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This article covers the history of the grade of Chief Petty Officer. April 1, 1993, marked the 100th anniversary of the creation of that grade.
It is necessary, however, to look back to the origins of the Continental Navy to establish the foundation of relative grades and classifications that led to the ultimate establishment of the CPO grade.
During the Revolutionary War, Jacob Wasbie, a Cook's Mate serving on board the Alfred, one of the first Continental Navy warships, was promoted to "Chief Cook" on June 1, 1776.
Chief Cook is construed to mean Cook or Ship's Cook which was the official rating title at that time. This is the earliest example of the use the term "Chief" located to date by the author.
The United States Navy was reauthorized under the Constitution by an act of March 27, 1794. The fledgling Navy was to consist of four forty-four gun frigates and two thirty-six gun frigates.
The action taken by Congress on that date was based upon the need to counter the Algerian pirates. However, a treaty was reached between the United States and Algiers prior to completing any of the vessels, and the act was allowed to expire.
The construction or completion of three frigates was later directed under an act of July 1, 1797. Those ships were the Constitution and United States, each rated at forty-four guns, and the Constellation, mounting 36 guns. Personnel allowed to the two classes of warships were the same under both acts.
Petty officers, who were appointed by the Captain, consisted of one Captain's Clerk, two Boatswain's Mates, a Coxswain, a Sailmaker's Mate, two Gunner's Mates, one Yeoman of the Gun Room, nine Quarter Gunners (eleven were allowed for the two larger vessels), two Carpenter's Mates, an Armorer, a Steward, a Cooper, a Master-at-Arms, and a Cook.
Non-petty officers, as listed in the 1797 act, consisted of 103 Ordinary Seamen and Midshipmen and 150 Able Seamen for the larger frigates; the smaller vessel, Constellation, was allowed 130 Able Seamen and Midshipmen and 90 Ordinary Seamen.
None of those figures included Marines, which added three Sergeants, three Corporals, one Drummer, on e Fifer, and 50 Marine Privates to the complement of the larger ships. The 36 gun frigate was allowed 1 less Sergeant and Corporal and 40 rather than 50 Marines.
Generally speaking, precedence of petty officers was not really introduced until the U.S. Navy Regulations, approved February 15, 1853, were published.
It must be pointed out that those regulations were declared invalid by the Attorney General on May 3, 1853, and were rescinded due merely to the fact that the President rather than Congress approved them. However, this did not mean that the information and the guidelines contained in them were inaccurate.
Conversely, the Secretary of the Navy submitted a set of naval regulations for Congressional acceptance on December 8, 1858, but they were never acted upon in that session of Congress. Based upon pay tables of the period, the contents of the 1858 plan, like the regulations of 1853, appear to have contained the current rating structure of that period.
Prior to 1853, one could infer a quasi-precedence of ratings based upon the sequence in which ratings were listed within complement charts; this is backed by differences in pay of various petty officers.
Another issue to be considered is the fact that the order of the names of the petty officers as they appeared on muster rolls could generally be considered an order of precedence. Precedence of ratings was explicitly spelled out in Navy Regulations approved on March 12, 1863.
At this point it is useful to review the early Civil War petty officer rating structure just prior to the official usage of "Chief" with rating titles. Petty officers were listed under two categories--Petty Officers of the Line and Petty Officers of the Staff.
The 1863 Regulations made the priority of ratings clear: "Precedence among petty officers of the same rate, if not established particularly by the commander or the vessel, will be determined by priority of rating.
When two or more have received the same rate on the same day, and the commander of the vessel shall not have designated one of that rate to act as a chief, such as chief boatswain's mate, chief gunner's mate, or chief or signal quartermaster, their precedence shall be determined by the order in which their names appear on the ship's books.
And precedence among petty officers of the same relative rank is to be determined by priority of rating; or in case of ratings being of the same date, by the order in which their names appear on the ship's books."
That lengthy paragraph was shortened in the 1865 regulations to read simply, "Precedence among Petty Officers of the sa me rate shall be established by the Commanding Officer of the vessel in which they serve."
Precedence by rating was a fact of Navy life for the next 105 years and was substantiated by rating priority and the date of an individual's promotion.
Precedence of ratings remained in effect until the issue of Change #17 of August 15, 1968, to the 1959 Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) Manual.
At that time, precedence among ratings was eliminated and changed to a single system for military and non-military matters based on pay grade and time in grade.
During 27 1/2 years of naval service, the author has been audience to an appreciable number of boiling point arguments on the ship's fantail and in the Chiefs' messes concerning seniority of ratings.
As one can determine from the foregoing evidence, Boatswain's Mates have not always been the senior rating in the Navy. However, if one tries to enlighten some of them they will usually get their danders up and argue until red in the face.
Likewise, Aviation Machinist's Mates have not always been the senior rating within the Aviation Branch. From 1924 to 1933, and again from 1942 to 1948, the rating of Aviation Pilot topped the mechs as well as all other aviation ratings.
It is not the intention of this synopsis to present an extended dissertation on individual ratings. However, at this point, clarification of a longstanding controversy and its resultant misconceptions regarding the Chief Boatswain's Mates, Chief Gunner's Mates, and Chief or Signal Quartermasters of the 1864-93 era is necessary. Those three ratings have at one time or another been erroneously identified and argued as being Chief Petty Officers.
General Order #36 of May 16, 1864, effective July 1, 1864, listed Navy ratings along with monthly pay for each rating. Among the ratings included were Chief Boatswain's Mate, Boatswain's Mate in Charge, Boatswain's Mate, Chief Gunner's Mate, Gunner's Mate in Charge, Gunner's Mate, Chief Quartermaster and Quartermaster.
Boatswain's Mates and Gunner's Mates received $27.00 monthly and Quartermasters, $25.00. Chief Boatswain's Mates and Chief Gunners's M ates were paid $30.00 per month and were listed for service only on board vessels of the lst and 2nd rates.
Chief Quartermasters were paid the same except for a $2.00 reduction while serving in ships of the 3rd and 4th rates. Boatswain's Mates in Charge and Gunner's Mates in Charge were also paid $30.00 per month.
The primary difference between the Chief Boatswain's Mate and Boatswain's Mate in Charge and the Chief Gunner's Mate and Gunner's Mate in Charge lay in their assignments. Chief Boatswain's Mates and Chief Gunner's Mates were permitted on board ships of the first two classes of vessels (1st and 2nd rates with 100 or more crewmen).
The Boatswain's Mate in Charge and the Gunner's Mate in Charge could be assigned to any of the four classed vessels (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rates) and specifically only when a Warrant Boatswain or Warrant Gunner was not assigned to the ship. Boatswain's Mates in Charge and Gunner's Mates in Charge appeared in the rating structure for only five years.
They were last listed in the pay table included in the Navy Register for July 1, 1869, and were eliminated from this list with the issue of January 1, 1870. From that date, according to complements set in 1872, Chief Boatswain's Mates and Chief Gu nner's Mates were assigned to vessels of all four classes.
Then, five years later, by the allowance list of 1877, they were assigned only to ships without a warranted Boatswain or Gunner
|The Title of Chief or QuarterMaster|
The title of Chief or Signal Quartermaster was mentioned in the 1863 Regulations and requires explanation. The term Signal Quartermaster was utilized from at least the early 1800s.
That title identified those Quartermasters who were principally involved with signaling and the care of flags, halyards, markers, lanterns and other paraphernalia as opposed to Quartermasters who were mainly concerned with navigational and steering duties.
From 1863 to 1865, the rating titles of Chief Quartermaster and Signal Quartermaster were virtually synonymous. Furthermore, the 1863 Navy Regulations and the 1864 pay order did not present a distinction between those two titles.
In 1865, however, by U.S. Navy Regulations approved April 18, 1865, a distinction was made between Quartermaster (not Chief Quartermaster, which was never listed) and Signal Quartermaster listed under Petty Officers of the Line.
Signal Quartermaster was listed as third in precedence (after Gunner's Mate), whereas Quartermaster was sixth (after Coxswain to Commander in Chief of a Squadron or Fleet).
Those two ratings continued to be carried in successive issues of Navy Regulations until 1885.
It is of note that Signal Quartermaster was never listed as a separate rate from Chief Quartermaster in the pay tables covering those twenty years. Therefore, the title of Signal Quartermaster, instead of Chief Quartermaster, can be considered as the official title from April 18, 1865, to January 8, 1885.
The title of Chief Quartermaster, primarily found in Navy pay tables for that same period, can be judged to be an alternate or common-use title for Signal Quartermaster. In other directives and correspondence these two titles were often used interchangeably.
It is necessary to reflect back to Chief Boatswain's Mates and Chief Gunner's Mates to define their exact status. Navy Regulations of 1865, 1870, and 1876 fail to show Chief Boatswain's Mate and Chief Gunner's Mate as different rates or levels from Boatswain's Mate and Gunner's Mate respectively.
It therefore follows that to justify calling the Chief Boatswain's Mate and the Chief Gunner's Mate additional rates one has to depend upon General Order 36 of May 16, 1864 (effective July 1, 1864), and Tables of Allowances for the 1870s which list them as rates or ratings along with Boatswain's Mate and Gunner's Mate.
To answer the question of whether the Chief Boatswain's Mate, Chief Gunner's Mate, and Chief Quartermaster or Signal Quartermaster of the 1863-93 era were or were not actually Chief Petty Officers is elementary. They were not Chief Petty Officers due to the fact that the grade had not yet been created.
On January 1, 1884, when the new pay rates became effective, there existed the three aforementioned rates carrying the word Chief--Boatswain's Mate, Gunner's Mate, and Quartermaster--all paid $35.00 per month. Several other rates were paid higher amounts, ranging from $40.00 to $70.00 per month.
|Fifty Three Weeks Later on January 08-1885 |
Fifty-three weeks later, on January 8, 1885, the Navy classed all enlisted personnel as first, second, or third class for petty officers, and as Seaman first, second, or third class for non-petty officers.
Chief Boatswain's Mates, Chief Quartermasters and Chief Gunner's Mates were positioned at the Petty Officer First Class level within the Seaman Class; Masters- at-Arms, Apothecaries, Yeomen (Equipment, Paymasters, and Engineers), Ships Writers, Schoolmasters and Band Masters were also First Class Petty Officers but came under the Special Branch; finally, Machinists were carried at the top grade within the Artificer Branch.
Included under the Special Branch at the second class petty officer level was the rate of Chief Musician who was junior to the Band Master. That rate was changed to First Musician under the 1893 realignment of ratings was and carried as a petty officer first class until 1943.
On April 1, 1893, two important steps were taken. First, the grade of Chief Petty Officer was established; secondly, most enlisted men received a pay raise.
The question is often asked, "Who was the first Chief Petty Officer?" The answer is flatly: "There was no first Chief Petty Officer due to the fact that nearly all ratings carried as Petty Officers First Class from 1885 were automatically shifted to the Chief Petty Officer level."
Exceptions were Schoolmasters, who stayed at first class; Ship's Writers, who stayed the same but expanded to include second and third class; and Carpenter's Mates, who had been carried as second class petty officers but were extended to include chief, first, second, and third classes.
Therefore, the Chief Petty Officer grade on April 1, 1893, encompassed the nine rates.
Prior to the establishment of the Chief Petty Officer grade, and for many years thereafter, commanding officers could promote petty officers to acting appointments in order to fill vacancies in ships' complements. Men served various lengths of time under acting appointments, generally six months to a year.
If service was satisfactory, the captain recommended to the Bureau of Navigation (called the Bureau of Personnel, BUPERS, after October 1, 1942) that an individual be given a permanent appointment for the rate in which he served.
Otherwise the commanding officer could reduce an individual to the grade or rate held prior to promotion if he served under an acting appointment.
The change in status from acting to permanent appointment was always a "breathe-easier" occurrence.
This meant that the commanding officer could not reduce a Chief Petty Officer in rate if he messed up. It took a court-martial and the Bureau's approval to reduce a Chief serving under a permanent appointment.