Friday, July 21, 2017

One Century Ago: Admiral Dillingham Inherits a Mess


As an example of a locality with almost ideal conditions for a training station, I would give the vicinity of Norfolk, Va.... The great possibilities of this strategic locality make it certain, that with the increase of the fleet, the Government will be obliged to have its principal training station and rendezvous there in the near future, and it is apropos of this consideration that is well now, to study plans for the best possible habitation for our men.
Rear Admiral A.C. Dillingham, 1910 
Great leaders don't make a recommendation or proposal unless they are willing to see it through personally.  Such was the case one hundred years ago this month for Rear Admiral Albert C. Dillingham, just after ground was broken at a former exposition site and fairgrounds just north of Norfolk, Virginia, for a huge facility he had envisioned seven years before.  In 1910, he had professed his belief in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings that Norfolk would make an ideal site for a permanent new recruit training facility.  Officially, Norfolk was already one of four locations throughout the country where initial recruit training was conducted, but Dillingham, who had recently finished up a tour as commanding officer of the Receiving Ship Franklin opposite Norfolk Naval Shipyard, wrote, "At Norfolk there is officially no training station, there never having been any appropriation for the specific purpose of training at that place, although, as a matter of fact, it is the most important training station in operation."
A postcard marketed at about the time of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition showing the Receiving Ships Richmond and Franklin (the names on the postcard being reversed) at the St. Helena Annex in the Berkeley section of Norfolk, across the South Branch of the Elizabeth River from Norfolk Naval Shipyard. (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection)
This seemingly contradictory claim captured the conundrum facing those running the two receiving ships then located on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River.  A decade into the 20th Century, the few hundred new recruits entering the Navy there were still trained much the way they were before the "New Navy" of the 1880s.  Receiving ships were not only too small to train large numbers of recruits, but, like the infamous British prison hulks of the Revolutionary War, diseases spread rapidly among the Sailors living and training there.  The Bureau of Navigation had concluded early in the new century that new Sailors needed more varied and technically sophisticated training than a receiving ship could provide, yet in Norfolk, there was little room to grow.  A shore-based training station had been established near the receiving ships at St. Helena in 1908, during then-Captain Dillingham's tour there.  In 1915, Franklin completed her 38-year tenure as the primary receiving ship of the station, yet when war against Germany was declared two years later, there were still two receiving ships, consisting of the bark Cumberland (IX 8) and former steam sloop Richmond.  With the modest shore station, St. Helena Annex had a maximum capacity of 3,555 men.
This portion of a panoramic series of photographs taken on January 2, 1917, shows the recruit training facilities of the St. Helena Annex, beginning with (from left) the Receiving Ships Richmond and Cumberland, the small boat training pier, parade and training grounds within the center image, concluding at the center right with modest bungalows for recruits. The demands of war that summer quickly overwhelmed the facility, which resorted to tents to contain the overflow of new recruits.  When those quickly ran out, some prospective Sailors showing up in Norfolk were told to go home until new accommodations could be found. (Norfolk Naval Shipyard Archives)    
Dillingham's wish to create a modern training facility finally came true in June, 1917, after President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill authorizing the purchase of the former Jamestown Exposition land and some adjoining properties, including the Pine Beach Hotel, to become Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads.  On the cusp of retirement after serving as a senior military liaison to the government of the Dominican Republic, Dillingham found himself back in Hampton Roads with a mandate to bring his vision to fruition.  Even with $1.6 million in funding and 4,000 construction workers suddenly at his disposal, however, Dillingham's twilight tour would not be a walk in the park.  He had inherited a monumental mess.  
The United States Lifesaving Station, which once stood where Chambers Field is located today, was beyond economical repair by the time it was surveyed on August 2, 1917.  Just ten years before, it was one of the many Jamestown Exposition buildings that merited its own postcard (Inset). (Hampton Roads Naval Museum Collection) 
The dilapidated fairgrounds were a far cry from the gilded city on Willoughby Bay envisioned by the Jamestown Exposition Company.  Even during the exposition itself in 1907, many of the larger pavilions were not quite finished, and the company went bankrupt shortly thereafter.  The sprawling fairground had in just a decade been reduced to ruin through neglect and by the dramatic storms that sweep across Hampton Roads.  The demise of many of the remaining buildings was also probably hastened by vandals and looters who had ripped everything that they could wrest from them, nailed down or not, by the time they were surveyed during the summer of 1917.  Only the state houses, the majority of which had remained for the most part in private hands, avoided the worst of a destructive decade.  Despite the degradation, housing for 7,500 men had been constructed by August 4, only one month after ground was broken and an epic cleaning and building job began.
A photograph taken on August 12, 1917 from the overgrown and dilapidated Godspeed Pier that was created for the Jamestown Exposition shows the former exposition auditorium at center and its east and west wings (known as buildings N-21 and N-23 today), while the postcard (inset) created for the exposition shows what its creators intended for them to look like for visitors in 1907.  The Hall of History (now Building N-24) did not appear in the postcard, but it lies just to the right of the East Wing in the photograph. (HRNM Collection) 
The interior of the former Auditorium Building of the exposition, seen here on August 4, 1917, looked like this when Rear Adm. Dillingham made it his headquarters, yet its condition was such that many essential administrative functions still had to be conducted in downtown Norfolk until the buildings could be reconditioned. (HRNM Collection) 
ABOVE: The East Wing of the former Jamestown Exposition Auditorium (now known as Building N-21), seen here on July 18, 1917, shows signs not only of neglect but of vandalism.  The words, "Education Building" can barely be seen above its central bay.  BELOW:  The interior of the East Wing at around the same time, where exhibits from colleges and universities across America were displayed during the exposition, including a college diploma awarded in 1760. (HRNM Collection)  

Among the major buildings not constructed as residences, only the main auditorium of the exposition, where Dillingham made his headquarters, and its adjoining wings, along with the former Hall of History next door and the nearby Pennsylvania Building, which would become an officer candidate school, were not too far gone to be repaired.  The Pine Beach Hotel at the northwestern end of Sewells Point was also retained for a number of years, although it too had sustained fairly extensive damage during the interregnum between corporate control and the federal acquisition of the land.

The photographs above and below were taken roughly one month and five days apart from roughly the same vantage point during the fall of 1917, a testament to the furious pace of construction maintained during Rear Adm. Dillingham's tenure as commander.  Note the United States Lifesaving Station still standing in the background at the far left. (HRNM Collection via National Archives and Records Administration)


Just three months, one week, and one day after ground was broken on the first new recruit barracks at Sewells Point, 1,400 apprentice seamen marched north from St. Helena training station in the Berkeley section of Norfolk across the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth, which represented a Rubicon of sorts from whence recruit training in the area would never be the same.  They marched past the northern reaches of the city along Jamestown Boulevard (now known as Hampton Boulevard) to the former Lee Parade Ground, where Dillingham was waiting for them.  Taciturn to a fault, the admiral said only a few words before the assembled ranks and members of the press, concluding with the only words he was quoted as saying: "The Base has begun to function."  On Armistice Day, just shy of a year and one month after that, around 34,000 enlisted men were training and serving at the new naval training station, more than a nine-fold increase in capability over St. Helena before the war began.
The Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads Training Battalion poses for a group photograph on the former Lee Parade Field in December 1917.  Note Building N-42, now the main base gymnasium, in the background to the right. (HRNM Collection) 
Memorialized today by the boulevard that bears his name, sweeping past the historic houses of Admirals' Row, as well as the Pennsylvania House, which later became the birthplace of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, Rear Adm. Albert Caldwell Dillingham was a man of vision who could not only clearly articulate that vision, but could then lead thousands to translate that vision into reality.  In a less than a decade, from conception to completion, he revolutionized the training and development of Sailors in Hampton Roads, and helped transform an ossified institution still entrenched in the age of sail into a system most Sailors of today would still recognize. Despite the fact that what we now know as Naval Station Norfolk did not become a truly functioning "operating base" until after the First World War, Dillingham led the effort to make the training station fully operational well before the end of the war, and it remained that way until after the end of the Second World War.

ABOVE: The former Jamestown Exposition Hall of History, probably the most solidly-built structure still standing when the United States Government bought the property in 1917, was nonetheless still pretty beat-up when this picture was taken between 1918 and 1921.  BELOW: The same building today, known as Building N-24, serves as the main base gym of Naval Station Norfolk. (HRNM Collection/ M.C. Farrington) 


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Of Such Stuff, Facts are Made: The Case of the "Dolphin"

Editor's note: The nation recently observed Independence Day. It is a time when, aside from cookouts, parades, and fireworks displays, we remember those whose sacrifices during the American Revolution bought the freedoms that the United States Navy defends today.  It is with this in mind that the author addresses what has been called "the worst loss in the short history of the Virginia navy...." during that war. 

By J. Huntington Lewis
HRNM Docent & Contributing Writer

Photographic Illustration by J. Huntington Lewis

... John Cowper commanded a vessel of War, and that during the War of the Revolution whilst at Sea the said vessel was sunk by the British and all hands perished. That this deponent understood he went to sea with his colours nailed to the mast head, with a determination not to strike the same to the enemy and all that was heard of him afterward was that a vessel answering to the description of one under his command attacked a vessel of the enemy of Superior force, and was sunk with the coulours flying at the mast and all hands perished.
- Sworn statement of John C. Cohoon to John B. Benton, Nansemond County, June 12, 1839, in "Claim for Service of Simon Harris," VAS12, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters  

In December 1839, the heirs of Dr. Simon Harris submitted a petition to the State of Virginia, claiming that Dr. Harris never received the land bounty promised to him by for his service on the Dolphin, a vessel of the Virginia State Navy during the Revolutionary War, and that they were entitled to that land bounty.  John C. Cahoon of Suffolk, the grand nephew of John Cowper related this story (above) in a letter supporting the petition saying that “He had no knowledge of the service of his grand-uncle, further than what has been handed down as a matter of family tradition, and from this source he has always heard from his earliest infancy.”

James Murdaugh, a prominent Portsmouth lawyer, submitted a related petition in March 1840 for an heir of John Cowper. Attached to that petition was a letter from Commodore James Barron who wrote that “I hereby certify that I was well and personally acquainted with Capt John Cowper of Nansemond County, Virginia. He perished at sea sometime during the Revolutionary War as well as I can recollect in the year 1779...the entire crew of his vessel perished with him.”


The story of Captain John Cowper and the Dolphin resurfaced in the January 1857 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger, within an article by Dr. W. P. Palmer entitled, “The Virginia Navy of the Revolution.” Palmer described in florid prose an engagement between Dolphin and two enemy vessels, adding that those who witnessed it from a great distance said “that the fight was long and doubtful, so far as they could judge; that at length two of the vessels were seen suddenly to sheer off to the eastward, leaving no vestige of the third, and they most naturally concluded that she was sunk in the action.” He estimated that the occurrence took place in late 1779 or early 1780. The article was not footnoted.*

In 1934, Robert Armistead Stewart's The History of Virginia's Navy of the Revolution retold the story with brevity. The book was not footnoted; yet in his preface, Armistead stated that his sources were various archives and Palmer's article in the Southern Literary Messenger. When the story of the loss of the Dolphin is related by later authors, it is Stewart's book that is most often given as a factual source.

But is the story true?

Did it really happen?

In all probability, no.


Here is why:

1.      The incident was supposed to occur within distant sight of Fort Monroe (Old Point Comfort at that time.) Yet there are no contemporary accounts.  The Virginia Gazette makes no mention of the battle, yet a battle of such nature would have surely been reported.
 
2.      British sources make no mention of the capture or sinking of the Dolphin.

3.      There were no survivors.  Even in the bloodiest of wooden ship battles of that time period, there were almost always some survivors.

4.      Commodore Barron was at the ripe old age of 10 years when he knew John Cowper.

5.      Except for the petitions from the heirs of Doctor Harris and John Cowper, there were no other petitions from the heirs of the Dolphin's 70-man crew.
 
6.      The Dolphin was probably not a ship of the Virginia Navy.  It was in all likelihood a privateer.  A privateer cruises to capture enemy commerce with a profit motive.  It runs from superior firepower.

There is a contradictory account of the Dolphin's loss in “A Family Portrait of Patrick Henry” by William Hamilton Henry in Eclectic Magazine, Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, Volume 146, January 1906. Mr. Henry stated that the Dolphin was destroyed by Brigadier General Benedict Arnold in 1781 in the James River. No supporting evidence was given, and no corroboration can be found among American and British sources.

Concerning Captain Cowper’s nailing his flag to the mast: This was a common expression for valor and determination at the time of the petition. While its use in the petition does nothing to prove or disprove the story, it is not surprising that it would be used to enhance the story.

In an 1833 issue of The Military and Naval Magazine, the nephew of John Cowper, who also was named John, told of his experiences aboard the privateer Marquis Lafayette, which was built at a shipyard run by the Cowper family. He praised the ship and the abilities of her captain Joseph Meridith.**

What really happened to the Dolphin is unknown. Most likely it was lost at sea with no survivors due to a storm, fire, or other maritime disaster with no survivors (not uncommon) like so many other ships. The family story probably developed to give their children heroes instead of a vacancy in their heritage and may have contained a bit of family rivalry.


One hates to dismantle a story about heroic Virginia seamen that has been considered factual for 160 years, but the story itself is not supported by verifiable facts. If anyone has evidence that appeared before 1839 that confirms the family story, the legend may finally become fact.


* In 1872, Dr. Palmer was appointed “to secure the preservation of historical papers in the [Virginia] capitol building” Between 1875 and 1885, he compiled and edited the multi-volume set of the Calendar of State Papers. In 1896, he was elected Vice-President of the Virginia Historical Society.

 ** This John Cowper served a one-year term as mayor of Norfolk, Virginia, in 1801 and lived in what is now known as the Taylor-Whittle House.


About the author: Hunt Lewis, a former communications officer in the Navy and the museum's longest-serving docent, is editor of the long-running "Moments in Naval History" feature in the The Flagship newspaper.

Editor's note: This and every HRNM blog post by a contributing writer reflects the opinions and core beliefs of the writer and should not be construed as representing the official policies or opinions of the museum, the Department of the Navy, or the United States Government.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Lord Dunmore's Navy in Hampton Roads, 1775-1776, Part IV: One Last Grasp for the Old Dominion

By Matthew Krogh
Contributing Writer

Editor's Note:  Independence Day is a perfect time to remind ourselves about the type of government Americans declared their independence from 241 years ago.  To this end we release the fourth and final installment in a series about Virginia's last royal governor, John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore, who attempted to retain power during the early months of the Revolutionary War from a base of operations in Hampton Roads.   


This postcard dating from the Jamestown Exposition of 1907 depicts the arrival of Lord Dunmore aboard a British warship, probably the 24-gun HMS Fowey, off Yorktown on the morning of June 8, 1775, seen anchored near HMS Magdalen. Although most sources mention Dunmore’s flight as being aboard Fowey, Magdalen’s journal entry for that day, as recorded in Volume 1 of Naval Documents of the American Revolution, holds that “at 5 AM the Earl of Dunmore and his familey came on board, at 7 weigh’d and came to Sail [then] at 11 Anchord abreast of York Town [and] Saluted his Lordship on his Coming on board and Leaving the Vessel with 13 Guns.”  The schooner’s 13-gun salute to the governor, who had just fled his palace in Williamsburg with his family the night before, marked the end of his control over the colony, but it signaled the beginning of Dunmore’s navy, a ramshackle assortment of nearly 200 vessels, from which he waged an almost 14-month campaign to retake the colony. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division) 
In January 1776, Lord Dunmore had made a strategic mistake by putting Norfolk to the torch amidst his own tempestuous attitude. He did this despite recruiting thousands of men from Norfolk to his standard. With triumph slipping through his fingers he sought to destroy what he could not retain, resulting in a pyrrhic victory. Indeed, firing on Norfolk was considered barbaric and ill advised by most Britons since it was the best staging area and supply center in the Chesapeake. On January 5, 1776, the Naval Committee wrote to the Virginia Convention, saying, “The Congress attentive to the safety and security of every part of the united Colonies, and observing the peculiar distresses that the Colony of Virginia is liable from a Marine enemy, have with all possible expedition fitted out a small fleet of Armed Vessels, which they have ordered in the first place to the Bay of Chesapeak, if the winds and weather permit.” Dunmore’s time was running out as colonial leaders moved resources to Hampton Roads.

With Norfolk destroyed, Col. Robert Howe of the North Carolina militia and his men attempted to destroy Dunmore’s original headquarters – Gosport, the naval supply center built by Andrew Sprowle. British marines tried to protect the buildings there but Patriot forces succeeded in burning the distillery, warehouses, and homes. The frigate Roebuck arrived in the Elizabeth River with additional troops in February. With Norfolk untenable, Dunmore relocated to Portsmouth a few days later where he continued his forays into the countryside and into the Chesapeake Bay. In March 1776, Maj. Gen. Charles Lee arrived in Williamsburg to take command of Virginia’s forces and made it a priority to rid the Old Dominion of Lord Dunmore and his navy. He stationed detachments in a ring around Portsmouth, seized the properties of loyalists, and attempted to burn merchant vessels offshore at Norfolk. On May 20, Lee fought a repeat of the Battle of Hampton when he attacked Dunmore’s fleet from the safety of the ruins of the Norfolk wharf. Dispossessed of his will to continue in the present condition Dunmore set sail soon after with 100 vessels and several hundred black volunteer troops, marines, sailors, and loyalists, including Sprowle. They headed for Gwynn’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay where Dunmore hoped to establish a new beachhead for the British. He had not given up on Virginia yet.

Although Thomas Jefferson is most remembered for drafting the Declaration of Independence for the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in July, 1776, he also drew this “Map of Action at Gwin’s Island” shortly afterward. (Thomas Jefferson Papers, Series 1: general Correspondence, 1651 to 1827. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division)
At Gwynn’s Island, Dunmore and his men suffered additional privations and it was reported that he had “400 half starved motley soldiers.” After retrieving Governor Robert Eden of Maryland in June, the island became an even bigger target for American troops bent on the destruction of Dunmore’s Navy. On July 5, the day after America declared independence, Dunmore sent a flag of truce in order to exchange prisoners. Captain Andrew Hamond of HMS Roebuck wrote of the situation, stating, “I have been under the absolute necessity of giving to Lord Dunmore & his floating Town, consisting of a Fleet of upwards of 90 Sail, destitute of allmost every material to Navigate them, as well as seamen.” By July 8, militia under General Andrew Lewis opened fire on Dunmore’s hastily-built fort. The first shot fittingly passed through the hull of the ship Dunmore while another splintered a timber, wounding Lord Dunmore himself. “Good God that ever I should come to this!” Dunmore purportedly shouted. He could no longer bare the emotional and physical pain that Virginia had caused him.
Sir Andrew Hamond. (Wikimedia Commons)  
Despite Dunmore’s urging, Clinton concentrated British forces in New York and the Carolinas. This left the Old Dominion to the Americans until the British returned in force toward the end of the war under Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold and Gen. Charles Cornwallis. Cornwallis’ army finally entrenched itself at Yorktown, near the mouth of the York River, in autumn. The Royal Navy suffered a defeat at the hands of the French fleet in the Battle Off the Capes as they attempted to resupply British land forces, as they had done in 1776. This left Cornwallis no choice but to surrender to Gen. George Washington’s army in October, 1781. Had the British listened more attentively to Lord Dunmore in 1776 and maintained a firm grasp of the lower Chesapeake Bay, the war in Virginia might have turned out differently.

By the time Dunmore’s ships cleared the Capes, the American Revolution had begun in earnest. In the end, the Battle of Hampton in October, 1775, marked the failure of traditional British naval tactics for the first time in the American Revolution and a lack of understanding one’s enemy on the part of Lord Dunmore.  The Battle of Kemp’s Landing saw a resurgence of Dunmore’s fortunes but a continuance of poor leadership and unscrupulous decisions. Great Bridge saw Dunmore’s forces suffer another defeat, forcing him to seek safety with the Royal Navy. Similarly, the burning of Norfolk witnessed the failure of Dunmore’s governorship and the retreat to Gwynn’s Island beheld the final dissolution of his meager navy as it suffered from starvation and disease. Yet, Lord Dunmore’s navy had saved him from capture and rescued hundreds of loyalists and former slaves. Perhaps they even had done Virginia a favor by whisking away the pugnacious Scottish peer. When two runaway slaves deserted the British fleet and reported Dunmore’s departure, Purdie’s Virginia Gazette compared Lord Dunmore to another infamous historical figure. In doing so, the paper established a new low for gentlemanly conduct when it stated that Dunmore had “perpetuated crimes that would even have disgraced the noted pirate Black Beard.” Given the chance, Patriots probably would have mounted Dunmore’s head on a pike in Hampton as well.


Seen here in 2008, the site of Lord Dunmore's last stand in July 1776, Gwinn's Island, was originally granted to British Col. Hugh Gwinn in 1640.  Although mostly known as a long-time vacation destination, around 600 full-time residents still call the island home. Three miles long, two miles wide, and 2,000 acres in area, it still lies today at the mouth of the Piankatank River in Mathews County, Virginia. (Ben Fertig, Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science) 
Matthew Krogh is a reenactor with HM Sloop Otter

Monday, June 26, 2017

USS Scorpion: On Patrol, 49 Years and Counting

HRNM Photo by Diana Gordon.
By Julius Lacano
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

Among the many artifacts at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, there are several that are seldom noticed. These artifacts, located in the Cold War Gallery, concern the USS Scorpion (SSN 589), a Skipjack-class nuclear attack submarine that was considered revolutionary in her day. Pieces include a commissioning plaque for the submarine and her Navy Unit Commendation pennant. Also included are two items more personal in nature, a uniform name plate and a set of Scorpion-crested his and hers cigarette lighters. These personal effects were donated by Navy Capt. Mary Etta Nolan, the daughter of Chief Torpedoman’s Mate Walter W. Bishop, Scorpion’s Chief of the Boat (COB). These artifacts seem commonplace and ordinary, but the story of the submarine they are representative of is anything but.

LEFT: At Naval Station Norfolk, Captain Mary Etta Nolan appears at a memorial ceremony held in 2013 honoring the 99 submariners who perished aboard USS Scorpion (SSN 589) in 1967, one of whom was her father (RIGHT), Chief Torpedoman's Mate Walter Bishop. While still a first class petty officer, Bishop was selected in July 1962 as Scorpion’s Chief of the Boat. This uncommon step was taken in recognition of Bishop’s outstanding and superb leadership characteristics. In 1999, Building 560 at Naval Submarine Base New London (SUBASE) was named and dedicated in his honor.  (Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic Facebook page/ Hampton Roads Naval Museum archive.)   
On May 27, 1968, Scorpion was expected to pull into Naval Station Norfolk at the conclusion of a successful Mediterranean deployment. As was customary, families were there to greet them on the pier. Wives, some with children by their sides, waited with anticipation for their loved ones to return home to them. As Capt. Nolan told The Virginian-Pilot in 2008, she and her two brothers were not with their mother on the pier; instead they were at a friend’s house waiting for their father to return. Time went on and families continued to anxiously wait. By that afternoon, though, it became clear that something was amiss. While it was normal for submarines to cross the Atlantic under orders of electronic and communication silence, upon proximity to shore they would transmit messages requesting berthing assignment and tug assistance from their respective superiors, in the case of Scorpion, Commander Submarine Squadron Six (COMSUBRONSIX). At 12:40 pm, COMSUBRONSIX sent a message to Commander Submarine Forces Atlantic (COMSUBLANT) that they had yet to receive any messages from Scorpion and that she was overdue. Mrs. Bishop returned home without her husband and picked up her children, who assumed that their father was hiding in the house waiting to be found, as was their family custom. While their mother maintained her strength, the children had no idea how serious the situation actually was. To them the sub would be found and everything would be ok. To eight-year-old Mary Etta Bishop, the situation was no different than the show Gilligan’s Island.

During builder's trials, USS Scorpion (SSN-589) steams off New London, Connecticut on June 27, 1960. Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, father of the Navy's nuclear program, is standing on her sailplanes with another officer. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command)
While the families of the Sailors onboard attempted to cope with the unknown, COMSUBLANT tried to re-establish communications with the submarine. At 3:15 that afternoon, after hours of attempts with no success, COMSUBLANT declared her missing and initiated an exhaustive air, sea, and subsurface search along her prearranged westerly track from 73⁰ West (directly south of New York City) to the Azores. This search proved fruitless and on June 5, 1968, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Thomas Moorer declared Scorpion lost with all hands. At the end of October 1968, the oceanographic research ship USNS Mizar (T-AGOR-11) located Scorpion’s shattered hull 9800 feet below the surface and about 460 miles southwest of the Azores.
View of the sunken submarine's sail, probably taken when Scorpion was located by USNS Mizar (T-AGOR-11) in October 1968, on the Atlantic Ocean floor 10,000 feet deep, some 400 miles southwest of the Azores. This image shows the starboard side of the sail, with its after end at top left, and the starboard access door in lower left. Debris is on the ocean bottom nearby. The device in top center is part of the equipment used in locating and photographing the wreckage. The original photograph bears the date January 30, 1969. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command)
The loss of the Scorpion and the 99 members of her crew remain one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in the history of the United States Navy. Various theories and conspiracies have emerged concerning her sinking, some more plausible than others, but these are little comfort to the family and friends of those who remain “still on patrol."
Detail of USS Scorpion commissioning plaque in the Hampton Roads Naval Museum's Cold War Gallery. (HRNM Photo by Diana Gordon)