Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
   
Grumblings


As the years went by, thirty, or so for me before retiring, I heard more, and more grumblings, especially from the old hands that sailed under the Army - ATS, or the Army Transport Service. Apparently the Army ran the outfit more or less like a civilian shipping company. Though a General headed it up, a Merchant Marine licensed Port Captain was the boss. This was no small thing, as this assemblage of ships was the largest ever - the Army had more ships than the Navy...any Navy, or shipping company. It is said that the Port Captain - a Captain Torning, actually conferred with the then President during WW2 - FDR. It is also said that Torning was slated to command the newly interned French Passenger vessel - Normandy for her first voyage as a Troop ship. Of course, as we know, it was sabotaged, and subsequently scrapped...such was the stature of Torning.

However, that's neither here, nor there...the thing is that Torning, a civilian, lead civilians directly.
Enter the Navy...an outfit strong on pride, and professionalism...as were the Merchant Marine types they were to take over. Bang! Out of the blue came conflict, but no contest...the civilians knew no other type of trade, and needed their jobs...it's was post-war, and the Merchant Marine was starting to dwindle. The Navy also was seeing cut-backs in their fleet, but the fleet they were offered were manned by civilians...no ship commands here. Congress mandated, and the Navy was stuck with it. True, some Navy got good jobs out of it, but none got command of a ship...which is what the Navy is about, or supposed to be. Those Navy who could, or would command ships felt these "Merchies" were taking their jobs...and that went for every other swabby who saw the Navy for sea-billets...they were now administrators ashore. Resentment was on both sides...the "Merchies" not particularly happy with the "Navy way", and the Navy frustrated by the "thieving Merchies".

I can remember the first time I noticed a Navy ship with the blue, and gold ( yellow ) bands on the stack...I was in the Navy then. It was in Naples, Italy. I asked what was with the bands, and someone said that was an MSTS ship - a Navy ship manned by civilians. I thought that was terrible...civilians taking our jobs. I thought this even though I was Merchant Marine for a year before being activated to active duty for the Korean Conflict. I went back to work for Mobil Oil on their tankers after my tour of duty, not giving MSTS any thought. That was until Mobil put most of their fleet under foreign flag, and I needed a job. Believe me, I tried every shipping outfit there was before relenting, and signing up with MSTS...there wasn't anything else. MSTS to the ordinary "Merchie" was the dregs...it wasn't even "unionized".

I liked the Navy when I was in it...I liked it for what it did best - fight...I felt like a warrior. However, now I found my self working for the Navy...not as a warrior, but as a Merchant Seaman...it wasn't the same. The Navy in a transportation setting just never seemed right, and that sentiment was felt from the top Navy brass down to me.
So, what to do? Nothing! The powers to be wanted it this way, and we - the seamen, and our boss - the Navy, had to live with it. Professional jealousy is only human nature. When both factions are professional in their particular sea-callings, friction, or hard-feelings will always lurk beneath the surface. For the civilian seaman though, there was no recourse, or no way to intimidate the other. For the Navy though, it was easy...after all, they were the employer.
The first thing to do was for the Navy to neutralize Torning - the Port Captain, and his band ( just a few ) of Assistant Port Captains - runners, actually. They put Torning in a small room, with two desks...one for him, and the other for a Navy CPO to sit, and stare at him. In place of Torning they now needed a Vice Admiral in Washington, with humongous staff; and two Rear Admirals - one for the East Coast, and one for the West Coast...with their staffs. Before long they had "Commands" around the globe - each headed up by Flag Grade officers...with their staffs. It took many to replace Torning.

With Torning out of the way, now the Navy had to address their "rag-tag" charges...first to get them "cleaned up", and into uniform. Then came the "training"...anything resembling Army, or Merchant Marine went, but up to a point with the Merchant aspect. However, there was an obstical - the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard, another service content with what they did, but now also mandated to take over something they didn't cherish - the Steam Boat Inspection Service, was, and still is responsible for "training", documenting, and licensing Merchant Mariners, and inspection of Merchant Vessels, and that included the Navy's new aquired "fleet"...a big order. Having the leverage the Navy had, the Coast Guard never relented any of these duties to the Navy. So, it was hands off those aspects of their fleet, and personnel...really though, a great relief to the Navy...why make more work for themselves...they now had a cushy thing going...if losing "command at sea" wasn't an issue. One good thing the Navy did though, was to suppliment Coast Guard training with their own top notch fire-fighting, and damage control schools, in some cases making Fleet Training facilities available to the civilian mariners - Civ Mars...like they're called by the Civil Sevice.

Another good thing we have to admit to is that the Navy did break up the Torning "Cliques"...ATS was called "The Box-head Navy" - lots of Square-Heads - Scandinavians manned the ships...if you were "in" with Torning, you had it made, and especially if you belonged to the Marine Square Club - an branch of the Masons. Some of the old ATS guys would talk about "Torning Ville"...a town owned by him...yes, he could sell you a house too.
It's been a long time since the fifties, and this transition from Army to Navy, but MSTS - today called - MSC, an acronym for Military Sealift Command is still around, and still run by the Navy. It's big still, but only because the Navy is giving up more bottoms to civilian operation. Large auxilliaries like Fleet Oilers, and Supply ships are being manned today my Civ Mars, and Contract Merchant personnel. I still think it's not right from two aspects: First, if it's a Navy ship, it should be Navy manned, and Secondly, Merchant Seamen should not be directly under the thumb of Military administration. I have always thought a totally civilian agency should handle all logistics for the services, letting the services do what they're intended for - fighting. I'd call it FLASH - Forces Logistics, And Support Hegemony. Totally Merchant Seaman manned ships under civilian authority...no jealousy, no contests, no hard feelings.

This is not to say the won't be grumblings...there'll always be that. We must add, before we conclude here, that not all blame should go to the Navy military, but alot to the civilian Civil Service they kept on from the Army. These meat-heads, including some from the Civilian Merchant Officers who couldn't hack it at sea, and took jobs ashore in the office, and screwed that up too, are to blame for injustices done to those sailing. Old beefs carried over were kept, and injustices done. A case in point was the newly contrived "Command Inspections" held yearly. A Navy officer titled "Chief Inspector"...usually of Captain's Rank, headed up the team, which was made up of former Merchant Seaman, - "drop outs"...so to speak, and civilian office clearks. They now had the means to "get back" at those they didn't like, and look for the most insignificant deficiencies. In most cases they didn't like any of the seagoing personnel because of their pay, and vacation differences...really...this is how dumb it all was.

To end this, here's a small insight to how some pin-heads the Navy is no doubt embarrassed about having, got back at the poor, defenseless Civ Mar in the early days. It's a sentiment gleaned from many back then.


msts_cap_old.gifdraggin_anchor.jpgIf ever anyone had any doubt about the absolute disdain, or contempt the Navy had for the Merchant Marine Officer in the early days of MSTS, he only had to look at how they uniformed them. Gone was the ornate cap device of the ATS, and in place was a grotesque depiction of two crossed stockless, or patent anchors. As if this wasn't enough, they had to add insult to the use of the old-fashioned anchor collar device by showing it "dragging" as depicted in the drawing to the right. Also note the postion of the officer's bars - instead as being upright, or dissecting the angle of the collar, it is sideways.
Not only in this insidious fashion were the Merchant Officers degraded, but in the Navy's MSTS Magazine they would never use the captains' title of "captain" when referring to a Mariner, but "Master". When they started, ten, or more years after taking over from the Army, to use the title "Captain" for Mariners, it was always in lower case...the Navy officer being in upper case - all letters. Also, insistent until I retired twelve years ago, they had ships captains display an anchor ( at first dragging ), over the four gold stripes. This of course put the Captain in the Deck Department, which of course he isn't...he's not in any department, not even on the Crew List, or shouldn't be anyways, but MSTS/MSC has him there. I never displayed anything over my stripes, and if perchance was extended the use of a star, that I wouldn't of had displayed, for even for themselves, the Navy can't get that right. If you've noticed, the single point is down, or in the case of shoulder boards - pointing outboard. How bloody unbalanced can one get?
Oh yes...they also insisted that Captains wear an eagle on one collar point, and an anchor on the other - there again putting the Captain in the Deck Dept. I displayed - like the Navy - two eagles.
Out of uniform? Good grief...out of costume! We were ripe for Disney!
C.
 
Finally, one day, someone discovered these antics for what they were, overrode the pin-heads, and got the uniform regs straightened out. Gone was the "draggin' anchors", gruesome crossed stockless anchors, and even issued a new Cap Device, though tin...not embroidered like shown below. I was given this by my Second Mate aboard the Robinson on a trip to Thailand carrying bombs, and other explosives...I still have it.


embroidered cap device

Here are some of the old ATS cap devices, and other interesting devices.
atscap_gold.gif
Army Transportation Service
ats_harbor_cap_gold.gif
Army Transportation Service Harbor Branch