US Navy History and Traditions

The US Navy’s history and traditions are divided into two periods: the “Old Navy,” a highly respected force of sailing ships during the American Civil War, and the “New Navy,” a modern and very powerful force in the world.

3,467 Questions
History of Maritime
Tattoos and Body Art
US Navy History and Traditions

What were traditional nautical tattoos and piercings sailors got and why?

Traditional Tattoos and PiercingsI believe that tattoos originated after James Cooke first arrived on Tahiti. Tattooing was very popular in the South Pacific. Fletcher Christian and George Stewart of Mutiny on the Bounty fame both had stars tattooed on the left of their chests. Perhaps these were early Nautical Stars.

FAQ Farmers have offered these:

  • Sailors got their ears pierced because it helps improve eyesight (I think its an acupuncture site).
  • A black pearl earring for survivors of a sinking ship .
  • Golden earrings were used as a means of ensuring they were buried properly should they die at sea or in a foreign port.
  • In modern times a brass earring denoted a survivor of a ship sinking.
  • One left ear piercing for crossing each of the Equator, Artic Circle, and Antarctic Circle.
  • Earrings were thought to keep spirits from entering through the ear, but that's not a purely sailor thing.
  • A sparrow for every 5000 thousand nautical miles traveled,.
  • A sailor would get a swallow tattoo for every 5000 miles he had sailed.
  • A swallow because it will always find its way home.
  • A rooster and pig on the ankles are to prevent a sailor from drowning.
  • The pig and the rooster are tattooed on either the calves or the top of the feet, to prevent a sailor from drowning,. These animals were originally carried on most ships in wooden crates. When a ship goes down these crates would float and then catch currents and wash ashore with the other debris from the ship, making the pigs and roosters often the only souls to survive a shipwreck.
  • A tattoo of a pig on the left knee and a rooster (cock) on the right foot signified "Pig on the knee, safety at sea. A cock on the right, never lose a fight."
  • Tattoos of pigs and chickens were to make sure they always had their ham and eggs so that they never go hungry.
  • A turtle standing on its back legs (shellback) for crossing the equator and being initiated into King Neptune�s Court.
  • A tattoo of King Neptune if you crossed the Equator.
  • Crossed anchors on the web between the thumb and index finger for a bosn�s mate.
  • Royal Navy tattoos of palm trees for the Mediterranean cruises in WWII.
  • Many US sailors have a palm tree or hula girl from Hawaii.
  • The words HOLD and FAST were tattooed on the knuckles to help hold line.
  • Hold Fast across the knuckles to keep them from falling overboard or dropping a line.
  • Anchor tattoo for sailing the Atlantic.
  • Full rigged ship for sailing around Cape Horn.
  • Dragon Tattoo for a sailor who had sailed into port in China
  • A Golden Dragon was for sailors who had crossed the International Date Line.
  • Rope around the wrist for being a dockhand.
  • Two stars to ensure always knowing the way.
  • The anchor usually noted that the sailor was in the merchant marine.
  • Guns or crossed cannon for military naval service.
  • Harpoons for the fishing fleet.
  • Crosses on the soles of one's feet to ward off hungry sharks.
  • A nautical star, or compass rose was to always find your way home.
  • A dagger through a rose signified a willingness to fight and kill even something as fragile as a rose.
  • Many sailors also got pornographic images so that they would always have them with them.

I have a very old book c.1910 where an old sailor be moans the end of the sailors tattoo, yea right. he expounds that. " on the forearm the ports you've visited. on the wrist 'bracelets' on the upper arm the girls name or initials. on the lower leg the initials of all the girls you've 'had'." The "MOM" tattoo became popular during WWII as well as the "death before dishonour" dagger piercing the skin. but that's with the USN in the Royal Navy, and presumably the Commonwealth navies,this is my info; full rigged ship (on the back very large) for rounding the horn (cape horn), The anchor (fouled or not) for service in the Atlantic. All remaining tattoos except since 1970 are in this discussion. Many 'modern' sailors have put tattoos of their specility or of the distinctive badge they had earned. like having crossed hammers with wings for aircraft carrier mechanics, or the divers helmet for a diver,etc. As for crossing the line. None of us Shellbacks want to repete this trial! You get a card. but some of us wisely have the longitude and date as well as ship on our upper leg. So if we ever get mistaken for a pollywog we can "show a leg" (naval term for 'get up out of bed!'.). 119deg 6min 54sec East USS SAMUEL GOMPERS 19 SEP 1991

US Navy
US Navy History and Traditions

What does GMGC US Navy mean?

A GMGC is a Gunner's Mate - there are 2 types of GM's, a GMG, and a GMM.

GMG stands for Gunner's Mate (Guns); GMM stands for Gunner's Mate (Missile). The "C" stands for Chief Petty Officer (E-7). The rate/rank therefore stands for Gunner's Mate (Guns) Chief.

War and Military History
US Navy History and Traditions

What is Crossing the T in Naval Warfare?

"Crossing the T", an obsolete but classic Naval warfare tactic. It refers to the tactic used in the days when a line of ships (then using cannons/guns) would form a line and cross the enemy line of ships. In the case of the crossing line, the ships would be facing the enemy line from the port or starboard side (broadside), while the enemy line would be facing forward (only the forward guns could be brought to bear). As each ship crossed the T, all it guns could fire on the enemy line, while the enemy ships could only use its forward guns. The last time it was used in combat was in 1944 at the Battle of Surigao Strait.

Since the tactic requires the ships involved to be in a battle line formation, it fell out of use as the use of aircraft bombs and missiles, as well as ship and submarine launched anti-ship cruise missiles, have essentially rendered naval guns obsolete, at least for surface combatant engagements.

The term is also used for navigation, where one vessel is trying to intercept another at a given point - where the T is crossed.

US Navy
US Navy History and Traditions

Why do many navy coffee mugs have no handle?

So you can tell if the liquid is too hot to drink. They were used in WWII and were called "watch mugs" and had no handles to keep the watch sailors' hands warm.

US Navy
US Military ROTC
US Navy History and Traditions

Can girls join navy after

Yes you can go to OCS - Officer Commissioning School and be a Navy Officer or you can choose to enlist as a G.I.

US Navy History and Traditions

Does a ship have a sonar?

Most modern combat Navy surface vessels have Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) sonar arrays of some type, and at least 1 Aircraft Carrier does as well (newer carriers use their escort vessels for ASW sonar screens).

Essentially, that comes down to Cruisers, Destroyers, and Frigates, which make up the bulk of a Carrier Battle Group or Task Force screen to protect the Carrier from submarine threats.

However, those ships, as well as Carriers, also use fixed and rotary wing aircraft with deployable (dipping) and expendable (sonobuoys) sonar as well.

Ship sonar systems include the main forward sonar arrays, as well as deployable Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) towed sonar systems.

US Civil War
Battle of Gettysburg
US Navy History and Traditions

Who said 'Damn the torpedoes Full speed ahead'?

Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (1801-1870), the first senior officer of the U.S. Navy at the time of the American Civil War. Aboard Hartford, Farragut entered Mobile Bay, Alabama, 5 August 1864, in two columns, with armored monitors leading and a fleet of wooden ships following. When the lead monitor Tecumseh was demolished by a mine, the wooden ship Brooklyn stopped, and the line drifted in confusion toward Fort Morgan. As disaster seemed imminent, Farragut gave the orders embodied by these famous words. He swung his own ship clear and headed across the mines, which failed to explode. The fleet followed and anchored above the forts, which, now isolated, surrendered one by one. The torpedoes to which Farragut and his contemporaries referred would today be described as tethered mines.

US Navy History and Traditions
Great White Sharks

What effect did the Great White Fleet have on Japan?

The Japanese were impressed.

US Navy History and Traditions

What is a cablegram?

A cablegram is a telegram transmitted via a submarine cable.

War and Military History
US Navy
US Navy History and Traditions

Who was the first six star Admiral in the US Navy?


US Navy History and Traditions

Is there a study guide for course 9?

there is one on Ebay in Excel for sale for $5.00.

World War 2
US Navy History and Traditions
Green Berets
Army Rangers

What task force was the USS Makassar Strait CVE 91 part of on the Invasion of Okinawa?

I just finished printing a report on Makassar Strait CVE-91 From the time her keel was laid at Kaiser Ship Yard until she was decommissioned in August 1946 and the Secretary of The Navy authorized her to be used as a target ship Aug. 28, 1958 It states that she was assigned to TG 50.8 between Feb. 9 1945 and April 8 and protected logistics ships operating in support of the Fast Carrier Task force during devastating airstrikes against enemy targets from the Bonins to the Ryukyus. She was then assigned to a support carrier group on April 8 and began intense fighting on Okinawa.. She also spent time at Kamera Retto then operated between Guam and Saipan. I would be happy to send a copy of this if it would help. I am interested because my brother served on the Makassar Strait.

I am not sure but I think it would be Task Force 58. I was a member of Air Group 12 on CV 15 and participated in air strikes against Okinawa. We were in Task Force 58 during this time. We retired from there to Leyte. Our air group was relieved there and we boarded the Makasser Straits for transportation to Guam. We were on our way back to the States. Hope this info helps.Joe Hudson

Following are excerpts from the official War Diary ofthe U.S.S. MAKASSAR STRAIT (CVE-91):


8 April 1945 (Zone Minus 9 -Item) Underway from Task Group 50.8 operating area to rendezvous with Task Unit 52.1.2, pursuant to orders of CTG 50.8 and CTG 52.1...


52.1.2 Support Carrier Unit TWO - Rear Admiral STUMP, USN, in U.S.S. MARCUS ISLAND (CVE-77).

Second in Command - Rear Admiral HENDERSON, USN, in U.S.S. SAGINAW BAY (CVE-82).


8 April 1945 (Zone Minus 9 -Item) Effected rendezvous with Task Unit 52.1.2 for Air Support Operations with Unit Two in OKINAWA invasion....

Position: 2000 24-48 N; 131-47 E

US Civil War
War and Military History
US Navy History and Traditions

How did battleships influence the US Civil War?

The term of "battleships" as we know of the type of naval warships in the 20th century are now obsolete. The last major usage of these large ships was in the second world war. They had no influence in the US Civil War because they had not been "invented". There were a number of small warships in the Civil War, some were made of wood and some were "ironclads" in that they used protective metal to shield them from enemy cannon fire. A comparison to a 19th or 20th century battleship cannot be made as battleships were huge war vessels with many types of powerful cannons. And petroleum fuels powered their massive engines.

The Bible
Cruises and Ocean Liners
US Navy History and Traditions

Are there any biblical verses on ships traveling through storms?

Yes in the bible it tells us that Paul was shipwrecked on one of his missionary journeys due to a storm.

US Navy History and Traditions

When a ship is loaded is it trimmed by the bow or stern?

It depends on the ship, but it's generally trimmed on all 4 points - Bow, Stern, Port and Starboard, making adjustments as the load changes (e.g., weapons usage, food usage, etc.).

Pearl Harbor
Spanish-American War
US Navy History and Traditions

Who really bombed the USS Maine?

The cause of the explosion remains a mystery.

World War 1
Military Awards and Medals
US Navy History and Traditions

What does cy us nrf mean world war 1?

Chief Yeoman, United States Naval Reserve Forces.

World War 2
Military Awards and Medals
US Navy
US Navy History and Traditions

What are US Navy ocean crossing certificates?

Navy Ocean Crossing Certificates (Unofficial, of course) are many and wide. I'm a Bluenose (twice), but there are many, many others that have ceremonies and certificates that are documented by the Naval Historical Center in Washington (See URL link below). Some other examples are:

Order of Magellan - Global Circumnavigation

Order of the Rock - Transiting the Straits of Gibraltar (Inchop - Outchop)

Order of the Ditch - Transiting the Panama Canal

Shellback - Crossing the Equator at any point

Golden Dragon - Crossing the International Date Line (180th Meridian)

Golden Shellback - Crossing the Equator at the 180th Meridian

Emerald Shellback - Crossing the Equator at the Prime Meridian (Greenwich)

Order of the Red Nose - Crossing the Antarctic Circle

Order of the Spanish Main - Cruising the Caribbean

Most are variations on the Golden Dragon or Shellback tradition, the 2 oldest, but each has their own unique ceremony. For example, Blue and Red Nose ceremonies are a "bit colder" than those of the Golden Shellback. Though unofficial, some events are noted in the crewmember's service record, in particular if it coincides with a historic event. Examples are the first cruise of the Nautilus, and the first multi-submarine surfacing at the Geographic North Pole, of which I was privileged to be a part of. Some are just notes that the member participated, as evidence of fact so that the person doesn't have to go through it again. Though not officially required, the decision to not participate in a crew event involving a Navy tradition isn't well received by those who do, and as such most of the crew will go through the ceremony.

In some cases where Latitude and Longitude coordinates are entered on the certificate, one may be omitted if the specific crossing location and date is classified. This was the case on both of my Bluenose certificates, where the Latitude was entered (66° 33′ 44″ N), but the Longitude (point where we crossed the Arctic Circle) was purposely omitted since it was classified.

Sometimes ceremonies aren't performed at all. I've also been through the Straits of Gibraltar and have been through the Caribbean more times than I can count, but we never did a ceremony for any of them.

US Navy History and Traditions

What is the Jack staff on a navy ship?

The jack staff on a Navy vessel is essentially a flag pole on the bow of vessel. Unlike the National Ensign (country flag) which flies on the stern flag staff of most ships (on the bridge while underway surfaced on a submarine), the jack staff flies a flag literally called a Jack.

Over the years of Navy history, there have been many Navy Jacks flown from the Jack Staff; the current Jack ("Don't Tread On Me" flag) was ordered flown after the 9/11 attacks, replacing the traditional Jack, which was the field of blue with 50 stars (modern), or in years past, a field of blue with stars for every state in the Union. It is this flag from which the term "Union Jack" comes from.

US Navy
US Navy History and Traditions

How does a gyro compass work?

Rather than type a long answer - see the related link from Wikipedia for their entry on a gyro-compass.

Math and Arithmetic
Saudi Arabia
US Navy History and Traditions

Which way is mecca from ground zero?

Via the shortest (great circle) route, Mecca is 6,415 miles from the former site of the

World Trade Center's Twin Towers in lower Manhattan, on a bearing of 58.4 degrees true.

(Approximately "North-east by East")

History of the United States
Spanish-American War
History of Spain
US Navy History and Traditions

Location of Spanish Naval defeat during the Spanish-American War?

Manila Bay was the site of Commodore George Dewey's victory over the Spanish Philippine Fleet.

The Spanish Caribbean Fleet was blockaded at Santiago de Cuba until the San Juan Heights had been taken. Because the fleet was then vulnerable to attack by land forces, Admiral Pascual Cervera elected to make a run for the open sea on 3 July 1898. In the first hour of combat, five of the six Spanish ships were out of action and sunk or grounded. Only the Cristobol Colon had a chance at escape and it was finally run aground.

US Navy History and Traditions

Where ship captain and controls his ship is called?


US Navy History and Traditions

How many US warships have been mutinied or been in the hands of mutineers?

There has never been a mutiny aboard a ship of the United States Navy.

Pearl Harbor
US Navy History and Traditions

How many people died on the USS Arizona?



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