US Navy of 1915
11 minute video fragment
Updated 4 October, 2010: see bottom of page.
This video was found on the National Film Preservation Foundation site. It was produced by the Lyman H. Howe Company from a 35mm negative and identified by Charles “Buckey” Grimm. We added a music track.
The film was made with the full support of the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, who believed in the power of motion pictures to convince isolationists of the importance of building a strong American navy. A former newspaperman who knew the value of publicity, Daniels allowed Howe’s camera crew remarkable shipboard access. The results show sailors as they go about their day—doing repairs, cleaning the deck, exercising, as well as demonstrating naval might. The film drew praise as capturing “the pulse-beat of the complex life that throbs through our dreadnoughts from reveille to ‘taps.’”
This was not first time the Navy had turned to film to tell its story. Early on, the Navy had collaborated with the Biograph Company on a now-lost series of 60 short films showing sailors and officers at work. The series screened at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland before being put to use in a Midwest recruitment tour. Naval facilities and ships also figured prominently in early newsreels and narratives. The service took care to ensure that depictions presented it in a favorable light and reserved the right, for commercial films shot with official approval, to reuse them for the Navy’s own purposes.
Buckey identified the fragment through careful detective work involving the ships and ordnance on display in the fragment. For example, the “E-2” class submarine, pictured in the opening scene, was taken out of service in 1915, and the shells mentioned in a inter-title—“It costs the U.S. government $970.00 for each 14 inch projectile fired”—were added to the naval arsenal the year earlier. The clincher was matching a frame from the documentary with an image used in a newspaper piece to illustrate the Howe film. Buckey reported his research at the 2010 Orphan Film Symposium at New York University.
About the Preservation
The first battleship shown is either the USS South Carolina (BB26) or her sister, the USS Michigan (BB-27), which were the first US built class of "dreadnoughts," started in 1906 but not commissioned until two years later. They were armed with a main battery of eight 12-inch guns arranged in four turrets disposed along the ship's centerline. They had 12 coal-fired boilers, and two 4-cylinder triple-expansion engines driving two screws.
The next battleship shown is definitely the USS North Dakota (BB-29), identified from her sister, the USS Delaware (BB-28), by the placement of the pole mast at the rear end of the platform atop the main mast and the three identifying horizontal bands around her aft stack. As the next advance in US dreadnoughts, they added a fifth 12-inch twin gunned turret at the rear of the ships (i.e., turret #3 was on an elevated barbette with the gun muzzles facing aft, turret #4 was on a barbette at main deck level with muzzles facing forward, and turret #5 was on a barbette at main deck level with muzzles facing aft...turrets #4 and #5 were therefore back to back at the same deck level). The third battleship shown is definitely the USS Delaware (BB-28) because of her turret arrangement, the mainmast's pole mast placement, and the two identifying horizontal bands around her aft stack.
The open mount shown in the gunnery drill was probably a 5-inch, although the later view of a full gun crew was probably a cluster around a 3-inch aboard an early destroyer.
I think the large shells being loaded were in fact 14-inch projectiles since were those first used aboard the sister battleships USS New York (BB-34) and USS Texas (BB-35), both commissioned in 1914. The smaller powder cans were probably for the 5-inch secondary battery guns that were generally in case mates rather than turrets/shielded mounts....note the larger powder cans that several of the sailors are leaning on in the background. These were for the main battery's guns.
The name of the conic-shaped instrument used when splicing a rope/line was called a "FID." A marlin spike was the metal conic-shaped instrument used to splice wire-rope.
The USS Wyoming (BB-32) was a sister to the USS Arkansas (BB-33), both commissioned in 1912. They had six turrets with twin 12-inch guns arranged along the centerline; two forward, two immediately aft of the mainmast, and two more toward the extreme end of the ships. Curiously enough, the Arkansas, New York, and the Texas all survived to fight in WW-II. All of their predecessors had been scrapped due to obsolescence and the 1922 Washington Naval Conference's provisions, with the exception of the USS Utah (ex-BB-31) that had been de-militarized (removal of main battery guns, side armor, and decommissioned/reduced propulsion machinery). That's the same UTAH, in use in 1941 as a radio-controlled target ship, that the Japanese sank at Pearl Harbor, having mistaken it for a carrier because of timbers laid across its decks.
The primary reference used is "Battleships and Battlecruisers 1905 - 1970" by Siegfried Breyer (ISBN 0 385 07247 3). That book covers the BBs and CBs of all nations during that time period, and contains detailed comments on a ship's history; specifying construction details, equipment, modifications, and disposition. In addition, although it has no photographs, it does have drawings that show the ship as-built, and later major modifications. Ship particulars are described as follows: where appropriate (e.g., USA & GB), gun caliber/bore is in inches; but armor thickness and ship dimensions are described using the metric system measurements. It helps therefore to have a handy Metric - English converter when using this book.
Tony Fernandez bio:
Tony has had an affinity for warships, their construction and functions since the age of 14. He started observing differences among ships of a given class when he began building the early plastic models coming onto the market in the mid-50s. He was active USN from June 1959 until retiring in December 1979. He started out as an ET and then was persuaded to apply for Warrant Officer about the time he made ETC. Served aboard the USN ships Rigel (AF-58), Great Sitkin (AE-17), Thor (ARC-4), Miller (DD535), Springfield (CLG-7), Little Rock (CLG-4), and John F. Kennedy (CV-67). In addition, he had several tours of shore duty, the last of which was as Electronics Officer for COMNAVSURFPAC in Coronado, CA.