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,


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