Warship Wednesday Oct. 28, 2015: The Rime of the Ancient marine research ship

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. 28, 2015: The Rime of the Ancient marine research ship

Image via Navsource

Image via Navsource

Here we see the 30-year old United States Fish Commission Steamer (and past/future warship) USS Albatross in the Mare Island Channel on 14 February 1914.

That’s not a misprint, the USFC was founded back in 1871 as the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries and transitioned through a number of names until 1940 when it became part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and when NOAA was established on 3 October 1970, took over the Bureau’s assets and lives on today as part of that agency– leading the one of the primary reasons that NOAA has a commissioned officer corps (trained at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy).

The hearty little 234-foot steel hulled steamer with a brigantine auxiliary sail rig, USS Albatross was laid down at Pusey and Jones, Wilmington, Delaware in March of 1882 and by November of that year was commissioned into service, a Navy-manned (by a 70 man crew) and commissioned ship loaned to the USFC.

USS Albatross. View was possibly taken onboard USS Albatross when she traveled in the Pacific Northwest to study Alaska.

USS Albatross. View was possibly taken onboard USS Albatross when she traveled in the Pacific Northwest to study Alaska.

Upper laboratory on the U.S.S. Albatross, 1900

Upper laboratory on the U.S.S. Albatross, 1900

Albatross was designed from the outset as a research vessel, and in fact was the first of its kind, though she had weight and space reserved for armament and could be used as an auxiliary cruiser if needed (more on this later). As such,she was the first research vessel ever built especially for marine research.

Taking soundings

Taking soundings


Dredging for soil and sea life. She did this tens of thousands of times all over the world. Its not glamorous, but her body of research is still being digested nearly 100 years later.

Her crew working a sounder as USFC gentlemen observe

Her crew working a sounder as USFC gentlemen observe

Albatross was very futuristic for 1882, being equipped with full service on-board laboratories, storage space for specimens, and sophisticated dredging equipment. The first U.S. government vessel to be wired for electric interior lighting, she could process specimens and conduct research around the clock.

1901. Note her partial sail rig in use.

1901. Note her partial sail rig in use.

She was also equipped with provision to drop “dynamite stations” to perform the first underwater acoustic experiments.

Dredging 1901

Dredging 1901

She spent all but three of her 39 years of service to the government in the employ of the USFC and journeyed from the Bahamas to the Philippines and everywhere in between.

albatross galapagosAs noted by the Smithsonian Institution, who have most of her collected specimens, Albatross‘s work was groundbreaking:

The Albatross occupies an important place in history, as her life spanned a period of growth in the marine sciences. Some well-known naturalists served on the Albatross and many young men trained on the research ship became eminent scientists. Over the course of her career, the Albatross collected more marine specimens than any other ship. Most of the material collected was deposited at the Smithsonian Institution, but some can also be found at other museums. These specimens have formed the basis of many scientific papers and are still being studied today.

War Service

As a naval vessel, Albatross had to close up her labs, pull in her sounding machines and dredges, and get to the business of high seas combat twice during her service.


As she appeared early in her career. The house shown in the 1914 image at the top was installed in 1898– for her first war service

From 21 April- 8 September 1898 Albatross was reclassified as an auxiliary cruiser during the Spanish-American War, landing her USFC personnel, and taking on extra bluejackets to man two 20-pounders, two 37mm guns, one 53mm gun, and two Gatling guns. Her coal bunkers expanded, she served in the quiet Pacific and never fired a shot, and her guns were traded back in for fish doctors.

Then during WWI Albatross chopped back to the Navy’s operational control on 19 November 1917, taking on four 6-pounders and one Colt automatic gun and served first with the 12th Naval District, then transferred to the East Coast. Stationed at Key West on coastal patrol against German U-boats and surface raiders, she participated in the epic but fruitless search for the lost collier USS Cyclops in 1918. Her active service with the fleet ended with transfer back to Fisheries control on 23 June 1919.

Albatross in poor state, 1920

Albatross in poor state, 1920

Following her Great War service, she clocked back in for a couple years but by 1921 was decommissioned and sold soon after. Acquired by a Boston concern, she lived on very briefly as a school ship but by 1928 was high and dry in Hamburg Germany, “under attachment for indebtedness.”

Her final fate is unknown, however being a worthless ship in Wiemar Germany; she was likely broken up on the cheap.

Albatross by Eugene Voishvillo

Remembered in this portrait, “Albatross” by maritime artist Eugene Voishvillo

The government kept the name alive as a research vessel, literally tacking on suffixes to the original as a sign of respect.

RV Albatross II, formerly the USS Patuxent (Fleet Tug No. 11) carried the name from 1926 to 1932.

RV Albatross III saw service with the United States National Fish and Wildlife Service from 1948 to 1959 (and with the Coast Guard in WWII).

NOAAS Albatross IV (R 342) was commissioned for USFWS in 1963 and served with NOAA until 2008. She now is inactive in NOAA ‘s Atlantic Fleet.

NOAAS Albatross IV

NOAAS Albatross IV

Displacement: 638 long tons (648 t)
Length: 234 ft. (71 m)
Beam: 27 ft. 6 in (8.38 m)
Draft: 16 ft. 9 in (5.11 m)
Propulsion: Steam engine
Speed: 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 70 USN, up to 25 scientists and research civilians. 110 USN in wartime.
2 × 20-pounder guns
2 × 37 mm guns
1 × 53 mm (2 in) gun
2 × Gatling guns
4× 6-pounder guns
1 × Colt machine gun

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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