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

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

Immigrants Who Made the Brooklyn Navy Yard Great: Frederick Lois Riefkohl

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.


Frederick Lois Riefkohl (1889–1969)

The histories of Puerto Rico and of the US military are deeply intertwined, and much of that history runs through the career of Frederick Lois Riefkohl, the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the US Naval Academy, to win the Navy Cross, and to achieve the rank of rear admiral. Normally we would not consider someone from Puerto Rico an immigrant – they are US citizens – but Reifkohl lived in a complicated time.>> Continue reading

From Perry To MacArthur: Flag Links Historic US Visits to Japan, in Peace and War

September 2 marks the 70th anniversary of the official end of the Second World War, when Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Bay in 1945. While we are marking the event today, the actual anniversary took place at around 8pm on September 1, Eastern Standard Time. The largest celebration of the event in the world was held in Beijing, and has long since finished; the major commemoration of the event in the US will take place at 3pm EST in Hawaii, aboard the USS Missouri, where the original surrender took place.>> Continue reading

The Fall of Singapore, 1942

February 15 marks the anniversary of one of the most dramatic and shocking moments in the Second World War, the fall of the “Gibraltar of the East,” Singapore, in 1942. While Singapore is very, very far away from the places that we give tours, we have a special connection to that country, and to the people there conducting scholarship on World War II history, an area of particular interest to us.

Turnstile Tours had the opportunity to travel to Singapore in October 2013, at the invitation of the Singapore Tourism Board and the National Heritage Board, where we led trainings for many of the country’s museums and attractions on how to make guided tours more engaging and interactive. One of the highlights of our trip was visiting the Changi Museum and meeting the team at Singapore History Consultants, Singapore Walks, and Journeys. This family of companies is in many ways a kindred spirit to Turnstile, for-profit businesses with a strong focus on research, education, and preservation. They operate many of the country’s World War II-related historic sites, but they also conduct an enormous amount of archival and archeological research to document and interpret this important history.>> 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

The Port Chicago Disaster: Race and the Navy in World War II

This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the tragic events of Port Chicago, California, the worst home front disaster of World War II. 320 people were killed, most of them US Navy sailors, in an explosion at a naval munitions loading station, but it was more than just a tragic accident – the events leading up to and following the explosion exposed the appalling racial discrimination and mistreatment faced by African-American sailors during the war.

Located on central California’s Suisun Bay, Port Chicago was one of the largest and busiest weapons stations in the country, loading explosives onto ships bound for the Pacific Theater. All of the enlisted sailors carrying out these dangerous operations were African-American; all of their commanding officers were white. While many of these men had received training to pursue a naval rating, or a specific skill, they, like most of their black counterparts across the Navy, were employed only for manual labor. And the conditions at the port were incredibly dangerous. Commanders utilized “speed contests” to push the men to load more quickly, and almost none of the men had received specific instructions in ammunition loading or proper safety training.>> Continue reading

“The Wind Rises,” Japan Falls

The Academy Awards are tomorrow night, and nominated is a film that has only hit American cinemas in wide release this weekend, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, up for Best Animated Feature. I had the opportunity to see the film during its limited release back in November, a three-day run that made it eligible for an Oscar this year, and I saw it again during its official premiere on Friday. While its love story is beautiful, its engineering story is fascinating, it’s the moral and historical drama that unfolds almost in the background that I found most compelling.>> Continue reading

NYC Fleet Week Canceled, but USS Franklin Not Forgotten

The Brooklyn Navy Yard has been a place of refuge for much of its history.  During its 165-year run as a naval shipyard, it did not just send ships down the ways and off to war; it took in ships in the most desperate, hopeless shape, and put them back into fighting order.  During World War II, more than 5,000 vessels were steamed, limped, towed, and dragged into the safe waters of Wallabout Bay to be tended to by the 72,000 men and women of the yard.

Of all the wounded ships to steam up the East River, none were more so than the aircraft carrier USS Franklin.>> Continue reading