Naval Weather Service Association (NWSA)



An association of Aerographers & Mates,
Meteorologists & Oceanographers



This is another in our series of essays depicting variations in duty assignments of Aerographers and Mates. Surely this duty was one of the most challenging faced by personnel in our rating.  Rather than working as part of a team, the one-man unit placed the AerM in a decidedly foreign environment.  In most cases his ability to perform aerological duties and contribute to the operational efficiency of his ship was dependent on a single officer, the ship’s Navigator. 


There was and is a wide variation in any Navigator’s sensitivity to weather conditions.  The AerM was normally assigned to N Division upon reporting aboard.  He worked for the Navigator.


Our fleet was augmented by many new naval vessels from 1942 onward.  The decision to assign an Aerographer to each surface ship was made in the Aerology Branch of the Bureau of Aeronautics, where Captain Howard Orville USN was in charge.  In March, 1942, the Warrant Officer specialty of Aerographer was created and the enlisted rating then became “Mate.”  The number of AerM trainees was markedly increased.  To avoid a bottleneck in training already extant, the Bureau of Aeronautics granted authority to selected air stations to advance to AerM3c a small number of seamen who had not attended Primary Aerographer School .  The wartime tempo increased and many decisions were necessarily expedited.


One of the first Aerographer’s Mates to be ordered to a one-man billet was AerM3c Norman Bender, USN.  Norm became an Aerographer striker on NAS Jacksonville, after attending Aviation Ordnanceman School in Norfolk .  He was ordered to NAS Lakehurst for instruction at the Primary Aerographer School , as required for advancement to Aerog3c.  He turned out to be a trailblazer by then, transferring to sea in new construction from NAS Lakehurst in early 1943.  His new home was USS MONTPELIER (CL-57), built by Camden Shipyard across the Delaware River from Philadelphia .  When Norm reported aboard she was fitting out in Philadelphia Navy Yard after launching in December, 1942.


There is a major difference between being the first AerM assigned to a ship and relieving an AerM who has been aboard for a while.  Norm faced all the unique challenges of new construction, ranging from typical shipyard confusion and pandemonium to eventual commissioning of his ship at the end of 1943.  He was fortunate to have a Navigator who could envision the advantages of on-board aerological services.  By the time MONTPELIER was commissioned and ready for shakedown.  Norm had his N Division billeting squared away along with many of his aerological equipment problems.  He had identified a working space and rigged it as his office, solved the helium stowage problem, cumshawed a typewriter, and was already proving his usefulness to the Navigator and others.


USS MONTPELIER had a four-plane aviation division and this added to Norm’s responsibilities, mostly for providing true surface wind values for underway aircraft launching and recovery.  However, when the ship arrived in the Pacific war zone there was an overriding need for current ballistic winds, since she was frequently part of a bombardment force.  Norm was able to obtain PIBAL observations using volunteers to assist.  Later he cooperated with the Gunnery Officer and was able to task the after director to track balloons and thus expeditiously compute ballistic winds.


There was no Monthly Aerological Record (log) maintained due to the pressures of Norm’s 24-hour responsibilities at sea.  Neither was there any requirement to compute ballistic densities, although MONTPELIER had been provisioned with an aerograph.  When MONTPELIER was at anchor it was possible to make occasional aerograph flights and work up ballistic densities, but that was experimental. 


Norm was able to school the ship’s Quartermasters in cloud observations, improving accuracy in the Ship’s Log; and that action was facilitated when he voluntarily went on the QM bridge watch list. Norm was commended for writing a paper which described duties of a one-man aerological unit afloat.  That paper was shotgunned through the fleet for guidance.  He terminated his two years aboard MONTPELIER in 1944 as AerM1c, having served in some of the hottest naval engagements in the southwest Pacific.


Another cruiser sailor was Jack Bullington.  He served in a one-man billet in USS PORTLAND (CA-33).  In his case, in 1943 he relieved an AerM who wanted to come ashore in Pearl Harbor , so they swapped billets.  Jack did not experience the traumatic fitting out, commissioning and shakedown periods that Norm Bender did.  But PORTLAND was very active throughout the war, providing Norm and Jack with parallel experiences.  Jack was fortunate to serve under a skipper who understood weather very well and consistently valued the aerological support rendered.  Captain T.G.W. “Tex” Settle USN was a world champion free balloon pilot and co-holder of a high altitude balloon record.  When PORTLAND was decommissioned and Jack came ashore at the end of the war he had advanced to CAerM.


Mike Kalles was a prime example of a young, inexperienced AG3 going to sea directly from Primary Aerographer School .  He relieved another AerM in USNS BUTNER (TAP-113) in 1956 and remained aboard until 1959.  Somehow the Navy lost his personnel records when Seavey-Shorevey was effected.  During those years BUTNER served the North Atlantic route between New York-Southampton-Bremerhaven, transporting troops and families.  Mike made forty-four Atlantic crossings in BUTNER. After being aboard BUTNER for many voyages and advancing to AG2, Mike was designated Leading Quartermaster in N Division.


To further illustrate this one-man aspect of the Aerographer’s Mate duty assignments I talked to former AerM1c Alex Campbell USN.  He was not in a one-man billet but instead spent two of the war years on rotating battleship staffs.  As the staff moved from ship to ship, Alex worked with many different Aerographer’s Mates who were serving in one-man billets.  AerM1c Joe Cooper served in USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62) and, during the time that ComFifthFleet and staff were embarked he worked with that team.  AerM1c “Gizmo” Kennedy was in USS TEXAS (BB-35) during 1942-43.  AerM1c Dedrick in USS NEW YORK (BB-34).  Of the half dozen BBs that Alex served in for varying periods of time, his favorite was USS IOWA (BB-61).


Submitted by CDR Don Cruse USN RET NWSA Historian