Kittens, parrots and ambidextrous rate patches
USS Alabama (Battleship # 8) Ship’s Gunner and Gunner’s Mates, summer 1903. Note the kitten and parrot mascots, the Chief’s pipe and the comment written on the First Class Gunner’s Mate at right (accidental discharge?)
She was an 11,565-ton leviathan of the Illinois-class armed with 4 x 13″/35 main guns and 14 x 6″/40cal secondaries and her gunnery crew in 1903 was both very photogenic and celebrated.
These 13″ guns were used in the Navy’s first several classes of battleship from USS Indiana (BB-1) through USS Wisconsin (BB-9) and were pretty effective, with Navweaps noting “During the Battle of Santiago on 3 July 1898, the battleship Oregon (B-3) engaged in a running shoot with the Spanish cruiser Cristobal Colon. Oregon’s last shots traveled 9,500 yards (8,700 m) and landed just ahead of the Spanish ship, convincing her to surrender.”
Also, note the gunners have alternating patches in the images above, some on their left sleeve, others on their right. Before WWI, Navy gunners mates on large ships such as a battleship would have their patches arranged to identify their watch station on ship. E.g. left sleeve for portside, right sleeve for starboard broadsides.
In 1917, this changed to right arm for seaman branches, left arm for non-seaman. In 1946 they all went to left arm rates. In 2016, well…