We all know that the USS Springfield CLG-7 was the last of the Sixth Fleet Flagships for which Villefranche served as the home port. But do you know the difference between a Flagship and a “normal” U.S. Navy ship?
The Vice-Admiral aboard the Springfield commanded the Sixth Fleet, not the Springfield, which was under the direct responsibility of the captain to the rank of Captain of the Ship. The Sixth Fleet at the time consisted of about thirty vessels, most of them divided into two fleets of ships that came to the Mediterranean from the ports of the East Coast of the United States for rotation periods of about six months. From 1956, only the flag-bearer of the Sixth Fleet was to be based in Villefranche in near-permanence.
The Admiral did not live alone on board … he had a staff of about 100 officers, mostly senior officers, and men whose direct responsibilities had nothing to do with the Springfield. So they worked and lived separate from the Ship’s company – those assigned to the Springfield own.
The Admiral had its own bridge, the “flag bridge”, below the main bridge of the Springfield from where, with his officers, he could watch the operational exercises when the Flagship was sailing in a flotilla or simply enjoy being at sea.
The staff officers had their own square where they dined and rested, completely separate from the Springfield officers. What were they doing? Apart from those who were preparing the Fleet’s operational plans, there was the Chief Superintendent of the Fleet, the Chief Counsel, the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Dentist, the Aviation Officer, submariners, public relations and so on.
One of the Admiral’s important roles was diplomatic: to “show the flag” in the major ports of the Mediterranean basin.
USS Springfield in Malta – Photo credit Henry Batchelder
The famous Sixth Fleet Band of about 25 men, was embarked not only for the pleasure of sailors and VIP guests but also to give concerts in public.
There was also a larger-than-normal Marine detachment on board to provide a guard of honor when the Admiral received military and civilian figures at all the ports visited.
Finally, a ship selected to become The Flagship had to undergo a significant physical conversion so that the arrangements would be sufficient to meet the needs of an entire community that would work, dine and sleep on board without taking part in the operational activities of the host vessel.
Written by Henry Batchelder (US Navy Lt. Jg Ret.)