Pieces of the Past
Published on September 16th, 2019
In those days of yesteryear, when handheld telecommunication devices were the stuff of pulp science-fiction stories, when email and smartphones and Twitter and constant, global, real-time interconnectedness weren’t even dreamed of, if you were a sailor at sea it was easy to be “at sea,” as far as the grand swirl of events went.
During World War II, to keep crews in the loop about what was going on around the rest of the planet, the U.S. Navy issued Scuttlebutt, a shipboard newspaper that presented a mix of syndicated international news coverage with occasional ship-specific items added in, along with whimsical cartoons and other morale-boosting diversions.
These examples above, from a recent donation to the U.S. Naval Institute Archives by Bill Foley, are part of a 1943-45 run of issues from the USS Hermitage (AP-54).
The troop transport had begun life as the Scottish-built Italian luxury liner Conte Biancamano. Finding herself in the Panama Canal Zone when Italy declared war on the United States in December 1941, she was seized by U.S. authorities, converted to a transport in Philadelphia, and commissioned in 1942.
Throughout World War II, as the Hermitage served both in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, her crew was able to feel a steady sense of connection to the larger world beyond the vast horizon line—thanks to Scuttlebutt.
Editor’s note: As radio host Paul Harvey would say on his broadcast, “And now you know the rest of the story.”