On October 2, 1942, the ocean liner the RMS Queen Mary was sailing to Glasgow, Scotland carrying some 20,000 American troops to fight in Europe during World War II. The mighty ship was escorted by the HMS Curacoa, a light cruiser, to protect the Queen Mary from German U-Boat attacks. The Queen Mary was also engaging in a classic zig-zag pattern meant to make targeting by U-Boats difficult. However, the Curacoa was not zig-zagging, and, since it was slower than the ocean liner, the zigs eventually caught up with the cruiser’s straight line. The two ships collided and the Queen Mary “sliced the cruiser in two like a piece of butter, straight through the six inch armoured plating.” The ocean liner continued on since there was a standing order to not help stricken ships due to fears of lurking submarines. The British admiralty were attempting to avoid a Lusitania-type disaster that struck them during World War I. All of these safety precautions led to the tragic deaths of nearly 250 crewmen aboard the HMS Curacoa.
On September 25, 1911, the French battleship Liberte was sitting in harbor in Toulon. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive explosion rocked the ship, killing some 250 sailors and officers and sending the massive ship to the bottom of the harbor. In the previous five years, the French navy had suffered a series of major naval disasters – ending in the deaths of over 400 French sailors. These explosions eventually tied to a degraded gunpowder known as Poudre B which was prone to blowing up accidentally when improperly stored. During this stretch, the biggest adversary of the French navy was, far and away, the French navy. More men were lost in in-harbor accidents than in any other way.
Featured Image: “French Battleship Liberte.” Public Domain.
Source: “French Battleship Blown Up in Toulon Harbor.” Popular Mechanics. November 1911.
On September 23, 1641, an English merchant ship the Merchant Royal was returning home laden with an estimated 100,000 pounds of gold from Mexico. As the ship neared Land’s End in Cornwall, the weather rapidly degraded and the Merchant Royal began taking on water. Shortly after this, the ship went down killing 18 of the crew with the captain and most of the rest of the crew escaping in lifeboats. The 100,000 pounds of gold would have been worth close to $1.5 billion in 21st century currency.
In 2007, the Odyssey Marine Exploration company found a massive treasure trove off of Land’s End during a project code named “Black Swan.” It has been speculated that they had finally found the Merchant Royal, though there is no proof of this. Odyssey, however, thinks they found another shipwreck, the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes from Spain. Despite claiming the treasure was found in international waters, and was thus, open for salvage, a court in the United States required Odyssey to turn the gold back over to Spain.
Featured Image: “Gold from the ‘Black Swan’ Wreck.” By Hispalois – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Source: “Record wreck ‘found off Cornwall’.” BBC News. 19 May 2007.
““Black Swan” Project Overview.” Odyssey Marine Exploration.
On September 8, 1923, a fleet of 14 United States Navy ships were steaming from San Francisco Bay to San Diego. The flagship, the destroyer USS Delphy, rounded Point Pedernales (also known as Point Honda) to enter the Santa Barbara Channel. The sea was somewhat heavy and there was a large fog bank that shrouded the shore. As flagship, the Delphy was responsible for navigating for the entire fleet, and the poor visibility meant that her navigator had to rely on dead-reckoning. Unfortunately, it is here that things began to go awry. As the Delphy rounded the Point, she took the corner too close and ran aground. With the visibility so poor, six other ships ran aground and two others touched bottom but were able to reverse course before becoming stuck. Unfortunately, 23 sailors lost their lives in the disaster and the U.S. Navy lost seven destroyers, making this the largest peacetime naval disaster in United States history to date. In response to the disaster, captains of 11 of the ships and several other officers, including the navigator of the Delphy faced courts martial. The Navy soon upgraded the lighthouse at Point Honda to help prevent further such tragedies.
Featured Image: “Point Honda Disaster.” By U.S. Navy, photographed from a plane assigned to USS Aroostook (CM-3). – US Navy, Public Domain.
Source: “Honda: 8 September 1923.” Destroyer History Foundation.
At the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II, on November 12, 1942, Mess Attendant First Class Leonard Roy Harmon was aboard the USS San Francisco. Harmon was an African-American and, when he enrolled in the navy in 1939, he was limited to being a mess officer due to his race. (This policy would change for new recruits starting in 1942.) On the first day of the battle, the San Francisco was struck by a crashing Japanese plane damaging the ship’s radar and communications systems. On the following day, the bridge was strafed by gunfire from another plane, killing the majority of officers aboard the ship. Harmon ran to the bridge and attempted to help the wounded off the ship despite continuous gunfire. He succeeded in getting several of his shipmates to safety before being struck by a shot that he knew would kill him. With his last moments, Leonard Harmon positioned his body to shield a less-gravely wounded man, saving the other sailor’s life. In recognition of his valor, Harmon was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. On top of this, the navy recognized just how remarkable Harmon’s actions were. On August 31, 1943 a Buckley-class Destroyer Escort was commissioned named the USS Harmon in honor of the fallen cook. The Harmon was the first ship in United States history to be named after an African American.
Featured Image. “Democracy In Action – Poster Depicting Leonard Roy Harmon.” By Charles Henry Alston, 1907-1977, Artist (NARA record: 3569253) – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.
Image 1. “USS Harmon.” By U.S. Navy – http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/images/g40000/g45162.jpg, Public Domain.
Source: Santoski, Teresa. “Daily TWiP – USS Harmon, the first Navy ship named after an African-American, is commissioned today in 1943.” Nashua Telegraph. 31 August 2010.
From about 9:00 AM to 9:40 AM on Thursday, August 27, 1896 the shortest international war in history took place as several ships of the British Royal Navy bombarded the tiny state of Zanzibar one day after sudden death of its sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini. Thuwaini was succeeded under somewhat dubious circumstances by his cousin Khalid bin Barghash. The new Sultan Khalid’s rise to power enraged the British who had signed an unequal treaty with the small sultanate giving the British consul the authority to approve any new sultan that came to the throne. The British authorities would veto Sutlan Khalid’s reign in a very emphatic way.
In the morning on the day after Sultan Hamad’s death British naval forces under Rear Admiral Harry Rawson issued an ultimatum for Khalid to stand down and when he received no response from the palace proceeded to bombard the defenses of Zanzibar along with the royal palace. Sultan Khalid’s brief reign ended as he sought refuge in the German consulate. The British then put Hamud bin Muhammad on the throne since he was more amicable towards British interests. The Anglo-Zanzibar War ended up with about 500 causalities on the side of the sultanate and with one British sailor suffering a minor injury.
Featured Image. “Damage to the Palace of Zanzibar.” By Richard Dorsey Mohun (1865-1915) – from zh wp 23:13 2005. Captmjc (Talk) . . 574×425 (94376), Public Domain.
Image 1: “Sultan Khalid bin Barghash.” By Unknown – http://www.hukam.net/family.php?fam=296 (تاريخ الحكام والسلالات الحاكمة) arabic source, Public Domain.
Image 2: “HMS Thrush.” By William Frederick Mitchell – http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/prints/viewRepro.cfm?reproID=PU0320, Public Domain.
Sources: “BOMBARDED BY THE BRITISH; THE ZANZIBAR PALACE DESTROYED BY SHELLS.” New York Times. 28 August 1896.
On August 10, 1628, King Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden and his entourage were gathered on the docks of the Stockholm shipyards to take part in the ceremonies to launch the king’s newest warship, the Vasa, named after the ruling dynasty. The massive ship, armed with 64 bronze cannons, was the largest warship in the world and was meant to be symbolic of Sweden’s rise to the ranks of the Great Powers of the seventeenth century. Unfortunately, today would not be the triumph Gustavus II Adolphus hoped. Less than 20 minutes and about one mile into her maiden voyage, the Vasa was struck by two strong winds that caused the massive ship to founder and sink to the bottom of the Baltic Sea, killing 30 crewmen.
For years, a mystery has surrounded these events – what exactly caused such an amazing ship to sink so quickly. Recent studies have shown that the ship was particularly top heavy and was so cutting edge in its construction that it went past the technological capabilities of the day. However, there was also a borderline comic reason for the sinking – the ship was lopsided. Why was it lopsided? Well, of the four construction leaders on the ship, two used a Swedish ruler that measured 1 foot and was divided into 12 inches and two used a Dutch ruler that measured 1 foot, but was divided into 11 inches. So depending on who was doing the measuring, the measurements of an inch were different and thus led to major structural problems with the ship.