While the U.S. Navy’s naming convention has shifted wildly over the years– for instance in the 1840s frigates were named for states but by the 1890s those names were used for armored cruisers, switching to battleships in the 1900s then ballistic missile submarines/nuclear guided missile cruisers during the Cold War and finally attack submarines today. For example, see the five different USS Mississippi which ranged from an 1839 paddle frigate to BB-23, BB-41, CGN-40 and the current SSN-782.
One convention, however, has endured for over a century.
In 1909, the class leader of a series of new 147-foot fleet tugs modified from the preceding USS Patapsco was named USS Patuxent (Tug No. 11) after an Algonquian people indigenous to what is now the Mid-Atlantic region. Likewise, her sisterships carried similar names.
Don’t let their mission fool you, fleet tugs from the beginnings saw a lot of hairy activity and dozens of battle stars have been issued to these unsung vessels.
Case in point:
After the Patuxent-class came the USS Arapaho (AT-14) class, which served through into the WWII-era. Then followed the 28-vessel Navajo/Cherokee-class and the storied 27-strong Abnaki-class.
These vessels held the line for more than three decades in hard service.
Finally, the Powhatan-class fleet ocean tugs which survive in the MSC today providing “towing, diving and standby submarine rescue services to the Navy’s numbered fleet commanders,” still carry proud names.
To perpetuate this tradition and replace the three remaining 1970s-era Powhatans, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer announced earlier this month the new class of Towing, Salvage, and Rescue ship will be named Navajo “in honor of the major contributions the Navajo people have made to the armed forces.”
Further, all seven of the class will be named in honor of Native peoples.
“The Navajo people have fought and served our armed forces with honor and valor in nearly every major conflict since the birth of our nation, so it is fitting and right to name a new class of ship in their honor,” said Spencer. “The Navajo class of Towing, Salvage, and Rescue ships will serve our nation and continue the legacy of the Navajo people, and all Native Americans.”
No, not these:
“Shortly after the cessation of hostilities of World War I, the United States found itself with a number of obsolete craft from the beginning of the era of the all-steel Navy. Now no longer needed, U.S. Navy disposed of its original torpedo boat destroyers that had entered service shortly after the end of the Spanish-American War. The three boats Truxtun class were bought by private shipping interests. The Truxtun (DD-14) and her sisters Whipple (DD-15) and Worden (DD-16) were refitted with diesel engines for the first experiment in making small, fast, shallow draft banana carriers.”
USNI’s Naval History Blog has a great rundown on these ships, and their repurposed career, in a reprint of an April 1971 issue of Proceedings available online
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission earlier this month held a ceremony at Messines Ridge British Cemetery for two unknown soldiers whose remains were recently recovered near the town of Wijtschate, south of Ieper, in the Belgian province of West Flanders.
Despite the best attempts by the Commission, the two lads were only identified as a member of the Royal Irish Rifles (Now part of the Royal Irish Regiment) and an unknown soldier of an unknown regiment, both of which will bear a headstone marked “Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.”
Mechanism of the magazine – Lee-Enfield rifle (SMLE), 1907 Gallaher’s Cigarette card.
The .303 Enfield, of course, was fielded by Britain and her Commonwealth allies throughout both World Wars, Korea and a host of colonial misadventures until they were replaced by variants of the FN FAL in the 1960s. They are still in limited production in India at Ishapore in commercial variants and both 10-round (.303) and 12-round (.308) models remain in use by police and paramilitary units there, although they are slated for replacement.
Not such a bad mechanism, after all.
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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. 6, 2019: The good doctor’s fine ‘Frida
Here we see the fourth-rate scout patrol vessel USS Elfrida at the New York Navy Yard, circa 1899, just after the Spanish-American War. A steel schooner with fine lines, she looks like a gentleman’s yacht that would be more at home on Lake Champlain if it was not for her mix of 3-pdr and 1-pdr deck guns.
Speaking of which…
Prior to the dustup with the decaying Spanish Empire, Elfrida was the personal pride of one Dr. William Seward Webb, founder of Shelburne Farms and President of the Wagner Palace Car Company of New York (that latter of which later became Pullman).
Webb came from the best family.
His father, a Whig, held the rank of general (as did his grandfather) and was minister to Austria, Brazil and other points of interest– importantly brokering a deal with Napoleon III to get French troops out of Mexico. Webb’s older brother was the likewise meticulously groomed and well-dressed Union Brig. Gen. Alexander S. Webb, who famously earned the MOH at Gettysburg at the head of the Philadelphia Brigade on Cemetery Ridge.
Studying medicine in Europe, the younger Webb acquired a love of Mozart and Schutzen target rifle shooting, both of which he brought back to the U.S., usinb the latter as “Inspector General of Rifle Practice” for the Vermont militia with the state rank of colonel.
Built at a cost of $100,000 by the Harlan & Hollingsworth Company Wilmington, Delaware (the same firm built yachts for customers such as Charles Morgan, William Astor, and W. K. Vanderbilt) Elfrida was launched at the yard on 13 April 1889.
She was reportedly the “first steam yacht ever built with both a detachable stern and bow” so that Webb could use her on to pass through the narrow canals to Lake Champlain. She went just 117-feet long overall, closer to 102 at the waterline.
Finished in paneled red mahogany, “Colonel” Webb’s double stateroom was aft and three others were set aside for guests– each with its own lavatory. The crew had another trio of staterooms forward but had to share a head.
Electrically lit and steam-heated, the very modern schooner carried telegraph for use when close to line and used a triple expansion engine as an “iron mainsail” complete with a steam plant consisting of a compact Hazelton vertical water tube boiler that generated 160 pounds of steam. Her speed was about 10ish knots.
A favorite of the Lake Champlain Yacht Club (which still exists today) Elfrida was the commodore’s ship for the regatta off Plattsburg, New York in August 1897 attended by no less a personage as President William McKinley along with Vice President Garret Hobart in tow.
Webb also apparently packed a fairly loud “yacht gun,” as one did, to celebrate during “the season.”
When the “Splendid little war” came just the very next summer, Webb did his personal duty and sold Elfrida on 18 June 1898 to the Navy for the relatively paltry sum of $50,000. Refitted at New York Navy Yard with a single 3-pounder 47mm gun and a pair of 1-pounder 37mm pieces, she was commissioned less than two weeks later, on 30 June, and immediately put to service on coastal patrols between New York and New London.
As the war was short and the Spanish never made it up to the Northeast, she was placed out of commission 14 September 1898, service in her first war complete.
DANFS says she was used by the Naval Militia in Connecticut and New Jersey to train seagoing militiamen from 1899 to 1908 in the days prior to the establishment of the Navy Reserve. Typical summer cruises would range a week or two and often proved eventful, with the New York Times reporting one such 1903 voyage encountering a “frightful” storm at sea.
In 1908, our 20-year-old armed patrol yacht was decommissioned and her powerplant swapped out for a new 200ihp engine powered by two boilers with an increased speed of 14 knots.
By 20 August 1909, along with the old torpedo boat USS Foote (TB-3), Elfrida was assigned to the North Carolina Naval Militia, a force she belonged to as a drill and school ship until the U.S. entered the Great War in April 1917. While there, her armament was upgraded to a single 6-pounder 57mm rapid-fire mount.
In 1914, the 32 ships allocated to the 19 various Naval Militias were diverse and somewhat motley. These ranged from the old cruiser USS Boston (3,000 tons, 2×8 inch, Oregon Naval Militia) and the shallow draft monitor USS Cheyenne (3,255 tons, 2×12 inch, Washington Naval Militia) to the downright puny yacht USS Huntress (82 tons, 2×3 pdrs, Missouri NM) and everything in between. Notably, several of the ships were on the Great Lakes training reservists in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. Like Elfrida, most had a SpanAm War pedigree.
When Congress declared war on the Kaiser in April 1917, the remobilized Elfrida (SP-988) returned to the active fleet and resumed her 1898 mission of coastal patrol, rated, along with the old 100-ton ex-Spanish Navy gunboat USS Sandoval as, “suitable for harbor defense only.”
On 25 August 1917, she suffered an explosion while making the passage from Norfolk to Yorktown, Virginia, killing one and injuring two others. This likely limited her wartime career and, after a stint assigned to the 5th Naval District to patrol to take charge of a fleet of motorboats tending the submarine nets at York River Upper Barrier, she was demobilized at the end of 1917. Before the war was even out, she was decommissioned 31 March 1918 and sold 11 May 1918.
Her final fate is unknown.
As for the esteemed Dr. Webb, he passed in 1926, aged 75, but his model farm at Shelburne, Vermont, where Elfrida was often docked, is today a National Landmark non-profit institute that does research into sustainable farming techniques.
Elfrida‘s plans and those of 207 other Holling & Hollingsworth built vessels, are in the collection of the Mariners’ Museum Library in Newport News.
Displacement: 164 to 173 tons
Length (between perps) 101′ 6″
Length (on deck) 117′ 0″
Beam molded 18′ 0″
Depth at side 12′ 6″
Draft: 7′ 9″
Machinery (As built)
Engine triple expansion engine 10½”xl6″x24″/ 16″ 200hp, Hazelton boiler
Dia. of wheel 6′ 4″
Pitch 8′ 6″
Coal: 12 tons, as built (listed as 23 max in Navy service)
Speed: 10.5 knots as built, 14 knots after 1909.
Crew: Unk in civilian service, likely 20-25 in Naval service.
1 x 47mm 3-pounder
2 x 37mm 1-pounders
*Note, Jane‘s listed this as standard through her career
1 x 57mm 6-pounder
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To say that the U.S. entered the Great War in 1917 unprepared was an understatement. With a standing Army that was smaller than almost any European combatant with the possible exception of Portugal (who could still field 8 deployable divisions in addition to colonial troops in Africa and the Far East), the U.S. Navy was by far more ready for war than Uncle’s lean green machine. Nonetheless, with the need to add hundreds of destroyers, subchasers and other escorts to protect vital sea lanes to get the boys “Over There,” the American maritime lift was going to be a big one.
With that in mind, the most vital tools used for surface navigation in the days before surface search radar were soon in short supply– good binoculars.
To meet this pressing and urgent need, Asst. SECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt kicked off the public appeal known as the “Eyes for the Navy” program run by the Naval Observatory.
The concept was simple: Americans could loan Uncle the use of their privately held binoculars (Zeiss or Bausch & Lomb, preferred), spyglasses, etc. for the duration to help do their part for the push against the Kaiser.
In return, they would get a $1 rental fee, a certificate for their effort, and, if still available once the war ended, their often well-traveled glass back.
The letter reads:
U.S. Naval Observatory
Subject: return of articles, in connection with the NAVY’S call for binoculars, telescopes, spyglasses, and other navigation instruments.
1. There is being returned to you by registered mail the article received from you in response to the NAVY’S call.
2. An engraved certificate evidencing the participation of this article in the war, is now being prepared and will be forwarded to you at a subsequent date.
3. It is hoped that any evidence of wear or damage will be compensated for by the fact that a great service has been performed and that historic interest has been added to the article returned.
Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
The text of the certificate reads:
The United States of America
Department of the Navy
The thousands of binoculars, telescopes, spyglasses, and navigation instruments furnished the Navy by individuals in response to its appeal for “Eyes for the Navy” have been a vital contribution in the protection of our warships, transports and supply vessels against the submarine activities of the enemy during the Great War.
The Navy acknowledges with thanks and appreciation your cooperation and this certificate is issued to Edwin Mann in recognition of the sacrifice made for the safety of our ships and the assurance of final victory.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Assistant Secretary of the Navy
Signal boost here, from the USCG:
R 261000 FEB 19
FM COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC//CG-092//
SUBJ: USS TAMPA PURPLE HEART MEDAL CAMPAIGN
1. The U.S. Coast Guard needs your help with locating and contacting descendants of the USS TAMPA, which was tragically sunk during World War I with all hands lost. The Service has yet to present 84 of the outstanding Purple Heart Medals awarded posthumously to the crew. We intend to recognize as many of the descendants as possible this Memorial Day. We need your help to do this.
A. USS TAMPA, a Coast Guard ship and crew serving under the Department of the Navy, was lost with all hands after being torpedoed by a German U-boat off Wales on 26 September 1918. This tragic loss occurred just weeks before the end of World War I. It was the single largest loss suffered by the Coast Guard during that conflict.
B. At the time of TAMPA’s loss, the Purple Heart Medal was not in use. In 1942, eligibility was extended to include the Coast Guard, but it was not until 1952 that the awarding of the Purple Heart Medal was made retroactive for actions after 5 April 1917. However, TAMPA was overlooked until 1999, when a retired Coast Guardsman submitted a proposal to award the Purple Heart to her crew.
C. In 1999, then-Commandant Admiral James Loy authorized the posthumous awarding of the Purple Heart Medal to the crew of USS TAMPA. Today, over one hundred years after TAMPA was lost and twenty years after the first TAMPA Purple Heart was awarded, the Coast Guard is still
attempting to identify those families who have yet to receive their ancestors’ Purple Heart.
3. The purpose of this ALCOAST is to raise awareness of the Purple Heart award program and to continue to identify those families who have yet to receive their ancestors’ medals. You can help.
4. Summary of USS TAMPA Purple Heart Medals awarded:
A. There were 130 men on TAMPA, including 111 Coast Guardsmen and 4 Navy men.
B. 26 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals have been claimed since 1999.
C. 3 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals are presently in progress.
D. 84 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals remain unclaimed.
5. The names of the 84 TAMPA crew whose Purple Heart Medals remain unclaimed are listed here: https://www.history.uscg.mil/tampa/.
6. To submit applications for TAMPA Purple Heart Medals, please contact Ms. Nora Chidlow, Coast Guard Archivist, at Nora.L.Chidlow@uscg.mil or 202-559-5142. She has served as the primary point of contact between the Coast Guard and many TAMPA descendants, and also with the Medals &
7. To apply for their ancestor’s Purple Heart Medal, descendants are required to provide documentation showing the descendant’s relationship to the TAMPA crew member, such as family trees, pages from family Bibles, birth/death certificates, and/or pages from Ancestry or other
genealogical applications. Please expect about 4-6 weeks’ time for processing.
8. I encourage all members of our Coast Guard family to share this ALCOAST with the widest possible audience. We owe it to our shipmates in USS TAMPA and their descendants to ensure their heroism and sacrifice are recognized and remembered.
9. RDML Melissa Bert, Director of Governmental and Public Affairs, sends.
10. Internet release is authorized.