Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A Great Name for a Warship

USS Cassin Young (DD-793)
So why is "Cassin Young" a great name for a warship?
The Navy traces its ancestry to 13 October 1775, when an act of the Continental Congress authorized the first ship of a new navy for the United Colonies, as they were then known. The ships of the Continental Navy, and of the Navy later established under the federal Constitution, were not named in any strictly categorical manner.
Ship names in the Continental Navy and the early federal Navy came from a variety of sources. As if to emphasize the ties that many Americans still felt to Britain, the first ship of the new Continental Navy was named Alfred in honor of Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex, who is credited with building the first English naval force. Another ship was named Raleigh to commemorate the seagoing exploits of Sir Walter Raleigh. Some ships honored early patriots and heroes (Hancock and General Greene). Others commemorated the young nation's ideals and institutions (ConstitutionIndependenceCongress). A 74-gun ship-of-the-line, launched in 1782 and donated to the French navy on completion, was named America. A Revolutionary War frigate named Bourbon saluted the King of France, whose alliance would further the cause of American independence. Other ship names honored American places (BostonVirginia). Small warships ─ brigs and schooners ─ bore a variety of names. Some were named for positive character traits EnterpriseDiligence). Others had classical names (SyrenArgus) or names of small creatures with a potent sting (HornetWasp).
On 3 March 1819, an act of Congress formally placed the responsibility for assigning names to the Navy’s ships in the hands of the Secretary of the Navy, a prerogative which he still exercises. This act stated that “all of the ships, of the Navy of the United States, now building, or hereafter to be built, shall be named by the Secretary of the Navy, under the direction of the President of the United States, according to the following rule, to wit: those of the first class shall be called after the States of this Union; those of the second class after the rivers; and those of the third class after the principal cities and towns; taking care that no two vessels of the navy shall bear the same name.” The last-cited provision remains in the United States Code today.
From the 1880s on, cruisers were named for cities while destroyers ─ evolving from the steam torpedo boats built around the turn of the twentieth century ─ came to be named for American naval leaders and heroes, as today's destroyers are still named. (Source)
The general rule of thumb is that United State Navy destroyers are named after naval leaders and heroes. I can think of one instance (which I shall not name here, no doubt there are many among you who can figure it out) where technically a destroyer was named after a naval "leader." Only insofar as the President of the United States is the ex officio leader of the Navy.

But the ship depicted in the opening photo is named after a man who truly was, in every sense of that word, a hero.

Captain Cassin Young, United States Navy,
USNA Class of 1916
(March 6, 1894 – November 13, 1942)
Captain Young received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941 -

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Commander Cassin Young (NSN: 0-9615), United States Navy, for distinguished conduct in action, outstanding heroism and utter disregard of his own safety, above and beyond the call of duty, as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. VESTAL (AR-4), during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by enemy Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. Commander Young proceeded to the bridge and later took personal command of the three-inch anti-aircraft gun. When blown overboard by the blast of the forward magazine explosion of the U.S.S. ARIZONA, to which the U.S.S. VESTAL was moored, he swam back to his ship. The entire forward part of the U.S.S. ARIZONA was a blazing inferno with oil afire on the water between the two ships; as a result of several bomb hits, the U.S.S. VESTAL was afire in several places, was settling and taking on a list. Despite severe enemy bombing and strafing at the time, and his shocking experience of having been blown overboard, Commander Young, with extreme coolness and calmness, moved his ship to an anchorage distant from the U.S.S. ARIZONA, and subsequently beached the U.S.S. VESTAL upon determining that such action was required to save his ship.
Later in the war, Captain Young received the Navy Cross (posthumously) for his actions while in command of USS San Francisco (CA-38) -

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Captain Cassin Young (NSN: 0-9615), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Heavy Cruiser U.S.S. SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38), during an engagement with Japanese naval forces near Savo Island on the night of 12 - 13 November, 1942. On this occasion the force to which Captain Young was attached engaged at close quarters and defeated a superior enemy force, inflicting heavy damage upon them and preventing the accomplishment of their intended mission. This daring and intrepid attack, brilliantly executed, led to a great victory for his country's forces. By his indomitable fighting spirit, expert seamanship, and gallant devotion to duty, Captain Young contributed largely to the success of the battle and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
The actions of USS San Francisco at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (12–15 November 1942) are worth quoting at length -
On 31 October 1942, the newly designated TF 65 departed from Espiritu Santo, the ships again headed into the Solomon Islands to cover troop landings on Guadalcanal. Bombardment missions in the Kokumbona and Koli Point areas followed. On 6 November, the transport group completed unloading, and the force retired, arriving at Espiritu Santo on 8 November. On 10 November, San Francisco, now flagship for TG 67.4, got underway again toward Guadalcanal. 
Just before noon, a Japanese twin-float reconnaissance plane began shadowing the formation. 
The force arrived off Lunga Point on 12 November, and the transports commenced unloading. By mid-afternoon, an approaching Japanese air group was reported. At 1318, the ships got underway. At 1408, 21 enemy planes attacked.
At 1416, an already-damaged torpedo bomber dropped its torpedo off San Francisco's starboard quarter. The torpedo passed alongside, but the plane crashed into San Francisco's control aft, swung around that structure, and plunged over the port side into the sea. 15 men were killed, 29 wounded, and one missing. Control aft was demolished. The ship's secondary command post, Battle Two, was burned out but was reestablished by dark. The after anti-aircraft director and radar were put out of commission. Three 20 mm mounts were destroyed. 
The wounded were transferred to President Jackson, just before the approach of an enemy surface force was reported. The covering force escorted the transports out of the area, then reassembled and returned. At about midnight, San Francisco, in company with heavy cruiser USS Portland, the light cruisers Atlanta, Helena, and Juneau, and eight destroyers, entered Lengo Channel. 
At 0125 on 13 November, a Japanese naval force was discovered about 27,000 yd to the northwest. Rear Admiral Callaghan's task group maneuvered to intercept in what became the first engagement in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. At 0148, in almost pitch darkness, San Francisco opened fire on an enemy cruiser 3,700 yd off her starboard beam. At 0151, she trained her guns on a small cruiser or large destroyer 3,300 yd off her starboard bow. Then in an attempt to locate other targets, San Francisco accidentally targeted Atlanta. San Francisco's gunfire caused extensive damage to Atlanta, killing Admiral Scott and most of Atlanta's bridge crew. Belatedly, San Francisco realized she was firing on a "friendly" ship and ceased fire. The green dye that San Francisco used to distinguish her shells from those of other ships, was later found stained on Atlanta's superstructure before she sank. Shortly thereafter, Hiei was sighted and taken under fire, at an initial range of only 2,200 yd. 
At about 0200, San Francisco trained her guns on Kirishima. At the same time, she became the target of Nagara off her starboard bow and of a destroyer which had crossed her bow and was passing down her port side. The enemy battleship joined the cruiser and the destroyer in firing on San Francisco whose port 5 in battery engaged the destroyer but was put out of action except for one mount. The battleship put the starboard 5 in battery out of commission. San Francisco swung left while her main battery continued to fire on the battleships which, with the cruiser and the destroyer, continued to pound San Francisco. A direct hit on the navigation bridge killed or badly wounded all officers, except for the communications officer, Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless. Command fell to the damage control officer, Lieutenant Commander Herbert E. Schonland, but he thought his own efforts were needed to keep the ship "afloat and right-side up", so he ordered McCandless to stay at the conn. Steering and engine control were lost and shifted to Battle Two. Battle Two was out of commission by a direct hit from the port side. Control was again lost.
Control was reestablished in the conning tower, which soon received a hit from the starboard side. Steering and engine control were temporarily lost, then regained. All communications were now dead.
Soon thereafter, the enemy ceased firing. San Francisco followed suit and withdrew eastward along the north coast of Guadalcanal.
Seventy-seven sailors, including Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan and Captain Cassin Young, had been killed. Captain Young, like the San Francisco, was a veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack. 105 had been wounded. Of seven missing, three were subsequently rescued. The ship had taken 45 hits. Structural damage was extensive, but not fatal. No hits had been received below the waterline. Twenty-two fires had been started and extinguished.
At about 0400, San Francisco, all her compasses out of commission, joined Helena and Juneau and followed them through Sealark Channel to sail to Espiritu Santo for initial repairs.
At about 1000, Juneau's medical personnel transferred to San Francisco to assist in treating the numerous wounded. An hour later, Juneau took a torpedo on her port side from I-26, striking in the vicinity of the bridge. "The entire ship seemed to explode in one mighty column of brown and white smoke and flame which rose easily a thousand feet in the air. The Juneau literally disintegrated." San Francisco was hit by several large fragments from Juneau. One man was hit, both his legs were broken. Nothing was seen in the water after the smoke lifted. The surviving ships were ordered to keep going without stopping to look for survivors. Unfortunately, the 100+ survivors (out of a total complement of 697) of Juneau were forced to wait eight days for rescue while floating in the ocean, undergoing intense shark attacks. Only ten survived.
On the afternoon of 14 November, San Francisco returned towards Espiritu Santo. For her participation in the action of the morning of the 13th, and for that of the night of 11–12 October, she received the Presidential Unit Citation. On 18 November, the cruiser sailed for Nouméa, and, on 23 November, she got underway toward the United States. She reached San Francisco on 11 December. Three days later, repairs were begun at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. (Source)
USS San Francisco (center) after being hit by a Japanese plane in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12 November 1942.
Ship at left is President Jackson.
Warships need to be named after men and women whose example will be an inspiration to their crews, an inspiration to the men and women who may be required to take their ship into harm's way and fight her to the best of their abilities. Who may, in dire need, give their lives for their shipmates.

Captain Cassin Young, United States Navy, that's the type of person you name a warship after. That, my friends, is how you inspire the generations which follow.

USS Cassin Young berthed at Boston Navy Yard

Captain Young's Medal of Honor is on display at the Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis MD. His son, Stephen Cassin Young, was also a graduate of the USNA, Class of 1950.

Other Sources:
  • U.S. Naval Academy Memorial Hall Website
  • Wisconsin Historical Society Website
  • The Lucky Bag, 1916
  • The Lucky Bag, 1950


  1. Wow, that started my morning off right! Thanks for the great post.

  2. The venerable Fletcher Class DD's were real warships, bristling with armaments (the primary batteries were the torpedoes, of course) and they definitely went in Harm's Way. My father served on the USS Hazelwood (DD 531) when it was struck by a Kamikazi off Okinawa in 1945. They were named for heroes and they themselves were heroic, manned by members of the Greatest Generation.

  3. Wow, our very first ship was named after a politician. We were somewhat doomed from the start. And now we have both ships and politicians that are a waste of money and do very little.

    1. Yeah, that was something I didn't know until I found that article!

      As for your last, sad, but true.

    2. You seem unlearned of Alfred the Great. Not a scraping scumbag pol like we have today, but a great leader and navy proponent. Follow the link for a taste of who he was.

    3. Au contraire! I am very familiar with the "Wise Elf," King of Wessex and the Anglo-Saxons a long, long time ago. Tuna was being tongue-in-cheek I am sure.

  4. Great post about a warship engaged in savage chaos. Your comments on how warships SHOULD be named are spot on. Warships named because of PC, or for SJW or because someone was a politician are just wrong. OBTW if you're a WWII warbird fan then Peter Grant's entry from yesterday might be of interest, manufacturing drawings from North American Aviation were saved......veeeerry interesting that.

    1. I saw Peter's post, good thing those drawings were saved from corporate stupidity.

  5. I visited the USS Cassin Young in 2012.
    It is well maintained in its original state, gives one an appreciation for the modernization of later ships.
    The birthing spaces are about the only thing that I could really relate to.

    1. As you've been there, done that. Berthing takes a while to evolve.

    2. As the tin can has evolved and become larger, with a crew of the same size, berthing spaces have become almost luxurious by comparison.

  6. I've always thought the destroyers were the (mostly) unsung heroes of WWII - they played such key roles in both the battle of the Atlantic, taking the fight to the "Unterseeboots" and getting in close to the beaches on D-Day to engage enemy strong points and pillboxes, and the battles in the Pacific, such as the ones mentioned in this post and in actions such as the battle of Samar (Taffy 3) later in the war at Leyte Gulf.

    Here's another account of the battle off Guadalcanal -

    1. Destroyers are workhorses!

      The Friday the 13th battle!

    2. Speaking of the workhorses.... make a post one day about ORP Blyskawica
      look at the number of convoys, besides major battles
      look at the distance travelled (take that LCS!)

    3. Thanks for reminding me Paweł, I've been meaning to do a post on her!

  7. I recall, when I was about 10, visiting my Grandparents in San Francisco. We were in a park overlooking the ocean and there was a piece of the USS San Francisco there, part of the bridge maybe. Did a little research when we got back home at the base library and read about that battle. It was eye-opening to me.

    I wondered why the ship's name sounded familiar until I saw where she's berthed. I visited her and her next door neighbor, the day before I came and had lunch with you. That was a great trip!

  8. I have a copy of Jane's 'Warships of WW2" and it explained the way USN warships were named. A very clear and concise system. I'm not in favour of naming ships after politicians of any particular political hue but at least in the UK we tend to have a reasonable system for naming ships and generally tend to re-use names from the past. It tends to avoid controversy. I visited the USS Cassin Young and USS Constitution on a visit to Boston some time ago. The living accommodation was cramped to say the least and I shudder to think what it must have been like on a small ship in the North Atlantic or the Pacific in heavy weather.
    A young mans game I feel.

    1. I too like the way the Royal Navy names their ships.

      Definitely a young man's game!

  9. See? We've thrown away tradition dating back to 1819 and the 1880's in the quest for political favors and pandering to people who hate the military. LBJ, GG and HM were, and are, never friends of the US military. They only used (use) it for advantage. Shame. Shame.

    Dang. What shame and chagrin must have swept the San Francisco's crew when they found out they shelled the Atlanta. Horrible. But that happens in war. Still darned horrible.

    As to Captain Young, going from a repair vessel to a cruiser was a big jump. Looks like he handled it well. There was nothing light about the naval battles around Guadalcanal. And being moored next to the Arizona yet still surviving? Wow.

    Good post.

    1. Captain Young had a wide range of experience in his naval career, to include time in the Silent Service, he commanded S-23 for a time!

  10. look at the ranges of the night naval battle... this is something almost off Nelson times
    the deadliness of firepower at this range was just hard to imagine
    the chaos and friendly fire accidents added to the carnage
    probably only USN battle where they lost 2 Admirals in one action
    quote: The ship had taken 45 hits. Structural damage was extensive, but not fatal. No hits had been received below the waterline. Twenty-two fires had been started and extinguished. end quote It has been said that USS San Francisco looked like ghost ship after battle... And no I am not even trying to imagine modern warship taking that kind of beating

    1. Ghastly.

      No way a modern ship could survive that sort of pounding.

  11. Great post Sarge. This thing ought to be kept on hot standby and republished widely during the next attempted naming fiasco. Which is probably closer than we think.

    1. Sounds like a good idea. I'll shoot a copy off to SECNAV.

  12. NORMAN SCOTT was another well named FLETCHER. CALLAGHAN deserved a better name.

    1. Dying in combat absolves a number of sins, real and imagined.

  13. aaand regarding ship names, look no further than JMSDF
    Kaga, Ise, Hyuga,
    Kongo, Kirishima
    Atago, Maya, Haguro, Ashigara, Myoko, Chokai
    Akizuki, Shimakaze, Yudachi

    good navies keep traditions

  14. Hey Sarge. I know I'm late to the party, and since I know that you have absolutely nothing else to do(snark)...… You should add this to your reading list. I highly recommend.

    1. Just pulled your comment out of moderation Jack. (Posts older than seven days seem to attract spammers for some bizarre reason so comment moderation is on for posts older than seven days, sorry about that...)

      I have that book, it's an outstanding read. Have you read Hornfischer's other two? (Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and The Fleet at Flood Tide - both are excellent.)


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