SPIG WEAD: Helping the Navy Grow Wings

By Bonner, Kit | Sea Classics, October 2010 | Go to article overview

SPIG WEAD: Helping the Navy Grow Wings


Bonner, Kit, Sea Classics


While watching television, I happened to see John Ford's tribute to "Spig" Wead, a crucial pioneer in Naval aviation for the United States. The MGM feature length film The Wings of Eagles starred John Wayne as the everirrepressible Wead who literally drove Naval aviation from model airplanes to the World War II Essex-class aircraft carriers. Of course, Wead also opened the doors for the USS Saratoga (CV-3), USS ßanger(CV-4), Yorktown (CV-5) class, and the USS Wasp (CV7). In short, all of the carrier strength that the United States confronted the Axis with in 1941 and later, in the Pacific. Of course, Frank Wead was no ordinary "Gold Wings and white uniform"-type aviator. He was far more than that.

THE EARLY YEARS

Like many Naval officers (Wead was born on 24 October 1895 and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1916) ofthat era, he was young and hell bent on changing the rules. It began with Adm, Sims, Adm. Moffett, and others who wanted to see aviation and vastly improved gunnery introduced into the fleet. For example, in 1898, Adm. Dewey's Asiatic Squadron scored a dismal 2% hit rate during the battle of Manila Bay with the Spanish garrison fleet. This was out of 4000 rounds fired! Clearly, gunnery needed improvement, and now Naval aviation was beating on the door of the US Navy led by officers like Spig Wead, Lt. John Dale Price, Lt. David Rittenhouse, and Lt. Virgil C. Griffin, as well as many other farsighted aviation-minded officers.

However, despite the obvious needs of the service, a Naval officer had to pay his dues before senior officers would take his ideas seriously. Interestingly, Spig Wead seemed able to bypass many of the castiron rules of conduct for accomplishing tasks and for that reason, Naval aviation took a quantum leap in the early 1920s. To show how much the "battleship" lobby cared about Naval aviation, for example, Capt. Stafford Doyle, the appointed captain of the US Navy's first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley (CVA), refused to attend the rommissioning ceremony and attempted to ensure there was no flagpole to hoist up the commissioning pennant. …

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