Stop 19: Bridge - Flying Bridge

Flying Bridge

Flying Bridge History

During World War II in the Atlantic, some watches were stood on the wings of the bridge or in the pilot house. Pacific practice varied. Many Atlantic watches, however, were stood on the flying bridge, especially in convoy while sailing through submarine waters and in areas where aircraft attacks were likely. In that situation, the watch officer and the armed guard gunnery officer wanted to be outwhere they could see everything that was happening around their horizons. Besides having to be prepared to react instantaneously to enemy attack, the watch officer had to maintain his position in the convoy and, at night or in poor weather, be alert to the possibility of collision with adjacent ships because of poor visibility or steering casualties. During the day the watch officer would use a stadimeter (a range finding instrument used in the pre-war navy to keep station), or (less likely) a sextant. Today radar would be used for that purpose. Radar was a war-time invention restricted to warships because radar sets were scarce. At night, remember no lights were permitted, the watch officer had to lean on the railing of the bridge and, using a fog buoy streamed from a ship about 600 feet ahead, keep the bridge of his ship exactly even with the fog buoy. It required all of his attention. If the fog buoy got ahead of the watch officer’s bridge, he had call the engine room to add a couple of turns a minute to increase speed. Conversely, if the fog buoy fell behind his bridge it was necessary to reduce speed by reducing the number of revolutions per minute. When the engineers “blew tubes”, a nightly occurrence, the boilers lost steam pressure and the watch officer had to adjust his speed upward again to remain on station.

The flying bridge was the highest bridge aboard ship. There was little if any protection from the elements up there, with the exception of ships in the Murmansk convoys. On those ships, there was usually a heated wooden shack around the navigating equipment and the personnel standing the watch so that they could remain up there during those terrible winters.[1],[2] Without that the flying bridge was untenable in bad, or cold weather. Usually the flying bridge was mounted on a small platform about seven, or eight, feet square and about eighteen inches off of the deck. On ships in more temperate climates, canvas enclosures that reached up to about four feet from the flying bridge platform’s floor were used. The rest of the enclosure, except for the roof, was open to the elements.[3] The American Victory, like most ships, is equipped with a platform upon which the flying bridge is situated. The American Victory’s flying bridge is equipped with the canvas screen described above.

[1] Philip Kaplan and Jack Currie, Convoy: Merchant Sailors at War 1939 – 1945, Naval Inst., Press, Annapolis, MD, 1998, page 137, for photo of ship at sea literally encased in ice on the Murmansk Run

[2] ibid., p. 110, poor photo of ship on Murmansk run with enclosed flying bridge.

[3] ibid., Title Page, Photograph of “Monkey Island” on a Liberty Ship, i.e., the flying bridge. See also p. 68, line drawing.