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Warship Wednesday Mar. 22, 2017: The Cowboy Monitor

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 Mar. 22, 2017: The Cowboy Monitor

NH 99353-KN

Here we see the Arkansas-class monitor USS Wyoming (Monitor # 10) on a postal card published by Edward H. Mitchell, San Francisco, California, featuring a tinted photograph of the vessel taken in her prime, circa 1902-1908. It should be noted that Wyoming was the last seagoing monitor ordered for the U.S. Navy, ending a string of vessels that began in 1861.

John Ericsson’s steam-powered low freeboard ironclad, USS Monitor, with her “cheesebox on a raft” rotating turret design in the early days of the Civil War, led to an entire fleet of river, harbor, coastal and seagoing takes on the same concept that saw some 60~ monitors take to the builders’ yards (though not all were completed) by 1866.

By 1874, ostensibly as part of the “great repairs” the Navy ordered the first “modern” monitor, USS Puritan (M-1), a 6,000-ton beast with a quartet of 12‑inch guns and 14-inches of armor that acquitted herself in service during the Spanish-American War– though she was obsolete at the time.

Puritan shelling Matanzas on the 27 April 1898. She would remain in the fleet until 1922 in one form or another.

However, the Navy still piled on the monitor bandwagon, completing four vessels of the Amphitrite-class, the one-off USS Monterey, and (wait for it) the four-ship swan song of the type: USS Arkansas (M-7), Connecticut/Nevada (M-8), Florida (M-9), and our hero, Wyoming (M-10).

These craft were 255-feet overall and weighed 3,350-tons full load but drew a gentle 12.5-feet of seawater. Armed with a single Mark 4 turret with a dual mounting of 12″/40 caliber Mark 3 guns along with four 4″ singles and some 6-pounders, they were slathered in as much as 11-inches of Harvey steel armor. Four boilers, when new, could push the ships’ steam plant to make these hogs touch 13-kts on trials, which was good for 1898. Not great, but good.

Each of the class was laid down at approximately the same time (the Span-Am War was on at the time and ships were needed, dammit), but in different yards. Arkansas at Newport News, Nevada at Bath in Maine, Florida at Crescent Shipyard, Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Wyoming— the only one on the West Coast– at Union Iron Works, San Francisco. Though technically Nevada was commissioned (as Connecticut at first) on 5 March 1903, Wyoming was the last of the class ordered and was accepted months before, entering service on 8 December 1902.

Her total cost, $1,624,270.59– some $500,000 more than Arkansas yet $200,000 under the price paid for Connecticut/Nevada.

Panoramic view of shipways and outfitting area, 1900. USS Wisconsin (Battleship # 9) is fitting out at left. Ships on the ways are (from left to right): USS Paul Jones (Destroyer # 10); USS Perry (Destroyer # 11); USS Wyoming (Monitor # 10); USS Ohio (Battleship # 12); and the S.S. Californian. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1971. The original print is in the Union Iron Works scrapbook, Volume II, page 157. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 75110 Click to big up

This is not a ship you want to speed in! (Monitor # 10) Making 12.4 knots during trials, off San Francisco, California, in October 1902. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1971. The original print is in the Union Iron Works scrapbook, Volume II, page 166. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 75118

(Monitor # 10) Making 12.4 knots during trials, near San Francisco, California, in October 1902. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1971. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 75117

(Monitor # 10) View on board, looking forward, showing water coming over her bow while she was running trials off San Francisco, California, in October 1902. Note the ship’s twelve-inch gun turret at right. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1971. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 75119

She was a handsome if dated, ship.

(Monitor # 10) Moored off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 12 February 1903. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 43870

(Monitor # 10) Moored off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, in February 1903. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 44264

In October 1903 after her shakedown, Wyoming was dispatched to Panamanian waters along with the cruiser Boston, where she landed a few Marines to look after Washington’s interests.

Panama at the time was part of Colombia though separatists, eager to restart the failed French canal effort with U.S. help, wanted to change that. With Wyoming on hand to provide literal gunboat diplomacy of the Teddy Roosevelt era, on November 13 the U.S formally recognized the Republic of Panama and told Colombia about it later. As the biggest Colombian Navy ship in Panama’s Pacific waters was the 600-ton gunboat Bogota (one 14-pounder gun, eight 6-pounders), which the Wyoming vastly outmuscled, the Colombians agreed.

Meanwhile, the gunboat USS Nashville (PG-7), operating on the Carribean coast of Panama, prevented the Colombians in Colon from using the railway to reinforce their forces there, leaving them in an untenable situation. The new Republic of Panama gave the U.S. control of the Canal Zone on 23 February 1904, for $10 million in accordance with the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty.

From DANFS on her Panamanian Vacation:

The monitor accordingly arrived in Panamanian waters on 13 November (1903) and sailed up the Tuira River in company with the protected cruiser Boston, with a company of Marines under Lt. S. A. M. Patterson, USMC, and Lt. C. B. Taylor, USMC, embarked, to land at “Yariza” and observe the movements of Colombian troops.

The presence of American armed might there and elsewhere ultimately resulted in independence for the Panamanians. During that time, Wyoming anchored at the Bay of San Miguel on 15 December. The following day, a boat with 11 Marines embarked left for the port of La Palma, under sail. While Boston departed the scene on the 17th, Wyoming shifted to La Palma on the following day. There, Lt. Patterson, USMC, with a detachment of 25 Marines, commandeered the steamer Tuira and took her upriver. While the Marines were gone, a party of evacuated American nationals came out to the monitor in her gig.

Meanwhile, Patterson’s Marines had joined the ship’s landing force at the village of Real to keep an eye on American interests there. Back at La Palma, Wyoming continued to take on board American nationals fleeing from the troubled land and kept up a steady stream of supplies to her landing party of Bluejackets and Marines at Real. Ultimately, when the need for them had passed, the landing party returned to the ship on Christmas Eve.

Wyoming remained in Panamanian waters into the spring of 1904 keeping a figurative eye on local conditions before she departed Panama Bay on 19 April, bound for Acapulco.

After this, Wyoming returned to quiet service off the West Coast and in 1908 was converted from being coal-fired to using oil fuel– the first ship to do so in the fleet.

In 1909, her name was stripped from her to be given to a new battleship and she was dubbed USS Cheyenne. Likewise, at about the same time Arkansas switched her name to USS Ozark, Nevada— renamed for the second time in a decade– to USS Tonopah, and Florida to USS Tallahassee.

By 1910, Wyoming/Cheyenne was on the reserve list and being used by the Washington Naval Militia off Bremerton until late 1913.

USS Cheyenne (Monitor # 10) Moored off Bremerton, Washington, while serving as a training ship for the Washington State Naval Militia, circa 1910-1913. The original is a screened sepia-toned image, printed on a postal card. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 55116-KN

Brought back into regular fleet service, Cheyenne was used as a submarine tender for the 2d SUB Div in Puget Sound, Mare Island, San Francisco, and San Pedro between August 1913-April 1917, only interrupting them for two trips down to rowdy Mexico, then involved in a civil war, to evacuate U.S and foreign nationals trapped in the volatile region.

When the U.S. entered the Great War in April 1917, our rough and ready West Coast monitor continued her service until late in the war she was ordered to the Atlantic for the first time in her service. There, Cheyenne served as a tender for submarines operating in the Gulf of Mexico area, and for nine months in 1919 was again active off Mexico, resting with her quiet guns in Tampico harbor.

(Monitor # 10) With a submarine alongside, circa 1918-1919. The submarine is probably one of the Division 3 boats tended by Cheyenne: K-3, K-4, K-7 or K-8. Location may be Key West, Florida. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 45436

In 1920, Cheyenne was decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, then used as a pierside training hulk in Baltimore for Fifth Naval District Naval Reserve Force members until 1926, carrying the hull number IX-4 on the Naval List before she was mothballed at Philadelphia. She was sold for scrapping in April 1939.

Cheyenne (IX-4), inboard at left; S-12 (SS-117), outboard at left; and Dale (DD-290) at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, 14 June 1926, during the National Sesquicentennial exhibit there. The small boat and Sailor, in the foreground, are on life-saving service to protect exhibit visitors. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 55117. Collection of Vice Admiral Dixwell Ketcham, USN.

As such, she was the last monitor on the U.S. Navy’s battle line, surviving all her sisters and cousins by more than 15 years.

Specs:


Displacement:
3,225 long tons (3,277 t) (standard)
3,356 long tons (3,410 t) (full load)
Length:
255 feet 1 inch (77.75 m) (overall)
252 ft. (77 m) (waterline)
Beam: 50 ft. (15 m)
Draft: 12 ft. 6 in (3.81 m) (mean)
Installed power:
4 × Thornycroft boilers
2,400 indicated horsepower (1,800 kW)
1,739 ihp (1,297 kW) (on trials)
Propulsion:
2 × Vertical triple expansion engines
2 × screw propellers
Speed:
12.5 knots (23.2 km/h; 14.4 mph) (design)
12.03 kn (22.28 km/h; 13.84 mph) (on trial)
Complement: 13 officers 209 men
Armament:
2 × 12 in (305 mm)/40 caliber breech-loading rifles (1×2)
4 × 4 in (102 mm)/40 cal guns (4×1)
3 × 6-pounder 57 mm (2.2 in) guns
Armor:
Harvey armor
Side belt: 11–5 in (280–130 mm)
Barbette: 11–9 in (280–230 mm)
Gun turret: 10–9 in (250–230 mm)
Deck: 1.5 in (38 mm)
Conning tower: 8 in (200 mm)

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 it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday Mar. 15, 2017: Taxi from Devil’s Island

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 Mar. 15, 2017: Taxi from Devil’s Island

Here we see a colorized postcard of the first protected cruiser in the French Navy, the one-off “croiseur cuirassé” Sfax as she appeared in the early 1890s. She never had a chance to fire her guns in anger, but for one brief period was the most famous ship in the world.

Ordered from the Arsenal de Brest in 1881, the ship was an answer to the powerful new steam cruisers being fielded by the British at the time. The French in the late 1870s were still building sail-rigged wooden hull warships that would have been at home in the Crimean War. For instance, the iron-beamed/oak planked Lapérouse-class cruisers, just 2240-tons, could make 15 knots and carried a battery of 5.5 in M1870M muzzleloading guns– but not a single sheet of armor.


Intended as a commerce raider, our 4,561-ton ship had an iron hull with steel frames in a cellular construction, but her half-dozen 6.4-inch M1881 model (black powder breechloaders) and ten smaller 5.5-inch guns gave Sfax a significant punch– especially when her prey was intended to be a merchantman. A dozen coal-fired boilers powered two horizontal steam expansion engines exhausted through twin stacks that drove twin screws while a bark rig provided extra endurance when the wind picked up. Most importantly, she had an armored belt some 60mm thick in four layers of steel.

To be clear, Sfax was an evolutionary step.

As noted by Eric Osborne in his excellent work on Cruisers and Battle Cruisers, “This vessel embodied features that had largely been discontinued in other navies such as a hull composed of iron rather than steel and a full sailing rig. Nevertheless, its protective deck provided adequate protection and its maximum speed of 16.7 knots allowed it to function effectively as a cruiser where the poor motive power of past French designs had ruled out this possibility.”

Completed June 1887, Sfax had a happy but short life, sailing on a European tour followed by a trip to French colonies overseas– her likely stomping grounds if she ever was to assume her wartime role as a modern privateer against an enemy of the Republic. She was the fastest cruiser in the fleet for about three years.

The follow-on one-off cruiser Tage (7,450-tons), completed in December 1890, was some 50 percent larger than Sfax and carried about the same armor and armament but was able to eek out 19 knots due to her 12,500 shp steam suite. The 5,900-ton experimental protected cruiser Amiral Cécille, completed the same year, made 21 knots but thinned her armor to do so. By 1894, the four-ship Amiral Charner-class cruisers weighed about the same as Sfax but could only make 17 knots– her speed– due to the fact they carried a more modern gun battery and 90mm of armor.

To modernize the rapidly marginalized Sfax, in 1895, her masts and sailing rig, never efficient, were removed and replaced by two smaller ones. Her 6.4-inch guns were upgraded to newer models and she was given more reliable torpedo tubes. Painted white as was the custom of the time for warships, she emerged rather different.


Now, let us speak briefly of one Captain Alfred Dreyfus, of the French Army.

This young career military man had graduated the École Polytechnique in 1880 and by 1889 a trained artillery officer, was assigned to a government arsenal. After graduation from the War College, he was being groomed for the General Staff.

Then, scapegoated largely due to being Jewish, Dreyfus was falsely convicted of passing military secrets to the Germans in December 1894– though evidence showing that one Maj. Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy was the spy later surfaced. Branded a traitor, Dreyfus was stripped of his rank, publicly humiliated, and cast off to the infamous Devil’s Island prison in French Guyana.


However, his story did not end there, and the subsequent decade-long call for his vindication, now known to history as the Dreyfus Affair, was the People vs. OJ Simpson case of its day and drew international attention. People hung on every update and were polarized into pro-Dreyfus and anti-Dreyfus camps– there was no middle ground. And this was not just isolated to France. As noted by Robert K. Massie in his book Nicholas and Alexandria, a nurse by the name of Mrs. Eger was so engrossed in an argument over Dreyfus that she left one of the Tsar’s children in the bath so long the poor Grand Duchess took to flight through the Alexander Palace sans clothes. In London, the Illustrated News carried regular front updates.

In short, people really cared about Dreyfus.

Called for retrial after five years in a green hell, a fast ship from the French Navy– our very own Sfax— was dispatched to bring him home.

Sfax called on Cayenne, the colonial port in Guyana on 8 June 1899, and landed him on the Quiberon Peninsula in Brittany on the night of 1 July in stormy weather, spending a total of 20 days underway from South America to metropolitan France, stopping for coal and provisions along the way.

Dressed in a blue suit and wearing a cork helmet, the cashiered former captain boarded the ship that would take him back to Europe.


During that time, though returning for another trial, Dreyfus was considered a prisoner and confined to his cabin save for three daily walks on Sfax‘s deck. At all times, he had an armed sentry within reach, keeping a careful eye. Officers and men were forbidden to speak to him, though he was messed from the officer’s wardroom.


As described by William Hardin’s Dreyfus: The Prisoner of Devil’s Island:

The prisoner spent his time reading and writing, though sometimes he looked long out of the port-hole, apparently plunged deep in though. His baggage consisted of two portmanteaus, containing linen books, several packages of chocolate, small biscuits and several bottles of toilet vinegar. He generally went to bed at seven, arose around midnight to smoke a cigarette, and got up regularly at five o’clock in the morning.


Dreyfus left Sfax and lost his retrial, though he was later acquitted in 1906. Rejoining active service, he was awarded the Legion of Honour for the royal green weenie and retired to the reserve list the next year as a major with full benefits. The Great War called him back to active duty, where the artillerist rose to the rank of Lieut. Colonel, notably serving in the artillery supply train at Verdun.

He died in 1935 and was given a full military funeral including a parade past the Bastille. At least two statues, holding his broken sword in salute, endure in his honor.


For more information on Dreyfus, the Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaïsme has some 3,000 documents on his case available online in French.

As for our cruiser, Sfax receded into history. Thoroughly obsolete, she was stricken in 1906 and scrapped soon after.

Specs:


Displacement: 4 561 GRT
Length 300 ft. (91.57 meters)
Beam 49 feet (15.04 meters)
Draught 25 feet (7.67 meters)
Propulsion     2 steam engines (12 cylindrical boilers), 6,500 hp, twin shafts
Range: 5,000nm on 980 tons of coal
Sailing rig: three-masted barque (1.988 m² or 2380 sq.yds. sail area), removed 1895
Speed 16.7 knots max
Complement: 486 officers, men and Marins with room for one “traitor”
Armor: Belt and bridge, 60 mm
Armament:
6 × 1 160 mm gun (cal.28-mod.1881) on upper deck level with two in embrasures forward and the others in sponsons amidships and aft. Updated to M1887 models in 1895.
10 × 1 139 mm gun (cal.30-mod.1881) on the main deck amidships between the sponsons
2 × 1 47 mm gun (DCA M1885)
10 × 1 37mm Hotchkiss guns
5 × 1 350mm torpedo tubes, one bow mounted, four on beam

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!

Warship Wednesday Mar. 8, 2017: The old Spanish maiden of Annapolis (and Santiago)

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 Mar. 8, 2017: The old Spanish maiden of Annapolis (and Santiago)

Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy, 1941. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 61231 (click to big up)

In honor of International Women’s Day, of course we had to have a warship named in honor of a member of the more civilized half of our species. As such here we see the Alfonso XII-class unprotected cruiser Reina Mercedes of the Armada Española. Named after Mercedes of Orléans, the first wife of Spain’s King Alfonso XII who died just two days after her 18th birthday, our cruiser would go on to live a longer but no less tragic existence.

The three 3,042-ton Alfonso XII-class cruisers were designed in the 1880s for colonial service in the Caribbean and Pacific, where Spain still had remnants of Empire. Steel hulled with 12 watertight bulkheads, they were to be modern steam warships capable of 17 knots, which was fast for the day. However, their bank of 10 cranky cylindrical boilers handicapped these ships their whole life and they rarely achieved such speed. Like many ships of the day, they were given an auxiliary sail rig of three masts, two fully rigged, one schooner rigged.

Armed with a half-dozen 6.3-inch/35cal (160mm) M1883 bag-loaded breech loading guns made by the Spanish Hontoria Company, theoretically capable of 10,000m shots at maximum elevation, they could deal sufficient punishment to all but a determined capital ship. However, this model gun was adapted from a French black powder design(M1881) that did not translate to smokeless powder too well and, at least in Spanish service, proved much slower to load and fire safely than comparable German Krupp or British Elswick designs of the period.

Augmenting these big guns were smaller batteries of Hotchkiss 57mm/40 cal and 47mm/22 guns for torpedo boat defense and a set of five 356mm tubes for Whitehead guncotton torpedoes (more on these later).

ALFONSO XII (Spanish cruiser, 1887-1900) Caption: This ship is distinguished from her sisters, REINA MERCEDES and REINA CRISTINA, by her figurehead which featured a lion on each side of the bow. Description: Catalog #: NH 46867

The Alfonsoes also took a while to build, being the first steel ships constructed in their respective yards. Both Alfonso XII and sistership Reina Cristina were laid down at Arsenal del Ferrol the same day in 1881 but took a decade before they entered service. The hero of our tale, the only example of the class laid down at Arsenal de Cartagena, was commissioned in 1892, fully 11 years after steel was first cut. Never really cutting edge, Reina Mercedes was pushing obsolescence as she began her career.

Made the flagship of the modest Spanish naval forces operating in Cuba, she left for that Caribbean colony in 1893, joining Alfonso XII which had been there since the previous year–and was urgently needed to help fight the growing local insurgency.

Artist’s rendering of the ALFONSO XII attacking Cuban Insurgents

Sister Reina Cristina made for the Philippines where she became the flagship of Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasaron.

On 26 May 1897, the U.S.-flagged Red D Line chartered coastal passenger liner SS Valencia (1,598-tons) was plying her way off the Cuban port of Guantanamo when she encountered Reina Mercedes at sea on a dark night. The Spanish cruiser lit up the Valencia with her spotlights but allowed her to proceed.

SS Valencia in 1901. Ironically, she would be used to carry U.S. troops to Cuba during the war in 1898

Three days later, after discharging cargo and passengers, the Valencia and Reina Mercedes again met at sea, this time in daylight. Although no state of war existed between the U.S. and Spain (though tensions were high) Reina Mercedes fired first a blank round then a warshot from a mile behind the American steamer, the latter falling just 80 yards behind the stern of Valencia. It was an international incident for sure and helped ratchet up the pregame for the Spanish-American War.

Speaking of which, when the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor in Feb. 1898, Alfonso XII was just 200m off her bow and was partially damaged. Her crew was involved in rescuing the battleship’s survivors, treating them in the cruiser’s sick bay, and guarding the battleship’s wreck. They later marched in the funeral cortege during services ashore in Havana for those who had perished.

When war broke out in April 1898, Regina Mercedes was immobilized as a station ship at Santiago de Cuba with a hull full of busted boilers. Soon, she would become blockaded in the harbor by the U.S. North Atlantic Squadron under Rear Admiral William T. Sampson.

With Gen. William Rufus Shafter’s troops laying siege to the city on land, on the night of 2–3 June 1898, eight volunteers aboard the 3,300-ton converted Norwegian steamship SS Solveig, then in service as the collier USS Merrimac, sailed into Santiago harbor with the intention of sinking the vessel as a blockship, trapping the Spanish fleet for good.

That’s where the crippled Regina Mercedes and her iffy 6.3-inch guns came in.

Bracketing the Merrimac with shells, torpedoes from the cruiser were credited in helping to sink the American ship just off Socapa Point, short of blocking the harbor entrance. To be sure, the muzzles of the destroyer Pluton, cruiser Vizcaya and shore based howitzers contributed, but Mercedes counted the most. Merrimac was the only U.S. ship sunk in the Span-Am War, and all eight U.S. heroes were picked up by Mercedes alive.

The endgame for our cruiser, at least in Spanish service, came just 72 hours later when on 6 June 1898 the U.S. warships on blockade came close enough to bombard the harbor, hitting the moored Reina Mercedes at least three dozen times with large caliber shells. Commader Emilio de Acosta and five sailors were killed, 12 more wounded. Very lucky for the amount of punishment. After this date, the Spanish moved as much of the working armarment off the ship as they could (more on this below).

After the destruction of Admiral Cervera’s squadron on 3 July 1898 and with Mercedes the only real warship left afloat at Santigo, it was decided to do something with the battered girl.

Incapable of any service, the Spanish salvaged what they could, emplacing at least four of her 6.3inch Hontorias in a battery on shore at Socapa, and decided to use her to block the harbor themselves– to keep the Americans out!

On 5 July, Mercedes sailed forth, unarmed, under steam from just two boilers, and with a skeleton crew, to plug the channel. However, she was caught by a searchlight from the early Indiana-class battleship USS Massachusetts (BB-2) of some 11,500-tons and armed with 4 × 13”/35 guns, who quickly landed at least three direct hits from her 13-inch shells on the little cruiser.

Her crew scuttled the cruiser in shallow water, her decks barely awash, but fell just short of blocking the channel.

Vain attempt of the Spanish to block Santiago harbor alter the battle by running the Cruiser REINA MERCEDES ashore in the narrow channel. LESLIE´S WEEKLY, VOL. LXXXVI

Wreck of the Spanish Reina Mercedes, Santiago, Cuba. Ca. 1898 Accession #: 2014.56

Wreck of REINA MERCEDES. Estrella Battery, Santiago, Cuba, 1898. From the collection of Rear Admiral C.H. Taylor. Catalog #: NH 111950

Wreck of the Reina Mercedes at Santiago harbor, 1898, Detroit Publishing Co. LC-D4-21534

The 3,000-ton largely disarmed Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes, sunk in Santiago, Cuba 1898 after scuttling following an engagement with the USS Massachusetts

The Spanish emplaced four batteries made in large part of Reina Mercedes‘ guns and crew:

1. The Upper Socapa Battery used three relic-quality iron 8-inch guns as well as two of the stricken cruiser’s 6.3-inchers. It is believed that one of the Hontorias here achieved a hit on the USS Texas on 23 June, killing the Sailor Blakely and wounding eight bluejackets. It was the first time a U.S. ship was hit during the war in Cuban waters.

2. Her men also helped crew the Estrella Battery near Morro Castle which mounted another two ancient 8-inchers, a 4.7-inch bronze cannon, and some 3-inch breechloaders.

3. Across the harbor mouth, they manned four Hotchkiss and two Nordenfelt small guns taken from Mercedes in an earthwork at the water’s edge dubbed the Lower Socapa Battery.

4. The Punta Gorda Battery, a mile up the bay from Morro Castle, held two more of Mercedes 6.3-inch Hontorias, two modern 6-inch Meta howitzers and a pair of 3.5-inch breechloaders. Lines of water-based Bustamante sea mines were electrically controlled from firing stations ashore.

A pair of 6-in Rapid Firing Guns in the Socapa Batteries, on the west side of the entrance to Santiago Harbor. Photographed soon after U.S. forces occupied Santiago in mid-July 1898. USS Brooklyn (CA-3) is offshore, at the extreme left. These guns are probably 16cm (6.3) Hontoria guns, removed from the cruiser Reina Mercedes. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 2265

Her sistership, Reina Cristina, was the Spanish flagship in the Battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898, and was lost in that one-sided action.

Spanish sailors aboard the cruiser Reina Cristina in prayer before battle, on April 24, 1898. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command)

Class leader Alfonso XII— trapped in Havana during the War– returned to Spain after the conflict, where she was decommissioned in 1900 and sold for breaking in 1907.

Images of Reina Mercedes on the bottom proved popular for a generation as postcards.

Note the empty 6″ gun sponsons and lack of boats.

Then, of course, there is the rest of the story.

You see, Regina Mercedes was a survivor. Between 2 January and 1 March 1899, the U.S. Navy raised her and cleaned her up. A prize of war.

Spanish Cruiser REINA MERCEDES Caption: The day after her raising, in Santiago Harbor, Cuba 1898. If you note her bow scroll work, this would be restored and maintained for another 50 years. She later was commissioned in the U.S. Navy. Description: Catalog #: NH 61270

Leaking considerably from scuttling charges and dozens of shell holes, Reina Mercedes was towed to Norfolk Navy Yard, arriving 27 May 1899, for temporary repairs.

The Spanish Cruiser “Reina Mercedes” in Simpson Dry Dock at Norfolk: This vessel arrived at the yard May 27, 1899. As she was leaking considerably, she was placed in dock for the purpose of repairing damage to herbottom. This work was still in progress June 30, 1899. No other work was done on her.

Departing Norfolk 25 August 1900, again in tow, Reina Mercedes arrived Portsmouth Navy Yard, N.H., on 29 August for refitting.

USS REINA MERCEDES, still looking kinda like a cruiser Caption: Photographed January 1901. Description: Catalog #: NH 61230

It was first planned to convert the old cruiser to a seagoing training ship; but, after much delay, the Navy Yard received orders on 10 December 1902 to complete her as a non-self-propelled receiving ship.

In 1905, she was recommissioned as USS Reina Mercedes. Departing Portsmouth in tow 21 May 1905, Reina Mercedes was taken to Newport, R.I., to be attached to the receiving ship Constellation; and, save for a visit to Boston and to New York in 1908, served there until 1912.

1907 postcard, likely taken at Newport. Note the extensive changes to her profile from the 1901 image above. She has lost one of her stacks and two new masts have replaced her three-mast scheme. Also, her gun deck had been extensively built-up and covered as is common on a receiving ship of the era. BAH in 1907 was a lot different from what it is now! Description: Catalog #: NH 108307 .

Towed to Annapolis in 1912 to serve as a barracks ship (and brig for wayward mids) she was issued hull number IX-25 as a miscellaneous unclassified vessel in 1920. There, she was jokingly called the “fastest ship in the Navy” because she was always tied fast to her pier. In her own way, she served through both World Wars as a commissioned naval vessel.

USS Reina Mercedes (IX-25) at US Naval Academy, Annapolis, when used as detention ship for midshipmen undergoing punishment for serious infractions, 1926. Accession #: S 348-C(1)

Captured Spanish American War ship Reina Mercedes (IX-25), left, used as enlisted barracks quarters at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, 1944 or 1945. By this time she was certainly one of the very few ships in the Navy that still had Victorian-era bow scrolls. The former sail training ship USS Cumberland (II) (IX-8) is in the foreground and would be towed away for scrapping in 1946. Accession #: UA 559.04

In 1920, when the Spanish battleship Alfonso XIII called at Annapolis, the old cruiser flew the flag of Spain as a gesture of goodwill.

As noted by the USNI, life on her was different:

For a number of years, the Reina Mercedes acted as a sort of brig — though not in the truest sense — for Naval Academy midshipmen. Those punished for serious infractions of the Academy Regulations were confined to the ship for periods of a week to a month or more, attending drills but sleeping in hammocks and taking their meals aboard. This punishment was abolished in 1940, substituted instead for restricting midshipmen to their rooms in Bancroft Hall.

After 1940 the ship was used as living quarters for unmarried enlisted personnel assigned to the Naval Academy, as well as the captain of the ship — who was also the commanding officer of the Naval Station, Severn River Naval Command — and his family. The most famous of these commanders was William F. “Bull” Halsey. Because of this latter arrangement, the Reina Mercedes held the unique distinction of being the only ship in the Navy to have ever permit the commanding officer and his dependents living aboard permanently.

Towed to Norfolk every decade or so (1916, 1927, 1932, 1939, and 1951) to have her hull cleaned and repainted, she was kept in good condition for her role and you can expect any brightwork was kept in gleaming condition by her visiting midshipmen. However, after a while, the metal was too thin to do anything with and she was struck from the Naval Register, 6 September 1957 and disposed of in a sale to Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, MD., for scrapping. Certainly, she was among the last warships to see action in 1898 that was still in naval service in any fleet.

About all that is left of her is maritime art.

However, at least some of her guns landed at Santiago in 1898 are still in Cuba to this day and remain a tourist attraction at San Juan Hill.

Specs:

Displacement: 3,042 tons
Length: 278 ft. (85 m)
Beam:     43 ft. (13 m)
Draft:     20 ft. 0 in (6.10 m) maximum
Engines: 10 boilers, 4400 h.p. 1 shaft
Sailing rig: Three masts, two fully rigged, one schooner rigged
Speed:     17 kn max, 9 knots typical
Endurance:
500 tons of coal (normal),
720 tons of coal (maximum)
Complement: 370
Armament: (All removed 1898-99)
6 × 6.3-inch (160 mm) M1883 Hontoria guns mounted in sponsons
8 × 6-pounder (57mm) Hotchkiss quick-firing guns
6 × 3-pounder (47mm) Hotchkiss revolvers
5 × 14-inch (356 mm) torpedo tubes (2 bow, 2 beam, 1 aft), Whitehead torpedoes
Armor: Hope and dreams

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Warship Wednesday Feb.22, 2017: The Kaiser’s Cormorants

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 Feb.22, 2017: The Kaiser’s Cormorants

Noted as “Received from Office of Naval Intelligence”, Naval History and Heritage Command Catalog #: NH 64265 (Click to big up 1200x881)

Noted as “Received from Office of Naval Intelligence”, Naval History and Heritage Command Catalog #: NH 64265 (Click to big up 1200×881)

Here we see the Bussard-class unprotected cruiser SMS (Seiner Majestät Schiff =His Majesty’s Ship) Cormoran of the Kaiserliche Marine as she appeared early in her career (pre-1908) with her three-masted barquentine rig. She floated around the far-flung colonies of Imperial Germany– and even help establish some of them—then went on to serve (in a way) during the Great War.

Germany got into the colonialism thing late in the game and it was only after unification and at the prodding of an anxious Kaiser that the new Empire got took part in the “scramble” by picking up German South-West Africa (current Namibia) and German New Guinea in 1884. The problem with overseas territories is that they are over-seas and Germany had a very small Baltic-centric naval force. This led Prussian Gen. Leo von Caprivi, then head of the Navy, to order two 1,300-ton/13-knot steam “cruisers” (let’s be honest, they were more gunboats than anything else) of the Schwalbe-class in 1886.

Recognizing the shortcomings of these warships, the German Navy upped the ante with the follow-on Bussard-class vessels in 1888.

The six warships of the class could eke out a bit more speed than the Schwalbe‘s (15.5-kts as designed) and, if they packed coal in every nook and cranny, extend their range to 3,610 nm which could further be stretched by their barquentine rig (and were the last German fighting ships to be designed to carry canvas). With a hull of yellow pine, they were sheathed with cupro-lead Muntz metal to prevent fouling.

Armed with eight 4.1-inch 105/32 RK L/35 C/86 rapid-fire singles, they packed a decent punch that was augmented by a pair of 350mm torpedo tubes as well as five 37mm/27cal revolving cannons.

With a full load approaching 1,868-tons, these 271-footers could float in 15 feet of calm water and carried a half-dozen small boats that enabled them to land a company-sized force of armed sailors while keeping enough of a skeleton crew aboard to fire a few guns and keep the boilers warm.

The hero of our tale, SMS Cormoran, was built to a modified design which was capable of 16.9-knots on a quartet of coal-fired boilers and mounted slightly upgraded 105/32 SK L/35 C/91 guns. Laid down at Danzig Kaiserliche Werft in 1890, she commissioned 25 July 1893, Korvettenkapitän Robert Wachenhusen in command.

Following sea trials, Cormoran headed for East Africa, where she remained as a station ship in Portuguese Mozambique for seven months before transferring to East Asian waters in Sept. 1895.

After helping the stranded gunboat SMS Iltis, Cormoran steamed up the Yangtze where her shallow draft made her quite useful. She was still there when, on 1 November 1897, the Big Sword Society slaughtered two German Roman Catholic priests of the Steyler Mission in southern Shandong.

Ordered by Admiral von Diederichs to join his cruisers there for a punitive expedition-turned-land-grab, Cormoran showed up in Kiautschou Bay on 13 November and at 0600 the next morning steamed into the inner harbor of Tsingtao with 717 German sailors in small boats from the larger cruisers SMS Kaiser and Prinzess Wilhelm to land at the dole and proceed into the city.

Schutzgebiet Kiautschou Besitznahme von Kiautschou am 14. Nov. 1897 durch Kaiserl. Marineeinheiten

Schutzgebiet Kiautschou, Besitznahme von Kiautschou am 14. Nov. 1897 durch Kaiserl. Marineeinheiten

Reinforced by a battalion of Marines sent from Germany the next January, the Chinese granted a 99-year lease to the port in April. Germany had her Hong Kong at the point of Cormoran‘s guns.

When the Americans and Spanish began to scrap in the PI during the Span-Am War in 1898, Cormoran was sent to poke around Cavite but was rebuffed by Dewey with the cruiser USS Raliegh closing danger close on the German.

Following this, she became a persistent presence in Samoan waters, adding to the tension there as Britain, Germany and the U.S. hashed out just who owned which rock.

USS ABARENDA, right and SMS CORMORAN saluting the Naval Station. Description: Copied from Amerika Samoa by Capt. J. A. C. Gray, MC, USN, (following page 108); Catalog #: NH 117548

USS ABARENDA, right and SMS CORMORAN saluting the Naval Station. Description: Copied from Amerika Samoa by Capt. J. A. C. Gray, MC, USN, (following page 108); Catalog #: NH 117548

Over the next several years Cormoran continued her colonial work among the islands, landing sailors to disarm locals, enforce German laws, and arrest those breaking them while conducting survey work in the uncharted archipelagos the Kaiser now counted as his own.

It should be remembered the German flag flew at the time over the Solomon Islands (Buka, Bougainville, and several smaller islands), the Carolines, Palau, the Marianas (except for Guam), the Marshall Islands, and Nauru.

German forces being trained in New Guinea via Australian War Memorial

German forces being trained in New Guinea via Australian War Memorial. Cormoran would ship these local police troops all over the colonies.

In 1908, Cormoran returned to Germany and was rebuilt and re-rigged as a topsail schooner, landing her quaint revolving cannon.

Compare to her appearance with three masts above

Compare to her appearance with three masts above

Cormoran (ship) moored opposite the Botanic Gardens in Brisbane after 1909. Note her two-mast rig

Cormoran (ship) moored opposite the Botanic Gardens in Brisbane after 1909. Note her two-mast rig and extensive awnings. SMS Cormoran was well known in Brisbane where she had regular refits and the squadron as a whole had been active in policing the colonies

She returned the Pacific in time to help put down the very messy Sokehs Rebellion of 1910-11 in the Caroline Islands at the hands of Polizei-Soldaten commander Karl Kammerich and his 160~ locally recruited constabulary troops. In early 1913, Korvettenkapitän Adalbert Zuckschwerdt arrived aboard and commanded the ship and her crew in putting down a disturbance on Bougainville.

p011_0_00_1By 1914, the Bussard class was showing their age. Sisterships Seeadler and Condor were that year converted to mine storage hulks in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, respectively. Bussard and Falke had already been stricken from the Naval List in 1912 and sold to the breakers. Only SMS Geier (Vulture), the youngest of the class, was serving actively in East Africa while Cormoran was hobbled in Tsingtao with bad engines.

The SMS Cormoran in the waters of Tsingtao, 1914. Photo from the Herbert T. Ward collection courtesy of the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC).

The SMS Cormoran in the waters of Tsingtao, 1914. Photo from the Herbert T. Ward collection courtesy of the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC).

By this time our elderly cruiser was done for and was looking for a new ride.

Zuckschwerdt had her crew strip everything useful from Cormoran and move it aboard the captured 3,400-ton Russian freighter SS Ryazan— which had been seized at sea by the German raider SMS Emden on the first day of the Great War and brought to Tsingtao on 4 August as a prize. The Ryazan was a fast ship for a merchantman (17 knots) and had been built in Germany at the Schichau shipyard in Elbing just five years before which meant her engineering suite was at least marked in the right language.

Hilfskreuzer S.M.S. CORORAN II im Jahre 1916 im Hafen von Apra, Guam (Fotograf unbekannt, Marineschule Mürwik)

Hilfskreuzer S.M.S. CORORAN II im Jahre 1916 im Hafen von Apra, Guam (Fotograf unbekannt, Marineschule Mürwik)

On 10 August, at the Imperial Dockyard at Tsingtao, with the crew of the (old) SMS Cormoran on board as well as the warship’s 8x105mm guns, 1,200 shells and stores crammed in every room, the (new) hilfskreuzer SMS Cormoran II was commissioned in her place. As she was a much larger vessel, the crews of the scuttled gunboats SMS Vaterland and Iltis were piled aboard to be used as prize crews for captured merchantmen the new raider was sure to take on the high seas.

A comparison of the old Cormoran, right, and new one

A comparison of the old Cormoran, right, and new one, from the 1915/16 New Year card made by the crew.

The former Russian freighter turned auxiliary cruiser left the Chinese coastline the same day she was commissioned, stalked by the still nominally neutral Japanese navy.

On 15 August 1914, two weeks after the outbreak of World War I in Europe, British-allied Japan delivered an ultimatum to Germany demanding that it relinquish control of the disputed territory of Kiaoutschou/Tsingtao and when they didn’t Japan declared war on 23 August.

The stripped and crewless (old) SMS Cormoran was scuttled on the night of 28–29 September 1914 by dockyard workers to prevent her capture and Tsingtao fell to the Japanese on 7 November after a siege and blockade that cost the lives of over 1,000. Her wreck was salvaged by the Japanese in 1917.

A Japanese lithograph, showing the Japanese fighting German troops during the conquest of the German colony Tsingtao (today Qingdao) in China between 13 September and 7 November 1914. Via National Archives.

A Japanese lithograph, showing the Japanese fighting German troops during the conquest of the German colony Tsingtao (today Qingdao) in China between 13 September and 7 November 1914. Via National Archives.

As for the (new) Cormoran, she had left China dangerously low on coal and spent 127 days at sea on the run and only narrowly remained uncaught.

Map of SMS Cormoran travels before reaching Guam on 14 December 1914. Courtesy of Tony “Malia” Ramirez. Guampedia Foundation

Map of SMS Cormoran travels before reaching Guam on 14 December 1914. As you can see, she shuttled between Yap and German New Guinea extensively and poked around the nuetral Dutch East Indies. Courtesy of Tony “Malia” Ramirez. Guampedia Foundation

On 23 September, she came within 200 meters of Warship Wednesday alumni, the Challenger-class protected cruiser HMAS Encounter (5,800-tons/11 × 6-inch guns/21kts) on a moonless night and avoided sure destruction.

In October, Cormoran took on 98 officers and men of the stricken survey ship SMS Planet at Yap, one of the last German-held islands in the Pacific.

The German radio station at Yap Island. Cormoran called here while on the run and left with the crew of the scuttled SMS Planet

The German radio station at Yap Island. Cormoran called here while on the run and left with the crew of the scuttled SMS Planet

For a time, she hid in the lagoon of sparsely populated Lamotrek atoll in the Carolines and Zuckschwerdt considered scuttling her there, ala HMS Bounty-style, and going native but in the end decided against it.

Out of coal, low on rations save for coconuts and without being able to take any prizes, the overfilled (355 men, 22 officers aboard) Cormoran put into the U.S. territory at Guam on 14 December with British, French and Japanese ships combing the waters for her. She was ordered to moor within range of the three 7″/45cal naval guns mounted ashore at Fort San Felipe del Morro.

USS Supply, Guam's station ship, left, with SMS Cormoran in the center

USS Supply, Guam’s station ship, left, with SMS Cormoran in the center. She would stay in place for over two years.

The event made the papers in the States, front page news.

16 December 1914, Sacramento Union:

cormoran-1914

Zuckschwerdt and the Americans eyed each other cautiously over the next 28 months as the ship was disarmed and interned but kept up good spirits.

The re-purposed Russian steamer carried the crews not only from Cormoran but two German gunboats, a survey ship and several colonials

The re-purposed Russian steamer carried the crews not only from Cormoran but two German gunboats, a survey ship and several colonials

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Swim call in Apra harbor

Swim call in Apra harbor

By June 1916 some of the crew were reportedly “driven mad by isolation.”

When the U.S. declared war on Germany on 7 April 1917, American officials attempted to seize the Cormoran and fired at least one warning shot into the air. The hopelessly outgunned station ship at Guam, USS Supply (3,100-tons/6x6pdrs) put a prize crew of 32 men afloat to board the German ship, though the Germans outnumbered them 11:1.

Zuckschwerdt was cordial and told Supply‘s captain, LCDR William P. Cronan, he could surrender his men but not the cruiser and as soon as the bulk of the men orderly jumped ship, blew her hull out at her mooring in the harbor and she sank in 120 feet of water, tragically taking nine of her crew with her.

From an August 1931 Proceedings article:

“The stricken ship settled by the stern, slowly listing heavily to starboard. For a moment the port half of the deck was exposed to view, the ship lying almost horizontally on her starboard beam ends. Then, as one blinked an eye there was nothing but a small column of water hanging suspended, a bubbling seething area of surface disturbance, a bit of flotsam shooting up like a fish jumping and falling back with a splash, two or three laden boats, and heads, hundreds of heads, bobbing here and there.

“Men clinging to bits of wreckage, oars, life preservers, chests, were swimming toward the shore in all directions; pigeons, apparently carriers released from the ship, hovered over the water, circled, and were gone; men clinging to bits of flotsam with one arm, put bottles to their lips and drank from brown bottles, square colorless bottles; the black men of New Guinea, some carrying bundles dry on their heads, some pushing small chests, paddled off businesslike toward the nearest land. And then a voice was lifted, a strong true deep voice singing Deutschland über alles, and the chorus went up from many a throat.

The crew was rescued by USS Supply, with Cronan noting his German counterpart as “a large, well-formed man, with jet black mustache and Vandyke [beard], always spotlessly attired, spoke English with the elegantness of the educated foreigner, was a gifted conversationalist, possessed a rare charm of manner, and, incidentally, must have been an able disciplinarian to have maintained the high morale evident in his personnel during their long sojourn in Guam.”

As noted by the NPS, “U.S. Marine Corporal Michael B. Chockie fired a shot across the bow of the Cormoran‘s supply launch in an attempt to stop the fleeing launch. Chockie’s shot was the first one fired by an American in the Great War–later known as World War I.”

The dead were buried at the naval cemetery at Agana and are remembered today.

19409792_137955832318

“Die Toten von SMS Cormoran“—”the Dead of the SMS Cormoran”—April 7, 1917.

As for Zuckschwerdt and the rest of his crew, they were the first German POWs in America and were only repatriated in 1919 with the non-German individuals from China and German New Guinea separated.

The good Korvettenkapitän returned to post-Versailles Germany where he was given a position in the drastically smaller Reichsmarine. Continuing to serve, he was a Konteradmiral in the Kriegsmarine in WWII where he commanded coastal fortifications along the French coast until his retirement in May 1944– just before D-Day. When the Brits occupied his hometown in April 1945, he was arrested and put into a POW camp again where he died in July 1945 near Hövelhof, aged 71.

The last of her sisters afloat, SMS Geier, was interned at Hawaii in October 1914, seized 7 April 1917 and pressed into service as USS Schurz. She was sunk off the North Carolina coast 21 June 1918 after a collision with the steamer Florida.

SMS Geier's crew under arrest by Army regulars in Hawaii, 7 Aprl 1917.

SMS Geier’s crew under arrest by Army regulars in Hawaii, 7 April 1917.

As for (new) Cormoran, she is still in Agana harbor, with the wreck of the 8,300-ton Japanese freighter Tokai Maru— sank by U.S. submarines in 1944– atop her and is a popular dive spot.

15888574968_c250914e93_b

In July 1974, the SMS Cormoran II was listed on the Guam Register of Historic Places, and a year later, the vessel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In April 2007, Guam commemorated the 90th anniversary of the scuttling of the SMS Cormoran II. The festivities included wreath-laying ceremonies at Apra Harbor and the US Naval Cemetery in Hagåtña, and a series of lectures and an exhibit. Surviving descendants of the original crew and other German representatives were invited to participate. The graves continued to be visited and honored.

The Guampedia Foundation has kept the ship and her crew’s memory alive and have compiled crew lists, oral histories and accounts.

They have a great gallery of images of the Cormoran online

SMS Cormoran II

The country of Palau, a former German colony, commemorated both versions of Cormoran with recent postage stamps and German Imperial post cancellations.

palau-navire-allemand palau-sms-cormoran-1914

Specs:

Drawing via Wiki

Drawing via Wiki

Displacement: 1,864 t (1,835 long tons; 2,055 short tons)
Length: 82.6 m (271 ft. 0 in)
Beam: 12.7 m (41 ft. 8 in)
Draft: 4.42 m (14 ft. 6 in)
Propulsion: 2 × 3-cylinder triple expansion engines, 2 screws
Sailing rig: 3-mast bark with 9,440 sq. ft. canvas as built, 2-mast schooner after 1908
Speed: 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph), 16.9 kts
Range: 2,950 nmi (5,460 km) at 9 knots (17 km/h) with standard 315t coal load.
Complement:
9 officers
152 enlisted men
Armament:
8 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK L/35 rapid fire guns, 1200 shells
5 × revolver cannon (deleted in 1908)
2 × 35 cm (14 in) torpedo tubes, five torpedoes
Bronze ram bow

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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.

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Warship Wednesday Feb.15, 2017: Keyser’s sweeper

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 Feb.15, 2017: Keyser’s sweeper

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 47192

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 47192

Here we see the Auk-class minesweeper USS Tanager (AM-385) as photographed when new, circa 1945. This humble ship remained afloat in U.S. maritime service across three decades, and, though she vanished about 10 years ago, will live forever.

One of the expansive class of some 95 steel-hulled minesweepers built in the closing months of World War II, these hardy 1,100-ton, 225-foot long vessels could touch 18-knots and, mounting a single 3″/50 DP unprotected gun forward, a few 40mm and 20mm guns, and some depth charges, could make a good patrol/escort in a pinch. A third of the class was built right off the bat for the Royal Navy but the U.S. thought they were good enough to keep the bulk of them around well into the Cold War.

The hero of our tale, Tanager, was named after both a World War I minesweeper of the same name and the red-breasted passerine bird.

tanager
Laid down at Lorain, Ohio, on 29 March 1944 by the American Shipbuilding Co., she was commissioned on 28 July 1945, Lt. Comdr. Oscar B. Lundgren, USNR, in command.

Though several Auks saw rough service in WWII (11 were lost to enemy action) Tanager came into the conflict with just weeks left and spent the rest of 1945 in shakedown.

(AM-385) Underway, circa 1946-1947. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Collection. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 107427

(AM-385) Underway, circa 1946-1947. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Collection. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 107427

Over the next half-decade, she alternated service to the Naval Mine Countermeasures Station, at Panama City, Fla and the Mine Warfare School at Yorktown, Va. By 1951, she was off to the Med where she served in the 6th Fleet for a six-month deployment which she repeated in 1953.

After a dry-docking period, she was towed to Orange, Tex and on 10 December 1954, was decommissioned and berthed there with the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, redesignated MSF-385 the next year. In her nine years of active service with the Navy, she had a revolving Captain’s Cabin of no less than 13 skippers (ranging from O-2 through O-4).

With the Coast Guard in need of training hulls and the Navy rapidly transferring the remaining Auks to overseas Allies, Tanager was transferred to the Treasury Department 4 October 1963 and stricken from the Navy list three weeks later.

(WTR-385). Formerly USS Tanager (AM/MSF-385) Photographed in early or mid-1964, just prior to her commissioning as a Coast Guard cutter. Courtesy of Stephen S. Roberts, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 88071

Carrying CG hull number WTR-385, formerly USS Tanager (AM/MSF-385) Photographed in early or mid-1964, just prior to her commissioning as a Coast Guard cutter. Note her white and buff scheme. Courtesy of Stephen S. Roberts, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 88071

Towed to the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland, she was stripped of the rest of her mine clearing gear as well as most of her armament and converted to a white-hulled training cutter. Built for a complement of 117 officers and men, her berthing areas were set up for a Coasty crew of five officers and 34 enlisted men and made capable of carrying up to 90 reservists for training exercises.

Designated USCGC Tanager (WTR-885) on 11 July 1964, she was commissioned into the Coast Guard under the command of LCDR Robert G. Elm. Over the next five years, she operated out of the USCG Reserve Training Center at Yorktown, undertaking regular training cruises up and down the Eastern Seaboard while pulling the occasional sortie for urgent SAR missions– coming to the rescue of the distressed ketch Arcturus in 1969.

USCG Historians office

USCG Historians office

In 1969, she was transferred to the West Coast, arriving at the Training and Supply Center at Government Island, Alameda, Calif in November after passing through the Panama Canal. Performing the same role she did at Yorktown, by 1972 she was considered surplus. As such, she decommissioned 1 February 1972.

Meanwhile, the Navy had divested themselves of the Auk-class. Though they had nearly 20 still on the Naval List when Tanager was taken out of Coast Guard service, they were all on red lead row and had been since the mid-1950s. Almost all were soon struck and sold or donated. I say almost because one, USS Tercel (AM-386), was somehow missed and disposed of in a SINKEX in 1988 after 33 years in mothballs.

Back to the Tanager

With no one really wanting her, she was disposed of by sale to one Mr. William A. Hardesty of Seattle, Wash in November 1972. She was reportedly converted to the private yacht Eagle (at least they kept a bird name) and changed hands several times over the next 20 years.

By 1994, still with her white hull, she was back in California and tapped to be a set for a film that started with the survivors of a massacre and fire on a freighter docked at the Port of Los Angeles– The Usual Suspects.

usual-suspects-tangier
You can even see the ship’s original name on the bow at the 2:04 mark in the below video, drawn from the opening scene.

Though she was used for a few more film and TV roles, it’s likely only the neo-noir crime caper will stand the test of time.

By 2007, she was reportedly in the south end of Baja’s Ensenada Bay, abandoned. It made a certain sense for her to be in Mexican waters, as the navy of that republic received no less than 11 Auks from the U.S. in the 1970s, and kept a few of them in service as late as 2004.

Via San Diego Reader, note the black hull but her Tanager name still intact.

Via San Diego Reader, note the black hull but her Tanager name still intact.

“We have here a former U.S. Navy ship called the Tanager,” Ríos Hernández, the capitán del puerto, or harbormaster, of the port of Ensenada, told the San Diego Reader. “It was a minesweeper during World War II. It showed up in Ensenada harbor two or three years ago. From what we’ve been able to find out, it was purchased at a U.S. government auction for $10. The owner brought it down here and disappeared. Now it’s our problem.”

Per Bob’s Minesweeper Page, the old girl was still afloat for awhile in poor condition and was being surveyed for scrap, which more than likely happened.

Pictures taken by Lic. Armando Arceo Hernandez in 2007 Baja, Ca., next to Calexico, Ca. via Bobs Minesweeper Page.

Pictures taken by Lic. Armando Arceo Hernandez in 2007 Baja, Ca., next to Calexico, Ca. via Bobs Minesweeper Page.

And like that…(s)he’s gone…

poof_usual_suspects

Specs:

Photo via ShipBucket

Photo via ShipBucket

Length: 220′ 7″
Beam: 32′ 3″
Draft: 10′ 2″
Displacement: 1,112 tons
Propulsion: 4 generators driven by 4 electric motors driven by 4 Cleveland diesels; 3,600 HP; twin propellers
Performance:
Max: 16.0 knots
Economic: 12.0 knots; 7,200-mile range
Electronics: SPS-23 radar; SQS-1 sonar
Complement: 117 as commissioned, USCG: 5 officers/ 34 enlisted plus accommodations for 90 reservists
Armament: (as built) 3″/50 dual purpose gun mount, two 40mm gun mounts, six 20mm gun mounts, one depth charge thrower (hedgehogs), four depth charge projectors (K-guns) and two depth charge tracks.
(1955): 3″/50 dual purpose gun mount, two 40mm gun mounts
(1963) 3″/50, small arms

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Warship Wednesday Feb.8, 2017: Victoria’s very busy Vulture

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 Feb.8, 2017: Victoria’s very busy Vulture

Via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Here we see Her Majesty’s second-class paddlewheel steam frigate HMS Vulture, of Queen Victoria’s Royal Navy, landing dispatches at Danzig during the Crimean War.

A one-of-a-kind vessel, she was ordered 18 March 1841 from the Royal Navy dockyard in Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire, Wales for a cost of £46,718, of which half of that was the price of her engineering suite. While based on the Pembroke-built HMS Cyclops, that ship was a near-sister at best.

Her near-sister, HMS Cyclops, originally a Gorgon-class frigate equipped with a Seaward and Capel steam plant. She had roughly the same dimensions and layout as Vulture, though with a different plant.

Her near-sister, HMS Cyclops, originally a Gorgon-class frigate equipped with a Seaward and Capel steam plant. She had roughly the same dimensions and layout as Vulture, though with a different plant.

As befitting her time, Vulture‘s steam plant, meticulously described in The Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine of the day, was novel. Two paddle wheels, each 26.5-feet in diameter and arranged port and starboard about centerline, were driven by direct-action steam engines of some 476 horses designed by William Fairbairn and Co., London. Her steam plant consisted of four locomotive style boilers, “placed back to back, 26 feet 10 inches in total breadth, and 13 feet high.” She could carry 420tns coal, and make 9.5 knots with everything glowing.

A wooden-hulled ship with an auxiliary two-masted sailing rig, Vulture, the ninth such ship to carry the name for the Crown, weighed in at 1,960-tons full load. Armed with for 4×68-pdr shell guns, 5x56pdrs, and 2x24pdr carronades, she was placed in service 15 February 1845 under the command of Captain John Macdougall with a complement of 175 men and boys. At the time, she was considered a first-class frigate.

She soon would see action in the Far East as the largest ship in Major-General George D’Aguilar’s punitive expedition to Canton in 1847. The city was guarded by 13 ancient batteries and forts along the Canton river. For this, Vulture embarked 24 officers and 403 men of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot, and along with the smaller HMS Espiegle, East Indian steamer Pluto, the armed privateer Corsair and a pair of “lorchas”– small trawler style craft of shallow draft, took them on.

Operations in the Canton River 3. Forts and Batteries of the Bocca Tigris or First Pass of the Canton River; H.M. Steam Ship, Vulture Captain MacDougall passing the Batteries, with the 18th Royal Irish on board via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Operations in the Canton River 3. Forts and Batteries of the Bocca Tigris or First Pass of the Canton River; H.M. Steam Ship, Vulture (tiny smoky dot in center) Captain MacDougall passing the Batteries, with the 18th Royal Irish on board via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

With her big 68-pdrs supplying naval gunfire support and her small boats leading the way for the other craft in the fleet– who could affect amphibious operations due to their shallower draft– the forts fell one by one in a four-day period with nearly 900 Chinese cannon captured without a loss among the British forces.

The keep of the French Folly Fort blown up by the Royal Sappers and Miners on 5 April 1847.Via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

The keep of the French Folly Fort blown up by the Royal Sappers and Miners on 5 April 1847.Via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Operations in Canton River. 11. The Return to Hong Kong. The Vulture passing the Battery upon Tygris Island, Lorcha in tow via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Operations in Canton River. 11. The Return to Hong Kong. The Vulture passing the Battery upon Tygris Island, Lorcha in tow via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Grounded at Hong Kong 9 Oct 1847 as a result of a typhoon (the severest reported in 10 years) she returned to the Home Isles and was placed in ordinary.

Recommissioned after refit as a second-class frigate, Vulture sailed for Devonport for Pendennis Castle, Falmouth with replacement troops in April 1851. Her armament was changed out for six guns, all 8-inchers with 98-pounder smoothbore shell guns on bow and stern pivots and four lighter 68-pounders on broadside trucks.

She would soon need them.

On 25 November 1852, she was placed under the helm of Capt. Frederick Henry Hastings Glasse, and operated out of Devonport until the Crimean War sent her abroad looking for trouble. She was one of seven other paddle steamers assigned to Rear-Admiral Plumridge, dispatched to harass the Russians in the Baltic Sea’s Gulf of Bothnia in May 1854.

After destroying vessels and storehouses, etc., at Brahestad and Uleaborg, and capturing several gunboats, Vulture and the 16-gun frigate HMS Odin was sent to capture the Russian dockyard at Gamlakarleby (Kokkola) 7 June 1854 and, after landing a 180-man force, was rebuffed with the loss of 17 Sailors and Royal Marines and one of her paddle-box whaleboats captured. Apparently, the locals did not agree to terms.

Seamen From HMS Vulture Under Attack at Halkokari June 7 1854 - Vladimir Swertschkoff Lithograph

Seamen From HMS Vulture Under Attack at Halkokari June 7 1854 – Vladimir Swertschkoff Lithograph

By August, Vulture had rejoined the main British fleet first to capture the Russian Bomarsund fortress on Åhland Islands, where she landed French troops, then for the impressive but ultimately pyrrhic attempt to capture the Russian positions at Sveaborg outside Helsinki.

English sailors & French soldiers. A Dance on board HMS Vulture Augt 7 (caricature), via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

English sailors & French soldiers. A Dance on board HMS Vulture August 7 (caricature), via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

'Landing of the French troops near Bomarsund in the Aland Islands, August 8th 1854. Sketched from on board HMS Vulture'. Tinted lithograph, 1854, by L Huard after Edwin Thomas Dolby (fl 1849-1870), reproduced as plate nine in 'Dolby's Sketches on the Baltic' published by Paul and Dominic Colnaghi, 1854. Via National Army Museum http://www.nam.ac.uk/online-collection/detail.php?acc=1976-07-55-1

‘Landing of the French troops near Bomarsund in the Aland Islands, August 8th, 1854. Sketched from on board HMS Vulture’. Tinted lithograph, 1854, by L Huard after Edwin Thomas Dolby (fl 1849-1870), reproduced as plate nine in ‘Dolby’s Sketches on the Baltic’ published by Paul and Dominic Colnaghi, 1854. Via National Army Museum

The Bombardment of Sveaborg, 9 August 1855, by John Wilson Carmichael (1799–1868), National Maritime Museum, via ArtUK. The steamship in the center of the painting is Vulture. National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-bombardment-of-sveaborg-9-august-1855-173178

The Bombardment of Sveaborg, 9 August 1855, by John Wilson Carmichael (1799–1868), The steamship in the center of the painting is Vulture. National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-bombardment-of-sveaborg-9-august-1855-173178

Known today in Finland as the Battle of Suomenlinna, 77 British ships hammered the Russians for three days without the obsolete Russian artillery able to respond. However, with the Tsar having over 15,000 regulars ashore and the Brits not having a superior land force to match, the battle stalemated after Victoria’s fleet flattened the old coastal batteries.

lebreton_the-bombardment-of-sveaborg
The war ended without much more action by the RN in the Baltic, which was always a sideshow to the efforts in the Crimea regardless. During the war, Vulture was credited with capturing the Russian brig Patrioten, and merchant vessel Victor, for which her crew was awarded prize money per the London Gazette of 21 Jul 1857.

Present at the Fleet Review at Spithead in April 1856 under Captain Glasse, by 3 June 1856, Vulture picked up her fourth skipper, Capt. Frederick Archibald Campbell, and was reassigned to the Med– then shortly decommissioned.

In 1858, Vulture, under Captain C. Packer, was again on the move, helping to ship the 71st (Lord Macleod’s) Highlanders to Bombay.

In the end, she was laid up for a final time in 1860 then sold in 1866 to Castle & Son, Charlton, to be broken up.

Her near-sister, HMS Cyclops, served in the Syrian Campaign of 1840, fought in the Kaffir War, then served in the Black Sea during the Crimean War before helping to survey the Atlantic telegraph cable from Ireland to Newfoundland and London to India. She paid off in 1860.

Little is left of Vulture, though a screw gunboat carried her name in the late 19th century as did a Clydebank three funnel 30-knot destroyer in the Great War. The Navy List has not held the name “Vulture” on an active ship since 1919 though a gunnery range at Treligga, west of Delabole, Cornwall, carried the designation HMS Vulture II through WWII.

Oh, remember that whaleboat lost in Finland in 1854? Well, they still have it, under glass, along with the carefully maintained graves of nine Royal Marines and a stark memorial to what the Finns call the “Skirmish of Halkokari.”

Only one other paddle-box boat, from HM 2nd class paddle frigate Firebrand, is in existence. The RN still has it at the Royal Dockyards, Portsmouth.

Halkokari skirmish memorial

englantilainen_barkassi
Specs:
Displacement: 1,960 tons FL
Length: 190 ft. (gun deck) 163.6 ft. (keel)
Beam: 37.5 feet.
Draft: 23 feet
Propulsion: Two Fairburn 2-cyl vertical direct-acting 476-hp engines, four tubular boilers, two paddlewheels, 420-tons coal, max speed 9.5knts
Complement: 175
Armament: 4×68-pdr shell guns, 5x56pdrs, and 2x24pdr carronades (as built) 6×8-inch Paixhans style ML shell guns, two 98-pdr, four 68-pdr(1851)

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.

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Warship Wednesday Feb.1, 2017: The proud (and almost forgotten) Mason

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 Feb.1, 2017: The proud Mason

National Archives Identifier: 6210481

National Archives Identifier: 6210481

Here we see the only World War II U.S. Navy destroyer escort with a predominantly black enlisted crew, USS Mason DE-529, with two of her smiling bluejackets at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944.

In recognition of Black History Month, which begins today, I give you the Mason‘s story.

While African-Americans served with honor in the Navy going back to the time of Washington, and even earned the Medal of Honor,  per a 99-page 1947-era history of “negroes” in the Navy complied by the service:

Following World War I, enlistment of Negroes seems to have been discontinued by BuNav. Recruiting of Negroes as messmen may have been kept open formally, but at least in practice only Filipinos were recruited for this branch from about 1919-1922 until December, 1932. About December 1932, active recruiting of Negroes for the messman branch began and this was the only branch in which Negroes could enlist until recruiting for general service was opened to them as of June 1, 1942,

Messmen!

It should be noted that on 30 June 1942, there were just 5,026 African-Americans in the regular Navy– almost all of them mess attendants.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Mess Attendant Doris Miller earned his Navy Cross the hard way– carrying stricken fellow Sailors to safety on the battleship USS West Virginia, helping aid the mortally wounded Captain of the ship, and finally manning a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.

Miller

Miller

Commended by SECNAV Knox himself, Miller went back to sea, first on the carrier Enterprise, then the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (!) and was later killed when the jeep carrier USS Liscome Bay‘s magazine went up in 1943 following a Japanese torpedo strike.

With all this in mind, on 16 January 1942, Knox– prodded by FDR, FLOTUS, and the director of the NAACP– asked the General Board to submit a plan for taking 5000 African-Americans for billets other than in the messman branch, requesting further that the Board state their ideas as to the type of duty, assignments, etc., “which will permit the Navy to best utilize the services of these men.”

The study came to the conclusion that, barring mess rates, blacks should not serve in the general fleet but could be utilized in “service units throughout the naval establishment (including shore activities of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard); yard craft and other small craft employed in Naval District local defense forces; shore based units for other parts of District local defense forces; selected Coast Guard cutters and small details for Coast Guard Captains of the Port; construction battalions; composite Marine battalions”

All segregated.

For instance, the 20th, 34th and 80th Naval Construction Battalions (Seabee) were almost all-black, with white officers and SCNOs.

"District craft duty in the United states. [Photograph is bound in book and top part of caption is not available. The first sailor's name is not available. Readable are: Edward L. Williams, Motor Machinist's Mate 2nd Class; Clifton W. Allen, Ship's Cook 2nd Class; Carl E. Harris, Seaman 1st Class; and Charles H. Brown, Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class.] Official US Navy Photograph."

“District craft duty in the United states. [Photograph is bound in book and top part of caption is not available. The first sailor’s name is not available. Readable are: Edward L. Williams, Motor Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class; Clifton W. Allen, Ship’s Cook 2nd Class; Carl E. Harris, Seaman 1st Class; and Charles H. Brown, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class.] Official US Navy Photograph.”

By December 31, 1943, there were 101,573 blacks on active duty in various rates, 37,981 of whom were Stewards Mates (about one in three), and the service moved to expand their “experiment.”

In late 1943, the Navy decided to trial a pair of segregated warships, the 173-foot PC-461-class submarine chaser USS PC 1264, with 65 officers and men; and the subject of our tale, the 289-foot Evarts-class destroyer escort, USS Mason (DE-529), with the much more significant complement of 198– 160 of which were to be African-American, including one officer,  Lt.(.j.g) James Hair.

Envisioned to be a class of a staggering 105 vessels, the Evarts-class DE’s were plucky 1,360-ton ships referred to at the time as the “battleships of the anti-submarine war.” Equipped with a quartet of GM Model 16-278A diesel engines, they weren’t especially fast (just 19-knots when wide open, though they were designed originally for 24), or especially well-armed (just a few 3″/50 Mk22 guns, some smaller pieces for AAA defense, and an array of depth charge devices), but they didn’t have to be to escort convoys and chase off German and Japanese subs.

Mason was named after Ensign Newton Henry Mason, D.D.S., U.S. Naval Air Corps, who gave his last full measure at the ripe old age of 23 when he flew his F4F Wildcat from the deck of USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea and was never seen again.

Extreme left, back row: ENS Newton H. Mason was killed in action against Japanese forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942. He had joined the squadron just five months before, fresh from flight school.

Extreme left, back row: ENS Newton H. Mason was killed in action against Japanese forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942. He had joined the squadron just five months before, fresh from flight school.

He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (posthumously) and was remembered by a memorial service at Columbia University, his alma mater. Mason’s mother, Mrs. David Mason, was at the launching ceremony for our destroyer escort, 17 November 1943 at Boston Navy Yard.

Commissioned 20 March 1944, Mason‘s crew was mainly African-American, who had been trained in the months leading up to manning the rails.

“I just wanted to get in the Navy with all those ships,” said Gordon D. Buchanan, a veteran of Mason (DE 529). “All I wanted was to go to sea. I didn’t know what blacks were doing at sea, I just wanted to join and fight for my country. I am a patriot.”

Quartermasters receive compass instruction, during training for Mason's crew at the Norfolk Naval Training Station, Virginia, 3 January 1944. The instructor is QMC L.J. Russell, USNR (left). Trainees are (left to right): QM2c Charles W. Divers, QM2c Royal H. Gooden, QM2c Calvin Bell, QM3c Lewis F. Blanton. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-214542

Quartermasters receive compass instruction, during training for Mason’s crew at the Norfolk Naval Training Station, Virginia, 3 January 1944. The instructor is QMC L.J. Russell, USNR (left). Trainees are (left to right): QM2c Charles W. Divers, QM2c Royal H. Gooden, QM2c Calvin Bell, QM3c Lewis F. Blanton. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-214542

three gunner’s mates assemble and study a 20 mm gun, the type which they man aboard the USS MASON (DE 529)

NORFOLK, VA (January 3, 1944) Under the direction of CGM Rex Ashley, USN, three gunner’s mates assemble and study a 20 mm gun, the type which they man aboard the USS MASON (DE 529). Trainees at Norfolk are l. to r.: Albert A. Davis, GM2c; Frank Wood, GM2c; and Warren Vincent, GM2c. (National Archives Photo # 80-G-44826)

Signalman 1st Class Ernest V. Alderman, USNR, (right) explains various parts of a signal lamp to SM2c Julius Holmes, during training for Mason's crew at Norfolk Naval Training Station, Virginia, 3 January 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-44827

Signalman 1st Class Ernest V. Alderman, USNR, (right) explains various parts of a signal lamp to SM2c Julius Holmes, during training for Mason’s crew at Norfolk Naval Training Station, Virginia, 3 January 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-44827

Commissioning ceremonies on the ship's fantail, held in a driving snowstorm at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944. Her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander William M. Blackford, USNR, is in the center with some of the crew standing in ranks behind him. Ship in the background is an LST, with bow doors partially opened. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the Collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-218856

Commissioning ceremonies on the ship’s fantail, held in a driving snowstorm at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944. Her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander William M. Blackford, USNR, is in the center with some of the crew standing in ranks behind him. Ship in the background is an LST, with bow doors partially opened. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the Collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-218856

African-American crewmembers look proudly at their ship while moored at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-218861

African-American crewmembers look proudly at their ship while moored at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-218861

By 30 June 1944, a total of 142,306 African-Americans were in the Navy, of whom 48,524 were Steward’s Mates (about 33%).

Following her shakedown cruise, Mason escorted an Eastbound convoy to the Azores in July.

Crossing back to the West, she arrived in New York and helped escort Convoy NY119 in September into October, where she encountered a terrible storm at sea and the Mason carried her 20 merchantmen to Falmouth, England, though she was barely afloat herself.

According to the Navy:

During the worst North Atlantic storm of the century, the 290-foot long Mason was serving as escort to a convoy of merchant ships bound for England. The strength of the storm forced the convoy to break up, and Mason was chosen to escort a section of ships to their destination.

With land in sight, Mason’s deck split, threatening the structural integrity of the ship. Emergency repairs were made quickly and efficiently, and Mason returned immediately to assist the remainder of the convoy.

Mason’s crew had accomplished what the Atlanta Daily Press described on the day of the ship’s commissioning as an “opportunity to show the world that they are capable.”

“We were there to prove ourselves,” said Lorenzo A. Dufau, another Mason veteran. “It’s wonderful to know I played a small role in giving others opportunity.”

For saving their ship and continuing their mission, the Mason crew was recommended for commendations by their captain and the convoy commander. The commendations were never awarded.

Repaired, she was soon back to work.

Radarman Kieffer (left) and Radioman Graham (right) relaxing on smoke generators on Mason's fantail somewhere in the North Atlantic while on convoy duty, 1944. Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106731

Radarman Kieffer (left) and Radioman Graham (right) relaxing on smoke generators on Mason’s fantail somewhere in the North Atlantic while on convoy duty, 1944. Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106731

Signalmen DuFau and Buchanan sending and receiving messages to Mason's sister ship. Convoy duty, North Atlantic, 1944 (Her sister ship is not listed). Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106730

Signalmen DuFau and Buchanan sending and receiving messages to Mason’s sister ship. Convoy duty, North Atlantic, 1944 (Her sister ship is not listed). Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106730

Half-tone image taken from an unknown newspaper. Lieutenant Junior Grade Phillips, Communication Officer, looks on as Top Rank Signalman Lorenzo DuFau hands Captain Blackford a message. They are pictured on the flying bridge during North Atlantic convoy duty, 1944. Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106732

Half-tone image taken from an unknown newspaper. Lieutenant Junior Grade Phillips, Communication Officer, looks on as Top Rank Signalman Lorenzo DuFau hands Captain Blackford a message. They are pictured on the flying bridge during North Atlantic convoy duty, 1944. Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106732

By December, she was part of Task Force 64, headed to the Med and called at Oran in January 1945. Just four days out of that port, Mason had a contact, to which “She rang up full speed with all battle stations manned to attack the presumptive submarine, rammed, and dropped depth charges.”

Though the contact proved to be an abandoned derelict, the surface action showed the benefit of training– scores of other ships during the war plastered the marine life of the day chasing ghost contacts.

Escorting two more convoys to Europe before VE Day, Mason was later used briefly for sonar testing in Bermuda before being decommissioned at Charleston, 12 October 1945 and placed in mothballs there.

Stricken the next month, she was sold for scrapping at Charleston, S.C. to Mr. Thomas Harris of Barber, N.J.

As the war reached its climax, by 30 June 1945, the Navy counted on active duty 165,500 African-American enlisted personnel. 75,500 of these were Steward’s Mates (about 45%).

Mason‘s cousin, PC-1264, was honored by being selected as one of 47 warships for a review of the fleet by President Truman on Navy Day, 27 October 1945 and remained in service until 7 February 1946, when she was decommissioned.

On 26 July 1947, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, officially desegregating the Armed Forces.

The tale of these two ships was almost lost to time, with 67 surviving crewmembers of USS Mason only being issued a citation for their harrowing storm at sea in 1994 at the hands of President Clinton.

In 1995, author Mary Pat Kelly chronicled the Mason and some of her crew in the book, Proudly We Served: The Men of the USS Mason.

Kelly went on in 2004 to write and direct a film version of the book, Proud.

In 2009, Signalman First Class Lorenzo DuFau, the last surviving crew member, introduced the screening of the film at the Buffalo International Film Festival. Actor Ossie Davis, in his last screen role, played an older DuFau.

As for Hair, one of the “Golden Thirteen” black officers in WWII, he left the Navy in 1946 and became a social worker of some note in New York, dying there in 1992.  The U.S. Naval Institute has some 220 pages of transcripts from interviews done late in his life with archivists.

Though the Mason herself was not preserved, in 1998, SECNAV John H. Dalton named an Arleigh Burke Class destroyer the USS MASON (DDG-87) “in order to mark the contributions of USS MASON DE 529, Sailors’ equality and desegregation in Today’s Navy.”

ARABIAN SEA (Sept. 10, 2016) The guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) conducts formation exercises with the Cyclone-class patrol crafts USS Tempest (PC 2) and USS Squall (PC 7). Mason, deployed as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Janweb B. Lagazo)

ARABIAN SEA (Sept. 10, 2016) The guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) conducts formation exercises with the Cyclone-class patrol crafts USS Tempest (PC 2) and USS Squall (PC 7). Mason, deployed as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Janweb B. Lagazo)

Specs:

evarts-classDisplacement: 1,140 short tons (1,030 tonnes)
Length:     289 ft. 5 in (88.21 m)
Beam:     35 ft. 1 in (10.69 m)
Draft:     8 ft. 3 in (2.51 m)
Speed:     19 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Complement: 156 officers and men (as designed)
Armament:
3 × 3″/50 caliber guns
4 × 1.1″/75 caliber guns
9 × Oerlikon 20mm cannon
2 × depth charge tracks
8 × depth charge projector
1 × Hedgehog-type depth charge projector, up to 160 depth charges of all types could be carried.

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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