Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Summer Cruise in Wisconsin - The Battleship that is - Circa 1955

In traditional naval parlance you serve in a ship, not on board. As a regular NROTC Midshipman at Princeton University, I spent my “plebe cruise” during the summer of 1955 in the USS Wisconsin (BB-64), along with several hundred other midshipmen. Wisconsin was the last of five Iowa Class battle ships commissioned by the United States Navy during World War II, and a sister ship to the USS Missouri (BB-63). All of the internal photographs shown here have been taken in the USS Missouri. She (the USS Missouri) currently resides as a maritime museum at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, guarding the memorial and remains of the hull of the USS Arizona (BB-39). See; http://arnhemjim.blogspot.com/p/military-strategy.html . The USS Wisconsin is also a museum ship at the Port of Norfolk (her former home port), Virginia.

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) last of the Iowa Class Battleships
commissioned 16 April 1944

Another view of 58,000 long tons full load
displacement (post 1980's) moving at 35.5 knots

The forward main battery of Number 1 and 2 Turrets of
16"/50cal. Naval Guns

USS Wisconsin - A broadside salvo from Number 1 and 2 Turrets

My General Quarters station was in the powder handling room of No. 2 Turret of her battery of nine 16”/50 cal Mk 7 guns. It was the modern version of a “powder monkey” deep in the barbette. Each of the 6 bags of propellant required for the projectile of a single gun (3 guns to each turret) weighed 110 pounds (white silk bags in the photograph). Suffices we didn’t have to move them very far without electro-mechanical assistance. That’s 660 pounds of powder charge for one projectile with it’s weight ranging from 1900 to 2700 pounds, depending on type. See; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16%22/50_caliber_Mark_7_gun. and for those interested, an in-depth technical article on the design, development and employment of the gun; http://navweaps.com/Weapons/WNUS_16-50_mk7.php (please cut and pass this URL). We could only hear a low muffled roar when the turret fired, but sure as hell felt a massive shake as the entire ship rolled in recoil.

An inert 16" projectile and 2 dummy propellent charges, again
110 pounds apiece 

The breech and Welin interupted-screw breech-block of a
16"/50 cal Naval Gun Mk 7; noting the close tolerances
between massive moving surfaces

Another view of the breech, observing the open breech-block
almost centered deep below in the photograph, as gun is in
the nearly maximum elevated position of 45 deg

Typical Midshipmen's berthing quarters; It's certainly not the
 Ritz Carlton, but it was warm (sometimes too warm) and dry

All Hands on Deck, Captain's Inspection - Midshipman
Cruise, Summer 1955 (I was somewhere on deck, you
can tell the Midshipmen by the visored combination caps) 

Main Battery Plot - Firing Panel for all three 16"/50cal Mk7
gun turrets and the Main Fire Control Computer Mk IA

United States Navy Gun Fire Control Computer Mk IA;
fundamentally an electro-mechanical analog computer

"Broadway" ran nearly the full length of the ship, was the top of
6 inches of the second steel armored deck, and about midships
provided hatches and ladders, port and starboard, to the four
 firerooms (boilers) and the four engine-rooms

One of the armored hatches (at top of photograph) passing to
 the lower decks from "Broadway"

That's not a hatch, THIS IS A HATCH! Hatch (door) into the
armored conning station on the bridge of the ship, manned and
secured during General Quarters (didn't want to be claustrophobic)

One of my assigned duties was to stand “Admiral’s Flag Watch” on the 011 level at night. Someone, never identified, had “purloined” the flag as a souvenir, so a 24-hour watch was established, comprised solely of midshipmen. Unfortunately, no one had seen fit to provide a set of sound-powered phones for the watch station, and after my designated four hours in the dead of night in the Danish Straits (cold even in the summer). I had to wait a further two hours before someone realized the error, and sent up a relief. During that same passage (not the same time) we passed a Soviet Navy Sverdlov Class Light Cruiser. Given the displacement, speed and armament of an Iowa Class Battleship, I’m certain they were a little bit more impressed with us, than the other way around.

The Mikkhal Kutuzov, a Sverdlov Class Light Cruiser -
now also a museum ship

Another view of the Mikhal Kutuszov

The 011 level and the "Admiral's Flag Watch" straight
up from here

We had paid a port call to Edinburgh, Scotland, with additional liberty, and an overnight train for a multiple day visit to London. Being of Scottish ancestry, and already having developed an interest in the history of the British Armed Forces, it was a magnificent adventure. I was able to acquire a set of used bagpipes (very plain service issue) at the famous firm of J.& R. Glen Highland Bagpipes, 497 Lawnmarket, close to Princess Street in Edinburgh. See; http://www.thebagpipemuseum.com/Glen_History.html (please copy and paste this URL). Glen’s finally closed their doors in 1979. They hang this day in a place of honor in our family room closely guarded by “Lt. Col Angus Smyth - Gordon MC” of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders.

The premises of J. & R. Glen - Highland Bagpipe Makers
since the mid 1800's, Edinburgh, Scotland

A set of Great Highland Bagpipes made by
J. & R. Glen - properly displayed and guarded

Between visits to the sights of London, including the Imperial War Museum (National Army Museum hadn’t been established), I made my first of many visits to Laurence Corner Army Surplus Store which stood at the same location from 1953 to 2007. Will never forget rummaging around the literally open barrels outside the store loaded with all manner of genuine surplus British Army cloth insignia, on sale for literally half pennies or at the most pence each. They were standing on the sidewalk directly under the white sign seen in the photograph. These insignia were the genesis of a lifetime collection of British Armed Forces uniforms, equipment, and armament.

Laurence Corner, Patch Collector's Paridise in its day

From Edinburgh, we set sail out of the Firth of Forth for Copenhagen, Denmark. The ship’s boats for both visitors and liberty parties in Copenhagen landed at a quay that was within a very short distance of the famous little mermaid statue inspired by Hans Christen Andersen’s story.

Copenhagen's enchanting "Little Mermaid" looking out sea

While there one day in the duty section I drew the task of being a tour guide for visitors to the ship. I was assigned to accompany a Soviet Navy Captain Second Rank and his wife (rather dour as I recall) on the standard cursory visitor’s tour of the ship. I knew that he had to be far more knowledgeable than I of the ship’s characteristics and armament. Additionally in retrospect realized that because he was obviously stationed there as part of their Naval Attaché’s staff to Denmark, that certainly he, and probably his wife, were both GRU (Fleet Intelligence suborned to the Fifth Directorate) agents. For those who may not be familiar; Гла́вное разве́дывательное управле́ние, translated, Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie (Organization of the Main Intelligence Administration) of the then Soviet Union. At some point I also realized that assigning a lowly midshipman as their guide was a premeditated intentional diplomatic snub by both the United States Navy and Government.

The next day was to prove even more interesting, and a lot more enjoyable. Returning to the ship from a half day ashore, before I boarded the liberty boat to return to the ship and waiting at the quay, I noticed a middle-aged couple accompanied by an absolutely stunning (classic), statuesque blonde Danish teenager (18 or 19) in a beautiful bright yellow summer dress, who as suspected turned out to be their daughter. Mustering every ounce of courage, I was smart enough to initially introduce myself to the older couple. They spoke fluent English having immigrated to the United States, owned a flower shop in New York City for a period of time, and for certain reasons decided to return to Denmark. It was a bit of a ride back to the Wisconsin, and by the time we arrived, had been introduced to their daughter Else, and invited them to allow me the opportunity to act as their tour guide. They readily accepted, as I truly think they were trying just as hard for their daughter to potentially meet a future United States Naval Officer. As we all reached the top of the accommodation ladder (gangway), the poor midshipman who had the tour guide duty that day had his bubble burst, when I told him that they had asked me to be their tour guide. What a chagrined and abject look on his face, as Else was really quite striking. Her parents invited me for dinner at their home, left us alone for quite some time, and another day we all visited Tivoli Gardens together. I took them a box of Hersey’s Chocolate bars (still a precious gift in Denmark even in the mid-50’s), and when I left, I gave her one of my gold anchor collar devices. A very sad and emotional parting. Else had learned to read and write fluent English, and we corresponded for quite some time. As best as I can recall she became a highly successful hairdresser’s model (use the search term "Danish hairdresser's female models" on the Internet to get some idea of today's competition, and she could match or surpass anyone of them). I’m not sure exactly what happened after that, just too great a distance, and three more years of university, then at least three years in the Navy, at the time. As you can tell from the length of this segment, I reflect occasionally on what might have been? At my age I'm allowed.

A colorful part of the restored older portion of the
waterfront in Copenhagen

Same scene, Magnificent "Wonderful Copenhagen" by night

A portion of Tivoli Gardens by night

Another view of Tivoli Gardens by night

A broad variety of themes

Still another part of Tivoli Gardens at night

Tivoli Gardens opened its gates in 1843. The very next year the Tivoli Youth Guard, the world’s first youth guards were formed as a “Lilliputian Military”. The band and contingent of guards, who’s uniforms are patterned after Den Kongelige Livgard (Royal Life Guards) of the King of Denmark, have been performing ever since. They, as well as their real life counterparts, are the embodiment of the classic toy soldier portrayed in Hans Christian Andersen's classic childrens' story, "The Steadfast Tin Soldier". Consider if you will for a moment, on a bright summer day in 'Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen', in the total environment of Tivoli Gardens, holding the hand of an absolutely beautiful young lady, and enjoying the band concert. 

It was a magnificent, almost idyllic summer, ending with a brief visit to the U.S. Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before returning to home port in Norfolk, Virginia. Really tough duty, even considering the "holystoning" of the Wisconsin's teak main deck, but someone had to do it.

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