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Warship Wednesday, July 26, 2017: Doctor Jekyll and HM’s gunboat

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, July 26, 2017: Doctor Jekyll and HM’s gunboat

Photograph (Q 41101) H. M. S. Royalist. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Here we see the Royal Navy Satellite-class barque-rigged, composite-hulled protected sloop (later deemed a corvette) HMS Royalist as she appeared in the late 1880s.

Designed by the noted Sir Nathaniel Barnaby, KCB, the seven ships of the Satellite-class were an amalgam of old sailing era fighting ships and new iron steam vessel. They had an iron keel and frame with wood planking. A steam plant was primary propulsion (up to 13 knots) and they carried enough coal to travel an impressive 6,000nm, but a sail rig was fitted and often used.

Gone were old muzzle-loading cast iron rifles, replaced by new breech-loading 6-inch/100-pounder (81cwt) guns which could fire an 80-pound shell some 7,590 yards and Gardner machine guns (though each of the class carried a different armament pattern and varying engineering suites, making them more half-sisters than anything.). At 200-feet overall, these impressive vessels carried a smattering of armor plate (about an inch) over their sensitive machinery areas, but remained svelte enough to float in less than three fathoms.

Built at Sheerness and Devonport, these ships were soon dispatched to far-flung colonial posts on the Australian Station, the Pacific Station, West Indies and China.

The subject of our tale, the 7th HMS Royalist, commissioned 14 April 1886 then spent some time on station at the Cape of Good Hope and Australia.

Sydney, NSW, c. 1890. Portside view of screw corvette HMS Royalist. Note 6-inch guns in ports on her waist. (AWM 302264)

Royalist was subsequently sent for a spell to the Gilbert islands, claiming them for the Crown and inspecting the same.

Annexation of the Gilbert Islands, Hoisting the British Flag at Apamama by HMS Royalist, 27 May 1892, from the Sept. 10 1892 Illustrated London News

Later, Royalist was sent to Samoa, then a hot topic in the halls of Europe and America.

The “Samoan Question” burned brightly from about 1886 onward, with Germany, the U.S. and Britain all nosing around the islands, and picking sides. This resulted in an eight-year civil war in the archipelago with guns and munitions supplied to Samoan leaders by the powers, all to ultimately claim the land for their growing colonial empires, a struggle that is beyond this blog.

By early March 1899, this low-level tribal conflict had boiled over, with exiled chief Mata’afa Iosefo backed by the Germans and incoming regent Malietoa Tanumafili I backed by the Anglo-Americans, and combat at the offering.

H.M.S. ROYALIST; USS PHILADELPHIA (C-4); H.M.S. TORCH; H.M.S. TAURANGA; German cruiser FALKE; and H.M.S. PORPOISE, at Apia, Samoa, April 1899. Catalog #: NH 4

With the balloon going up, the Royalist joined the Alert-class sloop HMS Torch, Archer-class torpedo cruiser HMS Porpoise, and the U.S. Pacific Squadron flag, USS Philadelphia (Cruiser No. 4), in supporting Tanumafili.

British sailors and Royal Marines, joined with U.S. leathernecks and bluejackets to form a force consisting of 26 marines and 88 sailors, reinforced by a company of 136 Samoans loyal to Tanumafili, and set out from Apia toward a plantation at Vailele. The group was led by Lt. Angel H. Freeman, RN, with Lt. Philip V. Lansdale, USN as XO, and carried a Colt-Browning M1895 from Philadelphia just in case.

NH 121036 Angel Hope Freeman, RN

Another 146 mixed RN/USN landing force, augmented by a single 7-pounder from Royalist and assorted U.S. Marines manning Gatling guns for fire support, surrounded the Tivoli Hotel which was used as a command post and shelter for non-combatants. From there they held off a determined assault from Iosefo loyalists over three days (March 15-17), losing four British and American sailors and marines.

Seven Pounder commanding the Tivoli Road – Gunner Gunn of H.M.S. Royalist in charge, Auckland Weekly News (07 April 1899), via Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-18990407-5-1.

An American Gatling gun and crew and part of the defenses of the British Consulate, Apia, Samoa, 1899. Courtesy of Captain T.T. Craven, USN. Catalog #: NH 1448

Meanwhile, as Royalist with her big 6-inchers and shallow draft, closed in and shelled two fortified outposts filled with Iosefo supporters– with fire corrected by a pair of Samoan fans in the hands of a signalman on the reef near Fagalii.

However, once the column moved inland to attack Vailele, they were swarmed by 800 of Iosefo’s troops on 1 April while arrayed along the road. Setting up a perimeter supported by the Colt, Freeman was killed and an injured Lansdale took command of the force, only to succumb to his wounds. Also killed in the action were U.S. Navy Seaman Norman E. Edsall, U.S. Ensign John Robert Monaghan (USNA 1879), U.S. Seaman James Butler, RN Leading Seaman Albert Meirs Prout and RN Leading Seaman John Long. Eventually the naval party was able to break contact, covered by Royalist‘s guns, which were once again directed by the fans.

Two Marines, Sgt. Michael J. McNally, and Pvt. Henry L. Hulbert, received the Medal of Honor for their heroism during the battle. Iosefo is believed to have suffered 100 casualties.

By 25 April, the conflict had settled down with each side agreeing to disagree. The next day, the auxiliary cruiser USS Badger arrived in Apia harbor carrying the Joint High Commission–representatives from Germany, Britain and the U.S. State Department– to begin negotiations on how to carve up the islands more peacefully. By 13 May they had the affair sorted out and a treaty was sent home to be signed by the end of the year.

In the end, Germany acquired the western islands (Savai’i and ‘Upolu, plus seven smaller islands) with Iosefo declared chief by the German Samoa colonial powers; while the U.S. acquired the eastern islands (Tutuila and the Manu’a group) and established a base at Pago Pago. The Brits quit the chain altogether in exchange for territorial concessions from the Germans in Tonga and the Solomans.

New Zealand was allowed by Britain to annex the Cook Islands and Niue as something of a consolation prize, though the Kiwis had mustered local troops for war in Samoa, that in the end, were not needed. Nonetheless, they stormed German Samoa in 1914 during the Great War and remained in administration of the islands as the Western Samoa Trust Territory until 1962.

Preceding joint monuments for the Great War, WWII, and Korea, the USN and RN established a marker in Samoa to commemorate their combined war dead from 1899.

Tablet on Monument in Samoa. Caption: “Erected by Americans and British in memory of the Brave American and British Sailors who fought and fell together at the Samoan Islands in March and April 1899.” Angel Hope Freeman, Philip Vanhorne Lansdale, John R. Monaghan, James Butler, Norman Eckley Edsall, Albert Meirs Prout, John Long, Edmund Halloran, Montague Rogers, Thomas Holloway, Andrew Henry J. Thornberry, John Edward Mudge. All Officers and men of the American Navy were attached to the U.S.F.S. PHILADELPHIA and those of the British Navy to H.M.S. ROYALIST. Description: Collection of Captain T.T. Craven, USN. Catalog #: NH 2177

Beyond the marker, the U.S. Navy preserved relics from the colonial battle including shrapnel and a fuse from the British ship and the famous fans used as signal flags to correct her fire. Below are the images and it is likely the takeaways are still in a box somewhere in a Navy warehouse.

On left, a piece of shrapnel thrown by HMS ROYALIST after the battle of 1 April 1899, Apia, Samoa. On right, fuse of 6″ shell fired from the British ship ROYALIST after striking a coconut tree and exploding on 1 April 1899, Apia, Samoa. Catalog #: NH 1666

Samoan fans taken from a chief’s hut in the village of Mataafa. This chief led the revolution against the British-American authority in the Samoan Islands 6 March to 22 May 1899. The fans were used to signal the British ship ROYALIST to fire over the defeated Anglo-American columns on the reef near Fagalii, Upolu, Samoa, on 1 April 1899. From the ROYALIST held the hostilities back until the survivors of the ambush were rescued Catalog #: USN 901315

A storyteller who lived in Samoa since 1890 who was on hand for the struggle was a Scot, one Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson. While his Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are much more commonly read, he did craft A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa, his own nonfiction take on the conflict there, in which he mentions Royalist several times.

Photograph of Robert Louis Stevenson (seated) and family, Vailima, on the island of Upolu in Samoa. Via Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

While it may seem we are finished with our story here, Royalist remained afloat for another half-century past her Samoan encounter.

Leaving the islands once they were partitioned, she sailed for Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland to be converted to a depot and receiving station for ship crews in Haulbowline.

Photograph (Q 40999) H. M. S. Royalist. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

In 1913, on the eve of the Great War, she was renamed HMS Colleen. While she was still afloat, one of HMs submarines and two cruisers went on to carry the name HMS Royalist.

When the lights went out in Europe, the old corvette-turned-hulk wore the flag of CiC Coast of Ireland and later CiC Western Approaches, and was a welcome sight at Queenstown for ships crossing the Atlantic during the war. It was during the conflict that she served as the mother ship to a series of shifting flotillas of motor launches and armed trawlers of the Auxiliary Patrol, which deployed around the British Isles performing search and rescue and anti-submarine patrolling.

Incoming ships to Queensland with sick or injured crew members, or shipmates being transferred or processing out, would assign their transients to Royalist/Colleen, which means there are dozens of wartime graves around the British Isles with headstones marked HMS Colleen.

Noted Irish polar explorer Tom Crean, member of three major expeditions to Antarctica including Captain Scott’s ill-fated 1911–13 Terra Nova Expedition, served his last few months in the Royal Navy aboard Colleen until he was retired on medical grounds on 24 March 1920.

With Ireland moving out of the British Empire, the aging Colleen was paid off 15 March 1922, just three months before the Irish Free State was proclaimed.

Still a dominion of the British Empire until 1931, HMS Colleen was transferred to the new Irish government 19 February 1923 to support the recently formed Irish Coastal and Marine Service, joining the commandeered 155-foot armed yacht Helga (rechristened Muirchu, or “Seahound”). However, the CMS was soon disbanded, and Colleen was never used as more than a hulk and oil storage barge, though she was retained until at least 1950, some four years after the founding of the current Irish Naval Service (An tSeirbhís Chabhlaigh) was founded.

Her final fate is unknown, though she is thought to have been broken up. What is known, however, is that she outlived all six of her sister ships.

Paid off or hulked in the early 1900s, Heroine, Hyachinth and Pylades went to the breakers by 1906. Satellite and Caroline managed as training vessels until 1947 and 1929, respectively, though one of the latter’s guns endures on display in Hong Kong. Runner up for the longest life of the class was Rapid, who endured as an accommodation ship and coal bunker until she was disposed of at Gibraltar in 1948.

However, there is always Robert Louis Stevenson, the marker on Samoa, the relics somewhere in the NHHC archives and the heroics of Tom Crean, proving Royalist will remain, as a footnote at least, forever.


Displacement: 1,420 tons
Length: 200 ft. (61 m)
Beam: 38 ft. (12 m)
Draught: 15.7 ft. (4.8 m)
Cylindrical boilers,
Maudslay, Sons and Field horizontal compound expansion steam engine, 1510hp
Single screw
Maximum speed: 13 knots
Endurance: 6,000 nm at 10 kts on 400 tons coal
Sail plan: Barque-rigged
Range: Approximately 6,000 nmi (11,000 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h)
Complement: 170-200
(As designed)
Two 6″/26 (15.2 cm) BL Mark II guns
Ten BL 5-inch (127.0 mm) 50-pounder (38cwt) guns
One light gun
Four machine guns
(As completed)
Eight 6″/26 (15.2 cm) BL Mark II guns
1 7-pdr landing gun
4x .45 cal Gardner machine guns
Armor: Internal steel deck, 19-25mmm thick, over machinery and magazines

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A Lil Jeep and a lot of swagger

Capt. Forrest F “Pappy” Parham in front of the famous shark teeth of Little Jeep, a P-40 Warhawk when a member of “Chennault’s Sharks” the 23rd Fighter Group in the China-Burma-India theater of WWII. He went on to make ace with the 75th Fighter Squadron flying P-51s.

The Saskatchewan-born Parham was reared in Minnesota and began his career as an Army enlisted man but retired a full bird colonel in the U.S. Air Force having served through the Korean War. He retired after 28 years, carried the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Unit Citation, Soldiers Medal and two Bronze Service Stars.

He died in Louisiana in 2002 at age 85. As you can tell, he enjoyed a good pipe and an ivory-handled 1911.

The mosquito boats at Midway

While the huge carrier task forces get all the attention at Midway, there was also an unsung fleet of plywood boats who took part in the battle as well.

As part of the local defenses at Midway were 11 early model PT boats (Elco 77′ PT’s 20-31) of the 1st Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron. Dispatched to Midway from Pearl Harbor in May, the nearly 1,400nm trip is often regarded as the longest open-water PT boat sortie of the war (though they did rendezvous with seaplane tenders for gas twice on the trip).

On June 4, as some 60 Japanese Navy planes attacked Sand Island (part of Midway) the PT boats were ready to meet them. MTB RON 1 had already had a bit of experience shooting at Japanese planes– at Pearl Harbor six months prior.

PT Boats and Zeros Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Griffith Baily Coale; 1942; Unframed Dimensions 10H X 20W Accession #: 88-188-AF On the brightly colored waters of the lagoon, the PT’s are skimming about, darting here dodging there, maneuvering between the rows of machine gun splashes, incessantly firing their twin pairs 50 caliber guns.

According to

As the dive bombers pulled out over the lagoon, the PT’s opened with all their guns. PT’s 21 and 22 concentrated their fire on a low-flying Zero, which crashed in the trees on Sand Island. Another Zero came out of a steep dive to strafe PT 25. The 25 took 30 small-caliber hits above the waterline; 1 officer and 2 men were slightly wounded by shrapnel. Several times planes started to dive on other boats, but swerved off as soon as the PT’s opened fire.

After the raid they picked up five USMC Marine pilots and two enlisted who had bailed out and returned them to shore.

They also made the epitaph to the great naval battle out to sea on the 5th .

At 1930 all 11 PT’s got underway to search for damaged Japanese carriers reported 170 miles to the northwest. The weather was squally, with poor visibility. These conditions, excellent for PT attack, also made it difficult to find targets. Unable to find anything by dawn, the PT’s turned back to Midway. On the way, PT’s 20 and 21 sighted a column of smoke 50 miles to the west. They sped toward it at 40 knots, but when they arrived all they could see was a large expanse of fuel oil and floating wreckage, apparently Japanese. Probably no Japanese carriers were left afloat.

On the 6th, they put to sea with flag draped coffins of Marines and Japanese killed in the raid two days prior.

Sinking Sun Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Griffith Baily Coale; 1942; Framed Dimensions 54H X 63W Accession #: 88-188-AB Marine stands at parade rest on the bow of a PT boat as she moves slowly out to sea from Midway to give decent burial to Japanese fliers shot down on the islands during the battle. The red ball of the rising sun is prophetically repeated by the round disc and spreading rays of the sinking sun.


156 years ago today: The polyglot Garibaldi at Bull Run

On 21 July 1861, some 30,000~ Americans met on the field of battle south of Washington D.C. and let the cork out of the bottle on the epic bloodletting of the Civil War. Until then, although there had been a number of sharp incidents, peace was still an option. After the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as Battle of First Manassas, there was no turning back.

One of the more colorful units on the fields of Prince Williams County that day was the 39th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, best known as the “Garibaldi Guard.”

The unit was formed just nine weeks earlier by the flamboyant Hungarian Col. Frederick George D’Utassy who, at the ripe old age of 37 claimed prior wartime service as a field and staff officer in several European armies prior to his immigration to the states, and worked as a language professor (speaking 12 of them fluently). The regiment was a foreign legion of sorts comprising 11 companies of men of different national heritage from New York’s streets: three German, three Hungarian, one Swiss, one Italian, one French, one Spanish, and one Portuguese.

As such, they looked unlike any other U.S. infantry force at the time.

COL D'Utassy and 39th NY Garibaldi Guard Staff in the Uniforms they would have worn at Bull Run. Photo via USMA Collection

COL D’Utassy, short guy center, and 39th NY Garibaldi Guard Staff in the uniforms they would have worn at Bull Run. Photo via USMA Collection

The Guard attached into the 1st Brigade (Col. Louis Blenker) of the 5th Division (Col. Dixon S. Miles) and was in reserve at Manassas– but by most accounts they gave good service in helping cover the Union retreat.

They fought for the rest of the Civil War (often among themselves) and were disbanded 1 July 1865. The regiment suffered a total of 274 fatalities during the conflict, most from disease or by prisoners who died in Confederate POW camps.

As for D’Utassy, he was court-martialed in 1863 for “fraud and conduct prejudicial to military discipline” after selling the position of Major in his regiment, forging muster rolls, and forging accounts. He was discharged 29 May 1863 and, after a brief stint in Sing-Sing, became an insurance salesman.

NATO drops Wolverines video

The above video is pretty interesting if you know the history of the guerrilla war in the Baltic states that was fought by as many as 50,000 Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian partisans against the Red Army from the tail end of WWII through the early 1950s. It’s an unsung war, and the various “Forest Brothers” groups (whose members included several former German soldiers as well as Waffen SS members of the various Baltic legions, a facet often glossed over) that were backed in part by Western intelligence agencies.

The above video was put out this month by NATO, which, especially when combined with other similar videos about modern equivalent of stay-behind units, is probably meant to provide a moment of pause to the big bear on the Baltic states’ Eastern border.

And cue the Russian butt hurt, which is rich considering the little green men running around the Ukraine and Crimea, and the fact that they annexed the Baltics in 1939 by force.

Warship Wednesday, July 12, 2017: Woodrow’s biggest German

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, July 12, 2017: Woodrow’s biggest German

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 71

Here we see the armed troop transport USS Leviathan (Shore Patrol vessel #1326) in harbor, with tugs in attendance at her starboard bow, 1918. Note her distinctive dazzle camouflage scheme which she would wear throughout the Great War, in U.S. service anyway. At the time, she was billed as the biggest ship in the World.

Built by Blohm & Voss at Hamburg as SS Vaterland for Germany’s Hamburg America Line (HAPAG), she was the largest passenger ship in the world upon her completion, superseding her near-sister SS Imperator (who was 44 feet shorter), but later being superseded in turn by the last ship of her class, SS Bismarck (who was six feet longer).

How big was she? Some 950-feet overall and 54,000-tons displacement. Capable of carrying 4,234 passengers (908 first class, 592 second, 962 third, and 1,772 steerage), she could make 24+ knots on her eight massive Parsons steam turbines powered by 46 (!) boilers. As such, she required almost 1,200 stokers, stewards, attendants and other crew to keep her running.

Her maiden voyage was on 14 May 1914, just six weeks before the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed and the lights began to go out across Europe.

Caught at sea in the North Atlantic too far away from Hamburg to make it home if the balloon went up, the brand-new ocean liner put into New York, then a neutral safe haven.

S.S. Vaterland, German Passenger Liner, arriving at New York City on 29 July 1914, three days before Germany’s declaration of war on Russia began World War I. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Collection of Captain Cyrus R. Miller, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 103156

There she sat at Hoboken, N.J until 1 August when, though Vaterland had booked 720 first class, 420 second class, and 2,500 third class and steerage passengers leaving for Germany that day (including many German reservists on the way back home), they were canceled and the ship ordered by HAPAG to stay in port, taking a $500,000 loss in bookings.

Her crew, left largely without funds as the war began, took to moving ashore and taking other jobs in between organizing moonlight excursion trips up the Hudson (turn arounds) and a bazaar in Madison Square Garden where her crew sold handicrafts. Vaterland was reportedly a hotbed of German spy activity as well, and some took leave back to Europe via ships bound for other neutrals such as Spain.

Vaterland was seized by the United States Shipping Board at 4 a.m. on April 6 on the eve of the United States entering World War I, along with 90 other German ships in various ports across the country. Only 300 of her crew were aboard and they gave up the ship without bloodshed, being marched first ashore and then taken to Fort Oglethorpe, Ga for internment. Some 20 freight cars of expensive furnishings and paintings, including $150,000 worth of silver, were removed and stored ashore.

The big liner was placed under guard by 60 officers of the NYPD’s 37th Precinct, who were later relieved by a New Jersey Naval Militia force in July. Reports state that “Several attempts to smuggle small bombs and explosives into the coal chutes from the coal barges alongside were frustrated by the guards.”

Her plans and documents had been burned by the ship’s officers, but a spare set of drawings was later found in the safe at HAPAG’s New York office.

However, most of the brand-new ship was filled with years of trash and junk, and some machinery was left inoperable. The Germans had sabotaged numerous water lines installed behind the interior paneling of the ship and when the water was first turned on numerous floods were caused throughout the vessel, with the entire forward section of the ship’s officers’ rooms on the starboard side was flooded with about 14 inches of water, for example.

On 25 July 1917, Vaterland was turned over to the Navy Department and regularly commissioned as a Naval vessel and assigned to transport duty under the command of Vice- Admiral Albert Cleaves, U. S. Navy, Commander of the Cruiser and Transport Force, United States Atlantic Fleet. On September 6th the name of the German ship Vaterland was changed by order of the Secretary of the Navy, without ceremony, to USS Leviathan. President Woodrow Wilson reportedly chose the name.

Leviathan was made ready to transport up to 14,000 men on each crossing to Europe, with life rafts for 17,000 added. She was painted in dazzle camouflage, and her appointments drastically changed.

All the staterooms on the lower decks of the ship were ripped out to make room for open iron frame-work beds with canvas bunk bottoms, good enough for troops. The main theater and ball room were converted into a hospital for troops and crew during transatlantic voyages with an isolation ward established in the gymnasium on “A” Deck for contagious cases. The ship’s doctor’s office was used as a sick call station and dispensary for troops and crew. The portholes were painted black and dogged shut.

She was also given a formidable armament including a battery of eight 6″ guns for protection against surface raiders , as well as two “Y” guns which hurled depth bombs loaded with TNT to scare off U-boats, making her an auxiliary cruiser in all but name. A pair of 1-pounders for saluting and another couple of Colt machine guns for pier side protection were added as well. According to reports, she was attacked several times “by the undersea pirates and according to officers of the vessel one attacking sub was sunk by a shell from one of the six-inch guns” though this is perhaps not supported by post-war analysis.

Gun crew preparing to load one of the ship’s six-inch guns, circa 1918. Photographed by Zimmer. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41707

Her crew more than doubled from the German’s 1,200 to some 2,400 in U.S. service, including a young 18-year-old Quartermaster by the name of Humphrey DeForest Bogart.

She was still impressive, despite the warpaint.

Halftone reproduction of a photograph showing the ship moored to a buoy in 1918. She is painted in dazzle camouflage. The original photograph was taken by Enrique Muller, New York. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 51396

Halftone reproduction of a photograph of the interior of the ship’s bridge, taken circa 1919. Note engine order telegraphs, chart table and steering wheel. This image was published in 1919 as one of ten photographs in a Souvenir Folder of views concerning USS Leviathan, many of which are detailed below. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2007. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 104693

Halftone reproduction of a photograph of the ship’s main dining room, taken circa 1919. Catalog #: NH 104689

Halftone reproduction of a photograph of the troops’ mess hall on board the ship, taken circa 1919. Note the fancy decor of this space, left over from her time as the German passenger liner Vaterland. Catalog #: NH 104690

Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in the ship’s sick bay, circa 1919. Note the elegant doorway and windows, left over from her time as the German passenger liner Vaterland. Catalog #: NH 104695

Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1919, showing one of the ship’s troop berthing compartments. Catalog #: NH 103201

Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1919, showing cooks making chow by the barrel in a galley. Catalog #: NH 103203

Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1919, showing the ship’s huge and richly decorated officers’ dining room. Catalog #: NH 103202

Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1919, showing the operating board for the ship’s main propulsion steam turbines. Catalog #: NH 103204

At 7.34 A. M., 15 December 1917, Leviathan left her pier in Hoboken for her first trip across the Atlantic, with 7,254 troops and 2,000 sailors on board. Making over 21-knots and outpacing her escorts, her crew spent liberty in Liverpool by Christmas. Operating between Hoboken and Brest/Liverpool, she completed 10 round trips, carrying 119,215 fighting men Eastward before the armistice on 11 November 1918. Of the men of the AEF who made it to Europe, one in 20 went on Leviathan.

The front side of a Troop Billet card used circa 1917-1919, while the ship was transporting service personnel between the United States and Europe. See Photo # NH 104240-A-KN for the reverse side of this card. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2006. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 104240-KN

Pershing himself crossed back to the states on her 19th trip, westbound, along with his famous composite regiment selected from the entire A. E. F. Assistant SECNAV Franklin Roosevelt and his party returned from France on her.

Lot-8836-9: WWI – American Expeditionary Forces. General John J. Pershing on board USS Leviathan (ID 1326). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Her fastest round trip, from the U.S. to Europe and back, was 14 days and 21 hours, though they typically ran 26 days, accounting for loading and unloading of up to 14,300 men and their accompanying supplies and equipment.

As noted by SECNAV “Cup of Joe” Secretary Daniels in the most interesting tome of her WWI career:

“Although the Leviathan did not participate in any great naval engagement, although the battle flags never flew proudly at her mastheads as she swept into the tempest of a modern naval engagement, her achievement in carrying across the sea more than three divisions of American soldiers entitles the gallant ship’s name to a place forever in the hall of American naval fame.”

Tragically, on one crossing in late 1918, 2,000 of her passengers and crew took ill with Spanish Influenza while underway, and she arrived in Brest carrying 96 dead and dying.

Once the war was over, she completed another nine trips home from Europe, bringing the Americans back from “Over There.”

Decommissioned 29 October 1919, she was turned back over to the Shipping Board and she was retained as a war trophy.

Seeing use for her in future conflicts– after all, she could carry a whole division at a time and outrun any submarine– she was reconditioned with a new oil-fired plant and apportionments and put at the disposal of the United States Lines who used her as an ocean liner from 1923 onward.

S.S. Leviathan in drydock at Boston, Massachusetts, in 1923. She is undergoing preparations for her maiden voyage under the United States Lines flag, which commenced on 4 July of that year. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 43035

S.S. Leviathan Steaming out of New York Harbor, circa the mid-1920s. The Manhattan skyline is in the background. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 43553

S.S. Leviathan photographed from an aircraft, while underway at sea during the 1920s or 1930s. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41867

However, the now 60,000-ton vessel was an expensive giant too big to turn a profit and the line reportedly lost money on every voyage, especially during the dry days of Prohibition, with half of the cabins often empty. Although some 250,000 passengers booked on her in 13 years, the line went bankrupt and, with the agreement of the Shipping Board, she was sold for scrap in 1937. Had it not been for that, she certainly would have been used once more as a “trooper” in WWII.

Of her 301 documented voyages, just three were under a German flag.

As for her sisters, SS Imperator managed to spend WWI in Hamburg and was taken over by the U.S. Navy 5 May 1919 at Brest. Not really needing a second Leviathan, the Navy used her only briefly as a troop ship (USS Imperator) then sold her to the British Cunard Line who renamed the liner RMS Berengaria. Retired in 1938 in poor condition, she was scrapped after WWII.

The last of the line, SS Bismarck was incomplete at the time of the Great War and was seized by the British. Sailing in turn as RMS Majestic for the White Star Line and then RMS Caledonia under Cunard service, while being used by the Royal Navy as HMS Caledonia she caught fire and sank on 29 September 1939.

As for Leviathan, she is extensively remembered in maritime art.

“When the Leviathan went out” — “Seagate 1918” When the Leviathan went out Seagate 1918 Etching by Bernhardt Wall, 1918, depicting two children building a sand castle, as USS Leviathan (ID # 1326) steams past in the background. Courtesy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 1924

USS Leviathan (ID # 1326) Water depicting the ship on her maiden Navy voyage from Hoboken, New Jersey, to Liverpool, England, with troops on board, Christmas Eve, 24 December 1917. Courtesy of CWO2 John A. Steel, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 51398-KN

“A Fast Convoy” painting by Burnell Poole, depicting USS Allen (Destroyer # 66) escorting USS Leviathan (ID # 1326) in the War Zone, 1918. The original painting measures 60 x 33. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42690-KN

And in Hamburg, her place of birth and original home port, the Hamburg International Maritime Museum has a great collection of 1-1250 scale models show her as the SS Vaterland (in the back) USS Leviathan (in the middle, with dazzle camouflage painting) and SS Leviathan (in the front) on display.

Then, of course, this guy will live on forever.

Publicity shot for “High Sierra” (Raoul Walsh, 1941), with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. Note the 1911, which would have been standard for the time he was on Leviathan.


USS Leviathan Description: (ID # 1326) Plan of Dazzle camouflage intended for the ship, circa 1918. This design, for Leviathan’s starboard side (and port below), is like, but not the same as the camouflage scheme she received. Note the Office of Naval Intelligence Register Number in the upper left. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 51308 and 51389

(As troop ship)
Displacement: 58,000-tons
Length: 950 feet
Beam: 100 feet
Draft: 41 feet, 10 inches “when leaving New York with 10,000 troops”

“Place her on Fifth Avenue and she would spread from 42d Street across 45th Street. Stand her on end alongside the Woolworth Building, and she would overtop the Woolworth Building more than 50 feet.”

Crew: 2,400 including Engineering (12 officers and 950 men) and Commissary (7 officers and 350 men)
Engines: Parsons turbines, 46 boilers, 8,700 tons of coal (burns 900 per day at 26 knots sustained).
Armament: 8×6-inch, 2-1pdr, 2-Y guns, depth charge racks, 2 mg

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52 years ago this week

Note the WWII-era M3 Grease Gun and cross-draw shoulder holstered M1911A1, both remained in U.S. military service well into the 1980s. Some things never go out of style.

Note the WWII-era M3 Grease Gun and cross-draw shoulder holstered M1911A1, both remained in U.S. military service well into the 1980s. Some things never go out of style.

On July 12, 1965, Lt. Frank Reasoner of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, led by U.S.M.C. became the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor for action in Vietnam. Reasoner repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire, killed two Viet Cong, single-handedly wiped out an enemy machine gun emplacement, and raced through enemy fire to rescue his injured radio operator. Trying to rally his men, Reasoner was hit by enemy machine gun fire and was killed instantly. For this action, Reasoner was nominated for America’s highest award for valor.


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Commanding Officer, Company A, 3d Reconnaissance Battalion, 3d Marine Division in action against hostile Viet Cong forces near Danang, Vietnam on 12 July 1965. The reconnaissance patrol led by First Lieutenant Reasoner had deeply penetrated heavily controlled enemy territory when it came under extremely heavy fire from an estimated 50 to 100 Viet Cong insurgents. Accompanying the advance party and the point that consisted of five men, he immediately deployed his men for an assault after the Viet Cong had opened fire from numerous concealed positions. Boldly shouting encouragement, and virtually isolated from the main body, he organized a base of fire for an assault on the enemy positions. The slashing fury of the Viet Cong machine gun and automatic weapons fire made it impossible for the main body to move forward. Repeatedly exposing himself to the devastating attack he skillfully provided covering fire, killing at least two Viet Cong and effectively silencing an automatic weapons position in a valiant attempt to effect evacuation of a wounded man. As casualties began to mount his radio operator was wounded and First Lieutenant Reasoner immediately moved to his side and tended his wounds. When the radio operator was hit a second time while attempting to reach a covered position, First Lieutenant Reasoner courageously running to his aid through the grazing machine gun fire fell mortally wounded. His indomitable fighting spirit, valiant leadership and unflinching devotion to duty provided the inspiration that was to enable the patrol to complete its mission without further casualties. In the face of almost certain death, he gallantly gave his life in the service of his country. His actions upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Thank you for your service, Lt. Reasoner.

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