Tuesday, July 23, 2024


 23 July 2024: July's nearly done and summer's half over. Where did it go?? Hard to believe that Autumn is looming [ed: let's not rush things!] and we'll all be wishing for those long lovely warm days of summer!

This past weekend, I attended a two day gathering of maritime folks from the National Maritime Historical Society (Seahistory.org) in Bear Mountain, NY [ed: pretty part of the the country, by the way - Hudson River, West Point, etc.] and ran into an old pal, Dr. David Winkler, an eminent naval historian. He mentioned his recently published book, America's First Aircraft Carrier, published by the Naval Institute Press. It gives the history of Langley, and, assuming it follows his usual pattern, is eminently readable. 

The following is from an online source, Slashgear.com, not Dr. Winkler's book.


It may surprise you to learn that the Navy's very first aircraft carrier took to sea more than a century ago, with the US Department of Defense commissioning the construction of the vessel in March 1922. It may also surprise you to learn the ship didn't actually start its journey as an aircraft carrier, and when the ship took to sea in 1913, it did so as a cargo vessel under the name Jupiter.


Humble origins aside, the repurposed ship was a clear predecessor to the floating fortresses we've come to know in modern aircraft carriers. In its early days of service, the USS Langley served as an essential tool for the Navy to develop the techniques and tactics that would become standard operating procedure in the realm of early naval aviation. Though the USS Langley broke new ground in the realm of seafaring aviation, by the 1930s, the Navy was dramatically rethinking their approach to aircraft carriers, essentially making their first build obsolete.

 The Navy again repurposed the Langley, shortening its flight deck and outfitting it with the tools and crew needed for it to serve as a seaplane tender. The Langley was serving in that capacity during World War II when, in February of 1942, Japanese forces attacked it en route to the Indonesian island of Java. Alas, the vessel didn't survive that combat mission, with the remains of America's first aircraft carrier still residing in the murky depths less than 100 miles off the coast of Java.

Circling back Jupiter's days as a collier vessel, the ship's massive size and design made it ideal for transporting the almost unfathomable weight required of what is essentially a floating airport. Likewise, its large cargo hold provided ample space to repair and stow away planes when not in flight. As for the conversion, Naval engineers essentially built a runway to the top of Jupiter's hold, leading the crew to affectionately nickname the redesigned ship, "The Covered Wagon."

The ship was, of course, properly renamed for Samuel Pierpoint Langley, an astrophysicist and aeronautical pioneer who worked to develop a manned aircraft in the earliest days of aviation. Though The Wright Brothers famously beat Langley to the skies, he continued the work of developing the then new science of astrophysics throughout the late 19th Century, and remained a major player at the Smithsonian Institute until his death in 1906.

 As for the game-changing vessel bearing his name, the Langley was ferrying a small fleet of Curtiss P-40 "Warhawk" fighter planes to aid in the Allied Forces' defense of Java when it was attacked.

 With assistance from its escort destroyers — the USS Whipple and USS Edsall — the Langley was initially able to survive the Japanese bombing. However, the ship sustained heavy damages during the battle and was no longer able to serve the Navy's needs. It was ultimately decided that the Langley would be scuttled at sea, with the Whipple sending it to the watery depths via a barrage of artillery shells and torpedoes.


A far cry, indeed, from the 1000+ foot behemoths of today's Navy! But the vision of the need for an aircraft driven sea force was clearly prescient. And now, the thinking might be leaning away from aircraft in favor of the submarine service. Who knows where that will lead! And don't forget the have a look at America's First Aircraft Carrier, published by the Naval Institute Press. It's available everywhere you buy your books, including in a digital version through Amazon.

Until net time,

                                            Fair Winds,

                                                   Old Salt


Thursday, July 4, 2024


4 July 2024: To all our American readers, Happy Birthday America! 248 years young. We hope your day is safe and enjoyable; take a moment to reflect on the price we have paid for our independence! 

Continuing on the path away from shipwrecks and recovery, we offer, from Stars and Stripes, the following on the disappearance of the collier USS Cyclops in the so-called Bermuda Triangle.



(Tribune News Service) — The telegram was dated April 14, 1918; the time stamped 2:34 a.m. It was addressed to Henry E. Battle, a prominent physician in Andalusia, Ala. The contents would cause Battle’s wife, Jessie, to go into, as the local newspaper described it, “a state of collapse.” The telegram said: “The Navy Collier Cyclops on which your son, Lee Otis Battle, seaman second class, U.S.N., was a member of the crew is overdue at an Atlantic Port since March thirteenth. … Her disappearance cannot be logically accounted for in any way as no bad weather conditions or activities of enemy raiders have been reported in the vicinity of her route. Search for her is being continued by radio and by vessels…”

Lee Otis Battle’s unknown fate was also editorialized in that same edition of The Andalusia Star, where writers remarked that “the anxiety and uncertainty of it all, with the faint hope that news may yet come that all are safe, and yet with the still more probable likelihood that all went down with the ship, makes the situation all the more trying on the grief-stricken father and mother of this young hero.” The editorial continued: “We think of Otis as the bright, happy, and companionable boy – a favorite among his associates. We hope that news may yet come that he and all who are on board are still safe. But if what we fear shall prove to be true and it proves to be that Andalusia’s first victim was our own jolly Lee Otis, we feel assured that since we know he met duty like a true American we also know that he met death, if death has come, like a hero.” 

The Battles would never learn what happened to their son, nor would the families of the other 292 passengers and crew – including 11 other sailors from Alabama – who were aboard the Cyclops when she disappeared. None was ever seen again, nor was any trace of the ship discovered. “There has been no more baffling mystery in the annals of the navy,” said Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels in a December 1918 report circulated by the United Press in newspapers nationwide. 

The Bermuda Triangle:

 When the World War I ship vanished sometime after March 4, 1918, the collier was loaded with a cargo of manganese to make munitions for the war effort. She had last stopped in the British West Indies for coal and was headed to Baltimore, Md. The term “Bermuda Triangle” or “Devil’s Triangle” wouldn’t be popularized until the mid-20th century, but legends about mysterious disappearances in the area had been whispered for decades. When the Triangle – roughly Florida to Bermuda to the Greater Antilles – did become part of sea lore, the Cyclops was quickly listed as one of its victims, along with at least 50 other ships and 20 other planes that had crossed into the “cursed’ airspace or sea lanes. Adding to the air of mystery was the fact that two of the Cyclops’ sister ships (there were a total of four Proteus Class ships built before WWI) were also lost in the Triangle, although much later. The USS Nereus and USS Proteus both vanished at sea, in 1940 and 1941, respectively, not long after they had been sold to civilian operators. Crews of both ships were lost.

 Alabama sailors:

 Although no bodies or wreckage were found after the Cyclops went missing, one Alabama seaman was laid to rest in a cemetery with a headstone. Austin Mize had celebrated his 18th birthday just weeks before the ship’s last contact on March 4. After the Navy declared all on board the Cyclops dead, Mize’s family erected a headstone at Liberty Presbyterian Cemetery in Odenville, Ala. The inscription reads: Forman Austin Mize Feb. 13, 1900 Lost On U.S.S. Cyclops March 1918 Gone But Not Forgotten. 

So what might have caused the loss of the Cyclops? Theories that involve the Bermuda Triangle include: A supernatural element: The area is cursed and causes ships and planes to crash/sink/vanish. The geophysical element: Mariners do not account for the agonic line, the place at which there is no need to compensate for magnetic compass variation as they approach the Bermuda Triangle, which can result in navigational error. The environmental element: Rogue waves, once called tidal waves, are more likely to occur in the area of the Triangle because storms can converge from multiple directions. The waves, which can reach 100 feet high, are thought to be “powerful enough to destroy all evidence of a ship or an airplane,” according to Britannica.com. Outside of the Bermuda Triangle, theories include issues with the ship, or possible wartime sabotage. Some experts believe that the load of manganese was more than the ship’s capacity and could have caused the ship to overturn. In addition, the ship’s lieutenant commander, George W. Worley, had reported before leaving Bahia that a cylinder had cracked on the starboard engine. Also, a severe storm was reported on March 10, but it is uncertain if that contributed to the disappearance of the Cyclops. German officials at the time denied making contact with the Cyclops. The United Press article in 1918 reported: “Probably not until the sea gives up its secrets will the fate of the Cyclops be known.” Once the Navy declared all aboard lost, the date of death assigned for those on board was June 14, 1918.


OK - so not a ship wreck (none was ever found) and obviously, no recovery. The Cyclops story is just one of many about disappearances in the so-called Bermuda Triangle, both ships and planes. Theories abound, but none can be proven with any degree of certainty. 

Happy Independence Day, America!

Until next time, 

                                 Fair Winds,

                                             Old Salt