Clayton Colefield and the Building of USS Missouri

Black and white photo of five naval officers standing on a large metal plate, one of them turning a long handle attached to a riveting machine.

They say a Navy ship has three birthdays: its keel-laying, its launching, and its commissioning. The World War II-era battleship USS Missouri has one more, its recommission in 1986 as part of President Reagan’s 600-ship Navy. But one person was witness to its first two birthdays, Brooklyn Navy Yard shipfitter Clayton Colefield, who sat for an oral history in 2009 with Sady Sullivan of the Brooklyn Historical Society.>> Continue reading

Americal Division: Brooklyn Army Terminal Sends First US Troops to Pacific

Black and white photo of two soldiers walking up a gangplank onto a ship at dusk.

Last week we looked at Operation Magnet, the scramble in the weeks after Pearl Harbor to move American forces into the European battle zone. Just one week after that, it was time to make a move in the Pacific, and the Brooklyn Army Terminal would again be key. 

Unlike Europe, America already had significant forces in the Pacific theater, and they were engaged in battle with the Japanese – but it was going very poorly. The Japanese began their invasion of the Philippines just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and within a month, American forces were penned in on the Bataan Peninsula and the island fortress of Corregidor, and the American Asiatic Fleet, along with Dutch and Commonwealth allies, was being battered across the Southwest Pacific. By May, 87,000 American and Filipino troops would be forced to surrender, and half the Asiatic Fleet was sunk.>> Continue reading

Brooklyn to Belfast: Red Bull Division Were First US Overseas Troops of World War II

Black and white photo of a soldier waving from the gangplank of a ship with soldiers in the background.

On January 15, 1942, ships of convoy AT-10 left the Brooklyn Army Terminal to make the journey across the Atlantic. Aboard the transports USS Chateau Thierry and HMTS Strathaird were mostly soldiers of the 34th Infantry Division, aka “Red Bull,” 4,058 in all. Codenamed Operation Magnet, this was the first deployment of American combat troops to foreign soil after the US officially entered World War II.>> Continue reading

USS Edson: From Bath to Brooklyn to Bay City

File to: Shipspotting 

On a quiet stretch of the Saginaw River just outside Bay City, Michigan, the USS Edson sits as a tribute to America’s Cold War destroyer fleet. Built at Maine’s Bath Iron Works in 1958, the Forrest Sherman-class ship was an all-gun destroyer (hull numbers DD), soon to be replaced by guided missile-armed ships (DDG). By the time Edson was retired after 30 years of service, it was the last of the old guard, sporting three 5-inch guns instead of Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles like its modern counterparts.

Today, a 5-inch gun is the largest you will find on any US Navy ship – the battleships and their 16-inchers are long gone – and you will not find a ship with more than one. That is why Edson’s battery earned it an unofficial motto: “Three guns, no waiting.”>> Continue reading

What was the First Ship Built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard?

Diagram showing the lines of the sloop Peacock.

For the past two years, we have had the opportunity to work with third and fourth graders in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s CASA program. These young scholars are tasked with writing a book about a place or story important to Brooklyn’s history. In 2018, we helped students learning about Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, Greenpoint, and the Empire Stores. This year, students from PS 380 in Williamsburg took on the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The students decided to look at the Yard’s history through the lens of some of its famous ships, ArizonaMaine, and Fulton among them, but also the little-known Peacock.>> Continue reading

Happy Leif Erikson Day! Two Voyages Tell The Story of America

Woman in a blue jacket standing underneath a bronze abstract sculpture with a meadow and ocean in the distance.

We couldn’t let Leif Erikson Day pass without boasting that we stood in his bedroom. And not in Norway or Iceland or Greenland, but right here in North America, at L’Anse aux Meadows, a National Historic Site and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northern tip of Newfoundland. But to understand what this place is, and what it has to do with October 9, we actually need to walk back through three separate journeys.

First, how did we wind up there? Last month, Cindy and I spent eight days in Newfoundland for our (five-year-delayed) honeymoon. We traveled up the island’s west coast from Gros Morne National Park (also a UNESCO site) to Quirpon Island in the extreme north, and L’Anse aux Meadows was a stop along the way.>> Continue reading

USNS Pathfinder, Submarine Hunter

At the Brooklyn Navy Yard‘s shipyard, operated by GMD, they repair mostly commercial ships, but they also get a fair number of federal government contracts. The shipyard does not repair US Navy combat ships, but we are currently hosting nearly every other federal agency that operates ships, with vessels from the US Coast Guard, Maritime Administration, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and Military Sealift Command. Right now, a unique MSC ship from the US Navy Oceanographic Office is in dry dock, USNS Pathfinder.>> Continue reading

USS Arizona, Brooklyn’s Most Famous Battleship

Today marks the anniversary of the launching of USS Arizona at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We have written about the Arizona many times before, including about the impact the sinking had on the Yard’s workers half a world away, and about our visit to the memorial in Pearl Harbor. It remains one of the most well-known and written about ships in the history of the US Navy, but we want to take a look at some lesser-known incidents in its storied history connected to the Yard.

When looking back at the ship’s history from the perspective of its tragic end, one can’t help but find many omens; when taken together, they seem to have foretold its fate. They are, of course, coincidences, not curses, but fascinating nonetheless.>> Continue reading

The Pickabacks, Unsung Heroes of D-Day

Operation Neptune, the seaborne component of the Normandy invasion, required nearly 6,500 vessels to deliver the vast Allied armies and their supplies and equipment onto the continental beaches. This didn’t just include warships and landing craft, but also more mundane vessels, like barges.

Allied planners scoured the British Isles for craft of any kind to use in the invasion, and they encountered a major shortage of large barges, capable of carrying 1,000 tons or more, and with a draft of less than six feet. Enough simply could not be found or built. Barges of this size were too large to load onto the decks of even the largest transports, and too fragile to tow across the stormy North Atlantic. So in February 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower sent an urgent message to Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall asking for a solution.>> Continue reading