California Naval History
How the California Naval Militia Broke the World's Record at Target Practice

From the San Francisco Call 1 September 1912
 
 
California Naval Militia training ship USS Marblehead (C-11)
 

The California State Naval Militia was this year given the first real chance that ever came its way to show what it could do and it rose to the occasion by breaking a world's record. When news of the marvelous shooting by the crew of the Marblehead was telegraphed from the north It was supposed even by friends of the militia that the report had been sent out as a practical joke or that the conditions under which the record was achieved had been made so easy that hitting the target was a mere matter of form. But it was a real record and it was made under conditions of unusual difficulty. When a ship of the regular navy goes on the target range the battery equipment is as nearly perfect as unlimited means and the infinite care of highly skilled specialists can make It- The gun crews, from the men who take the shells out of the ammunition racks in the magazines to the men who spot the shots, take to their task the precision and confidence born of months of individual instruction and collective work. The United States Navy probably can outshoot the world.

But until the Marblehead turned out those perfect scores the naval militia has never been seriously considered. The Marblehead record was made with guns whose mechanism was faulty and with ammunition that a navy board would have condemned as unfit for use. Even the gun sights were in such condition that they afforded merely a hazy suggestion of the target instead of the clear, sharp impression that In the navy is considered essential to good marksmanship. The only previous preparation for the trial was the ping pong practice in the armories of the different divisions, and even that was limited to two evenings a week for a few months prior to the cruise. For all these handicaps, however, the Marblehead record was not a fluke, and when the story of the first real cruise of the California State Naval Militia goes to Washington and is properly digested there will follow a revolution in the management of the naval militia throughout the country which will give to the naval arm. of the country's military strength a second line of support that in time of trouble will be a real help. The annual cruise of the naval militia, until this year, has been a sort of yachting excursion and devoted more to sightseeing than to the practical work for which it was intended.

The Navy Department has always detailed an officer of the Regular Navy to accompany the militiamen on their annual cruise to advise and instruct and to make a report on conditions as he found them. As he was detailed for the period of the cruise only, he went on board knowing nothing of the needs of the citizen sailors. By the time he discovered their shortcoming's the cruise was over and the militiamen left to their own devices for another year. This year, however, the Navy Department detailed Lieutenant Benjamin G. Barthalow, who is stationed in San Francisco in charge of the branch hydrographic office, as instructor to the naval militia of California some months before the annual cruise. Barthalow is one of the famous man handlers of the Navy. He won fame as an athlete in his Naval Academy days, and today, as a baseball fanatic, he would make Spike Slattery look like a disinterested observer. He plays the game at every opportunity, and is more at home sliding to first on his abdomen than drinking Russian tea in anybody's parlor. On the USS Dolphin, in 1904, he commanded the best gun division in the Navy. He was Just the man for the job of instructor, and he went to work as soon as he was detailed. He visited the various state divisions, talked with the officers and men and outlined the work that would be attempted on the summer cruise. , For nearly four months he devoted two nights a week here and in other parts of the state to directing the work of the militiamen. He picked out the gun crews and in training they gave them the full benefit of his experience. It will be news to many to know that one can learn in an armory how to fire a big gun at a moving target. They have guns In the armories of the same caliber as the guns on the ship. The firing in the armory is done with a 22 caliber rifle superimposed on the big gun, but swung, elevated and depressed by the mechanism of the big gun and aimed through the big gun sights. A small, moving target takes the place of the big target. In fact, the actual conditions of target practice at sea are reproduced in miniature, and it was thus that the men behind the Marblehead's guns became sufficiently proficient to break a world's record. The cruise of the Marblehead began July 6, when the divisions of the state, naval militia from San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and San Francisco reported on board, ready for duty. In the Regular Navy, when a new crew reports on a ship, no attempt is made to take that ship to sea until after a few days of "shaking down".

On the Marblehead there was no time for anything like this. At 10 p. m. the word was passed to get under way, and 15 minutes later the cruiser was headed for the Golden gate. This, in view of the fact that the men were landsmen, strangers to each other and new to the ship, was something of a record in itself.

Shortly before the Marblehead sailed, word was received from the Navy Department that there could be no target practice this year, as they were too busy at the navy yards to build a target for the militiamen and no vessel could be spared to lay out the target range. This took the heart out of the men who had been devoting their spare time to the work in the armories. After consulting with the militiamen, however, Lieutenant Barthalow telegraphed to Washington to the effect that if the necessary permission was forthcoming the militiamen would build their own target and lay out their own range, and when he assumed responsibility for the work being done in strict accord with naval regulations, the department told him to go ahead. Off Humboldt Bay the Eureka Division was picked up from a tug and taken aboard. All the way to the Columbia River very heavy weather was experienced. There was some seasickness and much discomfort, owing to the fact that there were more men on the ship than could be properly accommodated below decks. Seasickness was soon forgotten in the Interest of the drills which ware in progress all the time. During the run to the Columbia River heavy seas broke over the bow, carrying away a ventilator and the capstan's head. In spite of the fact that it was dangerous to go on the forecastle head, when the order was given to secure the wreckage, three of the militiamen Jumped out and did the work in a seamanlike manner.

Going up the Columbia River, a number of saluting charges were fired with the big guns to test the gun pointers for gun shyness, a test that could not be made In the armories. The lumber for the target raft had been bought in San Francisco, and when the ship arrived at Portland it was decided to build the target there and tow it to Puget Sound. In the regular navy the building of a target raft is a several days' job. Seven hours after the rough lumber from the Marblehead was put Into the water the raft was finished and the target rigged ready for use. In speaking of this Lieutenant Barthalow says: "This was remarkable work, as the men were handicapped by the swells from passing steamers- and smaller craft. But they stuck to the job until it was finished, as the ship had to sail at daylight the next day. I attribute this feat-and it feat, believe me-to the ability of the crew, their enthusiasm for their first target practice, and to the splendid ability of Chief Boatswain Schnalle and Chief Carpenter Stange, who were always on deck when there was anything to be done-and there was always plenty to be done." At 6 o'clock the next morning the Marblehead started down the Columbia River at a 10 knot gait with the target in tow. All went well until the Marblehead had crossed out over the bar. There was a heavy sea running and the pilot, while waiting for his boat near the lightship, allowed the raft to get under the cruiser's quarter. The towing bridle fouled one of the Marblehead's propellers, and to save the ship from serious trouble the raft had to be cut adrift. Night was coming on and in the sea that was running it seemed like an impossible task to pick up that raft. No raft meant no target practice, and the militiamen begged to be allowed to make the attempt. By using oil on the water it was found possible to lower the whale boat, and after an hour's struggle the raft was picked up and once more taken in tow. The cruiser arrived at Port Angeles with the raft in first class condition, and July 14, under Lieutenant Barthalow's direction, a regulation 1,600 yard range was laid out. When the Regular Navy lays out a target range several vessels are employed in the work and several days devoted to it. The men of the California State Naval Militia did the work in two hours and without any outside assistance. The guns were then bore sighted and the time had come when the naval militia was face to face with the chance for which It had been waiting for 20 years.

On the Marblehead were 45 gun pointers, all armory trained and all trained within little more than three months. It was the naval militia's first target practice, but all went to work with the coolness of old hands. Repair boats, spotters and other details were arranged and all hands were sent to their stations with full instructions. The first shot was fired with the starboard three-pounder. It went just over the target, but was a good line shot. A trial shot from the after four-Inch gun "hit the target and a shot from the forward four-Inch did the same. The ship then steamed around and started on the range at a speed of eight knots. The pointer firing the first string put the first six shots through the target, the last, one being a little short, hitting In front of the target.

The forward four-Inch fired the next string and the first five shots were misses. The spotters had not yet got on to their Job. But they were learning rapidly. The last two shots hit the target, going through No. 2 square. Then came the deluge. After this it was not a matter of hitting the target, but of seeing how close they could corns to the bull's-eye. The next eight strings and the first five shots of the eleventh string were all hits. Sixty-three hits in succession!

Captain George Bauer, C. N. M, commanding the Marblehead, was wreathed in smiles. He noted with surprise a look of something akin to dismay on the face of one of his officers. "What's the matter?" asked the captain. "Doesn't this suit you?" "Betcher life it suits me!" was the enthusiastic answer, "but who ' the devil's goin' to believe we did it? That's what makes me sore. With the four-inch guns the naval militiamen made a percentage of 91 per cent, and with the three pounders, which are more difficult of manipulation, the percentage was 85 per cent. San Francisco gave the militiamen a great reception when the Marblehead came home. Mayor Rolph sent a personal representative to welcome them back and congratulate them on their success on the range, and there was a triumphal march from the water front to the armory on Van Ness Avenue. But the really big results of this demonstration of efficiency will come later. Lieutenant Barthalow is going on with the work of Instruction and getting ready for the next cruise. Officers and men of the organization are working with enthusiasm, which has been still further fanned by the promise that powerful Influences are already at work to secure for the naval militia of California a real big fighting machine, a modern cruiser-probably the St. Louis or the Pennsylvania-and that next year there will be room for every member of the naval militia on board the ship that carries them on their summer cruise. The officers of the Marblehead on this cruise were Captain George W. Bauer. commanding; Lieutenant Commander George S. Kammerer, executive officer; Lieutenant John A. McGee, ordnance offlcer; Lieutenant William A. Speck, chief engineer, and Lieutenants J. T. McMillan (navigator), H. Pierre .Smith, T. B. Harloe, D. M. Stewart, A. H. Woodbine, G. E. Link, A. B. Adams. B. H. Dorcy, H. A Leopold, C J. Bauer and J. A. Armstrong, Ensigns E. M. Mosbacher, C. S. Hendry, W. C. Tooze, A. Barton, L. S. Holm and J. F. Smith, Paymaster C. C. Dennis, Chief Surgeon T. B. W. Leland, Assistant Surgeons John Gallagher, A. J. Murietta and J. P. Dugall, Chief, Boatswain R. Schnalle
 
 
 
 
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Updated 8 February 2016