Local antiques dealer James Loessberg has stumbled upon a relic of World War II naval history. He now has in his possession a compass from the battleship U.S.S. Baltimore.
Loessberg acquired the compass through the purchase of a roomful of restored Victorian furniture in San Antonio.
After agreeing on a price for the room, he began removing the furniture in preparation for transport. The compass was then discovered under a sofa.
Also in the room was a scope from the U.S.S. Cleveland, another World War II-era battleship.
Loessberg paid an additional $20 for the compass. He has owned the item for the last six months.
“I’ve enjoyed it and I’ll probably continue to enjoy it for a while,” he said, although selling the compass is not out of the question.
“Something my dad taught me: You never get too attached to anything because it’s not what’s important in life,” he said.
The compass is made of painted cast brass and capped with a ring of bronze and nickel-plated screws. It is filled with mineral water and would have sat in a wooden rocker to allow for the instrument to sway.
Its face measures 9 and five-eighth inches in diameter and its body stands five and three-quarter inches tall. It weighs approximately 25 pounds.
The instrument was built by the Lionel Corporation in 1941, as part of the toy company’s participation in the war effort.
The Baltimore, known also as the CA-68, a heavy cruiser, was actively involved in the Pacific Theater of the war. Built in 1941 and first commissioned in 1943, she was a warship made for speed and long range.
Modern cruisers are the largest vessels in a given fleet. The Baltimore was no exception. She was over two football fields in length and displaced 13,600 tons of water, more than 3,000 tons more than what was allowable by the London Naval Treaty of 1930.
The treaty, which gave 10,000 tons’ displacement as the uppermost limit of a vessel’s size, was no longer in effect after the start of the war.
Boasting an armament of nine 8-inch guns, 12 5-inch guns, and 72 anti-aircraft cannons of two different sizes, the Baltimore provided support cover for aircraft and other naval attack vessels on the Pacific front. She also carried two aircraft herself and housed a crew complement of 1,142 personnel.
According to Loessberg, the ship never received any casualties or heavy damages during the war. The vessel was damaged twice by tropical storms while on duty in the Pacific.
The Baltimore was involved in 14 Pacific Theater skirmishes, including the Battle of Okinawa. She was commissioned twice in her 13-year service to the U.S. Navy, and on reserve for almost 25 years after that.
In 1972, she was sold for scrap metal.
One of the most interesting aspects of the ship’s story for Loessberg was her protection of her crew complement during the war.
“It went through all battles relatively unscathed,” Loessberg said. “It was shot at, man, and no one got killed.
“They don’t shoot .22’s at those things.”
Also of note is the Baltimore’s service as a presidential flagship. On July 21, 1944, she ferried President Franklin D. Roosevelt from San Diego to meet with Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and General Douglas McArthur at Pearl Harbor to discuss plans for seizing the Japanese-occupied Philippines.
“It didn’t even get released until years later that those three men were on the same boat in war waters,” Loessberg said.
“The president and the admiral, they would have had their hands on it [the compass] discussing what are we going to do about Pearl Harbor.”
Other U.S.S. Baltimores
The vessel from which the compass was taken was not the first to be christened the U.S.S. Baltimore. There are five other such ships from U. S. naval history, one decommissioned as recently as 1998.
Others include a 12-gun, two-masted sailing brigantine from 1777; a ship with an arms strength of 20 guns built in 1798; a side-wheeled steamer from 1861 which ferried Union diplomats across the Potomac River near Washington, D.C.; and a nuclear-attack submarine from the 1990s.
“Baltimore” is also a class of ships, considered to be the greatest warships of World War II.
There were 14 Baltimore-class vessels constructed in all. The first in the class was the CA-68. None was ever sunk in battle.