The history and legacy of the Second World War can be seen all around us in Brooklyn. Once home to hundreds of factories, shipyards, and warehouses, and responsible for sending millions of service members off to the front lines, Brooklyn was arguably one of the most important communities in waging and winning the war. Using locations from communities across Brooklyn—including famous sites like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Army Terminal, and lesser-known sites that help tell stories about labor, housing, and culture—as well as primary source documents and oral histories, this program will help illuminate Brooklynites’ experience of World War II.
The (Re)connecting Brooklyn’s History series brings the fascinating work of historians to an audience of students and educators through online presentations and resources for sustained engagement with local history topics.
Celebrate Navy Day with a discussion of one of the least-known units of World War II, the Navy Armed Guard. Serving in the U-boat-infested waters of the Atlantic, these sailors served in small detachments aboard merchant ships manning the deck guns. This virtual program will be hosted from the Sunset Park waterfront, where many sailors departed from the docks of the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Bush Terminal, and where the largest Armed Guard Center in the country was located, the Second Battalion Naval Militia Armory that once stood on 1st Avenue and 52nd Street. We will discuss the creation and evolution of the service during World War II, listen to oral histories of Armed Guard sailors, and visit one of the few memorials to the sacrifices of these brave men.
Photo Credit: Official US Navy photograph, taken by Clarence F. Korker
Concrete may seem like an odd material for shipbuilding, but during World War I, severe shortages of steel led to this innovation. Devised by Norwegian immigrants the Fougner brothers, they built one of the first such ships in the US at their shipyard in Flushing, Queens. The technology reached its apex during World War II, when the US built over 100 ships and barges, and they were used as freighters, tankers, and even floating ice cream factories. Large-scale concrete shipbuilding is a thing of the past, but we will examine the fates of these wartime ships, and discuss many examples of concrete boatbuilding today.
The fastest way to the beach is on the NYC Ferry, so join us for another virtual boat tour as we cruise the Lower New York Bay. We will pick up the ferry in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, then make our way under the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, past Coney Island, and down to the Rockaways. Along the way, we will discuss the forts and islands that used to protect the harbor, the history of recreation along the city’s Atlantic seaboard, and the rich aquatic life of Jamaica Bay and the New York Bight. At the end of the tour, we’ll take a walk across the Rockaway Peninsula and virtually stroll along the beach.
Over the past four centuries, the Battery at the tip of Manhattan has evolved, from a fortification to immigration station to park to National Monument. On this virtual walking tour, we will take advantage of the sweeping views of the harbor, share the history of Castle Clinton and the park, and explore some of its many monuments. The Battery is in many ways New York City’s World War II memorial, housing the Eastern Sea Frontier Memorial, the Norwegian Veterans Memorial, the haunting American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a living memorial to the Holocaust.
On June 9, 2018, Reinhard Hardegen, the last surviving German submarine commander of World War II, died at the age of 105. With his passing, he joins the ghosts of American merchant mariners who still haunt Manhattan’s Battery Park.
Dedicated in 1991, the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial was created by sculptor Marisol Escobar as tribute to the 9,000+ American Merchant Marine sailors killed in the war. The Merchant Marine provided a vital service to the war effort, shipping troops and supplies across some of the deadliest seas in the world. American mariners received fire from the enemy, and they returned fire, as many merchant vessels were armed, while suffering the highest casualty rate of any service branch in World War II.>> Continue reading
While developing our new tour about the World War II history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we encountered a fascinating – and largely untold – history of the oft-forgotten service branch, the Merchant Marines. While the wartime exploits of the Army, Navy, Marines, and Army Air Corps are often celebrated, merchant seamen have received short shrift, both in the history books and in real life.
Last month UnionDocs, a collective of documentary filmmakers based in Williamsburg, opened their season, and their newly renovated screening space, with a showing of two films by Peter Hutton about life – of men and ships – at sea. The screening was following by a discussion moderated by filmmaker Jem Cohen.