The Training Programs

The Training Programs

The training programs were tailored to the needs of the War. At times ‘Special’ Cadet-Midshipmen were sent to other locations to take and pass their U.S. Coast Guard license examinations. These men did not follow any preset curriculum. Marc Enright ’50 described the “Specials” in the Fall 1991 Kings Pointer. “Generally they were Cadets and Cadet-Midshipmen who experienced an inordinately long Sea Year. The classes of ’42-’48 had them, the classes of ’42, ‘43 and ’44 were conspicuous by their presence…The demands of the war and the goals of the Academy forced endless changes to the programs for the Cadets…if they were too long at sea it became more difficult to assimilate them into the existing programs upon their return…they had generally sailed in berths above that of Cadet and were more than qualified…To get these ‘Specials’ back into the mainstream of the war as quickly as possible they were given condensed refresher courses, tutored for their license exam and graduated.

Tom King said that in early 1942, “we were Special Cadets. The people they were really interested in were the new fellows who were coming in without examination. They would present their credentials: a high school diploma and the proper courses, and they took them in as plebes. They were beginning to form the regiment then. We were Specials; we thought we were quite salty, I’m sure, but we were kept separate from the others.”

Roger Shaw ’42 said that in early 1942 the Navy ordered him off his ship and to report to the Navy Station at Algiers to study for his license. Phil Krepps ‘42 was at Pennsylvania Nautical School when the school closed temporarily and he was immediately shipped out as a Maritime Commission cadet and was at sea as a cadet for long periods, including six weeks in England. Upon return to New York City he was ordered to sit for his license. His only experience at Kings Point was the 12 days he was there to study for his license.

William Figari ‘42 said his ship was turned over to the Navy for conversion to the USS Elizabeth Stanton, (AP-69). Figari was asked by the Navy if he would accept appointment as an Ensign but he declined. He was detached and sent to Kings Point as a Special and he took classes with other cadets. Frank Varga ’43, after having been at sea as a cadet for 16 months rather than six, was pulled off the ship and sent to Kings Point as a Special. Varga was given two months to of closely monitored self study under the guidance of a nautical science prof who was transferred up from the Seneca. He said the prof made his life miserable following the tradition of the Seneca where instructors encouraged and at times participated in the ‘boot’ hazing. Varga noted that, after a week of living at the Academy while taking the exam, he passed was given the 3rd Mate license, an Ensign commission, was told he had graduated and to move out of quarters by 1700! So much for ceremony! About a year after the war, in 1946 he received his diploma in the mail.

VADM Bob Scarborough, USCG, Class of ’44, took his prelim training at Pass Christian and when he had enough time to sit for his license, was ordered to Pass Christian as a Special for license prep training. Bob never spent a night at Kings Point during training but is a loyal Kings Pointer.

Harry S. (Stick) Riley ’44 had his basic training at Kings Point. He made the Murmansk run; when he had enough sea time to sit for his license he was sent to Special School at Pass Christian. John Woodrow, ’44 and Michael Slezak ‘44 also were sent to Pass Christian for a one month as an ’Advanced Cadet Special’ to prepare for the license exam and to pass along his sea going experiences to the cadets in basic training. Woodrow said at that time there were 10-12 Specials at the school.

Philip Torf ’44, a member of the Tin Fish Club, lost his sea project when his ship went down and when he returned to the West Coast was given a test at San Mateo; he passed and shipped out again. When he finished his cadet time, the Maritime Commission said they needed officers and he was directed to do his advanced training as a Special on board ship to prepare for his license. …” Torf was not the only one sent back to sea to study since at times there was no berthing space at Kings Point a Cadet-Midshipman was given an Advanced Sea Project to complete on board ship in order to prepare for a license exam.

Ed Kavanagh ’44 was assigned to the MV Artigus, Panamanian Flag; by the end of February 1944 he had his time in at sea and was ordered to the Academy as a Special. He was assigned to a group of specials in a section where he was appointed the Adjutant. He believed they looked like a bunch of prisoners marching; at one point Gunny Horton observed them responding to the command “Eyes Left” as they passed a young woman. The section was put on report and they all had to work off demerits. He had to take two exams–one to get out of the Academy and one to pass the license. He did not spend the training time at the Academy to get any certificate of graduation.

The prewar training program of the Merchant Marine Cadet Corps had been conceived with lofty goals in mind. The Maritime Commission aimed to produce nothing less than officers of the merchant marine who would be equally comfortable at sea and in industry roles ashore. In addition to the shipboard necessities of navigation, seamanship and cargo handling, deck cadets would be required to learn maritime law, economics, and commercial practices. Engine cadets would be taught not only basic electrical theory and the use of the lathe and related tools, but also advanced mathematics, thermodynamics, and physics. Coaling the Emory Rice 1942

However, due to the limited amount of time available to meet wartime manpower demands, many of these high-minded goals had to be temporarily set aside. Under enormous pressure to get troops and supplies to fronts around the world Cadet-Midshipmen would have to learn “on the job.” With the outbreak of war, the training program was reduced from four years to 22, and then 18, months. By December 1942 the Fourth Classmen basic prelim instruction period at San Mateo, Pass Christian, and Kings Point was just 12 weeks long. This was followed by a minimum of six months as Third Classmen on merchant vessels. Finally, Second and First Class Cadet-Midshipmen were to spend 36 weeks of instruction at Kings Point. Groups of deck and engine Cadet-Midshipmen completed the program, graduated and shipped out every two weeks with Coast Guard license and Ensign, USNR commission in hand to start playing their critical role in the global war.

The severe time constraints meant that priorities had to be established for its war-bound cadets. Deck Cadet-Midshipmen needed to master navigation and the handling of ships, cargo, and men. Engine Cadet-Midshipmen needed to become sound machinists and practical electricians, skilled in the operation and maintenance of shipboard power plants, and also experts in the handling of men. Thus, Engineering, Seamanship, and Navigation became the Academy’s top priorities in the early months of 1942. Naval Science was added to the curriculum in August 1942, when all federal cadets were officially named Midshipmen in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Visual signaling was another early priority for deck cadets.

The lack of suitable equipment for Engineering classes posed a difficult challenge since little serviceable equipment could be spared for training. Until funds and authorizations to purchase equipment began to roll in during the late spring, the machine shop was entirely equipped with “cast-offs” scrounged by Lauren McCready and his instructors.

Much of the curriculum, too, was borrowed, reflecting both the relative inexperience of the instructors and the extremely limited time allotted for lesson planning. Teaching at this time was accomplished mainly through a lecture-demonstration method, with liberal use of visual aids (when they were available) and laboratory work. Instructors were given detailed lesson plans, prepared by officers in the Maritime Commission Educational Unit located in Washington, defining the precise content of each lesson. This assured the standardization of instruction across three widely scattered campuses, crucial in light of the high turnover of personnel dictated by the war.

Cadet-Midshipmen in advanced training also made numerous field trips in these early years to compensate for areas in which the Academy lacked expertise or equipment. For example, in August and September 1942, groups of cadets visited Brooklyn’s Sperry Gyroscope Plant, the Hayden Planetarium in the Museum of Natural History, and General Electric’s Service Shop on West 13th Street in lower Manhattan.

Gunnery instruction, added in early 1943, underscored the dangerous circumstances that Cadet-Midshipmen were facing during their sea training. Outside of the gymnasium (O’Hara Hall) became the gunnery training school complete with large gun-loading machines, the 20-millimeter Bofors AA gun, the .50 caliber Browning, and the .30 caliber Lewis machine gun. For additional live-fire instruction, Cadet-Midshipmen were bused to the Navy firing range at Long Beach, on Long Island’s south shore, where they shot 20 millimeter guns seaward at aircraft-towed targets.

Cadet-Midshipmen also received instruction in the deadly serious task of manning and navigating lifeboats—a task made all the more relevant to the younger Cadet-Midshipmen by the steady drumbeat of tales of ship sinkings being brought home from the war zones by upperclassmen. Lauren McCready recalls that these drills were both rigorous and frequent,

“The training here was all centered on the war, and lifeboat work was absolutely preeminent. These fellows had to have survival skills taught thoroughly. Survivors would come back and lecture them: Never do this, and always that. Bring your compass and warm clothing. Don’t do this; do that. And they had overnight lifeboat trips in the winter. These poor things would row out into the Sound any day of the year – on the 10th of February, in sleet, rain, anything. They’d go right down to Manhasset Bay freezing to death, huddled in the lifeboat all night, and come back congealed the next morning.”

Eliot Lumbard ’45 recalls the exhausting work of lowering the Monomoy row boats down to the water, then rowing them with their heavy eight-foot oak oars, and then sailing them around the Sound to get a feel for boat handling. Then they had to haul them up out of the water. Cadet-Midshipmen were also instructed on the proper way to swim out from under a burning oil field, and how to jump into the water from a fifteen-foot tower. Again, Lauren McCready recalls the grim purposefulness of the training,

“We had a life-jumping tower at the pool…a big high tower at the edge of the pool, where these guys had to practice abandoning ship, with a lifejacket on. They had to learn to plunge correctly into the water, and they were told how to swim through burning oil. You go under. You surface and thrash wildly to drive the flames away. Then you gulp air, and go under again, and try to emerge from the slick of burning oil. So it was really very rigorous and purposeful training.”

Cadet-Midshipmen were given a rubber “zoot suit” to wear while jumping from the tower. By the end of the session, the suit would often be so full of water that the hapless cadet who was at the end of the line would sink like a stone, requiring rescuing by his fellow cadets.

In September 1942 another addition was made to the curriculum. Up until this time, study on ships was essentially a continuation of the prewar “correspondence school” approach. This method was replaced by the “Sea Project,” which the cadet newspaper Polaris described as “another step towards making this Academy the Annapolis of the Merchant Marine.” The Sea Project was formulated along practical lines, with an emphasis on actual experience. The projects, each one a series of weekly exercises created by instructors on the Academy faculty, were specific to the deck and engine specialties. A typical exercise in the Engine Sea Project involved preparing a diagrammatic sketch of the fuel cycle, from double bottoms to boilers. The Deck Sea Projects included problems such as: “Explain by word and sketch how you would rig a bos’n chair. Indicate size, type, and length of rope used.” These exercises, which were graded at Kings Point after the cadet returned to shore, helped familiarize the cadets with every key system on their ship.

Moving a critical piece of the learning experience offshore created new kinds of risks and difficulties. Cadet-Midshipmen on merchant ships faced the same dangers as officers and seamen. They were bombed, strafed, torpedoed, and sometimes sunk. The average 18 year old most likely only recently graduated from high school and on his first ocean voyage, found it hard to concentrate on a Sea Project after a terrifying air raid, or a life-and-death engagement with a U-boat. When a Cadet-Midshipman survived a sinking, his Sea Project generally did not. In most such cases, the cadet simply got a new ship and started over.

The Sea Project also underscored the challenges of administering an educational program that sent its students directly into a global conflict. Simply keeping track of where all the cadets were, at any given point in time, was a nearly impossible task. Many Cadet-Midshipmen changed vessels multiple times during their six months at sea. Even in the best of circumstances, the supervision of cadets in foreign ports was hit or miss. As a result, some cadets remained stuck at sea for many months, or even years, hoping to run into someone with the authority to send them back to the Academy. One San Mateo cadet, Douglass C. North ‘43, a future Nobel Laureate in Economics, was twice promoted on his ship in the Pacific, and therefore never made it to the Academy for his advanced training.

 Training at San Mateo and Pass Christian

Life at the sister academies bore many similarities to life at Kings Point, with one fundamental exception: the training was focused solely on preliminary instruction—that is, giving cadets just enough shipboard knowledge to make them useful from their first hour aboard ship, and enough gunnery training to keep them alive. Charlie Renick ’47 recalls the focus of those early weeks of training:

“They taught us basic seamanship and things so that when you got aboard ship you wouldn’t embarrass the school. So you’d know the bow from the stern, and you’d know a little about the compass and basic things. I know they prepared us very well in those three months, because I felt confident when I went aboard ship.

And they sent us, while we were there, to a place called Pebble Beach, where there was a Navy anti-aircraft school. And we all learned to shoot the twenty-millimeter machine guns, and would have planes fly by, and drag a sleeve that you would shoot at. Of course, there’s always somebody that gets mixed up and shoots at the plane. That happened in our class.” Other firing ranges were at Shell Beach, LA,

Since Pass Christian and San Mateo housed and trained only preliminary cadets, Cadet-Midshipmen at these schools had limited exposure to the first-hand tales of war that infused the Kings Point community. Lt. Commander Ralph Sheaf, Commanding Officer, San Mateo, came up with a plan to close this gap, hosting mariners who had survived attacks at sea and were in a position to warn the cadets about the dangers they soon would be facing. A description of one of these events was later published in Polaris:

“C.W. Boylston, second mate of a freighter, related two torpedoings he had experienced recently. The freighter he was on was sunk and he was rescued by a Dutch ship, which was also sent down by a torpedo. He later was picked up by a passing freighter.

Among suggestions made by Mr. Boylston were: attempt to keep yourself prepared for immediate abandonment of ship at all times; wear as many articles of clothing as possible; try to simulate conditions that most probably will exist in case of actual emergency.

Pass Christian Cadet-Midshipmen received their own version of this cautionary indoctrination. On one memorable occasion, cadets heard a hair-raising lecture from Superintendent Stedman during one of his infrequent visits to the New Orleans-area school. Stedman spent a full hour warning cadets not to sleep on the hatches of their ship while at sea—and proceeded to provide horrific details about the fates of those who had failed to heed this elementary warning.

Of course, a visit from the Superintendent was the rare exception to the routines of training. Most of the time, Cadet-Midshipmen learned their lessons in makeshift classes and laboratories, with occasional instruction out on the water. Within months of the opening of Pass Christian, for example, Cadet-Midshipmen were enjoying weekly training cruises in the Mississippi Sound, offering a first glimpse of their future responsibilities at sea. Half-hour watches, leadsman, pilot, lookout, and emergency stations were assigned to the Deck Cadets. Shortly after leaving the pier a fire drill was conducted with all hands participating.

As at Kings Point, the Pass Christian Cadet-Midshipmen were generally too busy to pursue recreational activities—which was just as well, since the hastily converted campus offered little in the way of amenities. On the other hand, the rough-and-ready campus had few rules, at least at the outset. As James Hoffman ‘44 recalls:

“When I got there just as the campus was opening, you could smoke anyplace on the grounds. Then, as things moved along, new rules were put into effect. The smoking lamp would be lit only in certain places, and at certain times. And in general, as things took shape, things went from being pretty informal to being much more organized.”

The regimental system did not take root as forcefully at the satellite campuses as it did at Kings Point. The Cadet-Midshipmen faced drills, to be sure; but they encountered little in the way of precision marching or the other fine points of the Regiment. At Pass Christian, for example, reveille sounded at 5:45 a.m., which rousted all the cadets out onto the parade ground for calisthenics. But lacking a band and a drillmaster, Pass Christian never got to the point of full-dress regimental reviews.


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