Tag Archives: 1898

Warship Wednesday, March 31, 2021: NOLA by way of Brazil

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, March 31, 2021: NOLA by way of Brazil

Published by Detroit Publishing Company, 1890-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Here we see the Elswick-built Chacabucu-class protected cruiser USS New Orleans (later CL-22) at Brooklyn Navy Yard in the 1900s. Prominently displayed is the cruiser’s elaborate stern decoration, which looks a lot like the Brazilian national emblem, and for good reason.

As part of a general Latin American naval build-up, Brazil ordered four cruisers in 1894 from Armstrong, Whitworth & Co from a design by British naval architect Philip Watts at ₤265,000 a pop. These ships, with a 3,800-ton displacement on a 354-foot hull, were smaller than a frigate by today’s standards but in the late 19th century, with a battery of a half-dozen 6″/50 (15.2 cm) BL Marks IX guns and Harvey armor that ranged between 0.75 inches on their hull to 4.5-inches on their towers, were deemed protected cruisers.

For batting away smaller vessels, they had four 4.7-inch (120mm) Armstrongs, 14 assorted 57 mm and 37mm quick-firing pieces, and three early Nordenfelt 7mm machine guns. To prove their worth in a battle line, they had three torpedo tubes and a brace of Whitehead 18-inch fish with guncotton warheads. They would be the first ships in the Brazilian fleet to have radiotelegraphs and were thoroughly modern for their time.

However, their four Vosper Thornycroft boilers and turbines, augmented by an auxiliary sailing rig, could only just make 20 knots with everything lit on a clean hull.

The lead ship of the class, laid down as Chacabucu (Elswick Yard Number 629) for the Brazilian government in March 1895, was sold to the Chileans just six months later with her name duly switched to Ministro Zenteno after a hero of the latter country. The second vessel, Almirante Barroso (Yard No. 630), was ordered in November 1894 and commissioned on 29 April 1897. Yard Nos. 631 and 676 were to be Amazonas and Almirante Abreu.

Amazonas in British waters on builder’s trials with no flags. Photo via Vickers Archives.

When things got squirrelly between the U.S. and Spain in early 1898 over Cuban independence and the lost battleship USS Maine, American purchasing agents were active in Europe both to A) expand Uncle Sam’s fleet, and B) prevent the Spaniards from doing the same.

This led to an agreement to buy from Brazil the old dynamite cruiser Nictheroy, though without her guns, and the two nearly complete cruisers outfitting on the Tyne. Lt. John C. Colwell, the naval attaché in London, personally took delivery of both British-built cruisers at Gravesend, England on 18 March, just a month after the loss of Maine and still a month before the American declaration of war.

With that, Nictheroy became USS Buffalo, Amazonas very quickly became USS New Orleans –the first time the name was carried by an active warship on the Navy List– and Almirante Abreu would eventually join the fleet as USS Albany. New Orleans, ready to go, would be sailed across the Atlantic by scratch crews from the cruiser USS San Francisco while English engineers handled the machinery, recording her Brazilian name in her logbook for the crossing.

USS New Orleans arrives off the New York Navy Yard, April 1898, after crossing the Atlantic. Note oversize commissioning pennant flying from her mainmast, and Brazilian Navy paint scheme. She had been purchased from Brazil on 16 March 1898, while still under construction in England. Sailing on her inaugural Atlantic crossing was a 15-man Marine det commanded by 1LT George Barnett, a future 12th Commandant of the Corps. NH 45114

She proved a popular subject with photographers, after all, she was a brand-new cruiser that descended seemingly from Mars himself, on the eve of the nation’s first conflict with a European power since 1815.

USS New Orleans (1898-1929) Docked at the New York Navy Yard, April 1898, immediately after her maiden voyage from England. The receiving ship USS Vermont is at the left. Note New Orleans’ extra-long commissioning pennant. NH 75495

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans. The photo is listed as an “8-inch gun crew” although it is a 6″/50 (15.2 cm) Mark 5 Armstrong gun. Perhaps the caption was propaganda. Note the Marine in marching order and the bosun to the left with his pipe in his pocket. Detroit Publishing Company, 1890-1912.

US Navy protected cruiser USS New Orleans, six-inch gun. Note the small guns in the mast. Also, the man photobombing to the right of the frame, likely the photographer (Edward H. Hart) due to his bespoke hat. Published by Detroit Publishing Company, possibly 1898.

USS New Orleans (1898-1929) Photographed during the Spanish-American War, 1898. Note the change in her scheme from the Brazilian pattern. NH 45115

US Navy protected cruiser USS New Orleans (1898-1930, later PG-34, CL-22) leaving Brooklyn Navy Yard during the Spanish-American War. Photographed by Edward H. Hart, published by Detroit Publishing Company, 1898. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-DIG-DET-4A13959

Her Span Am War service was significant, shipping out of Norfolk three weeks after the declaration and meeting the Flying Squadron off Santiago de Cuba on 30 May. The next day, our new cruiser, along with USS Massachusetts (Coast Battleship No.2) and USS Iowa (Coast Battleship No.4) reconnoitered the harbor, exchanging heavy fire with both Spanish ships and shore batteries.

Attack on Santiago, 31 May 1898 by USS MASSACHUSETTS (BB-2), USS IOWA (BB-4), and USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) by W.B. Shearer. USN 903384

New Orleans went on to spend the rest of her war on blockade duty, shuffling between Guantanamo Bay and San Juan. On 17 July 1898, she captured the French blockade runner Olinde Rodrigues trying to sneak into the latter and sent her, under a prize crew, to Charleston, South Carolina. The steamship was owned and claimed by La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique out of Harve, which later became the subject of a lengthy court case that, in the end, left the New Orleans’s crew without prize money.

USS New Orleans (1898-1929) Halftone photograph, taken during the Spanish-American War and published in the book War in Cuba, 1898. Courtesy of Alfred Cellier, 1977. NH 85648

Immediately after the conclusion of hostilities, she took part in the Peace Jubilee in New York, visited her namesake “hometown” in the Crescent City, then sailed for the Philippines via the Suez, arriving just before Christmas 1899, where she would remain on station for four years.

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans on Asiatic Station, 1902. Shown is CPT (later RADM) Charles Stillman Sperry (USNA 1866), skipper, and his XO, LCDR James T. Smith. Note the ornate triple ship’s wheels in the background. Donation of Walter J. Krussel, 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Laid up from 1905 to 1909, she recommissioned in 1910 with a new suite of American-pattern guns and headed to the Far East once again, with a gleaming new scheme worthy of TR’s Great White Fleet.

LOC LC-D4-5521

USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) Photographed before World War I in her white scheme. Note signalman atop the bridge. Description: Courtesy of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973.NH 92171

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans, quarter-deck over the stern. Note her searchlights and torpedo-busting guns in the tower. Detroit Publishing Company, 1890-1912

Officers, crew, and mascot of USS New Orleans at Yokohama (CL-22), Japan, 1910. Note the flat caps and cracker jacks of the sailors; fringed epauletted body coats and cocked hats of the officers; outfits that were much more 19th Century than 20th. Via the Yangtze River Patrol Association.

USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) Flying a “Homeward Bound” pennant, circa 1912. Halftoned photo original view was courtesy of “Our Navy” magazine. NH 45118

By 1914, she was back in North American waters, spending time– along with most of the other surface assets of the fleet– in Mexican waters, patrolling that country’s Pacific coast in a haze gray scheme. This was a mission she would continue for three years, alternating with trips back up to Puget Sound where she would serve as a training vessel for the Washington State Naval Militia.

USS New Orleans CL-22. March 1916 crew photo taken during an overhaul at PSNS. Note the difference in uniforms from the China photo taken just six years prior. Via Puget Sound Navy Museum.

When the U.S. entered the Great War, she was transferred to the Atlantic, arriving at Hampton Roads on 27 August 1917. From there, she escorted a convoy carrying Doughboys and materiel to Europe. However, with plenty of ships on tap in the British Isles, the funky third-class cruiser received orders once more for the Pacific, reaching Yokohama from Honolulu on 13 March 1918.

USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) En route to the Asiatic Station, early in 1918, note her dark gray scheme. NH 45120

It was about this time that the Western Allies decided to intervene in the affairs of civil war-torn Russia, landing troops in Vladivostok in the Pacific as well as Archangel and Murmansk in the White/Barents Seas.

U.S. Soldiers parade in Vladivostok, Aug. 1918, a mission that would span four years and involve New Orleans for most of that. 

New Orleans would remain off and on as a station ship in Vladivostok until 17 August 1922, as the city’s population had quadrupled from 90,000 to more than 400,000 as refugees from the anti-Bolshevik White Russian forces and the Czechoslovak Legion, the latter formed from Austro-Hungarian Army POWs in Siberia, swelled the port, seeking to escape the oncoming Reds. Sheltered under the guns of American, British, French, and Japanese ships, the city remained the last large holdout from Moscow’s control, only being secured by the Red Army in October 1922 with the withdrawal of the hated “Interventionists.”

Czech Maj. Gen Radola Gajda and Captain E. B. Larimer on the deck of USS NEW ORLEANS, Vladivostok, 1919. A former Austrian and Montenegrin army field officer, Gajda helped the Russians raise the Czech legions in 1916 and would later become a high-level commander in the White Army in Siberia– even leading a coup to get rid of its overall leader, Russian Adm. Alexander Kolchak. Gajda would escape Vladivostok for Europe and briefly become the Chief of the General Staff for the Czech Army in the mid-1920s. Note his Russian cossack-style shashka saber with a knot as well as a mix of Russian, Austrian and Montenegrin medals. NH 1097.

Her last mission completed, and her tonnage held against the fleet in future naval treaties, New Orleans returned to Mare Island on 23 September, after calls en route at Yokohama and Honolulu, and was decommissioned on 16 November 1922. Stricken from the Navy List on 13 November 1929, she was sold for scrapping on 4 February 1930 to D. C. Seagraves of San Francisco, California.

As for her sisters, Chacabucu/Ministro Zenteno remained in Chilean service until 1930 and was scrapped while about the same time the Brazilian Barroso was disarmed and turned into a floating barracks, ultimately being written off sometime later, date unknown.

Zenteno and Barroso, Jane’s 1914 listing.

Albany missed the Span Am War, being commissioned in the River Tyne, England, on 29 May 1900. Sailing for the Far East from there where she would serve, alternating cruises back to Europe, until 1913 she only went to the U.S. for the first time for her mid-life refit. Recommissioned in 1914, Albany served off Mexico, gave convoy duty in WWI, and ended up with sister New Orleans briefly in Russia. With the post-war drawdown, she was placed out of commission on 10 October 1922 at Mare Island and sold for scrap in 1930.


Our cruiser is remembered in period maritime art.

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans (later PG 34 and CL 22), port bow. Reproduction of a painting by Koerner & Hayes, circa 1897-98.

Her plans are in the National Archives.

A single 4.7-inch Elswick Armstrong gun from each of these English-made Brazilian cruisers in U.S. service is installed at the Kane County, Illinois Soldier and Sailor Monument at the former courthouse in Geneva, Illinois.

SECNAV has done a good job of keeping a “NO Boat” or “NOLA boat” on the Naval List for roughly 103 of the past 122 years.

The second completed USS New Orleans would also be a cruiser, CA-32, leader of her seven-hull class of 10,000-ton “Treaty Cruisers” built in the early-to-mid 1930s. The class would give very hard service in WWII, with three sunk at the horrific Battle of Savo Island. However, USS New Orleans (CA-32) was luckier, earning a remarkable 17 battlestars, going on to be laid up in 1947 and stricken/scrapped in 1959.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) In English waters, about June 1934. Photographed by Wright & Logan, Southsea, England. Donation of Captain Joseph Finnegan, USN (Retired), 1970. NH 71787

The third USS New Orleans was an Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship, LPH-11, commissioned in 1968. After a 30-year career, she was decommissioned and later disposed of in a SINKEX in 2020.

A vertical view of the amphibious assault ship USS NEW ORLEANS (LPH-11) underway. CH-53 Sea Stallion and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters line the flight deck, 6/16/1988. PH2 Weideman/DNST8807549.

The fourth New Orleans is a Pascagoula-built San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, LPD-18, that has been in the fleet since 2007.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Aug. 21, 2020) A rigid-hull inflatable boat, right, transits the Philippine Sea from the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18). New Orleans, part of America Expeditionary Strike Group, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit team is operating in the 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serves as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor DiMartino)


Jane’s 1914 listing for Albany and New Orleans.

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120 years ago today, the rest of the picture

Source Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, via 1898-07-03 Harper’s Weekly.

Here we see a group of U.S Army victors on Kettle Hill on about July 3, 1898, after the battle of “San Juan Hill(s).” Left to right are officers and men of the vaunted “Brave Rifles” of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry Regiment, center is the “Rough Riders” of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (with former Asst. Scty of the Navy, Col. Theodore Roosevelt, center, with a revolver salvaged from the USS Maine in his holster) and the African-American Troopers (“Buffalo Soldiers”) of the 10th U.S. Cavalry to the right.

This photo is often shown cropping out all but the 1st Vol Cav and TR and billed as “Colonel Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at the top of the hill which they captured, Battle of San Juan.”


Rough Rider Krag at auction

Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill by Frederic Remington: Theodore Roosevelt leads the charge on his horse, Little Texas. K Troop officer, Woodbury Kane is the brown-uniformed officer in the foreground with pistol in right hand and saber in his left. To the upper right of Lt Kane is a hat-less African-American Buffalo Soldier from either the 9th or 10th Cavalry that got mixed in along with the Rough Riders as all of them raced to the top of Kettle Hill.

Last weekend, Skinners had an early 1895-production Springfield Model 1896 Krag Saddle-Ring carbine up for grabs. Few of 1896s were made, just 22,493– with only a handful being 1895-marked. With their handy 22-inch barrel and 41-inch overall length, the five-shot”half-capsule” fixed magazine, bolt action repeater had a magazine cut-off to allow single .30-40 Krag rounds to be fed to keep the stumpy horse gun topped off.

It was also the last saddle ring (due to its ring and bar sling attachment) carbine ever made for the U.S. government– the end of an era. It even had a cleaning rod that was stored in the butt trap.

Another thing that made this gun special is that it was SN 27892, known to be issued to Alvin C. Ash, a trooper in G Troop of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry.

More in my article at Guns.com

As noted by Springfield Armory, who has a similar 1895-marked M1896 (SN 30023) in their collection, TR and his buddy Leonard Wood (now remembered with Fort named after him) really worked to get them:

“Wood and Roosevelt had to put forth some effort to obtain the Krag carbine for the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry; this was the first-line cavalry weapon, and it had been in service only two years when the Spanish-American War broke out. All the carbines issued to the Rough Riders were new, unused weapons, even though many of them were manufactured in 1895. The mechanism of the Model 1896 Carbine had been improved in a number of respects over that of the Model 1892 Rifle, many of which were in the hands of regular infantry troops at Santiago.” – Franklin B. Mallory MAN AT ARMS, July/August 1989

In the end, Ash’s Krag went for $30,750, with most of that being the premium for a Rough Riders-connected named piece, as Saddle Rings of the same vintage normally go for about a 1/10th of that.

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018: The Saint and the Terror

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. 21, 2018: The Saint and the Terror

Catalog #: NH 59924

Here we see the U.S. Mail Steamer Saint Paul of the American Line in her guise as the auxiliary cruiser USS Saint Paul, photographed at the end of the Spanish-American War. The 11,612-ton ocean liner was the fastest thing on the Atlantic merchant trade when put in service, was the first to carry a wireless (and she needed it!) and served in two real-live shooting wars, with mixed results.

Saint Paul, a twin-screw steel passenger liner of the newest sort, along with her sister Saint Louis were ordered by the Philadelphia-based International Navigation Company (led by robber baron Clement Acton Griscom) for use by that firm and their subsidiary American Line and Red Star Line flags. As such, they were something of a keynote in U.S. merchant history. They had 17 watertight compartments (two decades before Titanic), could carry up to 1,540 passengers in a variety of styles (350 1st class, 290 2nd, 900 3rd), and were ultra-modern.

As explained by Kenneth J. Blume, they were the first large liners built in the U.S since 1857 (other large passenger liners were all European in origin) and were ordered to take advantage of subsidies set aside in the Merchant Marine Act of 1891. Further, he says “they were the last such large passenger liners built in the United States until the 1930s.”

Built at William Cramp & Sons Building & Engine Company, Philadelphia (yard # 277 and 278), these ships used quadruple expansion engines fed by double-ended boilers capable of speeding them forward at 20-knots (making International Navigation the first to offer such service across the Atlantic). Further, they had a more “modern” appearance than preceding liners, with two stacks and plumb bows. Built to last, they were completed by the same yard that was at the time working on the cruisers USS Minneapolis (C 13) and Brooklyn (ACR 3) as well as the battleship Iowa (BB 6)

Quadruple expansion engines of SS St. Louis (1894) in the workshop of William Cramp & Sons where they were built. Published in Howell’s Steam Vessels and Marine Engines. p. 11, 1896.

Steamliner SS Saint Paul of the International Navigation Co. 1895. Photo by Johnston, J. S. (John S.) postcard by Detroit Publishing Co.in the collection of the LOC. https://www.loc.gov/item/det1994011748/PP/

Famously, our new ocean liner ran aground off the New Jersey coast in January 1896 and required an extensive $400,000 effort to free her. Meanwhile, the rescue of her passengers and crew was national news for several months.


However, she was back in business and in April 1896 she crossed the Atlantic from New York to Southampton in just six days. Over the next two years, she would repeat her crossing 36 times along the same route, which is impressive by any standard.

Her peacetime passenger service came to a halt due to events in Cuba.

At 21:40 on 15 February 1898, the armored cruiser USS Maine suffered a terrible explosion in Havana Harbor while exercising tense gunboat diplomacy with Spain over Cuba, leading to the death of 266 Navy and Marine personnel.

Though the cause of the explosion would not be known anytime soon, the press whipped the event up to the point of conflict.

When war came, the Navy took up dozens of craft from trade including four large passenger liners for conversion to auxiliary cruisers from the American Line/International Navigation Co: the SS New York (which became USS Harvard), SS City of Paris (who became the matching USS Yale) as well as Saint Louis and Saint Paul, the latter pair of which served under their given names.

On 12 March 1898, Saint Paul was taken up for service by the Navy and, sailing to Newport for crew and conversion to an auxiliary cruiser, Capt. Charles Dwight Sigsbee (formerly commander of the stricken Maine) raised the national ensign and took down the American Line house colors. She commissioned on 20 April. The fast liner was given a coat of gray paint, armed with six 5″/40 Mark 4 guns, another six Hotchkiss 6-pounders, and six 3-pounders in a fit-out that lasted just 14 days. Could you imagine a similar thing today?

USS St. Paul (1898) View looking aft on her forecastle, following conversion to an auxiliary cruiser, 1898. Note 5-inch guns, capstans, winch and other deck gear as well as two Marines. The original photograph was taken by C.H. Graves and published on a stereograph card. Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN(MSC, 1979) U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Photo #: NH 89086

Ready for service by the first part of May, the new USS Saint Paul would see the elephant, and soon.

But first, let’s talk about a little Spanish Terror.

In the lead up to the conflict, in 1896 the Spanish Navy ordered a half-dozen Furor-class torpedo destroyers from the shipyards of J & G Thompson of Clydebank in Scotland. These nimble 229-foot 380-ton ships could make 28-knots (when their machinery worked) and carried two 350mm torpedo tubes as well as four Nordenfelt popguns.

A Spanish Terror Class Destroyer in British Waters in about 1897. An unidentified example of the ship class, photographed in about 1897-1898 in British waters and very likely in builders’ hands. Six sisters were built in 1896-1897 by Thompson on the Clyde: AUDAZ (1897-1927), OSADO (1897-1927), PROSERPINA (1897-1931), TERROR (1896-1927), FUROR (1896-1898), PLUTON (1896-1898). NH 88619

NH 111967 Spanish Torpedo Boat Destroyer TERROR

On 28 April 1898, the Spanish Navy’s 1st Squadron, of four cruisers (Infanta Maria Teresa, Vizcaya, Almirante Oquendo, and Cristóbal Colón) and three sister-ship destroyers (Pluton, Terror, and Furor) set out from the Cape Verde Islands for the Caribbean, bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico, then a Spanish colony. RADM Pascual Cervera y Topete’s mission was to rendezvous with other Spanish ships, engage the American squadron blockading Cuba, and ultimately to attack the United States.

Spain’s torpedo-boat flotilla en route from the Canaries to Puerto Rico. William Sontag. NYPL collection 1898. Terror shown in front

The loose Spanish ships sowed panic on the Eastern seaboard as every coastal town just knew they would wake up to Spanish bombardment at any time. However, Cervera’s fleet was in bad shape, with fouled bottoms, dangerously defective (or in some cases even uninstalled) guns, untrained crews, and poor engineering plants. Terror, carrying the flag of Capt. Fernando Villaamil Fernandez-Cueto (destroyer flotilla commander), and commanded by Lt. Francisco de la Bocha y Pérez, was nursing boiler problems.

Saint Paul sortied out from Philadelphia to look for Cervera on 5 May.

The Flying Squadron, under the command of Commodore Winfield S. Schley, joined the search for the Spanish fleet while the fleet four detailed ships, Saint Paul, her American Line companion auxiliary cruiser USS Yale, the similar USS Harvard, and USS Minneapolis, patrolled the waters off Santiago just in case Cervera made it to the Cuban hub.

In the meantime, the Spanish squadron popped up at the French colony of Martinique on 10 May 1898 and, with Terror‘s engines fully immobilized, the little destroyer that couldn’t was left behind while Cervera beat feet to Santiago, Cuba. Alone, the intrepid Lt. Bocha managed to cobble together Terror‘s condemned piping and nurse her solo to San Juan a week later.

Meanwhile, our hero liner-cruiser Saint Paul found the British steam collier Restormel, which was chartered to bring 2,400-tons of badly needed fresh Cardiff coal to Cervera and captured the same just outside of Santiago on 25 May after firing two blanks and one war shot from her 5-inch battery. She later arranged for the steamer to go to Key West as a prize. The British captain reportedly told his American captors he was glad the U.S. wound up with his valuable cargo since the Spaniards did not lift a finger to prevent his capture even though he was under the heavy guns of Castle Morro and a promised battleship escort into Santiago never materialized.

“I am glad you Yankees have the coal since those duffers inside didn’t have the nerve to come out and back me up with their guns when we were right within range,” he reportedly said as the prize crew of bluejackets and leathernecks from Saint Paul came aboard.

Saint Paul next appeared off Fort Caimanera near Guantánamo, where her 5-inch gunners helped plaster the Spanish shore batteries there from just 1,000 yards off the beach. By early June she was off San Juan along with USS Yosemite and the new cruiser USS New Orleans.

The trio effectively blockaded that Spanish Puerto Rican port, which held the aforementioned Terror as well as the ineffective 1,200-ton Velasco-class unprotected cruiser Isabel II (4×4.7-inch guns), and the two 500-ton 3rd class gunboats General Concha (3×4.7inch) and Ponce de Leon. On the morning of 22 June, while a German tramp steamer made for open ocean, the three Spanish warships made a move to test the harbor blockade and Saint Paul was there. A short and ineffective artillery duel resulted in the two larger Spaniards turning back while Terror made a David vs. Goliath torpedo run on our liner.

The auxiliary cruiser St. Paul repulsing the Spanish torpedo-boat destroyer Terror off San Juan de Puerto Rico, June 22, 1898, by Henry Reuterdahl, NYPL Collection

The run ended badly for the unsupported Terror, who never got closer than 5,400 yards to the big American before two 5-inch shells perforated her, one in the engine room. Listing, immobile and taking on water, the stricken torpedo destroyer had to be beached by towing as Saint Paul watched. For Terror, her war was over.

The damaged Spanish destroyer Terror at San Juan. She was allowed to return to Spain when the war ended.

Isabel II, General Concha, and Ponce de Leon again tried to force the American cordon on 28 June to make a hole for an incoming blockade runner, but after an ineffective artillery duel at long range from Saint Paul, the effort was called off. It was the last naval action at San Juan and the Spanish ships finished the war at anchor, eventually sailing home when peace was concluded.

For Saint Paul, she was recalled to New York in July and, reverting to her original design, brought first the 4th and later the 8th Ohio Volunteer regiments to the theater, carrying over 1,300 troops each trip.

This image shows the ST. PAUL embarking troops for Puerto Rico. Her superimposed gun sponson which she was outfitted with while operating as an auxiliary cruiser can be seen overhanging the side of the vessel. Via SpanAm War.com http://www.spanamwar.com/Stpaultroops.htm

It was some of the first major joint Army-Navy operations since the Civil War, and improvisation was key, with troops moving ashore via sugar lighters and cargo nets.

Troops transferring to sugar-lighters at sea. There was a heavy ground swell and the boat rose and fell alongside, making it a difficult task. NH 108558

Each sugar-lighter held one company of men. NH 108559

Her last trip from Puerto Rico, in August, was to bring soldiers home to New York. From there, she steamed to Cramp’s to be disarmed and refitted for merchant service, decommissioned and released by the War Department on 2 September. Her very active wartime life lasted less than five months.

Saint Paul was also notable as the first merchant ship fitted with a Marconi wireless, in 1899. On November 15 of that year Guglielmo Marconi issued The Transatlantic Times, the first newspaper ever published at sea, using information received by radio transmission from his wireless telegraph station on the Isle of Wight.

By November 1898, she was back on the Southampton run, which was her regular route, carrying passengers, mail, and coin. For example, on one 1902 run, she brought “670 passengers eastbound, 1.173 mailbags and $200.000 in gold” to England from New York. It was her bread and butter and in her career she completed more than 200 such crossings across two decades.

William M. Vander Weyde photo of ladies waving bon voyage as St. Paul leaves the pier, from the George Eastman Kodak Museum.

Photographed circa the 1890s or early 1900s. Description: Courtesy of the Saint Paul “Minnesota Dispatch,” 1963. Catalog #: NH 92841

SS St. Paul Bain News Service, 1915, via LOC

ST. PAUL sails, 8/7/14 (LOC)

Then it was back to peacetime liner operations for an uneventful (for us) 19 years other than a 1908 collision with the British Arrogant-class cruiser HMS Gladiator, killing 27 RN personnel and sending the smaller 5,700-ton manowar to the bottom off the Isle of Wright. A British high court held Gladiator responsible.

Then, war came once again.

Saint Paul was taken over by the War Department for use as the troop transport Knoxville on 27 October 1917, making 12 rushed crossings over the Atlantic carrying the boys “over there” to fight the Huns over the next five months. For such duty, the fast transport was given a Navy gun crew to man four newly-installed 6″ guns and painted in Thayer’s quarter-shading camo process. She was credited with carrying more than 30,000 GIs to France.

The Navy, in turn, arranged for the former auxiliary cruiser’s transfer in April 1918 to the sea service and, designated USS Saint Paul (SP 1643), was taken back into Navy service. While being further converted, on 28 April, she flooded and capsized in the North River in New York.

Lot-10821-4: USS Saint Paul (ID# 1643), salvage operations of the auxiliary cruiser during 1918. Shown: First stage of pumping and rolling operation. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. (2017/08/04).

Lot-10821-2: USS Saint Paul (ID# 1643), salvage operations of the auxiliary cruiser during 1918. Shown: As she lay on the bottom

Lot-10821-3: USS Saint Paul (ID# 1643), salvage operations of the auxiliary cruiser during 1918. Shown: 6-inch gun on the starboard side of the foredeck.

Salvage operations continued into 1919 and she was eventually returned to the American Lines in floating condition. Returning to service in the low-rent steerage trade, she was still too uneconomical to run at a profit and by 1923 was retired. She was towed across the Atlantic by Jacob van Heemskerk and broken up at the former naval dockyard at Wilhelmshaven in Weimar Germany, where labor at the time was dirt cheap.

As for her sister, Saint Louis, she also served in the Great War as the armed transport USS Louisville (there was another USS St. Louis in the fleet at the time), but was gutted in a fire in 1920 and scrapped in 1924. As it turned out, the proud “20-knot” liner never made it back to carry civilian passengers after their second war.

Their company likewise faltered. The American Line itself was defunct by 1932 as was the Red Star Line by 1935. The International Navigation Co. endured in a way, merging in 1931 with the Roosevelt Steamship Company under the United States Lines banner.

Curiously, Saint Paul‘s nemesis, the Spanish Terror, outlived her. Returning to Spain following the loss of Puerto Rico in 1899, she was repaired and served in the Spanish Navy in North Africa and European waters until she was retired in 1924.

Our liner is, of course, remembered in various period maritime art.

Displacement: 11,612 in commercial service, 14,910 long tons (15,150 t) as aux cruiser
Dimensions 535’6” (bp) x 63′ x 27’5”
Machinery 2 screws, VQE, 6 D/E & 4 S/E boilers, IHP 20000,
Speed: 19.25 knots practical but made 22 knots after funnel caps removed in 1900
Coal: 2677 tons
Complement 281 crew + 1540 passengers as liner,
1898: 357 Navy, 50 Marines
Armament: (1898)
6 5”/40 Mark 4 rapid-fire guns (four fwd, two aft) in open mounts with 600 rounds
6 6 pdr. Hotchkiss with 1800 rounds
6 3 pdr. Nordenfeldt guns (two on promenade deck, four on wings) with 1800 rounds
Extensive small arms locker for Marine detachment
6 6″/50 Mark 6 guns repurposed from old battleships and cruisers.

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!

Collectors may soon get more access to old guns without FFL hoops

A Senate measure would change the federal definition of an antique firearm from one made before 1899 to one that is 100 years old.

Introduced earlier this month as S.1541, the move would dramatically increase the number of older guns that are available to collectors that could be sold and shipped without a Federal Firearms License.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives generally does not regulate antique guns as defined under federal law as one made in or before 1898 that is not otherwise controlled by National Firearms Act. This means current “pre-1899” guns enjoy a premium with collectors over firearms of the same model made after the cutoff that can be transferred and shipped across state lines without an FFL due to their exemption.

More in my column at Guns.com


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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/drakegoodma

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

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 Alfonso‘s 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.

Spanish cruiser crucero español Alfonso XII – 1891 via Postales Navales

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, because a sledgehammer always works against ants, as evidenced in every COIN campaign in history, right?

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 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 sickbay, 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. Commander 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 armament 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 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 sister ship, 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)

Her location on “Dewey Boulevard” as noted by an American cartoon of the era, now home to mermaids:

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 scrollwork, 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 a dock for the purpose of repairing damage to her bottom. This work was still in progress on 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.

Her crest is on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington D. C.

Crest of Spanish ship Reina Mercedes Manila Exhibited in the Spanish-American War section of Bldg. 76

There is also her time in better days as recalled in maritime art.

And 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.


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
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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