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Liable to destruction in those waters…

Some 102 years ago today, the German embassy in Washington D.C. posted a warning on ships sailing under a British flag from the U.S.

    Travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
    Imperial German Embassy
    Washington, D.C. 22 April 1915

New life to an old trench gun

As part of C&Rsenal’s new “Anvil” series, Mark gives a classic Remington 12 gauge trench gun an update to return some of its military utility.

A product of the mind of the great John Pedersen, best known for the original M51 pistol and the World War I Springfield 1903 firepower improvement device that carried his name, the Remington Model 10 was one of the original classes of early 20th Century pump action shotguns designed for smokeless powder shells. In all, some 275,000 were produced from 1908-1929 and some were adopted by both the Army and Marines during the Great War, remaining in use into the 1930s.

The ordnance-bomb marked trench gun Mark has was at some point repurposed to a sporter and is in pretty good condition considering its age– but after some updates to include a good cleaning, new trench gun handguard, new front metal, some bluing and the like, it’s ready to take on the Kaiser again.

98 years ago today: The Guard returns

Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Florida, 1986. Description: Catalog #: NH 101051

Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Florida, 1986. Description: Catalog #: NH 101051

Russian Imperial Guard Troops landing at Feodosiya, Crimea, on April 13, 1919.

Caption: Part of the 105 members of the “White Russian” Imperial Guard ashore at Feodosiya on the Crimean peninsula on April 13, 1919, having just disembarked from the British Destroyer HMS TOBAGO (G61), which can be seen in the right background.

The men mentioned above were likely former Guards officers and NCOs assigned to the Russian Expeditionary Force sent to France by the Tsar in 1916. After the Russian revolution kicked the country out of the war, some formed what was termed the Russian Legion and remained fighting on the side of the Allies until the Armistice, after which they were landed by the Allies in the Crimea, with most electing to serve the anti-Bolshevik White army.

As for Tobago, she was a 273-foot Thornycroft S-class destroyer newly commissioned just six months before the above photo was taken. She spent her entire active career supporting the Whites in the south of Russia, helping to evacuate refugees and support General Shkuro’s cossacks in the Caucus, among others. She was later damaged by a mine 12 November 1920 in the Black Sea and paid off on 15 December as a constructive total loss.

Warship Wednesday April 12, 2017: The Tsar’s German tin-can four-pack

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, April 12, 2017: The Tsar’s German tin-can four-pack

Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. Catalog #: NH 94425

Here we see a group of five German and Russian destroyers in the bay at Kaiochau (Jiaozhou), China, then part of the German colonial concession in late 1904. If the ships look similar– the German vessels are in gleaming white tropical scheme while the Russians are in a gray war coat– that is because all the above were recently produced by the firm of Schichau, Elbing, Germany, for the respective emperor-cousins. Why are the Russian ships in a German harbor? Well, that’s because they just made it there by the skin of their teeth after Battle of the Yellow, 10 Aug. 1904, running from the Japanese.

Why are the Russian ships in a German harbor? Well, that’s because they just made it there by the skin of their teeth after Battle of the Yellow, 10 Aug. 1904, running from the Japanese.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The Tsarist Imperial Navy of the 1900s was an amalgam force that included not only capital, second-line and support ships made in Russia, but also craft purchased from France, the U.S., Germany, Great Britain and Italy. Girding for war with everyone from the Ottoman Empire to Sweden to Japan, the Russian Admiralty liked to hedge their bets.

The nation’s first class of modern “tin cans” were a large group of 27 300-ton Sokol-class vessels built at Yarrow and at Russian yards with British assistance between 1895-1903. Capable of making better than 30-knots, they were armed with two 15-inch (381mm) torpedoes and one 75mm gun, as well as several smaller 3 pounders.

Then came an exploratory order for five Forel-class ships from France, the single Som-class ship from Laird in England, and four Kit-class destroyers from Germany in 1899, all of nominally the same size– 350-tons. Armed with a trio of 15-inch tubes with six (three plus three reloads) Whitehead torpedoes capable of a 900-yard range, they carried a single 75mm gun with 160 rounds and five rapid-fire Hotchkiss 3 pdrs with 1350 rounds.

Fueled by four coal-fired steam boilers, they could make 27-knots or better. The destroyers were given one 24-foot whaleboat, as well as one 17-foot, one 19-foot, and one 12.5-foot canvas boats. In all, the boats were probably not enough to cram the 67-man crew into all of them if need be, but at least a good size portion could land ashore at once. The hulls were 35mm wood plank frames covered with 3mm of steel.

Our four German-built ships: Kit (Whale), Skat (Skate), Kastatka (Killer Whale), and Delfin (Dolphin), were laid down in 1899 at Schichau and completed by the summer of 1900. The cost of construction of each destroyer averaged 472,000 rubles or 1,020,000 German marks.

Russian officers in Elbing. 1900

Once complete, the four German-built units formed the First Detachment of the destroyers of the First Pacific Squadron under the overall command of Cdr. Kita Kevnarsky and sailed from Kronstadt in the Baltic on 12 October 1900 to Port Arthur– Russia’s new Pacific concession wrested away from China in 1895– arriving at the latter on 23 April 1901.

Delfin/Besstrashnyy as completed, click to big up 1200×918

In 1902, they were renamed and their “fish” names later used for early Russian submarines. The Kit was called Bditelnyy (Vigilant), Delfin became Besstrashnyy (Fearless), KastakaBesshumnyy (Silent) and SkatBesposhchadnyy (Merciless).

Kit/Bditelnyi with her white scheme at Port Arthur, prewar

Kit/Bditelnyi with a more warlike gray coat. Note the 75mm canet gun forward

Then, after just a couple years of quiet peacetime service, came the Russian Pearl Harbor, when Japanese torpedo boats skirted into Port Arthur at night and made hay with the resting Tsarist battle line before an official declaration of war.

A Japanese woodblock print of the torpedo boat attack on Port Arthur

Our class leader, Kit/Bditelnyy, made patrols to sea and, due to ruptured boiler pipes after hitting a mine in October later was relegated to the role of a floating artillery battery, hitting out at Japanese land positions as they grew closer.

She was destroyed by her crew 20 December 1904 as the Japanese closed in and was later salvaged.

The other three ships of our class, as you probably figured out from the first image of this post, made it out of Port Arthur.

When the Japanese attacked the Port in February 1904, Delfin/Besstrashnyy reportedly landed a hit on the Japanese Yarrow-built destroyer Akatsuki but did not do her any great damage. Akatsuki later hit a Russian mine and was written off. After helping evacuate Russian troops along the coastline before the Japanese blockade was airtight, she slipped out with her two sisters and the rest of the capable fleet for the Battle of the Yellow Sea which saw Russian Admiral Wilhelm Vitgeft’s plan to break out for Vladivostok before that port was iced in foiled by Japanese Adm. Togo’s fleet.

Though inconclusive, both sides suffered a mauling (the Japanese battleship Mikasa was hit 20 times by large caliber shells while the Russian pre-dreadnought Peresvet had 39 hits) while the three German-made destroyers of Vitgeft’s were low on coal and forced to withdraw towards China rather than make for either Port Arthur or Vladivostok.

Making it to Kaiochau, they were disarmed and interned by the Chinese government on 15 August for the remainder of the conflict.

After the war, the three surviving destroyers were modernized in 1909 with larger 17.7-inch torpedo tubes and a second 75mm gun. To balance the increase in topside weight, the Hotchkiss 47mm battery was replaced by six lighter 7.62x54R Colt M1895 machine guns.

Serving together in the Siberian Flotilla based in Vladivostok, the interwar period between fighting the Japanese and scrapping with the Germans was quiet.

Life in the Siberian Flotilla. Note the straw boater hat and Mosin M.91 rifle. Sailors of the flotilla were often dispatched for land service ashore to protect Russian interests in the area.

When the Great War erupted, the tin cans put to sea to fruitlessly scout for German ships until Vladivostok iced over and they continued their operations from the Chinese coast into the summer of 1915.

Once the threat of enemy raiders in the Pacific abated, two of the three destroyers– Delfin/Besstrashnyy and Kastaka/Besshumnyy— were ordered to sail for the Arctic Sea Flotilla at Murmansk in the Barents Sea in early 1917, arriving there that September.

Beshumnyi, note her post-1909 arrangement with two radio masts

There, they were in turn captured by the British when they seized the port after the Russian Revolution and remained part of the White forces in that region until early 1920 when the Reds recaptured the pair in poor condition. With parts for their Schichau-built plant hard to come by in 1920s Europe, the old girls were broken up in 1924-25.

Skat/Besposhchadnyy, in her 1904 arrangement, showing her with a single mast

Skat/Besposhchadnyy, unable to make the trip back to Europe, was captured by the Japanese Navy when they landed in Vladivostok in June 1918. Turned over to the Whites there, she was scuttled in 1922 so the Reds couldn’t use her further.

Between the four ships, they saw a lot of weird action in their 20~ year lifespan and some changed flags 3-4 times serving Tsar, White and Red governments with some allied intervention in between. But hey, that’s Russia for you.

The destroyer of the “Kit” type:

(Longitudinal section, bilge plan, and top view)

1 – aft flagpole; 2 – 47-mm gun; 3 – stern bridge; 4 – “17-foot” mined vehicle, 5 – chimney, 6 – Francis system boat, 7 – galley, 8 – chopping (combat) felling, 9 – mast, 10 -75-mm gun, 11 – 12-steam boiler, 13-main machine, 14-officer rooms, 15-non-commissioned officer’s cabin, 16-aft cockpit of the crew, 17-propeller, 18-pen handle, 19-pit pit, 20-condenser, 21 – Officer’s cabins, 22 – Cabin-room, 23 – Cabin of the ship’s commander, 24 – Buffet, 25 – Wash basin, 26 – Anchor, 27-like hatch, 28 – Throat pit, 29 – Engine hatch, 30 – Skylight.

Displacement: 354 tons (full)
Length: 200-feet (61 m) (between perpendiculars)
Beam:  23-feet (7 m) (the largest for frames)
Draft: 5.9 ft. (1.8 m)
Engines     2 triple-expansion steam engines, 6,000 shp, 4 Shichau water-tube boilers
Speed:       27.4 knots full

Coal: 90t, 1500-mile range 10 kts.
Crew     62-67
1x75mm Canet gun
5x47mm (3 Pdr) Hotchkiss
3x trainable 381mm TT with six torpedoes
2x75mm Canet guns
6x MG
3x trainable 450mm TT with no reloads

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Captain Camden, reporting for duty, 100 years ago this week

Portrait of Captain Edwin Camden – Volusia County, Florida. 1917. Black & white photo print. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.<;

Here we see a relatively fit Captain Edwin Camden, formerly of the Army of the Confederate States, then aged 75, of Volusia County, Florida, in April 1917. According to the state archives on 6 April 1917 “He put on his Civil War veteran’s uniform and tried to register for the draft on the first day of World War I.”

It should be noted that his grandson reportedly had volunteered for service as well and was accepted.

Note the uniform is complete with the hat device of the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) a veterans organization formed in 1888.

Camden, born in Virginia in 1840, raised a company that later became Coy E, 25th Virginia (Heck’s) Infantry Regiment and, captured after being wounded during the Wilderness, became a member of a group known as the “Immortal Six Hundred” because they refused to take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. under duress.

From the Confederate Veteran, the monthly magazine which became the official UCV organ, volume XXXI, January 1923, now in the Duke Library Archives:


When the war came on in 1861, the Camden family, of Braxton County, Va. (now West Virginia), was largely divided on the subjects involved in that fratricidal strife. John S. Camden, Sr., was long a prominent figure in the central western Virginia region, a member of the Virginia Assembly, and colonel of the 133rd Regiment Virginia Militia. Of his five sons, three were enrolled for the South. — Edwin D. Camden, William I., and L. D., the latter two being lieutenants of the 17th Virginia. Of the other two, Dr. Thomas B. Camden was imprisoned in Camp Chase, but was released upon a petition signed by all sides, and subsequently served as post surgeon of the Federal army at Weston ; Johnson N. Camden remained loyal to the Union, and in latter years became a vice president of the Standard Oil Company, United States Senator, and railroad builder. Richard P. Camden, an uncle of Edwin Camden, espoused the cause of the Union and was a member of the West Virginia legislature in 1866 as a loyal man. Another uncle, Lennox Camden, was arrested as a Southern sympathizer and confined in Fort Delaware in 1863. Having married into a powerful Western Virginia family, his release was secured, but not before his physical powers had wasted away, and he died in New York City. Judge Gideon D. Camden, another uncle, was a member of the Confederate Congress, and his son was a major in the Confederate army.

In July, 1861, Edwin Duncan Camden recruited a company of one hundred and twenty men and marched to Beverly, where he was to effect a junction with a command of the Confederate army under Colonel Pegram. In the meantime General Rosecrans had advanced by Clarksburg and Philippi, defeating Pegram in the battle of Rich Mountain on July 11. The men under Camden arrived during the closing hours of this affray, participated in the action, during which General Garnett was killed, and r treated with the Confederates into the Valley of Virginia The men in his charge were mustered in as Company E, 25th Virginia Infantry, and he was commisioned first lieutenant.

After participating in activities in the Valley campaigns in the latter part of 1861, the 25th Regiment became a part of the 4th Brigade, 31st Division, under Col. J. A. Walker, and as such a part of the corps under command of the distinguished chieftain, Thomas J. Jackson. As the celebrated “Stonewall Brigade,” it was ever afterwards the most noted organization in the Confederate service, engaged in deeds and exploits that attracted the attention of the entire world. Among the commanders were Gen. J. M. Jones and Bradley T. Johnson, and several others no less well known.

Company E, as part of the 4th Brigade, engaged in the battle at Fort Republic on June 9, 1862, lost four officers and twenty-five men, and Lieutenant Camden was wounded. Recovering, he rejoined the company and was commissioned captain, a rank held during his period of service.

In April, 1863, the 25th and 31st Virginia were transferred temporarily by General Lee to the command of Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden, to participate in the invasion of Western Virginia. During this month and May following, the celebrated “Imboden Raid” took place, in which Jones and Imboden advanced as far into the present State of West Virginia as Glenville, in Gilmer County, and Burning Strings, in Wirt County. At the latter place vast stores of oil were destroyed, which, as fate would have it, belonged largely to Johnson N. Camden, a brother of Captain Camden. The expedition was not successful in the desired purpose of securing recruits for the Southern cause, but did secure large numbers of cattle and supplies for the Southern army. At Buckhannon, Camden’s company and others lost some men by desertion, because Captain Camden lodged a complaint against a certain element stealing horses from the citizens without authority, need, or pay. This act, however, created a most favorable impression with the better element on both sides.

Returning to Virginia and the old organization, the march was taken up to the memorable field of Gettysburg. Here the company, on July 1, 1S63, engaged in the storming of Culp’s Hill, and late that evening moved into the ” Valley of Death. ”

During Pickett’s charge the division held a position under the murderous fire from Little Round Top. John C. Higginbotham, colonel commanding, on the 21st, in his report to Acting Adjutant Moore, of General Jones’s Brigade, speaking of the actions on the 3rd, says: “It is with pleasure that I can testify to the gallantry and skill of Captain (E. D.) Camden and Company E. I never saw men act better. Seventy men were lost in action.

In May, 1864, began the series of battles of the Wilderness, which led up to the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. The 25th Virginia moved into the ” Bloody Angle” on May 10, and in the next three days followed such scenes of carnage as never before existed in the war. Whole companies were wiped out. Lee and Grant pitted their armies together in the great struggle for what was believed to be the key to Richmond. At the close of the affray, Captain Camden, with a shattered leg and jaw, was left on the battle field, for it was not believed that surgical skill then available could save his life. The Confederate forces were forced to leave large numbers of their wounded in the hands of the Federals, and, after many hours, Captain Camden was removed to a Federal hospital, later sent to Fort Delaware as a prisoner, and, in the face of what was deemed mortal injuries, eventually recovered.

In July, 1864, it was reported in the North, but later found to have been a mistake, that Maj- Gen. Sam Jones had confined Federal prisoners in Charleston, S. C, under fire from the Federal batteries on Morris Island. On August 25, 1864, the Federal commander, General Schoeph, at Fort Delaware, sent six hundred commissioned Confederate officers to Morris Island, with the view in mind, it appears, of an exchange, but this was not done. For a time they were under fire of their own guns, and, though none were killed, they underwent terrible suffering; a number died, and their other experiences are recounted in book and poem as the “Immortal Six Hundred” of the War between the States. Among those from the interior of present West Virginia were: Lieut. T. Tussie, 25th Virginia, Weston, W. Va.; Capt. E. D. Camden, 25th Virginia, Sutton, W. Va.; Capt. T. J. Berry, Bulltown, W. Va., and some fifteen others from other sections of the State.

From Fort Delaware they were transported in August, huddled together on a small steamship called the Crescent, guarded by one hundred Ohio militiamen. Arriving at Morris Island, and failing in exchange, at times shells from batteries on the Island, Wagner’s, and Forts Moultrie and Sumter were passing over them. Forty-five days later they were sent to Fort Pulaski; later to Hilton Head, and then back to Fort Delaware.

From this point those who would take the oath of allegiance to the United States were sent to New York and released. Others who refused were sent to Richmond in exchange for a like number of Federal prisoners. The term of imprisonment was marked by many happenings, one of which had both a tragic and amusing aspect. At Hilton Head an effort was made to escape. By raising a bunk in a section occupied by Captain Camden, a hole was made in the floor and, after a long period of hard work, a hole was made down and under the wall. All arrangements were made for a trip to liberty, but the men inside the walls did not reckon with a moat filled with water surrounding the building. On the way through the basement a barrel of brown sugar was found, and while to us this does not mean much, to a soldier at that time it was the highest of dainties. Tightening belts, shirts and pockets were filled; arriving outside in the darkness, they fell into the water. Wading, scrambling, or swimming across as the need arose, sugar and water enshrouded them in a sticky syrup. The alarm was given and, with such an unusual impediment, all were caught and returned to prison.

Upon his release from service, Captain Camden returned to the little town of Weston, W. Va., along with others of the brave men in gray. Among the local Federals were men with little respect for those who espoused the Southern cause, and it was demanded that the Confederates divest themselves of the faded and worn uniforms. This they refused to do, and a near riot took place, in which Maj. H. H. Withers, of the 10th Virginia Infantry, mounted a horse block and announced that he would shoot the first man that touched a Confederate soldier, an act that endeared him to both sides.

Captain Camden died on May 13, 1922. He was the son of John S. and Nancy Newlon Camden, and was born in Sutton, Braxton County, Va. (now West Virginia), March 30, 1840. When the town of Sutton was burned by the Confederates under John S. Sprigg, on December 29, 1861, the Camden Hotel and store were burned, and his father and mother were forced to retire to Weston with the Federals, both dying within a few months from exposure on the trip. One of Captain Camden’s great-grandfathers was Maj. Frederick Sprigg, of the Upper Battalion, Montgomery County, Maryland Continentals; while another was a member of the “Flying Squadron” in the Revolution. Kinsmen fought in the war with Spain, and a grandson was in the late World War. As a member of the “Immortal Six Hundred,” Captain Camden was one of the honored guests at Confederate reunions, and was probably the last survivor of this famous group. In late years he was appointed as colonel on the staff of J. Thompson Brown, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia Department U. C. V.

He is buried in Summit Cemetery, Braxton County, West Virginia, alongside his wife. On his tombstone, he is recorded as being a Lt. Colonel, possibly a brevet award.

71 years ago today, WWII meets WWI during the Cold War at the crossroads to the world

National Archives image 80-G-366179.

In early April 1946 the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63), at the center of this photo, arrived at Istanbul in Turkey to return the body of the Turkish ambassador Mehmet Munir Ertegun from the U.S. and to show U.S. support and willingness to defend Turkey. The famous Dolmabahce Mosque is in the foreground. Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, was aboard and the trip also reinforced to the Soviets that the U.S was keenly interested in Middle East politics.

The destroyer USS Power (DD 839) is at left, and the 25,000-ton Turkish battlecruiser Yavuz (formerly the German Moltke-class Goeben) is at right. Missouri, of course, was the brand new Iowa-class battleship that hosted the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay that ended World War II.

Yavuz had her own interesting history at the beginning of the First World War.

Ordered in 1909, the SMS Goeben sailed to fame in 1914 as a “ship of destiny” when– commanded by Konteradmiral Wilhelm Souchon– she led the British and French around the Med until she was interred at Constantinople.
Still under German command and manned by her original crew (now wearing fezzes), she was officially renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim and served as the flag of the Ottoman Navy– but sailed without Turkish orders in October 1914 to plaster the Russian Black Sea fleet at harbor, bringing the Turks into the war. Wrecked by mines in 1918, the Germans left her a largely worn out vessel when they pulled out at the Armistice. Repaired in the 1920s, she was returned to service with an all-Turk crew in the new republic’s Navy. In 1936 she was renamed simply Yavuz.

Decommissioned in 1950, she was scrapped in 1973, after the West German government declined an invitation to buy her back from Turkey. As such, she was the last surviving ship built by the Imperial German Navy and the longest-serving dreadnought-type ship in any navy

Warship Wednesday April 5, 2017: Of black cats, bad luck and tempests

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

Warship Wednesday, April 5, 2017: Of black cats, bad luck, and tempests

LC-DIG-det-4a15636 Click to big up.

Here we see Peter Arrell Brown Widener’s custom-built schooner-rigged steam yacht Josephine visiting New York’s Larchmont Yacht Club in the summer of 1896 by the Detroit Publishing Co, John S. Johnston, photographer. This beautiful ship would go on to spend most of her life in military service and die a sad death at the hands of the ocean.

First off, who was Widener?

As noted by the Philly History Blog: 

There were few people in Philadelphia who could rival the wealth of Peter A.B. Widener. Born on November 13, 1834, to a bricklayer, Widener worked as a butcher and saved enough money to start one of the first meat store chains in the country. He also began buying stocks in street railways. Together with his friend William L. Elkins, Widener eventually controlled the streetcar system in Philadelphia. His wealth grew even more as he became involved in public transportation systems in Chicago and other cities. He later expanded his power by purchasing large blocks of stock in the United States Steel Corporation, Standard Oil, and Pennsylvania Railroad.

In late 1895, Mr. PAB, a director at the time of the White Star Line (future builders of the RMS Titanic) ordered from Lewis Nixon Shipbuilders, Elizabethport, NJ, a grand steam yacht for personal use. As described by the Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers of that year, for $400,000 the yard crafted a 257-foot (oal) vessel in just 10 months. Powered by a 1250 IHP quadruple expansion engine fed by two boilers, she could make 17 knots. She was exceptionally appointed:

The bridge extends across the boat, with wheel, compasses and chart table. Under the bridge will be the chart room and aft the captain’s room extending the width of the house, 12 feet. Next aft on the upper deck will be the library, 26 by 12 feet. Over this apartment will be an elliptical skylight for ventilation and a dome. The engine room skylight will be aft the library, and the remainder of the upper deck will be given up to a promenade, 145 feet in length.

At the forward end of the space under the bridge will be the owner’s rooms, each 19 by 15 feet. Aft, will be the bathroom, Between the bathrooms a stairway will extend to four lower guest rooms. From the stairs, a passageway will lead to the dining room, whose dimensions will be 30 feet 6 inches by 16 feet. Aft, the starboard side will be the reception room, 29 by 9 feet, extending half the yacht’s width and over the engine room. It will be finished in antique oak, paneled.

At the after end of the ladies’ room will be a mahogany staircase…

You get the idea. Besides the above, of course, was extensive pantry space, trunk storage, bunkerage for 240 tons of coal, a full kitchen, maids’ quarters with four berths, and separate messing/bunking and pantry space for the crew, quartermaster and ship’s captain.

Named after Mr. Widener’s beloved wife, Hannah Josephine Dunton Widener, the yacht Josephine was palatal.

On her first voyage, a planned summer cruise from Philadelphia along the Maine coast saw Josephine, with the Widener family aboard, call on Bar Harbor– then a popular getaway summer resort for the rich and famous– Friday, 31 July 1896. The next morning, Mrs. Widener was found expired in her bed, age 60. An attending physician ruled her death due to heart disease and the brand-new yacht, her gay bunting stowed, sailed sadly to New York where the late Mrs. Widener was taken back to Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery to be placed in the family vault.

The proud vessel was tied to pier side and sat swaying at her ropes.

When war with Spain came, Mr. Widener sold his unwanted steamship to the U.S. Navy for reportedly 1/10th of her value on 9 April 1898. Her life as a grand yacht had lasted less than two years.

As for Mr. Widener, his son and grandson perished on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic in 1912 and he died in 1915, aged 80. His daughter-in-law built Harvard University’s Widener Memorial Library to honor those lost on Titanic.

At the time the Navy needed to rapidly expand and among the ships acquired for Spanish-American War service were no less than 28 yachts. A baker’s dozen of these former pleasure craft were large ships, exceeding 400 tons. With relatively good gun-carrying capacity and sea-keeping capabilities, most saw service off Cuba where they were used as scouting vessels and dispatch ships.

Speaking of guns, the Navy needed some in a hurry to arm all these yachts with. After contacting Vickers, the company in March 1898 sold the Americans 16 Maxim-Nordenfeldt “1pdr Automatic Guns” from a Russian contract that had been reworked. These 37mm “pom-pom” heavy machine cannon had a cyclic rate of 250-300 rounds per minute and could perforate a 1-inch iron plate at 100 yards.

The Navy issued these guns to several armed yachts and up-armed Revenue Marine Cutters.

Our converted yacht was given two of these 1-pdrs

Click to big up. Note the great bushy lip lizards and the BM to the right smoking a square. Also, there is a three-piper warship in the distance. LC-DIG-det-4a13890

Plus, she was given two manually loaded 1-pdrs

Note the flat cap and the canvas bags marked ‘Tourniquet” LC-DIG-det-4a14809

And four 6-pdrs (57mmm) Hotchkiss breechloaders.


The Navy renamed most of these yachts and Josephine was no exception. She was the 6th Navy ship since 1803 to be christened USS Vixen (Patrol Yacht No. 4).

Vixen was commissioned on 11 April 1898– just two days after her sale– with Lt. (J.G) Alexander Sharp (USNA 1873) in command. Sharp had before the war had served as an aide to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt.  Among the 5 officers and a 74-man crew were Midshipman Thomas C. Hart (later of WWII Asiatic Fleet fame) and Midshipman Arthur MacArthur III, (Douglas “I shall return” MacArthur’s brother). On 6 May 1898, MacArthur was promoted to ensign.

U.S.S. Vixen, Capt. and officers, 1898. Can you spot the very MacArthur-looking figure in the back row? LC-DIG-det-4a14811

There was also a mascot, a black cat appropriately enough given the ship’s history. U.S.S. Vixen, Miss Vixen, the mascot. LC-DIG-det-4a13999

Given a gray coat of paint, she was now a warship. LC-DIG-det-4a14831

Vixen 1898. Note the three-master schooner in the distance and a distinctive 1-pdr both forward and aft. This is the only photo I can find of her with canvas aloft. USNHC photo.

As noted by DANFS:

Assigned to the North Atlantic Station, Vixen sailed for Cuban waters on 7 May and arrived off the coast of Cuba nine days later. For the duration of the “splendid little war,” the graceful armed yacht performed a variety of duties, blockading and patrolling, carrying mail and flags of truce, ferrying prisoners, establishing communications with Cuban insurgents ashore, and landing reconnaissance parties. Among her passengers embarked during that time was Colonel (later President) Theodore Roosevelt, of the famous “Rough Riders.”

Vixen was present with at least two other armed yachts, USS Gloucester, and Hist during the Battle of Santiago on 3 July 1898.


Vixen was patrolling off Santiago between 0935 and 0945 and was at a point some four miles to the westward of the distinctive landmark, the Morro Castle. At about 0940, a messenger reported to the captain, Lt. Sharp, that there had been an explosion at the entrance to the harbor. Rushing on deck, Sharp almost immediately sighted the first Spanish vessel to sortie– the cruiser Vizcaya.

Sharp ordered full speed ahead and hard-a-port, a move was taken in the nick of time because of shells from his own ships, alerted to the sortie of Admiral Cervera’s fleet, splashed in the water astern in the yacht’s frothing wake. Vizcaya acknowledged the presence of the yacht in the vicinity when she sent a salvo toward her with her starboard bow guns. Fortunately for Vixen, the shells passed overhead, “all being aimed too high.”

As Vixen gathered speed, she steered south by east, clearing the armored cruiser Brooklyn’s field of fire, about two points on Vixen’s port bow. The yacht then steered west by south, as Sharp wanted to steer a course parallel to that of the Spanish fleet that was then under fire from the other American ships. Unfortunately, the helmsman erred and steered southwest by south-a mistake not discovered until Vixen had steered farther from the action.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn had engaged the leading ships of the Spanish fleet and was trading shell for shell in a spirited exchange of fire. Shells from Cristobal Colon passed over Brooklyn. One splashed “close ahead” and another splashed astern on the yacht’s starboard beam. Several others passed directly overhead, a piece of bursting shell going through Vixen’s battle flag at her mainmast!

Vixen witnessed the battle as it unfolded, but, as her commanding officer observed, “. . . seeing that the Spanish vessels were out of range of our guns while we were well within range of theirs, we reserved our fire.” In fact, Vixen did not fire upon the enemy ships until 1105, when she opened fire on the badly battered Vizcaya, which had gone aground, listing heavily to port. Vixen’s fire was short-lived for Vizcaya’s flag came down at 1107, and Lt. Sharp ordered cease fire. The yacht remained underway to participate in the chase of the last remaining heavy unit of the Spanish fleet, Cristobal Colon until that Spanish warship struck early in the afternoon.

Battle of Santiago, 1898 Caption: USS VIXEN cheering on USS OREGON (BB-3) after the fight. USS VIXEN answering NEW YORK’s (CA-2) signal number, 3 July 1898. Description: From the Collection of Rear Admiral C.H. Taylor Catalog #: USN 903386

Santiago Morro, USS Vixen passing the wreck of the REINA MERCEDES. Note the rakish bow. Source: From a book of letters, etc. kept by Assistant Surgeon William S. Thomas, MRC, USN, Spanish-American War, 1898. #: NH 111953

One gunner, a man by the name of Smith, on the forward 1-pdr, was said to have gotten off 400 rounds on his piece during the battle.

Sure, you are salty, but are you “I shot up the Spanish Navy with 400 shells from a 37mm machine gun while on the bow of a yacht,” salty? U.S.S. Vixen, Maxim machine gun and gunner Smith, LC-DIG-det-4a14810

After the war, the Navy found the 13 large yachts they picked up were a worthwhile investment for a fleet with a new colonial empire. With small crews, they could conduct coastal surveys, carry mail, stores, and passengers for the fleet, perform yeoman service in various sundry duties, wave the flag at small far-off ports too shallow for larger cruisers and battleships, and serve as station ships at the disposal of U.S. counsels.

From 1899 through 1906, Vixen served off Puerto Rico and Cuba, shuttling between there and Key West as needed, painted a gleaming white.

Almost like her yacht days…USS VIXEN (1898-1923, later PY-4) Caption: At Santiago, Cuba, on 20 May 1903. USS OLYMPIA (C-6) is in the right background. Description: Collection of Commander R. Roller Richardson, USN (MC). Donated by B. Bradford Richardson, 1988. Catalog #: NH 96571

Decommissioned 30 March 1906, she was loaned to the New Jersey Naval Militia to serve alongside the monitor USS Tonopah (who in turn was swapped out in 1914 for the old screw gunboat USS Adams) as a training ship. The militia, some 400~ strong, was organized in two battalions with the first battalion on Tonopah/Adams based in Hoboken and the second battalion, based in Camden, headquartered on Vixen.

Photographed circa the early 1900s. USS TERROR (Monitor No. 4) is on the opposite side of the pier. Terror was laid up at Philadelphia from 1906, a port shared by Vixen, so this is likely around that time. Description: Courtesy of Rear Admiral Joseph M. Worthington, USN (retired) Catalog #: NH 90937

In 1910, her 1-pdrs were considered obsolete and were removed, her armament streamlined to a set of 8 6-pdr singles.

As noted by Annual Report of the Operations of the Naval Militia filed with the Navy Dept., Vixen was housed across the Delaware River in Philadelphia as dock space in Camden was inadequate and, besides occasional pier side drills, the ship regularly got underway only for about a week in July every summer. It should come as no shock that reports note, “The men were very poor in handling boats and lubberly” though gun battery drill was exercised as “a box was thrown overboard having a red flag on it and the men took turns firing at the mark with the Colt’s automatic guns,” likely Model 1895 Colt “potato diggers” in 30.06 caliber.

When the U.S. entered the Great War, Vixen was taken back into regular U.S. Navy service in April 1917, her armament again updated with the 6pdrs coming off and four QF 47mm 3-pdrs going on in replacement.

She patrolled off the eastern seaboard and, following the establishment of the Navy activity in the recently acquired Virgin Islands (purchased from Denmark), served as station ship at St. Thomas., USVI for the rest of the conflict, keeping an eye out for the Germans.

About half of her 60-man crew ashore as an armed naval party complete with leggings, cartridge belts, and M1903s. She would remain as station ship in the Virgin Islands for almost six years.

The harbor from the east, showing the USS RAINBOW and USS VIXEN -station ship, also Marine barracks and radio towers. Navy Yard Virgin Islands. Description: Catalog #: NH 122615

Vixen remained in the USVI for several years after the conflict, being called back to New York where she was decommissioned on 15 November 1922.

She was sold 22 June 1923 to the Fair Oaks Steamship Corp. of New York. Besides some federal lawsuits from the same era, little is known about Fair Oaks with the Bureau of Shipping only listing them for a few years in the 1920s, with an office at 17 Battery Place in NYC, and only owning the 413-ton steam tug H.C. Cadmus and (briefly) Vixen. Cadmus later turned up in U.S. Army service as LT332 during WWII and Vixen would quickly be resold to one Barron Gift Collier of South Florida in late 1923.

Named first Tamiami Queen, then Collier County, then Princess Montagu, she was operated on a regular coaster service by Collier’s Florida Inter-Island Steamship Company, Ltd.

She made the 80-mile run from Miami to the Bahamas several times a week carrying mail, freight and 75 (!) overnight berths for first class passengers. Typically, she left Nassau every Monday and Thursday at 8 am and sailed from the P&O dock in Miami on Tuesday and Friday at the same time. She also did weekend excursions from Miami to Cat Island in the Bahamas. As Florida was dry because of Prohibition, and the Bahamas was not, this was a very lucrative junket.

Passenger steamship, Princess Montagu, owned by Barron Collier. She was operated by his Florida Inter-Island Steamship Company, Ltd, and made regular trips between Miami and Nassau. The photograph was probably taken in Miami, c1925. Via Collier County Museums

Then came the Great Bahamas Hurricane of 1929 which left Princess Montagu (nee Josephine) high on Tony Rock outside of Nassau. Thankfully free of passengers, her crew was rescued via lifeline.

She was salvaged in place the next summer.

Besides her plans which are in the Library of Congress, few remnants of Josephine/Vixen remain, though a set of ivory poker chips from her heyday are in circulation.

Note the early white star line logo. Widener was a board member. The first photo in this post also shows this flag flying from both her masts in 1896.

Also, remember those 16 37mm 1-pdrs sold by Vickers to the Navy to arm their new ships in 1898? One of that very lot is still around. Placed on the U.S. Revenue Cutter Manning and used during the Span-Am War, it was recently sold at auction.

These style guns, though considered obsolete before the Great War, were used in that conflict as early AAA, specifically in the role of balloon busters.

German M-Flak (3.7 cm Maschinenkanone Flak). From late 1915 M-Flak batteries defended balloons and important positions and installations. German flak units were part of the Air Service, whilst the majority of the Allied anti-aircraft units were part of the artillery. Sources:

The world, on the other hand, has not heard the last of Peter A.B. Widener. His immense and architecturally significant Philadelphia mansion was destroyed by fire in 1980. However, it had served as a library for almost four decades and its sale (prior to the inferno that destroyed it) allowed the Widener Branch of the Free Library to remain in service–  its current location is at 2808 West Lehigh Avenue.

Further, in 1972 Pennsylvania Military College rebranded itself after the prominent Widener family, first as Widener College then as Widener University and currently has 6,400 students in attendance. The family over the years has also been scions of thoroughbred horseracing, and Philadelphia professional sports franchises, including the Eagles, the Phillies, the Flyers, the Wings and the 76ers.

Notably, none have a black cat as a mascot.


Displacement: 806 long tons (819 t)
Length: 257 ft. (oa) 182 ft. 3 in (wl)
Beam:   28 ft. 0 in
Draft:    12 ft. 8 in (mean), 16 full load
Propulsion:  1 VTE steam engine, 1250 IHP, twin boilers, auxiliary schooner rig
Speed:  17 kts as built. 15 kts by 1918.
Complement: 5 officers and 74 enlisted (1898), 5 officers, 62 men (1917)
four 6-pounder breechloaders guns
four 1-pounders (2 pom poms, 2 manually loaded)
eight 6-pounders
four 3-pounders

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