Monthly Archives: April 2013

Wardroom Life

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Officers dining

The wardroom was the officers’ mess where we dined, watched movies, socialized, and played games such as cribbage, acey-deucey, and bridge. Musical moments were many. A piano was available in the wardroom for our use and combos from the ship’s band frequently entertained us at dinner.

There were approximately 150 officers using the facility. We sat at long tables, always in order of seniority. At mealtime you were not permitted to be late. If you could not make it on time, you waited for the second sitting or went without the meal. We arrived at our places and remained standing until the President of the Mess, usually the ship’s Executive Officer, arrived. We sat after grace was spoken by one of our chaplains and after the senior officer present had seated himself. The tables were set with white linen damask tablecloths, with linen napkins in engraved or numbered silver napkin rings, silver flatware, Navy blue and white china, and silver candlesticks. Even silver finger bowls were used when we were served messy finger food. We were Old World formal! The stewards in white starched aprons brought the food on silver trays to each of us, serving from the left and allowing us to take what we wanted. Nothing was placed on the table to be passed. Coffee and tea were brought to us and served from silver servers.

After the meals, the tables were cleared and the tablecloths replaced with green felt table covers with gold piping. The officers were then free to play at the preferred games until movie time. Movies were shown each evening and on Sunday afternoon from 35mm projectors from the starboard side of the wardroom. The movie screen was a sheet hung from the beam in the center of the overhead (ceiling). The projection could be seen on both sides of the sheet. The junior officers had to sit behind the screen and watch the movies backwards. It was interesting to see a baseball game from the backside of the screen and watch the batter hit the ball and run for third base. Whenever a letter came up on the screen crucial to the plot, we yelled out “Read it please, Sirs.” Rank had its privileges.

Lieutenant (jg) Tracy Wilder, F Division Officer

Why is it called the Wardroom?

In the 1700s the British Navy had a compartment on ships called the “wardrobe,” which was used for storing prizes of war. When empty, officers gathered there for dining and lounging. By the time the United States created its Navy in 1775, it was known as the “wardroom.” A “mess” is a Navy term for a group of people gathered together to eat.

During World War II officers gathered in this Wardroom to:

  • Eat meals
  • Relax
  • Play games
  • Enjoy entertainment
  • Have meetings
  • Censor Mail
  • Conduct courts martial

“Above all it reminded us that in spite of the fact that we were engaged in a very tough and brutal war, we were still gentlemen, accustomed to live like civilized human beings.”

Capt. Ben Blee, USN (ret.)

Wardroom Design

Wardroom Blueprint, 1941

This drawing shows that the wardroom is a large space covering almost the ship’s entire width. The space has a dining area and an adjacent lounge. Four large table groupings sat 104 officers. Other items in the room included transoms (couches), sideboards, lounge chairs, coffee tables, cigar lockers, and a piano. A dumbwaiter brought food from the officers’ galley one deck below into the officers’ pantry next to the wardroom.

Wardroom, August 1941

Meals in the wardroom were formal, especially when compared to meals served to the enlisted men below in the mess decks. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, some formalities were given up. However, officers strove to maintain the traditions of a formal mess throughout the war.

Junior officers dining

A Feast Fit for an Officer

Unlike enlisted men, officers paid for their food. The monthly bill averaged about $30, or 10-20% of their salary. In a typical day, officers could dine on:

  • Breakfast: fruit juice, eggs (any style), bacon
  • Lunch: Hamburger steaks, French fries, salad, brownies, Koolaid
  • Supper: Baked lamb, potatoes with gravy, peas, salad, celery and olives, bread and butter, and milk. Supper in the wardroom consisted of 3 courses, including soup, desert and coffee.

One officer described the food as “almost gourmet.” Wardroom invoices indicate that even such lavish items as oyster forks, pickle/celery dishes, sherbet glasses, and bon-bon dishes were used.

Sound Effects

When conditions allowed, a combo of musicians from the ship’s band gathered in the wardroom to play music while the officers ate dinner. They played popular times from the day, including the big band sounds of Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Artie Shaw, and Tommy Dorsey. Officers also played the piano between meals.

“Each time I play “Sentimental Journey,” I remember the Wardroom Combo playing that song all the way back from Japan, through the Panama Canal, enroute to Boston transporting thousands of GIs and Marines home.”

Elton Kunkle

Silver Marks the Spot

Officers sat according to both rank and seniority, which was engraved on their silver-plated napkin ring. The highest-ranking officer in the wardroom, the Executive Officer, served as President of the Mess. The Captain dined in his cabin, and only dined in the wardroom when invited.

A Floating Gentleman’s Club

“The wardroom is your home on board ship. Make it as pleasant as you would your own home. It is also your club, where you may gather with your shipmates for moments of relaxation, a discussion of daily problems, or just a game of acey-deucey over coffee.”

The Naval Officer’s Guide (1943)

Between meals the wardroom was “the community center for officers,” recalled Cmdr. Almon Oliver, USN (ret.) “Coffee was always available, sometimes chocolate. It was where we censored mail, [played] games such as checkers, cards, etc., [held] meetings, briefings, etc.” In the wardroom “lifelong friendships were made among the officers,” noted Col. J.A. Bruder, USMC (ret.)

Wardroom coffee

Bottomless Cup

Coffee was available in the wardroom 24 hours a day. The ship’s newspaper reported in August 1942, that the “prevalence of excessive coffee drinking, especially in officers’ messes is common knowledge.”

USS FRANKLIN Tragedy

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USS FRANKLIN attacked

Early one morning, I was just getting off of watch and the rest of the crew was up getting ready to go to chow. Right before I was to leave we got a bogey contact about 30 miles out that was coming towards the fleet. It was really no big deal at first as we were always having something like that. I was climbing the ladder down when the antiaircraft bugle went off. I rushed to my battle station on the bow, uncovered my gun, put a magazine in it, had it cocked and ready to fire, but I couldn’t fire because the USS FRANKLIN was dead ahead of us.

This plane came in dead ahead of the FRANKLIN and I watched the whole thing. He came right on down over the carrier whose flight deck was loaded with planes and dropped two bombs. They just absolutely annihilated everything. After dropping the two bombs he kept heading straight ahead which was at us and he came up right over our radar. Some of the guys who were on sky control said he came so close they could have stuck a broom right up in his prop. Then he went right down over the water and started ‘hedge-hopping’ his way out of the fleet. Of course once one’s in a fleet he is pretty much on a suicide mission and he was shot down by one of our combat air patrols.

At about this time the FRANKLIN had pulled out of its line in front of us, on fire and things going off, guys in the water. I never saw so many sailors in the water, some dead, some alive and hollering and we started throwing everything we could get our hands on: life jackets and rafts, shark repellents. This went on for long time and we felt sure the ship was gone but the captain took a lot of his crew off and took that thing back, smoking, to Pearl Harbor. We were docked along side of it or right close to it. I went aboard and I don’t think there was a thing aboard that ship that wasn’t burned. It was just a skeleton and amazing that it made it out.

Robert L. Palomaris

USS FRANKLIN March 1945

It was early; it was the 4:00 to 8:00am watch. I picked up a bogey to the west of us, somewhere around forty miles. I reported it to our Combat Information Officer, who reported it to the flagship, which was one of the carriers. When you are operating an air search radar and you get a report like this, you hear it on the radio, so everyone up in Combat Information Center can hear it. Apparently no other ship could pick it up. I had a good track.

We continued to track it and no one else was picking it up. We kept reporting this bogey to the flagship and yet no one ordered the fleet to go to air defense. Finally, one of the destroyers visually sighted the aircraft and reported it as a Japanese plane. Of course, then we went to air defense. The plane was quite close to the formation by then.

I walked out on the Signal Bridge and just as I did, I could see the Japanese plane making a run right down on the FRANKLIN. The plane dropped a bomb on the forward part of the flight deck and then the after part of the flight deck. FRANKLIN had just recovered aircraft that morning and was still refueling some so that aviation gasoline started burning, exploding and, along with other types of material, created a wall of fire. She was about a thousand yards off our forward bow at that time.

Many of the fellows either were blown in the water or they jumped off the deck to get out of the fire. We had to make a sharp turn to avoid running through them. We began throwing life jackets and life rafts and things to them in the water. She burned and exploded all day long and even up through the night.

Everett R. Beaver

 

Commissioning Day

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Commission day April 9 1941

We were in the New York shipyard, getting the ship ready to go to war. The people in the shipyard had the same feeling that I have and that I still have about the wonderful ship the NORTH CAROLINA. Every man on that crew in Brooklyn worked just as hard as they could to make it a going concern; and it had to be because it was known that the Japanese were building up their fleet and that we were not quite as superior to the fleet of the Japanese at that time. It was only until we got some real power in our naval shipyard and…the NORTH CAROLINA was in the vanguard of this fight.

My wife and I were invited to the commissioning ceremonies in New York City. It was a really electric and satisfying result. The ovation that ended the celebration in New York when the ship was commissioned was a tribute to a bunch of hard working people that our shipyards were. Our sailors and men were ready to go out and do what ever had to be done to win this war. And they did it. They really did it.”

Commander Alfred Ward, USN

CO Olaf Hustvedt, left and XO Andrew Shepard, right

Commissioning Ceremonies excerpt:

At 1125 the prospective executive officer called all hands to attention and made final preparations for placing the ship in commission. The following officials and guests were present:

Honorable Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy
Honorable J.M. Broughton, Governor of North Carolina
Admiral H.R. Stark, USN, Chief of Naval Operations
Rear Admiral Aldolphus Andrews, USN, Commandant, Third Naval District
Captain HV McKittrick, USN, Acting Commandant, New York Navy Yard
Admiral EJ King, USN, Commander in Chief, US Atlantic Fleet
Rear Admiral CA Dunn, USN, Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Electric Boat Company, Manager of the New York Navy Yard during the design and early building of the USS NORTH CAROLINA
Lieutenant General HA Drum, USA, Commander, First Army
Honorable FH LaGuardia, Mayor of New York City
Captain AFE Palliser, RN, Commanding HMS MALAYA
Captain James Pine, USCG, Superintendent US Coast Guard Academy
Captain JJ Broshek, USN, Manager Navy Yard, New York
Captain TB Richey, USN, Production Officer, New York Navy Yard
The commanding officers of all U.S. naval vessels present.
118 representatives of the press, radio, and motion picture news reel organizations
985 additional officer and civilian guests

Capt Olaf Hustvedt talking

Prospective Commanding Officer (Capt. Hustvedt): Commander Shepard, place the ship in commission.
Aye, aye, sir. Hoist the commission pennant.
Captain Hustvedt, the ship has been placed in commission.
(Hustvedt) Captain McKittrick, I accept command of the USS North Carolina.
Break the flag of the Secretary of the Navy.
Admiral Stark, I report that the United States Ship North Carolina has been placed in commission and is subject to your orders.
Very well, carry on.
Commander Shepard, set the watch.

A Symbol of Progress

IT IS WITH EXTREME REGRET THAT I FIND MYSELF UNABLE TO BE PRESENT AT THE EXERCISES ATTENDING THE COMMISSIONING OF THE BATTLESHIP NORTH CAROLINA. IT HAS BEEN EIGHTEEN LONG YEARS SINCE THE LAST GREAT SHIP OF THE LINE, THE U.S.S. WEST VIRGINIA, JOINED THE UNITED STATES FLEET. TO THE OFFICERS AND MEN OF THIS NEW AND GREAT MAN-O’-WAR I EXTEND CORDIAL GREETINGS AND ALL GOOD WISHES FOR A HAPPY CRUISE, A HAPPY SHIP. THROUGHOUT HER SERVICE MAY THE NORTH CAROLINA BE A SYMBOL OF PROGRESS THROUGH STRENGTH, AND A TANGIBLE EVIDENCE OF AMERICAN READINESS FOR ITS OWN DEFENSE. I KNOW SHE WILL HELP TO PROTECT THIS COUNTRY FAITHFULLY IN TRADITIONAL NAVY FASHION.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF

Telegram sent by President Roosevelt and read by the Commandant, Third Naval District, on the day of NORTH CAROLINA’s commissioning, 9 April 1941.