Thursday, June 1, 2017

U.S. Navy V-7 program insignia at Columbia and Ft. Schuyler

U.S. Navy V-7 midshipman hat badge.
Single piece construction.
Fouled anchor; gold-filled.
Late Second World War era.





Almost twenty years ago I read Herman Wouk’s 1951 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Caine Mutiny.  Recalling Captain Queeg, ball bearings, and strawberries, I recently decided to re-read the novel.  The work fashions a re-creation of the culture of urgency that both defined and circumscribed midshipman life during Second World War.  It accomplishes this by detailing the career of U.S. Navy midshipman at Columbia University.  Soon after completing this reading, I learned that Wouk not only took part in the V-7 midshipman program but he both attended and graduated from the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Columbia University.

Following this lead, I consulted a series of the program’s yearbooks – The Sideboy – and found Wouk in the August 1942 class.  His company barracked at Furnald Hall, as did the protagonist of The Caine Mutiny: Willie Keith.  Wouk’s descriptions of the place and the program match both Columbia and the photos in The Sideboy.  Thus, despite his novel being a work of historical fiction, it offers a rare insight and serves as a good primary source as to the functions of a little-studied midshipman organization.

The V-7 program was one of four Reserve officer-intake programs inaugurated by the U.S. Navy in February 1942 (V-1, V-5, V-7, and V-12). V-7 was one in which recent college graduates  or men about to complete their college training, were accepted by the U.S. Navy as apprentice seamen and sent to one of the seven Reserve Midshipmen’s Schools:  Columbia, Cornell, Naval Academy at Annapolis, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Plattsburg, and Fort Schuyler.  At the program’s outset, candidates served an initial month as seamen followed by four as an appointed midshipmen; by war’s end, this was compressed to three. After this period of intense naval indoctrination, they were granted commissions as ensigns and went directly to the Fleet or to one of the numerous special advanced schools for final training; e.g. Wouk attended one of such at Harvard for Communications.  Of his sojourn at the Midshipmen’s school and time with the Fleet, Wouk admitted that it figured as a major part of his education: “I learned about machinery, I learned how men behaved under pressure, and I learned about Americans.”

At Columbia University there is a plaque commemorating the Midshipmen’s School, which operated on its campus during the Second World War. It was presented to the University at the cessation of school’s activities.  It may be viewed on the south side of campus at Butler Library and is located on the east balustrade of the short staircase approaching Butler Library, just below waist level.  It reads:

To Columbia University
In appreciation of its generous assistance
and unceasing cooperation in the training
of 23,000 officers who went from the
U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School
New York
to Active Duty in World War II
to defend the principals which this
University has always upheld

Commodore John K. Richards, U.S. Navy
Commanding Officer
April 20, 1942 November 2, 1945

Seal of U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School

The U.S. Navy eventually used twelve Columbia buildings, including Furnald and John Jay Halls, to house the Midshipmen’s school; classes were held on Columbia’s Morningside campus and in a ship docked at Riverside and West 136th Street on the Hudson River.  At one point, Columbia University’s USNR Midshipmen’s School rivaled the United States Naval Academy in size.  In all, it trained more than 20,000 officers; most of whom served in the Pacific Theatre of Operations.

The following narrative of the Columbia USNR Midshipmen’s School is based upon two consecutive classes; the 7th of August 1942 and 8th of October 1942.  Within that 3 month period, vast changes occurred in the fabric of the program.

Program candidates began their initial training at Notre Dame in April 1942. After two weeks of apprenticeship training, they traveled to Columbia for a continuation of their indoctrination.  They were divided into two groups:  Engineering and Deck.  By graduation from the program, only 429 of the 500 of the former remained, and 284 of 350 of the latter. The instructional staff guiding the training of the midshipmen was divided into the following departments:

Administration
Drill
Navigation
Seamanship
Ordnance
Construction and Main Engines
Boilers and Auxiliaries
Deck for Engineering
Engineering for Deck
Medical Corps
Supply

Some senior officers were regular Navy. However, the majority of the staff were young USNR ensigns assisted by Chief Petty Officers and a few Warrant Officers.

Following the model as set at Annapolis, USNR Midshipmen followed a regimental and battalion structure.  There were two battalions; the 1st at the USS Prairie State (a barracks ship known as “The Ark” or “Black Hole of Calcutta”) and the 2nd at Furnald Hall (the USS Funald, the only ship with 10 decks – the lower deck was on top and vice versa).  Each Battalion was comprised of four and three companies, respectively.  Midshipmen stood watch, served in “black gangs,” drilled, and attended class from morning until night for each day of the week – unless granted weekend liberty or attending divine worship services.

The Regimental staff was comprised of a Staff and Color Guard component. The noted stripe count represents the number of stripes on the midshipman's sleeve*:

Regimental Staff
Commander 
– 4 stripes
Adjutant – 3 stripes
Signalman – 2 stripes
Regimental Chief Petty Officer 
– 1 stripe
Bugler – 1 stripe

Regimental Color Guard**
National Colors
Regimental Colors
Color Guard (2 midshipmen)

Battalions and Companies and had their own respective staffs that reported up the chain of command:

Battalion Staff
Commander 
– 4 stripes
Adjutant – 3 stripes
Signalman – 2 stripes
Battalion Chief Petty Officer – 1 stripe

Company Staff
Commander – 3 stripes
Sub-Commander – 2 stripes
1st Platoon Commander – 1 stripe
2nd Platoon Commander – 1 stripe
Battalion Chief Petty Officer – no stripes

* relative rank vis Annapolis as noted by stripe count:

4 stripes – Midshipman Lt. Commander
3 stripes – Midshipman Lieutenant
2 stripes – Midshipman Lieutenant Junior Grade
1 stripe 
– Midshipman Ensign

** no stripes
Company strengths by August 1945, were as follows:

1 – 109
2 – 107
3 – 108
4 – 105
5 – 97
6 – 93
7 – 94

In August 1942, V-7 midshipmen at Columbia wore uniforms almost exactly like those of their counterparts at Annapolis, with some distinct changes. Since theirs was a four-month program with the classes compressed and joining year-round, their “plebe” period saw midshipmen wearing the appropriate uniform for the season. For instance, the October 1942 class started out wearing US Navy enlisted undress blues for their initial period at Notre Dame, then switched to the familiar usual plebe whites. These were USN enlisted undress white jumpers with stenciled U.S.N.R. at mid-chest on the blouse; the midshipmen-to-be were not issued black silk scarfs. Both uniforms shared the blue-rimmed white hat – at the time called a Bob Evans hat, and now colloquially called a Dixie-cup hat. Those apprentices holding a Company and above leadership, position wore a white covered combination hat, and not the white hat with their undress whites or blues.

Those passing basic indoctrination period – not being “bilged” – rated full USNR Midshipman status.  They, in turn, gained the privilege of donning the six-button midshipman reefer, with the classic midshipman gold anchors on the upper coat collars. On the right cuff, they wore a three-prop propeller for Engineering or clean-sleeve for Deck as program marker. There were no “class” indicators of the vertical gold stripes on the coat sleeve like those at Annapolis; however, regimental officers wore horizontal rank stripes on both sleeves (with program indicator above, no stars). There were four, three, two, and one stripers as indicated above. Midshipmen petty officers and buglers, during this period, did not have crows and chevron, nor bugle patches.

Depending upon the program, midshipmen wore dungarees, undress whites and blues (crackerjacks without tape or silk ties), khakis, and dress blues. Both programs wore dungarees were worn in machine spaces; Engineering midshipmen wore undress blues or whites depending on season in classrooms; and Deck midshipman wore undress khakis (without jackets) in classrooms.  For Friday drill and inspection, all midshipmen wore service dress blues and combination hats with white covers. Regarding the khaki uniforms, midshipmen wore combination hats with khaki covers with a 1/8in-width gold chinstrap and on both collars, wore anchor devices on both collars. The anchor shank was horizontal in relation to the top of the wearer’s collar, with flukes inboard toward the neck, and stock outboard.

Fort Schuyler, the present site of the State University of New York Maritime School and once the New York Nautical School, has no plaques or commemorative markers of the shared grounds of the V-7 school nor of the brief sojourn of the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps in its midst.  The Midshipmen’s School was wedged between the Fort and the present gatehouse.  It shared wooden frame barracks and facilities with a Navy advanced school.
By comparison, at war’s end, Fort Schuyler's V-7 program yearbook
Gangway (published in October 1945) shows an altogether different organization of USNR Midshipmen.  Their program was also for a period of four months.  Images and texts suggest a need for expediency.  Teaching methods and means of turning out newly minted Naval Officers was honed to a science; anything not tantamount to the ultimate purpose of producing officers was cut. 

In uniform matters, from the laconic description of the program and presentation of collective memories, there is no indication of a plebe period where program inductees wore jumpers and Dixie-cup hats. These Atlantic Coast midshipmen wore working grays and were provided with service dress blues. They were not issued khaki uniforms. On their garrison hats was the midshipman anchor. They wore sets of horizontal midshipmen class anchors on their shirt collars. The service dress blues was the classic six-button USN officer uniform – except the coat collar had the midshipman anchor like those found on period Annapolis midshipman hats. These anchors were mirror images of each other, and are pin-back, and not with cap-screws (tabs). I see no indication of midshipman leadership positions; this program appears to be more of a boot-camp style organization. Midshipmen lacked chevrons, hashes, and shoulder boards on all uniforms – including the grays.

References
Herman Wouk. The Caine Mutiny. New York, Back Bay Books, 1992.

Leon Rogow (foreword). The Sideboy August 1942. New York, NY U.S. Naval Reserve, 1942.




Late war V-7 hat badge. 10K G.F. (Gold-Filled). Note: It is of the same design and size as the coat collar anchors.


Early V-7 coat anchor, 10K G.F. (Gold-Filled), H-H.




Late war V-7 coat anchor pair, 10K G.F. (Gold-Filled).



Late War V-7 collar anchor pair, 10K. It looks like they've been polished down to brass, as they've not the luster of the other insignia.