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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Makers of Naval Tradition

Carroll Storrs Alden
and Ralph Earle

published by
Ginn & Company, 1942

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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Chapter 16

This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p327  Chapter XV

Makers of Tradition in our Day:
Period of Preparation

It would be quite at variance with the history of the United States Navy to think that the characters discussed in the preceding chapters were the only tradition-makers. The tens and hundreds of officers loyally supporting them and the thousands of seamen faithfully following, obedient to the death, were absolutely indispensable in making the work of the great leaders possible and in building up the morale which is the very lifeblood of the Service.

This was recognized much more generally when history, advancing into the twentieth century, came to the First World War. There had grown up a great national spirit in our country surpassing anything found before in the Western Hemisphere. The new navy — its seamen no longer as in earlier years a motley aggregation of every speech and nation, the riffraff of the seaports as well as the strong adventurous spirits — was now composed, like its officers, of American citizens. By this system (that of the present day) recruits were quite as likely to come from Columbus or Chicago as from Baltimore or Boston; and many were the rejections because applicants failed to satisfy the exacting physical and moral requirements.

In the First World War there developed a notable coöperation and coördination — teamwork such as had  p328 never existed before; and in the final award of honors rank was almost entirely lost sight of. Indeed, the individual of the two branches of the Service commemorated beyond all others was the "Unknown Soldier"; for in the outburst of democratic feeling he represented the thousands who had borne the brunt and made the great sacrifice. What was true of the army was true of the navy; and these last pages therefore will be rather general, calling attention to the spirit that animated the whole and not dwelling at length on any one person.

Hostilities being ended, the peril from German submarines was at once removed. But though the navy was then freed of wearisome patrols and escort duty, it still had a heavy responsibility in the transportation of troops. This, essentially a war operation, was at the time of the armistice even less than half completed. Two million American soldiers were in France, eager to return home; and since the British and other foreign ships that had taken large numbers to Europe were no longer available, it was incumbent upon the navy to provide for just so many more than they had taken over. The troops, all except a few thousand that could not be spared, were brought back within eleven months after the armistice. The return of nearly seven eighths of the total number was the work of the navy and was achieved without the loss of a single life from the hazards of the sea.

A second post‑war duty was the sweeping up of the mine fields. In order to make the seas again safe for navigation, it had been agreed that each nation should destroy the mines which it had planted. Thus the Northern Mine Barrage (at least, much the larger part of it) again became the responsibility of the United States.

Eighty‑two vessels and four thousand men engaged  p329 in this work, no small part of the force being reserves who had joined the navy for the war. The sweeping of the mines proved more hazardous than their planting had been. Many explosions followed, and twenty-three ships were damaged. Thus the trawler Richard Buckley, with Commander F. R. King and six of his crew, was lost. Commander King, making every exertion to save his crew, remained to the last. Then it was too late to escape, and he was carried down with his ship.

A much greater sacrifice of life, even though the period was one of peace, was that involved in the routine work of submarine and aviation forces. Within less than a quarter of a century, four submarines were lost, and in only one did part of the crew escape.​a The most tragic disaster was that of the S‑4, sunk in collision by the Coast Guard destroyer Paulding, 17 December, 1927. Six of her forty officers and men were still living as she slowly settled in the mud on the bottom off Provincetown, and for four days their dots and dashes, given by striking a hammer on the metal shell, told of the heroic resolve to hold on and work with the force attempting their rescue. All that was possible was done, but stormy weather and inadequate salvage equipment rendered the efforts unsuccessful. Such losses were a part of the price paid by the navy in making submarines more efficient and in lessening the danger of disaster.

In the flying of planes and airships the toll exacted in human life has been heavy in every country. But in no other activity has there been such opportunity for initiative and daring. Hence its appeal to youth.

Already mention has been made of the First Yale Unit and of its meeting the test of war in France on the Western Front. It was so efficient in organization and  p330 so far-reaching in influence that it will repay all the study given it.

A Yale sophomore, F. Trubee Davison, going with his father, Mr. H. P. Davison, to France in summer of 1915, was fired by talks with members of the La­fayette Escadrille. He returned to Yale with three ideas planted in his mind which possessed him as if he had had a vision: this country would soon be involved in the war; aviation would play a highly important part; a unit of Yale men, by beginning their preparation early, would render outstanding service. Before the end of the college year Bob Lovett and a group of his most intimate friends had joined him in reading and studying everything pertaining to aëronautics; for they also had caught the vision. On first being approached, Davison's mother was willing to listen to the project, but his father warned him by telegraph to have nothing to do with it. Finally, both were won over by the young man's sound ideas and eager enthusiasm. With the assistance of the Davisons and other wealthy friends the unit began serious training in ground work and flying, first off Long Island and later at New London. They combined college studies and aëronautics through the following autumn and winter, and did not leave Yale until a few days before the actual declaration of war. The Navy Department, on being apprised of the project, had been slow to see its possibilities; and the entire expense of the early training, making up the pretty total of $190,088.75, was met by private subscription. Twenty-nine young men composed this first unit. Its remarkable service was not confined to the nineteen months of the First World War. It has since given the country two assistant Secretaries of War for Air and two Assistant Secretaries of the Navy for Air. These four have been makers of tradition, and a  p331 brief account of their service shows what, in a national emergency, college men may do — what Yale men have done.

F. Trubee Davison, Yale, 1918, never saw service in the field. As he took his final qualifying test for pilot, this leader of the First Yale Unit, had the tragic experience of crashing. His back was broken — but not his spirit. He continued to direct and inspire the unit. After the armistice, Admiral Sims relates his limping into the London "flagship," badly crippled but determined. He was instituting a search for the body of Kenneth MacLeish, one of the unit who had been shot down in Belgium — a search that after three months was crowned with success.

In the period of training he had led the unit and was the first to be commissioned lieutenant, junior grade, in the Naval Reserve, a rank which he held throughout the war. At the conclusion, by direction of the President and with the approval of Congress, he was awarded the Navy Cross: "For exceptionally meritorious service in a duty of great responsibility in the organization of the first Yale aviation unit, which formed the nucleus of the first Naval Reserve Flying Corps, from which the United States Naval Aviation Force, Foreign Service, afterwards grew. The efficiency of this group was largely due to the example of loyal and courageous duty set by this officer."

It is no wonder that Trubee Davison held the office of Assistant Secretary of War for Air, 1926‑1932, and in the Second World War returned as colonel on the Army Air Staff, being assigned to the Personnel Section.

Robert Abercrombie Lovett (of the class of 1918, Yale, like his associates Davison and Gates) was commissioned ensign when Davison was made lieutenant,  p332 junior grade. Before the end of the war Lovett and Gates had been promoted to lieutenant commander. Lovett was quick to learn and also was the chief "wag," or fun‑maker, during the period of instruction. He and Gates were the first of the Yale Unit to be sent across, sailing August, 1917, in the St. Paul. There followed hard training with the Royal Naval Air Force in England. Early he conceived the idea of the Northern Bombing Group. Heretofore naval aviators had attempted to meet the submarine menace by wearisome, never-ending patrols along the coast. By computation he discovered that fliers had covered 22,000 square miles for each U‑boat they had sighted. The intelligence section had told them that whereas there were fifty U‑boats operating at sea there were two hundred and fifty to three hundred making ready at the submarine bases, of which the most important were Ostend, Zeebrugge, and Bruges. Lovett's proposal was for American aviators to strike the enemy where they were sure to find them, pursuing them with persistent and concentrated attacks at their bases, which were near at hand.

In March, 1918, he was directed to report at Dunkirk to obtain practical experience in bombing operations and to find what would be the best sites for bases which America was about to establish. The very evening of his arrival his plane was one of four of the Royal Air Force which were sent to bomb the docks of Bruges. Returning to the same objective time after time, they made four air raids in five days, two in the daytime. The docks were protected by anti-aircraft batteries and German planes, and the fliers had to brave heavy barrages of shrapnel, high explosives, and "flaming onions" (a series of luminous balls, highly inflammable, attached to one another like chain shot). Seventeen German  p333 searchlights at one time caught them as they began their operations. Their planes were frequently hit by shrapnel; but they returned in safety, and the result showed the soundness of Lovett's recommendation.

Thereupon he was sent to Paris, made assistant to the Chief of Operations at the American Naval Aviation headquarters, and set to work on plans which would have proved to be of the highest importance if the war had continued another year.

A practical acquaintance with the problems of aviation and demonstrated ability in organization were united in Robert Abercrombie Lovett. That explains why in 1940, as this country was bending every effort toward preparedness, he was called from the large city bank where he was a partner and made Assistant Secretary of War for Air.

Artemus L. Gates, known by his fellows as "Di" Gates, was captain elect of the Yale 1917 football team. With Lovett he received his first promotion from ensign to lieutenant, junior grade, just before sailing to England. After a brief training at several French air bases he left for Dunkirk, taking fifty enlisted men for Paris and arriving on Thanksgiving Day, 1917. This was to be his post till the end. No American planes were available at this time, so that our aviators had to fly in French planes. His first assignment was that of Chief Pilot, in which his duty was to see that the planes were assembled, tested, kept in repair, and supplied with armament. On the first July, 1918, he was given command of the station. The Dunkirk base was near the frontier and constantly subjected to bombing. Though it grew until it became perhaps the most important of all our air bases in France, Gates held the command until he was shot down and captured in October.

 p334  In March, when the Germans began their great drive on Paris, pilots, men, and equipment at Dunkirk were offered to the Allies, and then Gates, whose work had been chiefly administrative, had the opportunity for combat service. During a brief period he was attached to R. A. F. Squadron 217, with which he flew to engage the German planes.

A little later he came prominently to the attention of the British because of his rescue of two of their aviators. Here follows the story as Samuel Blythe, the veteran correspondent, says he had it from Sir Roger Keyes:

A signal came in that a British plane had been shot down by the Germans up the coast and had fallen in the sea within range of the German shore guns. . . . Gates jumped to a seaplane that was moored in the water, without waiting for assistance or company and aid in the way of observers and machine‑gun men, set the propeller whirling, and was off alone at ninety miles an hour. He reached the spot where the aviators were in the water clinging to the remains of their machine, potted at by the Germans on shore, and swooped down beside them, landing with perfect skill and control, regardless of the wicked fire that came from the Huns. He pulled the wrecked aviators onto his plane, made his run along the water, rose, turned, and whooped back to Dunkirk.

Captain Lambe, R. A. F., reporting the rescue, observed, "He carried no gun‑layers in order that he might be able to bring away as many passengers as possible. He was aware of the close proximity of the wreck to the enemy's coast, and was totally unable to protect himself from attacks by enemy aircraft." "A very gallant officer," added Admiral Keyes. "I have recommended him for a decoration."

On the 4th of October, when the French operating near Dunkirk were in great need of pilots, Gates volunteered  p335 with other American aviators to join their French comrades. His plane that day was one of five French Spads that went out to harass the German lines. Flying at twelve thousand feet above Courtrai, they encountered fifteen enemy planes which came down out of the clouds — Fokker scouts, biplanes, and triplanes. Only four Spads returned. Gates, separated from his fellows and outnumbered three to one, his motor having died, made a forced landing within the enemy lines. The Spad turned over in a plowed field; but he stepped out unhurt, and with a cigarette-lighter set fire to the plane before he was made prisoner. Held for a brief time at Courtrai and at Ghent and finally sent to Villingen, he attempted three times to escape. In the last attempt (all but success­ful) he hazarded a leap through the window of a moving train. He then wandered for four days in the Black Forest and finally emerged at Constance. There at the frontier, where Switzerland lay most tantalizingly near, he was challenged and recaptured by a German sentry. Just three yards to go! The game was lost, but not the player. In 1941 "Di" Gates again was opposed to the Germans, having been called to Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air.

David Sinton Ingalls, two years younger than most members of the unit, was only a little more than eighteen when the war began. But if he was later than some in reaching France, he certainly made up for lost time when opportunity came. This veritable young Hotspur began his spectacular flights the second week of August, 1918, and within six weeks he had earned the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the American Distinguished Service Medal. Assigned to Royal Air Squadron 213, in Flanders, he flew in company with a British officer and shot down an enemy two‑seater plane during a running  p336 fight over German lines. This was only the beginning. Though he often returned with his plane punctured with bullet holes, he made flight after flight with like success. The following is a part of a summary of his service given out by the Secretary of the Navy:

On the 18th of September Ingalls made one of his most brilliant flights. In company with two English pilots in Sopwith Camels, he sighted a kite balloon at about 3500 feet elevation near La Barrière. Crossing the coast line the Camels attacked, firing about ninety Buckingham tracers each.

The Germans began to reel in the kite, the Camels following it down to about 500 feet altitude, when two observers were seen to jump with white parachutes. Ingalls gave the balloon another spraying with tracer bullets and it burst into flames.

Three balloon hangars were observed at this station, and as the flaming balloon fell it landed on one of these hangars, which in an instant was ablaze. There was an explosion and the fire spread to the two remaining hangars, destroying the entire station, while the flames were visible as far as Nieuport. All the Camels were badly damaged by machine gun and anti-aircraft fire, but they reached their base in safety.

On September 22nd, Ingalls, who, in company with four other Camels, flew all over Flanders, committing depredations on German hangars and ammunition trains, dropped four bombs on the German ammunition dump at Handzaeme, and blew up a number of wagons loaded with shells. Later he flew over the ammunition dump at Wercken and landed four bombs on a large hut filled with explosives, setting it on fire. Swinging around over the railway station at Thourout, where the Germans had an enormous supply dump, he made two accurate hits. On the way back, being the fourth trip for the day, Ingalls dropped four more bombs on a horse transport, and he and his companions got in enough good bursts from their machine guns to account for some twenty-five Germans and thirty-five horses.

 p337  Years later Admiral Sims spoke of him as "the naval ace of the war." It is no wonder that in President Hoover's administration, when Trubee Davison was Assistant Secretary of War for Air, David Sinton Ingalls should have been Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air.

The First Yale Unit fired the imagination of other undergraduates before they had completed the period of training, and there was a Second Yale Unit and a Third Yale Unit. These later units would also have given a good account of themselves if the war had continued.

The story of the First Yale Unit has been ably told by the versatile writer Ralph D. Paine and privately printed by Mrs. H. P. Davison. It is a gripping work, and for the reason that it is now not easily accessible a few of the high spots have been included in this study.​b

The spirit which the unit put into their service is one of the most appealing things of the war — a consecration charged with youthful enthusiasm and high idealism. This is the way it was expressed by Kenneth MacLeish, a member of the unit, who in combat over Belgium was destined to make the supreme sacrifice (the excerpts are from two letters written in April, 1918):

I'm so happy I can't see straight. I'm actually on fighting patrols, and I actually fly over Hun land! Can you ever conceive of anything that's more sport? You should have seen me on my first patrol. I'll never forget it. I'd never been so high in my life.

Oh, it's a wonder­ful, wonder­ful game, in spite of the uncomfortable high patrols. A man can use his skill and his brain, and once in a while his nerve, if he has any. It's glorious. I wouldn't trade my existence for any other in the world; and even if I should be called upon to give my life for these ideals that I love so dearly, though it might seem  p338 an untimely death to some, I am perfectly happy in knowing that I have lived.

The First Yale Unit has a message for college men in the Second World War. For it shows what the intensive training of men with initiative, keen intelligence, and splendid physical vigor can accomplish. There can be little doubt that the First Unit had its influence in the establishing, in 1925, of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at six universities, including Harvard and Yale. This provided instruction in ordnance, seaman­ship, navigation, etc., the courses counting toward the college degree. Graduates thus qualified were commissioned ensigns in the Naval Reserve. The United States Navy today is very much stronger because it has them to draw on.

The twentieth century has witnessed sweeping changes in the navy. If a sailor of the Constitution who fought against the British in 1812 would have had little idea how to carry on in the Olympia in the Spanish-American War at the end of the century, equally bewildered or more so would be a bluejacket of 1900 suddenly transferred to the fleet in 1942. As the Yale sophomore mentioned in the preceding pages had foreseen, the greatest innovation in naval fighting proved to be in aviation. To go back for a moment in our story, the airplane, which had its real beginning, for better or for worse, when the Wright brothers succeeded in leaving the ground for a few seconds at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, December, 1903, aroused the interest of officers in the navy five years later. It had a success­ful demonstration in January, 1911, when Eugene Ely of the Curtiss Company landed a plane on the deck of the U. S. S. Pennsylvania and next day took the air again.​c Soon airplanes  p339 were to have their part in fleet operations and in every war game, for planes were keeping the air for longer and longer periods. In the education of midshipmen the United States Naval Academy began in 1925 instruction in the ground school of aviation and supplemented this with regular flights, midshipmen being given every duty in the plane except that of handling the controls, which was reserved for a qualified pilot. The flights being made only under the most favorable conditions, midshipmen have had a remarkable record. Some years ago their combined flights had far exceeded a million miles, and yet after seventeen years they had not had a single casualty. But the record of the Naval Academy is not the record of the United States Navy. Naval aviation, which is much more than mere flight, is not safe and never will be. Billingsley, Ellyson, Saufley, Chevalier, and Rodgers in airplanes and Lansdowne and Moffett in airships are only a few of the officers who have given their lives in aviation training and routine flights. They have not, however, given their lives in vain. With dozens of others, some young and some older, — those who have died and the many who are living, — they have made planes and airships less perilous in ordinary flying and vastly more efficient in warfare. Thus in peace and in war naval aviators have helped to make tradition.

The outstanding aviation exploit during the period of peace and preparation which we are considering was that achieved by the NC‑4, the first airplane to cross the Atlantic.​d In the extensive building program of the First World War, Rear Admiral David W. Taylor, Chief Naval Constructor, had conceived the idea of turning out seaplanes larger than any in existence, which might cross the Atlantic under their own power and engage in anti-submarine operations. Although the war ended  p340 before the planes were ready, he still wished to demonstrate their power. And thus it was that in May, 1919, Lieutenant Commander Albert C. Read in the NC‑4 came to world notice as he established a coveted record for the navy.

Three planes had prepared for the flight; besides the NC‑4, there were the NC‑1, Lieutenant Commander P. N. L. Bellinger, and the NC‑3 (the flagship of the division), with Commander John H. Towers as the commodore. The plan was to fly from Rockaway, New York, their base, to Lisbon by the way of Newfoundland and the Azores, and from Lisbon to Plymouth, England. To direct the planes through the long night-flight which lay before them and to be ready for rescue in case of mishap, battle­ships and destroyers were stationed every seventy-five miles between Newfoundland and the Azores.

All went well until they neared the Azores, when they ran into a very thick fog. The NC‑4 succeeded in ascending above it, and fifteen hours and thirteen minutes after leaving Newfoundland arrived at Horta. The other two airships had no such good luck. The NC‑1 descended forty-five miles from the island of Flores. Her complement were taken off by a passing steamer, which tried to tow the plane. Destroyers also came to the rescue, but the airship, pounded by the heavy seas, sank after a few hours. It was the flagship NC‑3, however, that had the longest and most desperate struggle.

Commander Towers, on being informed by his engineer that fuel sufficient for only two hours remained, thought that on the sea he might take advantage of an occasional gleam to obtain an observation, and decided to alight. Only when he was near the water, with speed  p341 reduced by shutting off power so that he found it impossible to rise, did he discover the heavy sea running. The light craft, touching the top of a wave, slid down the face of the next with high velocity and struck the third a heavy blow. The ship, strained in every part, soon began to leak.

The sun, appearing for a moment, gave opportunity for a work observation, which, with a bearing sent out from the U. S. S. Columbia and secured by radio, showed that they were thirty-four and one‑half miles southwest of Fayal.

If now they could have taken the air again, as Towers had planned, their problem would have been solved, but the rough sea made this impossible.

The radio apparatus, which had been put out of order by the shock of alighting, had been repaired, but it was one thing to send out signals and quite another to gain attention. After trying intermittently for several hours to establish communications, the radio officer reported that all vessels in the vicinity were so busy exchanging messages over the safety of the crews of the NC‑1 and the NC‑4 that they failed to notice signals in the wave length of the third plane.

That afternoon, the wind becoming stronger, it was felt that to run the engines and to force the ship through the pounding waves would be only to invite disaster; so watches were set, and preparations were made to ride out the storm.

The wind, however, instead of subsiding became more violent, and on the following day had reached the fury of a gale, blowing sixty miles an hour. That morning the port wing-pontoon was carried away, and a watch had to be stationed on the starboard wing‑tip in order to give it added weight and thus keep the port wing‑tip  p342 clear of the water. Soon the high seas began to break the ribs of the lower plane and split the fabric. Also the hull was leaking badly and had to be pumped out.

It was a question how long the plane could endure the persistent strain; but by constant adjustment, tightening of wires and bolts, Commander Towers and his companions kept her afloat through another afternoon and night. In the attempt to send out radio signals they were again unsuccessful; but, taking advantage of every lull in the waves, they worked toward San Miguel, which observations had shown was the nearest island.

On the third morning the wind abated slightly, and at 10.15 they had approached near enough to San Miguel to see land. Seven miles off the harbor of Ponta Delgada they were sighted by the American destroyer Harding, which came out at full speed to pick them up. The sea was still running high; but though they knew that their starboard pontoon was nearly done for, they refused assistance, determined to make port under their own power. The climax of mishaps came as they entered the harbor. A cross sea swept away the loose starboard pontoon, and this, dragging along by its wires, suddenly turned the seaplane about and very nearly capsized it.

Cutting loose the wreckage, they taxied on to moorings, but they had to keep an officer ready on each side to run out on the wing in order to preserve equilibrium.

It was a fight of fifty-three hours from the time they alighted on the water to the time they reached port. On their arrival the town went wild with rejoi­cing. Ships in the harbor were dressed, and a salute of twenty‑one guns — the number prescribed for the President — was fired by the Portuguese battery.

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 p343  The NC‑4 was the only plane that could continue the voyage. Her skipper, Lieutenant Commander Read, made the flight to Lisbon without mishap and by the end of the month had reached Plymouth, completing a cruise of forty-five hundred miles in fifty-four flight-hours.

Distress and poverty were experienced everywhere after the First World War, and, especially in the Near East and Far East, the navy was indispensable in its broad humanitarian service, which knew no racial or national prejudices.

Although the larger powers had arranged terms of peace, affairs in Turkey and Greece were by no means settled. At this time we had no ambassador in Constantinople. For this reason Rear Admiral Mark L. Bristol, commanding United States naval forces in Turkish waters, was appointed High Commissioner of the United States in August, 1919, and held this office, with headquarters in Constantinople, for the six years following. His duties were largely of a diplomatic character; for, being the senior United States representative in the Near East, he had charge of dealings with Turkey and other countries. Further, all other American officials, no matter what their department, were under him. Thus, in a period of great destitution in all countries of southeastern Europe, the American Red Cross, the Near East Relief, and the American Relief Administration, as well as many American commercial enterprises, looked to him for assistance. His influence was felt at the treaty-making conference at Lausanne in 1923, when for a long time Turkey and the powers of western Europe could not agree. Again, he had general direction of the humanitarian work in the rescue of tens of thousands of fugitives from southern Russia on the collapse of the  p344 Wrangel offensive against the Bolsheviks; also in the rescue of two hundred and sixty‑two thousand Greeks and Armenians at the time of the defeat of the former in Asia Minor in 1922.

When it was seen that Smyrna was doomed, — for the Turks were following close on the heels of the defeated Greek army, — Admiral Bristol dispatched such destroyers as could be spared to look after American interests. A large section of the city had been set on fire. The civilian population were panic-stricken; and, the problem growing in seriousness, at a conference attended by naval officers of several powers it was realized that hundreds of thousands of refugees must leave. The time limit set by the Turks was ten days. By the insistence of the American officers this was extended twice.

When the terror was at its height, Greeks and Armenians crowded the quays, overloading small boats within reach and even throwing themselves into the water. The American destroyers rescued hundreds and hundreds and transported them to places of safety. Also patrols of our bluejackets, working tirelessly, went about on shore showing neither fear nor hostility in the face of thousands of victorious soldiers, calming the terror-stricken women and children, and escorting them to places where they could be cared for. Securing permission to dock ten empty Greek ships, in one day they took off thirty thousand refugees, 90 per cent of whom were women and children.

Ordinary seamen, some scarcely more than boys, as well as officers, showed most admirable spirit. A high American official wrote:

The work of the bluejacket was varied, carrying a baby in his arms, or a cripple on his back, or acting as "hamal"  p345 (porter) for household goods. All this was a part of the day's work, and our sailors did it with an untiring cheerfulness and efficiency which reflected credit on the American manhood they typified.

Such work was accomplished not only by superior manhood but through fine discipline and through organization intelligently directed. This was shown again a year later (16 December, 1923) in the Sea of Marmora.

The lookout on the U. S. S. Bainbridge, Commander W. Atlee Edwards, reporting a ship in the distance from which smoke was pouring, the destroyer went to her rescue. The unfortunate vessel, which was burning fiercely at her stern, proved to be the French military transport Vinh-Long, proceeding from Bizerta to Constantinople with families of French officers and a considerable cargo of ammunition intended for French warships.

Scarcely had the Bainbridge been made fast alongside and rescue work begun when flames reached the after magazine of the transport. The shock of the explosion tore loose the securing lines, and for several seconds a hail of wreckage and ammunition descended over a wide area. Again, however, the destroyer approached and made fast. A second explosion followed; and this time the Bainbridge was blown a ship's length away. Then Commander Edwards realized that no time was to be lost. Instead of considering the possible danger, he resorted to a desperate expedient. Ordering full speed ahead, he rammed the transport amid­ships and, with the bow of the destroyer tightly wedged in the hole he had cut, proceeded to take off the passengers and crew.

Thus 492 out of 495 who had been on the Tripoli were saved. Soon galley fires on the Bainbridge were going merrily, and hot food was prepared for the fugitives.  p346 Sea chests were opened and rifled for clothing. Officers and bluejackets turned to the glad task of feeding, clothing, and making comfortable the refugees.

There are traditions in the navy of the flaming sword; those of the generous heart and the willing hand are no less true to its character.

Service of quite a different kind was that in the Caribbean. In the Dominican Republic and Haiti the forces of the United States for years have induced peace and good order. In these countries Rear Admirals W. B. Caperton and Harry S. Knapp did pioneer work in administration and established the nucleus of good government. The influence of the navy was strongly felt in Nicaragua also. Similarly, in China, disturbed by political factions and civil war, the cruiser and gunboats comprising our Yangtze patrol not only protected American missionaries and business men but helped people of every nationality. Officers engaged in this duty often had delicate questions to handle, but they lived up to the tradition of Kearny, Perry, and Shufeldt.

Conspicuous in the Far East was the prompt assistance lent by the navy to Japan at the time of the earthquake in September, 1923. In this work nearly the entire Asiatic Fleet, commanded by Admiral E. A. Anderson, engaged. Ships of Destroyer Division No. 38, with medical supplies, were the first to arrive at Tokyo, reaching the city three hours before the British. Both British and American ships had come from Chinese waters, but they were quicker than the Japanese fleet in home waters in extending relief. Losses of human life and the destruction of homes and public buildings were appalling. There were 150,000 dead in Tokyo alone. Yokohama was virtually annihilated. For the United States Navy no other appeal was needed; and what our ships were doing  p347 was amply supported by the President, who directed Admiral Anderson to purchase further supplies of food, clothing, and medicines as required. This took time for the Japanese official mind to comprehend. Our first destroyers as they approached Tokyo had been warned not to enter (local officials invoked the rule which forbade any foreign warship to enter without permission); but the destroyers, intent only on their errand of mercy, steamed ahead. For a brief period the Japanese (as commonly reported) were alarmed lest our navy, taking advantage of the widespread disorganization and paralysis, should seize the opportunity to attack and destroy. American officers laughed over the absurd suspicion. In the light of later events they were better able to understand.

At Yokohama the medical officers established a hospital and treated hundreds of patients. In addition, the navy transported Red Cross officials, American citizens, and other foreigners between Japanese ports; they searched for and buried American dead; they helped business firms to recover valuables and securities; they furnished water for American ships touching at Yokohama and for hospitals ashore; and they assisted in forwarding general medical assistance and supplies to Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kobe.

Stirred by the uncertain international situation in the early twenties, Washington had taken the initiative in preserving the peace of the world, definitely that of the Pacific, by inviting representatives of the principal powers to meet at a conference in our own capital. From this came the Nine-Power Treaty, which, in addition to taking a long step toward the limitation of armaments, guaranteed the integrity of China and also the security of Japan. With the expectation that all the  p348 nations concerned would keep faith, the United States agreed not to strengthen or add to her fortifications or bases in her insular possessions in the Pacific except (1) those adjacent to the coast of the United States, the Panama Canal Zone, and Alaska (not including the Aleutian Islands), and (2) the Hawaiian Islands. Japan, like Great Britain, also bound herself by certain definite promises. The solemn pledges exchanged aroused great optimism, but they were weak in one respect. In case of a violation of the treaty, redress of the wrong was the responsibility and obligation not of any one but of all the nine signatories. A duty so widely divided is not easy to enforce. This became apparent in 1931.

In September of that year Japan, taking advantage of the economic distress of the Western nations, made much of a small explosion on a railway in Manchuria — apparently of her own "planting." With a celerity and precision indicative of thorough preparation the Japanese pushed forward their army and occupied all that vast province. The League of Nations, being appealed to, made a searching inquiry through the Lytton Commission and attempted to persuade Japan to abandon her conquests and allow the creation of an autonomous Manchuria within the Chinese Republic. This Japan would not consent to, and she continued to hold also part of the territory surrounding Shanghai, where seventy thousand of her soldiers, with naval and air support, had landed and crushed the Chinese army opposed to them.

No concerted action could be secured from the Western powers in 1931‑1932. Nor could it be obtained in July, 1937, when the Japanese army, apparently impressed by the growing strength of the Chinese national spirit, invented another incident. This, occurring in the  p349 vicinity of Peiping, they made the occasion of severe reprisals against General Chiang Kai‑shek. The incident was the beginning of the Chino-Japanese War.

Again China had appealed to the signatories of the Nine-Power Treaty. The nations of the Occident were weighted down by their own perplexing problems and for the most part contented themselves with formal notes on the illegality of the Japanese actions. Great Britain and the United States, however, were not blind to intrigues threatening their extensive economic and political interests in China, and the two governments followed a "parallel" policy. They strengthened their military forces in the International Settlement in Shanghai, they evacuated hundreds of their nationals, and they made pointed protests when treaty rights were infringed upon and their nationals injured. A series of incidents that occurred in the fighting about Shanghai and in the Yangtze valley strained relations between the two nations and Japan. The most flagrant wrong was the sinking of the United States gunboat Panay.

As the Japanese were making their final drive on Nanking the Panay, to avoid the fighting, had moved twenty-eight miles up the river, taking with her a convoy of three ships of the Standard Oil Company. Early in the afternoon, 12 December, 1937, three Japanese planes flying at a considerable height were seen approaching. Coming overhead, without the slightest warning the planes released several bombs, which broke the hip of the captain, Lieutenant Commander James J. Hughes, disabled the forward 3‑inch gun, and damaged the hull, causing it to leak. This attack was immediately followed by a second, in which six single-engined planes concentrated on the Panay, dropping in all twenty bombs, two of the planes firing their machine guns. Immediately  p350 after the first bomb the crew of the Panay had manned the air‑defense stations and opened fire with a.30‑caliber machine gun. But the odds were hopeless; and as the little gunboat was settling, the wounded had to be removed and the ship abandoned. It was fortunate that the reedy bank afforded a screen, for the machine-gunning continued. Planes harassed the men as they took to their boats, and roared overhead searching for them when they had reached the bank. Lieutenant Anders, the executive officer, had taken over the command; but because of a wound (his throat and hand being cut by fragments of a bomb) he was obliged to give his orders in writing. Two of the crew of the Panay were fatally wounded and died within a week, and many others were more or less seriously wounded. An Italian newspaper correspondent who chanced to be aboard was killed. The three American ships in the convoy were also destroyed by bombing; one of their captains was killed and several of their crews were wounded. Thus it was a somber party that worked its way along the swampy bank and through the semi-populated country. Fifty hours later it reached British and American naval vessels.

The Japanese Army and Navy were responsible for this outrage, but in their system of government the army and navy are quite separate from the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaking for the premier and those highest in Tokyo, made great haste to disavow the act and to offer reparations by punishing the immediate offenders and paying a large indemnity. Whereupon our naval vessels in China continued the difficult task of upholding American rights, maintaining a show of neutrality, and assisting in the forwarding of supplies and munitions into China by  p351 the few avenues still open. There had never been a declaration of war on the part of Japan against China; so we were not limited as we should have been if a state of belligerency had been proclaimed. The Panay incident was regarded as settled, but some writers versed in Oriental affairs expressed the opinion that such an outrage could not be atoned for through the ordinary procedure of diplomatic negotiation. Their view was that the Japanese had deliberately shot at all ships encountered in the Yangtze, thinking thus to convince the Chinese that Americans and Britons could not be counted on for aid, and publicly to demonstrate that Americans could be insulted and fired on, and, after being humiliated ("losing face"), would be content to accept an apology and an indemnity. The same critics were skeptical of the reported cashiering of Colonel Kingoro Hashimoto, who had ordered the attacks. Their view certainly was borne out years later in a newspaper that came through Berlin shortly after we had gone to war with Japan and Germany: the award to Colonel Hashimoto of the "Kinshi Kinsho" medal for his audacity exhibited in the Yangtze.

Meanwhile event after event of a catastrophic nature was occurring in Europe. Germany, under the leader­ship of Hitler, had occupied with her armed forces the demilitarized Rhineland. She had forcibly annexed Austria. She had crossed the frontiers and seized Czechoslovakia. Before the last of these events took place, Italy, under Mussolini, had invented an excuse for war, marched her armies into Ethiopia, and, enlarging her empire in Africa, openly announced the plan of making the entire Mediterranean her own (mare nostrum).

The Treaty of Versailles had been flouted. The Locarno Pact had been nullified. The Nine-Power  p352 Treaty applying to disarmament and to Far‑Eastern questions was without force. The League of Nations was ignored. The Kellogg-Briand Peace Treaty, outlawing war and accepted by all the nations of any importance in the two hemispheres, was a mere scrap of paper. In history, there was no international agreement left for keeping the nations of the world out of war.

Statesmen of Great Britain and France, who during the early thirties were concentrating their thought on economic recovery, had adopted the policy of "appeasement." Many of them, sympathizing with the Germans, who were urging their nation's great need of raw materials and pleading the injustices they were suffering, believed that if the Germans were granted substantial relief they would lose their sense of grievance and return to normal life. But appeasement proved an utter failure. The demands on the part of Germany increased instead of diminishing, and even the most recent agreements they ignored. In September, 1939, the large but weak state of Poland was marked as the next victim. The point had been reached where there could be no further yielding, and the terrible Second World War had its beginning.

Deep gratitude was commonly felt in this country that we had made no commitments. The war in Europe was not our affair. A few, however, saw what was coming. The naval officers Rear Admiral Joseph K. Taussig and Rear Admiral Harry E. Yarnell did not hesitate to call attention to the inadequacy of our military and naval forces as opposed to those of our possible enemy in the Far East. President Franklin D. Roosevelt went far beyond anyone else in public office as he analyzed the dangers confronting the Americas, so grave as to require immediate action. Thus he stretched the Constitution  p353 almost to the breaking point, and, without delaying for the authorization of Congress, he acquired from Great Britain a ninety‑nine-year lease of eight sea and air bases at strategic points in the Atlantic, and in return gave that country fifty of our older destroyers. Also he secured the passage of the Lend-Lease Bill, which vested in the Chief Executive broad powers for the transfer to Britain and her allies of war supplies amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

As has happened often in this great democratic country, many people still found it difficult to convince themselves that affairs elsewhere could be in any way our concern. But it became increasingly plain that when Germany, Italy, and Japan had gained large additions of territory, with vast resources open for development, their appetites had only been whetted. The totalitarian powers were becoming openly rapacious. The Americas, constituting the richest fields of undeveloped natural resources, might soon be subjected to attack. Already Germany, Italy, and Japan had their military and naval officers, more or less disguised, and business men, to be counted in the hundreds of thousands, in South America, Mexico, and the United States. They were spreading propaganda and paralyzing action taken to meet the impending danger. As certain statesmen now pointed out, we should be very much concerned if Germany and Italy triumphed in Europe and, gaining control of the navies of Great Britain and France, should oppose us, with the support of their Eastern ally, Japan, with an overwhelming force. The security of the Western Hemisphere would be ended for all time. Admiral Yarnell, recalling the classic utterance of Lincoln, remarked, "One third of the world cannot remain free with two thirds of the world in slavery."

Thayer's Notes:

a Details of the four submarine losses are sketched in T. P. Magruder, The United States Navy, pp101‑102.

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b The book remains hard to find. I've therefore put it onsite in full; the authors' assessment of it is spot‑on.

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c For details, including a photograph, see A. D. Turnbull and C. L. Lord, History of United States Naval Aviation, pp12‑13.

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d The flight is covered much more fully in a chapter of Turnbull & Lord's History of United States Naval Aviation: "The Navy Flies the Atlantic".

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