Warship Wednesday, May 2, 2018: The 1,000-ton consular insurance policy

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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, May 2, 2018: The 1,000-ton consular insurance policy

NHHC Catalog #: 19-N-12-19-12 (2000×1444)

Here we see the rather fetching schooner-rigged Patrol Gunboat No. 15, the Wheeling-class USS Marietta, at the New York Navy Yard, circa 1902. Note her white hull and extensive small boat arrangement that included a two-masted 28-foot gig whaleboat and two 26-foot steam cutters as well as miscellaneous smaller dinghies. Marietta was celebrated as an integral part of the new all-steel steam Navy at the turn of the new century.

Laid down at Union Iron Works, San Francisco, the two 1,000-ton unarmored steel-hulled gunboats of the Wheeling-class were ordered in 1895 and intended for use as station ships to show the flag in America’s interests overseas. Able to float in just 12-feet of seawater, they could visit small backwater ports and perform caretaker roles to far-flung consular posts across Latin America, the Pacific station and the Caribbean on their own, while their quartet of 4-inch guns gave a moment of respite against unrest. Capable of plugging along at 13-knots, they could revert to their auxiliary sail rig when coal was scarce.

The two sisters were built side by side and commissioned within three weeks of each other in the summer of 1897 and were beautifully appointed.

USS MARIETTA (PG-15) at the New York Navy Yard, circa 1902. Note Jack; figurehead; USS BROOKLYN (CA-3) in the background, left. #: 19-N-12-19-13

One of the ship’s sideboards, featuring the seal of the city of Marietta, Ohio. Catalog 19-N-12-19-9

At the New York Navy Yard, circa 1902. Note flag. Catalog #: 19-N-12-19-11

“Ships of the new Navy” Painting by F. Muller. White-hulled steel ships of the late nineteenth century which replaced the sailing ships of a bygone era and generally the types of ships which fought successfully in the Spanish-American War. Shown, left-right: USS MARIETTA (PG-15), gunboat built in 1897; USS PURITAN (BM-1), monitor built in 1896; USS ILLINOIS (BB-7), battleships built in 1898; USS IOWA (BB-4), battleship in 1896; USS STRINGHAM (TB-19), torpedo boat built in 1899. NH 76314-KN

USS Marietta (PG-15) photographed in 1897-98. Copied from the Journal of Naval Cadet C.R. Miller, 1898, page 67. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 46643

USS MARIETTA (PG-15) with her casemated battery swung out. The photograph was taken circa 1897. Catalog #: 19-N-12-19-10

Marietta was the third and (thus far) last warship to carry that name on the U.S. Navy List, following in the wake of a 28-oar 5-gun rowboat ordered by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 and a Civil War-era monitor that was accepted but never commissioned.

Marietta soon became part of the Spanish-American War.


Marietta departed San Francisco 19 March 1898 for Callao, Peru, to arrange for the coaling of Battleship Oregon (BB‑3) which was steaming to join the North Atlantic Squadron off Cuba. Moving on to Valparaiso, Chile, 31 March, the gunboat was joined by Oregon 6 April and together the two warships proceeded through the Straits of Magellan and up the east coast of South America, separating at Bahia, Brazil 11 May. Marietta arrived Key West, Fla., 4 June, then joined the blockade of Havana Harbor.

When the war ended, she remained on the East Coast and was used to help clear mines from Cuban waters until she was needed again.

In what became known as the Bluefields Expedition, she was dispatched to the Mosquito coast of Nicaragua at the outset of unrest there that had the local consulate worried as it involved several American and European adventurers who were soon to have their necks stretched by the Nicaraguans. She arrived on 24 Feb 1899 and landed a small force of about 50 sailors and Marines that remained ashore for about a week until things cooled down, co-opting with a similar force landed by the British.

Bluefields, Nicaragua, view taken in 1899, shows personnel from the joint Anglo-American landing force put ashore there to protect their nationals. Note the Colt M1895 “potato digger” light machine gun and the straight-pull Model 1895 Lee Navy 6mm rifles. The British were under the command of Captain Burr #4, the US force was under Commander Frederick M Symonds USN #2 commanding officer of USS MARIETTA (PG-15). NH 83794

By the end of 1899, it was decided her shallow draft and heavy armament (for a ship her size) could prove useful in fighting on the other side of the globe and Marietta arrived in Manila 3 January 1900. Operating in support of American forces ending the Philippine insurrection, the busy gunboat acted as a patrol and convoy escort vessel in the islands, assisting and cooperating with the Army in military expeditions and landings until ordered home 3 June 1901 for duties with the North Atlantic Squadron until moving into ordinary in 1903 for a refit.

The next year she operated off Central America, protecting American interests in Panama during that nation’s revolution against Colombia, which led to the Canal becoming a wholly American operation for the remainder of the Century. Marietta then spent nearly a decade around the Caribbean, “calling at numerous Latin American ports and protecting American lives and property from damage.”

Marietta, June 1908 Arriving at Curacao, Venezuela, by Bain News Service via Library of Congress photo LC-B2-457-14

Lot-3305-26 U.S. Navy gunboat USS Marietta (PG 15), starboard view. Photographed by K. Loeffler, 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

By 1912, pushing age 20 and outclassed by most things afloat, the hard-used gunboat which had circumnavigated the globe and mixed it up in two hemispheres was taken out of front-line service and turned over to the New Jersey Naval Militia for use as a training ship.

When the Great War erupted in Europe, she was returned to the Navy and served on Neutrality Patrol duties in the Atlantic before seeing the elephant once more in the 1916 Vera Cruz crisis in Mexican waters, again landing armed bluejackets for service ashore.

When the U.S. entered WWI for real in April 1917, Marietta was up-armed and assigned to the Atlantic Fleet patrol force for convoy duty, eventually crossing the big water to Brest, France where she served on anti-submarine patrol under the command of CPT Harry G. Hamlet, U.S. Coast Guard (a future Commandant of that service), with a mixed crew of Navy vets, Coasties, and new recruits.

USS Marietta (Patrol Gunboat #15), new fore top-mast and shrouds, at the Boston Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts, May 31, 1917. USS Constitution is to her right. She performed convoy duties during World War I in the Atlantic and off Europe.19-LC-14-2:

USS MARIETTA (PG-15), camouflaged and dressed with flags, while serving in European waters, 1918. Catalog #: NH 94977

USS MARIETTA (PG-15) photographed in 1918, probably in European waters. Courtesy of Paul H. Silverstone, 1983. NH 94976

She appeared to be a happy and popular little gunboat during this wartime period, with several snaps of her crew preserved to history.

Sailor imitates Charlie Chaplin on the forecastle, circa 1918-19. Description: Courtesy of Paul H. Silverstone, 1983 NH 95010

Crewmen in whites pose amidships with sea bags and her commissioning pennant, circa 1918-19. Description: Courtesy of Paul H. Silverstone, 1983 NH 94994

Crewmen in whites pose amidships with sea bags and her commissioning pennant, circa 1918-19. Description: Courtesy of Paul H. Silverstone, 1983 NH 94994

Crewmen in blues lounging on the forecastle, circa 1918-19. Note base of 4″/40 gun, at right. Description: Courtesy of Paul H. Silverstone, 1983 NH 94989

Three sailors pose by the forward 4″/40 deck gun circa 1919. Description: Courtesy of Paul H. Silverstone, 1983 NH 95013

Crewmen scrubbing hammocks or awnings, on the forecastle circa 1918-19, while in a European port. Note bell and gear of 4″/40 gun at left, anchor and 3-pounder gun at right, and mattress splinter protection around the bridge. Description: Courtesy of Paul H. Silverstone, 1983 NH 94991

A “tall and short” photo of a chief petty officer and sailor on board, circa 1918-19. The chief is equipped for shore patrol duties– note the baton. Description: Courtesy of Paul H. Silverstone, 1983 NH 94993

In 1919, on a convoy home out of the Bay of Biscay to Boston, the 150-foot converted menhaden trawler USS James (SP-429) began taking on water in heavy seas. Marietta, under her Coast Guard skipper, moved to rescue her two officers and 45 men in the maelstrom.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s office on Hamlet:

With high seas threatening to crash the two vessels together, he skillfully and courageously maneuvered his ship alongside James and was instrumental in saving all on board. In recognition of his gallant conduct, the Secretary of the Treasury awarded him the Congressional Gold Lifesaving Medal and he received a Special Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy entitling him to wear the Silver Star upon his service ribbon.

On the way back to the East Coast, Marietta was involved in a fender-bender with the nominally larger Wickes-class destroyer USS Stevens (DD-86) at Ponta Delgada, in the Azores, the latter supporting the NC seaplane transatlantic flight efforts.

Marietta, worn out and unrepaired, was decommissioned 12 July 1919 at New Orleans and sold the following Spring for her value in scrap. Rumor is she was repurposed as a banana boat, plying in Central American waters in the 1920s and 30s, but I can’t confirm that from Lloyds.

As for her sister, Wheeling was used as a training ship after the Great War for a while and eventually as a berthing barge for motor torpedo boat crews during WWII. She was sold for scrap 5 October 1946. The Navy certainly got their dollars’ worth out of them.

In the National Archives, the Trial Board records of both Marietta and Wheeling are on file as is their logbooks and the court documents from the Stevens incident.


Picture postcard from the Hugh C. Leighton Co. of Portland, ME, courtesy of Tommy Trapp via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/09015.htm

Displacement 1,000 t., 1914 – 990 t.
Length 189 ‘ 7″
Beam 34′
Draft 12’
Propulsion: Two Babcock and Wilcox boilers, two 518ihp vertical triple expansion steam engines, two shafts.
Speed 13 knots.
Complement 140 as built, 1914 – 163
(As built)
6×4″ gun mounts
1×3″ gun mount
Colt .30-caliber “potato digger” machine gun
6×4″ rapid fire mounts
2×1-pounder rapid fire mounts
Colt machine gun
6×4″/40 rapid fire mounts
4×6-pounder rapid fire mounts
2×1-pounder rapid fire mounts

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/membership.htm

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.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

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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