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Warship Wednesday Feb 11, 2015: Of Cyclops and Covered Wagons

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 Feb 11, 2015: Of Cyclops and Covered Wagons

Click to big up

Click to big up

Here we see the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier in 1924 with a dozen early biplanes on her deck, the one that started the whole shebang of sea going Naval Aviation in the Western Hemisphere: the converted Proteus-class collier USS Langley (CV-1) nee USS Jupiter (AC-3).

One cold harsh realization that the original Global Force for Good,–Teddy Roosevelt’s 1908 Great White Fleet– came to know during its round-the-world sortie, was that a large force of battleships and cruisers needed huge, dedicated coal-carriers to keep the fleet moving. You see those water tube boilers of the day had to have a steady stream of the black stuff to make steam or the whole thing was dead in the water.

That’s when the Navy decided to ask for a quartet of new, purpose-built, colliers. Operated by the Naval Auxiliary Service, the forerunner of the MSC of today, these would be unarmed, civilian-crewed ships, owned by the government and under Navy orders.

Like class leader USS Proteus, laid down in 1911 at Newport News, the four colliers would have names drawn from Greek mythology. Sisterships, Cyclops, Nereus, and Jupiter were likewise named and ordered at the same time. Nereus would be constructed at Newport News alongside Proteus while Cyclops was built at Cramp in Pennsylvania. Jupiter, our subject was laid down 18 October 1911 at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California.

USS Jupiter in the Mare Island Channel, 7 April 1913 (Commissioning Day). The collier USS Saturn is aft of Jupiter Navy Yard Mare Island photo # AC 3 001-4-13 via Navsource

USS Jupiter in the Mare Island Channel, 7 April 1913 (Commissioning Day). The collier USS Saturn is aft of Jupiter Navy Yard Mare Island photo # AC 3 001-4-13 via Navsource

These 522-foot long ships, built at a bargain price of $1 million a pop, could 11,800 tons of coal and 1,125 ton of oil in six holds. They were made distinctive by their seven tall A-frame towers, standing five stories above deck (remember this later) that allowed coal or oil to be moved via a complicated series of 24 winches and 12 cable-ways to vessels along either side. In tests with the battleship Wyoming, it was found that one of these colliers could transfer 217 tons per hour if needed, which was pretty efficient.

They could also carry 8,000 tons of dry cargo in lieu of coal and small amounts of men from place to place. As such, they proved handy as sort of a low-budget federal shipping service for the government.

Post card of USS Jupiter moored pier side, probably at Mare Island Navy Yard, sometime about the time of her completion in 1913. Robert M. Cieri via Navsource

Post card of USS Jupiter moored pier side, probably at Mare Island Navy Yard, sometime about the time of her completion in 1913. Robert M. Cieri via Navsource

Jupiter was commissioned on 7 April 1913 and, like her three sisters, proved yeoman service to the fleet both in the days leading up to WWI and in the war itself. By 1916, the Navy had directed that these ships be crewed by actual naval personnel, and they picked up a quartet of 4-inch popguns for self-defense. Jupiter did her duty when the Great War came and coaled the U.S. Atlantic Fleet on both sides of the pond, seeing service in dangerous U-boat infested waters without a hitch.

Lead Ship,Dreadnought Battleship USS South Carolina pictured conducting experimental coaling at sea with Collier USS Cyclops while under way in April 1914. Two 800 lb bags of coal were moved at once by line between the vessels

Speaking of dangerous, her sistership, USS Cyclops, carrying the United States Consul-General to Rio, Alfred Louis Moreau Gottschalk among her passengers, as well as 231 crew and an overloaded cargo of manganese, went missing somewhere between Barbados and Virginia in March 1918. This disappearance was blamed at the time on U-boats, or possibly a fierce storm that swept through the Virginia Capes. Other theories included the possibility that her German-born Captain may have done something with her, and, later Bermuda Triangle advocates have advanced all sorts of crap claims ranging from UFOs to magnetic shifts. Other more plausible reasons include the ship’s very high messianic height (have you seen those derrick towers!?), the numerous huge hatches on deck, and low freeboard (just 8-feet when fully loaded) leading to unsafe conditions in rough seas.

Cyclops has never been found although at least one Navy diver, Dean Hawes in 1968, descended on a large hulk lying in 180 feet of water about 40 nautical miles northeast of Cape Charles, that is thought to have been the Cyclops. The ship has been an ongoing topic for Clive Cussler and his NUMA crew, even making it into a rather entertaining Dirk Pitt novel that I read back in 7th grade…and again in 10th…

25149Anyways, back to the Jupiter.

With the war over and the Navy moving to oilers rather than colliers, Jupiter was surplus. In fact, her surviving sisters Nereus and Proteus were laid up on red lead row for good. That fate was almost shared by Jupiter, who was decommissioned on 24 March 1920, except that she was converted to use as the U.S. Navy’s first, albeit experimental, aircraft carrier.

In 1922, she reemerged from the Norfolk Navy Yard dubbed USS Langley after aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley. Gone were her huge towers, her topside now covered with a wooden flight deck for aircraft. As such, she took on the nickname of “The Covered Wagon.”

USS Langley (CV-1) early in her career (note single stack to port). Photo is stamped on back: "Chief of Information. Navy Department. Washington, 25 D.C." Photo by Jim Bulebush via Navsource

USS Langley (CV-1) early in her career (note single stack to port). Photo is stamped on back: “Chief of Information. Navy Department. Washington, 25 D.C.” Photo by Jim Bulebush via Navsource

With her huge derricks removed and topside weight reduced, she shed some 5,000 tons and could float in water some five feet more shallow. She also picked up a couple knots in speed without all that bulk. In addition to her flightdeck, she was fitted with an elevator and catapult as well as a carrier pigeon house on the stern. Her old 4″/50s were replaced by newer 5″/51s and her holds were converted to berthing for up to 500 bluejackets and air wing members as well as bunkerage for avgas and lubricants.

An image taken from a departing biplane, Aug 03, 1923 of the U.S. Navy's first aircraft carrier. NARA Photo 520639

An image taken from a departing biplane, Aug 03, 1923 of the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier. NARA Photo 520639

USS Langley, 1923, showing off those fine collier lines!

For the next 15 years, Langley served as the cradle of U.S. Naval aviation, with most of the service’s pre-WWII aviators learning their trade on her humble decks. In fact, she was the only carrier in the fleet, not to mention the hemisphere, until late 1927. She conducted a number of important firsts including launching and recovering the first Navy’s first rotary wing aircraft, a Pitcairn XOP-1 autogyro, on Sept. 23, 1931.

Inside the hangar of USS Langley, CV-1

Hangar of the USS Langley, circa 1920. She could carry as many as 42 aircraft, 30 being the average. The larger plane in the foreground is a Douglas DT torpedo bomber, with its wings removed. Other aircraft are Vought VE-7s.

Had there been no Langley, there likely would have been no Lexington, Yorktown or Enterprise airwings in 1942. Further, five of her skippers went on to become admirals.

"Fleet Plane Carrier on Night Maneuvers," circa 1925. Robert M. Cieri/ Thomas M. McDermott via Navsource.

“Fleet Plane Carrier on Night Maneuvers,” circa 1925. Robert M. Cieri/ Thomas M. McDermott via Navsource.

Still, at the end of the day, Langley was just a collier by any other name and slow one at that. In 1936, she was stripped of her fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes, reclassified as a seaplane tender (AV-3) and her deck cut back to less than half its former length.

USS Langley (AV-3) at anchor in 1937, near NAS Coco Solo Panama. The aircraft over flying Langley are Consolidated PBY-2s from Patrol Squadron Two (VP-2). US Navy photo via Navsource

USS Langley (AV-3) at anchor in 1937, near NAS Coco Solo Panama. The aircraft over flying Langley are Consolidated PBY-2s from Patrol Squadron Two (VP-2). US Navy photo via Navsource. Note the half length deck.

When WWII started, she was forward deployed to the Philippines and dodged incoming Japanese planes on the very first day of the War in the Pacific. Escaping the PI by the skin of her teeth, she worked her way south to the Dutch East Indies where she was used by the Army to deliver a load of 32 Curtiss P-40 Warhawks of the 13th USAAF Pursuit Squadron to Java.

However, the Japanese caught up to the old girl and on 27 February, 1942, left her dead in the water her off Java with five bomb hits turning her into an inferno and taking 16 of her crew to the deep. Nine 4-inch shells and two torpedoes from the destroyer USS Whipple (DD-217) finished her off after her crew was offloaded to prevent her from falling into enemy hands.

Most of her crew was rescued by the fleet oiler USS Pecos (AO–6), but tragically were lost when that ship was sunk by Japanese air attack from the carriers Kaga and Soryu, 1 March.

Her sisters Nereus and Proteus? As it turned out, Langley/Jupiter outlived them both.

They were struck from the Naval List in 1940 after spending nearly two decades in mothballs. The Navy just didn’t need any colliers or, for that matter, cargo ships with corrosion and engine issues. The two were sold to Saguenay Terminals Ltd. of Montreal, Quebec on March 8 and 10th, 1941 respectively and operated in the Canadian Merchant Navy during World War II. In the ultimate in Theremin music sound tracked creepiness on the high seas, both of these ships, like the Cyclops before them, disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle area within three weeks of each other. M/V Proteus left St. Thomas, USVI with a load of bauxite to be turned into aluminum bound for Maine on Nov. 23, 1941. M/V Nereus left the same port, with the same cargo, for the same destination, on Dec. 10th.

Neither was seen again.

While the three colliers are somewhere in Poseidon’s Bermuda flotilla, Langley‘s wreck is some 75 miles south off Tjilatjap, Indonesia while a very well done model is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida. Her name was later carried by the USS Langley (CVL-27), an 11,000-ton Independence-class aircraft carrier that served the United States Navy from 1943 to 1947. Since that ship was stricken in March 1963, there has not been a Langley on the Naval List.

She is remembered as the Covered Wagon

She is remembered as the Covered Wagon

 

Specs

As collier:

Displacement: 19,000 long tons (19,000 t) full
Length: 522 ft. (159 m)
Beam: 63 ft. (19 m)
Draft: 27 ft. 8 in (8.43 m)
Speed: 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Complement: 13 officers, 91 men, all civilians, bunks for 158
Armament:     4-4″/50 (Fitted 1916/17)

Specs: As Aircraft Carrier

Displacement:
13,900 long tons (14,100 t)
Length: 542 ft. (165.2 m)
Beam: 65 ft. 5 in (19.9 m)
Draft: 24 ft. (7.3 m)
Installed power: 7,200 shp (5,400 kW)
Propulsion:     General Electric turbo-electric transmission
3 × boilers
2 × shafts
Speed: 15.5 kn (17.8 mph; 28.7 km/h)
Range: 3,500 nmi (4,000 mi; 6,500 km) at 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h)
Complement: 468 officers and men
Armament:     4 × 5 in (127 mm)/51 cal guns
Aircraft carried:  up to 55 in tests. Typically, 36 embarked. As seaplane tender after 1936, would be responsible for 10-20 flying boats
Aviation facilities: 1 × elevator
1 × catapult

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Update to København mystery ship, new photos

Last July I covered the mystery of the Danish school ship København, one of the largest sailing ships ever built at a staggering 430-feet long and 4,000-tons. She is also one of the most enduring mysteries of the sea, having vanished in the South Atlantic in late 1928, with not a soul of her 17 officers and 62 naval cadet crew ever seen again.

Well LSOZI reader Sue Trewartha from South Australia sent in a stack of old Kobenhavn photos for us to enjoy. You see the “Big Dane” was a regular in Australian waters on the wheat run– and in fact was making her way around the tip of South American headed Down Under when she vanished.

Sue tells me, “I have been collecting local and family history here at Ceduna since 1986 and have gathered these photos and chased up a little of the history of Kobenhavn as well.”

Many of these photos are from the collection of the Ceduna National Trust Museum and have rarely been seen. They are all large images so “click to big-up!”

This first one is the Kobenhavn at the Thevenard jetty. The jetty was only opened in 1920 and could handle large sailing ships http://www.ceduna.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=498#jetty . Ceduna National Trust Museum

This first one is the Kobenhavn at the Thevenard jetty. The jetty was only opened in 1920 and could handle large sailing ships. Ceduna National Trust Museum

Image by David Harding

Amidships image by David Harding

Painting signed by the captain of the Kobenhavn.  (Christensen?) for Mr Vin Irwin. His daughter Helene Bourne shared this photo with us and is happy we use it. Vin Irwin was the provisioner to the ships in Cedena as he was the local market owner from 1912-1953. As such he built up a close relationship with the various captains.

Painting signed by the captain of the Kobenhavn (Christensen?) for Mr Vin Irwin. His daughter Helene Bourne shared this photo with us and is happy we use it. Vin Irwin was the provisioner to the ships in Cedena as he was the local market owner from 1912-1953. As such he built up a close relationship with the various captains.

At the jetty, group of locals on jetty.  From the Ceduna National Trust.

At the jetty, group of locals on jetty. She truly was an impressive ship.
From the Ceduna National Trust.

Kobenhavn Captain. Image courtesy of Helene Bourne

Captain of the sailing ship Mexico, who was part of the search for the Kobenhavn. Image courtesy of Helene Bourne

Photo labeled sailors and locals on board.  This photo is shared by the family of Percy Lange, Ceduna.

Photo labeled sailors and locals on board Kobenhavn. This photo is shared by the family of Percy Lange, Ceduna.

Train along docks with Kobenhavn in distance. Photo courtesy of Helene Bourne

Train along docks with Kobenhavn in distance. Photo courtesy of Helene Bourne

This photo shows Kobenhavn on the right, and possibly steam ship VARDULIA on the other side. the smaller boat may be one that has lightered bagged wheat from smaller ports in the area, into THEVENARD

This photo shows Kobenhavn on the right, and possibly steam ship VARDULIA on the other side. the smaller boat may be one that has lightered bagged wheat from smaller ports in the area, into THEVENARD

Kobenhavn  being loaded with bagged wheat. Photo courtesy of  Geoff Lowe of Ceduna

Kobenhavn being loaded with bagged wheat. Photo courtesy of Geoff Lowe of Ceduna

Kobenhavn tied to jetty no 2, Ceduna National Trust Museum.

Kobenhavn tied to jetty no 2, Ceduna National Trust Museum.

Thanks again Sue, and be sure to check out her group’s FB page for more great old photos.

Warship Wednesday, July 3 The Kobenhavn Mystery

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out 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.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday,  July 3

malerkbh
Here we see one of the Danish school ship København, one of the largest sailing ships ever built. She is also one of the most enduring mysteries of the sea. While not a naval vessel per-sae, she was a training vessel (Skoleskibet) for the EAC, the Danish East Asiatic Company, and as such many of her crew were on the Royal Danish Navy’s reserve list, her students often went into naval service, and the ship itself was liable to be taken up from trade for war service.

København_(ship,_1921)_-_SLV_H99.220-3948Thats over 40-sails…

The East Asiatic Company (EAC) (Danish: Det Østasiatiske Kompagni or ØK) was in Copenhagen in 1897, and the København was the crown jewel of their fleet when she was built. The company’s bread and butter was both passenger and freight lines between the Danish capital, Bangkok and the far east.

StateLibQld_1_143507_Kobenhavn_(ship)

The København was a five masted barque-rigged sailing ship. At 430-feet long and 4,000-tons, the size of an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate of today, she was the world’s largest sailing ship at the time. She was laid down at Ramage & Fergusson, Leith, Scotland in 1913 as hull 242, but due to World War One, she was not finished until 1921. Between her five masts she carried 56,000 sq feet of canvas and had the figurehead of Danish Archbishop Absalon (Axel) gracing her bow.

Kobenhaven03

She was an exemplary vessel, with her modern diesel 640 horsepower auxiliary engine conferring a distinct advantage over other barques that were purely sail-powered vessels. In the København’s eight-year history, it sailed nine voyages without incident, covering five continents. These voyages could last anything from 150 to 400 days each. She had sailed as much as 305 nautical miles under canvas in a single day– a speed under sail of over 12-knots. Her auxiliary diesel could plug the giant ship along at six knots.

sailors from Skoleskibet KØBENHAVN

sailors from Skoleskibet KØBENHAVN

While she could, and did carry cargo, her primary mission was to train merchant and naval cadets in a seagoing academy. As such youths from all walks of life walked her decks in nine successful long-term training cruises between 1921 and 1928, twice circling the globe.

Kobenhavn

Her final voyage carried 17 officers and 62 naval cadets. Its course was to be Denmark to Argentina to Australia and back. The first leg was successful, the ship leaving Buenos Ares on December 14, 1928. Eight days later, a final wireless message from her was received, stating that all was well.

On January 21, 1929 a British missionary school teacher, Philip Lindsay, assigned to the remote South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha saw a wrecked sailing ship. He described it as a ghostly ship, five-masted, a white band around painted around the black hull, and apparently unmanned. She was  under single jib. foresail and lower topsails, her foremast broken.The vessel was three miles out past the breakers and adrift, heading for the reefs of Cave Point with her stern awash. He saw her grow within 400-yards offshore, then lost sight of her as she drifted to the east. A few days  later the locals observed wreckage scattered on the reef including miscellaneous boxes and a 30-foot flat-bottomed boat that they were unable to salvage before it was carried back out to sea.  No bodies were found. The island is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, lying 2,816 kilometers (1,750 mi) from the nearest land, South Africa, and 3,360 kilometers (2,088 mi) from South America.

Skolfartyget_Köbenhavn_1921-29
For two years, at least two expeditions funded by the government and the EAC searched for the Kobenhavn across both the Southern Pacific and Southern Atlantic oceans, finding nothing. A smaller expedition, privately chartered by the families of the lost cadets aboard the Norwegian yacht Ho Ho continued the search until at least 1932– with the same results. It was theorized that the Tristan da Cunha sighting was incorrect, attributing it to a similar ship (the Fench four master Ponape) that passed the area that day. Popular speculation was that the big Dane had been victim of a fire at sea, rouge wave, or iceberg.

Sightings of darkened five-masted sailing ships were reported off Chile, Polynesia, and other Pacific islands for years.

In 1934 a Finnish ship captain stated firmly that he found wreckage of the Kobenhavn along the Blight of Australia,  a story that, if proved, would have put the ship towards the end of her 9700 mile trip from Buenos Aires to Australia. The wreckage included a piece of stern bearing the name “København“.

The same year, a passing Norwegian fishing vessel stopped at Bouvet Island, an uninhabited glacier covered no-mans-land populated by penguins and found a diary, allegedly written by a trainee aboard the Kobenhavn, stating that  the ship had been destroyed by icebergs.

In September 1935, a smashed lifeboat with seven bleached skeletons was found on a desolate beach about 400 miles north of Swakopmund South Africa.  While it wasn’t definitive that the survivors were from the Kobenhaven, the skulls were ‘nordic’ and uniforms and boat wreckage were described as being of Scandinavian origin.  As the marooned sailors who reached shore landed in an area with no source of clean water, they are presumed  to have died of dehydration.

This, taken with the diary found on Bouvet, and the stern found in Australia, gave the Danish school ship the dubious distinction of having her wreckage ‘found’ on three different continents over 10,000 miles.

In 2012, the wreck of a large sailing ship was found by divers off Cave Point  in of Tristan da Cunha, near where the Kobenhaven was reportedly seen in January 1929. While it hasn’t been proven  to be the mysterious Danish school ship, there is hope her fate will be found, closing the book on one of the most captivating tales of the sea.

kbh-bov

(Note we have updated this post with more pictures at this link)

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO)

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval lore http://www.warship.org/naval.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.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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