Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Jan. 25, 2023: Kaisers Tin Cans do Broadway
Bain News Service collection, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ggbain-50381
Above we see, in the summer of 1920 a trio of once-sunk former torpedoboten of the old Kaiserliche Marine, anchored in New York City, from left to right ex-SMS V43, G102, and S132, with the newly commissioned Lapwing-class minesweeper USS Redwing (AM-48) outboard.
A closer look. Note that all the vessels have Union Jacks on their bows, as they are in possession of the Navy if not in direct commission. LC-DIG-ggbain-31137
Check out the inset, showing a little girl playing on G102’s forward 8.8 cm SK L/45 naval gun and her boater hat-wearing father close by. Besides four such guns, the 1,700-ton vessel carried six 19.7-inch torpedo tubes and could make 34 knots on her steam turbines, a speed that is still fast today. Another boater-clad man is inspecting the view from atop her wheelhouse.
German destroyer S132 in possession of the U.S. Navy, showing the mine laying stern. Note the stern of the minesweeper Redwing. LOC
German destroyers G102 and S132 in possession of the U.S. Navy, in 1920 in New York with a great view of Manhattan from the Hudson and the ships’ guns and searchlights. LOC
The vessels had been interned at Scapa Flow by the terms of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, then scuttled by their skeleton crews on 21 June 1919. Saved by the British, who worked quickly to beach these small craft along with a few others, they were turned over to the U.S. as war reparations as part of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1920, along with the German Helgoland class battleship ex-SMS Ostfriesland and the Wiesbaden-class light cruiser ex-SMS Frankfurt.
All five ships saw extensive action with the High Seas Fleet during World War I, including (except for SMS V43) the epic clash at Jutland. That service, while fascinating, is beyond the scope of this post but I encourage you to look into it if curious.
Scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow: Tug alongside scuttled German destroyer G 102 at Scapa Flow, June 1919. Of the 74 interned German ships at Scapa, 52 were lost– including all three of G102’s sisters– with the remainder saved by the British and divvied up post-Versailles. IWM SP 1631
Turned over to a scratch American crew, they were shepherded across the Atlantic to New York by the minesweepers Redwing and USS Falcon (AM-28).
The German Imperial Navy destroyer SMS G 102 is escorted to a U.S. port by the U.S. Navy minesweeper USS Falcon (AM-28), circa 1920. Note her six assorted torpedo tubes arranged front, aft, and center. NH 45786
Ostfriesland, Capt. J. F. Hellweg (USNA 1900), USN, in command, became the only German-built battleship commissioned into the U.S. Navy on 7 April 1920 at Rosyth, Scotland, and made New York under her own power, where she was decommissioned on 20 September 1920. Hellweg, who had spent his career in surface warfare including service with the Great White Fleet and in Mexico, went on to command the Naval Observatory and was certainly an interesting figure at parties.
After their summer as “propaganda ships,” the three tin cans were soon stripped at Norfolk and disposed of off Cape Henry, Virginia, at the infamous hands of Billy Mitchell’s land-based aircraft, followed up with a coup de grace on the humble yet still floating 1,100-ton V43 made by assembled American battleships on 15 July 1921.
Via NYT Archives
Direct hit on G102, July 13, 1921. They were sunk during the Billy Mitchell aircraft bombing tests on German and U.S. Navy ships, showing the vulnerability of ships to aerial bombing, on July 18, 1921. Photograph from the William “Billy” Mitchell Collection, U.S. Navy Museum.
Anti-Ship Bombing Demonstration, 1921. Shown: G-102 showing smoke from a direct hit made by SE-5 with a 25-pound TNT-filled fragmentation bomb, June 21, 1921. From the album entitled, “First Provisional Air Brigade, Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia, 1921.” Note her tubes and guns have been removed. From the William Mitchell Collection. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
As for Redwing, she went on to be sheep-dipped and serve in the Coast Guard during Prohibition, then would return to Navy service first on the West Coast in 1929 and then on the East by 1941. Converted to a rescue/salvage ship (ARS-4), she was lost to an Axis mine off the old Vichy French navy base at Bizerte, Tunisia, during WWII on 29 June 1943.
Ships are more than steel
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
That some ships have a
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