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Part II
Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
One Man's Fight
for a Better Navy

by
Holden A. Evans
[Former Naval Constructor, U. S. N.]


published by
Dodd, Mead & Company
New York
1940

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Part II
Chapter 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Part II

 p161  Chapter VI

An American Dreyfus Case

In the summer of 1905 a terrible disaster in the Navy appalled the people of this country. The gunboat Bennington blew up in the harbor of San Diego, Cal., with the loss of 66 lives. Since the vessel had carried only a small crew, the number of deaths was especially shocking. The explosion had been one of terrific force.

As chief construction officer at the Mare Island Navy Yard, I was ordered to go to San Diego, raise the Bennington, and prepare her to be towed to Mare Island. The job proved to be a simple one, but it led to unexpected developments which had some influence on naval policy but more on my naval career.

With me I took to San Diego the submarine diver of my department, McMillan, a man in whom I had confidence and on whom I could rely for an accurate report of the underwater conditions. We found the ship resting easily on the bottom of the harbor, main deck nearly awash. The diver went down and reported the hull intact, as far as he could see. Meanwhile I was studying the interior of the wreck from the surface. My observations told me that when the boiler exploded, it shot aft, crashed through the steel bulkhead, and brought up against the main engine.

The explanation of the sinking was now plain. When the boiler flew aft, the bottom blows, those connections from the boiler to the sea, were carried away, and the water had entered through the broken connection. Therefore, all I had to do to raise the Bennington was to install a large centrifugal pump on the main deck, get the water as low as possible with the pump,  p162 find the bottom blows, and drive white-pine wedges into the broken connection. The wedges would swell and seal the openings, and then the large pump would soon free the ship of water.

But first I had to locate the bottom blows before I could start operations. With me was the chief engineer of the Bennington, Ensign Wade, a young Annapolis graduate. I went to him and asked him for the plans of the boilers. He told me that there were no machinery plans on board.

"Surely," I said, "you have a general arrangement plan?"

He answered, "No plans whatever."

This was one of those things that made a technical officer firm his lips in displeasure. Machinery plans should be in the equipment of every chief engineer of a vessel. Why weren't they on the Bennington? Somebody or some agency was responsible. What person? What agency? Those questions have never been answered.

Still, I was not yet stumped.

"Then, Mr. Wade," I said, "you'll have to point out the approximate location of the bottom blows."

He looked at me in blank astonishment.

"Mr. Evans," he asked, "what are bottom blows?"

It was my turn to register blank astonishment. I could not have been more surprised if a lawyer had asked who Blackstone was. Then my indignation began to mount.

"You, a chief engineer," I exclaimed, "and you tell me you don't know what a bottom blow is?"

"No sir, I don't," he answered frankly. "You see, I know very little about engineering. I never stood a watch in an engine-room before I was made Chief Engineer of this ship."

It seems to me that this reply, which I quote accurately, would alone be justification enough for this book and the criticisms it contains. Ensign Wade had spoken the truth; yet if this seems incredible to the lay reader, let me describe the situation  p163 as it then existed in the Navy.

Originally, when the Navy went into steam in the first place, the chief engineers were practical men, mechanics who got jobs in the service and eventually won commissions. Of course, these were staff commissions, and the line, which must always be supreme, easily held the engineers under its thumb.

Then Annapolis men began taking up steam engineering and winning commissions as engineer officers. They could see no reason for the line's assumption of superiority and demanded equality. At first they got nowhere. Then the engineering profession rose in power in civilian life. Engineering societies took up the cause of the Navy engineers. Congress began to listen. The line was threatened with a rival, an independent engineer corps, with equal rank, authority, and privileges.

This was something that simply could not be allowed to happen. The line evolved a clever scheme to avert it. It proposed amalgamation.

In effect, the line said, "Warships have become complicated machines. Henceforth all officers must be engineers, and hereafter all will be educated in engineering. We will have nothing but engineers in the Navy.

The engineers fell for this and sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. The result? There was no change in the training of naval officers. Engineers disappeared from the Navy. And that is the situation still today. Line officers serve as chief engineers on our warships; but real mechanics, the warrant officers, operate the machinery.

Ensign Wade was a product of this wonderful amalgamation. Since we could get no help from him, we had to make a blind search for the bottom blows in that submerged boiler room amid the wreckage of which still remained fragments of the bodies of 66 broken and scalded men. I ran the centrifugal pump to the limit and got the water as low as possible, then McMillan  p164 and I went into the horrible mess.

McMillan had on his diving suit, without the helmet. I directed him, pointing out the probable location of those important valves. He found them and drove in the pine pegs. In a few hours the Bennington was afloat. A few minor repairs to the hull were found necessary, and then the ship was ready to be towed to Mare Island.

While the repairs were being made, I saw a good deal of Ensign Wade, the chief engineer. My indignation with him died out, but my pity grew. I found him a frank, honest sort of chap.

I could see what was coming to him. It seemed to me that he was the one the blame would fall on, although, as I saw it, he was less at fault than those of his superiors who might have taken greater precautions against such a disaster.

Although the young man was a stranger to me, I determined to help him, if he would let me.

"I know I'm going to be made the goat," he said.

"Yes," I told him, "you're going to be court-martialed, sure. All the resources of the powerful bureaucracy will be against you. It will leave no stone unturned to convict and dismiss you from the service. Yet I think I see a way — by attacking the system really responsible for this tragedy — by which you can be defended successfully. If you want me to undertake your defense, I'm willing to do so."

He assured me that he did. In fact, he was profoundly grateful that I, a stranger, should sept out of my way to help him.

"But let me warn you," I said. "Even if you are acquitted, the attacks I shall have to make on others in presenting your defense will make trouble for both you and me."

"I don't care what happens to me afterwards," he cried. "I am not responsible for this horrible disaster, as you know. All I want is to be acquitted of the blame."

We agreed that he should engage a lawyer of my selection to  p165 assist me with legal questions. Then I went back to Mare Island. The Bennington arrived at the yard soon after, and then orders for the courts martial of Wade and of the commanding officer of the wrecked ship, Captain Lucian Young.

The court was the most important since the one that had sat in the famous Sampson-Schley controversy. With the eyes of the country upon it, the bureaucracy took no chances. No ordinary officer, already stationed on the Pacific Coast, would do to conduct the prosecution. For that task Washington sent out a trained and experienced Judge Advocate, Captain West, of the Marine Corps. No ordinary technical expert must be the witness to pin guilt on the ensign and his captain. The fleet engineer of the Pacific Fleet was ordered to collect evidence and formulate the technical side of the prosecution. I secured an eminent California attorney, Mr. Theodore Bell, to take charge of the defense's legal questions before the court. He was a polite, suave man well versed in the law and endowed with a pleasing personality which would not antagonize the court's members.

There were no witnesses of what occurred in the fireroom of the Bennington. Every member of the fireroom force but one was dead. The survivor, a coal passer, knew only that a small jet of steam was seen coming from the front of the furnace. He was sent to get the boilermaker, and before he returned the explosion came.

So, the case was going to depend on expert testimony. Experts would examine the boiler, the furnaces, and the boiler fittings and testify to their conclusions. This was scarcely to the advantage of my client, Ensign Wade. Commander Bartlett, the fleet engineer, who was to be the expert witness for the prosecution, stood high in the Bureau of Engineering and bore an excellent reputation as an engineer officer. With his prestige and the known support of the Bureau of Steam Engineering, he would make a formidable witness.

 p166  My plan of defense must be to break down Commander Bartlett's expert testimony in the first place. Then I must go on and offer by expert testimony a clear explanation of the cause of the explosion, a solution so sound and true that it could not be refuted and would be accepted by the court. I knew from a study of the Bennington that the true cause must exonerate my client. The expert whom I proposed to call as my witness was myself.

However, I was none too certain of the outcome until we received help from an unexpected quarter. Our unwitting benefactor was none other than the expert witness for the prosecution, Commander Bartlett himself. Whether it was the desire to create an atmosphere of guilt around the scene of the court martial or just simple garrulity, Commander Bartlett began to tell everyone who would listen exactly what caused the explosion, and in great detail. Thus, well in advance of the convening of the court I knew the evidence which the prosecution would present.

This evidence was so childish in conception, so fantastic, that were I not sustained by the record of the court martial still on file in the Navy Department, I would hesitate to state it out of respect to my own credibility as a historian. Briefly, it was this:

Through the neglect of the chief engineer, the springs of the safety valves had been allowed to rust. A solid mass of rust had formed within the convolutions of the springs, preventing the valves from lifting even at high pressures in the boiler. The Bennington's boilers were about to be cleaned, when the ship received sudden order to sail. After the fires were started and steam began to form, a man was sent to the top of the boiler to close the air valve. This man made a mistake and closed the valve to the steam gauge instead. Consequently the gauge would not register any pressure in the boiler. The fireroom men kept shoveling in coal and forcing the boiler, but the steam gauge  p167 kept registering zero. Finally, since the safety valves was unable to lift, an enormous pressure was produced, with the inevitable explosion.

Could anything be more ridiculous? It seemed incredible that an experienced engineer officer, supported by a powerful and supposedly expert Bureau of the Navy Department, should put forward such a cock-and‑bull story.

Ensign Wade may have been a greenhorn in an engine room, but he had under him a force of water tenders, firemen, oilers, and the like who were trained mechanics. Assuming that one of these men may have mistaken the air valve for the steam-gauge valve, which is extremely unlikely, would these veterans of the firerooms have forced a hissing boiler to the explosion point, simply because its gauge registered zero? Wouldn't they have suspected something wrong? But these men were all dead — dead at their posts of duty. It was all right now to impugn their intelligence and brand them as imbeciles in order to make out a case against the engineer, when there was no real case against him. To this day I burn with the shame of it.

Yet the very preposterousness of the prosecution's theory made it the easier for me to refute it. It turned me to an examination of the safety valve, which was evidently to be the key to the problem of upsetting that theory. On the yard scrap pile I found two old safety valves similar to those on the Bennington. They came from Petrel, a vessel which had been retired and dismantled. These valves had been on the scrap heap, exposed to the weather, for several years and could be assumed to be in worse condition than those of the Bennington, however gross the neglect of Chief Engineer Wade.

With two competent and close-mouthed men for witnesses, I then conducted a series of tests, working secretly. I dug up the engineer's logbook of the Petrel and found the pressure-setting of the safety valves at the time the vessel went out of commission.  p168 In the presence of my witnesses, I applied pressure to one of these old, neglected valves, and it lifted at exactly the pressure at which it had been set years before.

But, if the spring were not rusty enough, I packed the casing around it with wet sand and again tested the valve. Once more it popped off at precisely its old pressure‑set. Then I tried a supreme experiment, one I scarcely expected to work. I filled the casing with cement, let it harden over night, and tested the valve next morning. Believe it or not, it lifted at only two or three pounds greater than its setting. Having these experiments attested by witnesses, I cut a wide slot in the casing, so as to expose the spring and the surrounding cement, and now I had an Exhibit A to impress any court. That exhibit alone would acquit the dead fireroom force of stupidity.

Perhaps I could have won the case by breaking down the silly theory of the prosecution and introducing for the defense this one piece of evidence, but for the sake of the young man I was defending I dared take no chances. Besides, I now intensely wanted to know for myself how and why those 66 men had died. That I found out by studying the damaged boiler. The boiler was as available to Commander Bartlett and his assistants as it was to me. If they were the experts they claimed to be, they must have seen the same things I did and drawn the same conclusions. Unless, of course, their zeal for a conviction made them slightly blind.

The crown-sheet, or top, of the collapsed furnace was neatly folded over the remains of the fire. How could that have happened? To have folded like that, the steel must have been red hot. There had been no fire following the explosion to heat it afterwards. On the contrary, the ship filled with water at once and sank. Moreover, the action of the crown-sheet in dropping down to the firre must have been very quick, otherwise the scouring effect of water and steam would have blown out the unburned  p169 coal.

Now let me explain to the non‑technical reader that a crown-sheet is the top of the furnace which is located in the bottom of the boiler. How then could this piece of metal, covered with water on one side, grow red hot? That question turned me to a British authority, Lewes. As long as a sheet of metal separating fire from water remains in contact with the water, it transmits the heat of the fire to the water and remains relatively cool itself. Break its contact with the water, even with a thin film of oil, and you establish an insulation. The metal then ceases to transmit the heat to the water and becomes hot itself, even to a white heat.

Lewes gives numerous examples of the dangers of oil in boilers. His conclusions were, or should have been, in the professional repertory of every advanced engineer.

How could the Bennington's crown-sheet have become coated with oil? That, too, could be simply explained. It is almost impossible to keep oil out of boilers. The builders design filters and other devices to clean the water, but the oil gets in just the same. It rises to the top of the boiler and floats on the hot water as a scum.

Then how did it get on the crown-sheet near the bottom of the boiler? The Bennington had just arrived in San Diego from Honolulu. The engine-room force suspected oil in the boilers and, once in port, "blew down" the boilers for cleaning. That is, with fires drawn and a low head of steam in the boiler, the bottom blows were opened, and the remaining pressure drove the hot water out into the sea, emptying the boiler. As the water-level dropped in the Bennington boiler, the floating oil scum came down with it, and deposited itself on the crown-sheet, coating it with its deadly insulation.

Now ordinarily the subsequent cleaning of the boilers would have removed the oil coat from the crown-sheet, but before the  p170 Bennington's boilers could be cleaned, orders came after the ship to sail. The engine-room force filled the boilers with fresh water, thereby locking the oil coat to the crown-sheet, and started the fires, and the gunboat had become a powder magazine with the fuse lighted.

The one survivor, the coal passer, spoke of a single jet of escaping steam. That suggested to me the failure of a rivet connecting the furnace to the boiler-head flange. If it failed, it was defective. If there was one defective rivet there might be others. I decided to investigate the rivets.

The undamaged furnaces of the Bennington were available. The heads of the rivets were obviously sound. They were in full sight and could be tested with a hammer. I suspected the countersunk points. A workman removed a few for me by cutting off the heads and backing them out, keeping the points intact. The headless rivets I stood up in holes drilled to their size in a steel plate. Then with a light hammer I struck one on the point. The point flew off, breaking on an old line of rust inside. Struck the same way, the other rivets behaved as had the first, breaking on lines of rust.

Then I took sample rivets from many places in the undamaged furnaces and put them through the test, always with the same result. With a thin hack saw I cut through several on the median line to have a cross-section. Each one showed clearly that the point was a cup lined with rust. I knew I could challenge the prosecution to produce a single sound rivet from the furnaces.

The cause of the explosion was now clear. The top of the furnace, covered with oil, became red hot and began to sag. As long as the crown-sheet was normal, the rivets connecting the furnace and boiler-head flange were in shear and would hold. Once the crown-sheet began to come down, however, it brought the rivets in tension concentrated on the point which gave way and released the jet of steam. The top sagged more and the whole row  p171 of rivets gave way like buttons from a ripped shirt. A great rush of steam and water came into the fireroom, and the reaction drove the boiler aft.

My explanation was perfect, and no cross-examination could break it. We were ready for trial.

Meanwhile two things had occurred, one of which was nearly to prove fatal to my plans. Whether from the worry or not, young Wade broke down, underwent a major operation in the Mare Island Naval Hospital, and for a few days was a very sick boy. Then the commanding officer of the Bennington, Captain Young, asked me to act as his assistant counsel. This was not at all to my liking. Captain Young was a well-known officer with several bars to his Congressional Medal of Honora and was able to take care of himself. Privately, I was not interested in his fate.

However, he would be tried first, and I knew that I would be called as an expert witness in his case. Thus I would have to expose my whole defense prepared for the sake of the young ensign I was interested in. Young's lawyer, Judge Geer, though an able man, might botch the technical part of the case. Why not, then, by actually trying Wade in the Young case, clear both officers with my testimony? Not from choice, therefore, but from necessity, I agreed to assist Judge Geer, only stipulating that I must have complete charge of the technical side.

The court convened for the trial of Captain Young in the administration building on Mare Island. It was an impressive sight — those thirteen high-ranking officers of the Navy, in their frock coats with brass buttons, sitting at the long table. In the middle sat the President, Admiral Glass, an authority on international law. All the members looked grave, even severe. If the officers on trial were responsible for the deaths of those 66 men, woe unto them, with this court.

The judge advocate, Captain West, was also a serious but an  p172 alert man, tall, lean, with very keen eyes. Near him at Commander Bartlett, Fleet Engineer of the Pacific Fleet, the backbone of the prosecution. I knew him personally. He was senior assistant engineer on the old Charleston when I was taking my two years' cruise aboard that vessel as a midshipman, just graduated from the Naval Academy. He was a kindly man whom I had liked very much.

After a few unimportant witnesses had taken the stand, the prosecution led with its ace. The judge advocate called Commander Bartlett. The fleet engineer qualified as an expert and then began to give have technical testimony, and the real battle was on.

Commander Bartlett was calm and supremely confident. He testified in a deliberate, positive manner, explaining every detail. He spoke as a school teacher might, lecturing to a class of students — the students being the grave, solemn members of the court. I kept watching them. After a few hours I noted that some of them were growing restless, even impatient. Evidently they did not relish being treated as schoolboys by a subordinate.

Oblivious to this, however, and apparently unaware of the vulnerability of expert testimony, Commander Bartlett walled himself inside a trap, leaving himself no loophole of escape. His testimony was too positive and he went too much into detail. He gave exact figures. He even told the court the pressure inside the boiler when it exploded. Perhaps he thought I wasn't competent to cross-examine him.

At last he finished his lecture and was turned over to me. I began in friendly fashion with him, for I had a genuine liking for Commander Bartlett. I considered him not only a kindly but an upright man who was merely misguided in his theory of the explosion. Besides, I really dreaded doing what I should have to do to him.

But very soon his answers began to surprise me. When I  p173 started to ask questions that by inference pointed to what I felt sure was the true cause of the explosion, Commander Bartlett evaded them.

All respect I ever had for the man left me, and all compassion, too. To me he was just an evasive witness, and I went after him hammer and tongs, determined to break him completely. For three days I kept him under examination, asking him nearly a thousand technical questions. In spite of repeated warnings from the court to be direct, his answers were evasive. This was not the suave school teacher now laying down the law to his pupils, but an embarrassed, squirming witness.

Lest any reader think I am overdrawing this picture, I turn to my scrapbook for the San Francisco Call's account of the closing scenes of the Bartlett testimony and cull the following paragraph:

Bartlett has been on the witness stand continuously since Tuesday. He was nervous and overwrought yesterday, but Evans had no mercy. At times Bartlett almost lost control of himself, as Evans, with a technical handbook in his hand, propounded question after question on materials and engineering. Bartlett gave up his attempt to maintain composure and paced the floor like a caged animal.

This could not last. Finally, when I asked a particularly embarrassing question, the witness refused to answer. The president cleared the courtroom while the members deliberated. Then we were recalled, court opened, and Admiral Glass delivered the decision. I quote it from memory.

"The witness has been repeatedly warned. The court directs him to answer the question. Should he refuse, the court will take action against him in accordance with Navy regulations."

Commander Bartlett answered the question. But soon I posed another difficult one for him. His answer, which I also quote from memory, was fatal to the prosecution.

 p174  "I am a witness for the prosecution," he flung back. "I don't see why I should answer questions for the defense."

This was a confession of his prejudice. Once more the court was cleared. When it reconvened, the president announced the decision:

"The court will hear no further expert testimony from this witness. He may be questioned on facts but on nothing else."

Commander Bartlett was broken. The court's decision meant that it would disregard his opinion as an expert, even his fantastic theory of the explosion given in direct examination.

I felt certain now that I had my case won. The evidence of other witnesses being called by the judge advocate was of little interest to me. I could sit back and rest, give my own expert testimony when the time came, and feel secure in the outcome. And then a bombshell exploded at my feet, blowing me out of my composure. The judge advocate unexpectedly asked the court to go to the Naval Hospital to take the testimony of Ensign Wade.

Instantly I was objecting, "Ensign Wade is my client. He has undergone a very serious operation and has not recovered. To examine him at this time would endanger his life."

I knew what no one else in the court knew. Ensign Wade was mistaken, as I had learned, on one important point and would make a statement damaging to Captain Young, a statement, which although Wade believed it to be true, would be untrue in fact. As Captain Young's counsel it would be my duty to bring out the truth and make Wade admit it. Thus I would be shaking the credibility of my own client as a witness and giving the judge advocate a point to use against him in his own trial. Besides, the testimony would turn Young into a hostile witness for Wade.

In my first conferences with Wade, he told me that Captain Young had never been in the engine room. I originally expected to use this in my defense of Wade. Later investigations, however,  p175 showed me that it was not true. Captain Young had been in the engine room once, and only once. When the Bennington was at sea, about the middle of one night the engines began making a terrible racket. The machinist on watch called Wade and he went to see what he could do about it. While he was there, Captain Young appeared in pajamas on the upper platform, angry at being awakened. He gave Wade and the engine-room force a piece of his mind and left.

The ensign had forgotten this incident. By the time I heard the truth, Wad was in the hospital, and I had not thought it worth while to disturb him in his convalescence in order to set him straight on this point. Afterwards I did remind him of it, and he readily admitted his error.

But now the judge advocate, evidently unaware that it could be controverted, was going to obtain this same statement under oath from Ensign Wade. He had an effective answer to my objection — a letter from Dr. Simonds, head of the hospital, to the effect that Ensign Wade was in fit physical condition to testify. The court overruled me, and we all started for the hospital.

The route of this march was along the main street of Mare Island, past the residence of the commandant and the homes of the navy yard officers, then past the Marine parade ground and the homes of the Marine officers, and finally up a long but gentle grade to the hospital on top of the hill. It was a warm day, the sun beating down hot, and the well‑fed captains and admirals, in their stuffy, close-buttoned frock coats, soon began to feel it. Handkerchiefs began to mop the sweat from bedewed brows, the pace slackened. Tempers were not improving any in sweetness.

I tagged along at the end of the procession, racking my brains for some way to prevent the calamity. If I confess now to tricking the court, I can only plead the justice of my cause. At the Marine barracks, the open front door of the house of Colonel Karmany, a good friend of mine, gave me an idea. I skipped into  p176 the hall. Nobody was in sight, but the telephone was there. Through the yard exchange in a moment or two I had Dr. Smith, the surgeon who had operated on the ensign, on the wire.

"Charlie," I said, "the court is on its way to the hospital to question Wade, who will make a statement that is not true. I shall have to bring out the truth, and what I've been giving Bartlett is nothing to what I may have to do to Wade."

"My God, Holden, you'll kill him," said Dr. Smith.

"Sorry, Charlie — can't help it. G'by." And I hung up.

The venerable court was still toiling up the hill when I came out. I ran and caught up with the members just as they were entering the hospital. Nobody had noticed my absence.

Insides, the uncomfortable members stood uncertainly in the reception room, wanting only to take the testimony as quickly as possible and get back to the comfort of the courtroom. To their obvious annoyance I insisted that Dr. Simonds first be called. Since the letter was written, the patient might have suffered a relapse. I wanted to make sure. The court, still on its feet, impatiently summoned Dr. Simonds.

Surprise registered on the judge advocate's face when Dr. Simonds now wavered. He was not at all sure that Ensign Wade should be questioned. It might set back his recovery, even endanger his life. He preferred that Dr. Smith, the surgeon in charge of the case, explain to the court. Indignantly, the judge advocate waved Dr. Simonds' letter — what did he mean by it? The kind physician explained that he had since been discussing the case with Dr. Smith, and — well, it was better to let Dr. Smith tell the court about the patient's condition.

Dr. Smith was called, and he was emphatic. To examine the young man in his condition would be inhuman, to say the least. It might cause his death.

It was an angry court that made its way in the hot sun back to the administration building, but its anger was all for that  p177 unpleasant judge advocate, who had put them through this farce. The judge advocate expressed regret that the members had been inconvenienced, adding, "I don't know how he did it, but Naval Constructor Evans put a nickel in the slot and drew out a five-dollar gold piece."

In my conscious rectitude I shouted objection.

"Objection sustained," snapped Admiral Glass. "The judge advocate's remarks will be stricken from the record."

There is little more to tell about our thwarted American Dreyfus case. I was the chief witness for Captain Young's defense. Judge Geer asked the questions qualifying me as an expert, then turned me over to myself as counsel, the technical questions being outside the province of a lawyer. As counsel, I asked myself set questions; as expert, I answered them.

Pursuing the method of question and answer, I explained exactly what happened on the Bennington, taking care to support every opinion, every conclusion with facts demonstrated when possible by tests, some of which I made in the presence of the court. The members were now tremendously interested, leaning over the table and listening intently. They, too, wished to know the real cause of the disaster. The shrewd judge advocate scarcely attempted any cross-examination of me at all. He knew it was no use.

The ensign's trial after that was perfunctory. I secured the acquittal of both my clients, and not just acquittal — "Honorably acquitted."

The gold-braid gentlemen in swivel chairs sent the record back to the court with instructions to reconsider its findings. But Admiral Glass and his twelve associates were not a Navy board, taking orders from on high. They were a court of record and acted as such. They returned the record with the endorsement: "The court respectfully adheres to its previous findings."

Thus ended the Bennington case, but it should not have ended  p178 there. The inquiry should have gone on until it fixed the real responsibility for the disaster. The public and the relatives of the Bennington heroes had a right to know who was responsible for the fact that there were no machinery plans on the ship, who was responsible for ordering aboard as chief engineer a man who had never before stood watch in an engine room and who was responsible for the fact that the defective rivets in the furnaces had never been detected and replaced. Who, in short, really killed those 66 men.

And the public today has a right to know if the conditions which made the Bennington disaster possible have ever been substantially improved.

To be sure, as one result of the exposé, there was a certain improvement. The Navy Department took steps to give a few line officers a good theoretical engineering education.

The other result concerned me personally. By my merciless cross-examination of one of the bureau's favorite officers and by my testimony as to the cause of the explosion, I incurred the enmity of certain officers of the Bureau of Steam Engineering. That enmity, growing more intense with the years and reinforced by hostility in other Washington bureaus whose equanimity later acts of mine disturbed, eventually brought about my resignation from the Service.


Thayer's Note:

a Something is wrong here. No Lucian Young has earned the Medal of Honor, and certainly not "with several bars": see the search page at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.


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