Capt. R. S. [Russell Sydnor] Crenshaw was born on 1 September 1886, in Virginia. His mother was Sally Berkeley Nelson Robins Crenshaw (1887 – 1976). Crenshaw received an at-large appointment from Virginia and graduated as a member of the U. S. Naval Academy class of 1907. In 1912, Russell married Polly Robins Crenshaw, in Richmond. They had five children: William Robins Crenshaw (1914 – 1980s) who also became a naval officer; Sally Berkeley Crenshaw Southerland (1917-2009); Russell Sydnor Crenshaw, Jr. (1920 – 2017), Francis Nelson Crenshaw (1922 – 2012), and Alice Beauchamp Crenshaw Luhring (1924 – 2008).
Crenshaw served in both world wars. During World War I he served in the Naval Overseas Transportation Service and received the Army Distinguished Service Medal for his actions in developing the convoy system for cargo (1919). Crenshaw served as director of the War Plans Division of the War Department during 1939 -1940.
During World War II, Crenshaw commanded the 6th Naval District from 1 February 1942 – 3 June 1942. He was assistant commandant of the 5th Naval District, based in Norfolk, Virginia, from 18 June 1942 until the German surrender in August 1945. He was direct command of the Operating Division and during the writing of the Secret World War II Historical Narrative, 1943 - 1945. For his actions during World War II Crenshaw received the Legion of Merit Medal (1946) which reads: “for exceptionally meritorious conduct n the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Assistant Commandant FIFTH Naval District (Task Group o2.5) and in direct chart of the Operating Division from 18 June 1942 to the surrender of Germany, he promptly effected through coordination among various surface and air operating forces, and defense measures in this area including those of the Army and Coast Guard. As a result of his tireless and skillful directions of the various offensive and protective measures in the anti-submarine warfare in this area, convoys were successfully dispatched and received, losses from enemy mines were avoided, and the enemy submarines were constantly hunted and harassed, some sunk and some damaged, with the result that he losses to shipping were kept to a minimum.”
He rose to the rank of captain in the Navy and continued in active duty until 1946 when he retired. Crenshaw died in Virginia Beach, Virginia on 2 July 1975.
Capt. R. S. [Russell Sydnor] Crenshaw, Jr., the donor of this collection, was born 5 April 1920, in Virginia. Like his father, he received an at-large appointment from Virginia to Annapolis and graduated as a member of the U. S. Naval Academy Class of 1941. Like his father, he served in World War II and rose to the rank of captain. During the war Crenshaw served on destroyers in the Pacific theater of operations. He served on the USS MAURY (DD – 401) from the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway, the invasions of the Solomon and the Marshall Islands. He later served on the USS STORMES (DD-780) during the invasion of Okinawa in 1945. Crenshaw was then given command of the USS THOMAS J. GARY (DE-326) and a five ship Escort Division on a round the world cruise.
After returning to the United States, he attended graduate classes in Ordnance Engineering earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He subsequently married Flavienne Gaubert whom he had met during his round the world cruise in 1945.
Crenshaw was then assigned as gunnery officer of the flagship in Europe and in command of USS COGSWELL (DD-651). After this he served in the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance. There he led the effort to build the first Terrier missiles and later the Talos missile, a long-range naval surface-to-air missile.
From 1955 to 1960, Crenshaw served mainly at NATO headquarters in Europe. In 1960, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, where he worked Surface Water projects in the Development Division. In 1963, he became commander of the USS SPRINGFIELD (CLG-7), which was then the flagship of the US Mediterranean fleet. In 1964, he was assigned to the Pentagon, where he worked on NATO programs.
Crenshaw retired from the Navy on 12 October 1967 and started the Crenshaw Company which worked on international technology transfer in naval systems. During his retirement, Crenshaw researched and wrote several works related to the navy, including “Naval Ship handling,” the “South Pacific Destroyer,” and “The Battle of Tassafaronga”. Crenshaw earned a number of medals and awards for his naval service, including 13 battle stars on his Pacific service ribbon. Notably, he also received a Presidential Unit Citation for leadership on the MAURY, a Silver Star. He also received two Legion of Merits.
Crenshaw inherited the “Secret History” from his father and donated it to the East Carolina Manuscript Collection. He died on 4 February 2017 at age 96.
The Fifth Naval District, based in Norfolk, Virginia, was part of the United States’ Eastern Sea Frontier that coordinated defense of the East Coast. It had first been recommended by the Army – Navy Staff Planning Committee (1923) to coordinate the activities of the District and the Eastern Sea Frontier as well as the Atlantic Fleet and Naval Local Defense Forces. The Fifth District was responsible for the Chesapeake Bay region, the states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, and the northern coastal areas of North Carolina. In addition to the Norfolk base, the Fifth District included section bases in Little Creek, Virginia, Morehead City and Ocracoke, North Carolina.
The Fifth Naval District was responsible for several tasks: •Provide for the security of harbors •Keep harbor channels and approaches thereto clear of mines •Patrol defensive sea areas and defensive coastal areas •Protect shipping in cooperation with units of the Naval Coastal Force
In 1941, Navy Basic War Plan, Rainbow revised the tasks of the Naval Coastal Frontier Forces: •Defend the Naval Coastal Frontier •Protect and route shipping •Support the U. S. Atlantic Fleet •Support Army and associated forces within the coastal frontier; and to prepare operating plans for the Navy Local Defense Force of the District.
To accomplish these tasks the Fifth Naval District had four task forces: •The inshore patrol •The offshore patrol •The escort force •A coastal force (In 1939 this force was transferred from the District Commandant to the Coastal Frontier Commander (Crenshaw).
The Secret History describes the activities of the Fifth Naval District in accomplishing each of these tasks during World War II.
World War II Historical Narrative of District Operations Office and Inshore Patrol, Fifth Naval District. Introduction (1945) (#860.1.b)
Register of Alumni. United States Naval Academy Alumni Association, Inc., 1845 – 1973. (87th edition © 1973), pp. 44, 230.
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