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INVESTIGATION OF DIRIGIBLE DISASTERS
TUESDAY, JUNE 6, 1933
CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES,
Washington, D.C. The joint committee met, pursuant to the call of the chairman at 10 a.m., in the committee room of the Committee on the District of Columbia, Capitol Building, Hon. William H. King (chairman), presiding
Present: Senators King, Kean, and Walsh; Representatives Delaney (vice chairman), Harter, Andrew, and Hope.
Present also: Col. Henry Breckinridge.
The CHAIRMAN. The committee will be in order. Colonel, have you anything this morning?
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Senator Kean desired to ask Admiral Upham one question. The CHAIRMAN. Is Admiral Upham here? Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Yes, sir.
TESTIMONY OF REAR ADMIRAL FRANK B. UPHAM, CHIEF OF THE
BUREAU OF OPERATIONS, UNITED STATES NAVY
The CHAIRMAN. You do solemnly swear that the testimony you will give in the matter on hearing will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.
Admiral UPHAM. I do.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Will you please state your name, rank, and station.
Admiral UPHAM. Frank B. Upham, rear admiral, United States Navy; Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department. The Bureau of Navigation is charged with the procurement, instruction, administration, training, and discharge or separation of officers and men from the Navy.
Senator KEAN. Admiral, the question I want to ask you was this: It has come out in the hearings that the commander of the Akron proved himself on this occasion to have used very bad judgment to say the least. That is the finding of the naval court. We have gone further into it, and it seems to us that though it is pretty clearly established he may have been an able officer, there is no doubt but that he used bad judgment, and by his bad judgment a large number of lives have been lost. I would like to know why you appointed him in command of that ship?
Admiral Upham. He was nominated to the Bureau of Navigation by Admiral Moffett, at that time the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. It is the customSenator KEAN (interposing). Did he nominate anybody else?
Admiral UPHAM. I do not recall that he did, Senator. It is the custom in the Navy Department, as between the Bureau of Navigation and the Bureau of Aeronautics, for the Bureau of Aeronautics to make their nominations of officers for detail, in one capacity and another, where they operate aircraft. Upon the receipt of these nominations from the Bureau of Aeronautics, I look them over and almost invariably accede to the detail. If there be any reason for questioning one or another of the nominations, I have consulted with Admiral Moffett, and more recently with Admiral King, and there appeared to be no insuperable difficulties, or not very real reason to the contrary, nominations are made as recommended by the Bureau of Aeronautics. In the case of Commander McCord, he had had approaching 1,200 hours in the air in lighter-than-air ships, and with the nomination of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and the fact that he was designated as qualified for the billet, there was no reason in the world to suppose that he was not perfectly capable of carrying out the detail.
Senator KEAN. Have the lessons learned from the Shenandoah experience as to training of personnel been put into effect? What were they?
Admiral UPHAM. I cannot say, I cannot answer that, sir.
Senator KEAN. You do not know what changes were made after the loss of the Shenandoah?
Admiral UPHAM. No, sir.
Senator KEAN. Why was Wiley put second in command when he had had more experience?
Admiral UPHAM. I do not believe I could answer that excepting to refer again to the fact it was the nomination of Admiral Moffett that one man be in command and the other be the executive.
Senator KEAN. That is all I have.
Representative ANDREW. Will you tell us before you go how many different commanders the Akron had between the first commander, Commander Rosendahl, and Commander McCord; were they changed several times? As I recall from the testimony they were.
Admiral UPHAM. I do not recall that they were; perhaps Commander Rosendahl, who is present,can answer that more specifically and definitely than I can. I will say this that a year before Commander Rosendahl was detached, the question arose as to his detachment so that he might have the experience on surface craft, and Admiral Moffett and I discussed it at length and we decided it would be well to leave Rosendahl in the lighter-than-air game for another year, because the Akron was coming along and we wanted the benefit of his experience, so that we kept him that year longer in the lighterthan-air game. That was a perfect understanding between Moffett and myself. At the end of that year Moffett came in and said that both he and Rosendahl desired that Rosendahl should go to sea at that time.
Representative ANDREW. I would like to ask Commander Rosendahl if he recalls who the successors were during the period after he left.
Lieutenant Commander ROSENDAHL. I was detached in June 1932. Representative HARTER. By whom were you succeeded?
Lieutenant Commander ROSENDAHL. Commander A. H. Dressel. Representative HARTER. He is now on the Macon?
Lieutenant Commander ROSENDAHL. He was succeeded by Commander McCord.
Representative HARTER. How long did he serve?
Lieutenant Commander ROSENDAHL. From June 1932 to, I think it was, January of 1933.
Representative HARTER. Then McCord was there for 3 or 4 months?
Lieutenant Commander ROSENDAHL. From about January of this year.
Admiral UPHAM. He went to her in January.
Admiral UPHAM. McCord had had 1,180 hours before he went to the Akron at all.
The CHAIRMAN. On what?
Admiral UPHAM. In the Los Angeles. He had 600 hours in the Los Angeles under instruction, 580 hours as executive officer; that made 1,180 hours in the Los Angeles; then he had 500 more hours under instruction in the Akron, and his score then was 1,680 hours in lighter-than-air when he was given command of the Akron and served for 420 hours in command up to the time of the loss of the ship, so that he had had a total of 2,100 hours in rigid airships plus 400 hours in lighter-than-air ships, a total of 2,500 hours in lighterthan-air ships. He had, in addition to that, 350 hours in heavierthan-air craft, making a grand total of 2,850 hours in the air.
The CHAIRMAN. He had charge of no ship until he was placed in charge of the Akron?
Admiral UPHAM. I believe not; there is no record of it here.
The CHAIRMAN. I suppose if a ship were launched at Lakehurst and sailed around and up and down the coast, or to Washington, from Washington to Miami and back again, that the number of hours the ship was in the air would be counted there.
Admiral UPHAM. Yes, sir.
Representative ANDREWS. He had not been in command of the Los Angeles, then?
Admiral Upham. The record as given to me, a transcript from his record shows no command experience in the air. He had had 600, as I said under instruction in the Los Angeles, 580 as executive officer, and in both status he would have had control of the ship during the time being under the captain, just for his training and experience, then he went, notwithstanding that 1,180 hours of previous experience, he went again under instruction for 500 hours—that was on the Akron itself before he took the command; then he had the 420 hours in command.
Senator KEAN. Well, when they are under instructions, does the commander report on them so as to get an idea of their worthiness to command?
Admiral UPHAM. Yes, sir; that is the purpose of the period of instruction, and on those reports are based the final certificate, as to whether or not he is qualified.
Senator KEAN. So that the people over him reported that he was fit to command?
Admiral UPHAM. Yes, sir.
Senator KEAN. And that his judgment was good in decisions—did they ever leave up to him making decisions before or not?
Admiral UPHAM. Well, I would not be able to answer that, sir.
Senator KEAN. Well, you know the practice. Now, the testimony here is when he was with Wiley, he very seldom asked Commander Wiley anything, and when he did ask him he did not follow his advice; that is the testimony here.
Admiral UPHAM. Yes, sir.
Admiral Upham. If you had to judge between Wiley and McCord you might not necessarily take Wiley's advice.
Senator KEAN. No; I quite agree to that. The one thing I am getting at is whether the commander over McCord when he was in training ever tested him as to his judgment.
Admiral UPHAM. I should think that would be one of the essential tests.
Senator KEAN. So should I.
Senator KEAN. So should I; but what I am getting at is whether it had been done, whether he proved his judgment good, because on this occasion he proved his judgment was bad, even if he had not lost the ship
Admiral UPHAM. It was very possible that Commander Rosendahl was among
the staff of instructors that could answer your questions more specifically and definitely.
Senator KEAN. I probably think that is right, but you were on the stand and the question came up.
Admiral UPHAM. I am trying to help you find a better answer than I can give.
Senator KEAN. That is all I have.
RECORD OF FITNESS OF FRANK C. M'CORD
As an ensign in 1912–13, in the U.S.S. Burrows (destroyer), reported upon by Lieutenant Commander Hellweg:
“Enthusiatic, conscientious, gets results. Handles men well. Gives promise of becoming an officer of value.”
Reported on by Lt. J. F. Daniels (still on the Burrows):
“Would make a highly successful submarine officer. Is thorough. Uses his head. Not afraid to do a thing and not hesitant. I would not like to lose his services, but I believe he has earned the opinion expressed above. Particularly capable and efficient."
In 1914, by Lt. Comdr. J. P. Jackson (still on the Burrows):
“Attentive to duty. Displays great interest in his profession. Has a thorough knowledge of torpedoes and great success with them. Although on the eve of examinations, refused to devote his time to particular preparation for the examinations and devoted himself religiously to his duties as executive, navigator, and torpedo officer of the Burrows, at the same time other officers were busy preparing for examination. Has initiative, judgment, and capacity far beyond the average young officer of his date."
In 1917 on board the destroyer Ericsson, Comdr. C. T. Hutchins, Jr., reporting:
“Excellent type of young officer. His ability as engineer officer is outstanding."
In 1918, on board the destroyer Robinson, Comdr. G. W. Simpson reporting:
“McCord has proven himself to be a very efficient and conscientious officer. His detachment from this ship to command the destroyer McComb is an assignment very justly deserved.”
As commanding officer of the destroyer McComb, reported upon by Commander W. Brown:
“Lieutenant Commander McCord handled his ship and personnel with marked efficiency and impressed me as being an excellent officer."
In 1919, in the Navy Department Communication Service, Rear Admiral Bullard reporting:
“Capable, thorough, careful, and exact in the performance of duty. An excellent officer, with unusual executive ability.”
As navigator of the U.S.S. Isabel, 1921.
In 1922, on board the U.S.S. Villalobos as commanding officer, Admiral Bullard again reporting:
“Generally above the average. Several independent duties have been well carried out. He is well qualified to command. Could be trusted with independent duties, and he is conscientious, zealous, and active. A well-rounded officer of his grade. Expert in communications. Fully qualified to command small vessels or destroyers.”
In 1922, Admiral Phelps reporting: “Excellent initiative on important independent duty up the Yangtse River, where he has taken care of all American interests in an entirely satisfactory
In 1923, on board the U.S.S. Huron, Capt. C. D. Stearns reporting: “Excellent navigator.”
In 1924, in the Navy Department, under Admiral C. F. Hughes: “I would be pleased to have him serve with me in any duty: Intelligent; hard working.
In 1925, at the Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, Capt. G. W. Steele, Jr., reporting:
An excellent officer.” In 1926-27, still at Lakehurst, Capt. E. S. Jackson reporting: “Intelligent, calm, quiet, well rounded and capable. Even tempered with balanced judgment. An excellent nonrigid pilot with a thorough knowledge of his subject. Good in any position.'
In 1927, as navigator of the U.S.S. Langley, Commander J. H. Towers reporting:
“Hard working, conscientious, reliable. Fully qualified to perform any duties commensurate with rank. An excellent navigator. Qualified lighter-than-air (rigid) pilot. An asset to any command.
In 1928, still on the Langley, Commander R. R. Paunack reporting:
“Exceptionally capable. Fully qualified. Fully capable of performing any duty commensurate with his rank."
In 1928, on the Langley, Captain A. B. Cook reporting:
A conscientious officer. Capable navigator. Recommended for promotion." In 1929, on the Saratoga, Capt. F. J. Horne reporting:
“Excellent personal and military character. Quiet mannered, but forceful. Well fitted for promotion when due.'
In 1929, as executive at the Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, Comdr. M. R. Pierce reporting:
“A very good nonrigid and balloon pilot. Well fitted for promotion. Devoted to his duty.
In 1930, under Commander Pierce:
In 1931, as executive and navigator of the U.S.S. Los Angeles, Comdr. A. H. Dresel reporting:
“An excellent officer in every respect. Qualified to command. Qualified to perform independent duty requiring excellent judgment, initiative, and decision. Qualified to command a rigid airship.”
In 1932 on the Los Angeles, under Comdr. F. T. Berry.
“Thorough and conscientious in the performance of this duty. Displays a keen interest in his profession. Qualified to perform well all the duties of his grade. Commander McCord's services have been entirely satisfactory and have contributed materially to the successful operation of the Los Angeles. He is qualified to perform all the duties of his grade, including the command of a rigid airship."