The Salamonie and the Essex
From the Boston Sunday Herald
Nov. 17, 1963
Contributed by Melvin G. Goodwin, South Berwick, ME
GIG COXSWAIN John H. Arnette of the Salamonie, who twarted an attempt by Essex sailors to "borrow" his commanding officer's gig.
UNDERWAY REPLENISHMENT - It was while the carrier USS Essex refueled from the fleet oiler USS Salamonie in the Western Pacific that the crews began a friendly feud. Story below.
PEACETIME STEAMING aboard U. S. Navy ships - besides exposing a bluejacket to the hazards of his profession - affords him moments of sheer delight in which to demonstrate his resourcefulness, swashbuckling spirit and irrepressible sense of humor.
"Now it can be told," says a Navy spokesman - the story of a "friendly war" between the Quonset Point-based carrier Essex and the fleet oiler Salamonie, home-ported at
The rivalry touched off in July at the start of a six weeks Midshipman cruise, ended in late August with a truce negotiated by Captain Joseph M. West, commanding officer of the Essex and the skipper of the Salamonie, Captain Jack M. James.
The story began after two weeks at sea, during which Essex came alongside Salamonie several times for underway fuel replenishment.
At the first "unrep" after an in-port rest for the task group at Halifax, N. S., Salamonie's commanding officer beamed his loudspeakers toward the carrier, alongside
to take on fuel.
"We found something in Halifax," said Capt. James. "If you can identify it, we'll give it to you," he said and signaled to a signalman to hoist a large blue and white banner
removed from the Essex by intrepid oiler men of the Salamonie.
The banner, containing the words, "Free Trade and Sailors' Rights," broke to the wind. The motto was used by the first Essex, and American Man-of-War, during the war
As far as the Essex skipper was concerned, war had been declared, as of that moment. Efforts aboard the carrier to recover the banner, normally flown on special occasions and occasionally during underway replenishments, had included threats restriction at Bermuda for the embarked midshipmen who had been suspected of having hid the banner.
The banner was returned by high-line to the Essex, but it's appearance on the Salamonie left the oiler one-up on Essex.
Retaliation from the Essex men was not long in coming. Both ships lay anchored in Great Sound, Bermuda. A Salamonie sentry, alert and anticipating reprisal spotted
swimmers approaching the oil skipper's gig which was moored to a boat boom near the ship's stern.
The sentry fired his blank-loaded rifle into the air. The signal brought the Salamonie sailors pouring forth from their living compartments to man fire hoses and repel boarders.
The Salamonie's Command Duty Officer - in charge of the ship in the captain's absence - ran to the scene and ordered the would-be invaders to board the oiler. The
swimmers ignored the order and continued to splash on towards the gig.
Once more the sentry fired over the heads of the swimmers. They only swam faster.
"All right," said the CDO, intentionally speaking loud enough for the swimmers to hear, "Go ahead and aim."
At this word, the swimmers raised their hands in surrender - as much as possible for men struggling to remain afloat - thinking that they had been taken for saboteurs.
Three drenched Essex sailors became prisoners of war.
A second attempt at the Salamonie was frustrated by Boatswains Mate Third Class John H. Arnette, coxswain of the gig, who was sleeping in his boat.
Arnette waited quietly while Essex sailors fumbled to start the engine. Finally, he slipped in among the invaders, started the gig's engine for them, and delivered them to
the Salamonie's gangway.
Six dangerous enemy saboteurs spent the remainder of the night in the oiler's brig.
Meanwhile, in Essex country, someone had slipped through the dark waters under the carrier's huge overhang and made off with the Essex gig.
It was time for a truce, concluded both commanding officers, before someone got hurt.
The truce remained in effect for the remainder of the cruise, but, as with most negotiated peace, the truce was an uneasy one.
Essex officers on board the Salamonie to observe and evaluate a communications exercise, swiped a guest book kept in the captain's cabin for registry of his guests.
When the book was returned by an Essex emissary, it contained the signatures of the five Essex sailors who had spent the night in the oiler's brig.
And so, the spirit which swept the Spanish Armada from the seas and led Captain Kidd to an English gallows, lives on in the hearts of the American Navyman.
The rivalry between the Essex and the Salamonie crews was an expression of kinship often felt by crews operating at sea together
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