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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
Naval Institute Proceedings
Vol. 61 No. 10 (Oct. 1935), pp1544‑1551

The text is in the public domain,
the 1935 copyright not having been renewed in 1962 or 1963.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p1545  Midshipman Cruises

By Midshipman K. W. Patrick, U. S. Navya

Graduation morning, with its snake dancing and cap throwing, bringing to a climax all the color of June Week, marks for the graduating class the end of midshipman careers, but for two of the other classes it marks the beginning of that most distinctive feature of the Naval Academy course, the annual Practice Cruise. Not the romantic era of midshipman life which civilians are prone to imagine, the cruise represents three months of serious training at sea, perhaps the most valuable training a midshipman receives during his Academy career. It furnishes his first taste of Navy life afloat, provides his closest contact with the Navy.

The history of the development of summer practice cruises begins in 1851, when to duplicate the annual encampment of the Military Academy, the John Hancock, a small steamer, served for a Chesapeake Bay cruise. A third-class sloop of war, the Preble, was assigned to the Academy in that year and served as practice ship for midshipmen summer cruises until 1858. The Plymouth, a larger ship of almost 1,000 tons, followed the Preble.

The Civil War, with the temporary removal of the Academy to Newport, Rhode Island, disturbed the routine of cruises, but succeeding years saw a continuation of training on a succession of ships covering every type of the period. The historic old Constitution, the school ship from 1860 to 1870, the Santee which has been supplanted by the Reina Mercedes as station ship, and the famous  p1547 schooner yacht, America, now at the Academy, served on European and Atlantic coast cruises until 1872. The beautiful ship, Constellation, handsome, stately, with a conspicuous war record, then became the permanent summer practice ship until the early nineties. It became the practice in these years to make their cruises independently of the sailing ships. During the Spanish American War, naval cadets of the senior classes served on ships actively engaged in operations. After the war, the Chesapeake, a beautiful full-rigged ship and the last square-rigger to be built for the American Navy, was constructed in 1900 especially for the midshipman cruises.​b

Accompanying the Chesapeake during these years were such ships as Farragut's famous old Hartford, of Mobile Bay, and Dewey's Olympia. The battle­ship Indiana was also assigned to make the summer cruises. In 1904 the coast squadron of the North Atlantic Fleet embarked part of the midshipmen. This practice of assigning ships  p1549 from the Fleet was extended in connection with the regular cruises on the Academy's own practice ships until finally in 1912 all the midshipmen were distributed among the ships of the U. S. Atlantic Fleet. That year marked the disappearance of sail and the old square-riggers, and the loss of the Academy's individual practice ships. The cruise of 1912 started the method still in vogue of sending the midshipmen in ships of the Fleet. In recent years the midshipmen have made their trips to Northern and Southern Europe in the battle­ships Wyoming and Arkansas, the Navy's Training Squadron.

It is these two ships, the "Wyo" and "Arky" that come to anchor in the Bay during June Week, their distant gray silhouettes presaging the end of celebration and the beginning of duty.

The evening after graduation finds the new first and third classes feverishly stowing suitcases, laundry bags, and cruise boxes. An early reveille, a turmoil of inspection — and then a long "4–N" as each boat load of cheering midshipmen pulls away from the dock, bidding a last farewell to "Crabtown." Embarkation completed, the process of "squaring away" begins. The problems of slinging a hammock and stowing all required gear in a diminutive locker perplex already confused youngsters;​d but with order finally established, all hands quickly settle into a routine that speeds the days by.

The youngsters soon discover the practical purpose of scrubbers (squeegees), brightwork polish, and scrapers, and learn that "rope-yarn Sunday" is not just another holiday. Hours of scrubbing, sweeping, chipping, shining, painting are broken by general drills and by watches. Such duties as messenger, lookout, helmsman, and signalman serve to familiarize the youngsters with the duties of the men they will later command. A month of engineering duty, standing instruction  p1550 watches amid hissing turbines and scorching boilers, tracing elusive pipe lines, and drawing complex sketches with colored pencils fill out the summer for the third class.

In the meantime members of the first class have divided their time among deck duties, engineering, and navigation. A month of experience in supervising the youngsters' labors and standing deck watches is alternated with a month of renewing acquaintance with the engine-rooms and firerooms, and with a month of trying to keep up with the navigating officer. Thus, their duties may range from routing out youngsters and working over pumps to rising at daybreak to shoot stars. As the midshipmen of the third class are learning the work of the bluejackets, so those of the first class are receiving practical instruction in their future duties as officers.

With the duties thus distributed, both classes follow a routine vastly different from that of academic year. Reveille at 0530 drags unwilling youngsters from hammocks and sleepy first classmen from their cots. Braced by a steaming cup of Java, the youngsters under the critical supervision of the first class begin scrubbing down the decks. Mess gear at 0715 provides a welcome interruption to house cleaning duties aboard ship, but after breakfast they are resumed. The rest of the morning passes in long hours of drill at the guns. Run after run is made as loading crews, gun captains and pointers and tenders gain proficiency in their duties. Afternoon lectures in seaman­ship, navigation, gunnery, and engineering are followed by recreation. After supper there is a mad scramble to reserve seats for the movies. At taps at nine o'clock, a tired bunch of midshipmen seek their bunks to rest for the next day's labors.

 p1551  Welcome breaks in the instruction are the arrivals in post. With the unforgettable thrill of first setting foot on foreign soil comes the realization that the cruise is really worth while. The opportunity of visiting strange and interesting foreign ports, of seeing world famous capitals such as London and Rome, of observing at first hand the characteristics of the peoples of various countries is indeed a golden one. The hearty welcome invariably extended, the specially arranged trips, the audiences with national leaders are but a few of the advantages that make the cruise interesting and give it an exceptional cultural value. But most of all, what each midshipman remembers is what he finds for himself — experiences that will live in conversation down the years. Once more the midshipmen line up at quarters, the band plays "Auld Lang Syne," and the ship steams out again to sea.

Homeward bound, the training squadron pauses off the Virginia Capes for the big test of the cruise — Short Range Battle Practice. Climaxing daily drills since the departure almost three months previous, target practice, exactly duplicating regular fleet procedure, represents the final step in the midshipmen's training. Final hours of drill bring interest to a fever pitch. Last minute instructions, then "coming on the range" . . . and big guns roar. The targets are brought aboard and carefully marked, while anxious crews stand by, eager to hear if they have won the coveted "E." Then, headed at last for "Crabtown," the anchor man turns for the last time the range clock, a sharp-eyed youngster lookout sights the chapel dome, old shoes go over the side, and the proud veterans of three months of sea duty turn towards the most treasured of all midshipman experiences — leave.

Thayer's Notes:

a Kenneth Washington Patrick, born in Colorado on March 22, 1915, graduated from the Naval Academy in the Class of 1937 (with the prize for highest standing in languages); the 1937 Lucky Bag (p125) includes a pair of photos of him and gives his hometown as Huntington Beach, CA. In the 1944 Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy, p13, he is recorded as attending the Postgraduate School at Annapolis, holding the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

Abridging from Justin Glenn, The Washingtons • A Family History, Vol. 5, Generation Nine of the Presidential Branch:

[which in turn cites as sources: "Anon., The Twenty Year Fix (USNA Class of 1937), p149; file in Nimitz Library, USNA, Class of 1937; U. S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, J. A. W., Outline, 11379-3562"]

Upon graduation he was assigned to the battle­ship Arizona, on which he served at least three years. He continued to serve on battle­ships throughout World War II, and by October 1942 was a lieutenant on the New Mexico. He then took postgraduate courses in Ordnance Electronics at Annapolis and M. I. T. For the next seven years he worked on guided missile research in the Navy before he retired as Captain in 1953. He then joined the Consolidated Electrodynamics Corporation, designing industrial instruments and supervising their production, but died relatively young on July 26, 1973.

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b Due no doubt to lack of space, our author has omitted a number of practice ships, among them especially the Monongahela, and does not mention that the Chesapeake was just too small to serve its purpose; see the chapter "Midshipmen Practice Cruises" in W. D. Puleston's Annapolis.

[decorative delimiter]

c By order of President Theodore Roosevelt; the reason is given by Admiral Seaton Schroeder, A Half Century of Naval Service, pp271‑272.

[decorative delimiter]

d "Youngsters" may strike you as odd, especially considering that the writer himself is a midshipman and thus in the same age range: but the naval reader is expected to know, without a thought being given to it, that the term has little to do with age, but denotes a thirdclassman.

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