In the summer of 1955 I completed a year as an assistant planning and estimating officer in the Boston Naval Shipyard. Other assistants had more important-sounding responsibilities, such as, overhauls of cruisers, destroyers, and auxiliary ships. I had been concerned with a catchall category that included restoration of such things as propellers and boats and with the manufacture of anchor chain and rope. While mine was generally regarded as the least prestigious job, I had encountered challenges that yielded significant managerial experience. Perhaps that is the reason why I was assigned to the planning desk for ship construction and conversions when Commander Bill Gundlach’s tour of duty ended.
During that same summer, the Shipyard Commander, an admiral, believed that the Captain who had been collaterally assigned to be in charge of the Builder’s Trial Board, was being affected by a personal problem. The Board, an in-house group, witnessed sea trials of the Yard’s converted or built vessels in order to determine if they were ready to perform for the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey. The latter reported readiness for war to the Chief of Naval Operations. The Admiral used my new circumstance to relieve the stressed Captain of the collateral assignment, “You have too much to do. Lieutenant Commander Chirillo is in a better position to serve as the head of the Builder’s Trial Board.”
Until then, the person in charge of the Board had always been independent of the Planning and Production Officers. Thus the assignment was a surprise to me and to others.
I was aware that in the recent past, each builder’s trial took place on a Saturday because that was least disruptive to the Yard’s overall operations. Rarely did a ship return to port within the sixteen hours scheduled. Twenty was more likely. The board always reconvened on the next day, a Sunday. Then for a period that usually required three-more days, the officer members, working from their notes, wrote their criticisms as trial items. The Captain edited and classified the items before passing them to the civilian in charge of a group of typists. Bureau of Ships, Bureau of Ordnance, and Planning Department representatives then debated about the funds that should be charged for corrective action.
The lists that identified responsibilities by shop, were usually typed on mimeograph masters late on a Tuesday evening. They were reproduced the next morning and copies were distributed on a Wednesday afternoon. The entire process was costly, fatiguing, and frustrating. Shop masters wanted the information as soon as possible. In some instances they jumped the gun and later encountered rework because of inaccurate verbal information.
Within minutes of the announcement that I would be in charge of the Builder’s Trial Board, the unassuming person in charge of the typists and having perhaps the lowest civil-service grade in the shipyard, came to me with a perfectly timed suggestion, “For next week’s sea trial, I recommend that you ask the prospective commanding officer to lend us his yeomen and typewriters. We would take them to sea with us.
“Then, during the trial, you should require the trial-board members to write each of their observations on separate sheets and to deliver them to you hourly. I would have lists of alpha-numeric numbers, by hull, machinery, electrical, etc. After you approve and edit each item, I would assign a number and a typist. Also, I suggest that you work immediately with the bureau representatives on identification of funding. I would have a separate typist assigned for each mimeograph-master that would show responsibility by shop.
“We should be done before the ship returns to the Yard Saturday night, no one would have to come in on Sunday, there would be no civilian typists on double-time pay, mimeographing would start Monday morning, and we would distribute copies Monday afternoon, two days earlier than for any previous trial.”
I responded, “That’s great! Let’s implement your plan. Why didn’t you suggest it before when the Captain was in charge?”
He replied with what seemed to be unaccustomed anger for him, “To hell with the Captain! He wouldn’t listen!”
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo