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The Navy in Puget Sound

The Navy in Puget Sound

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The Navy in Puget Sound

185 pagine
1 ora
Sep 18, 2012


Even before settlers came to the Puget Sound, the U.S. Navy was exploring the sheltered inlets and deep water ports of what was dubbed "America's Mediterranean." In 1856, the sailors of the navy warship Decatur repelled an attack by Native Americans, saving a tiny village on the shores of Elliott Bay named Seattle. In the ensuing years, Puget Sound became the West Coast's premier port of call for the navy's vessels and aircraft operating in the vast Pacific Ocean. During World War II, the region turned out a long line of combat and support vessels while quickly repairing many other ships that had been horribly damaged in clashes with the Japanese. In both peace and war, the communities of Puget Sound and the U.S. Navy have shared an enduring partnership that remains today.
Sep 18, 2012

Informazioni sull'autore

Cory Graff is the author of several military history books and is the curator of the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington. In conjunction with the Puget Sound Navy Museum, Graff has assembled a collection of rare images from local museums, the National Archives, and private individuals that vividly chronicles the story of the navy in Puget Sound.

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The Navy in Puget Sound - Cory Graff



On May 2, 1841, U.S. Navy vessels USS Vincennes and Porpoise sailed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the mouth of Puget Sound. The men of the United States Exploring Expedition had been traveling the globe for nearly three years, and most of them were ready to sack their commander, the overbearing Charles Wilkes. The new task ahead was a pleasant one, however, compared to what they had been through. The exhausted crew had battled massive walls of floating ice in the frozen reaches of Antarctica, climbed to the top of an active volcano in Hawaii, and fought with the natives of Fiji. Now all they had to do was survey paradise.

At least it was paradise as far as the navy was concerned. Like Britain’s George Vancouver before him, Wilkes and his contemporaries saw the Puget Sound as an ideal western port for the warships of America’s growing navy. Miles of deep-water inlets and sheltered shores, along with a nearly inexhaustible supply of natural resources, made the region extremely valuable. And unlike some of the groups the explorers had encountered in the Pacific, the natives were friendly.

As more white settlers came to the area in the years after Wilkes, the mood of the area’s original inhabitants changed. By 1855, the sloop of war USS Decatur was dispatched from Hawaii to protect the men and women of the tiny village named Seattle from the increasingly restless Native Americans. Tensions boiled over in January 1856, when hostile forces attacked the outpost on the shores of Elliott Bay. The ship’s marines and civilian volunteers fought back, assisted by repeated and terrifying fusillades from the Decatur’s heavy guns. The very presence of the navy warship and its crew saved the citizens of Seattle from a terrible massacre.

When it was clear that Puget Sound would surely be part of the growing United States of America, navy men traveled west, looking to establish permanent bases in what was dubbed America’s Mediterranean. Lt. Ambrose Barkley Wyckoff came to Washington Territory to further explore and document the sound, with an eye toward building a naval base and shipyard. Back east, in the other Washington, Wyckoff became a strong advocate for the navy’s presence in Puget Sound.

In 1891, carrying $10,000 awarded by Congress, Wyckoff returned to the newly formed state of Washington to purchase land for a new navy yard on the shores of Puget Sound. He and others on the shipyard committee chose a site at Point Turner, on Sinclair Inlet, near what is today the city of Bremerton. In a short time, the navy held slightly more than 190 acres for the purchase price of $9,587.25. Wyckoff became the first commander of Puget Sound Naval Station. By 1903, the shipyard facilities and construction efforts had made the base the largest employer in the region.

While Puget Sound offered an exemplary safe harbor for the repair and maintenance of navy ships working in the vast Pacific Ocean, it would also become the birthplace of new vessels. The Puget Sound Navy Yard’s (PSNY) first navy craft could only be called modest. It was a small water barge, slid sideways into a flooded dry dock basin in 1904. That same year, the Moran Brothers Company, near downtown Seattle, launched the 441-foot-long hull of a Virginia-class battleship.

Though it was to be named USS Nebraska (BB-14), citizens of the region thought of the new vessel as Seattle’s battleship. They had donated over $100,000 to the project to assure that the ship was built in Puget Sound. In 1908, the Nebraska joined the Great White Fleet in San Francisco, traveling more than 29,000 miles around the globe.

America’s Great White Fleet visited Puget Sound too. On the first leg of their journey, the 16 battleships and their support vessels sailed from Virginia to San Francisco by steaming around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America. The third part of the voyage would be from San Francisco to the Philippines. In between, the ships cruised north along the West Coast to Washington State, solely to visit the growing Puget Sound region.

It was a proud moment for Washingtonians. In May 1908, the beautiful white-hulled battleships arrived. Amid the parades, speeches, and celebratory dinners, each crew from every battleship was given a black bear cub mascot from the city of Aberdeen, Washington, as a gesture of goodwill and good luck on their cruise around the world.

In the years that followed, the Puget Sound became a regular port of call for the U.S. Navy. Many of America’s famous warships would visit the region during their duties in the Pacific, including veterans of the Spanish-American War such as the USS Oregon (BB-3), the famous battleship USS Arizona (BB-39), and the navy’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1). In 1928, the nation’s two newest aircraft carriers, USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3), were both at Puget Sound Navy Yard at the same time, docked side by side.

The Lexington returned a little more than a year later to help one Puget Sound city out of a crisis. A rare drought in the winter of 1929 left Tacoma without enough water in local reservoirs to generate hydroelectric power. At Baker Dock, resourceful engineers plugged the Lady Lex into the electrical grid, using the carrier’s boilers to help Tacoma through a tough Christmas.

The oldest navy warship to ever visit the Puget Sound was built in Boston and launched in 1797. USS Constitution, still a commissioned warship today, visited the region during a three-year tour of American ports after its restoration in 1930.

Aviation, too, became a critical part of the navy’s presence in Puget Sound. Famous flyers Eugene Ely and Hugh Robinson dazzled Seattle residents as they buzzed over Elliott Bay in their Curtiss

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