The BNY in the Inter-War Era                                   Labor History
Preparing For War, 1937-1941, Part 1
The Political Background
The Sea-Path To War
    The Navy Department
   Naval Policy
   The Naval Buildup Continues: The Second and Third Vinson Acts
Production in the Brooklyn Navy Yard
   A Slight Pause
   Repair, Outfitting, and Conversion Work
Hiring Fraud
Layoff Problems Continue
    Excerpts from U.S. Naval Policy for 1940
    [Trades] Personnel Distribution in Yard, 30 August 1941
    Employment Figures for Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1937-1941
“The necessity for expediting naval shipbuilding is manifest.”
Letter, from the ASN(SED), to the Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, NY, 17 July 1939; RG181; NA-NY, passing on a communication he sent to the Civil Service Commission.
During Roosevelt's second term in office Congress authorized further increases in the size of the American navy.  While in the early years of the Depression, under the Hoover administration, the Brooklyn Navy Yard workers faced a labor surplus at the Yard, and while by the end of the first term of Roosevelt's presidency the navy yard had jobs for all who were qualified and wanted them [although with periodic layoffs], the years under discussion here are marked by the beginning of an absolute labor shortage not only in New York's navy yard but in the shipbuilding business in general, one that was not resolved until the government and the shipbuilders basically removed all qualifications for working in the shipyards in World War II.  The navy yards had to hire huge numbers of new people and train them to provide the labor needed to double and more the size of the navy in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  This was accomplished by a combination of many policy, administrative, and educational changes, instituted through the executive and legislative branches of the government, the Navy, the Civil Service, and by the workers themselves.  These included the beginning of the systematic dilution of civil service regulations as to hiring, forced overtime, the deskilling of jobs, manipulations of benefits, and a general increase in worker training. [These will be discussed in the following sections.]

The growth in the shipbuilding business also brought about a different set of concerns, both positive and negative.  For one, as in most booming businesses not only facing a lack of workers, but unionized workers to boot, wages rose.  These years also proved to be a time of opportunity for other, heretofore excluded people to obtain shipbuilding jobs, as the federal government in the face of the labor shortage and the need to raise patriotic spirits was forced to confront the national hypocrisy, legal and social, as to race, religion, ethnicity, and gender, in its own hiring practices and working conditions and those of the private sector.  More sinisterly, there was also a perception that the newly enlarged workforces allowed for a penetration from within by totalitarian forces, which in the BNY's case was amplified due to its large concentration of first- and second-generation Americans.  As a result, government workers saw their rights at the workplace diminished in the years preceding Pearl Harbor. [Note: Only U.S. citizens could work in government jobs.]

The Political Background
President's Roosevelt's second term is noted for its setbacks: a decline of public confidence in his policies due to his attempt to pack the Supreme Court; perceived failures in public assistance projects that helped lead to a decline in progressive strength in Congress; a second great fall of the economy in October 1937; and the seemingly inevitable American entry once again into a world war, heralded by the establishment of the first peacetime draft ever.  Even organized labor in the private sector experienced difficulties holding onto its great gains of earlier in the decade although the second term did mark some positive advances: the passing and eventual commencement of Social Security, the Supreme Court's validation of the Wagner Act, and the passage of the Fair Labor and Standards Act. [On the Supreme Court scheme, see Davis, FDR: Into the Storm, 1937-1940, A History (New York: Random House, 1993). On the second depression see: Brinkley, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); Kennedy, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (NY: Oxford University Press, 1999);  Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940 (NY: Harper & Row, 1963); Davis, Into the Storm. On the lead-up to American entry into World War II, see Kennedy, Freedom From Fear. On private-sector labor history in Roosevelt's second term, see Bernstein, Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970); Bernstein, A Caring Society: The New Deal, the Worker, and the Great Depression: A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985).]

The second depression tangentially affected all the navy yards as it coincided with the maximum employment levels from Vinson-Trammell and other early Rooseveltian shipbuilding having been reached and passed.  The corresponding national stagnation in hiring, with the overall numbers of naval civilian workers hovering around 70,000 for the years 1936-1938, revived momentarily earlier pressures to use shipyard employment as a means to alleviate unemployment.  The slow-down of the New Deal in these years can also be seen in the large decline in exams given to those wanting federal civil service jobs, dropping from 800,000 exams in fiscal year 1937 to 364,000 the following year.  Exams climbed back to 525,000 in fiscal year 1939 and to 792,000 in 1940.  This surge in size was augmented by the Ramspeck Act, passed on 26 November 1940 and implemented by executive order on 23 April 1941, which incorporated into the civil service all previously unclassified civil servants except for temporaries, TVA employees, those holding WPA positions, temporaries, and those specifically excluded from the classified service by law. [For civil-service exam and civilian naval hiring figures. On the Rampseck Act, see U. S. Civil Service Commission, Civil Service Act and Rules, Statutes, Executive Orders, and Regulations, amended to November 30, 1941; Nesbitt, Federal Labor Relations.]

As to organized labor, its history in these years is dominated by the emergence of the secessionist CIO, under John Lewis, out of the older AFL, and the resultant rivalry between them.  As to foreign policy, both federations had their interventionist and anti-interventionist wings in the pre-war years.  Upon the outbreak of war in Europe, the AFL passed a resolution at its annual convention in October 1939, that while recognizing that the future of “parliamentary government in Europe” was at stake, called for strict neutrality lest the US too be drawn into the war.  Lewis, too, issued a statement supporting the President's neutrality decree.  A year later, the CIO laid down a set of demands to be adhered to if war came to the U.S.  The Congress asked for universal defense service which could be industrial or military and performed under democratic conditions, that union representatives sit in on all policy-making and administrative agencies and draft boards, and that labor and other social welfare standards be maintained, as essential to efficient production and national morale, most especially, collective bargaining.  Once the U.S. declared war, unions across the country pledged their support for the struggle, and as part of their pledge agreed not to strike for the duration. [BE, 11 October 1939; 27 November 1940. On labor's international positions, see: Roberts, Putting Foreign Policy to Work: The Role of Organized Labor in American Foreign Relations, 1932-1941 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995).]

The Sea-Path To War
These years, from the American point-of-view, divide themselves rather neatly into two parts.  The first half lasted until the beginning of the war in Europe in September 1939, wherein the major powers grew their navies at a fast pace, although ostensibly holding to the treaty limits through 1938.  Japan, whose governement had abandoned the naval treaties in 1936 and alone on the east coast of the Pacific Ocean, built its fleet in relative secrecy, to the consternation of its future opponents.  Adding to the mix, Germany re-emerged in the late 1930s as a naval contender.

Here is the "official" recorded tonnage of the major powers as of 30 June 1938:
Total # and tonnage Under age as of 12/31/37 # & tons Building or app'd for, # and tons
United States 335/1,100,000 106/868,000 100/447,000
British Empire 299/1,300,000 195/1,100,000   98/590,000
Japan 236/918,000 178/781,000   18/68,000
France 173/514,000 172/513,000   52/280,000
Italy 246/448,000 199/399,000   79/238,000
Germany   87/168,000   80/139,000   69/277,000
Russia 167/217,000 142/180,000   34/52,000
Source: SN, AR, FY 1938.

The Navy Department set the word official in quotation marks because Japan refused to supply data on its warship-construction program and Western intelligence had been unable to discover it.

The second half of this period began on 8 September 1939 when President Roosevelt declared a "limited" national emergency in response to the outbreak of war in Europe.  He upgraded it to an "unlimited" emergency on 27 May 1941.  These declarations provided him, the Navy, and the Civil Service Commission the justification for undertaking most of their actions concerning rearmament.  American naval growth, already faster in 1939 than two years earlier, advanced even more quickly in the twenty-six months between 1 September 1939 and 7 December 1941, even though pacifistic and isolationist forces remained strong in the U.S. [On the secret Japanese warship construction program that began in 1934 and on the difficulty American intelligence had trying to penetrate it, see: Muir, "Rearming in a Vacuum: United States Navy Intelligence and the Japanese Capital Ship Threat, 1936-1945," The Journal of Military History 54 (October 1990).  For a lengthy and somewhat revisionist discussion of American isolationism in the years between 1939 and 1941 that shows the mood to be not just the "political inclination of a handful of  conservatives, fascist sympathizers, and other people since labeled as naive, or kooks, or worse," see: Doenecke, Storm On the Horizon:The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939-1941 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000).]

With the start of the war, the naval treaties became mere paper, but the Navy Department still attempted to track its potential adversaries' naval construction. [SN, AR 1940.]  In the last published chart, in the Annual Report for 1940, the Navy summed up the size of the American and Japanese forces as follows:
As of 12/31/39 Underage
# / Tons
Total Building/Appropriated For
United States
Capital ships  12/384,000  15/464,000 10/390,000
Aircraft carriers    6/135,000    6/135,000   5/126,000
Light surface  109/430,000 258/610,000 82/318,000
Submarines   33/50,000 101/101,000 41/60,500
Capital ships    9/272,000   11/308,000  8/332,000
Aircraft carriers   11/146,000   11/146,000  2/40,000
Light surface 131/339,000 189/471,000 21/65,000
Submarines   41/64,000  66/91,000  9/4,000
Source: Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1940.

The fall of France to the Germans in June 1940 and the resulting imperative to keep Britain a viable power forced the American government to a complicated rethinking of its overall global strategy and to further major augmentations of its navy.  The potential of a German Atlantic was frightening enough but the situation in the Pacific was maddening.  Indochina had become Vichy and the status of the Indonesian islands was shaky, leaving British holdings in southeast Asia in a precarious state.  To help their unofficial ally the U.S. needed to increase its support of China so that it could tie down Japanese troops that otherwise might be  moved to the south.  Against Japan directly, Roosevelt authorized embargos of steel, scrap iron, aviation fuel, and after the Japanese moved into Indochina in the summer of 1941, he added an embargo on the fuel oil that Japanese warships desperately needed. [Kaufman, Arms Control.]

In his last peace-time annual report Secretary Knox said that the recent few years had "witnessed the virtual transition of the nation from a peacetime to wartime footing, with [its] tremendous industrial expansion for production of war material."  Perhaps such boasting did not yet apply to the land-bound armed services, but the statement does in part belie the myth of an American sleeping giant awakened only on 7 December 1941, and in part lends some credence to the argument that it was this very naval buildup, in conjunction with other American activities in the Pacific such as the embargoes, that prompted the Japanese to attack when they did. [SN, AR 1941. On the debate of the role of America as provocateur, or at least protagonist, in its dealings with Japan leading up to 7 December, see: Kaufman, Arms Control.  Kaufman in turn relies heavily on the work of Stephen Pelz whose research in Japanese archives led to his conclusion that such was the case. Stephen E. Pelz, The Race To Pearl Harbor: Race to Pearl Harbor; The Failure of the Second London Naval Conference and the Onset of World War II (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1974).]

The Navy Department
During Roosevelt's second term the Navy Department faced several turnovers in its leadership.  Claude Swanson died in office in July 1939 and was replaced the following January by Charles Edison, who had previously gained the Assistant Secretary position upon the death of Henry Roosevelt in early 1936.  Swanson resigned in June 1940 to run for governor of New Jersey (he won) and Chicago businessman Frank Knox replaced him on 11 July 1940.  Knox went on to run the Navy through most of the war until he died in office, in April 1944.

By 1940, the Navy Department had become overwhelmed by managing its new construction and procurement program, public and private, and in response Congress created the new Department post of Under Secretary to oversee this work.  James Forrestal was appointed to the position on 22 August 1940 and held it until moving up to the Secretary's seat upon Knox's death, and later he became the nation's first Secretary of Defense.  As for the Assistant Secretary, Lewis Compton took a one-year helm after Edison and in turn was replaced by Ralph A. Bard in February 1941 who ran the office until he replaced Forrestal as Under Secretary.  With the creation of the Under Secretary position, the ASN duties were limited to those of personnel management. [Furer, Administration of the Navy Department in World War II (Washington: G.P.O., 1959). Also, see the Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Navy for the years 1937-1941 for the various dates of accession, deaths, and retirement of the relevant officials.]

Several structural changes in the Navy Department occurred in the inter-war years.  In 1921 the Department created the Navy Yard Division, under the ASN, to manage personnel matters.  This office was renamed  the Shore Establishments Division in 1934.  On 24 June 1938, President Roosevelt issued executive order 7916 that among other items called for the creation of personnel departments in every cabinet office.  Although it would create something of a dual structure for managing its civilian employees, the Navy complied and set up the Division of Personnel Supervision and Management, within the Assistant Secretary's office. [Circular letter, (Acting) Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 23 March 1939; RG181; NA-NY. Black, Charlestown Navy Yard, 1890-1973 (National Park Service: Boston, 1988); Furer, Administration of the Navy Department.]

With a large building program under way and a geometric increase in employment commencing in 1939, the Navy finally had to pay attention to an old administrative problem.  The continued existence of the two major construction bureaus, Construction & Repair, and Engineering had become a hindrance to efficient production.  Both established in an era when ships were built mostly of wood, there had been a low-level agitation in the Department for consolidation of the two ever since the navy switched from lumber to steel plates and beams as its primary building material.  On 14 September 1939, the Department consolidated the duties of the two bureaus under a Coordinator of Shipbuilding for the Naval Establishment.  Then, on 20 June 1940 the Department abolished the two bureaus outright and replaced with them with the Bureau of Ships.  Finally, all details as to "design, construction, conversion, fitting out, maintaining hulls, main propelling machinery and auxiliaries, exterior and interior communications systems, electric wiring and cable," and other assorted items were lodged in one bureau. [Annual Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Ships for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1940"; Letter, Bureau of Engineering, Bureau of Construction and Repair, to Naval Forces Afloat and Ashore, 20 November 1939; Letter, Ingersoll, Acting CNO, to All Ships and Stations, 25 October 1940; RG181; NA-NY.  With this move the Department also did away with the Construction Corps as a separate entity, and transferred the mostly land-based, engineering-trained officers into the line ranks, though designated for engineering duty.  "Abolishment of Construction Corps of U.S. Navy," Commandant's Instructions No. 32-40, to All Concerned, 1 July 1940; RG181; NA-NY. Dorwart, with Wolf, The Philadelphia Navy Yard: From the Birth of the U.S. Navy to the Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2001); Black, Charlestown Navy Yard.]

Naval Policy
The Secretaries of the Navy felt proud of their navy in the late Thirties and early Forties, unlike in the early 1930s.  In his annual report for fiscal year 1938 Claude Swanson felt that the navy's efficiency and spirit now to be at its highest ever, and that the fleet was prepared at short notice to perform "its most vital function and that is to keep a war at a distance from our coasts, and to bring the war to a close by defeating the enemy's Navy at sea."  A year later, Charles Edison praised his former supervisor by stating that "[u]nder his leadership, the sea defense of the Nation has benefitted by its greatest peacetime expansion and has made great progress toward reaching an adequate strength for the defense of this country."  To Edison the efficiency of the Fleet "fully measures up to the confidence reposed in it by the citizens of our country in whose service it is dedicated. . . .  The Navy is prepared to exercise its vital function of bringing the enemy to our terms as quickly as possible, while keeping him at a safe distance from our shores."  Lewis Compton, temporarily occupying the Secretary's chair, mimicked this sentiment in 1940, stating that he was "proud to report that [the] American people may feel fully confident in their Navy.  On any comparable basis, the United States is second to none."  Frank Knox endorsed these words in his report the following year, although now, in the months just before Pearl Harbor he re-emphasized that the goal of the U.S. navy, first put forth the year before, must be to have a two-ocean navy capable of rejecting foreign advances in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans simultaneously. [Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1938; 1939; 1940; 1941. Note: The fiscal year ran 1 July to 30 June, so fiscal year 1938 actually encompasses 1 July 1937 through 30 June 1938.  For text of naval policy in 1940.]

The Navy's goals, as might be expected, expanded during these years.  In the summer of 1938 the Navy was still content to have a strength sufficient "to support national policies and commerce and guard continental and overseas possessions of the United States," but with the usual concern, that this be executed "with a minimum expenditure of funds."  In 1937, the Navy organized its ships into a U.S. Fleet, Asiatic Fleet, Special Services Squadron, and a Naval Transportation Service.  A special temporary squad, the Forty-T, operated in Spanish waters in order to evacuate Americans from Spain if the need came.  The navy's Special Services squad continued to pay good will visits to Caribbean and various Latin American countries in 1938, while the Asiatic Fleet continued to ply Chinese waters and rivers, where in so doing it became slowly dragged into the Sino-Japanese war, most noticeably in the Panay incident of 12 December 1937, when Japanese warplanes sank an American patrol boat on the Yangtze river.  In September 1938, in reaction to the crisis in Europe the navy reactivated its Atlantic squadron, composed of seven new cruisers and seven destroyers.  Not surprisingly, one of New York's representatives, O'Toole, asked Secretary Swanson to base the Atlantic Squadron at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, saying it was the best place to maintain it. [SN, AR 1938; NYT, 3 September 1938; BDE, 5 September 1938. The Special-T squad remained in the western Mediterranean after the Spanish civil war ended.]

The start of the war in Europe brought about further changes in the navy's duties and organization.  In the summer of 1940 its warships began neutrality patrols in the Atlantic, requiring the reactivation of old destroyers and minelayers decommissioned after the end of the Great War, and the following summer Roosevelt brokered the Lend-Lease deal in which some of the destroyers were sent to Great Britain in return for access to British bases.  On 1 February 1941 the Navy did away with a single U.S. Fleet in favor of separate Pacific and Atlantic Fleets, the former stationed at Pearl Harbor.  In addition it disbanded the Caribbean, and after the fall of France, the western Mediterranean squads. [SN, AR 1940; 1941. Dorwart, Philadelphia Navy Yard.]

During this period the navy received a substantial injection of enlisted men and officers as Congress finally decided to staff its new vessels appropriately.  As of mid-1938, the navy had 102,500 enlisted men, which allowed for a complement of only 85 percent for its surface ships, and the officer pool was still underfilled, having just 6565 of a mandated 7211.  For fiscal year 1941, Congress appropriated the necessary funds to bring the complement for all ships up to 100 percent by the summer of 1941, which would be for the first time since the previous war.  By then the navy had 300,000 enlisted men, 60,000 of whom were reservists called up to active duty after Roosevelt's declaration of an unlimited national emergency in May 1941.  Finding enough officers was more of a difficult task especially as the navy predicted it would eventually need 26,000 line officers for its new fleet.  Congress responded by increasing, until mid-1945, the Naval Academy allotment of each Congressman from four cadets to five and decreasing their schooling from four to three years. [SN, AR 1938; 1941]

When President Roosevelt declared a state of limited national emergency on 8 September 1939 security measures were put into place at military establishments.  Up to then, the Brooklyn Navy Yard had been open to the public on non-work days and on October 27, Navy Day.  (This day honored the birthday of the "father" of the modern American navy, Theodore Roosevelt, and was first celebrated in 1922.)  On that day the BNY and other navy yards hosted a public fair which included visits to ships and trades exhibits.  The Yard now closed to the public in 1939 and would remain so for the duration of the world war.  In 1941, as an alternative, the Navy sponsored a series of local celebrations for the holiday's twentieth anniversary, including a parade down Fifth Avenue of 5000 veterans. [Despatch, ASN, to ALNAVSTA, 8 September 1939; Memo, Commandant, to Heads of Departments, Divisions, and Offices, 14 September 1939. RG181; NA-NY.  Also, BE, 5 September 1939; 14 September 1939; 20 October 1939; 20 September 1940; 5 October 1941; 25 October 1941; 26 October 1941.]


The Naval Buildup Continues: The Second and Third Vinson Acts
In part, the confidence that the Navy Secretaries expressed was due to the large naval building program then in progress.  By mid-1938, the Navy had at its commissioned disposal 15 battleships, five carriers, 32 cruisers, 126 destroyers and light minelayers, 58 submarines, 111 smaller and auxiliary craft, and was waiting on 78 warships then under construction.  By 1941 the fleet had almost doubled in size from what it was a few years earlier.  This increase was even more significant because the navy withdrew old vessels from commission upon completion of new ones.  The navy, in effect, was being recreated from scratch. [SN, AR 1938; 1940; 1941; BDE, 9 June 1939.]

In the nations's shipyards, however, the employment picture was a bit complicated.  The Vinson construction was obviously a shot in the arm for the American navy and associated industries but its pace, spread out over eight years (1934-1942) was not the quickest one.  Nationally, employment in all naval shipbuilding fell from a high of about 300,000 people in September 1936 to a low of about 210,000 in November 1938, and the number of naval ships completed in fiscal year 1938 was the lowest in four years.  There was a limit as to how much naval construction Congress was willing to sponsor, even in the midst of the Depression, and the president faced strong mid-western Republican opposition to accelerating it.  But frustrations with Japanese naval secrecy and its belligerency in the East continued to grow and in mid-1937 Roosevelt authorized the first two battleships to be built in fifteen years.

To counter anti-building pressure, the administration in league with Carl Vinson cobbled together a series of incidents such as the ongoing Sino-Japanese war, and the Panay bombing to justify introducing, and on 17 May 1938 passing, the Second Vinson bill.  It authorized increasing the size of the American navy to twenty percent above its treaty limits in tonnage and in the size of the ships to be built, as well as enlarged the naval airforce to 3000 planes.  The bill reflected the prominence of the big-gun faction in the navy and the government by giving battleship construction priority over that of carriers: authorizing the retirement of older ones and increasing the active fleet from 15 to 18, while funding only four new carriers over the next decade, two of which would be replacements.  Together, Britain and America agreed that the next class of battleships would be 45,000 tons and carry 16-inch guns.  Tit for tat, the Japanese government announced in 1939 it would increase its fleet to bring its total tonnage up to 81% of that of America's. [SN, AR, FY 1938; Baer, One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890-1990 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994); Kaufman, Arms Control; Enders, "The Vinson Navy" (Ph.D. thesis, Michigan State University, 1970).  The employment figures are from the series of charts in "Actual and Predicted Shipbuilding Employment  at the Site for the Navy Yards and the Private Yards," Navy Department, Shore Establishments Division, 1 June 1939; RG181; NA-NY.  On 1 July 1938, the United States, Britain and France signed a protocol officially raising the size of battleships from 35,000 to 45,000 tons and hosting 16-inch guns. Britain has originally wanted 43,000 tons ships with 18-inch gun. NYT, 1 July 1938; BDE, 7 June 1938.]

Once the war began in Europe Congress authorized another round of replacements and augmentation, adding another two battleships, one carrier, 15 cruisers, 28 submarines, 30 destroyers to the pool to be built.  In addition, the act called for modernizing three submarines and seven old battleships, and provided for an acceleration of the construction and procurement process.  Immediately after the French defeat Congress passed the Third Vinson bill and the Stark bill.  Together, they specifically provided for a two-ocean navy, authorizing 345 major new ships (1.3 million tons), representing a 70 percent jump in size, doubling the number of ships built since 1918.  The bills gave the navy ten more battleships, from 45,000 to a whopping 60,000 tons each, 22 carriers, eight cruisers, 202 destroyers, and 92 submarines, and brought the naval airforce up to 15,000 planes.  Secretary Knox noted in his 1941 report that whereas on 30 June 1940 twelve private yards were building for the Navy, that a year later, 108 had contracts, not counting five that had finished work during the year.  Altogether, they were building 603 ships of various sizes (including almost all the auxiliary craft) and the navy yards had 94 warships under way. [Kaufman, Arms Control; SN, AR 1941. Admiral Stark was the chief of Naval Operations.]

Simultaneously, on 28 June 1940 Congress passed an omnibus bill "[t]o expedite national defense."  In addition to modifying working conditions, to be discussed later, the law gave the Secretary of the Navy the power, until 30 June 1942, to advance funding to private contractors and to negotiate contracts for construction, repair, acquisition, or alteration, of naval vessels and aircraft with or without advertising and competitive bidding if he determined that the price was "fair and reasonable."  The Secretary basically received a blank check.  He could spend what was needed to increase the size of the fleet, which included increasing the size of the civilian workforce needed to build them.  He could authorize the building of whatever new public works were deemed necessary for this task plus force owners of private property that the Department wanted to buy to negotiate terms for sale or face seizure.  The law dropped the excess profit of private contractors that was to be returned to the Treasury, previously between ten to twelve percent, to eight, but also now forbade aliens employed by private contractors from any contact with "secret, confidential, [or] restricted" government work.  Further, recognizing the lack of housing near military bases and defense industries, the bill authorized the U.S. Housing Authority and the War and Navy Departments to cooperate in constructing or purchasing--for which they received the right to declare eminent domain--new dwellings near bases and industry sites for enlisted men, workers, and their families.  The Housing Authority could also subsidize local public housing agencies to provide places to live.  All rents were to fixed within the reach of rentors. ["An Act, To expedite national defense, and for other purposes," 28 June 1940, Public, no. 671.]


Production in the Brooklyn Navy Yard
In the latter 1930s the Brooklyn Navy Yard began to turn its attention away from cruiser and smaller warship production to building battleships.  Whereas in the middle of the 1930s the Yard constructed three cruisers and two cutters simultaneously, between the start of the war in Europe and America's entry into it, Yard workers labored solely on three of the gigantic crafts.

In addition, from 1935 through 1943 the Navy undertook a mammoth repairing, upgrading, and expansion of the BNY, much of it performed by public-assistance and contract labor.  The Yard overhauled its physical plant, repaired and remodeled its older factories, some dating back to Civil War days.  The Yard constructed a large turret shop, extended each of its two building ways by one hundred yards, and built its Hammerhead crane, capable of a 350-ton lift.  The Navy used eminent domain to take over the abutting Wallabout Market to its east and on it constructed two 1100-foot drydocks, a foundry, sub-assembly shops, a material laboratory, plus more docks and berths, and miles of roads and tracks to service them.

Commanding the New York Navy Yard for most of this period was Rear Admiral Clark Woodward, who assumed command on 1 October 1937.  He was a vociferous booster of a larger American navy and took every opportunity in his early years as Commandant to warn the country that its navy was inferior to those of Great Britain and Japan.  He thought the pace of Vinson-Trammell construction too slow, and thought the U.S. "woefully weak" in destroyers and submarines.  In 1940 the Brooklyn Eagle reported various speeches of his in which he spoke not only of America's "third-place" status, but also of his fears that the Army lacked the ability to repel any attacks on the navy yard if an enemy broke through the naval defenses.  In addition, he was another who thought the battleship, not carriers and their airplanes, the natural rulers of the sea.  However, by the end of October 1940 the Commandant claimed to have seen finally the light at the tunnel's end, predicting at a Navy Day dinner that the U.S. would have the planets largest navy by 1946 or 1947, due to the now-accelerated building program.  Woodward retired in March 1941 but remained vocal.  On what proved to be the eve of war, 6 December, the admiral proudly proclaimed that by 1944 the American navy would be able to take on all comers in both major oceans simultaneously.

Rear Admiral Edward Marquart succeeded him as Commandant on 15 May 1941 and officially assumed control on 2 June 1941.  In comments at his inaugural ceremony, he saw a long, prosperous future for the Yard that would extend beyond any ending of the national emergency in the near future.  Originally, a different admiral, Adolphus Andrews was to have been posted to the Yard as well as to the command of the Third Naval District, headquartered in Manhattan, as had been common, but the Department now thought the two positions too much for one person and so split the responsibilities between the two officers. [The preceding two paragraphs are drawn from: BDE, 11 November 1937; 29 December 1937; BE, 22 October 1938; 15 February 1940; 26 May 1940; 15 September 1940; 21 October 1941; 22 February 1941; 2 March 1941; 6 December 1941; 2 June 1941; 17 August 1941.]


A Slight Pause
Unfortunately for many navy yard workers the onset of the second depression in October 1937 also coincided with a momentary de-acceleration of naval building in general.  For the Brooklyn Navy Yard in particular, production was hampered further because the Yard needed time to lengthen its building ways to handle the new, longer and heavier battleships, and it experienced delays in deliveries in material.  From a high of 7850 workers on the official rolls at the end of 1937, the Yard quickly lost a thousand workers and dropped to an average of just under 6900 people during 1938. [The building ways in 1937 could handle the 730-foot, 35,000 ton North Carolina, but not the expectant 890-foot, 45,000 ton Iowa-class ships. There is a pause of twenty-two months between the launch of the Helena and the keel-laying of the Iowa.  Work went on extending the second ways while the North Carolina was being built upon it, allowing for a gap of only seven months, for the stern part of the slip foundation to be laid, between its launch and the keel of the Missouri being put down.]

As should not be unexpected by now, these layoffs provoked a mild reprise of the intense political activity of the early 1930s as lobbyists for Brooklyn and navy yards in general went to work.  In February 1938, a delegation of Yard workers accompanied by Senator Wagner visited Secretary Edison to appeal yet again for repair work to pick up the slack.  James Quinn, the secretary of New York's Labor Council mentioned that some 900 workers had been laid off since the first of they year and 500 more were expected to be let go in the coming weeks.  While the delegates laid the responsibility of maintaining employment at the government's feet, they also blamed the delays of material for the battleships of up to seven months on private contractors. [NYT, 26 February 1938.]

Such pressure was not exerted in vain.  In June 1938, Acting Secretary of the Navy William Leahy wrote to the navy yard commandants estimating that while the current naval authorizations would maintain employment in the yards until 1942, that every effort had to be made to increase production as soon as possible, not only in response to the deteriorating international situation but as he openly admitted, "also to assist in relieving the current unemployment situation."  Therefore, as the Department expected employment to increase materially in 1939 it was "desirable" if at all possible, to suspend layoffs, except for cause.  If any navy yard projected layoffs in the upcoming six to nine months it needed to submit to the Department possible remedial alternatives such as a return to rotating furloughs or to shortening the work week before permission would be granted for letting workers go. [Commandant's Order No. 58-38, "Prospective increase in Shipbuilding Employment," to HDDOeCP, 27 June 1938; RG181; NA-NY. BDE, 9 April 1938.]


Even with this temporary blip in the numbers, the late 1930s was a busy time for the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Early on the afternoon of 26 August 1937, to the cheers of a huge crowd and the congratulations of Mayor LaGuardia and Borough President Ingersoll, the Yard launched the Honolulu.  That evening at the Brooklyn Metal Trades Council's post-launch dinner dance, Commandant Laning saluting his employees: "None can deny that you deliver value for your cost.  That is why the Brooklyn Navy Yard has won the privilege of building one of the most coveted naval jobs in recent years, the new battleship North Carolina." [BDE, 26 August 1937; 27 August 1937.]

A month later, the Brooklyn formally joined the fleet in a small commissioning ceremony at the yard, and on Navy Day, 27 October 1937, the North Carolina's keel-laying ceremony took place on Building Ways #1, with the lieutenant governor of North Carolina, local dignitaries and 30,000 others taking part.  The Navy had advanced the keel laying by two to three months, but claimed no significance to doing so.  The Department expected it would take four years to complete it and its sister ship, the Washington, assigned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. [BDE, 30 September 1937; 21 October 1937; 26 October 1937, 17; October 1937.]

On 27 August 1938, a year and one day after the Honolulu, the 10,000-ton light cruiser Helena went down the ways to the cheers of a huge crowd.  The cruiser was launched four months early, and was not as far advanced as Brooklyn or Honolulu were at the times of their launching, so that the Yard could begin lengthening and strengthening building way #2 to carry the much heavier load of a 45,000-ton battleship.  The Honolulu itself was finished off and commissioned on 15 June 1938. [NYT, 28 August 1938; BDE, 29 August 1938; 16 June 1938.]

There was joy in Brooklyn on 2 June 1939 when the Navy announced that one of the new 45,000 tons battleships, BB61 (the future Iowa), at a cost of $110,000,000, would go to the borough's navy yard, giving its workers forty-nine months of guarenteed work.  In addition to this ship, the Yard's drafting shops also received the task of drawing up plans for a second battleship, the New Jersey, awarded that same day to the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  Obviously expecting the award, work had already commenced on extending building way #2, and the Yard expected to begin laying the keel in six months, a process that would in itself take up to a year to finish (the keel laying ceremony was in June 1940).  This second battleship promised to take up the slack and more when work on the Helena finished up in the fall of 1939. [BE, 3 June 1938; 5 June 1939; NYT, 25 June 1939. The vessels were capable of doing thirty-knots, and supported three turrets each holding three sixteen-inch guns. On the design of the Iowa-class battleships, which includes the Missouri and New Jersey, see Sumrall, Iowa Class Battleships: Their Design, Weapons & Equipment (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1988).]

Due to the declaration of the emergency the Yard closed the commissioning ceremony of its last cruiser, the Helena, on 18 September 1939, to the public.  In late May 1940 the navy yard announced that the Iowa's keel laying would occur in early June on the newly extended building ways #2.  One thousand WPA men had worked on the project since the previous March, increasing the ways 100 feet into the East River and 200 feet inland, for a total length now of 1200 feet, adding the extensions atop 6000 wooden piles, at a cost of $2 million, half from WPA, half from PWA funds.  The Iowa's keel-laying ceremony on 27 June 1940 on Ways #2 too was closed to the public and press.  It was expected to take three years to complete the giant vessel, as work on fabricating the hull had progressed during the previous year while the building ways was being lengthened.  Two hundred men had been working on this, and with the ship officially under way the Eagle predicted 4000 would be working on it within eighteen months.  Soon after the North Carolina's launch work then began on extending Ways #1 stern end to host the upcoming Missouri's keel. [BE, 19 September 1939; 25 May 1940; 27 June 1940.]

It was a momentous task, putting a battleship together.  One officer, writing about the North Carolina's sister ship, the Washington, being constructed concurrently at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, likened ship building to the "solving of a jig-saw puzzle in the course of which the small parts are found after a successful search and then fitted together into a finished whole."  But in this case assembling the parts and then placing them into the whole on the Washington kept an average of 400 engineers and draftsmen, 2000 mechanics, helpers, and laborers busy for four years.  It took 200 engineers, draftsmen, clerks, typists, and storekeepers to procure the materials--just writing and issuing work instructions required 20 people.  And providing the materials brought to the yard's gates and docks required almost as many people in the private sector.  A battleship's construction was divided into about 1000 major tasks, or job orders, consisting of placing together approximately 25 million individual parts.  The author could not fail but note that the battleships to come would be twenty-eight percent larger.  A visitor to the Brooklyn yard's drafting room in June 1938 reported over 600 drafters at work on hull and machinery plans for the North Carolina. ["Shop Notes No. 1" - restricted - Navy Dept., Bureau of Ships, January 1941; RG181; NA-NY. BDE, 17 June 1938. A copy of a contemporary photo album with brief annotations outlining the construction of the Washington can be found here.]

Despite the emergency, on 13 June 1940, The BNY allowed over 50,000 spectators under the watchful eyes of 300 marines and 200 detectives and naval intelligence agents to watch the launch of the North Carolina.  At the ceremony Secretary Edison declared the vessel a warning to the aspiration of the world's dictators.  (However, coverage of the ceremony in the Eagle the next day was overshadowed by the Germans' capture of Paris.)  It was the first battleship launched at the Brooklyn Navy Yard since the Tennessee in April 1919 and the second launched nationally since 1 June, the other being the sister ship the Washington.  The New York Times boasted that the vessel would be the fastest battleship to date, sailing at 28-30 knots, using high-pressure, high-temperature steam installations, a considerable part of which was welded, not riveted.  It carried nine 16" guns in three turrets, twenty 5" guns, and many other smaller ones.  Starting the night before and continuing up to the moment of the bottle-smashing 750 men prepared the ship for launch, propping the ship's weight from the wooden ways supports to the sliding ways itself.  At launch the ship weighed 22,000 tons and after its slide into the river tugboats caught it and brought it over to a pier where over the next ten months 3500 workers would bring the ship up to its weight of 35,000 tons, completing the superstructure, propulsion systems, armaments, electronics, and making the ship habitable. [NYT, 14 June 1940; BE, 9 June 1940; 13 June 1940; 14 June 1940.]  On 10 April 1941, in a brief commissioning ceremony, under tight security, 1100 people watched Secretary Knox officially add the vessel to the navy's fleet. [BE, 8 April 1941; 9 April 1941; NYT, 10 April 1941.]

In September 1940, the Navy announced awards for seven more huge battleships and two of them went to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, BB69 and BB70.  They listed as 45,000 tonners, but rumors floated that they would shortly be pushed up to 55,000.  With one battleship nearing completion and four more to go, Yard production seemed assured through 1945; the Yard had two building ways and it took a minimum of two years to get a battleship to the stage at which it could be launched.  The Missouri's keel had not even been laid yet as work was still proceeding on lengthening the building ways on which it would be built.  It was expected that the Iowa would be launched in July 1942 (actually launched on 27 August) and the Missouri in early 1943 (actually launched in January 1944). [BE, 5 September 1940; 10 September 1940.]   In mid-June 1941 the Navy announced that the yard's two newest battleships, named Maine and New Hampshire, would indeed be 10,000 tons heavier than those of the Iowa-class and would carry twelve 16-inch guns divided among four turrets.  Work on them was expected to begin in December 1942. [NYT, 21 June 1941. The Navy suspended work on this Maine-class as well as two of the Iowa-class on 20 May 1942, and formally cancelled them on 21 July 1943, in favor of carrier production.  The two projected BNY battleships were so large they would not have been able to pass through the Panama Canal, up to then the principal restraint on American warship size.  Newhart, American Battleships: A Pictorial History (Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1996); Sumrall, Iowa Class Battleships.]

On 6 January 1941 Commandant Woodward pressed in the ceremonial rivets on the Missouri, the last warship begun in the BNY in peacetime, in a simple formal affair without public fanfare.  The work on extending Ways #1 300 feet had been expedited enough so that construction on the battleship was able to begin six months ahead of schedule.  Along with the Iowa, this new capital ship work helped launch another expansion of the rolls of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  As of late October 1938 the Yard had about 6800 civilian workers and 75 naval officers.  Three years later, at the beginning of October 1941, boosted even further by repair, outfitting, and conversion work, the rolls list 22,652 people at work in the navy yard. [BE, 3 January 1941; 13 April 1941; 6 January 1941. "Navy Day Bulletin," for visitors to the Navy Yard, U.S. Navy Yard, New York, NY, 27 October 1938; RG181; NA-NY.]

Repair, Outfitting, and Conversion Work
Repair and outfitting remained a strong component of the Brooklyn Navy Yard's work.  Newspapers such as the Eagle recognized the importance of such work for the navy yard's employment health and regularly reported on the outfitting of commercially-built navy vessels at the navy yard.  Between October 1937 and September 1940 the Eagle had articles on seven destroyers built by local private companies and sent to the BNY for completion.  In late 1937 United Shipyards in Staten Island sent a destroyer, the Fanning, to the Yard to have thicker plating added to it.  Also, the Federal Shipbuilding Company in Kearny, New Jersey, a few miles upriver on the Hackensack, sent a number of the light vessels over to Brooklyn for their finishing work.  The Somers, commissioned at the Yard, stayed on for two months until its shakedown cruise in December 1937.  The Benham was commissioned at the Yard on 2 February 1939 and when problems were soon thereafter discovered in the ship's turbines, as part of a systemic problem in the whole class of 17 destroyers, it returned there for repairs.  One by one the Kearny ships crossed the bay: the Lang, commissioned on 30 March 1939; the Hamman arrived on 11 August 1939, followed by the Plunkett, named after a former Brooklyn Navy Yard Commandant, in July 1940.  On 12 September 1940, the Kearny, named after its city of origin arrived at the Yard.  (The following year it became the first American warship attacked by a German U-boat to suffer fatalities.) [At this time, private shipyards sent their vessels to local navy yards for finishing, usually armaments and electronics, followed by the commissioning. Fanning: BDE, 9 October 1937; Somers: BDE, 1 December 1937; Benham: BE, 2 February 1939; 13 February 1939; Lang: BE, 30 March 1939; Hamman: BE, 10 August 1938; Plunkett: BE, 17 July 1940; Kearny: BE, 11 September 1940. Documentation on outfitting vessels appears, at least for the pre-war years, not to have been saved in the northeast RG181 archives.]

After the war began in Europe the Navy began bringing out of decommission 116 old destroyers, the so-called "four-stackers," built near the end of or immediately after the previous war.  First, they were assigned to neutrality patrol in the Atlantic; then, after the completion of the Lend-Lease arrangement a year later the U.S. sent fifty of them to Great Britain.  But before they could be re-commissioned and see service they needed overhauling.  The ships, berthed in San Diego, Philadelphia, and other bases were distributed among the navy yards for this work.  Early in September 1940, BNY officials announced that fourteen destroyers fresh from neutrality patrols had come to the navy yard for thorough overhauls that would render them capable of the voyage to England if a deal was reached was reached between the two countries. [NYT, 6 September 1939; BE, 5 September 1940; 3 September 1940. On Lend-Lease, see Kennedy, Freedom From Fear. The WWI era destroyers had four smokestacks, hence the nickname.]

This non-construction work provided much for the BNY to do in these twilight years.  In February 1940, the Eagle reported the Yard working on repairs and reconstructions on over a dozen ships, with three more due in for overhauls in the next three months.  In April, the Times reported more than 20 vessels being overhauled, constructed, or modified, which included converting four of the old, re-commissioned destroyers to light aircraft tenders for duty with the navy's long-range patrol planes.  Early in November 1940 the Navy announced a series of conversion projects for boats it had purchased recently from both the Maritime Commission and private owners.  To the BNY it sent twenty civilian ships of various kinds to be converted into 12 district craft, 5 sub chasers, a mine sweeper, a mine layer, and a ferryboat. [BE, 22 February 1940; 3 May 1940; 22 May 1940; BNY, 28 April 1940; BE, 2 November 1940.]

In August 1941 the BNY produced a comprehensive chart of the distribution of its trades' work force that showed in detail how repair and manufacturing work dominated the Yard's work load even though the public's focus of attention was on the two big battleships on the ways.  It is likely that some of this work had been sent to the BNY to help keep employment levels up [see section on layoffs below].  Of the 10,683 Grade III trades on the payroll on 30 August just 2704 labored on the five battleships then on the navy yard's production schedule, and of these, 72 percent were assigned to the Iowa.  As mentioned, this allotment of labor was in part due to a lull in the construction action as the Yard waited for the building ways to be ready to hold the Missouri, and the North Carolina, already commissioned, was having its final touches applied.  Repair work took the largest proportion of trades, at 5332, with some ships taking as many as 701 and 752 workers apiece.  Manufacturing work for other yards continued to keep a fair proportion busy, with almost as many, 2647, in this line of work as in construction.  As can be seen, new construction accounted for just over one-fourth of the skilled workforce's distribution. A look at the rolls in the representative shops shows just how important repair work could be for some of the finishing shops.

Hiring Fraud
As we have seen, BNY's rolls doubled in the in the mid-1930s, and all these new people coming into the Yard coupled with poor administration and lax oversight created opportunities for corruption in hiring practices to occur.  On 14 April 1938 the Chief Examiner of the Civil Service Commission, in Washington, sent a most damning report to the Secretary of the Navy about its two-year investigation into fraud in hiring policies at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the mid-decade years.  The Navy Department accepted almost of its recommendations and sent it on to the Brooklyn commandant for execution shortly thereafter.  The report accused 155 workers in the Yard and 10 in the Clothing Depot (a separate establishment in the borough that made uniforms) of submitting false information on their job applications and ordered them to be fired, setting suspension periods of from one to three years before they could be reconsidered for employment.  For enabling employees to submit falsehoods, generally by verifying false statements made on applications by others, another sixty-eight workers in the Yard and four in the Depot were suspended for periods from three to thirty days, and three others were reprimanded.  In addition, the Commission and Department handed down instructions to reorganize and sanitize the Yard's Labor Board. [“Frauds and irregularities in the examination and/or employment of civilian personnel a the NY Navy Yard and the Naval Clothing Depot and in the administration of the work of the Labor Board of the NY Navy Yard - report of Board of Investigation on,” Letter, ASN, to the Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, NY, 25 April 1938; enclosure: Letter, Moyer, Chief Examiner, U.S.C.S.C., DC, to Secretary of the Navy, 14 April 1938; RG181; NA-NY.  Disciplinary letters are in the files.  For instance, one W.B, an electric welder, admitted to having submitted a false voucher verifying the work experience of a rivet heater J.D.  The latter was fired and W.B. charged with fraud, suspended for thirty days and reprimanded. Letter, Commandant, to W- B-, 28 June 1938. RG181; NA-NY.]

By 8 June, the 103 of the 165 workers still working at the Yard and Depot were fired.  They consisted of 18 mechanics (in six trades), 78 helpers (in 10 trades), 5 laborers, and one clerical.  The 56 people suspended (16 had since left) were a more mixed lot: 26 tradesmen, 20 helpers, and ten supervisors, of all ranks.  Not to let the matter of a suspension harm production, the Manager, Captain Dunn, requested of his counterpart in Washington that he be permitted to parcel out the suspensions and break up some of the longer ones into smaller periods of time.  The Department granted him his wish and allowed the Manager to stagger suspensions within a group, and in the shipfitter shop to parcel out supervisors' suspensions in ten-day allotments, as long as all suspensions were completed by the end of the year. [Letter, Commandant, to ASN (SED), 8 June 1938; Memo of telephone conversation, Captain Fisher, and Captain Dunn, 17 May 1938; RG181; NA-NY.]

The fraud report listed thirty-three recommendations as to improvements to be made in the hiring policy and the Navy Department and the Civil Service Commission ordered them to be implemented.  Together, the remedies spelled out a near collapse in the civil service regulations on hiring on the part of civilian and naval management and in the oversight responsibilities of the district Commission office.  As to the Labor Board, its civilian Recorder and Assistant Recorder were relieved of their duties, but not fired, and the Department assigned an employee from the Washington Navy Yard's labor board to oversee its reorganization.  The Yard ended the practice of choosing Labor Board employees from among the shops’ managers and it released all such personnel currently sitting on it.  They had been some of the major agents of corruption.  For instance, the Commission charged one quarterman machinist, who supervised exams for leadingmen and quartermen, with presenting to the Board for approval the ranking of test results in the order that his superior, the Master Machinist, wanted them to be listed.  He was reprimanded as well as removed from the Board.  Further, the Yard now forbade supervisory personnel of all ranks from any further “promiscuous” entry into the Board’s office to participate in the selection of probationals or temporaries; it halted the practice of allowing exam papers to leave the Labor Board so that shop officers could assign tentative ratings; and ordered the Labor Board no longer to close for lunch.

The new Labor Board now had people from the administrative, professional, and technical forces sitting on it, with priority given to those having a trade background or knowledge.  It was comprised of twelve people, one from the Supply Office, another from the Public Works Office, and five employees each from the Production and Planning Departments.  Six shop planners from Production were assigned as assistants solely to rate papers.  All papers now had to be graded within the Labor Board, just inside the Sands Street gate, by teams of two people, one from each of the two groups.

Another set of recommendations dealt with the application process, including the seemingly never-ending problem of the misuse of temporary workers.  The Labor Board now had to thoroughly check and sign off on all applications and it was forbidden to allow applications to be modified after an exam was given.  The Board was enjoined to guarantee that the person who reported for duty was the person who filed for the job, and it was ordered to keep its registers as full as was predictable for Yard needs, so as to minimize the need to hire temporaries.  The Recorder was instructed to participate more fully in the Labor Board's business and see that it adhered to the regulations governing it and its practices, including the proper verification of military and citizenship status and the administration of the hiring oath.  For its part, the Civil Service Commission disciplined the Second District Manager for failure to exercise his duties, declaring that the DM had to exercise all due supervision of the Yard’s Labor Board and that only appropriate people from the district office should sit in on its business. [The preceding section was drawn from: Letter, (Acting) Secretary of the Navy, to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, NY, 25 May 1938; “Labor Board - Constitution of,” Commandant's Order No. 49-38, to Heads of Departments, 25 May 1938; Letter, Commandant, to Manager, Second U.S.C.S. District, NY, NY, 31 May 1938; Letter,  Commandant, to ASN (SED), 1 July 1938. All in RG181; NA-NY. The scandal seemed to have escaped the gaze of most newspapers. The Eagle mentions the corruption in general but seems to have found details only about the suspensions and firings in the Clothing Depot. BDE, 22 June 1938. Two years later, the Labor Board's members were reduced from twelve to nine, and the grading assistants increased to ten (while the Yard’s work force had doubled). “Labor Board - Constitution,” Commandant's Order no. 28-41, to HDDO, 2 January 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

Layoff Problems Continue
The employment picture for the Brooklyn Navy Yard in early 1941 certainly seemed rosy.  In March, Representative Carl Vinson, chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee, asked for a progress report on production in the New York Navy Yard, specifically on the three new battleships, the 45,000-ton Missouri, and the 55,000-tons Maine and New Hampshire.  The Manager reported that the Yard had received the orders for the first on 12 June 1940, and for the latter two on 9 September 1940.  The Yard had laid the Missouri's keel on 6 January 1941 and expected to officially put down the others' about 1 November 1942 and 1 January 1943 in the two huge new drydocks scheduled shortly to be built in the Yard.  (The Navy had since decided to add two contruction drydocks to the BNY [for a total of six], giving it the ability to build four major ships simultaneously.)  The Manager expected the Missouri's commissioning date to be about 1 March 1944 (actually commissioned 11 June 1944), and the other two to officially become part of the fleet on 1 July 1945 and 1 November 1945, thereby providing jobs throughout the first half of the 1940s.  Approximately 65 percent of the material for the Missouri had been ordered so far, but none for the other ships.  With their in-house training program and New York being an excellent labor market, the Manager, Captain Broshek reported little difficulty in obtaining the needed number of skilled workers. [Letter, Manager, Capt. J.J. Broshek, to Hon. Carl Vinson, Chairman, Committee on Naval Affairs, 6 March 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

Despite all the work, layoffs continued to plague the Yard.  Although obviously the relative differences in numbers between employed and unemployed was much different than it was even five years earlier, a job was a job and each one's loss was protested vigorously.  Through 1937 and 1938 furloughs- and leaves-without-pay at any given moment had generally averaged between one hundred and two hundred people in the trades.  But with the increase in workers starting in 1939 also came an increasing of the size of the layoff pool, reaching 1023 employees by the end of November 1940, and hovering in the 500 to 700 range for 1941.  By the end of January 1941, with the North Carolina only a few months away from commissioning, the Iowa only seven months post-keel-laying and the Missouri little more than a few vertebrae of a keel lying on the ways, many in the so-called "finishing" trades faced layoffs due to a lack of work.  On the 29th a committee of them [representing the Boilermakers, Sheetmetal Workers, Coppersmiths, Pipe Fitters, Plumbers, Outside Machinists, and Patternmakers] met a Department representative to discuss their concerns.  They suggested that as most of the potentially-affected workers had already used up their leave quotas that a fuller overhaul be made on one ship already planned to come to the Yard, and to divert another ship from the Norfolk navy yard to Brooklyn.  The Navy's representative, confused a bit because the Yard's Manager, Captain Broshek, had earlier given him a less pessimistic view of the employment situation than the Yard workers had just done, contacted the Manager again to say he had had no idea how great the "extent of fill-in work which may be necessary" was. [Letter, Capt. Atkins, Navy Dept., to Manager, Capt. Broshek, 30 January 1941; NA-NY.  Captain Joseph Broshek succeeded Dunn as Manager in July 1940. BE, 26 April 1940. Layoff figures are tracked in "Monthly Report of Personnel Statistics"; RG181; NA-NY. Note: A keel-laying ceremony involved only the connection of a few pieces of metal.  Constructing the full keel of a ship near 900 feet long took the better part of a year.]

A few days later, the Commandant acknowledged that due to the construction schedule layoffs were indeed pending in the finishing trades.  There was a gap of nine to ten months before those presently finishing their work on the North Carolina could be used again on the Iowa, and so, over the course of mid- to late spring the Yard would have to lay off approximately 1650 trade workers and helpers.  However, hoping not to lose so many Woodward asked the Chief of Naval Operations for sufficient repair work to tide the Yard over.  He thought having two cruisers to overhaul would be helpful, but he did not want any work requiring large amounts of drafting as the Yard's drafting shops were then quite busy preparing plans and ordering material for seven battleships (the Yard being the lead draft team for all the new ships).  In reply, the CNO, Admiral Stark, begged off, stating that all east coast navy yards were strapped for repair work as the Atlantic fleet was not yet large enough to support their demands.  All New York could expect was the cruiser originally scheduled for a two-month overhaul, plus a second one in July for a shorter period of work.  But the Department did assign all Atlantic-based cruisers to be overhauled at the Brooklyn facility in the future.  However, a look at the employment chart drawn up six months later shows that a sizeable amount of repair work did indeed eventually make its way to the BNY. [Letter, Commandant Woodward, to Chief of Naval Operations, 4 February 1941; Letter, CNO Stark, to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 14 February 1941. Both in RG181; NA-NY.]

The work being a bit thin for east coast navy yards in early 1941 prompted Assistant Secretary Ralph Bard in March to write to the commandants to make them aware that although the Department was searching for interim work to avoid impending RIFs, some dismissals would be inevitable.  He hoped that the yards had examined all possible alternatives such as temporary reratings [downward to save money], filling in all inspection positions, having workers use up all their available leave (Department reports showed much unused leave still available), making lists of possible transferees available to other navy yards and district managers, posting names of layoff candidates in enough advance time to give them time to hunt up other jobs, and posting job openings of local private shipyards.  The commandants took Bard's advice.  For instance, in June 1941, Brooklyn's Commandant circulated a letter to the other navy yards announcing that he would soon have 150 sheetmetal workers and helpers looking for work.  But none of this was enough and in the spring and summer of 1941 excess finishing trades workers such as electricians, sheetmetal workers, or pipecoverers, were let go: 148 minimum-rate electricians, temporary and probational helpers in May; 153 probational sheetmetal workers and helpers in June; and 43 probational pipecoverers in July.  But this was a lower number of layoffs than had originally been predicted.  If there was any consolation for Brooklyn's workers, these and one further group of layoffs in August would be the last of the pre-war period. [Letter, ASN Ralph Bard, to Commandant [s of all navy yards], 6 March 1941; Letter, Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, to Commandants [other navy yards], 13 June 1941; Despatch, NYDNEWYORK, to OPNAV, 22 September 1941; Memo, Production Officer, to Manager, 11 December 1941; Memo, Production Officer, to Labor Board [on electricians' discharges), 16 April 1941; Memo, Production Officer, to Labor Board (on sheetmetal worker discharges), 10 June 1941; Memo, Production Officer, Labor Board (on pipecoverers' discharges), 24 July 1941. All in RG181; NA-NY.]



Excerpts from U.S. Naval Policy for 1940
Naval policy is the system of principles, and the general terms of their application, governing the development, organization, maintenance, training, and employment of a Navy.  It is based on and is designed to support national policies and interests.  It comprehends questions of character, number, and distribution of naval forces and shore activities; of the number and qualifications of personnel; and of the character of peace and war strategy and operations.
FUNDAMENTAL POLICY: to maintain the Navy in strength and readiness to uphold National policies and interests, and to guard the US and its continental and oversea possessions.
To develop the Navy to a maximum in fighting strength and ability to control the sea in defense of the Nation and its interests;
To make effectiveness in war the objective of all development and training;
To organize and maintain the Navy for major operations in both Atlantic and Pacific;
To maintain and develop naval aviation as integral part of naval force;
To develop and maintain shore activities, including bases suitably located and defended, for the support of mobile forces;
To locate shore activities in such geographical areas and construct them as will promote security against air and other attack;
To advance the art of naval warfare and to promote the development of naval materiel;
To maintain and train officers and enlisted men for peace and procuring and training those required for war;
To plan the procurement of materiel to meet wartime needs and to foster civil industries and activities useful in war;
To exercise economy in expenditures as compatible with efficiency;
To make systematic inspections of naval activities and materiel;
To encourage the growth of the merchant marine and of commercial aviation;
To cooperate fully with other departments and agencies of the Government;
Fleet building and maintenance policy:
To keep the fleet at the required strength, balanced as to ships, by a continual building program;
To make superiority in their types the end in view in design and construction of all craft and planes;
To keep characteristics and designs up to date;
To maintain ships and planes at a maximum of material readiness and fighting efficiency consistent with their age and military value, incorporating such improvements as are duly warranted;
Shore Activities Policy:
To develop two main bases on each coast and in Hawaii;
To develop air and other essential bases, coastal and outlying, for support of naval operations;
To maintain system of naval districts and corresponding district forces;
To maintain all navy yards and navy industrial plants in such condition of readiness as to sustain the fleet in war;
To construct such naval vessels in navy yards as necessary to assure the continued availability of experienced technical personnel;
To encourage civil industries and activities useful in war;
To insure the effective availability of private shipbuilding and other private industrial plants for the national defense by a continuing  program of naval construction therein;
To procure and maintain suitable facilities for training naval and marines;
To maintain and operate facilities necessary for the collection and dissemination of hydrographic, astronomical, and aerological info essential to the Navy and useful to govt and commercial interests.
Source: Chart, "U.S. Naval Policy"; Approved by Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, 23 July 1940; received in New York Navy Yard 3 September 1940; RG181; NA-NY.
[Trades] Personnel Distribution in Yard, 30 August 1941

New Construction
IOWA C&R in Shop 554 MAINE C&R in Shop 10
on Ship 900 on Ship 38  T=48
Turrets in Shop 168
on Ship     7 N HAM 0
Eng in Shop 145
on Ship 168 T=1942
MISSOURI C&R in Shop 263 N CAR C&R in Shop 79
on Ship 166 on Ship 59
Turrets in Shop   19 Turrets in Shop   8
on Ship     6 on Ship   6
Eng in Shop   53 Eng in Shop 32
on Ship   12 T=519 on Ship 11 T=195
New Construction = 2704
C&R = Construction & Repair; 
Eng = Engineering

Repair Work
35 vessels - 5332

Some Ships:
 Niagara  156
 Philadelphia  701
 Cincinnati  445
 Delhi  752

Miscellaneous Titles
  C, e, G, v, Z, H  - 2647
    E = Public Works
    G = Supply Dept.
    V, Z = Manufacturing Work
    (Z = 731 in shop 31)                                     Total = 10,683

Some Representative Shops
Shop 11 17 31 38 41 51 56 61J 61S 71
New 1104 10 162 122 56 88 152 6 297 9
Shop 255 61 721 6 22 154 49 130 33 13
Repair 1027 522 393 544 109 761 342 120 93 91


= 7452

Shops:  11 = Shipfitter
            17 = Sheetmetal
            31 = Machine
            38 = Outside Machine
            41 = Boilermakers
            51 = Electrician
            56 = Pipefitter
            61J = Joiner
            61S = Shipwright
            71 = Paint

Source: Chart, "Navy Yard, New York - Personnel Distribution," 30 August 1941; RG181; NA-NY.

Employment Figures for Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1937-1941
IVb IVa III II  I Total
3/31/37 1028 245 3999 87/1778 352 7487
6/30/37 1035 252 4137 82/1774 349 7629
9/30/37 1033 253 4075 81/1661 375 7478
12/31/37 1142 259 4224 105/1673 447 7850
3/31/38 1203 255 3579 101/1431 377 6946
6/30/38 1257 250 3554 97/1334 375 6876
9/30/38 1338 250 3422 111/1290 406 6817
12/31/38 1425 242 3415 100/1317 381 6880
3/31/39 1427 257 3916 144/1533 411 7688
6/30/39 1465 276 4517 136/1957 421 8772
9/30/39 1451 290 4835 132/2009 468 9203
12/31/39 1548 303 5296 159/2081 491 9878
3/31/10 1619 327 5679 192/2183 516 10,526
6/30/40 1675 376 6640 188/2728 627 12,234
9/30/40 1933 484 8053 343/3510 726 15,049
12/21/41 2153 544 9334 329/3672 856 16,888
3/31/41 2355 581 10,101 436/3985 1082 18,540
6/30/41 2661 594 10,909 416/4139 1323 20,042
9/30/41 3136 662 12,032 490/4492 1840 22,652
12/31/41 3561 729 12,985 627/5995 2023 25,920

Note: Grade II = Apprentices/Helpers



John R Stobo    ©    October 2004