14 Replies Latest reply on Apr 3, 2022 6:09 PM by Alex Daverede

    Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)

    John Kinville Wayfarer

      Hello, I am writing a book about a Fireman 1st Class sailor named Harry Kramer (USS California) who died at Pearl Harbor. I know his job aboard the ship was to work in the fresh water hold area. His surviving family has a chevron patch in their possession that was supposedly his, and sent back home after his death. My question is: Is it possible to be a Fireman 1st Class and a Water Tender 1st Class simultaneously? I'm a little confused on the Navy's ranking system. Any insight or clarification to this would be much appreciated. Thank you

       

      Exhibit A: Photo Attached

      Exhibit B: Website of Enlisted Navy pay grades

        • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
          Alex Daverede Scout

          John,

           

          The short answer to your question is no, a Fireman First Class cannot be a Water Tender First Class at the same time.

           

          Don’t feel bad—Navy enlisted ranks are confusing.  That’s because the Navy ties sailors’ jobs to their naval ranks.  The job is known as a rating, while the rank is known as a rate.  When a sailor first enlists in the Navy, he joins a rating at the apprentice level.  The ratings are tied to general job types; deck ratings are seaman (Seaman First, Second, and Third Class), engineering ratings start as fireman (Fireman First, Second, and Third Class), aviation ratings start as airman (Airman First, Second, and Third Class), and so on.  These are the first three pay grades (or rates) in which sailors serve during their first enlistments.

           

          Only after a sailor gains experience (“time in rate”) and/or attends Navy schools (A, B, or C schools) can he become a petty officer and gain a specific rating.  In your example, Harry Kramer started his Navy career as a Fireman Third Class, progressing to the Fireman First Class rate.  After he obtained the appropriate experience and education he became a Water Tender Third Class, a petty officer.  From that point onward, he would progress through the other Water Tender rates until he achieved the highest grade, that of a Chief Water Tender.

           

          The image of the sleeve patch is that of a Water Tender First Class.  Water tenders were stationed in a ship’s fire rooms.  They ensured that the ship’s boilers contained the correct amount of feed water to create steam, thus ensuring the safe and efficient operation of the boilers.  Water tenders were also responsible for the operation and maintenance of the ship’s feed and fresh water storage and piping systems.

           

          I hope you find this rather lengthy explanation helpful in your research.

           

          A. J.

          3 people found this helpful
            • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
              John Kinville Wayfarer

              I appreciate the information! Thank you. The sailor I am researching (F1C) talks about switching jobs on a quarterly basis (mess, water hold, log room, machine shop). I was wondering if there is a place to find a list of jobs that a F1C would be eligible to cycle through each quarter?

                • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                  Alex Daverede Scout

                  John,

                   

                  I’m glad to help.  The answer to your question is not straightforward—policy varied by ship.  Generally, non-rated men (seaman, fireman) were assigned to the ship’s galley for a rotation as soon as they reported on board.  Depending on ship’s policy, it could be a 60-day, 90-day, or even 180-day tour, a practice that extended into my own naval service in the 1980’s and 90’s.  Once the new sailors completed their galley rotation, it would be up to the department head (in your example the Engineering Officer) to determine where the firemen go within the department.  In the case of Fireman Kramer, his department head seems quite enlightened for his day in allowing his non-rated men a variety of assignments among the department’s various divisions—usually the department head would allocate new men to whatever division needed them most at the time.

                   

                  In the examples you’ve provided for Firman Kramer, the type of jobs he would have performed would have been those of a trainee.  The Navy was (and still is) a big believer in on-the-job training. So, for example, in the engineering log room, he would have been introduced to the record keeping needed in a shipboard engineering plant.  He would have learned how to take readings off various gauges showing the status of the different parts of the propulsion system and how to record those readings.  In the machine shop, Kramer would have been shown the various tools and equipment used by the Repair Division to maintain the various engineering systems.  He would have observed how more experienced men performed the work and perhaps was given simpler tasks that he could perform under supervision.  Similarly, Kramer would have been introduced to the ship’s fresh water systems in the water hold, an experience that may have encouraged him to strike for the watertender rating to judge by his later promotions to petty officer in that rating.

                   

                  A. J.

                  1 person found this helpful
                    • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                      John Kinville Wayfarer

                      Hi Alex,

                      I appreciate your feedback more than you could ever begin to imagine. So...I guess that leads me to a few other questions:

                       

                      1. When Harry first boarded the USS California would he still be a Apprentice Seamen? Or was that a Great Lakes Training designation...and given a F3C right away when he stepped aboard?

                       

                      2. His "general quarters" assignment was beneath gun number 2...handing up munitions. Would an enlisted fireman's general quarters assignment (Typically) change as a fireman elevated from F3C to F2C to F1C? Or would it (typically) stay the same? 

                       

                      3. Another question I have is where would the "log room" be located within the ship? I'm assuming this is an engine log room. He talked about "being on watch" which i presume is watching the engine's performance.

                       

                      Thanks again good sir.

                       

                      Best,

                       

                      John Kinville

                        • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                          Alex Daverede Scout

                          John,

                           

                          If you keep pitching, I’ll continue to catch….

                           

                          For your first question, it’s not completely clear to me how the Navy handled boot camp graduates in those pre-Pearl Harbor days.  My only clue is out of the 1940 Bluejacket’s Manual—the book all new sailors are issued when they get to boot camp.  On page 3 it states:

                           

                          ”Upon arrival aboard ship, some of you will be sent to the engineer’s department for duty as firemen and will be gradually developed into machinist’s mates, water tenders, metalsmiths, electrician’s mates, etc.  The rest of you will remain in the seaman branch and gradually developed into coxswains, boatswain’s mates, gunner’s mates, carpenter’s mates, shipfitters, quartermasters, etc.  The training that starts here at the training station will be continued aboard ship.”

                           

                          What this implies to me is that all successful graduates of boot camp are designated seaman third class (3/c).  When the new sailors report to their first ship, the ship would have its own policy of how the men are distributed.  It could be as simple as an officer or chief petty officer pointing at sailors saying “You six men are going to Engineering.”  It wasn’t until the great demands on manpower during the war showed the need for a more sophisticated personnel system whereby new sailors were given aptitude tests at boot camp to determine which jobs were suitable for the new sailor.

                           

                          For question two, manning the guns on a battleship made great demands on the ship’s force.  As the guns served as the raison d’etre for the ship, keeping them manned when the ship was at GQ was a priority.  In the weapons systems of the day, ammunition handling consumed by far the most bodies.  All three of California’s gun systems, the 14” 50 caliber, the 5” 51 caliber, and the 3” 50 caliber antiaircraft guns, needed lots of men to feed the guns.  As the engineering department needed only one watch to keep the plant operating during GQ (usually the best and most experienced men), all the men on the other watches were available as the ship needed them.  The off-watch engineering petty officers may have been retained by the department for repair duties, while the off-watch non-rated men would be sent wherever the ship needed them, including helping with ammunition passing.

                           

                          California had several gun 2’s.  Once again, terminology can trip you up.  The battleship’s gun turrets, with the three 14” 50 caliber weapons, were designated Turret I, Turret II, Turret III, and Turret IV (Arabic numbers could be used as well).  In each turret, the guns were numbered from left to right as gun 1, gun 2, and gun 3.  The secondary armament, also known as the antidestroyer or anti torpedo boat armament, was the 5” 51 caliber gun mounted in individual casemates on either side of the ship.  In the Navy odd numbers are to starboard and even numbers to port, so No. 2 5” gun was the first casemate gun on the port side, closest to the bow.  The four 3” 50 caliber guns would have had similar designations.

                           

                          As for your third question, I would have to hazard a guess based off later Navy practice because the real answer lies in the ship’s deck plans.  The place from where the ship’s propulsion systems were operated and monitored in later days was called Main Control.  This was a small enclosure in the engine room (where the turbine and some auxiliary machinery were located) that contained the throttles (controlling the flow of steam to the turbines), gauges,  telephones, voice pipes, the engine annunciators (the device passing engine orders from the bridge, and perhaps a small desk and chairs for the Engineering Officer. I believe the engineering log room would be in the vicinity of Main Control, as the watchstander would have to have ready access to the gauges providing propulsion systems status.

                           

                          Kindest regards,

                           

                          A. J.

                          1 person found this helpful
                            • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                              John Kinville Wayfarer

                              Fascinating. Thanks for the information. Would a sailor's "general quarters" position change throughout their enlistment, or would those positions change with a rank advancement? (Enlisted men...F3C, F2C, F1C).

                                • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                                  John Kinville Wayfarer

                                  Today, I received Harry Kramer's personnel file from the St. Louis Archive. Harry was one of the unidentified bodies that was not identified until 1949. Just curious if that information could be used to help indicate where his body/or partial remains may have been recovered?

                                   

                                  I know most casualties were onboard, but that there were some floating in the water in the fiery oil in the harbor. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to identify any numerical casualty breakdowns by presumed location.

                                   

                                  I've included images of the documents. Any thoughts you may have are much appreciated.

                                    • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                                      Alex Daverede Scout

                                      John,

                                       

                                      This is a more difficult question to answer, so the best I can do is advise where to look.

                                       

                                      California’s salvage operation was extensive and took a long time.  The Navy quickly stood up a salvage operation to deal with the wrecked and damaged ships, although I do not know how this organization fit into the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard/U.S. Pacific Fleet scheme of things.  The U.S. Park Service has digitally posted excerpts from the Salvage Division’s salvage diary here: https://www.nps.gov/perl/learn/historyculture/upload/War_Diary1-2.pdf .  The header on this page, Industrial Division War Diary, indicates to me that the Salvage Division fell under the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard organization, which certainly seems logical.

                                       

                                      As you can see from the war diary entries, the recovery of human remains did not receive mention.  Since that recovery was an important aim in the salvage operation, there must have been correspondence that mentions the recoveries.  The trick is finding it.  Such reporting could take different routes.  Administratively, Pearl Harbor Navy Yard would have routed correspondence through 14th Naval District, and human remains recovery would have been routed to the Bureau of Personnel (BuPers).  So there are two possible sources: 14th Naval District (which, if I recall, though my former NARA colleagues would know best, would reside at the National Archives at San Francisco, San Bruno in Record Group 181); and incoming correspondence for the Bureau of Personnel (Record Group 24), which would be at the National Archives at College Park.  So your search would be a fishing expedition into correspondence files.  There is no guarantee that the correspondence would mention where in the ship the remains were recovered—remember that the salvage operation had to deal with the recovery of remains from not only the California, but also West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah, and all the other ships with personnel casualties at the same time—potentially hundreds of remains. So reporting the recovery of remains may have been mentioned only at the ship level, not necessarily where in the ship.

                                       

                                      Good luck with your research!

                                      A. J.

                                    • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                                      Alex Daverede Scout

                                      John,

                                       

                                      A sailor’s position for any condition the captain set the ship is detailed in what is known as the Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill.  This bill, drafted by department heads and the Executive Officer and approved by the Commanding Officer uses a man’s rating, rate, and experience to place the sailor in the right place for a particular condition of the ship—Condition I (General Quarters), Condition II (Modified General Quarters), Condition III (Wartime Steaming),  etc., The Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill also set a man’s station for what are termed “special evolutions”, such as Special Sea and Anchor Detail.

                                       

                                      A man’s place in the bill can change over his tour of duty, usually based on needs of the ship or a change in a sailor’s qualifications.  So if a gun crew in the 5” 51 battery is short a man due to transfer, a new man is assigned and his name added to that gun’s crew in the bill.  Similarly, if a sailor is promoted to petty officer, he would be moved on the bill to a position more in keeping with his rating and rate.  In general, though, non-petty officers would keep their place in the bill unless there is a shortage at another shipboard station and a non-rated body is needed.

                                       

                                      A. J.

                                      1 person found this helpful
                                        • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                                          J. Andrew Tracker

                                          To answer an anticipated question, while there are a limited number of 19th and early 20th century Watch, Quarter, and Station Bills at the National Archives, a search isn't turning up anything from World War II.  If they had been retained they'd probably be well known to the research community and especially the genealogists, however I've never heard of the National Archives having them.

                                            • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                                              Alex Daverede Scout

                                              Mr. Andrew,

                                               

                                              Watch, Quarter, and Station Bills changed frequently because of personnel changes.  I suspect that the 19th and early 20th Century bills you mention survived simply by being stored in the right place or in the hands of the right person.  As the Navy expanded in both world wars, the numbers of bills would multiply to the point that retention was impractical.  At that point the bills would be considered temporary records and readily disposable.  Once the Navy adopted modern records management practices, the practices were codified in the appropriate manual—ultimately the SECNAVINST 5212.5 series.  That’s why Watch, Quarter, and Station Bills from the modern era are not likely to be found by researchers.  Please note that  I say not likely to be found rather than never because in my archival experience I have encountered records that should have been disposed of per an organization’s records management policy, but somehow managed to find their way into NARA’s holdings.

                                               

                                              A. J.

                                              1 person found this helpful
                              • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                                John Kinville Wayfarer

                                Hypothetically, would the labeling of Harry's Kramer's body (as X-104) be indicative of the order in which his body was found?

                                 

                                I'm also guessing the letter X might have been used as a variable meaning "unknown"...or might it have been office code for USS California?

                                 

                                In general, have you run across any documentation that indicates the method in which the unknown bodies at Pearl Harbor were categorized for records purposes?

                                  • Re: Seeking explanation of Navy Ranks (Pre WW2 - 1941)
                                    Alex Daverede Scout

                                    John,

                                     

                                    Alas, your question hit the limit of my knowledge.  In my personal research resources I have nothing on Pearl Harbor  casualty recovery, and my online searches mainly return articles that discuss the spate of recent remains identification, the recovery of which occurred many decades ago.  I am unaware of any scholarly work on the subject.

                                     

                                    In more recent years the Department of Defense has become very sensitive when it comes to the handling the remains of its service members.  However, at the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War II, neither the Army or the Navy had the wherewithal to handle thousands of casualties, living or deceased.  An added factor was the urgency of the salvage work.  While some ships, such as Arizona, Oklahoma, and Utah, were so badly damaged that the Navy did not expect them to return to service, ships like West Virginia, Nevada, and California were needed to restore the Battle Line as soon as possible.  So salvage operations, to include remains recovery, were conducted to get the ships back in service quickly.  As the BuMed letter you found shows, many remains were simply interred at the Punchbowl in Honolulu as unknown, to await the time and resources to identify the sailor.

                                     

                                    So to return to the case of Fireman 1/c Kramer, I could conjecture where he might have been located when he met his death.  The Bureau of Ships Torpedo and Bomb Damage Report for the California has been digitized and is located here: http://www.researcheratlarge.com/Ships/BB44/PearlHarborDamageReport/ .  Based on this document, it would appear to me that most of the casualties would have been caused by the bomb hit that detonated on the second deck in way of the starboard.  The torpedo hits did not completely compromise the torpedo defense system to quickly flood the lower decks—it took several days for California to settle to the bottom of the harbor, so most crew members had the time to escape the flooding compartments.  However, the location of the 0845 bomb burst on the second deck was located to kill or wound a significant number of sailors.  Where Fireman Kramer would have been located at the time is the question.  As California had no need of its anti-surface ship armament during an air attack, the senior officer on board could have secured the gun crews to gather in crew spaces, such as those on the second deck for the duration of the attack.  There the ships officers would have a ready reserve of manpower to help the ship’s repair parties.  Again this is only conjecture on my part.  I wish I could point you towards more substantive evidence

                                     

                                    I wish you the best of luck on your book.

                                     

                                    A. J.