Warship Wednesday Oct. 14, 2015: The great return of the hurricane Apache
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015: The great return of the hurricane Apache
Here we see the U.S. Revenue Marine Cutter Apache decked out with signal flags sometime after 1906 and before 1910.
In her 59 years of service to the nation, she saw three wars, served in three (five if you really want to argue the point) different branches of the military, and helped deliver one of the most remembered victory speeches in U.S. history.
Ordered from Reeder and Sons, Baltimore, Maryland in 1890, the new 190-foot iron-hulled revenue cutter was commissioned into the U.S. Revenue Marine on 22 August 1891. She was built for coastal operations, capable of floating in 10 feet of seawater, but with a 6:1 length to beam ratio and hardy steam plant with twin screws was able to operate in blue waters far out to sea if required.
She cost $95,650.
The new cutter had provision for an auxiliary sailing rig, although not equipped as such. Armed with a trio of small (57 mm, 6-pounder) deck guns and demolition charges, she could sink floating derelicts at sea which were a hazard to navigation, as well as hole smugglers who declined the offer to heave to and be inspected.
Named the Galveston in service, she shipped to that port for her home base in October 1891.
There, for the next 15 years, she was the Revenue Marine’s (and after 1894 the renamed Revenue Cutter Service’s) presence along most of the Texas coast. She participated in Mardi Gras celebrations, transported local students “for educational purposes to study Galveston Harbor,” patrolled regattas, enforced oyster seasons, and performed other USRM/USRCS functions as needed.
When the Spanish American War broke out in 1898, instead of chopping to the Navy like most of the large cutters, Galveston was ordered to New Orleans where she took on field pieces from the local militia and stood to in the Mississippi River delta to assist in repelling a potential Spanish naval thrust to the Crescent City.
After the war, she went back to Galveston where she encountered the super-hurricane of 1900 that left some 8,000 dead.
Aboard the USRC Galveston during the storm was assistant engineer Charles S. Root, later founder of the USCG’s Intelligence Service, who volunteered to lead a rescue party in the destroyed coastal town. A call for volunteers went out to the ship’s crew and eight enlisted men stepped forward to accompany Root, but first had to round up the swamped and damaged cutter’s whaleboat.
Within half-an-hour of volunteering, Root and his men deployed, performing a mission more common to Lifesaving Service surf men than to cuttermen. The small group overhauled their whaleboat, dragged it over nearby railroad tracks and launched it into the overflowing streets. The winds blew oars into the air, so the men warped the boat through the city using a rope system. One of the rescuers would swim up the streets with a line, tie it to a fixed object and the boat crew would haul-in the line. Using this primitive process, Galveston’s boat crew rescued numerous victims out of the roiling waters of Galveston’s streets.
At around 6:15 p.m., the Galveston Weather Bureau anemometer registered over 100 mph, before a gust tore the wind gauge off the building. Later, Weather Bureau officials estimated that at around 7:00 p.m., the sustained wind speed had increased to 120 mph. By this time, assistant engineer Root and his rescue party returned to the Galveston having filled their whaleboat with over a dozen storm survivors. By this time, even the cutter’s survival seemed doubtful, with demolishing winds stripping away rigging and prying loose the ship’s launch. Meanwhile, wind-driven projectiles shattered the cutter’s windows and skylights in the pilothouse, deckhouse, and engine room covers.
Not long after Root returned to the cutter, Weather Bureau officials recorded an instantaneous flood surge of 4 feet. Experts estimate that the sustained wind speed peaked at 150 mph and gusts up to 200. The howling wind sent grown men sailing through the air and pushed horses to the ground. The barometric pressure dropped lower than 28.50 inches, a record low up to that date. By then, the storm surge topped 15 feet above sea level. The high water elevated the Galveston so high that she floated over her own dock pilings. Fortunately, the piling tops only bent the cutter’s hull plates but failed to puncture them.
Within an hour of returning to the cutter, at the height of the storm, Root chose to lead a second rescue party into the flooded streets. Darkness had engulfed the city and he called again for volunteers. The same men from the first crew volunteered the second time. The wind still made the use of oars impossible, so the crew warped the boat from pillar to post. As the men waded and swam through the city streets, buildings toppled around them and howling winds filled the air with sharp slate roof tiles. But the boat crew managed to rescue another 21 people. Root’s men housed these victims in a structurally sound two-story building and found food for them in an abandoned store. The cuttermen then moored the boat in the lee of a building and took shelter from flying debris and deadly missiles propelled by the wind.
The hurricane remains the worst weather-related disaster in U.S. history in terms of loss of life. Root and his volunteer crew were (posthumously and only in recent years) awarded Gold and Silver Lifesaving Medals respectively for their actions in September 1900.
After the storm, Galveston was repaired and made ship-shape again before receiving a major refit in 1904, which included replacement of her entire engineering suite. Later her bowsprit was modified as after that time it was considered the 1891-designed provision for sail power was obsolete.
In 1906 she was renamed USRC Apache and reassigned to the Chesapeake region, based in Baltimore, the city of her birth.
Apache gave yeoman service enforcing customs and quarantine laws and saving lives. During the great blizzard of January 1914, she was credited with helping save 15 threatened fishing vessels trapped in ice and snow on the Chesapeake.
She participated in fleet drills with the Navy, transported D.C. politicians and dignitaries up and down the Bay, and generally made herself useful.
During World War I, she kept regular neutrality patrols with a weather eye peeled for U-boats and German surface raiders, becoming part of the new USCG in 1915.
When the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, she was transferred to the Navy along with the rest of the service. Painted haze gray, her armament and crew were greatly expanded in her service to the 5th Naval District.
In 28 months of Navy service, USS Apache continued her coastal patrol and search and rescue activities all along Hampton Roads, the approaches to the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay in general.
Returned to the USCG in August 1919, she regained her standard white and buff scheme, landed most of her armament– keeping just a sole 3″/23 caliber deck gun– and went back to working regular shifts for another two decades.
Finally, at the end of 1937, with 46 years of hard service to include two wars and a superstorm under her belt, USCGC Apache was decommissioned, replaced by a much newer and better-equipped 327-foot Treasury-class cutter.
However, Uncle still owned her and, while other lumbering old retired cutters were brought back for coastal patrol duties in World War II, Apache languished unused and unwanted at her moorings.
Then in 1944, the U.S. Army took over the old ex-Apache and utilized her as a radio transmission ship.
Sailing to Australia, she was painted dark green, refitted with generators, receivers, cables, antennas, and two 10kW shortwave transmitters to serve as a MacArthur conceived press ship to follow along on the invasions to Japan. She was manned by a crew of a dozen Army mariners, staffed by some 25 Signal Corps radiomen, and carried several civilian war correspondents, thus keeping them away from the Navy’s flagships.
This floating Army broadcasting station sailed north from Sydney in September 1944, arriving at General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters at Hollandia, New Guinea on October 10. Two days later, U.S. Army Vessel Apache joined a flotilla of American war vessels for the return invasion of the Philippines.
For the next 18 months, little Apache relayed American Armed Forces Radio Service and the Voice of America via shortwave all over the Philippines, off the coast of Korea, and then further south off the coast of China.
She was the first to broadcast MacArthur’s “I have returned” speech in October 1944 to the island chain.
Following the fleet to Tokyo Bay, she stood near USS Missouri for the surrender and continued her radio programming operations until 20 April 1946 when she was replaced in service by the Army vessel Spindle Eye, a converted freighter with much more powerful transmitters.
Decommissioned, Apache was sold for scrap in 1950.
I cannot find any surviving artifacts from her.
Displacement: 416 tons (700 full load, naval service)
Propulsion: Compound-expansion steam engine; twin screw with 1 propeller to each cylinder; 15.75”and 27” diam by 24” stroke, replaced with triple-expansion steam engine, 17”, 27”, 43” diam by 24” stroke with a single propeller in 1904.
Maximum speed: 12.0 knots
Complement: 32 officers and men as commissioned; 58 WWI USN service; 37 U.S. Army in WWII.
Armament: 3×6 pdrs as commissioned for derelict destruction as completed
(1918) Three 3″/23 single mounts and two Colt machine guns, one Y-gun depth charge launcher, stern-mounted depth charge racks
(1944) As Army vessel carried small arms which may have included light machine guns.
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