the knowledge, skill and craftsmanship that went into producing a quality facility meant to support our Navy.

Let’s have some fun looking back at three common locations that have stood up to the 100 year test of time.  These are places you might not have given a second thought about just how old they really are.  They are just background landscape as you travel past them every day.

1.      The Fourth Street Gate (Gate 10) was laid out after the Government bought the adjacent plantation farmland just after 1900.  This enabled the western edge of the Navy Yard (at that time) to become connected to the then remote Marine Barracks compound.  The entire gate was widened in the 1930’s otherwise the concrete wall remains unchanged.

Photo #1 ~ Looking Southeast Fourth Street Gate
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #934 taken on 1/23/1914)

2.      The Portsmouth Naval Hospital was constructed 1827-1830 making it the Navy’s oldest continuously operating hospital.  Another set of wings were added onto each side the building supporting World War I but have now been removed in the 2010 timeframe to restore the facility back to its original appearance.  Note the original facing stone return at corner of building, further down each side were open porches.

Photo #2 ~ Looking Northwest Portsmouth Navy Hospital
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #340 taken on 5/2/1904)

3.      The Navy commissioned the first modern submarine USS Holland (SS-1) on 12 October 1900 at Newport Road Island.    Holland finished her career at Norfolk, Virginia and her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 21 November 1910.  Knowing this fact we too had a part in the story of the first modern submarine.  In this rare real picture postcard observe that yes, those are four submarines all at once sitting in Dry Dock # 1.

Submarine Fleet Flotilla in Dry Dock 1
SS-9 Octopus, SS-10 Viper, SS-11 Cuttlefish& SS-12 Tarantula
Real Picture Postcard circa 1909 Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins

These are but three places and views in excess of 100 years old you can visit and touch today.  Remember that quality construction design, quality materials and extraordinary workmanship have no bounds to the test of time because –“history matters”.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Historical Bronze Plaque at Gate 10

Blog #43. March 13, 2014 by Marcus W. Robbins
The below is a second installment concerning the bronze plaque found just inside of Gate 10 that I first featured with Blog #31 written in May 12, 2014.  I left off at that time with the tease that photos had been uncovered that recorded the unveiling of the historical bronze plaque and I shall share them below.

I did want to re-purpose and repeat again some of my same text from Blog #31 because it continues to be relevant as we always have new employees and others seeking to understand the great history found here at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Our Norfolk Naval Shipyard lives on today because of the proud accomplishments of not only its past but its promise of the future.  It is so very important that new employees here learn of the great milestones we accomplished here on the southern branch of the Elizabeth River, not only for the Navy but for the United States.  The one thing I try to tell everyone is history is not just something abstract that happened in the past.  The history of our shipyard going into the future depends on you also, the new employee “you must own it”.

The historical events story of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard are like a great tapestry; it is woven of many individual fibers all coming together to create something larger.  Those fibers begin with our people as they demonstrate pride, knowledge and the craftsmanship of shipbuilding and repair.  Those fibers are the tools used and raw materials that are transformed into ships and equipment.  Those fibers are the facilities and buildings that are utilized to bring everything together in order to deliver a world class product.

Norfolk Naval Shipyard delivers world class products as evidenced by our motto – “Any Ship, Any Time, Any Where”.

One of the best physical artifact tools for learning and teaching a quick overview of our historical events at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is the bronze plaque inside of Gate 10.  I often take new employees there or advise the more seasoned ones to take time to go read what they have driven past for years.  It was erected by the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Historical Association in 1950 with the very mission of telling our story.

Bronze Plaque Inside of Gate 10
 Text sourced from Marshall W. Butt

And now, the long promised recent finds from the archives in order to take you back exactly 65 years ago this month (March 27, 1950) to the unveiling ceremony of a most wonderful artifact. 

Unveiling Ceremony Program for Historical Plaque
March 27th 1950
Erected by NNSY Historical Association
(Program Courtesy of US Navy)

Unveiling Ceremony for Historical Plaque
March 27th 1950
USS Coral Sea Band Playing
(Photo Courtesy Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum)


Unveiling Ceremony for Historical Plaque
March 27th 1950
Looking Northwest Inside Gate 10
(Photo Courtesy Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum)

Unveiling Ceremony for Historical Plaque
March 27th 1950
Marshall W. Butt on left
(Photo Courtesy Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum)
If you read the above text carefully you shall learn of the four flags this yard has had flown from its flagstaff (British, Virginia, Confederacy & United States) and you shall learn of the three different burns (1779, 1861 & 1862) of the shipyard.  From the first dry docking in 1833 of a ship in the United States (USS DELAWARE) our Drydock 1 still remains in operation today a testament to the craftsman that built it.  Other facts contained on the plaque high lite the conversion of the ironclad (CSS VIRGINIA) of which was important because it helped changed modern naval warfare, it too can trace its heritage to Drydock 1.  The US Navy’s first Battleship (USS TEXAS) and the first aircraft carrier (USS LANGLEY) also were constructed here.  Finally the plaque gives the various specific dates that this great institution underwent formal name changes.

And so went the events of March 27, 1950 - a mere 65 years ago this current month.  Important dates, institution names, flags and milestones supporting the United States Navy were relevant back then to be remembered and continue to be relevant now because –“history matters”.

Friday, March 6, 2015

USS Cumberland & USS Congress Memorial of 3/8/1862

Blog #42. March 6, 2014 by Marcus W. Robbins

Please endure a bit of background first…
Looking back at events from the Confederate held Gosport Navy Yard 153 years ago this week the most revolutionary ship ever produced upon these grounds without question was the Confederate States Ship, CSS Virginia.  Raised here in 1861 from the sunken and burned USS Merrimac then converted and launched in 1862 from Dry Dock 1 as the CSS Virginia, Gosport again lead the way in naval architecture and warfare design .
That entire amazing journey of transformation for the CSS Virginia which first begins with the Union burn of the Gosport Navy Yard (April 21, 1861) along with an expanded summary of the Battle of Hampton Roads (March 8 & 9 1862) and concluding with the Confederate burn of the Gosport Navy Yard (May 10, 1862) has been previously told within my "History Matters" Blogs # 4-20 inclusive written over the time period of March 18, 2011 to April 22, 2012 as found here if you wish to read the entire run in consecutive order:

Yet now, look at the title of this Blog and how does the CSS Virginia fit in with the USS Cumberland and USS Congress and a memorial you might ask?  Well, the Battle of Hampton Roads that took place here in our local harbor was a two day event.  On the 2nd day CSS Virginia fights to an inclusive draw with the USS Monitor, a story that is well known as these ironclads revolutionized naval warfare worldwide forever.
I want to focus upon that lesser covered 1st day of battle, or should I say the massive death projected upon the USS Cumberland & USS Congress on a day that marks the end of the age for wooden ships and sail.  The CSS Virginia wrought the most damaging naval defeat to the United States Union Navy till the unfortunate events of Pearl Harbor in 1941 right here in our local waters.  War, by its very nature produces death in the achievement of its dark end game of conquest.  No different were the conditions as CSS Virginia sought to break the Union blockade of the Hampton Roads harbor in the spring of 1862.

The Sinking of the Cumberland - oil on canvas at Mariners’ Museum,
(photo courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins - 150 years of event occurrence)
CSS Virginia engages USS Congress, 8 March 1862
(Navy History & Heritage Command image NH 42216 – painting by F. Muller)
Within the Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s historic Trophy Park you can touch iron plate from the CSS Virginia, a gear wheel from the USS Cumberland and a cannon from the USS Congress, all items in which to honor the memories of these three great ships but it took me driving down the street the United States Naval Hospital Portsmouth, Virginia last week in order to honor the dead of March 8, 1862.

USS Cumberland and USS Congress Memorial
(photo courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins 2/27/2015)
USS Cumberland and USS Congress Memorial
(photo courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins 2/27/2015)

How can one learn more about the Battle of Hampton Roads?  Well you have the perfect opportunity this coming weekend to visit the fine folks at the Mariners’ Museum, see the attached link for more details:

In conclusion remember that our Gosport Navy Yard was the birthplace of the CSS Virginia, a ship whose actions on March 8, 1862 upon the USS Cumberland and USS Congress proved the age of wood and sail was no match to an ironclad ship.  A massive loss of life came about that day but you can right here in Portsmouth Virginia see a monument to honor those fallen sailors because - "history matters".