Online Learning

Remarkable Portsmouth

Learn about Portsmouth’s waterfront buildings and the country’s oldest naval hospital.

LV-101’s Most Famous Crewman

Seaman Ervin Maske and the Wreck of the Pendleton
By Ross Patterson II, Assistant Curator

Meet the Crew

Get a glimpse into the life of the LIghtship Crew By Diane Cripps, Curator of History, Portsmouth Museums.

Divine Wind and Tortured Metal

The Kamikaze Attack on USS Sangamon
By Ross Patterson II, Assistant Curator, Portsmouth Museums

Virtual Tour

“Walk” through history by taking a virtual tour of the Lightship PORTSMOUTH.

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Remarkable Portsmouth Documentary Series

These short documentary series feature the history of Portsmouth’s waterfront buildings including the original building at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, the country’s oldest naval hospital.

Meet the Crew

By Diane Cripps, Curator of History, Portsmouth Museums, Portsmouth, Virginia

The Lightship Portsmouth is the only one of the five Portsmouth Museums that would properly be classified as a “Historic House,” meaning it’s a structure preserved in its entirety to serve as a museum that tells its own story, and should evoke a sense of human habitation and activity in its original interior spaces, fitted out with period furnishings. Visitors who are familiar with naval ships, the Coast Guard, or maritime history have an immediate connection to this concept when it comes to a ship. But a lot of folks don’t have these experiences to relate to. Recent upgrades inside the ship will help them make more sense of what it must have been like to be a lightship sailor on this 104-year-old floating lighthouse.

Thanks to recent research by assistant curator Ross Patterson, we know a whole lot more about the ship’s crew in the middle of the 1950s, when the ship was serving on Stone Horse Shoal station off Massachusetts. Visitors can now view more images of the crew, connect individuals to their respective quarters, and understand more about the men who stood watch aboard LV101.

Upon entering the ship, visitors will see an introductory label that sets the “date” for their visit: March 4, 1955. This date comes from a group photograph of the crew, taken when LV-101 was stationed at Stone Horse Shoal off the coast of Massachusetts late in its 1916 to 1964 commission.

While the functions of a lightship are often unfamiliar to visitors, the domestic areas of the ship are fairly self-explanatory. Like the enlisted crew’s quarters, which are visible upon entering the ship. The bunks make it easy to understand that this is a place for the crew to sleep. Now, however, we actually have a “crew member” or two occupying those bunks. Since there were round-the-clock watches on a lightship, someone would almost always be trying to catch some shuteye while the rest of the crew worked.
Also in the quarters, a reproduction 1955 Coca-Cola calendar smiles back at you to remind you of the date.

Just outside the crew’s quarters, visitors can now see what the 1955 enlisted crew members looked like, where they hailed from, and glance at a bit of information to help bring the crew to life.

In the Senior Enlisted Quarters in the stern area of the main deck, there are also labels that show which officer occupied which space. Here, you can “meet” the Officer in Charge, Boatswain’s Mate Master Chief Petty Officer Ralph H. Joline. In the distance, on BMC Joline’s desk, there is now even a picture of his wife, which Ross discovered through archival research.
There another new crew member for visitors to discover, only this one isn’t napping. He’s hard at work in one of the storage areas below decks, storing a crate full of supplies.
But when visitors see him, he will look like this, below the hatch grate in the aft passageway.
We hope this will bring attention to some of the areas of the ship that often go overlooked by visitors, but were vital parts of the vessel’s daily functions. The mannequin gives a sense of scale and lets people imagine the sailors hard at work all over the ship. More “crew members” are now on duty in the Engine Room and Ship’s Office, and we’re hoping to add more to other visible yet inaccessible parts of the ship, like Boatswain’s Storage and the Fiddly.
Additionally, there are now convex mirrors in a couple of locations aboard the ship, so that people can look down the ladder into the Engine Room and see “around the corner” to the engine’s location, or see into the Radio Room up in the Superstructure. We don’t allow visitors to climb the steep sets of stairs, but now they can satisfy a bit of their curiosity about these areas.

Those who come aboard eager to learn about the ship’s technical specifications will also find information about the Engine Room and Superstructure.

There has always been a lot to learn about the Lightship. We’re hopeful these new improvements will make a bit more of that information accessible to everyone who visits. Welcome aboard!

Diane L. Cripps
Curator of History, Portsmouth Museums
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, Lightship Portsmouth Museum,
Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum
2 High St., Portsmouth, VA 23704
757-393-8591
crippsd@portsmouthva.gov

Lightship PORTSMOUTH Virtual Tour

LV-101’s Most Famous Crewman

Seaman Ervin Maske and the Wreck of the Pendleton

In his mid-1950s service aboard LV-101/WAL-524 (today’s Lightship Portsmouth Museum), then known as the Lightship Stonehorse, U.S.C.G. Seaman Ervin Maske probably saw many calm days of service as the lightship quietly marked its station off Cape Cod, MA. However, just before he got there, his experience was anything but calm and quiet.

On February 18, 1952, the twenty-two-year-old Coast Guard seaman from Marinette, Wisconsin was at Coast Guard Station Chatham in Massachusetts awaiting transfer to LV-101 at its Stone Horse Shoal station when a report came into Chatham. Earlier in the day, a World War II vintage T2-SE-A1 tanker, SS Fort Mercer, had split in two during a seventy-knot Nor-Easter and sent out calls for assistance. However, Chatham picked up an odd signal on their radar and diverted a PBY Catalina seaplane to investigate. There it discovered that a second T2-SE-A1, the Pendleton, had broken in two, seemingly lacking the ability to call for help. It was decided that Chatham would send C.G. 36500, a thirty-foot Motor Lifeboat out into the storm with a four-man crew to try and rescue survivors.

Above: The Stern of the Pendleton as seen on February 19, 1952. The Jacob’s Ladder is along the side beneath the unused lifeboat. United States Coast Guard Photograph.
C.G. 36500’s coxswain, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernard Webber, asked for volunteers to fill the three crew positions on his boat. It was at this point that LV-101’s transient sailor, Ervin E. Maske, spoke up and offered to go. Together the men set out in forty to sixty foot waves on a small wooden boat designed to save twelve men to a shipwreck that would go down in Coast Guard history as one of the service’s most daring rescues.
Above: C.G. 35600 docking at Chatham with the thirty-two survivors aboard, February 18, 1952. United States Coast Guard Photograph.
The Pendleton’s bow section was lost, with the captain and seven crewmen killed. But the stern was still afloat with thirty-three sailors trapped aboard. Braving swells that repeatedly tossed C.G. 36500, shattering glass, the compass, and even killing the engine, the four volunteers were finally able to reach the wreck. The Pendleton’s crew lowered a Jacob’s Ladder over the side of their ship, which was now caught on a sandbar, and waited for the lifeboat to close in.

The distance was constantly changing in the bucking sea, so Seaman Maske and fellow volunteer Andrew Fitzgerald went forward onto C. G. 36500’s bow. As the swells pushed the Lifeboat to its closest point, the trapped sailors jumped one at a time. Maske and Fitzgerald grabbed them as they landed, ushering them back astern as they turned to catch the next man. Of the thirty-three sailors trapped on the stern, only one, cook George ‘Tiny’ Myers, was killed when his jump was mistimed. Now overloaded with four crew and thirty-two survivors, C.G. 36500 turned back into the raging storm and miraculously made its way home to Chatham.

Above: Offloading the Pendleton Survivors. United States Coast Guard Photograph.
Above: The Crew of C.G. 35600 after the rescue (Left to Right): Bernard Webber, Andrew Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey, and Ervin Maske. United States Coast Guard Photograph.
Above: Undersecretary of the Treasury Edward H. Foley awarding Seaman Maske his Gold Lifesaving Medal. United States Treasury Department Photograph.
The rescue was a sensation, seen as the greatest example of courage and devotion to duty. Rather than following standard tradition and awarding highest honors to the rescue’s coxswain, the Coast Guard decided to bestow it highest honor, the Gold Lifesaving Medal, to all four volunteers. After receiving his award, Maske, always known as a humble, quiet sailor, finally arrived on LV-101, the most famous man to silently serve aboard the ship.
Above: Undersecretary of the Treasury Edward H. Foley awarding Seaman Maske his Gold Lifesaving Medal. United States Treasury Department Photograph.

Divine Wind and Tortured Metal

The Kamikaze Attack on USS Sangamon
By Ross Patterson II, Assistant Curator, Portsmouth Museums

In a small blue plastic shoe box tucked on a shelf in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum’s Collections Room is a twisted and bent piece of riveted aluminum. Muted green paint clings to the surface, and a small wire insulator peaks out from one of the many folds. Yellowed from age, a note made near the end of World War II links this innocuous piece of scrap metal to a chaotic, violent moment in time out in the Pacific.

Photo: Destroyed section of riveted Ki-45 aircraft skin recovered from the Sangamon and kept by R. J. Deans. The attached June 18, 1945 note states that “Loss of life was great, exact death toll not known yet.” PNSYM 157.63.186. Photograph by Ross Patterson II

During the late stages of the Second World War, and increasingly desperate Japan sought any and all ways to stop Allied forces from pushing further towards the Home Islands. The war had cost the nation much of its war materiel, and by 1945, many of its best pilots were killed in action. The Allies were coming, sweeping forward across the Pacific with fleets guarded by more aircraft carriers than Japan could ever hope to produce. How could such a force be stopped?

The answer, it was believed, lay in Special Attack Units. Officially the “Tokubetsu Kōgekitai,” these men were more commonly referred to as “Kamikaze,” the Divine Wind that would sweep back the invaders as their namesake typhoon did to the Mongol Horde of the thirteenth century. Lightly trained pilots flying available aircraft would overwhelm Allied fighter screens and anti-aircraft defenses by sheer weight of numbers, dropping bombs and purposely ramming vessels with their planes in an attempt to sink capital and support ships.

It was a cold calculation, born from desperation and ancient tradition. What was one man’s purposeful death if it could take out a carrier or battleship bringing destruction to his countrymen and homeland? It was an honor, a sacrifice in the highest of Samurai traditions. And 3,912 young aviators would make that sacrifice.

Photo: Imperial Japanese Navy Lieutenant receiving his Kamikaze sortie orders in front of the rest of his unit. United States Navy Photograph

By May of 1945, the Kamikaze was a known threat to Allied ships. Unleashed during the Battle of Leyte Gulf the previous October, the concept of a suicide attack on one’s ship was a terrifying threat for any sailor. Anti-air screens and defensive fighter tactics such as the “Thach Weave” were developed to greatly lessen the number of successful strikes. But lessened did not mean stopped.

With the Battle of Okinawa underway, Allied ships and carriers were now operating off of the southern Ryuku Islands, directly attacking Japanese home soil. One of these vessels was CVE-26 USS Sangamon, a former oiler converted by the American Navy into an escort carrier. Armed with twenty-five aircraft and crewed by 830 US Navy personnel, the Sangamon was involved in providing air cover for the assaults on the islands of Kerama Retto, Miyako, Ishigaki, and Okinawa. Constantly fending off aerial counter-attacks, she was forced to rearm early on May 4, leaving the larger American fleet with two escorts, the Destroyer Escort USS Dennis and Destroyer USS Fullam. After three calls to General Quarters and a delay in acquiring aviation lubricating oil from the new base on Kerama Retto, the Sangamon and her pair of escorts finally began their return trip to their Task Force at 6:30 in the evening, joined by a minesweeper USS Spear. The men were finishing storing ammunition below decks, with just a few boxes of five in rockets left in the hanger when the call came in: Kamikaze raid coming from the southwest.

Photo: CVE-26 USS Sangamon underway in September of 1942. United States Navy Photograph

By May of 1945, the Kamikaze was a known threat to Allied ships. Unleashed during the Battle of Leyte Gulf the previous October, the concept of a suicide attack on one’s ship was a terrifying threat for any sailor. Anti-air screens and defensive fighter tactics such as the “Thach Weave” were developed to greatly lessen the number of successful strikes. But lessened did not mean stopped.

With the Battle of Okinawa underway, Allied ships and carriers were now operating off of the southern Ryuku Islands, directly attacking Japanese home soil. One of these vessels was CVE-26 USS Sangamon, a former oiler converted by the American Navy into an escort carrier. Armed with twenty-five aircraft and crewed by 830 US Navy personnel, the Sangamon was involved in providing air cover for the assaults on the islands of Kerama Retto, Miyako, Ishigaki, and Okinawa. Constantly fending off aerial counter-attacks, she was forced to rearm early on May 4, leaving the larger American fleet with two escorts, the Destroyer Escort USS Dennis and Destroyer USS Fullam. After three calls to General Quarters and a delay in acquiring aviation lubricating oil from the new base on Kerama Retto, the Sangamon and her pair of escorts finally began their return trip to their Task Force at 6:30 in the evening, joined by a minesweeper USS Spear. The men were finishing storing ammunition below decks, with just a few boxes of five in rockets left in the hanger when the call came in: Kamikaze raid coming from the southwest.

Photo: CVE-26 USS Sangamon underway in September of 1942. United States Navy Photograph

Approximately ten Japanese planes were making a run to strike the Sangamon, now twenty-nine miles out into the open sea. Scrambled Navy and Marine fighters intercepted the flight, claiming nine aircraft shot down. But at 7:00 PM, a Ki-61 ‘Tony’ knifed through and made a sweeping attack. The Sangamon swung hard to the left as the four ships opened fire. Luck was with the gunners, as at the last minute, the now smoking and out-of-control Kamikaze snapped into a clockwise roll and plunged into the sea twenty-five feet from the carrier’s hull before exploding. Everyone aboard breathed a sigh of relief.

Photo: Ki-61 ‘Tony’ Kamikaze as it barely misses the Sangamon at around 7:00 PM on May 4, 1945. United States Navy Photograph

Twenty-five minutes later at 7:25 PM, USS Fullam reported a new “bogie” on its radar, coming in low and fast. The carrier’s two patrolling night fighters shifted to intercept, but missed the Japanese pilot in the dark and cloudy skies. Suddenly, three miles from the Sangamon, a plane appeared. The Americans opened fire, but stopped when the errant plane disappeared into thick clouds astern of the Sangamon. It reappeared just before 7:33 PM.
The Kawasaki Ki-45 ‘Nick’ was a twin-engine heavy fighter that saw service as a long-range escort, anti-bomber and anti-ship interceptor, and rudimentary night fighter. Unable to win in a dogfight against more agile single-engine planes, it was nonetheless heavily armed, reasonably fast, and could be retrofitted to carry additional weapons or ordnance. It was one of these Ki-45s, a large bomb slung under its fuselage, which broke free of the clouds and began a shallow dive straight towards the Sangamon.
Photo: A Ki-45 in flight. Smithsonian Institute Photograph A-47659-K
The American gunners opened fire, lighting up the darkness with their tracers. Moving at around 340 miles per hour, the Nick was a hard target. At least one gunner struck the left engine, as it burst into flames 600 yards from the ship. But this was not enough. The Ki-45 screamed over the flight deck, releasing its bomb before diving into the ship. Both ordnance and Kamikaze tore through the decking, detonating in the fully loaded hanger bay.

Photo: A crewman silhouetted as flames billow up through the deck of the Sangamon following the Ki-45 Kamikaze attack. United States Navy Photograph

Within twenty minutes, the Sangamon was out of control. Both elevators were blown out of their shafts. A massive hole, ten feet by twenty feet, was cut into the buckled deck. The ferocity of the flames coming off the deck and out of the hanger forced the crew to abandon the bridge. Eleven armed planes burned below decks, their ammunition cooking off and spraying into the fire-fighting parties. It took almost two and a half hours for the fires to be brought under control. Dead in the water, the Sangamon could only communicate using the radio in a damaged F6F Hellcat fighter and a small signal lamp. Eleven of her crew were dead, twenty-five missing, and a further twenty-one seriously wounded. Towed back to port in Kerama Retto for stabilizing repairs, Sangamon then began a slow journey home, arriving in Norfolk, Virginia on June 12. No other escort carrier was known of have suffered as violent an internal fire and stayed afloat, but the war ended before any serious progress had been made on bringing the battered vessel back into fighting trim.

Photo: The hole in the Sangamon’s flight deck on May 5, 1945. Crewmen can be seen on deck by the destroyed aircraft and elevator, and below in the burned out hangar. United States Navy Photograph

Exact numbers relating to Kamikaze attacks and their effectiveness are often disputed, but it undeniable that the pilot of the Ki-45 that struck the Sangamon achieved the goal of the Tokubetsu Kōgekitai, knocking one of the hated American carriers out of the war with his sacrifice. In the words of Lieutenant Hunter Robbins of USS Hugh W. Hadley, “You hated to see them coming, but at the same time you couldn’t deny the courage of these pilots.”

Photo: Damaged propeller shafts and engine parts from the Ki-45 found in the Sangamon’s hanger after the fires were extinguished. United States Navy Photograph