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

Mothballed Cargo Ships Visit Brooklyn Navy Yard

Wallabout Bay is currently hosting a pair of ships that harken back to the days of the New York Naval Shipyard, as a pair of mothballed ships from the James River National Defense Reserve Fleet are visiting, Cape Ann and Cape Avinof.

Created after World War II, when the US had a massive surplus of merchant ships, the NDRF was a way to keep those ships in reserve if another national emergency should arise. Managed by the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and once containing thousands of ships at eight anchorages around the country – including the Hudson River Reserve Fleet in nearby Tarrytown, NY – today the NDRF has only about 50 ships in Beaumont, TX, Suisun Bay, CA, and in the James River near Newport News, VA. While these ships are in various states of repair, requiring weeks or even months of work to be put back into action, MARAD also maintains the Ready Reserve Force, 45 vessels strategically positioned around the country with minimal crews that can be reactivated in just four to 20 days.>> Continue reading

Immigrants Who Made the Brooklyn Navy Yard Great: John Ericsson

This post is part of our eight-part series profiling immigrants to the United States who made significant contributions to the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the eighteenth century to the present day.


John Ericsson (1803–1889)

John Ericsson was perhaps more of an engineer than any man who ever lived. Of his 85 years on this earth, 75 of them were spent as an engineer, and he worked in almost every conceivable field of engineering a person could in the 19th century, spanning the apogee of the Industrial Revolution. >> Continue reading

Immigrants Who Made the Brooklyn Navy Yard Great: Henry Eckford

This post is part of our eight-part series profiling immigrants to the United States who made significant contributions to the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the eighteenth century to the present day.


Henry Eckford (1775-1832)

The long, arduous, and risky journey to America has a way of bringing to our shores the most ambitious, talented, and daring people; Henry Eckford was certainly one of those. Born and raised in the Scottish town of Kilwinning, located not far from the famous shipbuilding center along the Firth of Clyde, Eckford set off from his homeland for Canada to learn the shipbuilding trade at just 16. Like John Barry, he apprenticed with his uncle, and became a skilled shipwright in the yards along the St. Lawrence River.>> Continue reading

Highlights of the Harbor: Shipyards

For more than 150 years, shipbuilding was a pre-eminent industry in New York City. Shipyards building clipper ships, steamboats, and naval frigates once engulfed the shoreline of Lower Manhattan in the early 19th century, bearing names like Brown, Bergh, Westervelt, and Webb, eventually spilling onto the Brooklyn side to form a massive shipbuilding complex on the East River. As the industry – and the city – grew, major shipyards could be found in all five boroughs and across the Hudson in New Jersey.
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Carrier Catapult Tests Once a Common Sight at Brooklyn Navy Yard

Last month, the US Navy began testing of its new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, aboard the first ship that will deploy the system, the carrier USS Gerald Ford, currently under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.

EMALS is the latest innovation in aircraft carrier catapult systems, which are designed to assist aircraft in taking off over short distances. On June 5, 2015, crewmembers of the Ford launched test “sleds” – meant to mimic the weight of the carrier’s aircraft – off the end of the flight deck and into the James River.>> Continue reading

“We Need Your Skills”: Pearl Harbor and the Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Brooklyn Navy Yard is 5,000 miles from Pearl Harbor, and though the reverberations of the events there on December 7, 1941 were felt across the globe, they hit especially hard on this small stretch of the Brooklyn waterfront.

Already 140 years old at the time, the Brooklyn Navy Yard had established itself as one of the most venerable shipbuilding and ship repair facilities in the Navy, and the Yard would be pushed to the limit during World War II, building, repairing, and servicing more than 5,000 vessels in just four years. Not only would ships be brought from across the world to be patched up and pushed back into the service at the Yard, but the Yard’s skilled craftsmen would be dispatched to other shipyards to help keep the fleet in fighting order.>> Continue reading

USS Slater Celebrates History of Destroyer Escorts

USS Slater at Caddell Dry Dock. Credit: Cindy VandenBosch

As I write this, the USS Slater, a World War II-era destroyer escort, is steaming its way (actually, being pushed by a tugboat) up the Hudson River back to its usual home in Albany. For the past 12 weeks, the Slater has been a visitor to New York City, laid up for repairs at Staten Island’s Caddell Dry Dock.

Since 1997, the Slater has been a been a museum ship, showcasing the important history of these humble vessels. More than 500 destroyer escorts were built in World War II, and Slater is one the last still afloat. But in order to continue to share the story of these ships and the men who served aboard them, Slater was in need of some repair work, including repairing the hull, interior spaces, and the anchor chain. The project cost roughly $1.3 million dollars, and probably would have cost a lot more were it not for the countless hours donated by volunteers (read about their work in the latest newsletter).>> Continue reading

D-Day Landings and Brooklyn Navy Yard Ships

Around the world today, people are commemorating the anniversary of D-Day, the largest amphibious invasion in history. The landings finally cracked open “Fortress Europe” and marked the beginning of the end of the war with Germany. World leaders, including President Obama, gathered in Normandy today, joined by veterans of the pivotal battle, who’s numbers are shrinking dramatically with each passing anniversary.

We remember and honor the heroism of the soldiers who waded through the surf or dropped in by parachute, pouring 150,000 Allied personnel into France in just the first day, and establishing a vital toehold on the continent that would allow in millions more. But D-Day was not just a triumph of courage or valor or military strategy – it was a triumph of industrial might and human labor, bringing the full force of the Allies’ factories, farms, and shipyards onto a narrow stretch of beach. It’s important to remember, as the saying goes, the men (and women) behind the man behind the gun, and in this case, we remember the shipbuilders of Brooklyn.>> Continue reading

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY Exhibit Reveals Brooklyn Navy Yard Stories of WWII

If you have not yet been to the Brooklyn Museum to see their stunning exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY, make no delay – the show closes on Sunday, February 2, when its three-city tour will also come an end.

Rather than arranging the works of journalistic, artistic, and combat photography by conflict or photographer, in this show they are instead arranged into thematic clusters that draw links between war’s common denominators through the ages.  Images range from the Crimean War of the 1850’s to present-day conflicts around the world.  And beside the images of fighting are those of the more mundane daily life in a war zone – “Camp Life,” “Leisure Time” – as well as the human costs beyond the battlefield – “Executions,” “POWs,” “Refugees.”>> Continue reading