Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Are Modern Submariners Really Pampered Wimps? Court To Decide

From the United Kingdom:
In the opening of his court martial yesterday at the Portsmouth Naval Base, the Director of Force Development at the Ministry of Defence (former commanding officer of HMS Talent) faced five charges of “unwarranted” abusive treatment that went “beyond robust leadership and management” of four officers and Chief Petty Officer Cosxwain under his command through repeated, unjustified, verbal abuse. Victims of Captain Robert Tarrant’s “aggressive and humiliating” leadership on board HMS Talent, a hunter-killer submarine, felt scared and intimidated. One, Lieutenant Ryan Ramsey, was so frightened that he used to vomit before going on watch. The charges cover a period between February 1998 and July 1999.

In her opening statement Commander Alison Towler, for the prosecution, said that commanding officers had the right to administer strict discipline during missions that required “forceful and immediate action that leaves no room for tact”. His outbursts were so commonplace that his officers gave them a nickname, calling them "reamings", she said.

Defending Tarrant, Alan Large said the captain would vigorously defend the charges. "He never knowingly or recklessly ill-treated anyone under his command. He accepts he demanded very high standards of performance from the ship's company in order to carry out HMS Talent's operational role as tasked by the Royal Navy."

From American naval history (1842, just twenty years before the submarine Hunley):
Designed to carry 90 officers and crew, the training brig USS Somers carried a complement of 120 on her second voyage. Three-quarters of the crew were teenaged midshipmen, the sons of some distinguished families, including: the son of Commodore John Rodgers, and the son of President John Tyler's Secretary of War, John Canfield Spencer.

Under command of Captain Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, the brig USS Somers sailed for St. Thomas, Danish West Indies, on November 12. Two weeks later, Midshipman Philip Spencer (son of the US Secretary of War), together with the boatswain's mate and another seaman, were placed under arrest for plotting a mutiny to takeover the ship and convert it into a piratical vessel.

Investigation by Mackenzie and his officers revealed that Spencer intended to seize the ship and kill the officers and any who sided with them. For their crime, they were hanged at the yardarm, while still at sea, on December 1. The Somers Lithograph, published circa 1843, shows the 3 mutineers hanging under the US flag. Although later court-martialed, Mackenzie was acquitted of charges of illegal punishment, oppression, and murder despite the standing of Spencer's father. More here.

News of the Somers mutiny shocked the country and the hangings cast doubt over the wisdom of sending midshipmen directly aboard ship for on-the-job training. Through the efforts of the Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, the Naval School was established without Congressional funding, at a 10-acre Army post named Fort Severn in Annapolis, Maryland, on October 10, 1845, enrolling a class of 50 midshipmen under seven professors. In 1850 the Naval School became the United States Naval Academy.


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