Captain Harry Manning
Harry Manning had just received a temporary assignment as Captain of United States Lines’ SS President Roosevelt when he met Amelia Earhart. It was his first command of a ship, and at age 31, he was the youngest Captain of a luxury liner on the seas. At a youthful appearing 5 ft 7 ½ inches and 130 pounds, he was chided as being “the boy Skipper.” It was June of 1928. The crew of the Friendship, Captain Wilmer L. Stultz, pilot, Louis “Slim” Gordon, mechanic, and Earhart, boarded the Roosevelt in Southampton, England. They were returning to New York following a tumultuous welcome and a week of congratulatory activities as celebrities following their historic transatlantic flight. Captain Manning had sheltered Earhart from throngs of admiring onlookers by giving her refuge on the Roosevelt’s bridge deck and the two established an enduring friendship through their shared interest in flying. Just six months her senior, Manning, like Earhart, neither drank nor smoked and they established a mutual bond through their common interests and shared values. In a letter describing his first trip as a Captain, Manning wrote: “a glorious experience, ending as it did by bringing the Friendship flyers back. I have become quite intimate with the “girl” flyer. I am trying to convince her to fly the Friendship back again with me—but she won’t be convinced.”
But in 1937 Earhart was convinced that Manning was the right man to join her World Flight as the navigator. He was to guide the Lockheed Electra across the expanses of the Pacific from the flight’s origin in Oakland, then, disembark in Australia, leaving Earhart to continue on her own. Manning was a well qualified nautical navigator, possessed an amateur radio license and was proficient in sending and receiving Morse code. He had become a licensed private pilot in 1930. Seemingly, Harry Manning possessed all the attributes that Earhart felt would be required for the forthcoming World Flight.
- 1 Young Harry Manning
- 2 Manning's early career
- 3 Career disappointments
- 4 Temperament issues
- 5 The “Habitual Hero”
- 6 Earhart’s World Flight navigator
- 7 Other Researcher’s Comments
- 8 Manning’s last flight
- 9 World War II era
- 10 Commodore of the Fleet
- 11 Retirement years
- 12 Footnotes
- 13 Bibliography
- 14 References
- 15 Related articles
Young Harry Manning
Harry V. Manning was born in Hamburg, Germany on February 3, 1897, to a British father and a German mother. His father, William Edwards Manning, was a junior diplomatic officer in the British Foreign Service. His mother, Ann M. Manning, was described as a woman of great beauty who had worked as an actress in Germany. In 1907 the Mannings moved from London to New York City where William Manning pursued a career in the import business. His untimely death, however, followed shortly after their relocation to New York. Young Manning and his mother continued to reside at 362 Riverside Drive in Manhattan where she found work as a model for several years. Harry remained very devoted to his mother and insured her welfare.
Harry Manning was a bright student, but being the smallest in his class, he was often picked on by classmates. Both smart and tough, it was not unusual for him to come home after school with the telltale signs of a fist fight. He completed his grade school education with honors, and was eager to develop himself both intellectually and culturally.
At 16, young Manning qualified for the New York Nautical School, and trained on the New York Nautical training ship Newport. In October of 1914, after two difficult years which included many more fights, Manning, at just 99 pounds and 5 feet, ½ inch tall, graduated from the school. Navigation fascinated him and he quickly absorbed the Marcq St. Hilaire method of celestial navigation which had recently been adopted by the U.S. Navy. With the Great War underway, job opportunities and advancement for mariners were ample. He signed on to the St. Paul as a seaman at a monthly wage of $15, and proved himself to be a competent navigator.
By his second voyage he was promoted to quartermaster. Unfortunately, Manning was fired when he suffered a bout of seasickness while at the helm, unable to carry out the Captain’s orders while approaching Nantucket in a choppy sea. An 11 month apprenticeship on the four masted American barque Dirigio followed, making Manning one of few luxury liner Captains to have trained under sail--a fact respected by crewmen and superiors alike. An intimate understanding of winds and seas was to benefit him throughout his seafaring career.
Manning's early career
Harry Manning advanced rapidly through the junior officer ranks, shipping on cargo vessels, troop transports and tankers. He was acquiring a reputation as a perfectionist who wanted things done his way, but his tight discipline did not make him popular with crewmen detailed to his watch. Time magazine wrote: “on one ship, the stewards tried to poison him by dumping roach powder in his coffee. Says Manning: ‘I was an awful son of a bitch in those days.’ His hands still bear the scars of knives wielded by a stowaway and what Manning calls ‘various obstreperous members of the crew.’”  Once, as a junior officer, he was ambushed and beaten up by drunken sailors in Bremerhaven, Germany, an event that prompted him to become an accomplished boxer. His pugilistic skills were honed by sparring with ex-lightweight champion Benny Leonard (183-19-11).  After receiving the rating of Chief Officer, Manning was employed by United States Lines in July of 1921 and shipped on several vessels, usually as Second Officer. Typical of Manning’s youthful daring and risk-taking was an escapade in which SS George Washington arrived in port behind schedule and, without the knowledge of the Captain, he set the bridge clock back to reflect an “on time” arrival.
Manning’s career took a downward turn after being assigned as Second Officer under Captain Hartley on the SS Leviathan in 1923. The Leviathan was then the largest and fastest vessel afloat, one of three German ships interned after the outbreak of WW I, and seized as a prize of war when the United States entered hostilities in 1917. Manning had worked to help another officer obtain command of the ship, placing him in an awkward position when Hartley ultimately was selected for the captaincy. After a year’s difficult relationship, he was “detached” (fired) from the Leviathan, causing a blemish on his career. Though he knew it would be difficult, Manning was determined to make a comeback. Satisfaction with his three year climb back is reflected in a March, 1927 letter: “I fell from the heights like a plummet…nothing left for me to do but begin all over…I have worked hard, handicapped with poor health as I have been, and now I am higher than ever”.
Manning was plagued with self-doubt about many of his life and career decisions. He worried that he “always chose mediocrity” when faced with important choices. It was easier not to ask for the hand in marriage of a young lady he loved, than to propose and be turned down. Through his association with Amelia Earhart in 1928, he became acquainted with Richard Byrd, then planning an expedition to Antarctica. Asked by Byrd to command one of his three ships, Harry Manning agreed, but later recanted when his decision met with the disapproval of his Mother and closest friends. He continued to question whether he had done the right thing.
Manning developed an interest in aviation motivated by Lindbergh’s 1927 solo transatlantic flight, and he wrote of Lindbergh’s accomplishment, “…I could [do] it too…I think there is a future there—more exciting—seagoing is becoming rather tame after all these years. Navigators will be needed even more than aviators if one considers transatlantic flying.” 
Manning regained his career momentum just as another difficult relationship cropped up, this time with the Captain of the President Harding. “I have arrived at my goal without the aid of a mustache”, he wrote in 1927. He explained that his dislike for the Harding Captain caused him to be afraid of a repeat of the Leviathan. “…I have succeeded in losing most of my friends—same old sore—incompatibility of temperament—I have just had a severe discordance of views and I lost my temper as usual…”. His letter continued, “I do not indulge in much social life—people bore me—same old chatter—same old silly questions…” Time magazine wrote of Manning: “…Manning is, by his own admission, a stubborn, bullheaded, tactless introvert…who is called by his friends and enemies the best seaman in the world….an unsmiling perfectionist…his passion is to run a perfect ship.” 
In spite of his temperament, Manning worked diligently to become broadly educated. He was well read in classic literature, spoke three languages, loved both classical and modern music, was known to exchange lines from Shakespeare with passengers, became an accomplished boxer, and was an excellent dancer—he particularly loved to Tango. The stewards were directed to send the best dancers among the passengers his way so that he could Tango with them. He also learned to play the piano. Harry Manning had a grand piano in his stateroom quarters on the SS America and on a rough winter Atlantic crossing, the moorings that held the piano broke loose. The careening piano smashed the stateroom furnishings.
The “Habitual Hero”
On January 22, 1929, the SS America, commanded by Captain Fried, received an SOS from the Italian cargo vessel SS Florida, adrift in a winter storm 700 miles off the Virginia Capes. The ship’s rudder chain had broken and she wallowed on her beam ends in the he rough running, ice strewn seas with her 32 crew members aboard. The Florida was taking on water and the bridge had been carried away. Chief Officer Manning and seven crewmen volunteered to row through the stormy seas in a life boat to rescue the crewmembers as the America stood off a quarter mile. A line was thrown to the Florida and one by one the crewmen were hauled to the lifeboat. At one point, a strong surge carried the line away, but Manning was able to reconnect to the ship and the remainder of the crew and its Captain were taken off. Near total exhaustion and unconsciousness, the crew members had to be hauled aboard the America, as was Manning himself. The empty lifeboat could not be brought back aboard safely in the rough seas, and was cut adrift. By the time the America reached port, news of the rescue had already spread and a welcome party greeted the ship. Captain Fried announced to the press, “If recognition is given to men of America it should go to the lifeboat crew in [the] charge of one of the most gallant young officers I have ever met—Captain Harry Manning.” On January 28th, ceremonies with a presentation of awards took place, followed by the largest ticker tape parade down the “canyon of heroes” since Lindbergh’s in 1927. Manning’s courageous acts continued. On two occasions he dived over the side to save men who had gone overboard, one which of was not at all grateful, as he had attempted suicide.
Manning was assigned as Chief Officer on the SS Roosevelt under Captain Fried. The Roosevelt was approaching Ireland on May 13, 1932 when out of a dark, stormy sky appeared a Lockheed Altair, signaling an SOS with its lights. When the fuel starved plane ditched near the ship, it was Harry Manning who commanded the lifeboat that reached unconscious flyer, Lou Reichers. Reichers was pulled from the plane and taken back to the ship where his injuries were treated by the ship’s doctor. Reichers’ failed transatlantic flight occurred just one week prior to Amelia Earhart’s successful solo crossing.
Manning lost command of the American Trader when it was involved in collision in London and he was re-assigned to the SS California, of the Panama Pacific Line (a line associated with United States Lines). In the latter part of 1933 he was again back with Captain Fried, this time on the United States Lines’ newbuild, the S S President Washington. Then, The New York Times reported in its July 4, 1934 edition that Manning unexpectedly resigned from the sea to assume an executive position with National Ordnance and Forge Company of Irvine, Pa.,  and again, without explanation, reported that he returned to the sea in September.
Licensed as a private pilot since 1930, Manning borrowed a 90 horsepower monocoupe from a friend for an afternoon flight in December of 1934. At 3000 feet, a portion of the propeller broke off, and severed the magneto grounding wire as it departed the aircraft. Unable to shut off the engine, the violently unbalanced propeller shook the engine loose on its mount. The oil and fuel lines were severed. Not wanting to bail out because of the possibility the aircraft would crash into houses below, Manning stayed with the aircraft and landed safely at Roosevelt Field. The last two bolts which held the engine were only seconds away from breaking. Newspapers again reported Manning’s heroic action.
Amelia Earhart commented to Manning’s friend when they met during a lecture tour that Harry Manning was “quite a charmer”. Manning’s continuing exposure in the press, interest in aviation, navigational and radio expertise, and longstanding friendship with Earhart, made it natural for her to regard him a fitting choice as the World Flight navigator. On Manning’s part, he did not want to make another “decision for mediocrity”--and agreed to participate in the World Flight. Preparations moved quickly after the United States Lines granted Manning a three month leave of absence to join the Earhart adventure. Manning’s only navigational experience, however, was maritime navigation; he needed practice using a bubble octant in the air, and to adapt to faster navigational pacing aboard an aircraft.On February 17, 1937, Manning departed with the Putnams in the Electra, flying from New Jersey to Burbank, California. On the flight, Manning practiced celestial navigation and, as described by Elgen Long: “He gave Amelia a position showing they were in southern Kansas, but were actually a few miles across the border in northern Oklahoma. Though not a large discrepancy for celestial air navigation, Putnam’s confidence in Manning faded…as he didn’t even have them in the right state”. Paul Mantz, too, was unsure that Manning was the right man to be the World Flight navigator. Mary Lovell wrote that Mantz “was somewhat skeptical of Manning’s confidence in finding a small island such as Howland, knowing that air navigation took different skills than surface navigation”. Paul Mantz had selected the design for the Electra's navigator position based on those aboard the Pan Am Clippers. Pan Am was flying the new Pacific routes surveyed by their lead navigator Fred Noonan and Mantz was familiar with Pan Am’s successful navigational procedures. On March 1, 1937, George Putnam wrote a letter to William Miller, the Bureau of Air Commerce employee who served as the Roosevelt Administration’s liaison for the World Flight project, and requested contact with one of Pan Am’s best practicing navigators. “…there doubtless is much that Manning can go over with them to advantage. Naturally his experience is limited in a job like this…”. As it turned out, Fred Noonan’s schedule permitted him to join the World Flight crew.
The crew arrived in Oakland on March 10th, 1937 with the start of the World Flight planned for the 15th, but bad weather and last minute details delayed their take-off. Harry Manning, a U.S. Naval Reserve officer, signed for a Pioneer Bubble Octant from the North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego which was expedited to Oakland. By March 17th, the weather cleared enough for the Lockheed Electra to take off on the first leg of the World Flight to Honolulu. The Lockheed arrived at Wheeler Field in Hawaii early on the morning of March 18th where maintenance was begun on the right hand Hamilton constant speed propeller which had frozen in a position of fixed pitch. Following a test flight, the Electra was flown to Luke field for servicing and the take-off would now be made from Luke’s 3000 ft runway at dawn on March 20th.
With the three person crew aboard, the aircraft began its take-off roll just after 5:40 a.m. During take-off the Electra veered slightly to the right, and Amelia corrected to the left with a change of engine power; as described in the Luke Field Crash Report:, the aircraft “began to swing to the left with increasing speed, characteristic of a ground-loop…sliding on its belly amid a shower of sparks…”. Luckily there were no serious injuries. Manning had only a bruised elbow, but it was obvious that the World Flight venture was over for the time being. Public comments reported that Manning’s three month leave of absence could not be extended to permit him to participate in another attempt, but the Longs wrote, “Amelia…had talked to Manning, who was very gentlemanly about being replaced by Noonan when the flight resumed.” Frederick Goerner spoke at the Amelia Earhart Symposium presented at the National Air and Space Museum library in 1983. He quoted Harry Manning’s comments years after the Luke Field accident: “Amelia Earhart was something of a prima donna. She gave the impression of being humble and shy; but she really had an ego, and could be tough as nails when the occasion required it. I got very fed up with her bull-headedness several times. That's why she brought Noonan into the picture --in the event I were to give up on the flight. AE herself was not a good navigator; and Noonan was a happy-go-lucky Irishman. He wasn't a 'constant' navigator. I always felt he let things go far too long...”  
Other Researcher’s Comments
"Manning was to have been the radio operator, and one of his jobs would be to manually reel out and in the trailing wire (as well as to throw the antenna selector switch, located in the aft section)" (Mike Everette, 7 September 2000 Forum).
"Amelia met Captain Manning on board his ship of which he was Captain, on her return from Europe. Amelia persuaded Capt. Manning to obtain a three months leave of absence from his shipping board, and join her for the around the world flight. Harry had the many qualifications so very necessary for making Amelia's flight a success. He had a private pilot's license, a ham (Amateur Radio) license, thus he knew code, and of course he was a completely competent navigator. You can understand that as Captain of America's largest ocean passenger liner, he was well versed in safety operations in every respect, including matters of survival in case of an emergency of any kind. Amelia was indeed lucky to have a man so completely qualified on her team." Gurr to Goerner, 3 May 1982.
According to Gurr, "Captain Harry Manning's leave of absence would now run out before Amelia could make her flight, so he bowed out and returned to [the] Washington" (letter to Goerner, 3 May 1982). In his letter to Goerner on 12 September 1985, Gurr adds that the leave was from the Maritime Commission.
Manning’s last flight
On July 24, 1938, Manning was flying his Fairchild monoplane on a flight returning from Long Island. In his approach to Roosevelt Field at 700 feet, his aircraft entered a spin and fell to the ground, critically injuring him. Manning suffered compound fractures of both legs, a compound jaw fracture, fractured skull, broken arm, severe chest and internal injuries. At first it was first feared that he would not survive, and then that he would not be able to walk. During his nine month convalescence, Manning learned to play the piano and returned to sea duty as Captain of the Roosevelt in the spring of 1939 with a noticeable limp. Manning’s flying avocation had ended.
World War II era
On January 30, 1940, Harry Manning married. He had met Florence Isabella Trowbridge Heaton, a passenger, in 1934. Both were pilots with their own planes and enjoyed their mutual interest in aviation. It was not to last. Two years later, after their baby daughter, Florence, was born, they divorced, unable to combine Manning’s life at sea with marriage. 
The U.S. had not yet entered the war in 1940, but Europe was already deeply embroiled in hostilities. American nationals were being repatriated aboard ships sent to bring them home from Europe. Manning, in command of the SS Washington, picked up 1020 passengers in Bordeaux and was steaming off the coast of Portugal. Near dawn on June 11, 1940, a German U-boat surfaced and blinked a signal to the Washington: “heave to”, followed by a frightening “torpedo ship”. Manning ordered the passengers to board lifeboats and his signalman to blink the message “American ship, Washington” to the submarine. “Captain has ten minutes to leave ship” came the U-boat response. With the passengers secured aboard lifeboats, Manning ordered the same message continuously flashed to the submarine. “Washington, American, Washington, American”, hoping to delay the U-boat’s actions until the ship could be clearly identified in the morning light. After an unnervingly long silence, the U-boat blinked the signal, “Thought you were another ship, please go on, go on.”  As the country neared war, regular passenger service came to an end. Ships were activated for wartime service and refitted; painted battleship gray, passenger capacity was increased to carry troops. Harry Manning’s assignment as Captain of the newly built America was cut short, when he was called to active service at his Naval Reserve rank of Lieutenant Commander. He became the chief navigation officer on the refitted Washington, now renamed USS Mount Vernon. His final sea duty aboard the Mount Vernon involved the 1942 evacuation of the remaining refugees from Singapore “under a hail of Japanese bombs”. Manning was next assigned to train seamen for the new ships under construction for the war. Promoted to Commander, he became Captain of the U.S. Maritime Service training ship American Navigator, followed by the appointment as Superintendant of the Radio Training Station at Huntington, Long Island. In 1944, Manning became Superintendant of the U.S. Maritime Service Radio Training Station at Hoffman Island, New York. At war’s end Manning was released from active duty and resumed command of the Washington, refitted for civilian service, and detailed to bring home young GI’s and their war brides from Europe.
Commodore of the Fleet
Fittingly, Commodore Harry Manning became the first Captain of the United States, or “Big U” as it was affectionately called. When she departed on her maiden voyage from New York on July 3, 1952 there was anticipation that the “Big U” would set a new transatlantic speed record between Ambrose light ship in New York and Bishop Rock lighthouse, England. At 0516 GMT on July 7, 1952 the United States took the Blue Riband from Britain’s Queen Mary which had held the Atlantic crossing record since 1938. Over ten hours had been cut from the crossing time with an average speed of 35.59 knots. On the return trip the United States set the westbound record as well, with an average speed for the 5844 nautical mile round trip of 35 knots, or 40.8 miles per hour. “Proudly flying a 40 ft Blue Ribbon from its mast and with the band playing ‘God Bless America’ and ‘I’m Wild About Harry’, the United States made a triumphant entry into New York…a flotilla of small boats tooted their approval…”.  On July 18, 1952 Harry Manning rode through the streets of New York--his second ticker tape parade--and received the red ribboned Municipal Medal of Honor presented to him by Mayor Impellitteri of New York.
On May 1, 1953, Commodore Harry Manning retired from United States Lines. His retirement from the U.S. Naval Reserve would be as a Vice Admiral. A letter he wrote at that time explained, “Forty years of this is sufficient—as you know I have worked very hard—too hard for my own good perhaps—and the time to quit is when one is on top. I have not been feeling too well these past few years—the injuries from my crash seem to be aggravated and cause me much pain. Now I can take care of myself—eat slowly—sleep late if I want to and in general enjoy life.” Harry Manning remarried in the mid fifties to Mildred Bachmann Eisenhardt and moved to an estate in North Jersey. He endured slowly declining health brought about by his 1938 aircraft accident and continuing stomach ailments. On August 1, 1974, Harry manning died at home in Saddle River, NJ, at the age of 77.
- Mimi Manning says that her father's naturalization certificate gives his height as 5' 9" (e-mail correspondence, 19 January 2013).
- St. Clair, Mary Archer, A Knock on the Door, Brandylane Publishers, Inc., White Stone, VA, 2001, p.112
- Manning’s seldom used middle initial “V.” appeared in only one reference used by the author: Life, July 21, 1952, p. 62
- Mimi Manning, daughter of Harry Manning: "My grandmother - Anna - had my father when she was 19, then came to NYC & stayed with her cousin Ferdinand Luhrs in Brooklyn. He was a grocer. I have done research on passenger manifests, etc. William Edward Manning was Irish, much older than Anna. They married in Elizabeth, N.J. My father took Manning's name as it was wartime. I think Manning had some sort of business in NYC - Anna lived on Riverside Dr. for a long time according to the census. She died of leukemia in 1939 or so. It's possible she was an actress at some point, but mostly a housewife, I think." (e-mail correspondence, 19 Jan 2013).
- Time, June 23, 1952, “Travel: Invasion, 1952"
- Mast Magazine, “United States Maritime Service Radio Training Station Huntington, Long Island, New York”, January 1944
- Time, June 23, 1952, “Travel: Invasion, 1952"
- Time, June 23, 1952, “Travel: Invasion, 1952”
- St.Clair, Mary Archer, A Knock on the Door, Brandylane Publishers, Inc., White Stone, VA, 2001, p. 23.
- St.Clair, Mary Archer, A Knock on the Door, Brandylane Publishers, Inc., White Stone, VA, 2001, p. 111.
- St.Clair, Mary Archer, A Knock on the Door, Brandylane Publishers, Inc., White Stone, VA, 2001, p. 83-84
- Time, June 23, 1952, “Travel: Invasion, 1952”
- St.Clair, Mary Archer, A Knock on the Door, Brandylane Publishers, Inc., White Stone, VA, 2001, p. 118
- The New York Times, July 4, 1934, “Manning, at 37, Quiting the Sea”, p. 33
- The New York Times, September 12, 1934, “Manning, Who Quit the Sea, Returns”, p. 47
- St.Clair, Mary Archer, A Knock on the Door, Brandylane Publishers, Inc., White Stone, VA, 2001, p. 118
- Long, Elgen M. and Marie K., Amelia Earhart, The Mystery Solved, Simon & Schuster, 1999, NY¸ p. 60
- Lovell, Mary S., The Sound of Wings, The Life of Amelia Earhart, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1989, NY, p. 241
- Long, Elgen M. and Marie K., Amelia Earhart, The Mystery Solved, Simon & Schuster, 1999, NY, p. 108
- Aviation Journal (California), “Amelia Earhart Symposium”, February 1984, p 5
- Lovell, Mary S., The Sound of Wings, The Life of Amelia Earhart, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1989, NY, p. 252
- St.Clair, Mary Archer, A Knock on the Door, Brandylane Publishers, Inc., White Stone, VA, 2001, p. 129
- St.Clair, Mary Archer, A Knock on the Door, Brandylane Publishers, Inc., White Stone, VA, 2001, p. 144
Braynard, Frank O., World’s Greatest Ship: The Story of the Leviathan, Vol. I, South Street Seaport Museum, 1972
Butler, Susan: East to the Dawn: the Life of Amelia Earhart, De Capo, NY, 1997
Long, Elgen M. and Marie K., Amelia Earhart, The Mystery Solved, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1999
Lovell, Mary S., The Sound of Wings, The Life of Amelia Earhart, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1989,
St.Clair, Mary Archer, A Knock on the Door, Brandylane Publishers, Inc., White Stone, VA, 2001
Wright, Monte Duane, Most Probable Position, The University Press of Kansas, Lawrence/ Manhattan/ Wichita, 1972
Mast Magazine, “United States Maritime Service Radio Training Station Huntington, Long Island, New York”, January 1944
The New York Times, July 7, 1952, “CAREER OF COMMODORE MANNING HAS BEEN A SAGA OF THE SEA LANES”