Edward H. Watson
Early life and marriage
Watson was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, a son of U.S. Navy Commander John Crittendon Watson. He married Hermine Cary Gratz, whose half sister, Helen Gratz, married Godfrey Rockefeller of Greenwich, Connecticut.
Academy and early career
Watson graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1895 and served on several ships during the rest of the decade, including Spanish-American War service on board the cruiser USS Detroit. He commanded the storeship USS Celtic in 1912-13, then attended the Naval War College. Watson also saw duty as Executive Officer of the battleship USS Utah and as Commanding Officer of the gunboat USS Wheeling.
World War I
During World War I, Watson was in command of the battleship USS Alabama, receiving the Navy Cross. In March 1919, he became U.S. Naval Attaché in Japan, remaining in that post until May 1922. In July of that year, he took command of Destroyer Squadron 11, based on the West Coast.
Honda Point disaster
On September 8, 1923, dead reckoning navigation errors on Watson's flagship led seven of his squadron's destroyers to ground on the rocky coast at Honda Point, California, a loss that came to be known as the Honda Point Disaster. Watson was court martialed for his role.
Not all observers agreed with the Navy's decision to punish Watson. The editors of the Army and Navy Journal wrote, "Captain Watson has given a splendid example of the finest attributes of character overcoming the elemental instinct of self-preservation. Voluntarily waiving the fundamental right of a defendant to place the burden of proof upon the prosecution, and to refrain from testifying under oath to any facts that might tend to incriminate himself, he took the witness stand and not only freely testified to facts relating to his own culpability but also volunteered his opinion under oath that he was wholly responsible for the disaster, and that none of his subordinates should be blamed."
In 1960, the authors of Tragedy at Honda argued that Watson displayed of outstanding honor and leadership for taking responsibility when the causes of the tragedy lay in new technology, fog and a series of small errors resulting in the fleet not being where its navigators believed it should be.
Post-Honda Point career and retirement
After the Honda Point disaster, Watson served as Assistant Commandant of the Fourteenth Naval District, in Hawaii until he left active duty in November 1929.
He retired to New York City, where he was in the New York Social Register. He and his family spent their summers on Walcott Avenue in Jamestown, Rhode Island, where he was a member of the Connanicut Yacht Club.
- Department of the Navy -- Naval Historical Center This work is in the public domain.