World War II was a scary time in the United States. At any moment, the country could face attack by our enemies, so every branch of the military was on guard. An especially vulnerable area was Florida because it’s so coastal. So the government decided to open several airfields. Their specific purpose was twofold. First, these airfields defended the country against submarines along the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Their other function was to train pilots and aircrews. But what happened to them after the war? This post explores when airfields turn into museums.
Little Old Zephyrhills Makes Its Mark
One of these airfields was in the small town of Zephyrhills, Florida. In the early 1940s, the Army used Zephyrhills Army Airfield to provide advanced fighter pilot training before deploying to Europe. Pilots received training to fly P-51 Mustangs. The installation reached full operation by 1943. You might be thinking, “That seems like it was a little late in the war,” but it wasn’t too late to make a difference.
Zephyrhills was home to 500 men from the Army Air Corps 10th Fighter Squadron, also known as the Peashooters. The 10th Fighter Squadron trained in there between January 1943 and March 1944. Zephyrhills Army Airfield provided actual combat conditions, even going as far as using barracks and tents, to mimic what pilots and Soldiers would experience on the battlefield.
Thirteen months later, the pilots and aircrew were ready. And those combat conditions paid off as they landed at Normandy for the D-Day Invasion in June 1944.
When Airfield Turns Museum
When the war ended, the government donated the airfield to the city. There’s not a lot left now except for what the locals call the WWII Barracks. But the building is actually the old infirmary from when the post was active. After the city restored the building, they made good use of its history by turning it into Zephyrhills Museum of Military History.
The museum houses a plentiful collection of artifacts from World War II, including uniforms from the 10th Fighter Squadron. One of its standout displays is a photo of the 10th Fighter Squadron photo taken in 1945. And next to it is a photo of all who remained from the Squadron in 1996. How cool. Then, just outside the WWII Barracks is a WWII fighter plane, a C47 Sky Trooper from 1942. Zephyrhills might be small but it’s definitely mighty.
With the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the War on Terror set in motion dramatic changes to the Coast Guard. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, U.S. ports, waterways, and coastlines were protected primarily by Coast Guard boat stations and cutters. Immediately following September 11, Coast Guard resources were reallocated to fill the additional maritime security functions required in a post-9/11 environment.
In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) to protect the nation’s ports and waterways from terrorist attacks. The MTSA provided for a Coast Guard maritime security force to function as part of the Department of Homeland Security‘s layered strategy to protect the nation’s seaports and waterways. That same year, the Coast Guard began forming Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSSTs), supporting the Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security mission and providing non-compliant vessel boarding capability for service missions. Today, there are 11 MSST teams whose specialties include waterside security, maritime law enforcement and K-9 explosives detection units. MSST assignments have included military force protection, United Nations General Assemblies, national political conventions, international economic summits, hurricane response efforts and major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
In 2004, in order to fully address the service’s congressionally mandated Maritime Homeland Security responsibilities, Coast Guard leadership merged Chesapeake, Virginia’s MSST-91102 with Tactical Law Enforcement Team-North to form a new maritime counter-terrorism response capability. Originally designated the Security Response Team One (SRT-1), and then renamed the Enhanced-MSST, the unit was formally established in 2006 as the Maritime Security Response Team. In 2013, the service began forming a second MSRT on the West Coast by transforming San Diego’s MSST-91109 into an MSRT. In 2017, the service officially changed MSST-91109 into MSRT-West so that there now exists an MSRT-West and the MSRT-East in Chesapeake.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
The MSRTs maintain a ready alert force to support Coast Guard operational commanders and Department of Defense combatant commanders for both short-notice emergent operations as well as planned security events. Examples of MSRT support include subject matter expertise for high-threat security incidents, foreign government law enforcement and security training, national special security events, and a variety of contingency and disaster relief operation support options, including force protection, robust tactical medicine capabilities, and forward reconnaissance and information gathering capabilities. Recent operations have included presidential inaugurations, boarding operations for U.S. Navy task forces, NATO summits and United Nations General Assemblies.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
In 2007, the service stood-up the Deployable Operations Group (DOG) to oversee Deployable Specialized Forces (DSF), such as MSRTs, MSSTs, Port Security Units, National Strike Force teams, Regional Dive Locker personnel and Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs). Later, the service decommissioned the DOG and, in 2013, area commands re-assumed operational and tactical control of DSFs, such as the MSSTs and MSRTs.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
The 2001 terrorist attacks reshaped the Coast Guard, including new homeland security units. The service’s response to 9/11 demonstrated its flexibility and relevance to homeland security and rapid response requirements. Moreover, a variety of new units, like the MSSTs and MSRTs, emerged as part of the Coast Guard’s greatest organizational transformation since World War II.
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., arguably America’s greatest fighter pilot of World War I, was finally downed after taking out 14 German observation balloons and four combat planes. But he took as many Germans with him as he could, strafing ground troops as he crashed and unloading his pistol into the infantry trying to capture him.
Luke enlisted in the Army on Sept. 25, 1917, for service in the aviation field. He took his first solo flight that December, received his commission the following January, and was in France by March.
After additional instruction there, Luke was ready to go on combat patrols. In an April 20, 1918, letter home, Luke described a severely injured pilot who later died and the constantly growing rows of graves for pilots. In between those two observations, he talked about what fun it is to fly.
Luke claimed his first kill in August, but the reported action took place after Luke became separated from the rest of the flight and few believed that the mouthy rookie had actually bagged a German.
Flying on Sept. 12, 1918, Luke found one of the heavily defended balloons while chasing three German aircraft. He conducted attack passes on the balloon and it exploded into flames on Luke’s third pass, just as the balloon was about to reach the ground.
The flaming gas and bladder fell upon the ground crew and the winch mechanism that held the balloons, killing the men and destroying the site. Two more American officers at a nearby airfield confirmed Luke’s balloon bust.
Two days later, the Arizona native brought down a second balloon in a morning patrol, but he still wasn’t liked by other members of his unit. The same afternoon, he was designated to take the risky run against another balloon as the rest of the formation fought enemy fighters. One, a friend of Luke’s named 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, would cover Luke on his run.
Luke once again downed the enemy balloon and was headed for a second balloon when eight enemy planes chased him. His guns were malfunctioning so he ran back to friendly lines rather than risking further confrontation.
Wehner and Luke became a team and specialized in the dangerous mission of balloon busting. Over the following weeks, they pioneered techniques for bringing down the “sausages.” The pair grew so bold that they scheduled exhibitions for well-known pilots like then-Col. William Mitchell, inviting the VIPs to witness German balloons going down at exact times along the front.
On Sept. 18, the two men scored one of their most productive days including the balloon downing that made Wehner an ace, but Wehner was shot down during the attack on the second balloon. Luke responded by charging into the enemy formation, killing two, and then heading for home and killing an observation plane en route.
Luke was distraught at the loss of his partner and took greater risks in the air. His superior officers attempted to ground him, but Luke stole a plane and went back up anyway.
On his final flight on Sept. 29, he dropped a note from his plane that told the reader to “Watch three Hun balloons on the Meuse. Luke.”
The pilot flew across the battlefield, downing all three but attracting a patrol of eight German fighters. Sources differ on exactly what happened next, but the most important details are not in dispute.
Luke’s plane was damaged and he himself was hit, likely from machine gun fire from the ground. As he lost altitude, he conducted a strike against German troops, most likely with his machine guns, though locals who witnessed the fight reported that he may have used bombs dropped by hand.
All of Luke’s confirmed victories had taken place in September 1918. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Sept. 12-15, a second for his actions on Sept. 18, and the Medal of Honor for his final flight on Sept. 29.
After taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter moved a new desk into the White House. It had been briefly used by President Kennedy, but Johnson moved it out after taking office. Carter’s new desk was known as the Resolute Desk, and was made from the timbers of a British warship that was abandoned in the icy waters of Canada. That was not the ship’s final fate, however.
The ship was originally part of an expedition sent to track down explorer Sir John Franklin, who left England in 1845 to look for the long-fabled “Northwest Passage.” Franklin and his crew were lost, all dying of starvation and exposure, not to mention the seaborne illnesses of the era. But England didn’t know that, and Franklin’s ships weren’t discovered until 2016, so the Royal Navy sent a squadron out to discover the fate of Franklin himself. The HMS Resolute was just one of the ships in that squadron.
The expedition to find Franklin was as disastrous as Franklin’s own expedition. Eventually, the thick sea ice would force the Navy to abandon at least two of the ships, including Resolute. An American whaling crew found the Royal Navy ship adrift in the waters off Canada, crewed her, and took her to New London. Instead of turning her into an American ship, the United States had other plans.
The “special relationship” between England and the United States is a relatively recent development. In the days before the 20th Century, the two countries routinely butted heads and almost went to war on a number of occasions. At this time, the two were embroiled in border disputes, territorial arguments, fishing rights, and whatever else countries can go to war over. The U.S. decided to give the Resolute a complete American overhaul and refit, then present the ship to Queen Victoria as a peace offering. It worked.
The ship remained in England’s home waters until she left the service in 1879. But the wood from Resolute was to become legendary. Three desks were made, the first for the widow of Henry Grinnell, an American merchant from New York who helped search for Franklin’s lost expedition, the second for Queen Victoria herself. The third and largest one was presented as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes.
The desk remained in the White House until the assassination of President Kennedy, when Lyndon Johnson allowed it to go around the country on a traveling expedition and then sending it to the Smithsonian Institution. The desk has been modified twice, the most significant was the addition of a door panel in the front which bears the Presidential Seal. Franklin D. Roosevelt had this added to hide his leg braces from the press. That seal is only one of three that features the eagle’s head turned toward the 13 arrows on its talon, instead of the olive branch.
It’s no secret that the early American revolutionists were up against a serious enemy when it came to the British Navy. Not only was the British Navy, one of the most experienced in the world, but their fleet was massive. Compared to the small, inexperienced, and fledgling Navy of early America, we almost didn’t stand a chance.
That is until tens of thousands of citizen sailors stood up and answered the call for freedom.
Fed up with British society’s confines, these tens of thousands of sailors played a critical role in America’s quest for independence, but are largely forgotten from the history books.
These so-called privateers accounted for more than 2,000 sailors in our early Navy and were all commissioned by both the Continental Congress and states. Together, the armada preyed on British ships on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, which severely disrupted the British economy and turned British public opinion against the war.
But who were these privateers?
A tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages allows countries at war to license private seamen to seize and plunder enemy vessels. It’s important here to note that privateers were different from pirates because pirates didn’t have legal authorization to plunder ships. Privateers had official letters from governments condoning their actions. Admittedly, the difference between pirates and privateers seems a little murky at best. But either way, the privateers at the helms of ships in the days of the Revolutionary War had one goal in mind: destroy as many British ships as possible.
Early America was as cash strapped as one would expect a fledgling colony to be. We were attempting to extricate ourselves from British rule, which was expensive. Early leaders knew that there’s no way our inexperienced Navy would ever be able to challenge Britain on the seas, but we did have one specific advantage. We didn’t really have anything to lose.
So the Continental Congress decided to capitalize on that. It issued money to privateers as guerrilla-style naval disruptors and told them to do whatever it took to stop British ships. And that’s exactly what they did.
Privateers were required to post bonds of up to 5,000 pounds as collateral to ensure that captives taken from British ships wouldn’t be mistreated. These sailors for hire also promised not to knowingly raid American or neutral ships. George Washington leased the ships and set out to man them with competent sailors up to the task.
The chance was once in a lifetime, and Washington sweetened the deal by offering one-third of all the goods the privateers captured and sold. In this appeal to the privateers’ financial self-interest, soon, Washington had more volunteers than he knew what to do with. Financial incentive coupled with a newfound patriotism for their fledgling country ensured helped awake the early spirit of capitalism, and for the first time in their lives, these sailors realized they might actually be able to make some money.
Whalers, merchants and fishermen set out to convert their ships. By May 1775, there were over 100 New England privateers roaming the high seas, all with the same solitary goal in mind. Privateering became so popular that the Continental Congress started issuing blank commission forms for sailors to fill out themselves.
Had it not been for the blossoming spirit of patriotism and the allure of cold hard cash, it’s possible that the Revolutionary War might have turned out very differently. Privateers helped to damage the British economy and undermine British policy, all helpful for the war effort. Ultimately, the privateers helped to capture over 2,000 British naval vessels. Faced with two fronts, one on British soil and one on American soil, the British Navy was very challenged to keep up with the constant barrage of privateers. Ultimately, this helped us win the war and gain our independence from Britain.
Ah, the vaunted Blue Book, known throughout the U.S. Army for being the first drill guide for American land troops. It is more properly known as Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, and it was authored by Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, but it wasn’t actually the first drill manual for American troops.
Revolutionary War re-enactors.
(Lee Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0)
See, von Steuben came to the Americas in 1778, nearly three years after the battles of Lexington and Concord and over 19 months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So, von Steuben was falling in on an American army that already existed. Clearly, someone had some idea of how to drill them before that, right?
Included in the short work was a two-page primer, Instructions for Young Officers, by British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe. Wolfe was a hero of the British empire and had distinguished himself against the French in Canada.
A 2006 re-printing of the text is available online as a PDF, and the first section is a sort of “by-the-numbers” breakdown of poising, cocking, presenting, firing, and then re-loading the “firelocks,” another word for the firearms of the day. If you think it’s odd that “aiming” wasn’t part of that process, good catch. But that wasn’t a big part of an infantryman’s job at the time.
Muskets and similar weapons had entered the hunting world hundreds of years before the American Revolution, but most weapons still weren’t horribly accurate. So rather than “aiming,” soldiers before and during the Revolution “presented” their weapons. Basically, they pointed the weapons in the direction of the enemy formation. Good enough for imperial work.
A 1740 Austrian drill manual shows rather than tells how troops would perform key actions.
But even before 1764, colonial forces were using a manual of arms that was likely more useful for many young militiamen than the king’s manual. The Austrian Infantry Drill from 1740 is made up almost entirely of illustrations that show rather than tell how troops should ride in formation, march, fix bayonets, etc.
In a surprising bit of honesty, it even shows troops maintaining the line as troops on either side collapse in combat. It is crazy optimistic in showing only three people having fallen during at least one full exchange of gunfire, but, still.
At a time when as much as 15 percent of the population was unable to read, these illustrations would have been quite valuable. For them, it wouldn’t matter that the descriptions were in a foreign language. They can tell from the pictures which illustrations were showing the fixing and unfixing of bayonets, shouldering and unshouldering arms, and so on.
The cover page of a printed “Blue Book,” Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.
For instance, chapter one of the book details what equipment was needed for soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers. Chapter two defines what leaders’ roles would be, and chapters three and four details what men were needed for an army company, regiment, and battalion.
It goes on from there, detailing how to recruit and train troops, how to employ a company in training and combat, and more. So, even militiamen who had taken advantage of older drill guides, like those from 1764 and 1740, would find plenty of value in von Steuben’s manual.
In 1942, not long after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Soviet pilot S. Kuzniecov was returning to base from a reconnaissance mission over Nazi-occupied Russia. As he flew over Kalinin (modern-day Tver), he was ambushed by German Messerschmidt fighters. He was shot down and forced to crash land his Iluyshin Il-2.
One of the German pilots landed at a nearby flat strip of land to collect souvenirs from his prey and to kill the Soviet pilot if he was still alive. But Kuzniecov wasn’t in the cockpit of the downed fighter anymore. He hid in the nearby woodline waiting for the enemy pilot.
As soon as the German approached Kuzniecov’s Il-2, Kuzniecov made a mad dash to the German’s waiting Messerschmidt. He took off and headed for home. But his troubles didn’t end there.
Soviet pilots didn’t take kindly to German Me-109 fighters approaching their airbases. The Russian managed to survive getting shot down by the Nazis and almost died trying to avoid getting shot down by his comrades.
He did survive and was later awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest honor the USSR could bestow on its fighting men and women. Kuzniecov was blinded by anti-aircraft fire over Poland in 1944. He managed to land his new Il-2 in a wheels-up crash landing, but what happened to him after he left the cockpit is unknown to this day.
When the Il-2 first appeared, it was called the “Flying Infantryman” by the Red Army, as beloved by ground troops as the A-10 is for Americans today. When given an inspection and a test flight, American Ace Eddie Rickenbacker called it the “best aircraft of its type in the world” and the “Beast from the East.”
It lived up to the hype as maybe the most important Soviet airframe of World War II.
When Jessica Pearce Rotondi lost her mother to breast cancer in 2009, she had no idea of what she would gain: the chance to become a part of her military family’s history. The unexpected journey took her from her childhood home in Massachusetts to the lush mountains of Laos, where her airman uncle was shot down in 1972.
“Sending a loved one away and not knowing if they’ll walk through the door again is an incredible sacrifice,” Rotondi said.
It’s a sacrifice her mother’s family made multiple times. For not only was her Uncle Jack shot down alongside his AC-130 crew during the “secret war” in the neutral nation of Laos, her grandfather — Jack’s father — fell from the sky too, spending two and a half years in a German POW camp during WWII.
As “What We Inherit: A Secret War and a Family’s Search for Answers” so arrestingly confesses in its first sentence, Rotondi comes from “a family that loses children.”Rotondi spent a decade researching and writing her debut novel, a deeply personal family memoir and obscure history lesson released this April. Historical supporting evidence, it turns out, would be hard to come by.
Read more about Vietnam War vets traveling to find answers.
“Much about what happened in Laos has only recently been declassified. I embedded photographs of some of the reports and letters I found directly into the book, because I wanted to recreate that sense of expectation to show how the force of a single document can change a family’s hopes,” Rotondi, a Brooklyn resident, said. “Getting CIA officers, refugees and former soldiers on the record about their role in the war was a slow exercise in trust-building but led to some incredible conversations.”
Before her mother’s death, conversation about Rotondi’s uncle and grandfather’s wartime experiences were few. A chance discovery of a hidden-in-the-closet file cabinet just hours after her mother’s passing launched Rotondi onto what would eventually become “What We Inherit.” It involved thousands of hours of research, sifting through redacted files, yellowed newspaper clippings and maps of questionable accuracy.
Rotondi, whose work has been published in the likes of The Huffington Post and The History Channel, traveled to Southeast Asia in 2013 to locate her uncle’s crash site. She was not the first family member to do so; she was simply retracing her grandpa’s steps through Laos as he obsessively searched for answers about his missing son years earlier.
The process of writing her family’s tragedies reminded Rotondi of the incredible strength of military families.
“I had the incredible privilege of speaking to other families of the missing for this book, and the biggest takeaway from them was the strength of the unspoken bond between military families,” she said. “I read somewhere that we never truly die until our name stops being spoken aloud. There is power in talking about our lost and missing veterans — especially with the next generation.”
“What We Inherit,” a book worth reading, ensures that will never happen on Rotondi’s watch.
World War I marked the fourth time Congress declared war, but just the first time America instituted a draft. The “Great War” also created a new series of benefits for Veterans–some that exist in different forms today.
A story from The Cook County News-Heraldfrom Grand Marais, Minnesota, July 4, 1917, referring to World War I registration slackers.
April 6 marks the start of the U.S. involvement in World War I, which 4.7 million Americans fought in.
President Woodrow Wilson asked for a declaration of war April 2, 1917. The Senate voted April 4 and the House of Representatives voted to adopt the war resolution April 6.
Despite the declaration, American men did’nt volunteer in large numbers. Because the U.S. needed to organize, train and equip a force to fight Germany, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which started U.S. conscription.
Following the May 18 passage, the first draft registration day was June 5, 1917, for the 48 states and Washington, D.C. In July, the first draft registration for Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii started. This period also started the round up of draft evaders, called “slackers.”
According to the Library of Congress, over 70% of American Army troops were conscripts.
Of the 4.7 million Americans who fought, 116,000 died in service and 204,000 were wounded.
Veterans did see new benefits arise out of their World War I service. Congress amended the War Risk Insurance Act of 1914 in 1917 to offer government-subsidized life insurance for Veterans. Additional legislation provided Veterans a discharge allowance at the end of the war.
The War Risk amendments also established authority for Veterans to receive rehabilitation and vocational training. The benefits focused on Veterans with dismemberment, sight, hearing, and other permanent disabilities. Injured service members remained in service and trained for new jobs.
The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1918 provided vocational rehabilitation training for honorably discharged disabled World War I Veterans. The act also gave special monthly maintenance allowances for Veterans who couldn’t carry on a gainful occupation. In 1919, a new law fixed Veteran medical care. It gave the Public Health Service greater responsibility, transferred military hospitals to the Public Health Service and authorized new hospitals.
The war also produced another benefit for service members: information. For 17 months, The Stars and Stripes newspaper informed American service members about the war. Over 100 years later, the publication still provides independent news and information to active duty, Department of Defense civilians, Veterans, contractors and families.
Sometimes there can be total domination by an individual or a team.
In sports, we could see it in something like Gayle Sayers scoring six touchdowns in a game, or Randy Johnson pitching a perfect game. In war, it can be racking up a lot of kills in quick succession, like Chuck Yeager’s becoming an “ace in a day.”
So here is the rarely-told story of how one destroyer escort, the USS England (DE 635), pulled off utter dominance in anti-submarine warfare – six kills in less than two weeks. The famed Second Support Group lead by Frederick J. Walker of HMS Starling in its best stretch took 19 days to get six kills (31 January, 1944 to 19 February, 1944).
USS England was a Buckley-class destroyer escort, displacing 1,400 tons with a top speed of 23 knots, and was armed with three 3-inch guns; a quad 1.1-inch gun; some small anti-aircraft guns; three 21-inch torpedo tubes; a “Hedgehog” anti-submarine mortar; and a number of depth charge launchers. This was a potent arsenal against aircraft, surface vessels, and submarines.
Kill One – 18 May, 1944
The USS England was operating with two sister ships, the USS George (DE-697) and the USS Raby (DE-698) when she was ordered to intercept the Japanese submarine I-16. Navy codebreakers had cracked a message that I-16 was delivering supplies to Japanese troops. The England made five attacks using the Hedgehog and scored the kill.
Kill Two – 22 May, 1944
Again, Navy codebreakers provided information on Japanese intentions. This time, they sent a line of subs to sit astride a route that Adm. Bill Halsey had used to move the Third Fleet on two previous occasions. The USS George first detected the Japanese submarine RO-106 at 3:50 AM local time on May 22, but missed. Less than an hour later, the USS England fired the first salvo of Hedgehogs and missed. But at 5:01, the England’s second salvo scored hits that triggered an explosion.
Kill Three – 23 May, 1944
After scoring that kill, the three destroyer escorts began scouting for the rest of the line. The next day, the American vessels found the Japanese RO-104. The USS Raby and USS George missed with eight Hedgehog attacks over two hours, starting at 6:17 in the morning. The USS England then took over, scoring on her second attack at 8:34 AM.
Kill Four – 24 May, 1944
The American destroyer escorts continued their sweep up the Japanese submarine picket line. A half-hour later, the England made sonar contact, and after 24 minutes, launched a Hedgehog attack, putting the Japanese sub RO-116 on the bottom.
Kill Five – 26 May, 1944
Eventually a hunter-killer group consisting of the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Hoggatt Bay (CVE 75) and the Fletcher-class destroyers USS Hazelwood (DD 531), USS Heerman (DD 532), USS Hoel (DD 533), and USS McCord (DD 534) relieved the three destroyer escorts. The escorts maintained their search formation, and came across the RO-108. USS England picked up the target at 11:04 PM, then launched an attack with Hedgehogs, scoring direct hits on her first salvo.
Kill Six – 31 May, 1944
After re-supplying, the three destroyer escorts were joined by the USS Spangler (DE-696), another Buckley-class destroyer escort. They re-joined the Hoggatt Bay hunter-killer group, and continued their mission. On May 30, the hunt began when USS Hazelwood picked up the RO-105 on radar at 1:56 AM. Commander Hamilton Hains, the escort commander, ordered England to hold back. A depth-charge attack failed, leading to a lethal 25-hour game of cat and mouse during which over 20 hedgehog attacks missed. Finally, Hains sent the England in. One salvo of hedgehog later, RO-105 was on the bottom of the Pacific.
Rear Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that Hains later sent a message to USS England, asking “God damn it, how do you do it?”
The response from Cmdr. C.A. Thorwall, the CO of Destroyer Escort Division 40, who has his flag on board USS England, was both witty and politically incorrect.
“Personnel and equipment worked with the smoothness of well-oiled clockwork. As a result of our efforts, Recording Angel working overtime checking in [Japanese] submariners joining Honorable Ancestors,” Morrison was quoted as saying in Volume VIII of his History of United States Naval Operations of World War II.
Admiral Ernest J. King vowed, “There will always be an England in the United States Navy.”
After her exploits, the USS England carried out escort missions. She would not see much more action until May 9, 1945, when she was attacked by three dive bombers. England shot one down, but the plane crashed into her, forcing the ship to return to the United States for repairs.
The end of World War II lead to the ship’s decommissioning the month after Japan surrendered. And she was sold for scrap in 1946.
In 1963, a Leahy-class destroyer leader was named USS England (DLG 22). Later re-designated a cruiser, this ship served in the Navy until being decommissioned in 1994, and sold for scrap 10 years later.
To date, there are no ships currently in service or under construction with the name USS England.
Army Maj. Charles E. Capehart was leading a cavalry force at midnight on July 4, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg when he saw a column of retreating Confederates through the darkness. Heavy rains and a lack of light created dangerous conditions for horses at night, but Capehart led a charge that allowed the destruction and capture of most of the Confederate equipment and troops.
Seaman Willard Miller and his younger brother, Quartermaster 3rd Class Harry Miller, were Canadians who enlisted in the Navy and volunteered for a risky operation at the start of the Spanish-American War. The Navy wanted to cut off Cuba’s communications with the rest of the world, requiring a raid on two underwater cables.
What does a building supposedly designed by Robert E. Lee have to do with the US Army Corps of Engineers insignia? More than you think.
Fort Totten is a stunning piece of land located on Cross Island Parkway between Totten Avenue and 15 Road in Queens, New York, which is actually an abandoned Civil War fort – hidden in plain sight.
It’s even on the MTA subway map, even though it’s partially obscured by the legend explaining the different symbols on the map mean.
The underfunded and almost obscure city park is located in the Bayside area of Queens. As a military installation, it was built in 1862 to protect against Confederate ships from approaching New York via the East River.
Civil War History
Fort Totten was initially called Fort at Willets Point. The government purchased the land in 1857 from the Willets family, but the name was changed to Fort Totten in 1898. The original intent of Fort Totten was to defend the East River, but it was also to add auxiliary support to Fort Schuyler, which faces the East River in the opposite direction. Fort Totten was part of several installations of seacoast defense in the US that started during the first year of the Civil War. The initial design was created by Robert E. Lee in 1857 and modified by Chief Engineer Joseph G. Totten, where the installation got its name.
Fort Totten was designed with four tiers of cannons facing the water, for a total of 68 defensive guns. The only other installations in the US to share this feature are Castle Williams, Fort Wadsworth, and Fort Point.
Construction on Fort Totten was abandoned after the Civil War, in part because masonry forts were considered obsolete after the war. Only one tier and part of a second tea of the two seacoast walls were completed.
WWI and onward
When the United States entered WWI, coastal defensive installations got an upgrade. Because threats from German shifts seemed unlikely, these installations became mobilization and training centers. Garrisons were reduced to provide trained heavy artillery crews for the Western Front.
After WWII, Fort Totten’s last heavy armament, the mortars of Battery King, were removed, and the Harbor Defenses of Eastern New York were inactivated.
In December 1941, Fort Totten became the headquarters for the anti-aircraft portion of the Eastern Defense Command. Then in 1954, the installation became a Project Nike air defense site. No Nike missiles were located at Fort Totten, but it was the regional headquarters for the New York area. By 1966, it was home to the 1st Region, Army Air Defense Command. It also headquartered the 66th Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion and the 41st AAA Gun Battalion.
Currently, the 77th Sustainment Brigade, subordinate units, and the 533rd Brigade Support Battalion of the Army Reserve call Fort Totten home. But most of the installation is a public park and open for tours. Most of the Civil War-era buildings are in ruins, giving Fort Totten an old world-new world sort of offset vibe. Visitors can also explore the Cold War era buildings, including a movie theater, former officer’s quarters, a laboratory, and a hospital. The entire area has a spooky stopped-in-time feel, especially if you’ve never seen any old military ruins.
In the middle of the part is a building called The Castle, which was once the officer’s club. Now it’s home to the Bayside Historical Society. The Castle hosts historical exhibitions, cultural programs, and events. In 1986, The Castle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like the rest of the Civil War buildings, The Castle was designed by Robert E. Lee in his pre-Civil War capacity as a military engineer. Some historians suspect that Lee didn’t actually design it, just signed off on the plans.
The building was designed in a neo-Gothic style and wasn’t created specifically for Fort Totten but was the approved generic design for use in all military installations during that time. Identical structures could be found at installations around the country during that time, and the Corps of Engineers eventually adopted the design as their insignia.