Advanced search  
Pages: [1]   Go Down

Author Topic: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?  (Read 12880 times)

John Kada

  • T3
  • ***
  • Posts: 110
Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« on: August 05, 2012, 08:00:58 PM »

The sextant box that was found along with the castaway’s remains is suspected by many on this forum to have contained a Brandis sextant that the U.S. Navy disposed of after World War One (see note). At present, we don't know for sure who owned the sextant whose serial numbers match those given by Gallagher after the US Navy disposed of it -- Fred Noonan may have owned or borrowed said sextant from some person or organization he knew, but we don't know that for sure.

I’d like to suggest an avenue of exploration regarding the post-USN history of the sextant in question (and yes I realize this is a long shot, but if we could only get Richie Conroy to take a week off from ROV image analysis duty I know for sure we’d hit PAYDIRT). As with my post yesterday about the castaway bones, my efforts in this regard got nowhere but that doesn’t mean that someone else might succeed where I have failed.

So then: When a U.S. government agency longer needs valuable items it possesses, a fairly standard practice is to post an announcement offering to sell or give away said items to qualified recipients. One way this is done today is by the internet: US government agencies post all manner of valuable objects they no longer need, from analytical balances to xylophones, on a web site to notify other federal, state, local agencies, educational organizations, etc. that it has items up for grabs. If a taker is found for an item, the federal agency that owned it gives it to the taker. If the item has a serial number, the agency typically generates a record for itself indicating the serial number of the item that was disposed of.  Even if no taker is found and the item is trashed, if the item is valuable it is often the case that the serial number of the trashed item(s) is documented.

If the USN followed this practice (in low tech, paper, format rather than by internet) when it discarded the Brandis sextants there is a slim chance that the records it generated doing so may still exist somewhere:

-Where would the USN have published an announcement that it was offering surplus sextants to qualified recipients?
-Where would property transfer records for such items be found if by some miracle they still exist?

Again, I know this is a long shot, but who knows--maybe we'd discover that Pan Am bought a batch of Brandis sextants from the Navy, or maybe a shipping line bought a batch of sextants and then one of its ships went missing in the vicinity of Gardner Island sometime in the late 20s. As J. Nevill said on another thread, odd things happen in an odd world...
_____
Note: This is an update to my post. In the Sextant box found on Nikumaroro  article in the Ameliapedia, Art Rypinski is quoted as saying that 'The Naval Observatory Annual Reports for the period describe surplussing of large number of instruments'. Perhaps those Annual reports would provide a clue as to exactly when and how the surplussing was carried out.
« Last Edit: August 05, 2012, 10:12:36 PM by John Kada »
Logged

John Kada

  • T3
  • ***
  • Posts: 110
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2012, 10:30:00 PM »

A pdf file containing the Annual Reports of the Naval Observatory for 1919 to 1930 (minus 1921 and 1922?) can be downloaded here
Annual reports for various other years, before and after this period can be downloaded or at least viewed  here.

Much of these reports discuss the astronomical work of the Naval Observatory, but there is interesting information about the observatory’s eccentricity testing of sextants as well. From this information I came up with an estimate of about 4600 Naval Observatory numbers assigned to sextants between 1915 and 1919 (a key assumption being that, during the 1916-1920 period, every sextant given an eccentricity test had a USNO number, and every sextant was only tested for eccentricity once ). The sextant with N.O. number 1542 would seem to be have been issued during WWI. After 1923, it looks to me that very few if any new sextants were purchased the USN and few additional naval observatory numbers were assigned to sextants. I know I'm being vague about this, but I hope to get around to posting more on the N.O. numbers on another thread. Here I want to focus on what the USNO annual reports say about the fate of WWI era sextants, of which I think the sextant stamped with N.O. #1542, was one.

I was able to find three routes by which such sextants left the US Navy. I will bury the lede, so to speak, and list these from least interesting to most (you are now free to skip ahead):

1- During WWI, the Navy borrowed large numbers of instruments, from the public including sextants for shipboard use. These borrowed instruments were returned to their owners, who received certificates of appreciation. This is discussed on pages 3 and 12 of the fiscal year 1919 (FY19) annual report. I suspect that only a tiny fraction of the USN’s wartime inventory of sextants came from the public, so it seems unlike that sextant #1542 was one of them. All the same the USN appears to have taken care to keep track of these instruments and their owners, and if the borrowed sextants were given N.O. numbers, those sextant numbers might be in records pertaining to borrowed sextants, wherever they may be.

2- A possibly more significant discharge of sextants from the USN occurred in 1928. The USNO annual report for FY28 (page 15) then tells us that “A considerable amount of material reported sent to the naval yard, Washington, in the last annual report was found to be in excess of obsolete, and has been sold.” Records of transfer of navigational equipment from the USNO to the Washington navy yard in 1927, or of equipment sales by the Washington navy yard in 1928, would be interesting to obtain.

3- In terms of the Nikumaroro hypothesis, the third way that the annual reports tell us that sextants left the USN is the most interesting one. The FY19 report, page 3, tells us that “ Up to the date of the armistice, in November 1918, the personnel of the Naval Observatory was concentrated chiefly on supplying the compasses and compass equipment, navigational instruments, instruments for aviation, nautical almanacs, and time service, not only for a greatly increased Navy, but for the Shipping Board to supply its vessels with navigational equipment”. On Page 7 of the same report: “The continuing increase of the Navy up to the time of the armistice intensified the situation which existed during the previous year in regard to obtaining nautical instruments, and the observatory was also called upon to fill certain requests of the Army and Shipping Board for them”. The FY19 report tells us: “ By supplying the Shipping Board vessels with part of their navigational outfits the observatory has been able to dispose of what would have become a large surplus stock of instruments”.

The Shipping Board, as I understand it, was the government agency set up to build up the U.S. merchant fleet through a subordinate agency called the Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC). It appears that a significant number of sextants stamped with USNO numbers may have gone to EFC-built merchant ships. What makes this interesting is that, according to the Tighar Research Paper on Fred Noonan, Noonan served on U.S. merchant vessels during and after WWI. We are told in the research paper that “Noonan’s career as a merchant seaman is documented by US Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation records”. Apparently Tighar has these records (they are listed as reference 10 of the research paper). It would definitely be worthwhile to try to find out more about transfers of sextants from the USNO to the US Shipping Board/EFC, don’t you think? A partial list of Shipping Board merchant ships can be found here.

« Last Edit: September 20, 2012, 11:31:51 PM by John Kada »
Logged

Gary LaPook

  • T5
  • *****
  • Posts: 1624
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2012, 02:13:12 AM »


The Shipping Board, as I understand it, was the government agency set up to build up the U.S. merchant fleet through a subordinate agency called the Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC). It appears that a significant number of sextants stamped with USNO numbers may have gone to EFC-built merchant ships. What makes this interesting is that, according to the Tighar Research Paper on Fred Noonan, Noonan served on U.S. merchant vessels during and after WWI. We are told in the research paper that “Noonan’s career as a merchant seaman is documented by US Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation records”. Apparently Tighar has these records (they are listed as reference 10 of the research paper). It would definitely be worthwhile to try to find out more about transfers of sextants from the USNO to the US Shipping Board/EFC, don’t you think? A partial list of Shipping Board merchant ships can be found here.
Interesting but you research also points to the possibility that some other sailor on a Shipping Board merchant ship obtained that sextant starting a chain of events leading its box eventually to Gardner. This "other sailor" might even be our castaway.

gl
Logged

John Kada

  • T3
  • ***
  • Posts: 110
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2012, 06:48:37 AM »

Gary,

You are right--the information I dug up is interesting but proves nothing. It does suggest some more places to look for relevant records, e.g. records of the Bureau of Ships, records of the Washington Navy Yard. And it does, I hope, indicate that trying to find records pertaining to the transfer/surplussing of the sextants is a worthwhile line of research...

Logged

John Kada

  • T3
  • ***
  • Posts: 110
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2012, 09:58:32 PM »

Here is a photo taken in 1918 showing students of the U.S. Shipping Board Navigation School with sextants in Tampa, Florida...
« Last Edit: September 21, 2012, 10:21:57 PM by John Kada »
Logged

John Kada

  • T3
  • ***
  • Posts: 110
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2012, 10:43:36 PM »

Records of the US Shipping Board at the National Archives appear to include material on navigational instruments (Box 493), crew lists, surplus equipment, etc.

-------
added later: Here are the names of some of the USSB ships Noonan served on. Wouldn't it be interesting to see if the records in box 493 tell us anything about where those ships got their sextants?
« Last Edit: September 24, 2012, 10:33:44 PM by John Kada »
Logged

John Kada

  • T3
  • ***
  • Posts: 110
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2012, 10:26:13 PM »

I’ve been plugging the US Shipping Board angle in the last couple of posts on this thread, here I’d like to plug the “Sextant #1542 was sold as surplus at the Washington Navy Yard” angle.

The 1928 Annual Report of the Naval Observatory tells us about some significant changes that occurred that year.  On page 20 we read:

 “an officer from the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts with the necessary clerical force and other assistants made a complete and detailed inventory of all instruments and stock on hand and opened a new set of books. A board of officers appointed by the superintendent surveyed the stock during and after the inventory. All instruments determined to be obsolete, beyond economical repair, or having slight naval value were surveyed, appraised, and sent to the Washington Navy Yard for sale. The book value of this material was approximately $417,000. It was appraised at approximately $31,000, and slightly more than $24,000 was realized from the actual sale. In this manner the enormous stock of excess material was disposed of and the remaining material properly stored. A modern system of bookkeeping has been inaugurated and is operating satisfactorily”.

A bit further along we are told:

 “After a series of conferences with representatives of the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, it was decided that, except for chronometers and similar timepieces, the observatory would cease to be the source of supply for navigational instruments and equipage. The responsibility for maintaining adequate stocks of navigational material was turned over to the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, the naval supply depots at Brooklyn and Hampton Roads were made the central distribution points for the entire Naval Establishment.”

It would be great to find the records of the detailed inventory conducted by the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts (perhaps here in the files marked General Correspondence of the Board of Survey, Appraisal, and Sale, 1920-26) to see whether by some chance those records  us about sextant #1542; was it at the USNO at the time of the inventory, and if so was it judged to be worth keeping or was it sent off to be sold as surplus? Where would those records have been kept--at the USNO or at the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, or both?

Remember that Gallagher described the sextant box found on Gardner as being ‘old fashioned’? Here we are told that in 1928, Naval Observatory equipment deemed to be obsolete--old fashioned?--was sold as surplus by the Washington Navy Yard.  Might there be records of telling us which sextants were shipped off to the Navy Yard to be as surplus? Where would those records be—in the records of the USNO or the Washington Navy Yard, or both institutions?...

If Sextant #1542 remained in USN service after 1928, the above citation also suggests that we might learn its whereabouts in records of the Washington Navy Yard, if any still exist.



« Last Edit: September 30, 2012, 11:13:42 PM by John Kada »
Logged

John Kada

  • T3
  • ***
  • Posts: 110
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2012, 05:33:19 PM »

John,

That is utterly fascinating information you have turned up.  There may well be telling clues within that data - many thanks for all your fine research.  That is a lot of hard work and I would not have a clue where to begin on all that you've done so far!

Jeff,
I would think that a look at Box 493 of the US Shipping Board Records at the National Archives would be the place to start (see reply #5 above) assuming this wasn't already done by Tighar some time in the past. Perhaps those files would point squarely at Fred Noonan as the owner of sextant #1542, perhaps they'd point at Thurston Howell the first, or most likely they'll turn out to be another a dead end. If I could easily get to the archives I'd be all over that box...

« Last Edit: September 25, 2012, 08:07:40 PM by John Kada »
Logged

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

  • Administrator
  • *
  • Posts: 2901
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2012, 10:43:14 AM »

I would think that a look at Box 493 of the US Shipping Board Records at the National Archives would be the place to start (see reply #5 above) assuming this wasn't already done by TIGHAR some time in the past.

This sounds to me like a brand-new line of investigation.

(Working from memory, which, I remember, has proven fallible in the past ...)
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
« Last Edit: September 29, 2012, 10:52:42 AM by Martin X. Moleski, SJ »
Logged

John Kada

  • T3
  • ***
  • Posts: 110
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2012, 09:11:59 PM »

Trying to find a paper trail of the sextant with N.O. number 1542 in the records of government agencies may seem an impossible task. Maybe Box 493 of the US Shipping Board Records at the National Archives will lead somewhere, maybe it won’t. But it certainly is possible the records we seek are out there.

As a case in point, take a look at this US Navy Deck watch. The case is marked U.S. Navy NO 44 and the dealer indicates he has a number of documents obtained from the National Archives including copies of the preliminary purchase agreement, the original invoice showing the serial number of the watch, a transfer document from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard indicating the assignment of the watch to the torpedo boat USS Cushing, and an archival photograph of the Cushing. I contacted the dealer and my understanding is that this research was done on behalf of a previous owner and thus he could provide no details of the research process. If this sort of detailed information could be gotten for this watch I would think there is at least some realistic hope that information useful in understanding the movements of the sextant N.O. #1542 is out there somewhere.
Logged

Cynthia M Kennedy

  • T1
  • *
  • Posts: 33
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #10 on: October 23, 2012, 10:07:41 PM »

I recently emailed the National Archives with a question about the records of the U.S. Shipping Board  (Record Group 32), as I am assisting a friend with research on an ancestor who was a member of the crew of the SS Conejos, and who may have been on the ship's last voyage when it sank in the Black Sea in December 1923.  I emailed NARA using the contact form on their website, and in two weeks, I had a response (no charge).  The individual who responded searched the available crew lists, but was not able to locate that particular crew list.  The archivist who responded is located at the National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740.  He said , "The records of the U.S. Shipping Board (Record Group 32) are in the custody of this unit."

Cindy
TIGHAR #3167
Logged

John Kada

  • T3
  • ***
  • Posts: 110
Re: Who did the USN give its surplus sextants to after WWI?
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2012, 12:17:34 AM »

Here’s another possibility to think about: perhaps the sextant box found by Gallagher wasn’t a surplus US Navy item, but instead the box of sextant still in use by the USN. What am on about this time, you ask?

In late 1939 the USS Bushnell mapped Gardner Island and its lagoon. One kind of instrument that I believe was typically used in doing this kind of work was a surveying sextant. We know that surveying sextants were assigned Naval Observatory numbers – they show up on ebay and we have examples of surveying sextants in the Ameliapedia sextant number table (e.g. N.O.#s 1868, 2929, and 4657). So this leads me to offer the hypothesis that a surveying sextant box was lost by a member of the Bushnell surveying team in the vicinity of the castaway’s remains. One can imagine, for instance, a Bushnell sailor taking a break from Gardener’s heat and sun in the shade of the forest, going off with his sextant, leaving his sextant box behind to pick up later, but then being unable able to find the box when he comes back for it.

So then a few months pass by and the colonists find the skull. Some six months more pass and then Gallagher and helpers make a thorough search of the area looking for more of the castaway's remains, but can find only about half of the castaway’s bones. In the process of trying to find all those missing bones the sextant box is found (not by Gallagher, by the way, but by another searcher). Gallagher assumes the sextant box belonged to the castaway, and we naturally assume he was right.

After all, wasn’t the sextant box found right next to the skeletal remains of the castaway? That's how I’ve always pictured it, but when I go back and read the correspondence between Gallagher and his superiors in Research Document #12, The Bones Chronology, I see nothing  precise about the proximity of the sextant box to the castaway’s remains. All Gallagher says (in a July 3, 1941 communication) is that the sextant box was found “nearby the remains”. So our Bushnell guy didn’t necessarily sit himself down next to a partial skeleton, stare at it while reflecting on the meaning of life , and then go away, leaving his US Navy sextant box behind for Gallagher to discover. Our Bushnell guy merely had to be somewhere close enough to the castaway’s remains to be within Gallagher’s search radius.  As I pointed out on another thread, the small portion of the Bushnell Map we’ve seen (see below) shows surveying points at close intervals along the lagoon and ocean shore, so it is reasonable to think that sailors from Bushnell passed close to the castaway’s remains. They might even have stopped close to those remains: it would be very interesting to see the portion of the Bushnell Map corresponding to the part of the island where the castaway’s remains are thought to have been found.

One thing this hypothesis has going for it is that it explains why no sextant was found in the castaway’s sextant box. It also of course nicely explains how a sextant box with a USNO number and a Brandis number ended up on Gardner (I also acknowledge of course that the possibility that the box was Noonan’s is also a good explanation). But what intrigues me about this hypothesis is that maybe, just maybe it can be verified. Perhaps somewhere in the surviving records pertaining to the Bushnell, we can learn the Naval Observatory numbers of the sextants it carried. That to me is very interesting. 



« Last Edit: October 31, 2012, 12:47:54 AM by John Kada »
Logged
Pages: [1]   Go Up
 

Copyright 2018 by TIGHAR, a non-profit foundation. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be reproduced by xerographic, photographic, digital or any other means for any purpose. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be stored in a retrieval system, copied, transmitted or transferred in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, digital, photographic, magnetic or otherwise, for any purpose without the express, written permission of TIGHAR. All rights reserved.

Contact us at: info@tighar.org • Phone: 610-467-1937 • Membership formwebmaster@tighar.org

Powered by MySQL SMF 2.0.15 | SMF © 2017, Simple Machines Powered by PHP