Admiral W. L. Capps

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Washington Lee Capps—born on 31 January 1864 at Portsmouth, Va.—was appointed to the Naval Academy in 1880. Upon graduation, he served in the screw frigate Tennessee for the two years sea duty then customary prior to commissioning. After becoming an ensign in 1886, Capps studied naval architecture at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. After returning to the United States in 1888 and brief duty at the Navy Department, he was assigned to Cramp's shipyard in Philadelphia. Capps moved to the New York Navy Yard in 1889 and remained there joining the Bureau of Construction and Repair in 1892. Three years later he became the superintending constructor at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco. There, he supervised the construction of Oregon (Battleship No. 3), Wisconsin (Battleship No. 9), Farragut (Torpedo Boat No. 11), Marietta (Gunboat No. 15), and Wheeling (Gunboat No. 14). Later attached to the staff of Rear Admiral Dewey, commander of the Asiatic Squadron, he was present during the Battle of Manila Bay. After the capture of Manila, he had three of the Spanish warships salvaged and repaired.


Next Capps spent two years with the Board of Inspection Survey, followed by a tour of duty as the Head, Construction and Repair Department at the New York Navy Yard. In 1903, he became the Constructor of the Navy and Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair with the rank of rear admiral. During his tenure as Constructor of the Navy, numerous new ideas in warship design were tested and adopted. Notable among his innovations was the decision to mount the main batteries of battleships on the centerline, thereby increasing their broadside weight of metal to the maximum. During his tenure, Rear Admiral Capps served on a number of American and international committees which had been established for such purposes—among others—as improving the organization of the Navy and adopting new safety measures at sea to prevent a recurrence of disasters such as the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912. During World War I, he was senior member of the Navy's Compensation Board which oversaw the cost aspect of the Navy's expanded ship acquisition program. He was also general manager of the United States Shipping Board's Emergency Fleet Corp. Forced by poor health to relinquish these duties for a time, Capps returned to his position on the Compensation Board, became the senior member of the Naval War Claims Board, and served on other boards and committees. Although placed on the retired list effective 31 January 1928, Rear Admiral Capps continued on active duty until the day of his death at Washington, D.C., on 31 May 1935.