Naval History

Trigger Happy

The JOHN W. BROWN was built with the express purpose of going to war. She was part of the worldwide logistics effort to support the United States and her allies. As an important part of the need to move men and material around the globe, merchant ships became prime targets for our enemies.

  The US began arming merchant ships with defensive armaments as an outgrowth of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936. This Act had many provisions but one allowed for the government to start designing and building ships which were intended, from the beginning, to have not only self-defense weapons but the structures, such as munitions magazines, increased electrical , fire fighting and mechanical systems needed to support them.  The Liberty Ships were only one of the ship types which resulted from this effort.

  The JOHN W. BROWN, was armed with increasing amounts of weaponry as the 2nd World War progressed. She originally had a 5 in. 51 caliber main gun on the gun deck aft as her principal defense against enemy vessels. The 5 in. 51 caliber gun was developed sometime between the Spanish-American War and World War I and was intended for action against surface vessels. She also had anti-aircraft weapons which increased in number when she was designated for the Mediterranean theater, following the conversion to a partial troop transport.

  When the JOHN W. BROWN came to Baltimore in 1988 it was decided to find a weapon to place on the after gun deck to further the appearance of the ship as a WWII memorial. The major problem was that 5 in. 51 caliber guns had become incredibly rare. As a result a more modern weapon, a 5 in. 38 caliber, dual purpose gun, was found in the Reading Penn. Naval Reserve Center and it was in search of a new home!

  This gun mount was trucked to Baltimore and lifted onboard in the early 1990’s. This type of gun was shipped on many wartime merchant vessels and was appropriate as a substitution for the JOHN W. BROWN’s unobtainable vintage gun.

  An interesting part of naval weapons systems is that they are never given away but loaned to an organization for display. Thus they always belong to the Navy and U.S. Government. We are required, by the loan agreement, to maintain and display the artifact in a dignified and useful manner. As part of this commitment we have spent some of our recently awarded matching grant funds on renewing wasted steel on the gun mount deck. Every effort was made to preserve original parts where possible and reproduce material and instillation processes when necessary.

  Not only has the crew and our young weapons “Czar” Cameron M. been removing, restoring and repairing parts of the gun in conjunction with the steel work but they have started a major effort to repaint the gun and return it to pristine condition.

We welcomed some help from an interesting quarter. Young sailors, fresh out of “Boot Camp” and continuing their naval education as Public Information Officers, while at school at Fort Meade, volunteered to spend a day helping with anything we need assistance with. It seemed fitting that they should, in the spirit of the Naval Armed Guard, help with the weapons restoration and other associated displays. Bob Jackson and Cameron welcomed the group, gave them a tour of the ship and put them to work returning the 3 in. 50 caliber rounds to the ready service boxes on the upper gun deck, cleaning the M1 Garands,  as well as lending a hand with the work on the 5 in. 38 caliber main gun. In the spirit of our motto “if you feed them, they will come” Bob provided lunch for this group of newly minted sailors as his way of thanking them not only for giving us a hand but for their service to the nation.

  Soon the JOHN W. BROWN’s major defensive artifact will once again be ready for the public. There is even talk of making a canvas cover in order to protect the gun from the weather during the winter. But Cameron, Bob and the rest of the weapons gang won’t be idle long, there are three 3 in 50 caliber guns waiting for their time to shine.

 

Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.

From The Library Part 1: Getting Started...

Welcome to the first in a series focusing on the BROWN's Historical Library. Long before the BROWN came to Baltimore, she was collecting books, training and reference manuals, and other materials as a school ship for many years. Project Liberty Ship has continued to receive, collect, and preserve historical materials for more than two decades. Here, we will take a look at some very cool (for lack of a better term) artifacts and books we have rediscovered.

Above: A look into the library in progress. All of the carpentry seen here was custom designed and built by two of our volunteers. At this point in the process, there were more than 400 different items that had been digitally   catalogued, including   autobiographies,   pictorial histories, self published personal memoirs and even anthropological studies. 

Above: A look into the library in progress. All of the carpentry seen here was custom designed and built by two of our volunteers. At this point in the process, there were more than 400 different items that had been digitally catalogued, including autobiographies, pictorial histories, self published personal memoirs and even anthropological studies. 

Below: A 1914 Webster Dictionary and Vest Pocket Library published in Baltimore MD. The watch (not historical) is for size comparison. 

Until very recently, no in-depth inventory has ever been conducted. Several members of PLS have recently undertaken the task, creating a virtual catalogue of all of the materials, searchable by title and author to related subject matter and even years of print. 

The most recent set of books brought in to the library, ready to be inventoried. Talk about having your work cut out for you!

The most recent set of books brought in to the library, ready to be inventoried. Talk about having your work cut out for you!

September 1943 issue: I wonder if they still honor the 48 hour delivery guarantee...

September 1943 issue: I wonder if they still honor the 48 hour delivery guarantee...

 

 

 

Some artifacts are more interesting than others, if only for the documents, information, and even service awards that are included with them.

 

There have been many interesting finds, most of which relate directly or indirectly to the United States Merchant Marine and subjects such as World War II naval history and even admiralty law.

A US Navy Bluejackets' Manual, with a picture of its owner and his wife, a professional model, from 1944. 

A US Navy Bluejackets' Manual, with a picture of its owner and his wife, a professional model, from 1944. 

This is a short excerpt from a very cool 1944 printing of Nor Death Dismay, a real accounting of American Merchant Mariners in wartime and their stories. 

(Side Note: Writing this post as an active merchant mariner, I find it amazing how, while times have changed, so few of the American public know anything about the US Merchant Marine and what they have done for our country!)

 

VOYAGE-LETTER
From the firing of the first American gun at Pearl Harbor, directed against the enemy planes overhead, the people of America gave their full measure of gratitude and admiration to the men who wore the uniforms of the armed forces of the United States. A few months later, the nation began to sense that the heroism of men in uniform was being matched by a body of Americans who wore no uniforma body of civilian seamen, who, in the first months of the war, had been sent out, without
weapons in their hands, to face an enemy armed with the most frightful of weapons; unarmed men, who had gone out without hesitation to face death.

These were the men of American merchant ships.

But secrecy enveloped the comings and goings of these men, secrecy was enforced upon all the movements of ships at sea. All that the people of America could be told was little indeed. With mounting sorrow, week after week, they read the terse statement that an American cargo vessel (unnamed) had been damaged or sunk; but they could only guess at what the men upon such a ship had endured. Seldom did any detailed account find its way into print, and even then neither ship nor men were named. The people of America sensed that the men of the American merchant marine were men to be proud ofbut only the men themselves knew what the sea masked. Of the unending carrying of military equipment, troops, and food for our Allies, from American ports to ports overseas, this was said: We simply do not know and cannot yet be told the cost of these operations. 

Ships go down, and men with them, and their battles are seldom recorded. The merchant seaman voyages from mystery to mystery. Never since men explored unknown waters in rude sailing ships has the sea witnessed so much risk, so much loss, such splendor of the human spirit, nor so vast a crisis in mankind’s fate.

merchant-marine_warning-poster.jpg

When that was said, one American steamship company—the American Export Lines—had already begun to gather from its own ships’ officers their personal narratives of war-time voyages.

The voyages here described form but a small fraction of the thousands of war-time voyages successfully completed by the vast fleet of cargo-vessels directed by the War Shipping Administration. Every steamship company in the United States had joined in that titanic enterprise. The present narrative does not even include the hundredth part of what the officers and men of this one company accomplished. What is set down here can serve only in faint measure to indicate the courage, the loyalty, the cheerful acceptance and performance of tasks beyond man’s strength to performbut which the men of the merchant marine did performthat was typical of all.

The long voyage ending, the tired ship-having delivered her precious cargo, taken through countless dangersmoves slowly up the harbor and comes at last to the pier which is her home. Shore workmen swarm around and over her littered decks. The men of her crew, joyfully or gloomily, prepare to go ashore. But the work of her deck officers is not yet finished, although the mate, bending over the broad-paged log book in the chartroom, has written with the stub of a pencil, upon its final page-that entry that compresses into its few short words all the immense relief of men who for weary months have been bearing the unbearable burden of responsibility, secrecy, and unceasing danger of sudden or dreadfully lingering death!

“Arrived, 9:21 A.M. Secure at pier. F W E.” “F W E”“Finished With Engines.” A sigh of ineffable relief! The rough-log has been finished; but the ships Master has still many duties to be done before he may rest. Last of all these, there is the Voyage-Letter to be preparedthat brief summary of all the significant events of the voyage, from its beginning to its present end, which will preserve forever the record of an American vessel and the American seamen who served upon her.

S. D. McC.

 

Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.

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