Sea Stories

Newspaper headlines across the United States proclaimed Battleship North Carolina’s impressive 19 gun salvo in the fall of 1941.

“America’s Mightiest Seadog Bares Her Fangs”
“Thunder at Sea”
“The North Carolina Barks to Test Her Bite”
“Our New Navy Titan Roars”
“Our Biggest Ship Can Take It”

“The Navy, professional Navy in those days and before, had been a very conservative organization not used to the media, getting along with the press, not use to public relations. As individuals most of us were very uncomfortable with this sudden acceptance and press coverage that we were getting. The second time we went out on trial it was a four-day cruise where we fired all the guns and had a lot of tests and exercises. The Navy Department imposed [on us] a group of about 45 or 50 representatives of the media. Hanson Baldwin, USNR; Robert Trout was in there. He was a CBS news analyst at the time. Pathe and Fox news cameramen were aboard and so forth.

Well, the big thing that happened on that from a public relations point of view, was we fired 19 guns, the main battery plus ten guns of the anti-aircraft five-inch, all at the same time. And it turned out that we were able to do it at night and there was a Pathe cameraman by the name of Sammy Shulman who wanted to capture this thing. Shulman was the one who got the picture of the Hindenburg when it exploded. He was really a great photographer. And he got a picture of this thing at 7:00 in the evening when it was pitch dark of 19 guns going off at once. Two weeks later this picture was presented in the centerfold of Life magazine. It was all over the United States two weeks later what the U.S. Navy was up to.”

-Rear Admiral Julian Burke, USN


“Dear Mom and Dad,

I am writing this letter while on watch (8-12 midnight) down in the plotting room. We are somewhere on the great Atlantic and heading towards New York. It’s so cold we have shifted uniforms to blues and have to wear pea coats while on deck. It’s a little rough tonight but on this ship we are not rolling much…. It’s been a great thrill on this shakedown cruise as we fired all the guns. The 16-inch really make a racket but I am working on the [first platform] and all I feel down here is the vibration which shakes the whole ship. The last salvo we fired tonight was about 8:30 was when ten of our port five-inch battery and all our 16-inch guns were fired at the same time. It really shook the ship.

I was on top side watching the after 16-inch turret fire one of its guns last night about 7:30 and the flash and flame was so big that none of us could see for 30 seconds. My hat was blown right off my head. It was quite a sensation mixed with a lot of noise. The reason for firing all the guns was to test the hull and see if it could stand the stress and shock. The concussion blew off a few like jacket lockers and etc.

We also had a great many experts aboard and many newspaper and camera men. Among them was Walter Winchell, Bob Trout (I think) and newspaper men from Washington, N.Y., PA and the Mid-West so you ought to hear, see and read about this ship.”

-Ralph Swift, Electrician’s Mate First Class