Back to previous post: The New York Times gives Harold Ford, Jr. enough rope

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Beating airport chemical detection systems

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

January 15, 2010

In the navy, between the wars
Posted by Teresa at 10:19 AM * 54 comments

Not your usual images of our fighting men at work and play. Wish I’d found these earlier; they’re going away too soon. When you click on the links, scroll down to see the larger versions.

Close friends.
A couple of guys on the deck of the USS Idaho. It’s safe to say they like each other.
A couple more guys on deck.
Still more guys. Wish he’d identified them.
A sailor in grubby work clothes, in front of what I think is a signaling device.
Practicing fisticuffs.
A formally posed group.
An informally posed group.
Mugging for the camera.
More mugging for the camera.
On shore—at a guess, in Honolulu.
On shore, wearing a lei.
Touring the cane fields.

The past is another country. I may speculate about some aspects of it, but I can’t really know.

Comments on In the navy, between the wars:
#1 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 12:38 PM:

In that last one, the sailors look like miniatures to me. Tiny people beside clumps of grasses.

#2 ::: doug faunt ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 12:52 PM:

Interesting photos- and there seems to be a MM1 with his eagle on the right arm- I suspect that that one was printed in reverse.

#3 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 01:07 PM:

Aye, looks like a signalling device to me, similar to an aldiss, although there must be a fluorospherian who could say precisely what type it is.

Reading the stuff at the bottom of the ebay pages, it looks like these are individual photos from a photo album specifically of the USS Ohio. Which is a shame to break it all up.

#4 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 01:11 PM:

Perhaps there were photos the person didn't want to sell in that volume (like photos of the relative they belonged to).

For a full and interesting archive, look (before it sells too) at the "zeppelin" sidelight -- fascinating group of pictures there, with documentation.

#5 ::: TChem ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 01:41 PM:

The central guy in "more mugging" has something sticking out of his pocket that looks for all the world like one of those narrow, non-flipping cell phones. Maybe it's a pocketknife with paint or inlay on the side.

#6 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 01:57 PM:

I know they're old enough to be my grandparents, but some of those guys are cute.

On a more cerebral note, I wish there was more information on them. It's sad how much has been lost to the revision of history as people automatically make the easy, safe assumption when the more complicated and messy reality doesn't match them.

#7 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 02:07 PM:

pericat, sugar cane can grow pretty tall. Back when it was a major part of the economy out here, it was common to drive past huge pieces of acreage with the stuff on either side of the road and imagining wandering through it like Shoeless Joe Jackson in "Field of Dreams."

It looks like the photographer followed the engineering group around, with all those machinist mates as subjects.

#8 ::: doug faunt ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 02:14 PM:

I'm pretty sure that's a signaling light.
It looks like there are shutters on it, but it's not obvious what the other bits are. At that time, it was already known that radio signaling was insecure, and a big spotlight can carry a long way along a narrow path.

#9 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 02:14 PM:

#7 ::: Linkmeister

That's why Fidel could hide in the cane fields from the Batista forces.

They're also a tangled mess, filled with much insect and rodent life.

Love, c.

#10 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 02:17 PM:

The USS Idaho of the period was a New Mexico class battleship, launched in 1917 and commissioned in 1919. She served with the Pacific Fleet in the 1920s, and went through a major refit in the early 1930s.

Wikipedia article with main sources cited It's worth looking at the sets of other pictures referenced.

I'm not sure about the signalling lights used, but that one looks to be as much a searchlight. Remember, this is before radar. You can, in the background, see one of the cage masts. That was removed in the refit c. 1930.

The USS Idaho was the first US battleship not to have secondary armament in the hull sides, below main deck level. The hull was shaped for them, with the cut-aways to give the arcs of fire, but the spaces plated over.

This photo gives a good idea of the masts and searchlights, and also is suggestive as to where other pictures might have been taken.

#11 ::: Duncan Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 02:54 PM:

Doug @ #2

It's certainly strange -- if it is printed in reverse, then the eagle is facing the wrong way. Eagles didn't start facing to the right until the Uniform Regs Change in 1941.

The only thing I can think of is that he's an MM1 assigned to the ship's boats, and therefore part of the Seaman Branch


#12 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 03:07 PM:

Linkmeister @7: it sure can! It's just that the effect, to my eye, is not that the cane is normal size, but that the people are the size of garden fairies.

Reminds me of the (not sugar) cane field back of our house growing up. We made tunnels and mazes all through it. It was magical.

#13 ::: Vance Maverick ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 05:47 PM:

One way that past -- America between the wars -- was different from this country was in its acceptance of intimate male friendship, as something not inevitably or explicitly sexual. My father served in the Navy just after WWII; it wasn't the old peacetime Navy (nor, obviously, the mass-enlistment service of '41-'45), but he picked up on some of its older traditions, and close friendship was one of them. (There was a convention regarding earrings, if I'm remembering right, but quite possibly I'm not.) And further back, when my grandfather (on the other side) went off to college in 1918, he kept up a correspondence with his mentor back home in San Francisco; it's torrid, by modern male standards, but he saw no need to hide it from his wife or descendants -- there was nothing out of the ordinary in it.

#14 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 06:49 PM:

Although of course a lot of buildings from that period look similar, I suspect that 11th photo was taken in Honolulu's Chinatown - the background looks generally familiar. It's possible that the buildings are still standing; I might poke around Google Street View and see if I can find it. The cornice on the left-hand building should be very recognizable if it still exists.

#15 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 07:03 PM:

Yeah, Clifton, it looks like Hotel St.

#16 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 07:07 PM:

Am I the only person who keeps getting earwormed by this thread? It starts out with "In The Navy," of course, but then quickly segues into "YMCA" because I'm more familiar with that melody.

#17 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 07:33 PM:

Could well be, I was thinking of Smith or Maunakea street but didn't see it at first glance.

That one isn't bugging me, it's Billy Bragg's 'Between the Wars' which keeps catching me each time I look at the thread. (Fortunately it's a lovely song.) I don't think either of these effects was accidental.

#18 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 10:16 PM:

Looks like a searchlight to me.

Also those other pieces of deck gear that appear in several of the photos look like davits. And everyone who has a recognizable rate is a machinists mate. That suggests these guys are in A-gang, the auxiliary department; fresh-air snipes.

#19 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 12:47 AM:

I think it's a 24-inch searchlight (mirror diameter), which means it was dual purpose.

#20 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 02:07 AM:

Hi everyone, I'm John and I am actually the person who owns the eBay store that has all these photos. I was blown away by how my eBay store hits spiked over 4000% in just one day. I tracked this site down by using eBay's Marketing Tools. Anyway, all of these photos came from a photo album owned by Charles Reis, who is actually in a few of the photos that sold, and who was a crew member of the USS Idaho in the early 1920's. The album cover is leather and says something about The USS IDAHO and is dated 1923. There were only a few photos with writing on the backs and those were photos were of Charles "Chuck" Reis himself. I wish that there was more information that I could have found about the sailors in the photos but unfortunately there weren't any other names in the album. I also had great photos of the USS Idaho and the other ships she traveled with like the USS Mexico. There was also a Neptunus Rex certificate and I still have about 10 photos of the Neptunus Rex ceremony.

As for the locations where the photos were taken... they were taken in Honolulu, Somoa and there were a few in California but most were taken in Honolulu or Somoan Islands. If anyone is interested in seeing the other 75 photos, you can do so by doing an Advanced Search on eBay and searching by Completed Listings. I still have all the scans of the photos also, so if anyone is interested in seeing them I could whip up a little web page photo gallery and post a link.

Oh, I just wanted to comment about why I separated the album and sold the photos individually... originally, I was going to sell the album as a whole, however, there are USS Idaho sailors and family members of the sailors who were interested in photos but could not afford the whole album. By selling individual photos, everyone who was interested in getting a photo was able to. If I would have sold the album as a whole, it would have sold for a few hundred dollars even though the bidding would have started at 99 cents. The album itself wasn't in the greatest shape and was falling apart, also.

I'm in the process of setting up an online photo gallery of all the photos from the album and will post a link sometime soon.

#21 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 07:52 AM:

#16: you can sail the seven seas!

#22 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 08:37 AM:

One thing that confuses me about the Navy is how they refer to people by their job title instead of their generic rank. It's hard to tell seniority unless you have more information than the job title.

#23 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 08:59 AM:

Earl @22, I suspect such things go back to the days of sail, where crews did many different things. and much of the formal authority within the crew was based on skills rather than rank. There's now much more formalisation of ranks, but the technical distinctions matter even more.

They're trained specialists, and the differences matter.

#24 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 09:59 AM:

John @20: Thanks for coming by and giving us more details about the album -- it's much appreciated. I'd like to see the gallery once you've got it set up.

#25 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 01:33 PM:

As promised, here is a link to the photos from the album. I think there are a few more that I have that I need to find and put on the site still. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the photos. You may have to copy and past the weblink into your web browser.

Pericat, you're right! I never noticed how the two sailors look like tiny people in clumps of grass! Hilarious!

#26 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 02:00 PM:

I just updated the photo gallery because I noticed that not all the photos uploaded. Here is the new link:

#27 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 02:56 PM:

John #20, 25, 26: Thanks! It's great to get some context on these, and your commentary helps keep these images connected, to both family and national histories. I suspect that if you put up a feedback channel, you'd get lots of IDs and other info from the family members and other interested parties.

#28 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 03:14 PM:

At some point, I need to go back through all of my scans of the USS Idaho photos and color correct them and make them look perfect. That way, I can update the site with better photos for school students and other people to use for historical research. I also want to get them on my ftp site so naval historical websites can easily access them if they are interested... free of charge of course. I already made reall good money off the originals photos so I'm not charging for the digital versions. ;)

It feels good being able to help these photos get the exposure they deserve instead of being stuck in the bottom of a box in someone's attic... which is where they were at one point. Now, they are being purchased by collectors who will cherish them and preserve them for generations. You would be amazed at how many photos I acquire that at some point were boxed away in someone's attic. I am always on Craigslist posting want ads for old photo albums in an attempt to have people dig them out of their attics. Sure, I sell the photos to make money but it's great to get the photos out to the public instead of having them eventually end up in the trash.

#29 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 03:15 PM:

john #20--

thanks so much! i have just been flipping through the slide-show, and it's wonderful. many little joys, indeed.

#30 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 03:32 PM:

John, I too thank you for putting up the gallery. That's a small, kind service to humanity. If anyone ever comes into possession of my family's old photographs, I hope it's someone like you.

#31 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 03:50 PM:

No problem, everyone! I really enjoy sharing the photos with all of you. I originally purchased the photos to sell in my eBay store (which I did) but once I started realizing the historical importance of the photos, I decided to start distributing digital versions to any one who wants them. That is why none of the photos have digital watermarks on them. A lot of people on eBay will put big "DO NOT COPY" text over their photos so people can't use the photos for anything. I won't do that. If someone wants the original photo, they will buy it. If they want a digital version, I let them have it free of charge. The more the digital photo is downloaded and used on other websites, the more it can be viewed by others. The history lives and breathes through people copying the photo and using it in reports and on their own websites. Like I said, I made really good money off the original photos (the deep sea diver photo sold for $78) and I'm going to charge people for digital versions.

I am so appreciative that posted links to the photos from my eBay store. I'm not sure if any of the exposure led to people bidding on the photos (if it did, great, but if not, that's great too) but it's just wonderful that the photos enjoyed by so many more people who may have never been on eBay before.

Oh, you may have noticed that the images in my eBay store are quite large when you click on them. I purposely made the photos large so elderly people who have trouble seeing could easily see the photos. I'm always thinkin'! :)

#32 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2010, 06:54 PM:

John, you're an inspiration. I've been working on doing something similar with some fine prints from the middle of the 20th century that I inherited from my grandmother (who was a dealer); you push me towards getting back to that and making sure that the good scans I've been making can get seen.

#33 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 02:59 AM:

It's amusing to see Diamond Head called Hawai'i's Gibraltar (Page 2 of John's gallery). There are some old gun emplacements there, but I don't think a shot was ever fired from them.

The postcard of the Pali Highway (also on Page 2) is one I've seen before, I think, but when you compare it to what that road looks like now, 80 years later, it's impressive.

#34 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 05:41 AM:

Linkmeister, the publisher Osprey has a series of books on fortification, and one of that Fortress series covers the defences...

Defences of Pearl Harbor and Oahu, 1907-1950
G Williford and T. McGovern

Historically, well-served coast defence artillery has always had the advantage against warships. And very few engagements happened. Gallipoli, perhaps, and there was an attempt on Malta in WW2.

#35 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 02:02 PM:

Dave Bell @ #34, the thing that's amusing me is that Gibraltar controls the entrance to the Med. Diamond Head is easily bypassed; you could approach Honolulu Harbor or Pearl Harbor from the east and stay completely out of range of any guns. You can't bypass Gibraltar.

#36 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 02:16 PM:

John, I second (third, etc.) the thanks!

As Teresa said in her post, "the past is a foreign country" - it's hard for us to understand what the world was like for our own countrymen and ancestors. Your work to keep these photos alive open another little window on it.

#37 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 02:50 PM:

I have decided to make web pages with photo galleries of every WWI, WWII and any military and history photos that I acquire. Right now I am in the process of getting over 1,500 WWII photos of German soldiers. Some of them are amazing... and kinda creepy. There are Nazi photos, photos of Hitler, photos of typical Army soldiers and more. Let it be known that I do not, or ever will, accept the actions of the German army, Hitler or the Nazis, however they were part of history.

I'm actually going to be putting a message on my websites that encourages others to take the images from my sites and add them to theirs. The more copies of the digital photos that are on the web, the more the history is preserved.

Thank you once again for the interest in my photos!

#38 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 03:32 PM:

John, you're a prince among men.

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 03:54 PM:

John @ 37... Some of them are amazing... and kinda creepy.

It reminds me of the time I visited someone whose father was a carpenter. He showed us some newspapers he'd found under the linoleum of a house's kitchen flooring. Some were from the early 1930s and had headlines about Germany demanding to get some of African territory back.

#40 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 03:59 PM:

"Those who won't remember history are condemned to repeat it," and you're helping us remember. Thank you.

#41 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 04:48 PM:

Serge @39:

We found a 1930s edition of the Petit Larousse in the house of my husband's grandparents. Even back then the inside front cover had the flags of the world; the flag for Germany was the Nazi swastika. Very creepy.

John, adding my thanks to everyone else's for doing this.

#42 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 06:13 PM:

Linkmeister @35, the Coastal Defense plan for Pearl Harbor and Honolulu had Diamond Head in the east, and another cluster of heavy batteries to the west.If you want to attack Pearl Harbor, you had to close the coast. And Diamond Head was an old volcano bristling with guns. In that sense it wasn't so different from Gibralter.

You're right about the strategic situation of Gibralter, compared to Oahu. Pearl Harbor wasn't even mear the usual trans-Pacific shipping routes. But there were few places you could put a forward base.

I was checking some of the timing of things last tear, and the IJN capacity tom attack Pearl Harbor as they did pretty much developed in 1941. The example of the FAA attack on Taranto, which the Japanese studied, and the commissioning and working up of two out of the six carriers used in late 1941, are a clear indicator of timing. Add the arrival of the new Type 0 fighter, in the Model 21 form, though the Nakajima B5N torpedo bomber was an older design.

Pearl Harbor was attacked about as soon as it could be. And the assumption the defenses were based on was only invalidated when the Fleet Air Arm successfully attacked Taranto.

#43 ::: Rachael de Vienne ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2010, 03:14 PM:

I love antique photographs. I post many of them to my blog.(

Some of my favorites come from World War 2 era family photos. Some I'd never post. There's one of a line of soldiers all peeing at once that I'm sure I won't post. A nude photo tucked under a non-nude photo of a nurse who served with the US Army medical service in India won't show up. She is pretty, but I don't know her name and she may still be living. It would be unfair.

That leaves dozens of photos for me to post. I especially like candid photos of children. (Hey, I'm a mom. I like kids.) And I like historical photos of places I've been.

I write fantasy fiction and history. (Lots of overlap there, really.) I look for old real photo post cards that meet both interests.

#44 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2010, 08:51 PM:

Someone just sent me this link to a photo-blog, with newly-developed photos from Pearl Harbor. The blogger says, "So we have a roll of film shot on December 7th, 1941 and developed January 8th, 2010. Shot not by a professional photographer, but by a sailor on board the USS Quapaw, with a simple Brownie Box Camera. The photos speak for themselves."

And wow. Yeah. The photos are amazing, and so is the very fact that they're being seen by people who would likely never have seen them had the film in that Brownie camera been developed in 1941 or 42.

Talk about your time-traveling.

#46 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2010, 09:04 PM:

Oh hell. Real photos. B.S. story, according to Snopes.

Never mind, then. I don't usually get sucked in by that stuff quite so stunningly.

#47 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2010, 10:43 PM:

I'd have thought the aerial shots would have been a dead giveaway. And the fact that some of those shots used different lenses (not usually found on a Brownie).

#48 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2010, 10:53 PM:

@Tom, Yep. Heh. I got a little over-excited and my brain turned off.

#49 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2010, 02:23 AM:

And in defense of my over-enthusiastic brain, there weren't any aerial shots included on the guy's blogpost. Those had apparently been selectively removed, in favor of photos that looked as if they'd all been taken from the ground. He only used about six.

And I simply don't know enough about photography to spot the use of different lenses, unless it's pretty dramatic.

#50 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2010, 01:26 PM:

Hey everyone... you still here? Hello? Anyone? :)

Here is a link to the rest of the USS Idaho photos and the album itself:

It will be on eBay until Sunday March 21st and then it will be in the hands of a lucky bidder. Feel free to go download all the photos from that auction listing that you want. I don't put "watermarks" or anything on them so that others won't take my images. I want as many people as possible to take the images and use them on their own websites. These are images of history and the more we spread them around, the more the history is preserved.

Anyone is interested in WWII photos of German soldiers? If so, I am about to put a ton of those on eBay. Once again, feel free to download any of the images from my eBay listings that you desire. Sure, digital images are not hi-resolution and they won't print out clearly, however they are bid enough that you could put them on your own WWII history website or use them for teaching in classrooms, colleges, online courses, etc. So, feel free to buy the actual photos or download the digital images from the eBay listings.

Here is a link to my eBay store:


#52 ::: Mary Aileen disagrees ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2010, 01:48 PM:

It's the guy who posted the original pictures on that we were discussing, coming back to point to more. On topic and not spammy.

#53 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2010, 01:51 PM:

Fragano @51:
No, absolutely not spam. John is the vendor of the photos from eBay, and has been a generous, pleasant and relevant contributor to the thread. Check his (view all by).

John @50:
We're still here. The conversation moves on, but we keep track of recent comments even on old threads.

And thank you, again, for making the photos available for wider use. It's much appreciated.

#54 ::: Fragano Ledgister hangs his head in shame ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2010, 02:10 PM:

I'll go off and eat worms now.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.