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America’s Anchor

The author is a retired military officer (Brig. Gen. Delaware Air National Guard, Retired) a native of Newark, Delaware, a third generation Delaware Guardsman, and a career Air Force veteran. A graduate of the University of Delaware, General Wiggins also holds a Master’s degree from National Defense University in National Resource Strategy. He is a veteran of over 37 years of service to the Air National Guard and the United States Air Force. He held various positions in Aircraft Maintenance, Public Affairs, Recruiting, Personnel, Speechwriting, Strategic Planning, and Training during his military career. Kennard was a contributing author to Histories of Newark, 1758-2008: Seventy-five Stories about Newark, Delaware and its Citizens (Paul Bauernschmidt, Deborah Haskell, L Rebecca Johnson Melvin, and Shaun D Mullen; Newark (Del.): Office of the Mayor, Wallflowers Press, Delaware Heritage Commission, 2007). He is also the author of military histories of focusing on the state:  Delaware Air National Guard (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008); Delaware Army National Guard (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2010); Dover Air Force Base (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011); Delaware Aviation by Jan Churchill and Kennard R. Wiggins Jr. (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2014); and Delaware in World War I (Charleston: The History Press, 2015).

America’s Anchor is a naval history of the Delaware Estuary, the area of the Delaware River and Bay between Philadelphia and the Delaware Capes, spanning three centuries beginning with the arrival of Europeans to the end of the World War II. The prominence of the Estuary along the eastern seaboard of the United States made is strategically value to the US Navy and the nation’s coastal commerce. In eight chapters and four appendices accompanied by 82 black-and-white illustrations, the author describes the shipbuilders and infrastructure, and the ships and men who sailed this active waterway in peace and in war, thereby telling the story of the nascent US Navy and relevant major historical figures. This book fills a vacant niche in the Delaware River and Bay on naval history. Surprisingly, at least to your reviewer, there are no books published on the subject and only a few short blogs and dated books: Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division’s Cecilia Sequeira (2018) The Naval History of Delaware, April 30, 2018, posted in Heritage, consisting of a few paragraphs on the region’s naval history and an infographic. Bryan J. Dickerson’s (2013) Naval History on the Delaware submitted by SteveMerc on Thu, 12/05/2013 – 22:32, a blog entry focusing on tourism along the Philadelphia / Camden waterfronts of the Delaware River and three retired warships preserved as floating museums: cruiser USS Olympia, submarine USS Becuna, and battleship USS New Jersey. A book, A Century of Service: The U.S. Navy on Cape Henlopen, Lewes, Delaware, 1898-1996 (Wilmington, DE: Cedar Tree Books, Ltd, 2014), written by William H. J. Manthorpe, a retired navy captain and a friend and colleague of Wiggins’ is cited in the “Preface” of America’s Anchor. There are also two rather peripheral and dated works: M. V. Brewington The Battle of Delaware Bay, 1782 (Annapolis: US Naval Institute, 1939) and a pamphlet by C. Henry Kain (1910) The Military and Naval Operations on the Delaware in 1777 (Philadelphia: Printed for the [Philadelphia / Pennsylvania Historical] Society, 1910).  Lastly, Pam George’s Shipwrecks of the Delaware Coast: Tales of pirates, squalls, & treasure (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010). There was, therefore, a great chasm on the subject and Wiggins has admirably filled it with meticulous archival and historical research and this very well-written, chronologically organized, and up-to-date book published by a reputable press in a well-bound paperback edition.

America’s Anchor begins with “Acknowledgments” (p. vi) to individuals and major resources that he consulted. The latter includes the Naval History and Heritage Command Library (NHHC, Navy Yard, Washington, DC), National Maritime Museum and Library (Hampton Roads, VA), Delaware State Public Archives, University of Delaware Library, Delaware Historical Society, Delaware Military Museum Library, Hagley Museum and Library, and Philadelphia Seaport Museum. In text references also included are the US National Archives and Library of Congress. His “Preface” (pp. 1-2) notes the importance of ships named “Delaware” as well as the significance of  the Bay and River and especially the Estuary as “America’s Anchor” and how the author came to write this particular book. In the “Introduction” (pp. 3-4), Wiggins recounts his interest in the Philadelphia Navy Yard and the aforementioned ships anchored there as well as commenting on Philadelphia as a “premiere commercial center of the colonies.” Additional materials at the end of the volume include “Chapter Notes” (pp. 259-271) with citations to the Du Pont Papers, newspaper accounts, federal documents and ships’ histories – the latter from NHHC; a “Bibliography” (pp. 272-275) with 107 references; and a double-column “Index” of proper nouns but no topical entries  (pp. 277-288). I have no doubt that the author has “done his homework.”

“One. Delaware River and Bay Maritime Heritage” (pp. 5-19, 9 illustrations) provides a synthesis of early explorations, notably by Henry Hudson, as well as basic information about initial settlements, pirates and privateers beginning in 1653, early shipbuilding and commerce, River and Bay pilots essential because of the narrow, shoal plagued entrance, navigational aids including the earliest charts dated 1756, and the construction of a seven-story lighthouse on Cape Henlopen which was completed in 1765. “Two. Creating an American Navy” (pp. 20-50, 15 illustrations) begins with a review of the reasons for seeking Independence from Britain, the importance of Philadelphia as a port, the beginnings of the Continental Navy with four frigates in 1775, and, in the same year, the formation of the Pennsylvania State Navy. In early May 1776 the Continental fleet of 12 vessels saw action against Roebuck and Liverpool forcing these two British ships to withdraw from near Philadelphia down river to New Castle. The American frigate Andrea Doria under Captain Nicholas Biddle received a “first salute” in the West Indies at the Dutch island of St. Eustace on 17 September 1776. Wiggins reviews the exploits of the Lexington commanded by Captain John Barry 1776 (he is considered to be the “Father of the American Navy”) and provides a detailed account of the Battle of Philadelphia and blocking the British Navy near Fort Mifflin from advancing up the river by destroying the HMS Merlin and HMS Augusta 22-23 October. Fort Mifflin was bombarded by British and they took Philadelphia destroying most of the Continental vessels, but Biddle escaped on the Randolph and ventured to the West Indies for supplies but encountered the 64-gun HMS Yarmouth in March 1778, losing both his ship and his life. The Continental Navy frigate USS Delaware was grounded, captured, and refloated by the British, renamed HMS Delaware and survived the war, while, in 1779, the Delaware Navy was formed and a second Delaware privateer built that same year.  Lastly, the Battle of Delaware Bay (aka Battle of Cape May) between a British squadron and three Continental privateers escorting a convoy of merchantmen in April 1782 resulted in a Continental victory but the British won the December 1782 Battle of the Delaware Capes with the loss of three ships and only the Seagrove escaping. Only one of 13 Continental frigates survived the war.

“Three. Maintaining American Sovereignty and Independence” (pp. 51-79, 15 illustrations). The Treaty of Paris in 1783 ended the Revolutionary War and resulted in a period of disarmament from 1785 to 1794 during which the Continental Navy was disband and its remaining ships sold except for the frigate Alliance – the last ship in the navy. The United States Navy was established in 1794 with Congress authorizing the construction of six frigates, with John Barry appointed as first captain.  The number of vessels was reduced to three built in different ports: Constitution (Boston), United States (Philadelphia), and Constellation (Baltimore). Armed revenue cutters were also constructed to prevent smuggling and collect import duties. France and Britain were at war while the United States tried to remain neutral; nonetheless, French privateers seized more than 300 American ships during the period 1798-1800, the so-called “Quasi-War with France.” A second USS Delaware (smaller than the first), built initially as a merchantman in 1794, was converted to a warship to guard against the privateers. Philadelphia had become the most important commercial port in the colonies and therefore, the US government authorized construction of the Philadelphia Navy Yard – America’s original naval shipbuilding facility – on 17 acres at the foot of Federal Street in 1801 which would expand, relocate, and operate until 1996. The author next provides brief biographies of naval persons who played major roles in the two Barbary wars and/or War of 1812: Captains Thomas Macdonough (1780-1825), Jacob Jones a shipbuilder and later Commodore (1768-1850), David Porter (1780-1843), and Stephen Decatur, Sr. (1751-1808), as well as William Jones (1760-1831) a Secretary of the Navy. Problems with Mediterranean-based Barbary states pirates from coastal Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria, who focused on seizing and ransoming American ships, led to the First Barbary War (1801-1805). President Thomas Jefferson refused to pay such ransoms and sent three squadrons in retaliation. The USS Philadelphia built in Philadelphia (1798-1799) before the federal yard opened, blockaded the harbor at Tripoli and assisted 40 US Marines in a land attack, but the ship was lost (burned) at that port in 1804. A Second Barbary War (1815-1816) resulted in an exchange of captured Barbary ships for American POWs and a treaty signed on 3 July 1815. However, the United States would maintain a Mediterranean squadron afterwards. Wiggins next reviews the major actions of the War of 1812 (pp. 65-78), a time when Britain was at war with Napoleon’s France and his European allies (1803-1813) with the neutral United States caught in between these major powers (an amazing 1,500 ships were involved in these activities during this decade).  Beginning in 1803, the United States experienced embargoes, economic depression, and the British seizure of American ships and impressment of sailors as the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1813 resulted in British attention shifting to the Americas. US privateers based in Philadelphia and Wilmington retaliated against the British and President Madison declared war. The British responded with a bombardment of Lewes, DE and raiding along the Chesapeake Bay, the burning of portions of Washington, DC, and there were minor countermeasures by the Delaware flotilla of eight gunboats and two sloops. Most significant was the “naval war on the border” with British Canada and the Great Lakes. There is a mere mention of the Battle of Lake Erie with defeat and capture of the British squadron by Oliver Hazard Perry’s newly built fleet in 1813. Other actions receive due attention, notably Jacob Jones’s challenge of a British fleet on Lake Ontario – the latter retreated; the Battle of Lake Champlain won by the Americans commanded by Thomas Macdonough in September 1814; and the victory by Thomas Shields on Lake Borgne, Louisiana.

“Four. Years of Peace and Development” (pp. 80-106, 8 illustrations) this chapter recounts an era spanning the end of the War of 1812 in December 1814 with the Treaty of Ghent, when Americans and British diplomats agreed to the terms of a treaty and return to the status quo from before the war, to the beginning of the American Civil War or War Between the States. For the Delaware region, the author documents the enhancement of marine infrastructure with the creation of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal in 1824, Lewes Harbor Breakwater in 1826, and dredging of the Delaware River beginning in 1836. Advances in marine technology at the Philadelphia Navy Yard included the construction of the USS Pennsylvania, and shipbuilding at Wilmington, notably the USS Scourage in 1845. Commercial expeditions for whaling 1833-1846 (exemplified by Edwin Jesse DeHaven and Henry Benjamin Nones) are reviewed and the building of a ship-of-the-line USS Delaware in 1820, which served on the Mediterranean patrol and cruised to South American ports. The USS Brandywine (originally Susquehanna built in the Washington Navy Yard and launched in 1825 and decommissioned in 1850) ventured into the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean, then to Chile, China and Southeast Asia, and Brazil. The last part of the chapter focuses on three naval persons:  Henry Hayes Lockwood (1814-1899) a West Point graduate in 1836 who served at Fort Severn in Annapolis and was instrumental in the creation of the US Naval School 10 October 1845, was a key member of its faculty and would become a professor of artillery and infantry tactics as well as professor of astronomy and gunnery in 1859. Wiggins’ narrative lists the School’s creation year as 1849 (p. 101), perhaps a confusion(?) with Samuel Francis Du Pont (1803-1865) who served in the Mexican American War (1846-1848) capturing the port of San Francisco, who helped develop the Naval School curriculum in 1849 and served on the Navy Efficiency Board.  In 1850 the School was reorganized and renamed as the US Naval Academy. David Dixon Porter (1813-1891) was a naval lieutenant when sent by Secretary of State James Buchanan to the Republic of Santo Domingo, which had recently separated from Haiti, to map its coastline and, upon his return learned that the Mexican American War had begun. He was sent to Vera Cruz, Estado de Veracruz, Mexico, a city taken by amphibious assault organized under General Winfield Scott. Porter was directed by Commodore Matthew C. Perry on 13 June 1847 to capture a fort defending the “interior town” of Tabasco (p. 105) on 13 June 1847. This is either incorrect or at least unclear, as Tabasco is the name of a state in Mexico located east of Estado de Veracruz (Estado Libre y Soberano de Tabasco) and not a town; its capital city is Villahermosa (Enciclopedia de los Municipios de México: Tabasco, México: Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal, Gobierno del Estado de Tabasco, 2010). The port of Frontera is located on the Gulf Coast of Tabasco but I know of no town named “Tabasco” and I am uncertain what the “interior town” might be, possibly an error from James Russell Sorley’s book Admiral Porter (New York: Appleton, 1903) cited as a reference by Wiggins.

“Five. The Civil War’ (pp. 107-130, 5 illustrations). The war did not directly affect the Delaware River or Bay but was, nonetheless, a critical period in the history of the region and the United States. The River served as a clandestine trade route to the Confederacy for Southern sympathizers and Fort Delaware was expanded to repel possible Confederate naval incursions which never happened; the Fort did become a Union POW camp for Confederates captured at the Battle of Gettysburg. Early in the war, the Norfolk Navy Yard was seized by the Confederates and destroyed, so that the Philadelphia Navy Yard “nearest the seat of war,” administered by Captain (later RADM) Samuel Francis Du Pont,” became critical to the North as did the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.  Du Pont was selected to lead the Atlantic portion of General Winfield Scott’s “Anaconda Plan” to blockade the South by sea and isolate it by terrestrial military action; the overall plan called for a Union attack up the Mississippi River to split the Confederacy. Du Pont attacked the Port Royal Forts at Hilton Head, SC which the Union wanted to use as a base for coaling stations for its iron-hulled ships (monitors and ironclads) being constructed in Delaware River shipyards. An attack on Charleston failed and he was replaced by John Dahlgren. Among the ships built were two side-wheel steamers engaged in the blockade: the USS Delaware (the only “Delaware” ship actually built in Delaware) which captured Confederate steamers and bombarded Confederate batteries on the James River and the Roanoke River. The USS Cape Hatteras was sunk by CSS Alabama at Galveston, Texas. At least a dozen Confederate naval ships had originally been constructed on the Delaware River and had been sold to Southern merchants before the conflict and had been converted into blockade runners early in the war. Among these was the renamed CSS Arizona seized in New Orleans in April 1861.  Commodore David Dixon Porter, appointed Acting RADM, planned the relief of Union-held forts on the coast of South Carolina and Florida Gulf Coast. His adopted brother, Captain David Farragut, commanded a squadron that captured New Orleans on 29 April 1862 and would lead the siege and bombardment of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River that divided the Confederacy. The only significant seaport to remain open until the summer of 1864 was Fort Fisher at Wilmington, NC taken during a combined Union naval and army effort – the last major naval operation of the Civil War. Wiggins also documents six Delaware region natives who served during the conflict. Commodore John Pritchett Gillis who served in the Mediterranean, Brazil Station, and on the Western Gulf Blockade. RADM Purnell Frederick Harrington, an Academy graduate, who was in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Dr. Robert Hill Clark, Paymaster USN, with the Western Gulf Squadron. Colonel James Hemphill James USMC, commissioned in 1847, and fought in the Mexican American War and assigned to the Pacific fleet during the war. Russell Baker Hobbs, born in Delaware a Confederate Quartermaster who served on the CSS Alabama and was imprisoned by the Union but never lived in the South. And David Henry White, a freed slave serving in the Confederate Navy as a wardroom mess steward on the CSS Alabama who lost his life when sunk by the USS Kearsarge off the French coast – he could not swim but had told no one.

Wiggins doesn’t recount his, but your reviewer includes it as relevant to the narrative: The Civil War was extremely disruptive to the Naval Academy since sympathies in Maryland leaned toward the South although the state never did secede. The Union government was planning to move the Academy but the sudden outbreak of hostilities necessitated a hasty departure in April 1861 with the three upper classes of cadets ordered to sea and most the others students and staff transferred by the USS Constitution to Fort Adams located in Newport, RI where the Academy was reestablished in May. The Annapolis facilities were converted into a United States Army Hospital for the duration of the conflict.

“Six. Years of National Expansion, 1865-1914” (pp. 131-162, 10 illustrations). The US Navy shrank precipitously after the Civil War as unneeded vessels were sold or scrapped. The wooden screw steamer frigate USS Piscataqua built in1864 at Portsmouth Navy Yard was renamed USS Delaware in 1867and served in the Asiatic Fleet until decommissioned in 1870 and scrapped in 1877. Congress authorized new naval construction following the 1873 capture of a Cuba-bound American vessel and the execution of its captain and part of its company in 1873 by the crew of a Spanish gunboat off Jamaica. The Pennsylvania Nautical School was created in 1889 and produced cadets until 1947, while the Naval Militia of the State of Pennsylvania was formed in 1893 in Philadelphia, and the US Auxiliary Naval Force, staffed by volunteers, was initiated at the beginning of the Spanish American War in 1898. Naval theory was being transformed by Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power on History (1890), resulting in new theory and new technology including the rapid evolution of warship design. A “protected” cruiser (i.e., armored deck) USS Olympia, commissioned 1895 serving until 1922, was Commodore George Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila in 1898, then operated during the Russian Civil War and during World War I. Olympia restored to its 1898 configuration and  has been a National Historic Landmark in Philadelphia since 1966. Delaware Valley shipbuilders in Wilmington, DE produced more than 200 iron-hulled ships from 1836 to 1883, while Cramp and Sons Shipbuilding and Engine Building Company in Philadelphia built nine battleships in addition to cruisers between 1893 and 1911.  The Philadelphia Navy Yard outgrew its space and was moved in 1876.  The Spanish American War (pp. 143-146) witnessed the gunboat USS Wilmington serving at the Second Battle of Cardenas and later she visited Trinidad, ventured up the Amazon River, stopped at Buenos Aires, Argentina and Post Said, Egypt before serving in the Atlantic and China Fleets. The Atlantic Fleet was located at Key West during the war. Onshore naval infrastructure included shore installations, construction of the Delaware Breakwater at Lewes in 1885 and the National Harbor of Refuge in 1886, the money-losing Chesapeake and Delaware Canal was converted to an open waterway and the Cape Henlopen Quarantine Hospital serving as a station for immigrant inspections functioned 1884-1916. Academy graduate RADM Purnell Frederick Harrington, initially assigned to the Pacific, Atlantic, and Asiatic fleets during his career, became Commandant of the Portsmouth Navy Yard. Wiggins also recount the career of Leonard Chadwick, Apprentice First Class on USS Marblehead who earned a Medal of Honor at Cienfuegos in 1898, later joining the Army and valiantly fighting for the British in the South African Boer War for which he was awarded the Queen’s Scarf by Queen Victoria (one of only eight recipients in the world).  The founding of the US Lifesaving Service in 1879 (with five stations in Delaware and one in Maryland) and the creation of the Coast Signal Service in 1898 are documented, including the station constructed on Cape Henlopen.  In addition, the author details the facilities and equipment of the Cape Henlopen Wireless Telegraphy Station as well as how the station operated. The US Navy Reserve Force was created in 1915. An “expanded” US Navy was created between 1900 and 1914, growing from 180 ships to 224, including 34 battleships, 16 of which would participate in the world cruise of the “Great White Fleet.”

“Seven. The Great War, 1914-1918, and through 1925” (pp. 163-193, 10 illustrations). The beginning of the European war found the United States celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 and initially neutral; however, the sinking of the liner Lusitania by a German submarine took the lives of 128 Americans in 1915 and the Zimmerman Telegram of January 1917 led to an anti-German American stance.  The United States entered the war in April 1917 and the Naval Act of 1916 had previously authorized the construction of ten battleships in ten years, as well as the building of six battle cruisers, ten scout cruisers, 50 destroyers and 67 submarines. US submarines were a naval technology original used as “scouting platforms” but soon became major offensive weapons. One of the major missions of the Navy was ferrying troops to France although the Allies were still concerned with the German High Seas Fleet as a threat coming from the Baltic. Early US Naval aviation was tasked with anti-submarine patrols from bases in England, Ireland, and France, and a seaplane and blimp airbase was built at Cape May, NJ. Onshore, the Navy constructed railway mounts for 14-inch guns for the Western Front. The Coast Guard conducted anti-submarine patrols with 15 cutters, one, the Tampa, was lost to enemy action. The Philadelphia Quartermaster Terminal, a huge warehouse and barracks, was constructed and the Philadelphia Navy Yard built naval aircraft and served as a submarine base but constructed only a few ships. Hog Island, Chester, PA was site of the American International Shipyard built from scratch built for the mass production of cargo and transport ships from prefabricated parts and subassemblies; its location is the current site of the Philadelphia International Airport. In 1906 the British built HMS Dreadnought based on a design by Royal Navy ADM John A. “Jacky” Fisher, which made other capital ship technology obsolete. Within two years, Cramp and Sons had launched the USS South Carolina (BB-26) based on Fisher’s design and would build 46 torpedo boat destroyers by 1917. Wilmington Port, newly built for ocean-going vessels, was completed, while the Wilmington shipyards produced 70 ships.  Downstate shipyards at Milford and Bethel, DE constructed small wooden ships (sloops and schooners) and subchasers for the war effort.  The Navy constructed bases at Cape Henlopen and Lewes for the defense of the Delaware Bay while a base for minesweepers was established at Cape May. War came to the Delaware shores on 20 May 2018 in the form of U-151 (Deutschland), a minelaying German submarine, which also torpedoed six ships and damaged two others on 2 June; U-117 and U-140 also laid mines and sank ships that summer. USS Delaware (BB-28) and USS North Dakota (BB-29) were built followed the new construction design. Wiggins discusses in detail (pp. 179-187, 187-193) the Delaware’s nautical characteristics, primary and secondary armaments, armor, propulsion, and early service with the North Atlantic Fleet; she became quickly obsolete by 1924 as technology changed. Six naval priorities during World War I and battleship deployment, and the November 2017 assembly of the “Grand Fleet” are also recounted. By comparison, the ships participating in the cruise of the “Great White Fleet,” December 1907-February 1909, were now superseded.

“Eight. World War II” (pp. 194-221, 10 illustrations). Wiggins states that the “the conflict with Japan had long been foreseen by naval planners” (p. 194), but the undeclared United States-German war began on 4 September 1941 when the destroyer USS Greer was attacked by U-653 and the Greer responded with depth charges. In October USS Kearney and Reuben James were both sunk with casualties. The remainder of the chapter focuses on the war in the Delaware Bay and River. Submarine warfare during the Battle of the Atlantic and the “Second Happy Time” enjoyed by the Kriegsmarine as an American “shooting  season” January to August 1942, are reviewed. Overall, the Axis sunk 609 ships (3.1 million tons) with a loss of 22 U-boats; off the North American East Coast, 108 merchant vessels were lost during this period and another 43 in the Gulf of Mexico. Wiggins condemns the lack of a convoy system, correctly chastising ADM King for delays. As an example, the author recounts the attack on USS Jacob Jones (DD-130) by U-578 on 28 February 1942. Because of the concentration of shipbuilding, petroleum refining, and other industries, defending the Delaware River and Bay from aerial and seaborne surface attacks became a priority resulting in US Coast Guard beach patrols (the latter using dogs and horses) and maritime patrols.  The formation of the Civil Air Patrol in 1941 was to augment military aircraft. Four forts, Delaware, Du Pont, Mott, and Miles, were reinforces, most with 16-inch guns. On 11 June 1942 war came to the Delaware Capes with minelaying by U-374 resulting initially in the loss of sea-going tug John R. Williams. At the end of the war, U-858 surrendered off Cape May and was escorted to Philadelphia for technical examination. Shipbuilding was a significant industry in the Delaware region; a synopsis follows indicating the major vessels built: The Philadelphia Navy Yard constructed 48 new, converted 41, and overhauled 574 ships for the US Navy and eight Allied nations. The USS New Jersey (BB-62) was launched on 7 December 1942 (pp. 205-206) while the Naval Aircraft Factory built 500 aircraft and its prop shop manufactured more than 5,500 propellers. Cramp Shipbuilding Company, closed in 1927 was revived in 1941, and constructed six cruisers and 22 submarines; New York Shipbuilding Company built the USS South Dakota (BB-57), cruisers (including the ill-fated USS Indianapolis) and 98 LCTs; Sun Shipbuilding (Chester, PA), the largest, manufactured 318 vessels; Dravo Corporation Shipbuilding (Wilmington, DE) fabricated 16 destroyer escorts, 65 LSMs, and 5 LSTs; Pusey and Jones built 21 vessels and 22,000 aluminum gun turrets for B-17 Flying Fortresses; American Car and Foundry fabricated 412 Higgins boats; and Vineyard Industries (Milford, DE) constructed ten subchasers. The Wilmington Marine Terminal was the assembly point for cargo that was shipped to the British 8th Army and Allied troops in Russia (notably Stalingrad), and to China fighting the Japanese. Among the major problems faced for all of the industries in the region was finding skilled labor, while the Marine Terminal lacked stevedores and resorted to employing high school students. Lastly, Wiggins ends the chapter with details on 15 “Notable Delaware Valley sailors of World War II” (pp. 208-221). Among these are five Academy graduates RADMs Wilmer Gallaher, Frank Johnson, John Lee, Lewis Parks, and Leroy Simpler.

The contents of the four appendices include: “Appendix 1: Delaware Valley Sailor and Marine Medal of Honor Recipients” (pp. 223-238) with 55 entries. “Appendix 2: Delaware-Built Civil War Vessels (pp. 239-248) a detailed tabulation of nine Delaware-built Union ships, three Union monitors, and 14 Confederate ships.  “Appendix 3: Post-Civil War Wilmington-Built Ships, 1871-1917(pp. 249-254) includes 55 vessels, while “Appendix 4: Ships of World War I from Delaware Shipyards” (pp. 255-257) lists 55 ships from three shipyards.

Wiggins has filled a significant void in the naval history of a major region of the Eastern United States with the publication of America’s Anchor: A Naval History of the Delaware River and Bay, Cradle of the United States Navy. His meticulous research provides an invaluable addition to current scholarship and his book is an excellent, informative introduction to the intricacies of the region and its place in American history from the earliest times through World War II. An obvious “labor of love” by a native of the region and his own military background are combined in this major achievement.

America’s Anchor: A Naval History of the Delaware River and Bay, Cradle of the United States Navy
By Kennard R. Wiggins, Jr., McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, NC, (2019).

Reviewed by Charles C. Kolb. Kolb is a Golden Life Member at the US Naval Institute, an independent scholar, and “accidental archaeologist.” He is the Associate Editor for Archaeological Ceramics at the Society for Archaeological Sciences and served as senior program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities for 24 years.

Click here to buy America’s Anchor: A Naval History of the Delaware River and Bay, Cradle of the United States Navy now!

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  1. Ken Wiggins has the interest of more people than just Naval people. He cares about the
    average person who needs to know the “back story” of our wonderful military men and women. He has been supportive of the New Sweden Centre’s exhibit in the Delaware Military History. His wonderful writings are helping keep this heritage alive.

    Thank you Ken
    Aleasa Hogate New Sweden Centre VP/Education Director

  2. Ken has been dedicated to preserving our Heritage for many years. He assisted New Sweden Centre, when we put one of our exhibits in the Delaware Military History Museum. May 6th from 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm. 606 North Church St., Wilmington, DE 19801 their is a book signing at the Hendrickson house. If you miss it you can still
    buy the book. Aleasa Hogate New Sweden Centre VP/Education Director

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