Ten Years of Big Ship Gunnery
As Lieutenant (junior grade) Turner finished up his first ten years in the Navy, Josephus Daniels was firmly in the saddle as Secretary of the Navy, proving it by signing junior officers' orders, and attending to other minutiae of administration.1
The Navy 1914 Style
The Navy had grown and prospered in those ten years. The total enlisted force on 30 June 1904 was 29,321 and ten years later it was 52,293. Line officers had increased from 1,050 to 1,880.2
Congress, "that forward looking body," had recently authorized three new dreadnoughts and six new torpedo boat destroyers, and a "seagoing submarine . . . first of its kind."3
The Secretary, despite the blood letting going on in Europe, envisioned along with Tennyson that the good hour soon cometh when:
the war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furled,
In the Parliament of man, The Federation of the world.4
The Secretary, in his wisdom, also gave approval to the sentiments of Admiral Sir Percy Scott of the Royal Navy who believed that "the submarine was the most effective ship of the navy of the future" and he advised
a cessation in the rapid construction of dreadnoughts and the utilization of the money thus spent in building large numbers of submarines.5
The General Board of the Navy, that small but select body of elder statesmen, in opposition, reiterated its opinion that:
command of the sea can only be gained and held by vessels that can take and keep the sea in all times and in all weathers and overcome the strongest enemies that can be brought against them.6
Fortunately for the Navy in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, Congress bought this truism and has continued to buy it, irrespective of the military characteristics or name of the particular "vessel" needed at any particular year date to take and keep the seas.
Even if the professional Navy would not support the spending of all its allotted share of the taxpayers' money on submarines, it did go ahead with their progressive development, and at the same time, it did urge and did make progress in the even newer field of aviation.
Aviation had received its first really effective approval in the Navy when Admiral George Dewey, President of the General Board, recommended to the Secretary of the Navy in October 1910, that "the problem of providing space for airplanes or dirigibles be considered in all new designs for scouting vessels."
By January 1914, airplanes had flown off and onto temporary platforms erected on naval ships and there existed an "Office of Aeronautics" in the Division of Operations, Navy Department. The Navy had 12 airplanes and qualified naval aviators in equally small numbers.7
The establishment of an aeronautics station at Pensacola, Florida, and the organization of a naval flying school there was undertaken in January 1914. Since then,
a steady increase of aircraft on a large scale is a fixed policy of the department,8
and during the next few months
the Mississippi . . . carried aircraft to Vera Cruz and for 43 days made daily flights without regard to weather or other conditions.9
Besides needling the Navy about submarines, the Secretary of the Navy was prodding the Navy in the personnel management and educational fields. He stated:
a. The Secretary has given less thought to guns than to the man behind the gun.
b. Every ship should be a school.
c. It must be true in the American Navy that every sailor carries an admiral's flag in his ditty box.10
The educational urge caught on like wildfire, but the Secretary' s personal desire and order to put all sailormen into pajamas each night was a great flop as anyone serving in the Navy 50 years later will attest.
The professional Navy had long urged the Secretary to enunciate a policy that "Henceforth all the fighting ships which are added to the Fleet will use oil. . . ."11 When this was done, it was obvious that technical engineering education in the mass must be undertaken in the Navy, and that the 11 existing technical schools would have to be expanded many times, and many more officers would have to be employed ashore in areas of technical training.
Since the Line of the Navy was 75 percent on sea duty, change in this seagoing condition was in the offing. An unsteady flow of promotion, then as always, was another problem. The Chief of the Bureau of Navigation noted:
An abnormal condition exists in the Line of the Navy and to some extent in the Staff Corps.12
The abnormal condition was that there were only about 40 yearly promotions out of the grade of junior lieutenant, while 140 ensigns were being promoted into the grade of junior lieutenant each year, at the completion of three years of service as ensigns. The junior lieutenants and ensigns constituted almost 60 percent of the Line of the Navy.
Resignations of past midshipmen and now ensigns, who saw no future promotion beyond lieutenant commander until in their middle fifties had been running at a high rate, as has been noted for the class of 1908 with 13 resigning as past midshipmen and 14 resigning as ensigns. The result was seen on board the ships in Mexican waters during the 1914 Vera Cruz seizure and occupation, about which the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation said:
Half of the Heads of Departments [on the battle ships] were lieutenants. Practically all officers on ships in Mexican waters, except Heads of Departments [and above] were in the grade of ensign.13
A description of the 1914 Navy would not be complete without mentioning
a marked change taking place in the relationship between quarter deck and forecastle. As seen through the rose tinted glasses of the Secretary, in this area:
There is being established between the Commanding Officers and men a confidential intimacy, which far from undermining discipline, ennobles it further by an enlightened consciousness of solidarity and sacrifice.14
In March 1916, the Bureau of Navigation thoughtfully advised Lieutenant (junior grade) Turner that he would be assigned to the Pennsylvania (BB-38) upon completion of his postgraduate instruction on 30 June 1916.
To Sea Duty
The Pennsylvania was brand new, due to be first commissioned on 12 June 1916, and to be the flagship of the United States Atlantic Fleet, with Admiral Henry T. Mayo on board and flying his four star flag.
The detail was a feather in Lieutenant (junior grade) Turner' s cap, and brought him into favorable contact again with Lieutenant Commander E. J. King, Deputy Chief of Staff to Admiral Mayo. There are many disadvantages to flagship duty, but one of the real advantages, in those days, at least, was that the senior officers in the ship and on the Flag officer's staff were apt to have been carefully chosen, and more than apt to prosper in their future climb up the Navy ladder.
Although only a junior grade lieutenant in 1916, Turner was to become, within 15 months, first a Turret Officer, then the Assistant Gunnery Officer of the Pennsylvania, and then in late 1917, when only a senior lieutenant of one year seniority, the Gunnery Officer of the Michigan (BB-27).
He had the good fortune to have Captain Henry B. Wilson, a future Commander in Chief of the United States Fleet, as his captain in the Pennsylvania, and Captain Carlo B. Britain, an up-coming Flag officer, as his captain in the Michigan.
One of his first flight shipmates in the Pennsylvania was Lieutenant Raymond A. Spruance, Class of 1907, later to be his immediate boss during the Central Pacific campaigns in 1943-1945.
The Pennsylvania, on a displacement of 31,400 tons, mounted twelve 14-inch 45-caliber guns in her main battery and twenty-two 5-inch 51-caliber guns in her secondary battery, and made 21 knots. The Michigan was six
years older, 15,000 tons less displacement, 150 feet shorter, three knots slower, and mounted only eight 12-inch 45-caliber guns in her main battery. But she was a real gunnery prize for an officer who had been a senior lieutenant only a year.
Neither the Pennsylvania nor the Michigan lucked into battleship operation in the European Theater of war during World War I. The British thought it prudent to add only coal burning American battleships to their Home Fleet, because of their shortage of oil, and the Pennsylvania burned oil. The Michigan, a coal burner, was just too old and too slow to be needed or wanted. Instead, these two battleships trained and trained and trained secondary battery gun crews to act as the Armed Guards of hundreds of merchant ships and to man the guns on the recently converted, and far fewer, regular transports of the Armed Services. The training of gun crews was largely carried out in the Southern Drill Grounds off the entrance to Hampton Roads and near Base 2 at Yorktown, Virginia, and off Base 10 at Port Jefferson, New York, in Long Island Sound. This repetitive training entailed taking green recruits by the thousands and teaching them to man, operate, shoot and take care of a 3-, 4- or 5-inch gun.
In January 1917--eight and a half years out of the Naval Academy--Richmond Kelly Turner put on the two stripes of a senior lieutenant. His seniority dated from 29 August 1916, the date when the law introducing promotions by selection into the upper ranks of the Line of the Navy became effective. This law also markedly increased (by 20 percent) the number of senior lieutenants authorized in our Navy.
World War I brought temporary promotion of Turner to lieutenant commander in late December 1917 (dating from 15 October 1917) and just three months after reporting in as Gunnery Officer of the Michigan. This welcome step required the second of two upgrading in uniform stripes in one calendar year.
Although Lieutenant Commander Turner was one of the very junior Gunnery Officers in the Atlantic Fleet, this did not deter him from presenting, via official channels to the Chief of Bureau of Ordnance, his ideas on the improvement of the fire control apparatus for the big guns of the ships of the Fleet.
Gunnery and More Gunnery
The Chief of Bureau, in replying to the letter indicated an aroused curiosity regarding the ideas, and requested travel orders be issued to bring Turner to Washington, saying:
The Bureau has now received what it considers excellent suggestions from a Gunnery Officer of the Atlantic Fleet in regard to its director scope.15
This was the lever which, before the year 1918 was out, moved Lieutenant Commander Turner from the old, old Michigan, whose keel was laid in 1906 onto the Mississippi (BB-41), of the newest class of battleships in the Fleet.
Kelly relieved Jonathan S. Dowell as Gunnery Officer. We were good friends and proud of being the junior heads of department in the latest battleship. Our departments got along fine together, no friction.16
Captain William A. Moffett was one of the Mississippi's two skippers while Turner was aboard and this officer was to exercise great influence on the later career of his Gunnery Officer.
During his three years as Gunnery Officer of three different ships, Kelly Turner continued to grind out 4.0's on his fitness reports, except in "Neatness of person and dress." His failure to buy new uniforms at yearly intervals as the water of time flowed steadily under the bridge, a failure presumed by this scribe to be due to the fact that he was always traveling financially close to the wind, caused, on at least a dozen occasions, various truthful reporting seniors to spoil the panorama of 4.0's on his fitness reports by dropping in a 3.4 or 3.7 or even a 3.0 opposite "neatness of person and dress."
It was noted on his fitness reports during this three-year period in gunnery work that he had given lectures before the Atlantic Fleet Gunnery Officers on such diverse subjects as "Principles of Gun Design" and "Notes on Director Scopes." He was described in the remarks section of his fitness reports as "exceedingly able and thoroughly conscientious in the performance of duty . . . Self reliant, with excellent judgment . . . valuable, whenever scientific reasoning is required . . . Hard working, conscientious and loyal. . . . There is nothing in the way of praise for this officer's work that could be left unsaid."
Some of his ensign shipmates in the Michigan and Mississippi, when asked to comment 45 years later, also expressed similar opinions in regard to Lieutenant Commander Turner's knowledge, ability and accomplishments.
They also remembered more readily the undivided attention to Uncle Sam's chores which he had demanded of all within the range of his piercing eyes, and the stern mannerisms and tongue lashings with which he had boatswained his juniors.17
One shipmate wrote:
I got to know Turner at the end of World War I on the Mississippi, when he was Gunnery Officer and I was Exec; he was a strong character and a very able naval officer by this stage of his distinguished career.18
Another shipmate in the Mississippi, an ensign in 1918, gave this appraisal:
Kelly was a dynamic officer, when I first saw him, and remained such as long as I knew him, but there probably have never been any 'Funny Ha Ha' stories about him.
Dorothy and I entertained him in our home for dinner one evening in Norfolk, while he was skipper of a cruiser. Our colored cook of the moment was helping us get rid of cocktails, etc., (unbeknownst to us), and consequently the dinner was a shambles, when it was finally served, but I doubt that it was 'funny' to Kelly. Few things were. But he always got the job done.19
For the period in question--June to October 1918--Kelly was the gun boss on the Michigan, I serving as J.O. in Turret 2.
Kelly was the boss--you never had a thought otherwise. He completely dominated the running of the ship. With a war on, gunnery was bound to be the No. 1 activity as opposed to a peacetime one, and the Captain and Executive Officer gave him a free hand--that hand that had such a sure touch. Kelly had the admiration and respect of all on board which generated complete confidence in his leadership. His great industry (he came closer to working 18 hours a day than any person I have ever known) and brilliant intellect justified beyond a doubt the high regard in which we held him.
His leadership did not engender fear but rather a healthy respect for the qualities I have outlined. It was not borne of much, if any, personal magnetism. I don't recall his ever showing any mean or petty streak when some shortcoming came to his notice.
He was unselfish, the good of the Navy was his only thought.
I do not recall any tall tales that occurred at this time, although certainly there must have been some. It was all serious business at Yorktown. I do not recall RKT having any hobbies or indulging in much recreation--as I have said, he was all serious business.20
That this domination of the Michigan did not impress all in the steerage can be judged by the following "45 year after" recollection.
As far as Turner goes, I draw a complete blank. I can't remember him at all [not even] what his job was.21
The following letters, one personal the other official, tell more of the World War I story. The official one also bears the pencil notation "No dice" and the initials "RKT."
Navy Yard, New York, N.Y.,
September 30, 1919.
Replying to your letter of September 29, 1919, it gives me pleasure to state that I served under your command in command of the U.S.S. Michigan from June 20, 1918 until September 7, 1918, when I was detached and ordered to command the U.S.S. Arizona. During this time the Michigan was operating in Chesapeake Bay preparing for and going through with the various forms of target practice. It will be noted that the ship was very successful at Short Range Battle Practice and won the ship control "E". About August 1, 1918 the Michigan was ordered to the Navy Yard, League Island for overhaul and made the passage at night, in company with the U.S.S. Louisiana, escorted by one destroyer, as the enemy's submarines were then operating off the coast. The Michigan remained at the Navy Yard for overhaul until I was detached.
While the Michigan was in a very efficient condition while I was in command, I cannot help but feel that the credit is due to my predecessor, Captain C. B. Brittain, U.S. Navy, to the Executive Officer, Commander George J. Meyers, U.S. Navy, and to the Gunnery Officer, Lieutenant Commander Richmond K. Turner, U.S. Navy. I found the ship in a fine condition and merely carried on.
Very sincerely yours,
(signed) J. H. Dayton,
Captain, U.S. Navy.
Rear Admiral J.H. Glennon,
U.S.N. Commander Third Naval District
United States Atlantic Fleet
U.S.S. Pennsylvania, Flagship
Navy Yard, New York, N.Y. 3 October 1919.
From: Rear Admiral C.B. Brittain, U.S. Navy
To: Bureau of Navigation (Board of Awards)
Via: Captain J.H. Dayton, U.S.N. (U.S.S. Arizona)
Subject: Lieutenant Commander Richmond K. Turner, U.S.N., recommended for war service recognition by the Board of Awards.
1. I recommend Lieutenant Commander Richmond K. Turner, U.S. Navy, for the Distinguished Service Medal as having distinguished himself by specially meritorious service to the Government in a duty of great responsibility while serving under my command on board the U.S.S. Michigan as Gunnery Officer of that vessel from September, 1917, to 10 June 1918.
2. Lieutenant Commander Turner displayed ability, zeal and energy in a specially meritorious degree in maintaining the battle efficiency of the Gunnery Department of the U.S.S. Michigan in a high degree of preparedness. At the same time he rendered specially meritorious service in organizing and training for transfer to other vessels large numbers of recruits and other men for war service. Only such service as was rendered by this officer as above indicated could have, under the circumstances, maintained the U.S.S Michigan, a battleship of the first line, in the high degree of battle efficiency that she was in during the period covered and I accordingly recommend him for the Distinguished Service Medal.
3. In June, 1918, I was succeeded in command of the Michigan by Captain J. H. Dayton, U.S.N., and this letter is forwarded through that officer for such endorsement as he may see fit to make.
In June 1919, World War I was well over. Josephus Daniels, still the Secretary of the Navy, was singing the Navy's praises to the President and to the Congress, and distributing Navy Crosses, a personal heroism medal, on a helter-skelter basis but particularly to Commanding Officers who had lost their ships to enemy action. This sad practice was continued on by his successors during World War II.
War's End and Shore Duty
The Distinguished Service Medal and Navy Cross Medal distribution met courageous moral and official resistance from Vice Admiral William S. Sims. The various operational and administrative judgments of the Navy Department during the war years also evoked a large amount of critical comment by those who had largely spent the short war at sea in positions of responsibility.
Before the spitball throwing subsided within the Navy, Congress decided to look into the squabble, and conducted, over many months, an investigation
of the Service, and more particularly the Navy Department, its organization and its war functioning. This newsworthy chore was undertaken by a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, and soon took on political overtones.
A fair share of the spitballs had been aimed at Secretary Daniels. He rose to the occasion with magnificent eclat, proclaiming all those who questioned any aspect of the total victory achieved at sea, or the sagacity or timing of the naval decisions prior to this victory, or the organization of the headquarters which supported it logistically, as only wanting to deprive the Secretary of the Navy of his proper range of authority and of detailed decision-making.
This inglorious publicization of the unhappiness of many of the Navy's senior officers with their publicity wise civilian Secretary, made many lieutenant commanders consider leaving the Navy, but not Lieutenant Commander Turner.22
The Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, Rear Admiral Ralph Earle, on 5 June 1919, nominated Lieutenant Commander Turner to the Bureau of Navigation for duty as relief of Commander Harvey Delano (Class of 1906) at the Naval Gun Factory, Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. Josephus Daniels personally signed Turner's orders to this effect on 20 June 1919.
This second tour of shore duty after a short three years at sea was an interesting tour. It included a chance to inspect officially the renowned British battle cruiser HMS Renown carrying six 15-inch guns in her main battery, a size of gun not in use in the United States Navy, to visit the surrendered German battleship Ostfriesland, and learn of German fire control, to make numerous trips to the Fleet to observe various target practices, and to visit a large number of industrial plants dealing with various parts of ordnance equipment.
In July 1920, along with the rest of his class, Turner took and passed his examinations for permanent lieutenant commander, to date from 7 December 1919.
During mid evening of 28 January 1922, the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater in the city of Washington, collapsed on its movie-viewing occupants
due to an overweight of snow, caused by a two-foot snowfall. Ninety-eight of the approximately 1,000 movie fans died.
A Fire and Rescue Party was ordered out of the Washington Navy Yard about 2300 and this was supplemented twice during the night by supporting parties and equipment. Lieutenant Commander Turner, alerted about 2300 by Commander Husband E. Kimmel, later of Pearl Harbor fame, but then the Officer of the Day at the Navy Yard, sent off the first party of about 25 men with their rescue equipment at 2345 and followed with additional acetylene torches, tanks of acetylene gas, hack saws, sledges and other essentials about 0100, 29 January. Lieutenant Commander Turner remained in charge of the naval efforts at the theater until relieved about 0800.23
For this work, he participated in the general commendation signed by Edwin Denby, Secretary of the Navy.
The Secretary of the Navy
Washington, 9 February, 1922
From: Secretary of the Navy
To: Commandant, Navy Yard, Washington, D. C.
Subject: Commendation for services in connection with rescue work among the victims of Knickerbocker Theater disaster in this city.
1. The Department has noted with much gratification the prompt response and splendid services of the officers and men under your command on the occasion of the Knickerbocker Theater disaster on the night of Saturday, January 28th, last. All reports received speak in the most flattering terms of the fine work performed by the naval personnel, and while some individuals particularly distinguished themselves, it was impossible, owing to the confusion and necessity for incessant efforts on the part of every one present, to obtain the names of all such persons.
2. For this reason, and in order not to single out a few for distinction where others whose names were unknown rendered equally splendid service, the Department takes this occasion to extend, through you, to all members of your command and of the U.S.S. Mayflower, who participated in the work in question, its warm praise and sincere commendation of their fine performance of duty.
Secretary of the Navy.
During this shore duty period Lieutenant Commander Turner also completed
the correspondence course in "Strategy and Tactics" of the Naval War College. The famous William S. Sims not only signed the routine letter sending off the certificate of completion but also sent off a special "great credit" letter.
Naval War College
Newport, Rhode Island, 8 April, 1922.
To: Lieutenant Commander Richmond K. Turner, U.S. Navy, U.S. Naval Gun Factory, Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.
Subject: Completion of War College Correspondence Course
1. The records show that you have completed the Correspondence Course with great credit.
I wish to congratulate you on the results of your work, and on the perseverance you have shown, and trust that you will make known to other officers the benefit you may have derived, in order that they may realize the vast importance of training in their profession, which can be obtained by study of this sort, and in no other way.
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, President
In addition to the Naval War College correspondence course, Lieutenant Commander Turner wrote two articles for the Naval Institute during this period, "A Fighting Leader For the Fleet" and "Gun Defense Against Torpedo Planes." The first appeared in the April 1922 issue of the Proceedings, and the latter article, jointly authored with Lieutenant Theodore D. Ruddock, was printed in October 1922, after Turner had gone to sea duty.
Three years soon passed, and on 17 July 1922, Rear Admiral John H. Dayton, Commandant, signed Lieutenant Commander Turner's detachment orders, sending him to the new battleship California (BB-44). The pride of the Mare Island Navy Yard had her keel laid in October 1916, but was not commissioned until 10 August 1921. She carried twelve 14-inch 50-caliber guns in her main battery, the same armament as Turner had supervised in the Mississippi. The California shortly was to take over from the New Mexico (BB-40) the honor of being the flagship of the Pacific Fleet. Admiral
To the California
E.W. Eberle was the respected Commander in Chief. The skipper of the California was Captain Lucius A. Bostwick, Class of 1890, in the near future to be among those selected to Flag officer.
Commander William R. Furlong, later to become Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, was the Fleet Gunnery Officer, and Commander Willis W. Bradley, Jr., Class of 1907, was the Gunnery Officer from whom Lieutenant Commander Turner took over. One of Turner's classmates, Henry Frederick D. Davis, who had graduated but three numbers behind Turner, was the Chief Engineer of the California, and another, Ernest W. McKee, was Fleet Athletic Officer.
Another of the California officers was Paul S. Theiss of the Class of 1912, who later was to be his Executive Officer in his cruiser command, and then Chief of Staff to Turner during a major part of the Central Pacific Campaign in World War II.
The California was moving along in her first full year in commission, a very successful year during which she was awarded the Battle Efficiency trophy for 1921-1922.
The 1922-23 Supply Officer of the California recalls:
It was unwise to cross Kelly unless one was fully cognizant of his own position and believed in the correctness of his own stand. He was a dynamic and forceful officer who was fully cognizant of what he wished to accomplish, with due consideration of other Heads of Department who equally desired to promote the best interests of the ship. I found him far easier to get along with than his predecessor, Bradley. I do not recall that Kelly overstepped his position, but was forceful in requiring cooperation of other departments.24
Highly praiseworthy fitness reports from Captain--later Rear Admiral John H. Dayton, were to be anticipated at the Washington Navy Yard after the very favorable relationship with Turner in the Michigan. However, when Turner reported to the California, and Captain Bostwick picked up the chore, there was a new fitness report form from the Bureau of Navigation, and a nudge from that Bureau to make the reports more realistic.
In the 19 qualities on which all officers were marked, Captain Bostwick appraised Lieutenant Commander Turner superior in seven, above average in eight and average in four--cooperative qualities, patience, education and
loyalty of subordinates. Only the appraisal of average in education can be questioned, and this only in view of the postgraduate training Lieutenant Commander Turner had received. There were only 24 of the 111 of his classmates still on the Navy List who had completed formal postgraduate training.
A shipmate of this period relates:
I was an ensign and assigned to the Plotting Room in the California. When the new Gunnery Officer had been aboard a few days, I paid my 'get acquainted' call on him. In due time he asked me whether we were having any kind of problem in the Plotting Room. I said everything was going pretty well except we were having certain 'circuit trouble' and proceeded to give him the details. He listened attentively--Then he said 'I suggest you look at the back of a particular switch board,' which he designated, 'the fourth switch up from the bottom and the third one in. The trouble should be there.' I bowed out, and with the fire control electrician checked out this particular switch--found it had troubles, which were corrected. From then on, we had no more of this type of 'circuit trouble.' I was mightily impressed since there were several hundred switches in the Plotting Room.
The next time I had a chance to talk to the Gunnery Officer, I asked him how he knew just where our trouble was located. He answered: 'I designed the board.
He was really something.25
By the time Lieutenant Commander Turner was detached from the California on 15 June 1923, Captain Bostwick rated Turner superior in 12 and average in only one--patience. There could be no factual complaint about that appraisal of his patience.
And the Skipper had these comments to add along the way.
Great energy and force of character, an energetic worker, and of excellent executive ability. In his own conduct and bearing, he sets an excellent example to his subordinates in devotion to duty and industry.
In May 1923, the following letter was received by Lieutenant Commander Turner and as will be told shortly--led to placing his naval career in jeopardy.
Office of Naval Operations
Washington, 19 May 1923.
My Dear Turner:
How would you consider the job of Gunnery Officer in the Scouting Fleet, on the staff of Admiral McCully, who is to command that fleet about 1 July? I am only writing this to get your wishes in the matter and more or less feel that if it is agreeable to you, Admiral McCully would be very glad to have you.
On the receipt of this and after making up your mind, send me a telegram at my expense to this effect: "Gladly accept detail," or "Prefer not take advantage of your offer."
I am going to ask you to keep this matter strictly confidential.
Captain, U.S. Navy, Director of Gunnery
Exercises and Engineering Performances.
The answer was "gladly accept detail" and orders were issued on 13 June 1923, to accomplish this change. Turner reported on 29 June 1923.
Vice Admiral Newton A. McCully, Class of 1887, Commander Scouting Fleet, was a warrior of the old school. Toughened by duty as Commander Naval Forces Operating in Russia and later as Head Naval Mission to Russia, this strong minded and capable Flag officer brought to his duty an extremely active body, honest mind, and the moral courage to speak his convictions.
His flagship in the Atlantic was normally the coal burning 26, 000-ton Wyoming (BB-32), first commissioned in 1912, and occasionally the slightly older Florida (BB-30), or Utah (BB-31). The routine of the Scouting Force in 1923-1924 called for much time to be given to training exercises in gunnery, engineering and communications, cruising Naval Reserves and midshipmen, an annual amphibious exercise, and then the big Fleet Problem with the whole United States Fleet.
Vice Admiral McCully wrote on Lieutenant Commander Turner's first fitness report.
Lieutenant Commander Turner is probably one of the most capable and best equipped Gunnery Officers in the Navy. He is forceful and extremely energetic.
When six more months had passed into the propeller wash, Vice Admiral McCully opined:
His remarkable ability is founded on thorough study and full consideration of
any question. His judgment is extraordinarily sound. Very tenacious of his opinions. Which at times takes the appearance of intolerance of the opinions of others.
By the time three more months slid under the forefoot, Vice Admiral McCully's opinion had further hardened and he wrote:
Individual ability too strong to make a good subordinate. With increased rank and experience this defect undoubtedly will disappear, as his intelligence is of too high an order for him not to see its advantages.
As Fleet Gunnery Officer, and with the exception mentioned in [paragraph] 12, and which was aggravated perhaps by a similar defect in Commander Scouting Fleet, his work could hardly be excelled. . . . In actual war, he would be invaluable . . . being thoroughly capable, resolute and bold.
Since the Navy Regulations required that any fitness reports containing unfavorable statements or marks be referred to the officer reported on, this fitness report was referred officially to Turner for statement. On 25 August 1924, he brought his side of the controversy to a quick official demise by endorsing the report: "I do not desire to make a statement."
But to make sure that Lieutenant Commander Turner got the point, as well as the fitness report, Vice Admiral McCully sat down and penned the following personal letter:
26 July, 1924
My Dear Turner:
I am forwarding you a Fitness Report to which you may take exception. However, I wish you to know that I never failed to appreciate your really extraordinary qualities and consider it quite as much my fault as yours that we could not hit it off better.
I am under many obligations to you for the fine work you did while with us, and always felt that anything turned over to you would be most thoroughly worked out, and that the essence of the result could not be improved on by anyone. I shall remember particularly your assistance during the Battle of Panama, and your remarks to me "You will never get a better chance at them" in the morning of the 18th.
In case of war this would make me desire to have you with me again. You may attach this letter to the Fitness Report if you see fit, and I think it might be advisable.
With kind regards, and a sincere affection.
Very faithfully yours,
Fortunately for Kelly Turner's peace of mind, this last fitness report was
not submitted until after the 1924 Selection Board for commander had completed its chores, stored its ditty box, and dispersed.
Commander Scouting Fleet, in the Wyoming (flagship) together with Arkansas, New York, and Texas made the 1924 summer practice cruise with the midshipmen of the Naval Academy embarked, visiting ports in England, France, Netherlands, as well as Gibraltar and the Azores. Without much notice, Lieutenant Commander Turner learned he was not to make this very pleasant cruise, and on 28 May 1924 was ordered out of the flagship to the Florida to await detachment to other duty.25
Selection to Commander
Being dropped from the Scouting Fleet Staff just before he was to come up for selection to commander was a distinct blow to Lieutenant Commander Turner, but it was softened by his being ordered in command of a ship, the destroyer Mervine.
Normally, in 1924, all lieutenant commanders of the Line, including naval aviators, would have had a full command cruise under their belts by the time they reached the zone where they would actually be considered for selection to the grade of commander.
An examination of the annual Naval Registers from 1920 to 1925 shows that during these years, the Bureau of Navigation was working steadily through the appropriate Naval Academy classes, seeing to it that one and all had a chance to qualify themselves for selection to command rank by demonstrating their capabilities in command of aircraft squadrons, destroyers, submarines, minecraft, gunboats, seaplane tenders, or other small auxiliaries.
Lieutenant Commander Turner had had just the briefest sort of command cruise two months in the USS Stewart from 7 July 1913 until September 1913, when he was a junior lieutenant. It was obvious that his record needed bolstering in the "exercise of command area."
The 1 January 1925 Naval Register shows 12 officers in the Class of 1908 getting in a late lieutenant commander destroyer command cruise, including the class's two future four star admirals, Kinkaid and Turner.
In those benighted days, selection lists came out in late May or early June. During early June 1924, in fact just before Lieutenant Commander Turner
was finally detached from the Staff, Scouting Fleet, on 17 June 1924, the selection list for commander was approved by the President and promulgated by the Navy Department. The very, very good news was that the top 11 officers in 1908 had been considered and all had been selected. It could be said in the case of Lieutenant Commander Richmond Kelly Turner that the 1924 commander Selection Board had been willing to take the intention, in lieu of the actual deed of demonstrated success in a small ship command, before promotion to commander.
The period from June 1913 to late 1916 by which time the Class of 1908 had been promoted to senior lieutenant was one of further rapid diminution of the Class of 1908 in the Line of the Navy. Ten were physically retired, although some of the physical disabilities apparently were not dangerous to longevity, as five of those ten are still alive nearly 50 years later. Three were dismissed from the Naval Service, two resigned and death took two, one (Richard C. Saufley) being the first naval aviation casualty from the class, and the 14th aviator in all the Navy to win naval wings.
Class of 1908 on the Road to Commander
One hundred thirty-three made senior lieutenant and the name Richmond Kelly Turner appeared at the top of the list of Line officers of the Class of 1908 in the 1917 annual Naval Register. That name was to remain in that position for the next 25 Naval Registers.
During the short year when the Class of 1908 wore the two stripes of a senior lieutenant, two more names had to be crossed out. One was a physical retirement and the other was the first naval officer lost in World War I, Lieutenant Clarence C. Thomas. He died on 28 April 1917, following the loss of the 2,551-ton tanker the SS Vacuum, sunk by a submarine off the coast of England.
With the end of World War I, there was an unusual flood tide of ten resignations. These were surprising, because each of these officers had devoted over 10 years to the naval profession, the comfortable rank of lieutenant commander had been reached, a temporary wartime pay increase had been received and this increase was in the process of being made permanent by the Congress.
The flood tide of resignations was largely based on the flood tide of naval disarmament talk, which culminated in the Limitation of Naval Armament
Conference. This conference met in Washington on 12 November 1921, and drafted a treaty that was signed on 6 February 1922 and ratified by all the signatory powers by July 1923. During 1921-1922, 376 ships of the United States Navy were placed out of commission, and the total of enlisted personnel was reduced to 86,000. On 31 December 1921 all permanent officers with a wartime temporary advancement in rank, some 1,059, were reverted by departmental fiat to their permanent rank. In addition, some 700 Naval Reserve officers were ordered to inactive duty, and over a thousand enlisted men were reverted from temporary officer rank to their permanent enlisted ranks. These events, leaving less than 20 officers of the Naval Reserve on active duty, and no temporarily commissioned enlisted men, raised doubts as to the future of the naval profession, and led to the thoughtful resignations.
It was a period of great discouragement for the officer corps of the Navy. There was a shortage of over a thousand officers of the Line in the Navy. The budget did not allow adequate money for purchase of fuel oil, with the result that "the movement of ships was restricted far below that which is necessary to maintain efficiency in the Fleet and to train new personnel in seagoing habits."26
Ships were undermanned, and they were not going to sea. Strange as this may seem to the naval officer of the mid-1960's, it made many naval officers of the early 1920's most unhappy.
By the time the Selection Board of 1924 and 1925 started looking over Lieutenant Commander Turner and his classmates, there were 109 on the Line of the Navy list remaining out of the 131 who had made the rank of lieutenant commander initially. One hundred were selected to the grade of commander. This was selection at its easiest. In fact it couldn't be called selection. It was a modified form of plucking those whose records indicated they were the less able 10 percent. But the promise of tougher hurdles lay ahead, and only 50 percent of the 1908 graduating class was still around working at seagoing chores.
The 1924 United States Fleet had four major components in U.S. waters. These were the Battle Fleet, operating in the Pacific, the Scouting Fleet
The 1924 Seagoing Navy
operating in the Atlantic, and the Control Force and the Fleet Base Force operating in both oceans.
The Battle Fleet contained battleships, destroyers and aircraft squadrons, while the Scouting Fleet had fewer and older battleships, a lesser number of destroyers, but all the new light cruisers. The Control Force had the old cruisers, some destroyers, part of the mine squadrons, and the submarines. The Fleet Base Force had mine squadrons, a few destroyers and the logistic support ships of the Train.
According to the Fleet's Annual Report:
The amount of time allotted to the year's work (of the Fleet) is approximately as follows: Tactical Exercises 10 weeks Cruising 10 weeks Gunnery Exercises 12 weeks Upkeep and Overhaul 18 weeks Holidays 2 weeks Possibly unforeseen calls will encroach upon the overhaul time. This is the common tendency.27
Much has been said in conference and in correspondence concerning the instability of officer personnel. . . . Such a condition is inevitable.28
The 1924-1925 year was the second year of Visual Signalling Competition and of Radio Competition between ships of the Fleet. These competitions added to the previously long existing gunnery and engineering competitions, and expanded cruising schedules meant that ship employment schedules, in fact, were "very crowded." This crowding led the Commander in Chief (Admiral Robert E. Coontz) to recommend that interruptions to the training of the Fleet "must be limited to national celebrations, and specifically to the Fourth of July and Navy Day."
Among the events logged by the Commander in Chief were:
- The Japanese Training Squadron of three cruisers, visited San Francisco during the year.
- Ten ships of the Fleet rendered assistance to the Army-Around- The- World fliers.
- A shift from Magdalena Bay on the Southwest Coast of Lower California, Mexico to Lahaina Bay, in Maui, Hawaii, as a training base for the Battle Fleet was made, on a trial basis.29
Recognition of the need for cohesiveness of the seagoing personnel marked this era.
The importance of the association of the personnel of the Fleet during Fleet concentration periods, not only for the training of the various subordinate units in cooperative action for the effective use of the Fleet as a whole, but also for the exchange of ideas, for the coordination of opinion, and, for the rectification and reduction to writing of Fleet Instructions and indoctrination has been clearly demonstrated.30
These were also the years when the groundwork for the successes of the Navy during World War II were being laid. Admiral Coontz noted:
The early completion and addition to the Fleet of aircraft carriers, cruisers, and submarines is recommended.31
An increase of ten thousand (10,000) men is required now if the advance in Fleet training is to continue. Without this training material preparedness is futile and belief in our readiness to perform our missions a delusion.32
The logistical problems of a war with Japan were recognized at this early date:
Fleet logistics as bearing upon mobility have been developed, and underway fueling exercises for cruisers and destroyers were included in the 1925 Fleet problems for the second time.33
* * * * *
After a study of Fleet operations extending over many years, and after executing numerous operations in simulation of war conditions, the Commander in Chief is impressed with the complete dependence of the combatant vessels of the United States Fleet upon the service rendered by auxiliaries. . . .
The slow speed of the auxiliaries . . . is the greatest single element of weakness in the United States Fleet today. . . . Whatever may be the number and characteristics of the combatant vessels, they cannot be used to the full extent of their speed, radius of action, and offensive power, unless they can be accompanied by auxiliaries.34
One of the three main objectives of the Commander in Chief, Admiral Robert E. Coontz, was stated to be:
Development of the Train to the end that it may refuel, re-victual, re-stock and repair combatant units on the high seas.35
Plain speaking in official reports was the practice, and the most important element leading to improvement of the Navy. For example,
of all the classes of ships in the Fleet, the submarines are the worst inherently for the purposes required. Their design appears to be obsolete and faulty, and they are not reliable.36
In the years ahead, submarines could and would be improved, although it took a good bit of doing.
Lieutenant Commander Turner fitted into this pattern of the 1924 Navy perfectly. He loved to work and he loved competition. He had an innate desire to excel.
Turner's new command, the Mervine, was named for a naval officer who served on active duty until he was 71, his last command being the Gulf Squadron in the early days of the Civil War. Rear Admiral Mervine' s most famous exploit was his landing, when a captain, as the head of a detachment at Monterey, Upper California, on 7 July 1847 and, under the orders of Commodore John D. Sloat, taking possession of that place and "California," in the name of the United States.
The Mervine (DD-322)
The Mervine was one of the later numbers of the World War I destroyer building program, actually having been built in 1919 and 1920 and commissioned on 28 February 1921. She mounted four 4-inch 50-caliber guns, one 3-inch 23-caliber gun, and had twelve 21-inch torpedo tubes in four nests of three each. Her normal displacement was 1,215 tons, and she had Curtis geared turbines, which theoretically would provide a speed of 35 knots.
The Mervine was assigned to Destroyer Division 35 of Destroyer Squadron 12 of the Destroyer Squadrons, Pacific Fleet. Rear Admiral Frank H. Schofield, Class of 1890, was in command of the Destroyer Squadrons. Captain John G. Church, Class of 1900, was the boss man of the 20 destroyers in Squadron 12.
Destroyer Division 35, in that 1924 mid-summer did not have a regularly detailed division commander when Lieutenant Commander Turner reported, although the Robert Smith (DD-324), was designated division flagship. The senior Commanding Officer in the division, Commander John N. Ferguson, Class of 1905, was not in her, but was in the Selfridge (DD-320).
There were 103 destroyers in commission in the Navy in July 1924 and 38 of them were in the Battle Fleet. The new 7,500-ton light cruisers of the Omaha class were starting to join the Fleet, and the "experiment of substituting bunks for hammocks" was being tried in the larger ships of the Navy.37
The memory of the Honda disaster of September 1923 in which seven destroyers were stranded and two temporarily grounded by running ashore in a fog on the California coast was fresh in every destroyer man's mind.
The Mervine, along with the rest of the division was in the Puget Sound area, when on 28 July 1924, Lieutenant Commander Turner assumed command, the previous Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Robert M. Hinckley, having already gone to shore duty. The Executive Officer was Lieutenant Frederick D. Powers, Class of 1914, and the ship had one more than her full allowance of seven officers.
As the officer personnel situation eased, the Department ordered Commander Theodore A. Kittinger, Class of 1901, as Commander, Destroyer Division 35. Commander Kittinger had missed stays in his first chance at selection to temporary commander in August 1917, and when later selected, served out World War I junior to a number of the Class of 1902 on the Navy List. On the reversion of all officers to their permanent rank on 1 January 1922, he regained his original seniority within the Class of 1901. Considered for selection to Captain in the same year that Turner was selected to Commander, Kittinger was not amongst those picked for promotion that year nor by any later Selection Board.
While Turner was in command, the Mervine participated with the other destroyers of Destroyer Division 35, Destroyer Squadron 12 and Destroyer Battle Force in the scheduled ship training, division training, squadron training, and force training incident to the Fleet schedule of tactical and strategical training and competitive exercises.
The Mervine also participated in Fleet Problem V, 2-11 March 1925. This was the first Fleet Problem to incorporate actual aircraft operations from a carrier, the USS Langley. Aircraft patrol squadrons had participated since 1923 in scouting and search during Fleet Problems, as had observation planes from battleships and cruisers. These aircraft had also simulated carrier aircraft bombing operations for several years, but the 1925 Fleet Problem opened the tide gate of seagoing aviation advancement.
Early detachment from the Mervine denied Lieutenant Commander
Turner a chance to participate in the 1925 Joint Amphibious training exercise which the Commandant of the Marine Corps described as:
The outstanding activity of the year was the Joint Army and Navy Problem No. 3 held off Hawaii. . . . The exercises which took place at Hawaii were completely successful from the standpoint of the Marines. The plan worked to perfection and the landing was accomplished.38
Planning by the Marines had been on the basis of 40,000 troops. Fifteen hundred Marines represented the 40,000.
The extent that these operations raised the planning interest of Lieutenant Commander Turner in air and amphibious operations is unknown, since all the official records of the Mervine, except the Ship's Log, have been destroyed by the pitiless burners of the Record Depositories.
On 8 April 1925, six days before Lieutenant Commander Turner was to be relieved, the Mervine, while anchored in San Francisco Bay, dragged anchor in the late afternoon and fetched up across the bow of the battleship Colorado, "the latter's bow striking at the forward end of the deck house."
Collisions in 1925 generally meant Boards of Investigation or Courts of Inquiry and all too frequently these were followed by general courts martial for the unwitting or negligent. Fast paper work and a "slight" collision might forestall such a personal career disaster.
The Commander in Chief Battle Fleet's despatch report read:
7008 Art 1556 Mervine dragged anchor and collided with bow of Colorado. No serious damage sustained. Request technical availability at Navy Yard, Mare Island for new mast complete, and two radio antennae spreaders and other incidental material. . . . Diver will examine port propeller Thursday 1805.
So it appeared that higher authority rated the damage "not serious," but to forestall a Board of Investigation, it was essential to convince them that there had been no negligence, and soon.
The comprehensive Mervine report to the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet regarding the collision was dated 8 April, the day of the incident, and despatched before midnight. The closely reasoned statement by the Commanding Officer supported by statements of the Officer with the Day's Duty, and the only officer aboard, and of eight enlisted men gave the following account of the incident.
The Commanding Officer on 3 April 1925 had issued "Special Instructions for San Francisco Bay" which started out with the statement: "The current in
San Francisco Bay is dangerous." It also included instructions as to how to detect dragging of the anchor, who was to carry out this duty, and what to do if dragging occurred.
The Acting Executive Officer, Lieutenant (jg) Samuel W. Canan in his accompanying statement stated he had published this order to "All Hands," and personally instructed the chief petty officers, signalmen and men standing gangway watches regarding it, and given copies to each of the officers standing Day's Duty. Each of the deck petty officers in his statement confirmed receiving this instruction.
The Commanding Officer was not on board having left at 1120 to attend the Chamber of Commerce luncheon and not having returned. Following the luncheon, he played golf at the Presidio. Ensign Everett H. Browne, Class of 1923, the Chief Engineer of the Mervine, had the Day's Duty and was in command at the time of the casualty.
At 1556 the dragging was noted and immediately reported. Ensign Browne acted promptly. He sent a messenger ashore for the Commanding Officer. He heaved around on the port chain, went ahead on the engines at 1616 (as soon as the engines were ready) but "just barely missed clearing the Colorado." "The Colorado personnel did everything possible to prevent damage, veering chain promptly. . . . Especial credit is due the Engineer Force in starting up the main engines so quickly after being notified."
Ensign Browne is a very promising young officer, of a high type, zealous, active and capable, and has already rendered excellent service as Engineer Officer of this vessel. The Commanding Officer has confidence in his ability and judgment. . . . [He] appears to have erred in not dropping the second anchor as soon as he saw the vessel was dragging.39
How the seniors in the chain of command viewed this letter is not known but what is known is that a Board of Investigation was held but as far as Lieutenant Commander Turner and Ensign Everett Hale Browne were concerned, nothing of a disciplinary nature ever came of it. And that was luck of the first water.
The Board of Investigation of three commanders was headed by the Division Commander, Commander Theodore A. Kittinger, and convened on 13 April 1925. Ensign Browne testified that he "did not think you could heave in on one anchor and veer on the other at the same time," with only the one capstan with which destroyers were fitted. This combined with the fact that he had noted that "the starboard anchor chain was faked out on
deck being painted, " when he had made an early afternoon inspection and that he did not know that it had been reshackled to the anchor until a minute or so before the collision, had caused him to delay ordering the starboard anchor let go.
Lieutenant Commander Turner testified that the dragging of the anchor was due to "a round turn around the fluke of the anchor," and that Ensign Browne
was Officer of the Deck of the Mervine on a previous occasion in San Diego when the vessel dragged her anchor. He noted the dragging as soon as it occurred and reported it to Lieutenant (jg) Canan--Lieutenant (jg) Canan got underway and shifted anchorage without damage of any kind.
I have great confidence in Ensign Browne.
The Board of Investigation found "no responsibility for the dragging" and that the "spare anchor was not let go in due season, nor were the engines used to maximum capacity."40
The Board of Investigation asked by the Convening Authority to give "the Board's opinion as to the responsibility for the collision" stated it was due to "the lack of judgment on the part of the acting Commanding Officer." The Convening Authority, while not disagreeing with this as the technical reason for the collision, took a broader view and indicated the basic reason lay in the error of the Commanding Officer in having entrusted Ensign Browne to the charge of the ship:
His ability and performance as an Engineer Officer appears to have led his Captain to suppose a corresponding ability in other line duties, in which he actually lacked experience.41
However, no copy of the Board of Investigation was attached to Turner's official record, which was personal and official consideration of a generous order.
Commander Destroyers Battle Fleet approved the Board's report, and informed seniors in the chain of command, by including a copy of newly issued Circular Letter, that he had reaffirmed the timeless requirement that
no officer is entrusted with charge of a ship at anchor or at moorings, until that officer has been instructed, trained, and examined as to knowledge and competence as a seaman.42
From the Navy Directories of 1924 and 1925 it appears that only two
ship's officers served with Turner throughout his eight and a half months' cruise in the Mervine. These durable officers were Lieutenant (junior grade) Samuel W. Canan, Class of 1920, and Ensign Everett H. Browne, Class of 1923. The Executive Officer, Gunnery Officer, and Communication Officer, however, all served more than seven of the eight and a half months, and the Communication Officer, Ensign William B. Ammon, who came aboard shortly after Turner, went on to become a Flag officer on the active list of the Navy, and Director of Naval Communications. Rear Admiral Ammon died before this book got well underway.
When asked to say what stood out in their memories from the period of their service in the Mervine with Turner, one shipmate wrote:
His invincible determination to make a happy efficient destroyer over into a taut battleship.43
his sincere regret in being detached from duty in the Mervine. He had strived so hard to make his first command a success.44
Describing Turner another wrote:
Intellectually brilliant, but impatient with average guys slow to grasp his theories, intolerant of opinions at variance with his, there was only one way to do a thing--the Turner way. Mostly, he was right, sometimes wrong and always very hard to convince.45
All the living officers who served more than a dog watch (a very short period) in the Mervine under Turner were queried in regard to Turner. It can be recorded as a fact that the Mervine is not remembered as a "happy ship" by several of her officers who served under Lieutenant Commander Turner, and that all her officers remember that some were not at all happy with their captain. He was "rank poison" to one.
Others mentioned Turner's "positiveness," his "excellent leadership" and his "determination."46
When asked to rate Lieutenant Commander Turner on a scale made up of:
2. Quite all right,
3. So, so,
4. The NUTS,
ratings were from one to four, with two placing him in category one, and two placing him in category four. It is perhaps significant that the two who served with him the longest rated him "Tops."
His Executive Officer believed Turner's strongest point was
work, work, work of all kinds and everybody's work as well as his own.
His Gunnery Officer thought Turner's strongest point was a
brilliant, forceful, theoretical mind.
Another named his "fairness," and still another "a personal hard worker." Turner's weakest points were believed to be his "refusal to delegate authority" and his "impatience and intolerance with other points of view," that he was "a detail artist," or "a driver not a leader." One said: "In my opinion he had no weakness, unless you would call his driving urgency one."
One officer recalled that members of the ship's company were heard to ask each other "When do we get a bugler?" or "When will the Mervine get her cage mast?" both of which were the dog marks of a battleship. However, discipline in the Mervine was remembered as "average" or "good" and by two as "excellent," although the Executive Officer thought that his captain at mast was "harsh at times and over lenient at others."
RKT lived by the 'Book.' His punishments at mast were exactly what the Book called for--no more--no less. He believed in swift and impartial punishment. No delay, no waiting for the convening of a court-martial. No back log of mast reports.
In approaching the Nest in San Diego Harbor one afternoon, RKT at the Conn, the forward throttleman answered the annunciator with 2/3 speed ahead instead of 2/3 speed astern, which caused a slight bump between the Mervine and the ship at the Nest, and made for a poor landing. The other ship just happened to be the flagship of the Division Commander, with the Division Commander on deck.
RKT sent for me and directed the forward throttleman be brought to mast as soon as the plant was secured. When RKT came down from the bridge, all was in readiness. He asked the throttleman, an Engineman second class, for an explanation, and the man stated that he had made a mistake.
RKT said 'Fireman, first class; go aft.
This is an example of his swift but fair punishment.47
As a ship handler, Turner was remembered as "excellent" by most and as "not too hot" or "inclined to place too much emphasis on a range and bearing plot, and little or no regard for the seaman's eye" by another. This officer wrote he "wanted every landing to be a mooring problem."48
The Chief Engineer related this story:
When preparing for a Full Power Run, the usual procedure is to work up to speed gradually, warming up each piece of machinery uniformly, and then settling the plant down to just below the required speed. This took about two hours and when I was ready, I went to the Bridge to report to RKT.
This particular morning the visibility was low, about 5 miles, and when I requested permission to start the run, this was denied, due to visibility. The plant was in excellent operating condition, and after several denials to start the run, I was impatient and asked 'Captain, what's the difference between 32 and 33 knots in this visibility?' He replied, 'One knot, young man, one knot.49
The Gunnery Officer recalled the following incident:
Turner was an Ordnance P.G. He had designed a gyro stabilized sight for the type of gun director installed on the Mervine and his word was law in all matters connected with her fire control system. While the ship was in drydock shortly after he took command, he devised a method for obtaining the inclination of the gun roller paths that differed radically from procedures prescribed in the instructional pamphlets of those days. Using data obtained from a complicated arrangement of vertical battens and theodolites, Turner computed the settings to compensate for the inclination of the roller paths at each gun and told me to check them after we were underway to see if they were correct. After the first check I reported that the settings were way off, showing him the results plotted on a large sheet of cross section paper. He said I was making some mistake and told me to do it again. This went on for almost a month and my room was filling up with sheets of paper half the size of my bunk all proving that his computed settings were no good. Finally, I persuaded him to come up to the director with me. He watched a few checks being made, then, saying we'd probably made some mistake in the original data, promptly discarded what, for me, had been a troublesome theory. He was a hard man to convince.50
The Executive Officer recalled that he became distraught over what he considered Turner's harsh opinions of his and the other officers' performance of duty and over the remark of one of the Officers of the Deck that he
wanted to push Turner overboard, and would have done so if he thought he could get away with it. As a result, the Division Medical Officer and then the Squadron Medical Officer talked with the Executive Officer who was ordered to the Naval Hospital and to Waiting Orders with no duty assignment for several months.51
However, no matter how "unforgiving and severe" Turner was, surprisingly enough no officer was suspended from duty for any of the hundred and one causes or incidents which in those days resulted in such suspensions. All the officers convinced their next promotional examining board of their professional qualifications and were promoted. This included the Executive Officer. But, the Chief Engineer remembered:
It was common No. 4 Smokestack Gossip that RKT and the Division Commander were not compatible. There was such a contrast in character and temperament between the two. The Division Commander took great pride in being the 'King of the Passovers' and was marking time until he was retired and was not very tolerant toward an officer of the ability of RKT and his conscientious efforts. If there was any 'extra duty' to be performed by any ship in the Division, the assignment usually fell to the Mervine.52
The Division Commander undoubtedly was aware of the lack of calm leadership exercised by Lieutenant Commander Turner and of the turmoil within the officer ranks of the Mervine. Bad news, and that includes inadequate leadership, works up as well as down in the Navy. Commander Kittinger viewed Lieutenant Commander Turner's performance of duty dimly, but not so dimly as did some of the ship's officers. He marked him in command ability 3.2 or 3.5. "This officer seems to have average ability" was his only remark on one fitness report, and on another he wrote only: "This officer possesses about average ability except in Ordnance in which he is superior."
On three different fitness reports, Commander Kittinger marked his brainy subordinate "average" in 19 different categories, including "intelligence, " "above average" in none, and "superior" in none.
Never having gotten around to questioning Admiral Turner before his sudden death, in regard to this phase of his naval service, this scribe cannot add anything to this unusual series of fitness reports except to say they in no way painted a complete picture of the officer and man. He was many things, but never "average."
Whatever trials and tribulations Lieutenant Commander Turner had with his Division Commander, he never gave vent of them to me.
The official part of the eight and a half months' cruise in the Mervine is covered by the despatch quoted below:
From Commander Destroyer Squadrons, Battle Fleet to Bureau of Ordnance 0129 For Commander R. K. Turner. The Mervine stands fourth in battle efficiency. My appreciation and my hearty congratulations on this excellent performance 2125.
Fourth out of 103 was not bad, and Rear Admiral Schofield, a future Commander in Chief, was a good man to impress. The personal side was covered in a letter written to this same Force Commander:
Naval Examining Board
Washington, 27 May 1925.
Rear Admiral F.H. Schofield, U.S.N.
Commanding Destroyer Squadrons,
Battle Fleet, U.S.S. Omaha, Flagship, c/o Postmaster, San Francisco, Calif.
My Dear Schofield:
I was pleased to find that Lieutenant Commander Richmond K. Turner of the Mervine in his examination for promotion to Commander made marks of over 3.56 in all subjects.
You are surely having a most interesting and instructive cruise. All of us here attached to desks envy you and all the others who have been with the Fleet.
Very sincerely yours,
Sumner E.W. Kittelle
One of Turner's officers in the Mervine wrote:
I don't know if Turner was given to introspection before Mervine, but he must have done some thorough going self-analysis after. Only so, could he have changed and produced his later record of accomplishment.53
This scribe does not know either. But considering the fact that he had been "asked off" of Vice Admiral McCully's staff and sent to the Mervine, it would have been quite normal if Lieutenant Commander Turner had asked himself many questions during the 1924-1925 period of his naval service, and come up with some good answers.
In late March 1925, after only eight months in command, Lieutenant Commander Turner was ordered to the Bureau of Ordnance for duty. He was relieved by Lieutenant Commander Penn L. Carroll, Class of 1909, just back from duty with the Naval Mission to Brazil. Turner drew a dead horse of one month's pay--$325--on 14 April 1925 to finance the trip to Washington and requested one month's leave.
To the Bureau of Ordnance
On 17 June 1925, Rear Admiral C.C. Bloch, Chief of the Bureau of
Commander Turner at about 45. (NH 69100)
Ordnance, delivered with congratulations, Turner's commission as a commander. In 1925, a commission as a commander in the Navy was a license to sit at the feet of the Navy great and learn, and a franchise to start molding those about him in his own image.
Commander Turner's duty in the Bureau of Ordnance was as Head of the Design and Turret Mount and Machinery Sections. During the 18 months that he held this assignment, he was frequently away on temporary duty witnessing tests of new ordnance material of both the Army and the Navy, as well as "witnessing Joint Coast Artillery-Air Service Anti-aircraft tests." This detail was highly satisfying to Commander Turner. There were "about 20 officers in the Bureau, about half of whom later became Flag officers; a highly intelligent group, hard working, and accomplishing a lot of progress with pretty limited funds."54
Rear Admiral Bloch described his subordinate in his fitness reports as "Hard worker, forceful, active, sound judgment and strong opinions." In the periodic fitness reports, Rear Admiral Bloch marked Turner superior in 14 characteristics and above average in the five others.
A contemporary, who worked in the same field of effort, reports as follows:
In 1925 when I was on duty in the Naval Gun Factory in the old Navy Yard, Washington, Kelly Turner was Head of the Design and Turret Mount and Machinery Sections in the former Bureau of Ordnance. The Naval Gun Factory was doing the experimental work in connection with new turret mounts and machinery designs and it was necessary for me, and the other officers directly connected, to work closely with those in the Bureau.
However, I had to draw the line sharply, when Kelly Turner started giving orders directly to my subordinates as to what was to be done or how it was to be done. He was always ready to take charge anywhere anytime.55
A shipmate in the Mervine, Darron, reports that when he put in for flight training, Lieutenant Commander Turner told him, "If I were a younger man, I'd request aviation too." Kelly got no younger, but in 1927 he qualified as a naval aviator.
Admiral Turner's personally approved biography states that he went
into aviation because he was "interested in the rise of aviation as a vital factor in warfare."56 Amplifying this in 1960, he said:
I was interested in going into aviation for some years, prior to applying for aviation training. When in 1918-1919, I was Gunnery Officer of the Mississippi (BB-41) Captain Moffett was Commanding Officer, and he was much interested in Naval Aviation. [Note: From the Mississippi, Captain Moffett went to duty in Naval Operations as Director of Naval Aviation.] While I was in the Mississippi a fly off platform was built on the top of #2 turret. So it was quite natural that I should take a real interest in planes flying off any of my turrets.57
When in 1923, I was on Admiral McCully's staff as Gunnery Officer and Aviation Officer, I was strong for aviation. Later when I was in the Bureau of Ordnance in 1925-1926, Admiral Moffett and I used to walk down together to the Old Navy Department from 3000 Connecticut Avenue. One day while we were walking down, he suggested to me that I apply. I took the physical examination, passed and applied.58
Three months later, the Bureau of Navigation got around to replying: "Note has been made of your request and it will be given consideration."59 But, Admiral Moffett's continual efforts to have first flight senior officers go into naval aviation, put Commander Turner into the same aviation training class as Captain Ernest J. King.
Commander Turner reported for instruction in flying at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, on 3 January 1927 and successfully completed the course on 30 August 1927. Three members of the Class of 1908, including Turner, were in the school, but he was the only one whose mental and physical reflexes were still limber enough to absorb the essential skills, and become a naval aviator.
One of his instructors, 35 years later, opined:
Kelly was a good flyer, and very sharp in the classroom. He worked at things hard and caught on rapidly.60
Another of Turner's instructors wrote:
I remember the Great Man's entrance on the Pensacola scene very well. At that time, I was running the torpedo plane school and teaching ground aviation ordnance. As each new class arrived, we, in ground school, had to help out during the solo period. Ralph Davison, Superintendent of Flight Training assigned Kelly to me as one of my four students.
Kelly's reputation had preceded him, a hard man, EJK's favorite, etc. We instructors were all Lieutenants who, before flight, had to sign the Bevo list. (I hereby certify that I have not partaken of intoxicating spirits during the past 24 hours.) Flight instruction had not reached the precision in technique that came a year or so later when Barrett Studley61 wrote the Instructor's Manual. The average of instruction was poor and some of us knew it.
Kelly was formally friendly as we met on the beach of old Squadron One. A gray haired grim man who took himself seriously I told him about course rules and my proposed procedure and he seemed impatient as if he knew all about it.
He wore a student helmet, hard, with ear pieces for a speaking tube from a canvas mouth piece hung around my neck. Instructors rode the front seat of the NY-I single float, whirlwind engine seaplane. Biplane, of course, top speed about 75, I guess and landing speed well below 50.
At first, he was inclined to argue with me about the errors he made. I remember this well, for during the second or third hour of instruction I landed the plane and told him in no uncertain terms that he had better do what I said or he wouldn't get by. From then on, he was amenable to all suggestions and he soloed without difficulty.
I remember one time when we had a strong west wind right down the beach, and I stalled the plane at about 1000 feet so that we came down almost vertically as I would give short bursts of throttle to avoid spinning. After he soloed and was being given a check by Ray Greer,62 he caught hell for trying to do something similar. . . .
Admiral Upham asked him to submit a report criticizing constructively flight training and the Pensacola command. I remember that he is reported to have said that he had never seen a station run so well, and by lieutenants. But it shows the prestige he had with those seniors.63
1. Josephus Daniels' original signature on (a) RKT's 1913 orders to postgraduate duty, (b) orders granting RKT leave in 1913, (c) detachment from Marietta in 1914, and (d) a leave request in September 1915.
2. (a) SECNAV, Annual Reports, 1904-1914; (b) Naval Registers, 1904 and 1914.
3. SECNAV, Annual Reports, 1 Dec 1914, p. 5.
4. Ibid., p. 52.
5. Ibid., pp. 8-9.
6. Ibid., p. 9.
7. DCNO (Air) and CHBUWEP, United States Naval Aviation 1910-1960, NAVWEPS-00-801P-1, pp. 2-8. Take-off from Birmingham (CS-2) 4 Nov 1910; landing on Pennsylvania (ACR-4) 18 Jan 1911.
8. SECNAV, Annual Report, 1914, pp. 12-13.
9. Ibid., p. 12.
10. Ibid., pp. 6-35.
11. Ibid., p. 17.
12. CHBUNAV, Annual Report, in SECNAV Annual Report, 1914, pp. 144-45.
13. Ibid., p. 145.
14. SECNAV, Annual Report, 1914, p. 6.
15. BUORD to CO MICHIGAN and BUNAV letter, 14 Feb 1918.
16. Captain Philip Seymour, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 12 Mar 1964. Seymour was Chief Engineer of the Mississippi in 1918.
17. Interview with Captain E.H. Kincaid, USN (Ret.) 5 Dec 1961.
18. Captain Paul P. Blackburn (Class of 1904) to GCD, letter, 13 Jan 1964. Captain Blackburn, last survivor of Turner's 1908 officer shipmates in Milwaukee.
19. Rear Admiral Joseph R. Lannom, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, Feb 1964.
20. Rear Admiral Grayson B. Carter, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 25 Feb 1964. Hereafter G.B. Carter.
21. Mr. Peyton S. Cochran, to GCD, letter, 2 Mar 1964. Cochran was an ensign in the Michigan June 1918 to September 1918.
23. RKT to Officer of Day, Washington Navy Yard, official report, 30 Jan 1922.
24. Interview with Captain Walter D. Sharp (Supply Corps), 13 Mar 1964. Sharp was a commander when Turner, a lieutenant commander, reported to the California.
25. Interview with Admiral Walter F. Boone, USN (Ret.), 29 May 1964.
25. COMSCOFLT to RKT, orders, 28 May 1924.
26. SECNAV, Annual Report, 1923, pp. 10, 12.
27. CINCUS, Annual Report, 1924, para. 92.
28. Ibid., para. 51.
29. Ibid., paras. 64, 65, 77, 79.
30. Ibid., 1925, para. 59.
31. Ibid., 1924, para. 164(f).
32. Ibid., 1925, para. 192(a).
33. Ibid., 1924, para. 24; Ibid., 1925, para. 44.
34. Ibid., 1925, para. 171(i)
35. Ibid., 1924, para. 16.
36. Ibid., para. 114.
37. SECNAV, Annual Report, 1924.
38. Commandant Marine Corps, Annual Report, 1925.
39. CO Mervine to CINCUS, letter, 8 Apr 1925.
40. Board of Investigation, Report of Collision USS Mervine - USS Colorado, 13 Apr 1925.
41. COMDESRON, Battle Fleet to CINC, Battle Fleet, letter, 30 Apr 1925.
42. COMDESRON, Battle Fleet to DESRON, Battle Fleet, letter, 24 Apr 1925.
43. Commander Frederick D. Powers, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 9 Mar 1964. Hereafter Powers.
44. Commander Everett h. Browne, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 10 Apr 1964. hereafter Browne.
45. Captain Joseph U. Lademan, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 9 Mar 1964. Hereafter Lademan.
46. (a) Commander Samuel W. Canan, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 22 Mar 1964; (b) Commander Roy R. Darron, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 18 Mar 1964; (c) Commander Everett h. Browne, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 10 Apr 1964.
48. Powers, Lademan, Canan, Darron, Browne.
54. Turner, Future Flag officers were J.O. Richardson, T.S. Wilkinson, O.M. Hustvedt, O.C. Badger, C.H. Wright, C.H. Jones, and W.H.P. Blandy.
56. Official Biography, Turner.
58. Turner. Application dated 4 Jun 1926.
59. BUNAV to RKT, letter, ser 6312-144, Nav 312-D of 2 Sep 1926.
60. Interview with VAdm M.K. Greer, USN (Ret.), 12 Dec 1961.
61. Lieutenant, USN, died 3 march 1941.
62. Now Vice Admiral M.R. Greer, USN (Ret.).
63. Admiral Austin K. Boyle, USN (Ret.), to GCD, letter, 5 Jan 1961. Hereafter Arty Doyle.