Fifteen women Navy officers will break a 202-year-old tradition next week by reporting for sea duty aboard five ships.
Navy officials said yesterday the 15 women are but the first wave. They will be followed by hundreds of other women officers and enlisted persons as the Navy turns to them to ease its manpower crunch.
Besides the direct help in operating the fleet, said Mitzi M. Wertheim, deputy under secretary of the Navy, the sight of women running ships will help torpedo the televised image that women should stay home to work on "ring around the collar."
Capt. Paul D. Butcher, the Navy planning officer who has been preparing the fleet fo rthis new plunge, said yesterday he has "no fear whatsoever no misgivings" about ordering women to sea.
The women going to sea, he said, will have the opportunity to qualify for every job except the strenous and highly skilled specialities of machinist's mate and boiler tender.
The ships the women will serve on at first - three of them based in Norfolk, Va. - will be support vessels for repairing and supplying other ships of the fleet. But, under liberalized rules, women canserve on aircraft carriers and other warships for as long as 180 days.
Wertheim said she believes women could perform in combat just as well as men but doubted whether "our society is yet ready" for this.
Butcher said the Navy is drawing up rules of conduct for Navy men and women serving aboard ship. He said the rules probably would be general guidance rather than any specific list of dos and don'ts.
The Navy, Butcher said, he has no rules now against male offices fraternizing with enlisted women and does not intend to issue any. He sai d the officers and enlisted persons on the ships when wome will serve have been briefed on appropriate behavior, however.
Pregnancy, Navy officials said yesterday, is a private matter and no penalities for women who do become pregnant aboard ship or elsewhere are contemplated.
To provide separate sleeping and bathroom facilities for women, Butcher said, the Navy will spend $10.3 million on the 55 ships that eventually will accomodate women. He called this a modest investment, considering the return.
Back in December 1976, Butcher said, Vice Adm. J. D. Watkins, Navy personnel chief, pointed out that the national population of young males was going to drop as much as 20 percent in the 1980s, leaving the armed services short of potential recruits.
To help fill the gap, Watkins ordered Butcher to make plans to take women aboard ship. Legislation which passed this year, as well as a recent court decision, removed the legal obstacles to assigning women to sea duty.
Before this fiscal year is out, the Navy plans to assign 55 women officers and 375 enlisted women to 21 ships with Atlantic and Pcific fleets. If all goes well, Butcher said, the Navy will have 210 women officers and 5,120 enlisted women aboard 55 ships by 1984.
The Navy's goal is to have women comprise 25 percent of the crews on the 55 ships. Butcher said this promises to shorten the time Navy men have to be away from home on ships.
Currently, there are 443,030 enlisted men and 20,187 enlisted women in the Navy, or 4.3 percent women. The Navy intends to double the percerntate of enlisted women by 1983.
In the Navy officer corps, there are 58,465 men and 3,980 women, or 6.4 percent women. The Navy hopes to have 5,000 women officers on duty by 1983, representing 7.8 percent of the officer corps.
Of this first wave of 55 women officers and 375 enlisted women to go to sea. Butcher said about 80 percent volunteered and the rest were ordered to go.
The first five ships to get women officers next week are the Vulcan repair ship, the L. Y. Spear submarine tender, and the Puget Sound destroyer tender, all based at Norfolk; the Norton Sound missile test ship at Port Hueneme, Calif., and the Dixon submarine tender at San Diego.