U.S. Maritime Service Officer Training School
Alameda, California (1943-1954)
Background of the United States Maritime Service
In 1936 Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 which was known as the "Magna Carta" of the Merchant marine. This Act established the United States Maritime Commission, which was charged withe responsibility of seeing that American ships were "manned with a trained and efficient personnel." After considerable study the Maritime Commission proposed a program limited to men who had sea experience, and on June 23, 1938, Congress amended the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 to provide for the Maritime Commission's program. On that day the United States Maritime Service was born. The amendment directed the Commission to establish the U.S. Maritime Service as an organization with the same ranks and rates prescribed for the United States Coast Guard.
At right: Memorial at site of Alameda U.S. Maritime Service Officer School (2001) Inscription reads: In memory of the Graduates of this Station who gave their lives in the service of their country --- 1941 - 1945
Three weeks after the authorization, the Commission the initial training program started with the acquisition of Hoffman Island in lower New York Bay. Once a quarantine station for immigrants, Hoffman Island served as a Coast Guard training station during World War I.
On September 7, 1938, the first group of trainees arrived. Soon afterward a second station was opened on Government Island, San Francisco Bay, located between Alameda and Oakland [Present day name is Coast Guard Island.]. By the end of the year 389 licensed officers and unlicensed men were in training at both stations. It was anticipated that when full facilities were available, 300 licensed and 3,900 unlicensed personnel would be trained annually. U.S. Coast Guard facilities and personnel administered the 90 day training program for men having at least 2 years' experience at sea. Fort Trumbull, Conn. was opened on January 1, 1939.
Temporary barracks and training center before the school was built was on the Mississippi River Boat, the Delta Queen. About 1400 men were stationed on it. Training classes took place in the salon.
The U.S. Maritime Service Officer School operated in Alameda from 1943 until its closing in 1954. The Training School was opened on January 29, 1943 and dedicated on July 10, 1943. It was set up to train officers for the U.S. Merchant Marine. By August of 1943 nine hundred officers had been trained, and before its first anniversary the base had sent 2,000 officers to sea either as third mates or third assistant engineers.
The minimum requirement of 18 months previous sea experience was later lowered to 14 months. After World War II it was required to have 36 months sea experience before sitting for a license examination. Around 2000 officers a year were trained.
Class of Summer 1942 Torpedo Club
(l. to r.) S.T. Clark, A. Olson, A.D. Lewis, Frank Dixon, R. Carlisle, J.E. Easton. Some torpedoed once, some twice, one three times.
C. Dudley Cantua
(From FULL and DOWN, Summer 1942 Yearbook; courtesy of C. Dudley Cantua, Member of East Bay Mariners, AMMV )
U. S. Maritime Service Officer Training School
At the gateway to the Pacific, where our merchant fleet heads out for Alaska, Australia, the Marshalls and other island bases "down under,'' is located one of two schools in this country where Merchant Seamen can come off their ships and earn officers' papers. There are undoubtedly other schools that resemble this particular station in both physical appearance and the men themselves who are ambitious enough to tackle the tough course.
Welcome to Alameda
Significant, however, is that fact that here --- the U. S. Maritime Service Officers School in Alameda, Calif. --- is the only station on our western coast where a seaman can come ashore, sharpen up his technical knowledge in up-to-the-minute courses, and return to his ship with gold braid on his sleeves and an officer's license in his pocket.
But the training isn't as simple as all that. In fact, it's downright tough. The brevity of the training period, four months, and the amount of material that has to be covered, which is truly tremendous, is an indication of how hard the officer candidates have to work. Graduation from the station is a real achievement. Candidates not only lead a stiff life academically but in every other aspect as well. Discipline is strict and orders are carried out to the letter. Every thing runs like clockwork.
Inspection of quarters
Unlike most officer candidates, these men are "veterans" of this war. They've spent at least 14 months at sea which means most of them have been exposed to enemy attack. Many of them have seen direct action with either enemy submarines or planes. They've been all over the world, carrying supplies to the remote bases on Iceland, Alaska and the pinpoint spots in the Atlantic and Pacific; they've been in on island invasions and took part in the initial attack on North Africa; they were busy ducking shrapnel and firing at Messerschmitts when Sicily and Italy were invaded. Maybe they'll be back at sea when the long awaited second front is opened. All of the men are veterans in the war at sea and they all have one immediate --- and difficult --- goal to reach. That goal is acquiring their officer's papers.
Hero From Alameda
In recognition of the valorous service rendered his country through the rescue of a fellow seaman, William Morris Thomas Jr., 22-year-old assistant engineer from Alameda, Cal., has been depicted upon the current Collier's magazine cover. The illustration, executed by C. C. Beall, shows Thomas, holder of the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal for his gallant deed, in the last stage of saving William Hutchinson of Portland, Oregon, from their doomed freighter, on the violent night of November 8, 1942. Although wounded severely during the incident, Thomas asked to be returned to active duty immediately pon his recovery. SF Chronicle, December 5, 1943.
|Members of the "Torpedo Club." E.D. Ridgell, Baltimore, John Brennan, St. Louis, and E.J. Park, Seattle (l. to r.) autograph a model of a torpedo which sank their ships. They were among 350 students recently graduated and commissioned as Ensigns in the U.S. Maritime Service. Among the graduates are 90 young men who have been aboard ships that were torpedoed, bombed, machine-gunned or sunk in battle action. (Central Press) newspaper source and date unknown|
The training program at Alameda is as modern as tomorrow's super liners and complete enough to give the candidate all the confidence he needs for his new position on hoard ship. Since many of the seamen may not have a scholar's background, a remedial program has been included to give them tips on saving time during study periods, how to approach difficult technical problems, how to bracket study periods, and how to avoid examination jitters.
Deck Cadets practicing semaphore signalling
A candidate does not only learn the functional duties of an officer aboard ship but he learns to act as an officer as well. He may lead new men in their first week of indoctrination and orientation, actually helping to give the classification tests and explaining the history, tradition and practices at the school. He may become a section leader and lead his men during reviews. And at all times he is taught to recognize the fact that the word "candidate" will soon be stricken from his title and only the word "officer" will remain. The men are schooled thoroughly and carefully. They are impressed with the fact that a ship's crew needs intelligent leadership, not misdirected authority, in peace time as well as in war.
Alameda Cadet Station Band in Saturday Review
Training Program at Alameda
The training program itself is no hap-hazard affair. All courses are prepared by instructors --- Merchant Marine officers --- who know the needs of students because they've spent a good part of their life on salt water. Course reference work is compiled from practical experience, text books and license examinations and is constantly revised to keep material up-to-date. Audio-sensory aids, training films, charts and records are used profusely. Courses are integrated and coordinated as much as possible; for example, a mathematics class at 0900 might deal with the exact problem to be discussed in steam theory at 1300.
Practical and theoretical aspects of training are also correlated. The engineering building has cutaways and operating boiler units, various engine room pumps, miniature reciprocating engines, lathes, milling machines and shapers, all within a few steps of classroom desk-chairs.
Deck students gain practical knowledge on a bridge fitted out with wheel, magnetic compass, gyro repeater, inter-communication telephone, engine room telegraph, chart tables, chronometers and other navigation instruments. A standard compass and pelorus are on the flying bridge. There are booms, a mast and a cargo hatch. A barrage balloon flies from time ship and blinkers and searchlights are used. A recently installed Mark I machine gun trainer simulates actual conditions of shooting at enemy aircraft. It is housed in a special building where candidates, wearing polarized goggles, can fire at images of enemy planes on a third dimensional screen.
Night vision simulation wearing polaroid glasses Lathe instruction for engine cadet
A list of subjects as long as your arm greets every officer candidate. If he's able to recover from the initial shock, a Deck student will learn rules of the nautical road, general rules seamanship, cargo handling and convoy procedure, navigation (including piloting, sailing and celestial navigation, star identification, etc.), mathematics, ship construction, safety requirements, stowage and mensuration, semaphore and gyro-compass, first aid, small boat handling, and water safety.
The Engineer's routine isn't any easier. In basic physics he learns about stresses and strains, gas and steam laws, and kindred subjects. He goes over the construction, operation and maintenance of boilers; he learns about Diesels and reciprocating engines and turbines. He will also have turned to in the machine shop and studied electricity, mechanical drawing and refrigeration.
Not easy, eh? Well every candidate knows it is no "fluff-off" routine or he would have been saved the trouble of his initial enrollment. The wartime need for competent trained officers on merchant ships made it imperative to consolidate and intensify training. And at the end of the four month course, these men are qualified to take their positions as Third Mates or Third Assistant Engineers onboard ship.
|Cadet adding name of Alameda alumnus who was killed in action to the Station's Honor Roll Plaque. [Cover of Neptune, Station Newsletter, August 30, 1944]|
Despite the stiff training program, which not only puts a definite tax on the brain but occupies most of the candidate's time, there is a chance for recreation. That is, if his grades are in order and he's indulged in no horseplay. A candidate may join the basketball or baseball ream, play on his section's softball club, or participate in other sports. He may just want to browse through the fiction library or he may even take a postman's holiday and go sailing.
Kay Kyser, Band To Appear at Maritime School
Kay Kayser and his Kollege of Musical Knowledge will appear at the U.S. Maritime Officers' School, Neptune Beach, on Wednesday. Kyser's troupe will give two shows --- one in the afternoon for station personnel only and another in the evening which will be broadcast nationally. It is the third nationally known band to appear at the school. The others were Tommy Dorsey and Horace Heidt [and his Musical Knights]. Alameda Times-Star, June 29, 1943.
Movies are shown in the evenings, twice weekly, and a chance for a chinfest with fellow students is afforded in the coffee bar attached to the canteen.
Merchant Marine Men Will Parade
Two hundred and fifty officer candidates from the U. S. Maritime Officers' School in Alameda, and 50 unlicensed men from the Maritime Service Graduate Station will parade up Market Street to the Fox Theater at 7:30 this evening, it was announced. The parade will be held in celebration of the opening of "Action in the North Atlantic," a motion picture featuring the merchant seamen. S.F. Chronicle, June 22, 1943.
Hello MR. BENNY!
Jack Benny, who also plays a violin, will be the guest star in our Shenandoah Show-Hall stage presentation 21 May, at 1600. The droll comedian will be in the bay region for appearances on his regular Sunday evening radio show and at hospitals in this area.
With him from his radio program will be Don Wilson, large and jovial master of ceremonies, and Larry Stevens, singer. The personal appearance of Jack Benny will be only part of our show. Stars appearing at San Francisco theatres and night clubs will also perform.
Captain Edward Macauley, USN (Ret.) Deputy Administrator of the War Shipping Administration, and Commodore Telfair Knight, Commandant of the U.S. Maritime Service and Assistant Administrator for Training, will be guests of honor. Members of this station only will be admitted. [From the Neptune newsletter]
The Alameda station is situated on the site of a former beach resort and amusement park but not even a suggestion of the pitchmen, the roller coasters, the picnic grounds and sun bathers remains. Nothing is the same --- that is, except for one thing, the Californians say. The weather.
Outdoor training is possible the entire year, except in cases of "unusual dew." Twenty buildings have arisen from the former ghost town that was Neptune Beach. When the school was moved from Government Island not a day of training was lost in the shift. Since the change was made more than 2000 officers have been graduated from the station.
The mascot of the Base was Blackie, the dog, who lived nearby. His owner decide to let him live on the base after he crashed through a window to answer a fire alarm. Blackie became a fixture on the fire engine when it went out for calls. A commemorative plaque to Blackie is still located near the monument.
Admiral Rags [left], successor to Blackie, is the official mascot at Alameda
Alameda Station Superintendent Commander Malcolm E. Crossman
A seafaring man all of his life. Commander Crossman earned his Master's license at the age of 26. He graduated from the training ship Nantucket in 1925 and was named executive officer of California schoolship in 1931. Later he worked ashore supervising the operation, loading, discharging and claim prevention of the fleet of a large shipping company. Commander Crossman was called to active duty by the Navy in 1940 and assigned as District Supervisor for Merchant Marine Cadet Training under the Maritime Commission. In August 1942, he became Superintendent of the Maritime Service Training Station at Hueneme and then Catalina. In November 1942, he was transferred to a similar post at Hoffman Island. He came to Alameda as superintendent on January 29, 1944.
|Officers' Oath. Graduating students at the Alameda Officers School repeat the oath of an U.S. Maritime Service officer|
At Alameda, as at other maritime training stations, young and ambitious Americans are not only building new careers but are learning to appreciate the opportunities and problems associated with our Merchant Marine. It is with leaders such as these that the future of our merchant fleet will depend when the war is over.
Source: MAST Magazine, April 1944
U. S. Maritime Service
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