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 #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)
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”.