Sunday, December 5, 2010

Letter from My Grandfather, 1916

I have, among my Mother's affects, a copy of a letter which had been written by her father, Encell Mendel Tener, to his mother on April 24 1916 when he was 19 years old. He had recently joined the US Navy, and was anxious to let the folks at home know what it was like in the Navy. He had followed his Uncle Daniel Mendel into the naval service (it was Daniel who, as a sailor aboard USS Iowa had been the first to spot the Spanish fleet steaming out of Santiago Bay, Cuba on July 3, 1898). The letter itself is quite interesting, giving some details as to life aboard ship, his job and even some details as to the organization of the Navy in general. No doubt this would be classified information today, but in 1916 it was just a letter home, to let the family know what his new life was like, and how he was getting on.

Of note is that he took the entrance exam for the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, and while he did not make it in, he was rapidly promoted during the expansion of the Navy in WWI to the rank of Chief Petty Officer by the age of 21, something rarely seen even in wartime. Obviously he was a very capable young man! It's nice to know something about my own Grandfather in such a time of his life, and that he was respected and well thought of in his chosen profession.

(By the way, the USS New Jersey he speaks of is the "Old New Jersey", BB-16, launched November 10, 1904 and sunk by General Billy Mitchell's bombers in 1923. Also, I've tried to keep the spelling and punctuation as in the original document I have.)

Here's the letter:

USS New Jersey,

Navy Yard, Boston, Mass.,

April 24, 1916.

Dear Mother,

In order that I might uphold the T.L. Lucille gave you for me, I will endeavor, for the benefit of my relations who may be interesting in my life in the Navy, to give a slight description of the Navy, it’s personnel, yards, auxiliaries and maneuvers.

First of all, I will briefly mention Battleships in General. They are divided into four Divisions, viz. First, Second, Third and Fourth, and are classed according to size and age. The first Division ships are the Wyoming, the Fleet flagship, Arkansas, First Division flagship, New York and the Texas. The second Division ships are the Florida, flagship, Delaware, Utah and Michigan. The third Division ships are the New Jersey, flagship, Nebraska Which holds the Red “E” (Efficiency), Virginia and Rhode Island. The fourth Division ships are the Louisiana, flagship, Kansas and Connecticut. Some of the ships in “Ordinary Reserve” are the Georgia, Minnesota and the Mississippi, and a few of the other old rattle traps that the US boasts of as first line battleships.

The ships are very large and compact, but the 1st, 2nd, Division ships are more graceful and speedy than the 3rd and 4th Division ships.

The Arkansas mounts 14-12” guns and some 20 or more 5” secondary defense guns, besides the submerged torpedo tubes and anti air craft guns. The other big ships have the same except that they have less 12” guns than the Arkie. All the big guns are mounted in turrets, two guns in each, and the turrets extend from the main deck to the platform and splinter decks below. In the third Div. ships the guns are somewhat differently arranged, and as we carry only 4 – 12” guns which are mounted in two turrets, one for’d and one aft. The 8” guns are mounted in superposed turrets, (on top of the 12”) and in waist turrets, one on each side of the ship. We have 20 – 6” secondary defense guns and also the torpedo tubes. In the fourth Division they have no super-posed turrets and the 8” guns are mounted in two turrets, on each side of the ship.

The engines on the New Jersey are immense, they are called, Four Cylinder, Triple expansion, inverted, Reciprocating engines. The cylinder dimensions are as follows:

For’d Low Press. 44” Dia.

High 33”

Intermediate 37”

After Low 44” “,

Stroke 48”

Some engines, and their greatest speed is about 125 revs. per minute, which is a little better than 19 knots, but the highest speed we made on our last full power trial was 18.3 knots, but I hardly think she’ll ever make that again.

We are in dry dock now and you can get a very clear idea of her size when you can see all of her that is submerged when afloat; her propellers keel, keelson plates and the heavy armor, with which she is plated.

The daily routine in port for the Engineer’s Force (I will mention that of the Deck force later), begins with “Up all hammocks” at 6.45 A.M. Then breakfast at 7:30, “turn to” at 8:15 and “Knock off” at 11:30. Dinner at 12:00N. and “turn to” again at 1:15 P.M. and “knock off” at 4:00 P.M. First liberty call for Engineer’s Force at 4:30 P.M., and liberty is up at 8:00 A.M. the following morning. Supper is at 6:00 P.M. and “Hammocks” goes at 7:30. You can turn in anytime after hammocks. “First call” goes at 8:55 P.M., “Tattoo” at 9:00 P.M., and last but not least “Taps” at 9:05 P.M., ad after that all must be quiet and everybody but those on watch turned in.

The deck hands arise at the bright and early hour of 5:00 A.M., and immediately upon getting their hammocks stowed perform the arduous task of scrubbing down decks. After that is accomplished they shine bright work until time for breakfast, which is usually a frugal meal, and afterwards they perform their toilet and lounge until 8:15. Then they shine more bright work clean the compartments and clamp down (wet and mop) the decks, then shift into clean clothes for Quarters. I think I forgot to state that the Engineers who are standing auxiliary watch go to Quarters but not those who are turning to. After Quarters the “Swab” resumes his duties, which he hates and no one blames him for his is never thru. The main difference between a “swab” and one of the “Black Gang” is that the latter works hard in his allotted time, but the former never works hard and consequently is never thru. Is work all thru the day is a constant repetition of what he just did a few hours previous to that at which hs is now working, also he may be called upon at any time of the day or night to do any extra work that might happen along, but an Engineer does his four hours watch (underway) and then sleeps and eats for eight hours before he is again called on for his efforts in the propulsion of the ship.

My duties are somewhat different than any of the above. I am in the Log Room (Engineer’s Office), and the Engineer Officer has been pleased with my work and behavior and has recommended be for F1C. It was he who encouraged me to try the Annapolis exam, and since they are over, he has reinstated me in the Log Room instead of putting me below. If he is satisfied, I may say that I am, and that I will do all in my power to uphold my good record.

You have mostly heard me speak of the pleasant side of life in the Navy so far,. But now, in fairness to any make person who might hear this and take it into his head to enlist, let me speak of the other side of the life.

When you have been cruising at some seemingly foolish manouvers for a week or two, and then come into port and not get liberty, when you come into the Navy Yard and have to work from 5:30 A.M., till 3:30 A.M., the next morning to get ready for a board of inspection and survey; and have to work till 6:30 P.M. when you were supposed to go on liberty at 1:30 A.M., these all go on the wrong side of the crew’s ledger. But these are few and the least of many, but the most important of all is the bum Commissary. Oh! what meals he puts out. He is so bad that the Officer of the Deck has to inspect the messes before “Pipe Down” at every meal. It is not so bad all the time, nor in all the ships, but it is most of the time and on most of the ships all the time. The last sentence is meant for emphasis. Does it work?

Some of the most important ports of call of the fleet are New York, Boston, Phila, Norfolk, Old Point, Charlestown S.C., Portland, Santiago, Havanna, Guantanamo Bay, Culebra (U.S.W.I.) and Newport and Black Island, R.I.

We coal again tomorrow and Friday, taking on some 1500 tons of the so called “Black diamonds”. Our total coal capacity is 19,090 tons of coal, but I have seen us coal so much that the fleer plates of the firerooms were piled high with it.

I don’t know as yet how I made out in the exams, but I expect the returns from Washington in about two more weeks. I hope that they are satisfactory, because I’d hate to fail after these hard months of study.

You can see by the difference in the ink that this letter has been written in installments, but I haven’t had the time to write it all at once. The type needing cleaning and I must do that tomorrow, I cleaned the other machine completely today, taking it almost completely apart.

As we have to arise at about 4:30 A.M. tomorrow, I must turn in early tonight because it is one of our busiest days when we coal ship.

Hoping that this letter is not as bad as I think it, I say goodbye, and love to all.

Your affectionate son,


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Wolfman

We went to see the latest incarnation of "The Wolfman" the other night. Not too shabby, though I doubt that it will win any Oscars. Still, a nice little romp through late-Victorian England, complete with Scotland Yard inspectors, Gypsies, and werewolves.

There was certainly lots of nice eye-candy to be seen (and I don't mean the pretty girl, though she was certainly fetching). Among other interesting things was a nice steam-omnibus that got at least a little bit of screen time. There were also some magnificent horses, in the form of Andalusians and Friesians, all of whom were very well trained and handled. It's always nice to see such well mannered horses in films, and not having their faces torn off by idiots actors manhandling the reins. Very nice teams pulling some nice little carriages throughout the film, and a couple of gorgeous saddle horses to.

I was also quite impressed with the costuming and hair. At one point Our Hero Lawrence Talbot (played by Benicio del Toro) was wearing an out fit that I KNOW I have seen in photo's of a famous actor from the late-19th Century wearing. I can't recall if it was Oscar Wilde, Edmund Boothe or another actor, but with a velvet jacket, trilby hat and cape he was the very image of an "actor" of the era. Another excellent bit of period fashion was the doctor in the asylum, with his hair parted down the middle...all the way back to his neck. Not many people would know of that oddity of fashion, and I laud the hair designer for it.

Now for the fun part, my "What Weird Guns Did They Have?" section. I was actually pretty impressed by their armourer's choices, for the most part. Lots of Martini-Henry rifles, as would be expected, since the Martini-Henry was the primary issue service rifle for the British Army and Royal Navy during the period from 1871-1888, with issues continuing well into the 20th Century for some units. That the Metropolitan Police might actually have access to these is quite a reasonable expectation. Interestingly there were also a number of the civilian versions to be seen in the hands of various Werewolf hunters as well.

I thought it very apt that the immediate predecessor of the Martini-Henry in the British service, the Snider-Enfield, was also seen in some numbers in the film. Rifles and carbines both, again in the hands of the civilian Werewolf hunters.

The protagonist and his father of course, being gentlemen, carry their beautiful double guns. Hard to tell whether they are double rifles or double shotguns, but from the thinness of the barrels at the muzzle, I will assume them to be double shotguns. Either way, nice big hunting guns with a sufficient calibre to down most any game one could imagine. They look to be 10- or 12-bore to me, and when loaded with a solid slug (of silver, of course!) they make quite a salutary proposition for defense against a Werewolf. I couldn't tell if they were Holland and Holland, Purdy or some other of the host of superb quality gunsmiths who at one time inhabited the British Isles and produced the highest quality firearms ever made, but the under-lever actions were of the type popular in the 1870's and '80's, definitely within the time period of the rest of the material artifacts of the film.

There were also several other interesting rifles shown here and there. One looked to be either an Alexander Henry single shot or a Farqharson-action single-shot, and another oddly enough looked almost like an American Sharps. Hard to tell with only one viewing though. Maybe I'll get it on DVD when it comes out and edit things to be a bit more coherent (and accurate)!

Heros of course must also have pistols, and they were shown in some abundance and variety. One of the first to be seen is a Patrolman's revolver, an Enfield model of 1878, issued to the British Army in caliber .476. They are an odd sort of break-open design that doesn't actually break open all the way, just enough to drop out the empty rounds and ensure that the rims of the loaded rounds still within the chambers will now drop under the star ejector when it returns and jam up the piece completely. One must pull it apart again and try to pry out the loaded rounds and replace them properly in their chambers after the star ejector has returned back down to it's place before you can then reload and finally shoot the blasted piece. So make sure you fire ALL your rounds before you try to reload it.

The next pistol to be seen is a break-open Webley .455", the good old standard which served the British Army so well from the late-1880's through WWII and beyond. The one shown looked to be a Mk II, with a 6" barrel (which was actually somewhat of a rarity. Most have the 4" barrel). It's hard to tell the difference between a Mk II and the Mk's III, IV and V though, the Mk II having a slight "bump" at the top of the grip behind the hammer to keep your hand from slipping forward under recoil. In fact, I suspect that they used several of the models, because I seem to remember seeing examples both with, and without the "pawl" or bump. At any rate, they are a fine weapon, and head and shoulders above the poor old Enfield .476".

I did catch a few glimpses of a Webley RIC .450" (see my review of "Sherlock Holmes", below), but it was not featured to near the extent that the later, larger break-open Webley's were. Actually however, they were probably more likely to have been seen in the hands of both policemen and civilians in the 1880's than the .455's, but what the heck. I'm just happy to see that they were using period revolvers of the proper nationality, rather than just sticking whatever happened to be in the prop house armoury into the hands of the actors and saying "Action!".

All in all, a fun little romp. Lots of action, a fair amount of shooting, and general mayhem, with fun to be had by all. If nothing else, seeing an homage to the original "Wolfman" film complete with an actor who actually rather LOOKS like Lon Chaney Jr. is worth the price of admission.



Friday, January 1, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Movie

I just watched the latest Sherlock Holmes movie, with Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role and Jude Law as Dr. Watson. Rather well done I thought, though of course imperfect, and not liable to satisfy the true acolytes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Still it was fun, and without too many glaring historical inconsistencies.

There were of course minor details to attack, such as the extreme youth of the actors portraying the roles of Irene Adler and the Home Secretary, etc. but these are pretty easily overlooked. On the other hand, there were a lot of nifty details to enjoy, enough to make a Steampunk drool.


Proceed at your own discretion

Of the minor details that I loved were, to begin with, the ramming prow of the ship under construction which Holmes and his adversary manage to send down the ways prematurely. Not everyone is aware of just how big those rams were and how prevalent they were in the warships of the day. As a negative, however, the Thames is not 300 feet deep at London (or anywhere else), and unlikely to swallow a major warship whole. But it was a cool effect anyway.

Other nice effects were all of the gadgets and steam engines tossed helter-skelter about the sets. The various steam-boats, factories and general filth from the coal-smoke were wonderful to behold. The filth of the populace was certainly fairly accurate as well, though perhaps not as enjoyable to see. Still, it wouldn't have looked right without them.

A couple of nice carriages, Paddy Wagons and even one nice little Hansom, though sadly it wasn't seen much. Black Friesians of course, but the one coach taking Holmes from the jail showed off it's dapple-grey horses nicely.

The guns. They were great! Not many of them, sad to say, but those which were shown were wonderful. Holmes, Watson and the Police all carried Webley "Royal Irish Constabulary" (AKA "RIC") revolvers, as well they should. They were extremely popular in Britain and the Colonies during the period between 1868 and the turn of the century, as they are compact, powerful and reliable firearms. Shooting the .450 round, they carry a punch, though perhaps not sufficient to stop a charging Pathan or Zulu. Thus the Army moved away from that cartridge in 1878, but it remained quite popular in civilian circles for many, many years. Oddly though, they had the American Ambassador carrying one as well. I should think that any God-fearing American ambassador, be it to the Court of St. James or Timbuktu, would carry a Colt or Smith and Wesson though. Oh well, details, details. I can't have everything.

On the other hand, there WAS one nice little American firearm shown. One of the "Bad Guys" had a gorgeous little Sharps 4-barreled derringer, carried in a wrist rig, that was pretty cool. Such "put it in your hand" devices were in fact known in the Victorian era, and the little 4-barreled derringers were certainly popular, so it's entirely possible to imagine the bad guy in London having such a thing. On the other hand. .30 rimfire is a rather pipsqueak of a round, and unlikely to pierce the skull of anything bigger than a rabbit, if that. But still, a cute little gun that was indeed popular at the time.

The film isn't a classic by any means, but well acted, and as far as the goodies in the background to get the juices flowing, wonderful. I think I'll buy it when it comes out on DVD!



Update Jan 15, 2010: Here's an excellent article on "The Guns of Sherlock Holmes"