Kittens, parrots and ambidextrous rate patches

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph # NH 57497

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph # NH 57497

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.

Forward turret crew Gunner's Mates pose by the breech of one of the ship's 13"/35 guns, 1903. Note the ex-Apprentice marks (figure "8" knot badges) worn by two of these men.Photo # NH 57494, from the collections of the United States Naval Historical Center.

Forward turret crew Gunner’s Mates pose by the breech of one of the ship’s 13″/35 guns, 1903. Note the ex-Apprentice marks (figure “8” knot badges) worn by two of these men as well as the flatcaps. Photo # NH 57494, from the collections of the United States Naval Historical Center.

Champion guns crew with Lieutenant Lewis J. Clark, 1903. They are posed with a 13-inch shell, on the foredeck in front of the ship's forward 13"/35 gun turret.Photo # NH 57495.

Champion guns crew with Lieutenant Lewis J. Clark, 1903. They are posed with an 1100-pound, 13-inch shell, on the foredeck in front of the ship’s forward 13″/35 gun turret. Photo # NH 57495.

Crew members F. Petry (left) and W.M. Langridge (in gun) pose at the breech of one of the ship's 13"/35 guns, 1903. Note the "A" with figure "8" knot on Petry's shirt. Photo # NH 57496

Crew members F. Petry (left) and W.M. Langridge (in gun) pose at the breech of one of the ship’s 13″/35 guns, 1903. Note the “A” with figure “8” knot on Petry’s shirt. Langridge also appears prominently in another image above, his pomade being very distinctive. Photo # NH 57496

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…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.