Prize Money

Prize Money

By Garland Davis

The awarding of prize money to the crews of capturing ships equal to the value of the ship and cargo of captured prizes. The last prize money paid to a U.S. Navy ship was paid to the crew of USS Omaha CL-4 in 1947 for capture and salvage of the German Raider Odenwald in 1941 prior to U.S. entrance into WWII.

Prize money has a distinct meaning in warfare, especially naval warfare, where it was a monetary reward paid out under prize law to the crew of a ship for capturing or sinking an enemy vessel. The claims for the bounty are usually heard in a Prize Court.

This article covers the arrangements of the British Royal Navy, but similar arrangements were used in the navies of other nations, and existed in the British Army and other armies, especially when a city had been taken by storm.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, captured ships were legally Crown property. In order to reward and encourage sailors’ zeal at no cost to the Crown, it became customary to pass on all or part of the value of a captured ship and its cargo to the capturing captain for distribution to his crew. (Similarly, all belligerents of the period issued Letters of Marque and Reprisal to civilian privateers, authorizing them to make war on enemy shipping; as payment, the privateer sold off the captured booty.)

This practice was formalized via the Cruisers and Convoys Act of 1708. An Admiralty Prize Court was established to evaluate claims and condemn prizes, and the scheme of division of the money was specified. This system, with minor changes, lasted throughout the colonial, Revolutionary, and Napoleonic Wars.

If the prize were an enemy merchantman, the prize money came from the sale of both ship and cargo. If it were a warship, and repairable, usually the Crown bought it at a fair price; additionally, the Crown added: “head money” of 5 pounds per enemy sailor aboard the captured warship. Prizes were keenly sought, for the value of a captured ship was often such that a crew could make a year’s pay for a few hours’ fighting. Hence boarding and hand-to-hand fighting remained common long after naval cannons developed the ability to sink the enemy from afar.

All ships in sight of a capture shared in the prize money, as their presence was thought to encourage the enemy to surrender without fighting until sunk.

The distribution of prize money to the crews of the ships involved persisted until 1918. Then the Naval Prize Act changed the system to one where the prize money was paid into a common fund from which a payment was made to all naval personnel whether or not they were involved in the action. In 1945 this was further modified to allow for the distribution to be made to Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel who had been involved in the capture of enemy ships; however, prize claims had been awarded to pilots and observers of the Royal Naval Air Service since c. 1917, and later the RAF.

The following scheme for distribution of prize money was used for much of the Napoleonic wars, the heyday of prize warfare. The allocation was by eighths. Two-eighths of the prize money went to the captain or commander, generally propelling him upwards in political and financial circles. One-eighth of the money went to the admiral or commander-in-chief who signed the ship’s written orders (unless the orders came directly from the Admiralty in London, in which case this eighth also went to the captain). One eighth was divided among the lieutenants, sailing master, and captain of marines if any. One eighth was divided among the wardroom warrant officers (surgeon, purser, and chaplain), standing warrant officers (carpenter, boatswain, and gunner), lieutenant of marines, and the master’s mates. One eighth was divided among the junior warrant and petty officers, their mates, sergeants of marines, captain’s clerk, surgeon’s mates, and midshipmen. The final two-eighths were divided among the crew, with able and specialist seamen receiving larger shares than ordinary seamen, landsmen, and boys. The pool for the seamen was divided into shares, with each able seaman getting two shares in the pool (referred to as a fifth-class share), an ordinary seaman received a share and a half (referred to as a sixth-class share), landsmen received a share each (a seventh-class share), and boys received a half share each (referred to as an eighth-class share).

Perhaps the greatest amount of prize money awarded was for the capture of the Spanish frigate Hermione on 31 May 1762 by the British frigate Active and sloop Favourite. The two captains, Herbert Sawyer, and Philemon Pownoll received about £65,000 apiece, while each seaman and Marine got £482–485.

The prize money from the capture of the Spanish frigates Thetis and Santa Brigada in October 1799, £652,000, was split up among the crews of four British frigates, with each captain being awarded £40,730 and the Seamen each receiving £182 4s 9¾d or the equivalent of 10 years’ pay.In January 1807, the frigate Caroline took the Spanish ship San Rafael as a prize, netting Captain Peter Rainier £52,000.

The crewmen of USS Omaha hold the distinction of being the last American sailors to receive prize money, for capturing the German freighter Odenwald on 6 November 1941, just before America’s entry into World War II, though the money would not be awarded until 1947.

Even though the hunt for the “raider” had been unsuccessful it ultimately proved to not be entirely fruitless. On 6 November, Omaha and Somers, were en route back to Recife, returning from a patrol in the equatorial waters of the Atlantic, smoke was spotted on the horizon. Captain Theodore E. Chandler, Omaha‘s commander, put her on an intercept course with the sighting. As Omaha approached the ship, which was flying US colors with the name Willmoto, out of Philadelphia, identifying her on her stern, she began taking evasive action. While multiple attempts were made to signal the merchant ship, they either went unanswered or they were given suspicious responses. Omaha‘s lookouts also reported that many of the crew visible on the deck of the ship were un-American in appearance.

The ship, which identified herself as Willmoto, did not satisfactorily identify herself to the American warships. After ordering “Willmoto” to heave to, Omaha‘s captain dispatched an armed boarding party. At 05:37 Lieutenant George K. Carmichael, along with the boarding party, began to make way for the vessel. Around this time, the merchant hoisted the signal flags “Fox Mike”, indicating that the ship was sinking and that they required assistance. Two distinct explosions could be heard within the ship when the boarding party began to climb the ship’s ladder. In an attempt to leave the sinking ship, several of the crew had lowered lifeboats, but Lt. Carmichael ordered them to return to the ship. At 05:58, Carmichael signaled to Omaha that the ship was indeed a German ship and that the crew had attempted to scuttle her. She was identified as Odenwald, a German blockade runner and that her holds were filled with 3,857 tons of rubber, along with 103 B. F. Goodrich truck tires and sundry other cargo that totaled 6,223 tons.

Omaha crew members posing on the deck of Odenwald

A diesel engine specialist was brought over from Somers‘s crew to assist with the repairs and prevent Odenwald‘s sinking. Omaha‘s SOC floatplanes and Somers guarded the area while the boarding party made Odenwald seaworthy. With repairs finished the three ships set course for Port of Spain, Trinidad, to avoid possible difficulties with the government of Brazil.

Omaha arrived at Port of Spain, on 17 November 1941, with Odenwald flying the German flag on the mast with the US flag flying over it. It was not until 30 April 1947, that a case was brought by Odenwald‘s owners in the District Court for Puerto Rico, against the US. Their claim stated that because a state of war between the United States and Germany did not exist at the time of capture the vessel could not be taken as a prize or bounty. The court, however, given the fact that Odenwald was rescued from sinking by the US crew, declared that the seizing of the ship was defined as a legal salvage operation. The US was awarded the profits that were made from Odenwald and her cargo. All the men of the original boarding party received $3,000 each, while the rest of the crewmen in Omaha and Somers, at the time, were entitled to two months’ pay and allowances. The laws have since been revised, making this the last time that US Navy members received such an award.



An Untrue Tale of CV-63 and CV-64

An Untrue Tale of CV-63 and CV-64

By Garland Davis

I heard many stories about ships that I served in that were hard to believe. This one was told to me when I was mess cooking ass an SA. I had no reason not to believe it.

I had heard the story for years that the names and hull numbers of USS Kitty Hawk CV63 and USS Constellation CV64 were swapped because of a fire on Constellation during the building of the ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Kitty Hawk was built at the same time in Camden New Jersey. The story has it that CV63 was the ship being built in Brooklyn and CV64 was being built in New Jersey. The story goes that the Names and Hull Numbers were switched to ensure that Kitty Hawk would be commissioned before Constellation. There is no truth to the legend. Kitty Hawk was commissioned on 29 April 1961 and Constellation was commissioned on 27 October 1961.


The supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), formerly CVA-63, was the second naval ship named after Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the site of the Wright brothers’ first powered airplane flight. Kitty Hawk was both the first and last active ship of her class, and the last oil-fired aircraft carrier in service with the United States Navy.

Kitty Hawk was laid down by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey, on 27 December 1956. The ship was launched on 21 May 1960, sponsored by Mrs. Camilla F. McElroy, wife of Defense Secretary Neil H. McElroy. Kitty Hawk was launched by flooding her drydock; the conventional slide down method was ruled out because of her mass and the risk that she might hit the Philadelphia shore on the far side of the Delaware River.

The ship was commissioned 29 April 1961, at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Captain William F. Bringle in command.

With the decommissioning of Independence on 30 September 1998, Kitty Hawk became the United States warship with the second-longest active status, after the sailing ship USS Constitution. (Enterprise passed her in 2012; these two aircraft carriers were two of the three carriers to fly the First Navy Jack.)

For 10 years, Kitty Hawk was the forward-deployed carrier at Yokosuka Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan. In October 2008, she was replaced in this role by George Washington. Kitty Hawk then returned to the United States and had her decommissioning ceremony on 31 January 2009. She was officially decommissioned on 12 May 2009 after almost 49 years of service. Kitty Hawk was replaced by George H.W. Bush. She was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 20 October 2017 and will be dismantled.

Constellation after the fire in the building dock

USS Constellation (CV-64), a Kitty Hawk-class Super Carrier, was the third ship of the United States Navy to be named in honor of the “new constellation of stars” on the flag of the United States. One of the fastest ships in the Navy, as proven by her victory during a battlegroup race held in 1985, she was nicknamed “Connie” by her crew and officially as “America’s Flagship”.

The contract to build Constellation was awarded to the New York Naval Shipyard Brooklyn, New York, on 1 July 1956, and her keel was laid down 14 September 1957 at the New York Navy Yard. She was launched 8 October 1960, sponsored by Mary Herter (wife of Secretary of State Christian Herter). Constellation was delivered to the Navy 1 October 1961, and commissioned on 27 October 1961, with Captain T. J. Walker in command. At that time, she had cost about US$264.5 million. Constellation was the last U.S. aircraft carrier (as of 2016) to be built at a yard other than Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company. Constellation was scrapped at Brownsville, Texas, in 2015–2017.

USS Constellation was heavily damaged by fire while under construction on 19 December 1960. The carrier was in the final stages of construction at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York when the fire began.

The fire broke out when a forklift operating on the hangar deck accidentally pushed its cargo into a steel plate knocking it over. The plate then broke off the plug of a 500 US gallons (1,900 l; 420 imp gal) tank of diesel fuel which spilled from the container reaching the lower levels of the ship. The fuel was ignited perhaps by a cutting torch of a fitter and then moved to a wooden scaffolding. The flames spread quickly filling the passageways of the ship with smoke. A Navy commander commented on the nature of the ship’s design at an inquiry, “Ships of this class are the most complex structures ever designed by man.

It took 17 hours for firefighters to extinguish the fire, some of whom had been “driven to the raw edge of exhaustion” after being called into service in the Park Slope air accident. The firefighters saved hundreds of lives without losing any of their own, however, fifty shipyard workers perished. The extensive damage cost 75 million dollars to repair, and delayed the commissioning date by seven months, leading to a rumor that the ship that had burned in New York was Kitty Hawk (CV-63) and the fire caused the Navy to change the names and hull number designations between the two sister ships that were being built simultaneously in separate shipyards in separate states. An abstract of a New York Times article from the day after the fire, 20 December 1960, refers to the ship as USS Constellation.


Have You Seen

Have You Seen

By Garland Davis

Have you seen

The flying fish’s rush to escape the looming gray predator

The graceful dolphins playfully pacing the bow for hours

The wakes foam straight and true from the past

The sun setting with a great red gleaming westward

The pale moon rising astern with a silver glow

The millions of stars dazzling a darkening sky

And realize that it is everything.

I have…


Hole in The Wall

The Hole in The Wall

By Garland Davis

It was a place of beginnings and endings, a place of firsts and lasts, a place of meeting and separation, a place of hopes and disappointments.

The Hole in The Wall was on the corner of Magsaysay and Gordon, the first place to get a cold one to begin liberty. It was also the place where a sick, hungover son of a bitch could gag down a couple of cold ones to help him make it through the day until liberty call when he would do it all again. It was the place where many memorable liberties began and the place where they ended. It was also the place where myriad seventeen to twenty-year-old kids had their first quasi-legal beer. I don’t know the drinking age there, but then, no one was checking ID’s. I guess Pesos sufficed to identify those old enough to drink.

It was a place where steadies waited for their sailor to come across the bridge. She waited to make sure some other girl didn’t catch his attention and steal him away. With more than fifteen thousand licensed hostesses in Olongapo, the competition for a sailor’s attention was fierce. Many girls breathed a sigh of relief when he appeared coming across the bridge because it meant that she, her mother, and sister would eat tomorrow.

It was a place where that same girl would say goodbye with crocodile tears the morning her sailor’s ship was leaving. There was the tingle in her stomach and the anticipation of the search for the next one. She could buy that pretty blouse with the fistful of Pesos he gave her right before he kissed her goodbye.

It was a place of disappointment for sailors and girls alike when the one they were waiting for didn’t come.

It was a place where the participants brought the young, or mostly old, women they had spent the night with and had chosen to enter in an “Ugly Contest.”

It was also the place where many sailors had their last San Miguel in the PI and said farewell to their last Olongapo girlfriend before leaving for discharge or retirement.

I know, I was one of those…


Graf Spee

Graf Spee

Admiral Graf Spee

by Lukasz Kasperczyk

Admiral Graf Spee was a Deutschland-class “Panzerschiff” (armored ship), nicknamed a “pocket battleship” by the British, which served with the Kriegsmarine of Nazi Germany during World War II. The two sister-ships of her class, Deutschland and Admiral Scheer, were reclassified as heavy cruisers in 1940. The vessel was named after Admiral Maximilian von Spee, commander of the East Asia Squadron that fought the battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands, where he was killed in action, in World War I. She was laid down at the Reichsmarinewerft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven in October 1932 and completed by January 1936. The ship was nominally under the 10,000 long tons (10,000 t) limitation on warship size imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, though with a full load displacement of 16,020 long tons (16,280 t), she significantly exceeded it. Armed with six 28 cm (11 in) guns in two triple gun turrets, Admiral Graf Spee and her sisters were designed to outgun any cruiser fast enough to catch them. Their top speed of 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph) left only the few battlecruisers in the Anglo-French navies fast enough and powerful enough to sink them.

The ship conducted five non-intervention patrols during the Spanish Civil War in 1936–1938, and participated in the Coronation Review of King George VI in May 1937. Admiral Graf Spee was deployed to the South Atlantic in the weeks before the outbreak of World War II, to be positioned in merchant sea lanes once war was declared. Between September and December 1939, the ship sank nine ships totaling 50,089 gross register tons (GRT), before being confronted by three British cruisers at the Battle of the River Plate on 13 December. Admiral Graf Spee inflicted heavy damage on the British ships, but she too was damaged and was forced to put into port at Montevideo. Convinced by false reports of superior British naval forces approaching his ship, Hans Langsdorff, the commander of the ship, ordered the vessel to be scuttled. The ship was partially broken up in situ, though part of the ship remains visible above the surface of the water.


The Battle of Balikpapan

The Battle of Balikpapan

By Dale Byhre

See more of Dale’s art on Facebook at Artwork by Dale Byhre

The Battle of Balikpapan’. Seventy- seven years ago on January 24, 1942, four elderly US Navy destroyers of the Asiatic Squadron, delivered a bold and audacious attack against the Imperial Japanese forces landing at the Dutch East Indies port and oil refining complex at Balikpapan, on the island of Borneo. Catching Japanese escorts by surprise, the four destroyers ran at high speed and in-line ahead, wreaking havoc amongst the anchored transports discharging men and equipment at the burning port. Sinking and damaging several of the transports with torpedoes and gunfire, the four flush-decked destroyers eventually made their escape suffering only light damage. It would do little to curb the Japanese onslaught, but at the time was a rare bright spot at a time of disastrous defeats suffered by the allies in the Far East.

The painting shows the destroyer John D Ford, leading its squadron as they make their high speed run through the rows of enemy ships caught unaware. The Ford is beginning a turn to starboard followed by the other destroyers to make another pass with torpedoes and guns while the burning oil facilities and an exploding Japanese ammunition ship light up the night.



“Scharnhorst immer voran!”

Scharnhorst was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship or battlecruiser, of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine. She was the lead ship of her class, which included one other ship, Gneisenau. The ship was built at the Kriegsmarinewerft dockyard in Wilhelmshaven; she was laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched a year and four months later on 3 October 1936. Completed in January 1939, the ship was armed with a main battery of nine 28 cm (11 in) C/34 guns in three triple turrets. Plans to replace these weapons with six 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 guns in twin turrets were never carried out.

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau operated together for much of the early portion of World War II, including sorties into the Atlantic to raid British merchant shipping. During her first operation, Scharnhorst sank the auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi in a short engagement (November 1939). Scharnhorst and Gneisenau participated in Operation Weserübung (April–June 1940), the German invasion of Norway. During operations off Norway, the two ships engaged the battlecruiser HMS Renown and sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious as well as her escort destroyers Acasta and Ardent. In that engagement, Scharnhorst achieved one of the longest-range naval gunfire hits in history.

In early 1942, after repeated British bombing raids, the two ships made a daylight dash up the English Channel from occupied France to Germany. In early 1943, Scharnhorst joined the Bismarck-class battleship Tirpitz in Norway to interdict Allied convoys to the Soviet Union. Scharnhorst and several destroyers sortied from Norway to attack a convoy, but British naval patrols intercepted the German force. During the Battle of the North Cape (26 December 1943), the Royal Navy battleship HMS Duke of York and her escorts sank Scharnhorst. Only 36 men were rescued, out of a crew of 1,968.