Not just big heads, historic survivors of the Blitz!

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Figurehead from 3rd rate ship HMS Edinburgh built in 1811. (Accession# OF75)

This week Brock needed to photograph a couple of the large figureheads on display in our lobby and it reminded me of their really interesting history.  I’m not talking about the history of the ships they came from, although I am sure that’s fascinating as well, in this instance I’m talking about their acquisition by the Museum and the sad story associated with it.

The two figureheads, from HMS Formidable and HMS Edinburgh, along with a large bow ornament from the HMS Alexandra, were acquired in England in 1939. The story begins when our agent in London, Admiral Bertram M. Chambers, made a visit to the famous Castles Shipbreaking Company Ltd. in January of 1936.   Read more

A local story for Armistice Day

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Prisoner-of-war armband worn by Henry R. Hendren. (Accession#: IB 156)

In honor of Armistice/Veterans day I thought I would tell one local man’s World War I story.  That man is Henry Redmond Hendren. Henry was born in Norfolk, Virginia on October 4, 1900 making him just 13 when the war started in Europe in July 1914.

For those of you who aren’t aware of Newport News history in World War I, here’s a little bit of backstory to help explain what happened to Henry. Just a few months after the start of World War I the British, who still relied heavily on the use of horses and mules to transport matériel and wounded on the battlefield, had exhausted Britain’s supply of animals. They looked to the United States to provide this necessary resource and established facilities to house and transport the animals—the largest in Missouri. Thank to our extensive railroad infrastructure and protected port, Newport News was chosen as an embarkation facility. Between late November 1914 and the end of the war Newport News became the biggest and most important shipper of horses and mules to the British army in Europe.   Read more

Another day, another Dahlgren!

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Cutaway side view from the patent drawing for Dahlgren Shell Guns, 1861

Today’s question seems like a simple one – how long is a Dahlgren Shell Gun? As I mentioned previously, I am designing a set of drilling equipment to clean inside the XI-Inch Dahlgrens recovered from USS Monitor, and as part of that I need to establish parameters for actually using the drilling equipment. Well, one very important parameter to know is how far in can you drill? There are two ways to answer that question: you either need to know exactly how deep the bore is before you begin, or you keep pushing the drill into the gun until it hits metal. Given that the latter option cuts a shiny new groove into the back of the bore, I like to aim for the former.

Fortunately, guns from the 19th century often have government ordnance records or patent drawings which give more or less complete dimensions, and Dahlgren shell guns in particular have both patent drawings and multiple Board of Ordnance drawings which survive. Unfortunately, they don’t all match. The patent drawing gives a standard ratio for all Dahlgren shell guns that the bore should be 12 calibers in length, meaning an XI-Inch gun should have a bore 132” in length. The Board of Ordnance drawings give a bore length of 131.2” for an XI-Inch Dahlgren, or approximately 11.93 calibers. In addition, we have both Board of Ordnance pattern drawings and inspection drawings, and while the bore lengths are the same between them, the powder chambers have different measurements.   Read more