Tag Archives: Gatling Gun

Great War Gatling guns?

Although Dr. Richard Gatling’s early hand-cranked “battery guns” had been introduced as far back as 1862, for the first 15 years of their existence they were bulky and used a series of unshielded barrels to produce their fire. Round were fed loosely into a hopper and the weapon could produce a (theoretical) rate of fire of about 600 rounds per minute, although due to jams and gas issues, it was typically closer to 200 and often could not be maintained.

Early Gatling guns, such as this .58-caliber RF 1862 model, with a half-dozen 33-inch barrels, had a rate of fire of 600 rpm, an overall length of 64-inches and a weight, with carriage and limber, of about 630 pounds, unloaded. (Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)

By 1866, Colt took over making Dr. Gatling’s guns and won the first large U.S. Army contract for the devices, one they were eager to keep by introducing upgraded generations. By 1873-ish, the caliber had switched to .45-70 Government and short-barreled “Camel” guns were being produced, which were much more maneuverable.

They called it a Camel gun for a reason…

In 1877, Colt introduced a new model that enclosed not only the barrels but also the breech section in a bronze housing covered by a front plate through which the muzzles protruded. Further, the crank could be rotated to a more ergonomic rear position and, through use of a 40-round Bruce vertical feed mechanism which could be topped off, the rate of fire really jumped to well over 1,000 rounds per minute as the gun in a 10-barreled format, fired 10 rounds with each turn of the crank. Best yet, the smaller 5-barreled gun, when used on a tripod, only weighed 90-pounds.

In an Army test of a prototype gun, one of the Bulldogs fired 1,000 rounds in 79 seconds— which is amazing even by today’s standards– and scored 996 hits on target at a range of 500 yards. Uncle Sam bought 17 Bulldogs for the Army as well as others for the Navy and the model proved popular in overseas sales as well.

An M1883 Colt Gatling gun in .45-70 with a 104-round Accles magazine

While more modern autoloading machine guns replaced Gatlings in U.S. service, some were still seeing combat in China and the Philippines in the early 1900s.

The M1893 Gatling, the first chambered in .30-40 Krag. This wonder, fitted with 10 31-inch octagon barrels, could let those big buffalo-killer sized rounds rip at 525 rounds per minute, which would produce a giant billow of burnt black powder in the process. Weighing in at 200-pounds (sans bipod) this thing was a beast to run but had all the bells and whistles of a modern Gatling design including the Murphy Stop and the Bruce Feed.

9th U.S. Infantry Gatling gun detachment in the court of the Forbidden City, Peking, China 1900 Boxer rebellion LC-USZ62-137103 1874

Gatling guns trained on the Filipinos, near Manila, Philippine Islands Nov 25 1899 LC-USZ62-136148 1893 models

Further, Gatlings were only fully retired by the U.S. Army after 1914, not a bad run considering only about 500~ in 20 different marks were acquired between 1866 and 1904.

U.S. Army/Navy Colt Gatlings acquired, model, caliber and number:

M1866 .50-70 (50 Army)
M1871-.50-70 (10 Army)
M1874 Camel .45-70 (56 Army)
M1875 Long .45-70 (44 Army)
M1875 Camel.45-70 (4 Army)
M1875 Navy .45-70 (10 Navy)
M1876 Long .45-70 (19 Navy)
M1877 Bulldog .45-70 (17 Army)
M1879 .45-70 (32 Army)
M1881 .45-70 (27 Army)
M1883 .45-70 (40 Army)
M1885 .45-70 (21 Army)
M1886 .45-70 (20 Army)
M1887 .45-70 (20 Army)
M1889 .45-70 (18 Army)
M1891 .45-70 (17 Army)
M1892 .45-70 (18 Army)
M1893 .30-40 Krag (18 Army).
M1895 .30-40 (84 Army).
M1903 .30-06 Spfd (21)
In 1907, about 175 older Gatlings (M1895/1893/1892/1891/1889/1887/1886 models) were rechambered for .30-06.

The below unit return, from the 136th Company (Mine), U.S. Army Coastal Artillery, stationed at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, details they were still practicing with their .30-caliber Gatlings as late as October 1914. It would have been interesting to imagine them repelling an assault by the Kaiser’s infantrymen with such gear.

USS Tampa flag found

The 240-foot Modoc-class of cutters was conceived for blue water use by the new Post-Great War multi-mission Coast Guard in the 1920s. Capable of carrying three 5-inch guns, a pretty stout armament for such vessels, they had a turbo-electric drive that could push them to 16 knots, which was thought to be good enough for government work. The four sisters, Modoc, Mojave, Haida and Tampa, went on to give hard service in WWII.

Speaking of which, USCGC Tampa (WPG-48) was built by Union in Oakland for a cost of $775,000 and commissioned in 1921. She would spend the next two decades running 15-day patrols from Boston, serving time in the International Ice Patrol, catching bootleggers and keeping the sea lanes safe for travel. The latter included famously saving 140 souls from the burning Ward Line steamer SS Morro Castle in 1932.

Transferring to Mobile, Alabama in the late 1930s, Tampa came under naval jurisdiction in November 1941, a month before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, as USS Tampa (WPG-48). This caused a shift back to the North Atlantic for coastwise convoy escort runs in the Greenland area along with sisters Modoc (WPG-46) and Mojave (WPG-47).

USS Tampa (WPG 48) at anchor at Kungya Bay, Greenland, as seen from USS Bear (AG 29) while on Arctic patrol. The photograph released on May 1, 1944. NARA 80-G-225156

In this work, she fought U-boats, rescued survivors, landing parties to guard key facilities, and helped fight the “Weather War” to keep German Met units from setting up vital camps in the Arctic alongside such floating relics as the old cutter Bear.

From ship structure and a 20mm gun, onboard a coast guard cutter on the Greenland patrol during World War II. Note the variety of tools in use, including a baseball bat. The ship appears to be a 240-foot (“TAMPA”) class cutter. NH 96116

U.S. Coast Guard Combat Cutter, The Tampa, which patrols the North Atlantic, in the resumption of the International Ice Patrol World.” Accession #: L41-03 Catalog #: L41-03.02.02

Although paid off in 1947, her name was key to USCG history, with the first USCGC Tampa lost during the Great War and the second Tampa being the aforementioned WWII vet. This led to the name being reissued in 1984 to the 270-foot Bear-class medium endurance cutter USCGC Tampa (WMEC-902), which was in line with the rest of the naming convention for the class as all were named after famous Coast Guard vessels.

This week, Alex Obrizok a 96-year-old man and resident from North Carolina, traveled to Portsmouth, Va where the current Tampa is based. A former WWII USS Tampa vet, Obrizok has earlier this summer shown a special relic to a 2003 USCGA grad and member of WMEC-902s crew whose wedding he was attending– USS Tampa‘s ensign. Obrizok wanted the ensign to go home.

“It’s a beautiful flag,” said Obrizok. “It survived all these years and belongs with her namesake, it belongs to the Tampa.” (USCG photo)

VADM Scott Buschman, Coast Guard Atlantic Area Commander, presided over the ceremony and thanked Obrizok for the historical flag, his service to his country and for making the trip to meet the crewmembers aboard the current Tampa.

Ninety-six-year-old Alex Obrizok was able to keep this flag from the 1946 decommissioned Tampa over the last 70 years. Obrizok, who lives in North Carolina, returned to the current Tampa on Thursday, Nov. 21 at the Coast Guard base in Portsmouth, Virginia to give the current crew the flag. The World War II veteran also read promotions for four crew members. Photo of the flag that is being kept on the ship, Nov. 25, 2019. (L. Todd Spencer/The Virginian-Pilot)
https://www.pilotonline.com/military/vp-nw-fz-coast-guard-veteran-flag-20191128-eehkvfd5xzajtd2k5hn6ngv224-story.html

Crank it up

Ohio-based Anderson Guncraft has been making functional Gatling Guns since 1967 and isn’t looking back.

Each Anderson Gatling takes about 1,000 hours to make. Featuring cast bronze parts, engraving, and an attention to historical detail, they have had cameos in a host of big-budget Hollywood films such as The Last Samurai and the recent remakes of The Magnificent Seven and 3:10 to Yuma.

This Model 1874 Gatling was completed last week, after nine months.

More in my column at Guns.com

The crank

“Battery Gun” By Richard Jordan Gatling, 1865 Ink and watercolor on paper. 18 3/4″ x 14 1/4″ via National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office:

“The Gatling gun was the first successful rapid-fire machine gun. Invented by Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling, a physician, the first model had six barrels revolving around a central axis. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler of the Union Army first used the gun at the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, in 1864-65. Shown here are two drawings of the improved 10-barrel, .30-caliber model which fired 400 rounds a minute. The gun was patented on May 9, 1865, and was officially adopted by the U.S. Army on August 21, 1866. It proved superior to other rapid-fire guns of the time and, for more than 40 years, the Gatling gun was used by almost every world power.”

Warship Wednesday, May 16, 2018: Schermerhorn’s contribution to naval history

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, May 16, 2018: Schermerhorn’s contribution to naval history

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 53955

Here we see the pride of the New York Yacht Club, the steam patrol yacht Free Lance, in her newly-applied gray military scheme on duty off New York City, probably in August 1898. The brand-new pleasure craft would, oddly enough, be called upon not once, but twice, to defend her country.

But first, let us speak of that great knickerbocker, Frederick Augustus Schermerhorn.

As a young man, Schermerhorn came from a prominent Empire State family and, after a string of private schools and tutors, was accepted at what was then Columbia College for the Class of 1865. However, as the Civil War evolved, he promptly dropped out of school at the ripe old age of 20 in 1864 and sought an appointment to West Point, which was denied. Not to be outdone, he applied to a series of New York volunteer units and was enrolled to the roster of the newly-formed 185th New York Volunteer Infantry regiment’s C Company in the fall of 1864 and shipped off to the Petersburg Campaign in Northern Virginia.

Portrait of a soldier F. Augustus Schermerhorn standing, via the Massachusetts Digital Commonwealth collection

By the end of the war, the bloodied and decorated 1st Lt had been breveted a captain and was assigned as the aide-de-camp of MG Charles Griffin, the V Corps commander during its final campaign, and was present in the yard when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. In all, Schermerhorn served less than a year, but it was a hell of a year.

MG Charles Griffin and staff officers posed in front of the Cummings House. Our fellow is to the right

Returning to New York after the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, Schermerhorn went back to school, picking up his mining degree from Columbia in 1868, and continued his service with the famed “Blue-Bloods” of the 7th New York Militia regiment for another several decades. By 1877, he was a Columbia trustee and member in most of the clubs and societies in The City that meant anything including the Riding, Knickerbocker, Metropolitan, and Tuxedo clubs. He rose to become a Director of the N. Y. Life Insurance and Trust Co.

The good Mr. Schermerhorn was duly nominated and confirmed by the membership to the New York Yacht Club on 25 March 1886 and by 1897 was elected to a position as a flag officer with that esteemed organization, a post he held through at least 1903. During his time with the NYYC, he was one of the backers of the 1893 (eighth) America’s Cup contender Colonia but was beaten by Nathanael Greene Herreshoff’s Vanderbilt-backed centerboard sloop Vigilant.

Schermerhorn’s Colonia via Detroit Publishing Co, LOC LC-D4-21915

Moving past cutters, Schermerhorn commissioned Mr. Lewis Nixon of Elizabethport, NJ’s Crescent Shipyard to construct him a beautiful screw steam schooner designed by A. Cary Smith for personal use. As noted by the Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers at the time, his new ship, Free Lance, was 108-feet on the waterline and 137 from figurehead to taffrail with a cross-section “different from all other steam yachts” due to its long bow and lapped steel plating. A pair of Almy water tube boilers drove a 600 IHP triple expansion steam engine.

Yacht Free Lance in civilian livery, 11 June 1896, most probably on Long Island Sound. Note her guilt bow scroll and extensive canvas awnings over her twin deck houses. Also note her yacht ensign on the stern, NYYC pennant on her foremast, and Schermerhorn’s Maltese Cross pennant on her after mast. Photo via Detroit Publishing Co. 8×10 glass negative photographed by Charles Edwin Bolles LOC# LC-D4-62113

Her 25 September builder’s trials report made the Oct. 12, 1895 issue of Forest and Stream which noted that with a forced draft and 200-pounds of steam she was able to clear 19 miles in 62 minutes. By the turn of the century, she regualry hit 17 knots in civil use and utilized the novel Thorne-patent ash ejector, which gave steady work for her stokers.

However, the Free Lance only got two seasons in before war came with Spain, and Schermerhorn freely volunteered the services of his yacht to the Navy, which were promptly accepted.

The armed yachts of the Spanish-American War are fascinating reading as they were often very handsome sailing ships such as past Warship Weds alum Peter Arrell Brown Widener’s custom-built schooner-rigged Josephine and Massachusetts textile magnate Matthew Chaloner Durfee’s rakish and very well-appointed steam yacht, Sovereign.

At the time the Navy needed to rapidly expand and among the ships acquired for Spanish-American War service were no less than 29 armed and hastily converted yachts, primarily drawn from wealthy Northeast and New York Yankees such as our very own Mr. Schermerhorn. A baker’s dozen of these former pleasure craft were rather large ships, exceeding 400 tons. With relatively good gun-carrying capacity and sea-keeping capabilities, these bigger craft saw service off Cuba where they were used as auxiliary cruisers, scouting vessels, and dispatch ships.

Others, such as our newly commissioned USS Free Lance, were used in what was termed the Auxiliary Naval Force, keeping a weather eye for Spanish raiders just over the horizon of the increasingly undefended U.S Eastern Seaboard.

USS Free Lance underway off New York City, probably in August 1898. A small sailboat is just astern of Free Lance, and USS New York (Armored Cruiser # 2) is in the background. Also, note that her awnings have been stripped away, she is no longer flying her yachting pennants, and she has guns on her pilot house and stern. NH 53953

Her armament: a pair of .65-caliber Royal Navy contract 1870s-vintage Mark I 10-barrel Gatling guns mounted atop the yacht’s pilothouse and on her stern, reportedly picked up through the offices of local NYC military surplus guru Francis Bannerman.

USS Free Lance (1898-1899), Gatling Gun Crew, 1898. Note the “Free Lance” bands on their flat caps, the .45-70 rounds and Springfield Trapdoor bayonets on their Mills belts, and the gun’s hopper which held 20 rounds. Detroit Publishing Company.

Each Gatling gun weighed 725-pounds, not including the mount and fired a 1,421-grain projectile at 1,427fps. The rate of fire (theoretically) was 1,200 rounds per minute but the gun was limited by the speed that assistant gunners could drop rounds down the beast’s top-mounted Bruce Feed-style chute.

USS Free Lance (1898-1899), Petty Officers 1898. Detroit Publishing Company

With her unconventional armament and small relative size, she was used as a harbor patrol craft during the conflict, commissioned as USS Free Lance, 12 May 1898.

USS Free Lance at anchor off New York City, probably in August 1898. Note the small sailboats in the left background and Free Lance’s pilot house-mounted Gatling gun. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 53954

Her term of service was short, decommissioning on 24 August 1898 after just 14 weeks on active duty.

Returned to her owner, when WWI came the aging Schermerhorn once more contributed his love to the Navy, with the yacht leased for $1 on 19 July 1917 and commissioned as USS Freelance (SP-830) with no space between the two words. This was because from 1905 on, her name was spelled “Freelance.”

Freelance Underway, prior to World War I. This yacht served as USS Free Lance in 1898 and as USS Freelance (SP-830) in 1917-1918. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 102819

Under command of Ensign J. B. Nevins, USNRF, and armed with a pair of recycled 3-pounder guns (Gatling’s were reserved for museums by 1917) she was once more put in service patrolling in the New York area. Her DANFS record is slim.

USS Freelance (SP-830) In port during the World War I era. The original print is in National Archives’ Record Group 19-LCM. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 101720

Freelance was decommissioned on Christmas Eve 1918 and returned to her owner the same day. Schermerhorn passed in March 1919, age 74, during a speech he was giving before the Union Club and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

His epitaph is Psalm 37:37: “Mark the perfect man and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.”

Schermerhorn’s 1915 portrait by August Franzen is in the Smithsonian‘s National Portrait Gallery.

I cannot find what became of his cherished Free Lance, but I would like to think she is still in Gotham somewhere, perhaps on the bottom of the Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard, which in a way would be fitting.

Specs:
Displacement 132 t.
Length 137 feet overall
Beam 20′ 8″
Draft 7′ 6″
Propulsion: One 600ihp steam engine (3cyl, 11,17&29×20 Crescent), one shaft. Two Almy WT boilers
Speed 14 knots in naval service, almost 19 on trials
Complement 18 (military service)
Armament: Two .65-caliber Gatling guns (1898)
Two 3-pounders (1917)

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Crank em out

Here we see a beautiful example of perhaps the best .45-70 chambered Gatling design, the Colt-produced Model 1890.

This wonder, fitted with 10 31-inch octagon barrels, could let those big buffalo-killer sized rounds rip at 525 rounds per minute, which would produce a giant billow of burnt black powder in the process. Weighing in at 200-pounds (sans bipod) this thing was a beast to run but had all the bells and whistles of a modern Gatling design including the Murphy Stop and the Bruce Feed.

This particular specimen sold last week at auction (Rock Island) for $54K.

Individual U.S. Army officers bought a few of Dr. Richard J. Gatling’s guns in the Civil War in .42-caliber and .58-caliber, and later the Army adopted the gun in 1866 and later morphed into the Model 1874, 1876, 1877, 1883 and 1889 guns chambered in .45-70.

On the lead-up to the Spanish-American War, the Army purchased 53 Gatling Guns in .45-70 over a three-year program: 18 M1890s, 17 M1891s, and 18 M1892s, and were the last in that caliber ordered by Uncle Sam.

The M1893 models and later were chambered in .30 Government (.30-40 Krag)– Lt. John “Gatling Gun” Parker famously took a quartet of M1895s to San Juan Hill in 1898 while the Marines had much lighter and more modern M1895 Colt–Brownings in 6mm. Not to be dissuaded, the Army ordered even more Gatlings in 1900 and even converted them to run the 30.06, keeping them in service until the cusp of WWI.

One of Parker’s cranks, 119 years later

Colt Model 1895, serial number 1040. It was one of four Gatling’s under the command of Lieutenant John Parker during the Battle of San Juan Hill, where it was fitted to a rolling carriage.

Via the National Firearms Museum:

In the late 1890s, the Gatling gun was still considered a relatively new innovation in firearms technology. By the time America entered into war with Spain in 1898, Gatling guns had only seen limited use during the American Civil War. Their practicality in battle was considered equivocal to the United States Army.

It was the suggestion of West Point graduate John H. Parker , a 1st lieutenant of the 13th US infantry, that troops preparing for the invasion of Cuba would benefit from a mobile Gatling gun unit. It was an experimental notion, yet Parker’s idea for a Gatling gun detachment caught the interest of a few commanding officers and his proposal was approved. Parker’s intentions were to create an artillery unit capable of providing infantry with heavy cover fire when engaging the enemy in the field.

The Gatling Guns by Charles Johnson Post.

On July 1, 1898, US troops in Cuba were advancing on the Spanish occupied port of Santiago. It was here that Parker’s famed artillery unit would finally be put to the test. Just after noon, United States Expeditionary Forces were ordered to assault a 4,000 yard ridgeline known as San Juan Heights. The hill was heavily fortified with hostile Spanish forces. As the troops charged the ascent, Parker’s Gatling gun detachment swept the summit with over 6,000 rounds of continuous .45-70 fire. The barrage adequately suppressed the enemy and allowed US troops to successfully take the hill.

In the days that followed, reports of the battle traveled back to the American home front. News of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders’ “charge” would forever be immortalized in public memory. The Gatling guns of Parker’s artillery unit played a pivotal role in the skirmish and preserved here today is a Colt model 1895, serial number 1040. It was one of four Gatling’s under the command of Lieutenant John Parker during the Battle of San Juan Hill.

Warship Wednesday Aug 3, 2016: The Grand Ole Bear

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 Aug 3, 2016: The Grand Ole Bear

With tomorrow being the 226th birthday of the U.S. Coast Guard (by proxy of the Revenue Marine Service), I figured we would get a jump on it by celebrating their most famous vessel today.

Bear-Misc-Photos_page36_image13

Here we see the one-of-a-kind Revenue Cutter/U.S. Navy Gunboat/Coast Guard Cutter Bear. She remained afloat some 89-years and spent about half of that in armed maritime service, making 35 patrols to Alaska, three trips to Antarctica, and serving in the Spanish-American War as well as both World Wars.

Built in 1874 by the firm of Alexander Stephen & Son in their Dundee Shipyard (Hull No. 56) on the east coast of Scotland, she was reinforced to operate in dense sea ice as a sealing vessel operating in the Far North. Crafted of live oak, with planks six inches thick and a deck of teak wood, some spots on her hull were over 30-inches thick and braced by timbers 18-inches square. A three-masted barkentine with yards on her foremast and gaffs and booms on her main and mizzen, she could make a stately 14-knots under canvass and was fitted with a steam plant that could push her at 6-knots.

Delivered to W. Grieve, Sons & Company of Dundee (and St. John), she was operated by that firm from Newfoundland until 1880 when ownership changed to one Mr. R. Steele, Jr, who continued her sealing career, completing 10 annual trips to the waters off Greenland in the search of then-valuable seal pelts.

With the fiasco that was the U.S. Army’s Greeley Expedition needing rescue from their brothers in blue, who had no such vessels capable of service in the ice, Bear was purchased for $100,000 by the U.S. Navy, 28 January 1884, at St John’s and duly commissioned after brief refit as USS Bear, 17 March 1884, with one LT. (later RADM) William Hemsley Emory (USNA 1866) in command.

After her brief naval career that involved assisting in the retrieval of Greeley and remaining associates (which can be read in more detail here) the 10-year old scratch-and-dent sealer turned rescue ship was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Register in April 1885, transferring to the Treasury Department’s Revenue Cutter Service.

Leaving New York 9 Nov after picking up a trio of 6-pounder popguns and a magazine filled with torpedoes (mines) for destroying derelicts found at sea, USRC Bear arrived in San Francisco after a fairly rapid passage of just 87 days.

Soon after arriving, she picked up her most famous master.

Captain Michael A Healy, USRC Bear. Note parrot

Captain Michael A Healy, USRC Bear. Note parrot

From the Coast Guard Historian’s office:

In 1885 the colorful “Hell Roaring”‘ Mike Healy, a dynamo of a man with an unpredictable temper, assumed command. Healy was a good skipper, and he commanded the Bear for more than nine years, longer than any other. He had another distinction as well: he was the first African-American to command a U.S. Government vessel. In time, Healy and his ship became legend in the lusty, brawling Territory of Alaska.

The Bear’s duties on the Alaskan Patrol were many. She carried mail which had accumulated at Seattle during the winter, as well as Government agents and supplies. On her trip south from Alaska, she transported Federal prisoners and other questionable characters whose presence in Alaska ‘was undesirable. The deck of the Bear often served as a court where justice was dispensed swiftly but fairly. The Bear also conducted investigations, undertook crime prevention and law enforcement. She and other cutters like her were often the only law in that turbulent part of the world. The Bear also conducted soundings to improve charts of Alaskan waters, and her surgeon furnished medical attention and surgery to natives, prospectors, missionaries, and whalers. These duties are still part of today’s Bering Sea Patrol.

"Hoisting Deer aboard the Bear, Siberia, Aug 28th 1891."; no photo number; photographer unknown. USCG Photo

“Hoisting Deer aboard the Bear, Siberia, Aug 28th 1891.”; no photo number; photographer unknown. USCG Photo

Photograph shows a Native American child and man sitting on the deck of a ship, the revenue cutter Bear during a relief voyage to rescue whalers off the Alaska coast in 1897. The man is showing the child how to smoke a pipe. By photographer Samuel Call. LOC.

Photograph shows a Native American child and man sitting on the deck of a ship, the revenue cutter Bear during a relief voyage to rescue whalers off the Alaska coast in 1897. The man is showing the child how to smoke a pipe. By photographer Samuel Call. LOC.

BEAR transporting reindeer from Siberia to Alaska

In 1897, Bear was involved in the great Overland Rescue of eight whaling vessels and 250 crewmembers who were trapped in the ice and was able to penetrate to within about 85 miles of Nome, still far too short to do the whalers any good. The ship then dispatched an over-land party of’ 1LT D. H. Jarvis, 2LT B. P. Bertholf, and Surgeon S. J. Call. Equipped with dog teams, sleds, and guides, Jarvis and his companions set out for Point Barrow.

Crew of the Revenue Cutter Bear ferrying stranded whalemen,

Crew of the Revenue Cutter Bear ferrying stranded whalemen,

Again, the Coast Guard office:

Before them lay a 1,600-mile journey through frozen, trackless wilderness. But the “Overland Expedition for the Relief of the Whalers in the Arctic Ocean” as it was ponderously called, became one of the great epics of the north.

During the exhausting journey, Jarvis and Call collected a herd of nearly 450 reindeer. Driving the herd ahead of them in the face of icy winds the party reached Point Barrow about three and one-half months after being put ashore by the Bear. To the despairing whalers, the arrival of the relief party was nothing short of a miracle.

An in-depth Harpers article from 1899 details the mission with maps and illustrations.

The Spanish-American War saw Revenue Cutters mobilized under Naval service but the slow and increasingly creaky Bear simply maintained her annual trip to Alaska and performed patrol on the West Coast on the outside prospect that a Spanish auxiliary cruiser may pop up over the horizon.

photo of the Revenue Cutter Bear 1900

This followed a tough couple of years during the Klondike and Yukon gold rushes from 1898-1900 in which she was the only law enforcement asset in the territory, her bluejackets having to enforce order on more than one occasion while in port. She likewise had to rescue many a lost landlubber who had packed aboard condemned craft in Seattle and set off for Alaskan waters or bust.

Off Barrow

Off Barrow

USRC Bear Dressed with flags circa 1900. Description: Catalog #: NH 56690

USRC Bear Dressed with flags circa 1900. Description: Catalog #: NH 56690

USRC BEAR Caption: At San Diego, California, before World War I. Description: Courtesy of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. Catalog #: NH 92207 Copyright Owner: Naval History and Heritage Command

USRC BEAR Caption: At San Diego, California, before World War I. Description: Courtesy of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. Catalog #: NH 92207 Copyright Owner: Naval History and Heritage Command

Bear_1910 uscg photo 1_300

Alaskan natives dancing on deck of USRC BEAR circa 1913

Alaskan natives dancing on deck of USRC BEAR circa 1913

When World War I came, Bear conducted neutrality patrols along the Alaskan coast while on 28 January 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service, and the U.S. Life-Saving Service were combined to form the United States Coast Guard.

COAST GUARD BUREAU OF TREASURY DEPARTMENT. REVENUE CUTTER 'BEAR', RIGHT, WITH S.S. CORWIN, 1916. Harris & Ewing Collection. LOC LC-H261- 6165 [P&P]

COAST GUARD BUREAU OF TREASURY DEPARTMENT. REVENUE CUTTER ‘BEAR’, RIGHT, WITH S.S. CORWIN, 1916. Harris & Ewing Collection. LOC LC-H261- 6165 [P&P]

She was officially transferred to the Navy 6 April 1917, remaining on her home station but under Naval control through the end of November 1918, picking up some more small arms including a few machine guns and a coat of hastily-applied gray paint.

Then, came another decade of more traditional service on the frozen beat.

USCGC BEAR At Point Barrow, Alaska, 21 August 1922. Catalog #: NH 91762 Copyright Owner: Naval History and Heritage Command

USCGC BEAR At Point Barrow, Alaska, 21 August 1922. Catalog #: NH 91762
Copyright Owner: Naval History and Heritage Command. Note she still maintained her 1917 “war-paint” which was not painted over with the more standard white scheme until the following year.

The midnight watch on 10 June 1924 showing the crew in the land of the midnight sun, literally. Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard, 1930. Catalog #: NH 56694

The midnight watch on 10 June 1924 showing the crew in the land of the midnight sun, literally. Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard, 1930. Catalog #: NH 56694

USCGC BEAR in the Arctic Ocean. Description: Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard, 1930 Catalog #: NH 56692

USCGC BEAR in the Arctic Ocean. Description: Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard, Catalog #: NH 56692

United States Coast Guard cutter BEAR (1884-1948), in ice pads. Description: Received from Coast Guard, 1930. Catalog #: NH 170.

United States Coast Guard cutter BEAR (1884-1948), in ice pads. Description: Received from Coast Guard, 1930. Catalog #: NH 170.

In 1929, after 35 annual deployments to Alaska and service on the periphery of two wars, Bear was removed from the Treasury Department and offered for sale, with a half-century under her keel. Her place had already been taken in the fleet with the commissioning in late 1927 of the purpose-built steel-hulled icebreaking gunboat USCGC Northland (WPG-49).

Saved from the scrappers by the city of Oakland, California, for a token fee, she was renamed Bear of Oakland and used as a museum ship.

Bear-Misc-Photos_page36_image1

In 1930, she was used as the filming location for the sealer “Ghost,” in the Milton Sills as ‘Wolf’ Larsen version of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf.

the sea wolf

Then came the famed Arctic explorer, Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd, USN, who was looking for a (cheap but capable) vessel for his Antarctic Expedition and he purchased the Bear of Oakland from the city for just $1,050 in the Spring of 1932.

The thing is, Bear (renamed SS Jacob Ruppert) still had her 1885-mounted 6-pounders aboard (with breech blocks) which caused Byrd, officially a civilian on a civilian ship, some heartburn in Mexican ports when he stopped to recoal her on the way through the Panama Canal to Boston, but he nevertheless appeared in that New England port in August.

For visibility in the whiteout, she was painted coal black

Leaving for the Antarctic in 1934, the ship was vital to Byrd’s successful expedition, which included the explorer spending four months over-winter on the frozen continent that is discussed in his autobiography Alone.

Bear-Misc-Photos_page36_image2

Note her black scheme

Painting by Hasta depicts Bear of Oakland, formerly USS Bear and USCGC Bear, in Antarctic Ice during Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd's Antarctic Expedition of 1933-1935

Returning to Boston in 1935, Byrd leased Ruppert/Bear to the Navy for $1 per year, and she was stored at the Boston Naval Yard in poor condition.

Then in 1939, Byrd’s United States Antarctic Service Expedition got underway and the old Bear was refitted with a diesel engine, her original figurehead was replaced with a carved polar bear, new canvas and rigging was brought aboard, and new spars and a foreyard of fresh Oregon pine were fitted.

She was given stores for 18-months, kennels for 78 sled dogs were built on deck, and a U.S. Army M2A2 light tank was heaved aboard to test in the ice. A Barkley-Grow T8P-1 two-engine seaplane was hoisted aft.

This resulted in her second official (not counting her unofficial transfers in 1898 and 1917) Navy commission as USS Bear (AG-29), 11 September 1939.

USS Bear (AG-29), formerly the US Revenue Cutter Bear, operates in Antarctic waters during the 1939-40 season as part of the U.S. Antarctic Service. [1976x1532]

USS Bear (AG-29), formerly the US Revenue Cutter Bear, operates in Antarctic waters during the 1939-40 season as part of the U.S. Antarctic Service. The aesthetic of the seaplane on a three-master is pure 1930s.

She left for her second trip to the Frozen South, 22 November, flagship to the force that included USMS North Star, a 1434-ton wooden ice ship built for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, at the time the only other U.S. ice-strengthened ship available.

Photographed circa 1939, possibly during Byrd's 1940 Antarctic Expedition. This ship also served as USS BEAR (AG-29) and as USCGC BEAR. Description: Catalog #: 80-G-1033748

Photographed circa 1939, possibly during Byrd’s 1940 Antarctic Expedition. This ship also served as USS BEAR (AG-29) and as USCGC BEAR. Description: Catalog #: 80-G-1033748

In early 1941, Bear returned to the Antarctic for her third and last trip, this time to evacuate the Americans from the continent with the looming war.

USS BEAR (AG-29) Awaiting to evacuate west base in the Bay of Whales, Antarctica in 1941, she noses against bay ice. Supplies had to be carried from the base camp in the background. Ross Barrier is the thick ice on the left. Description: Catalog #: NH 56697 Copyright Owner: Naval History and Heritage Command

USS BEAR (AG-29) Awaiting to evacuate west base in the Bay of Whales, Antarctica in 1941, she noses against bay ice. Supplies had to be carried from the base camp in the background. Ross Barrier is the thick ice on the left. Description: Catalog #: NH 56697 Copyright Owner: Naval History and Heritage Command

Returning to Boston, her newly rejuvenated sail rig was scrapped. Her spars and yard removed, only the stumps of her masts remained. Equipped with a Grumman J2F-1 seaplane and armed with some AAA mounts (seen under tarps below).

She was a warship again.

bear wwii note crew clearing ice and tarped guns Bear-Misc-Photos_page36_image29 Bear-Misc-Photos_page36_image30In May 1941, the Northeast Greenland Patrol was organized with Bear, her ice-strengthened Coast Guard replacement Northland, and her old sailing companion the former Interior Department ship North Star, with Captain Edward H. “Iceberg” Smith, USCG, in overall command of the force.

USS BEAR (AG-29) Off the Boston Navy Yard, 2 July 1941. Catalog #: 19-N-24311 Copyright Owner: National Archives. Note Grumman J2F-1 aircraft carried.

USS BEAR (AG-29) Off the Boston Navy Yard, 2 July 1941. Catalog #: 19-N-24311 Copyright Owner: National Archives. Note Grumman J2F-1 aircraft carried.

They soon struck pay dirt and Northland seized a three-man German weather station along with the Norwegian sealer D/S Buskø (159 gt) in September (three months before Pearl Harbor) and took her to MacKenzie Bay, on the Greenland coast, where Bear took up tow and “protective custody” of her prisoners for the trip down to Boston.

Buskø carried with a crew of 20 Norwegian quislings, a supposed German agent, and “one other dog,” who was working as a radio supply ship to keep German weather stations operating in the Far North operational. She was the first capture of a belligerent ship by U.S. Naval forces in World War II and arrived on 14 October to a big international news splash.

A few more trips around Greenland and Iceland were left for her, but by 1944, the writing was on the wall for the old warrior.

Decommissioned, 17 May 1944, Bear was transferred to the Maritime Commission for disposal, 13 February 1948.

Sold by the Maritime Commission for commercial service in 1948, she was renamed Arctic Sealer and was to be used as a sealer home ported at Halifax, Canada– her original purpose, but this largely fell by the wayside and she did not return to her old stomping grounds after all.

After moldering away in Halifax for almost 15 years, she was resold for conversion to a floating museum and restaurant at Philadelphia, PA, but she foundered under tow 90 miles south of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia on 19 March 1963.

SINKING OF THE BEAR photo dated 19 March 1963; Photo No. 1CGD-03-19-63(03); photographer unknown. USCG Historians Office

Note that her rigging and masts have been partially restored

Her wreck site is unknown, despite the best efforts of a 1979 search conducted by cadets from the Coast Guard Academy.

The old ship remains alive in the work of maritime artists.

The famous old Coast Guard cutter BEAR. From the Collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt Catalog #: NH 1918 Copyright Owner: Naval History and Heritage Command Original Creator: Charles Robert Patterson, artist

The famous old Coast Guard cutter BEAR. From the Collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt Catalog #: NH 1918 Copyright Owner: Naval History and Heritage Command Original Creator: Charles Robert Patterson, artist

USCGC BEAR, 1884-1948. Description: Copied from U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, April 1945 Catalog #: NH 56695 Copyright Owner: Naval History and Heritage Command Original Creator: Hunter Wood, USCG, artist

USCGC BEAR, 1884-1948. Description: Copied from U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, April 1945 Catalog #: NH 56695 Copyright Owner: Naval History and Heritage Command Original Creator: Hunter Wood, USCG, artist

BearPainting

Her bell is at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and is kept in tip-top shape while her binnacle has been retained at the USCGA.

uscgc bear bell

The polar bear figurehead from Bear is in the collection at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Following his celebrated 1940 expedition, Admiral Byrd presented the figurehead to the facility.

bearfigurehead

The Coast Guard maintains an extensive 40-page online scrapbook of the old Bear as well as an extensive website.

Since 1980, her name has been perpetuated by the class-leader of the Famous-class 270-foot medium endurance cutters, USCGC Bear (WMEC 901) based at Portsmouth, VA.

Coast Guard Cutter Bear transits past the Statue of Liberty in New York City June 19, 2016. The Bear is a 270-feet medium endurance cutter

Coast Guard Cutter Bear transits past the Statue of Liberty in New York City June 19, 2016. The Bear is a 270-feet medium endurance cutter

As for “Roaring Mike” Healy, the Coast Guard named their newest icebreaker (WAGB-20) for him in 1997, shown below, while reindeer-herding lieutenants Berthoff and Jarvis each had a cutter named after them in modern times.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy supports Geotraces mission to the Arctic

Specs:

USRC Bear Color USRC Bear 2
Length: 198′ 4″
Beam: 30′
Draft: 17′ 11″
Displacement: 703 tons
Launched: 1874
Machinery: Compound-expansion steam, 25-5/8″ and 50″ diameter x 30″ stroke, 101 nominal hp (1885)
Diesel engine/sail rig (1935) Diesel only after 1939.
Speed: 14kts max on sail, 6 on steam, 8 on diesel
Complement: 51 (1884) 39 (1939)
Armament: 3 x 6-pound rapid-fire guns (1885) disarmed 1935. Equipped with small arms and light machine guns 1940.

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Warship Wednesday June 29, 2016: Greely’s last hope

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 June 29, 2016: Greely’s last hope

Library of Congress LC-DIG-det-4a14781

Library of Congress LC-DIG-det-4a14781

Here we see the gunboat USS Thetis, a 189-foot, 1,250-ton barquentine-rigged sealer and whaler constructed with a reinforced hull for operations in ice, purchased by the Navy for the Greeley relief expedition, for which it had been so employed about a decade before the above image was taken.

What was the Greely expedition?

Officially dubbed the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, it was a wholly U.S. Army (Signal Corps) backed endeavor led by 1st Lt. Adolphus Greely (5th U.S. Cav), and numbered some 20 officers and enlisted men along with tag along civilians astronomer Edward Israel and Dr. Octave Pavy; joined by two Inuit dogsled drivers/hunters, Frederick Thorlip Christiansen and Jens Edward.

Embarked on the charted merchant ship SS Proteus (formerly a steam sealer hired by the War Department), the expedition was one of science and not warfare with its members dressed in civilian mufti for press photographs.

The expedition.... via noaa G2V1-040-B http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/aro/ipy-1/US-LFB-P3.htm

The expedition…. via NOAA G2V1-040-B

Proteus Photo: NOAA http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/aro/ipy-1/US-LFB-P3.htm

Proteus Photo: NOAA

The hardy and rather dapper group set sail for the Far North, being disembarked by Proteus at Lady Franklin Bay near the northeastern shore of Ellesmere Island 11 Aug 1881 to establish a meteorological-observation station as part of the First International Polar Year from where they would winter over and collect weather and geophysical information (as well as push as far north as possible).

Two men, 1SG David Legge Brainard, late of the 2nd Cavalry and the Nez Perce War, and Lt. James Booth Lockwood, pushed the furthest north that any expedition until then ever had. Suffering through average temperatures of -75 degrees, violent storms and rough ice, they reached latitude 83 degrees 30′ North, within 350 miles of the North Pole, the farthest north ever reached by man. A silk U.S. flag made by Mrs. Greeley was unfurled on land they named Lockwood Island. Their record stood for 13 years until Norwegians Fridtjof Nansen and Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen reached latitude 86°14′ N.

As time wore on, shit got real, with 1882 coming and going and no resupply ship able to reach the expedition. This led to a rescue mission the next year.

Proteus, placed under the command of young Army 1st Lt. Ernest Albert Garlington (USMA 1876 and later a MOH recipient), attempted to retrieve Greely and company in 1883 along with the yacht Yantic, but failed dramatically when the big sealer was crushed in the ice. They had left New York with 50,000 rations and had only succeeded in landing 1,000, some of which Greely later found at Cape Sabine.

However, the rations would not be enough and the expedition wound up eating bird eggs, moss, seals, tiny shrimp, their dogs, their shoes, and any other thing they could (more on this) to keep alive as madness, scurvy and frostbite set in.

G2V2-286 G2V2-225Then, with 1884 rearing its head with the prospect of our desperate Army meteorologists and civilian experts (whose contracts had expired and really wanted to go home) becoming popsicles or polar bear scat, the Navy stepped in.

Which brings us to Thetis.

The Scottish firm of Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd., Greenock, was renowned at the time for being a global leader in the craft of large ocean-going sealers and whalers. One hull, the 198-foot/703-ton sealer Bear, was completed by the firm in 1874 and had been operating out of St. Johns, Newfoundland for a decade when the U.S. Navy bought her up for use in helping to rescue the Greely expedition.

Another Alexander Stephen & Sons’ vessel, the brand new and slightly larger sealer, Thetis, was just finishing her fit out in Dundee and purchased by the Navy 2 February 1884 to accompany Bear as the flag of the mission. She was a beautiful and very functional vessel with a strengthened wooden hull capable of operating in light ice conditions in the days before dedicated icebreakers.

Thetis put into New York for a very brief militarization and was ready for service as a commissioned warship within weeks.

USS THETIS at New York Navy Yard, 1 May 1884. Description: Courtesy of Ray Spear Catalog #: USN 900793

USS THETIS at New York Navy Yard, 1 May 1884. Description: Courtesy of Ray Spear Catalog #: USN 900793

Commanding Officer, Commander Winfield Scott Schley's cabin on the USS THETIS, May-June 1884. Description: Catalog #: USN 900624

Commanding Officer, Commander Winfield Scott Schley’s cabin on the USS THETIS, May-June 1884. Description: Catalog #: USN 900624

Hold of the relief ship USS THETIS showing the method of providing against an ice crush, 1884. Description: Catalog #: USN 900625

Hold of the relief ship USS THETIS showing the method of providing against an ice crush, 1884. Description: Catalog #: USN 900625

With the two-ship expedition placed under the command of CDR. Winfield Scott Schley (later to become a hero and Rear Admiral for his actions at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba in 1898), they set out from New York on 11 May 1884.

USS THETIS leaving New York Navy Yard, 11 May 1884. Description: Courtesy of Ray Spear Catalog #: USN 900798

USS THETIS leaving New York Navy Yard, 11 May 1884. Description: Courtesy of Ray Spear Catalog #: USN 900798

Bow of the USS THETIS, Eskimos with their dogs, sleds, and a seal, during the Greely relief expedition in Greenland, May-June 1884. Description: Collection of Mr. Ray Spear, 1933 Catalog #: NH 1724

Bow of the USS THETIS, Eskimos with their dogs, sleds, and a seal, during the Greely relief expedition in Greenland, May-June 1884. Description: Collection of Mr. Ray Spear, 1933 Catalog #: NH 1724

Thetis, HMS Aurora, SS Arctic, and USS Bear threading their way through the ice

Thetis, Royal Navy steam sloop HMS Alert mislabled as “Arctic,”  British merchantman Aurora and USS Bear threading their way through the ice. The two British ships, not ice strengthened, only went part of the way and were used to set up supply dumps to support Bear and Thetis in the extrication of Greely and his men

Crewmembers of USS THETIS at the time of the North Pole Expedition, 1884 Description: Courtesy Capital Gazette Press, INC., Annapolis, MD Catalog #: NH 119220

Crewmembers of USS THETIS at the time of the North Pole Expedition, 1884 Description: Courtesy Capital Gazette Press, INC., Annapolis, MD Catalog #: NH 119220

Schley (4th from left) and the crew that rescued the survivors of Adolphus Greely's expedition on Thetis June 1884

CDR Schley (4th from left) and his officers on Thetis June 1884

May - August 1884 USS Thetis (1884-1899) in the ice off Horse Head Island, Greenland on 4 June 1884, early in the search for survivors of the Greely polar exploration party. USS Bear (1884-1885, later AG-29) is astern (at left). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 2145

May – August 1884 USS Thetis (1884-1899) in the ice off Horse Head Island, Greenland on 4 June 1884, early in the search for survivors of the Greely polar exploration party. USS Bear (1884-1885, later AG-29) is astern (at left). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 2145

Bird's eye view from the crow's nest of the USS THETIS of the USS BEAR among the ice floes, 22 June 1884. Description: Courtesy of Ray Spear Catalog #: USN 900738

Bird’s eye view from the crow’s nest of the USS THETIS of the USS BEAR among the ice floes, 22 June 1884. Description: Courtesy of Ray Spear Catalog #: USN 900738

USS THETIS plows through ice by use of a torpedo explosion off Waigat Straits, Greenland, 4 June 1884. USN 900610

USS THETIS plows through ice by use of a torpedo (mine) explosion off Waigat Straits, Greenland, 4 June 1884. USN 900610

S-016

The way was hazardous as there was much more ice back in the 19th century and today’s satellite and aerial survey was not available. Nevertheless, the two ships along with a pair of Royal Navy vessels in partnership poked through some 1,400 miles of ice, sometimes having to blow a course through the pack until on 22 June, near Cape Sabine in Grinnell Land, Schley rescued Greely and his six remaining emaciated companions who were sheltering in a broken down tent.

G2V2-331That’s right. Just seven of 25 were taken alive from the frozen wasteland after 34 grueling months in the inhospitable North. The dead had succumbed to starvation, hypothermia, drowning, and other perils.

Greely himself, who enlisted in the 19th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at the age of 17 during the Civil War and had over two decades of legit campaigning under his belt, was a task-maker and conducted a 3-man firing squad execution of at least one private (Charles B. Henry, the heaviest man on the expedition) who proved an incurable food thief.

Portrait of Survivors of the Greely Relief Expedition, on board USS THETIS, at Cape Sabine on July 4-8, 1884. Caption: Survivors are shown on board the USS THETIS, at Cape Sabine on July 4-8, 1884. Back row, left to right: Private Francis Long, Sergeant Julius R. Frederick, Private Maurice Connell, Hospital Steward Henry Bierderbick. Seated, left to right: Sergeant David L. Brainard and Lieutenant A.W. Greely. Description: Catalog #: NH 2146

Portrait of Survivors of the Greely Relief Expedition, on board USS THETIS, at Cape Sabine on July 4-8, 1884. Caption: Survivors are shown on board the USS THETIS, at Cape Sabine on July 4-8, 1884. Back row, left to right: Private Francis Long, Sergeant Julius R. Frederick, Private Maurice Connell, Hospital Steward Henry Bierderbick. Seated, left to right: Sergeant David L. Brainard and Lieutenant A.W. Greely (not facing the camera).  A seventh survivor was languishing below decks and would die before making Portsmouth. Description: Catalog #: NH 2146

Then came the 1,400-mile trip back through the same ice.

One of the seven rescuees, Sgt. Joseph Ellison, who was recovered from Cape Sabine missing a foot and a finger, died 16 days later while at a weight of just 78-pounds.

Then soon after the expedition made Portsmouth, there were allegations of cannibalism.

Second in command 2nd Lt. Frederick F. Kislingbury, a Little Big Born survivor who died of starvation (and whose fork is in the Smithsonian), was found to have his cadaver  “methodically carved” postmortem.

From the New York Times, 12 August 1884:

When their food gave out the unfortunate members of the colony, shivering and starving in their little tent on the bleak shore of Smith’s Sound were led by the horrible necessity to become cannibals. The complete history of their experience in that terrible Winter must be told, and the facts hitherto concealed will make the record of the Greely colony — already full of horrors — the most dreadful and repulsive chapter in the long annals of arctic exploration.

As noted by the Army in their official history, all was forgiven due to the circumstances:

Criticized at first, Greely was eventually absolved of blame and recognized for his accomplishments. In 1886, he received the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society of London and the Roquette Medal of the Societe de Geographie of Paris. In 1923, the American Geographical Society awarded him the Charles P. Daly Medal.

As for the Thetis, and Bear for that matter, the Navy had little continued use for ice-strengthened rescue ships from Scotland in a time when every dollar counted so both were laid up rapidly after their return from the Arctic. Thetis, her total time of active service in the Navy being just over nine months, was decommissioned 26 November 1884 and laid up at New York.

Refitted for work as a gunboat to include mounting a single Hotchkiss 53mm 5-barreled revolving cannon forward (the largest gatling gun model ever made), she was recommissioned 15 Jan 1887.  This gun appeared to be the only one in federal service for a time so you can call her armament unique.

Detail of the gatling gun from the LOC photo that is the first one of this post above

Detail of the gatling gun from the LOC photo that is the first one of this post above

Thetis then sailed from New York to San Francisco on a leisurely eight-month low budget patrol during which she stopped at most of the large Latin American ports and waved the flag.

Then came three lengthy summer survey patrols along the Alaskan coast, which took her as far as Point Barrow and Cape Sabine– where she had rescued Greenly and his men a few years before. Pressed into work as a gunboat, Thetis sortied to El Salvador to babysit American interests there during an attempted coup in July 1890, which lasted several months.

Then came more Alaska surveys, a trip to Hawaii in 1892, and a four-year period conducting coastal surveys off the Mexican Pacific coast, going out of commission in 1897.

NH 2147

Transferred to the Revenue Cutter Service as USRC Thetis in 1899– after landing her peculiar 53mm gatling gun for a more appropriate trio of 3-Pdr (47mm) singles– she served out of Seattle where she sailed on the Bering Sea Patrol along with her old Greely companion USRC Bear.

Eagle? Is that you? Note her scheme has change to Revenue Cutter Service standard white and buff

Eagle? Is that you? Note her scheme has change to Revenue Cutter Service standard white and buff

While stationed there, Thetis cruised the Bering Sea for the “protection of seal fisheries,” assisted vessels in distress, and carried officials from a U.S. District Court to become a “floating court.”

c. 1901 Broadside view of USRC Thetis at Pt. Barrow Donated to Mare Island Shipyard in 1987 by 2nd LT Francis R. Shoemaker Mare Island photo PG Thetis Pt. Barrow 1901-01 via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/179889.htm

c. 1901 Broadside view of USRC Thetis at Pt. Barrow Donated to Mare Island Shipyard in 1987 by 2nd LT Francis R. Shoemaker Mare Island photo PG Thetis Pt. Barrow 1901-01 via Navsource

For many years, the Revenue Service was the sole source of Federal authority in the territory, including seven years when the Treasury Department was given charge of the rugged landmass. Duties of these vessels and men included protection of sealers and whalers, providing general police protection, and emergency operations.

One of the more unusual tasks Thetis performed was importing 81 Siberian reindeer to provide a food staple for starving Eskimos and she had an abundance of mascots aboard.

Officers of the Cutter THETIS circa 1904. Note the USRCS shields on their uniforms and the dog at their heels

Officers of the Cutter THETIS circa 1904. Note the distinctive USRCS shields on their uniforms, modified M1852 Naval officer’s swords and the dog at their heels

Mascot of the Revenue Cutter Thetis, somewhere up in Alaska in 1913. As the dog has 10 years of service marks, providing they aren't in dog years, it may be the one in the photo above.

Mascot of the Revenue Cutter Thetis, somewhere up in Alaska in 1913. As the dog has 10 years of service marks, providing they aren’t in dog years, it may be the one in the photo above.

Probably the largest mascot that ever served in the Coast Guard. Here is an unnamed black bear, another mascot of the cutter Thetis, taking a break from duty-- sleeping on a block of ice

Probably the largest mascot that ever served in the Coast Guard. Here is an unnamed black bear, another mascot of the cutter Thetis, taking a break from duty– sleeping on a block of ice

In May, 1904, Thetis sailed from Seattle to Honolulu, dropped off supplies for the station at Midway, and then continued to Lisianski Island. At Lisianski, 77 Japanese feather hunters were found illegally killing terns and gooney birds. These trespassing Japanese aliens were apprehended and transported to Honolulu.

c. 1905 USRC Thetis in Hawaiian waters Donated to Mare Island Shipyard in 1987 by 2nd LT Francis R. Shoemaker Mare Island photo PG Thetis Hawaii 1904-05. Via Navsource

c. 1905 USRC Thetis in Hawaiian waters Donated to Mare Island Shipyard in 1987 by 2nd LT Francis R. Shoemaker. Note the new pilothouse. Via Navsource

Thetis contiued operations in Hawaiian waters where she investigated poaching by Japanese fishermen and transported officials of the Department of Agriculture who were studying bird populations. For the remainder of her career she shipped between Hawaii and Alaska, continuing duty as a floating court (with a U.S. District Court judge, assistant U.S. Attorney, deputy U.S. Marshall, clerk and a stenographer aboard) and investigating bird reservations throughout the Pacific, including making voyages to Midway Island and even serving as a tour boat to take the territorial governor around on goodwill visits.

Thetis was decommissioned 30 April 1916 after some 32 years of U.S. maritime service equally split between the Navy and Revenue Service.

She was sold in June to the W&S Job Co, NY, NY for $24,800 and used as a Newfoundland-based sealer until 1950 when the old girl was grounded approximately 2 miles from St. Johns and broken up, seven decades on her keel.

Today, one of the few relics of her on public display is the oddball 53mm Hotchkiss she carried from 1887-99, preserved at the Mare Island Shipyard Museum.

53mm Hotchkiss 5-Barrel Revolver Gun, Mare Island Shipyard, by Vladimir Yakubov thetis mare island 2

USS Thetis's 53mm Hotchkiss 5-Barrel Revolver Gun, Mare Island Shipyard, by Vladimir Yakubov

USS Thetis’s 53mm Hotchkiss 5-Barrel Revolver Gun, Mare Island Shipyard, by Vladimir Yakubov

Thetis, of course, was named for a sea nymph of Greek mythology who was the daughter of the sea god Nereus and the mother of the Trojan War hero Achilles. While the first Navy or Coast Guard ship to carry the name was our crush-proof sealer/rescue ship/gunboat/cutter, it would not be the last in either service.

The Navy commissioned USS Thetis (SP-391), an armed 100-ton yacht during WWI and kept her on the Navy List until 31 March 1919; then in 1944 commissioned the escort carrier USS Thetis Bay (CVE-90/CVHA-1/LPH-6) which remained in service through 1964.

USS Thetis Bay pictured underway transporting PBY Catalinas and other aircraft in need of repair to Alameda,CA. July 8,1944

USS Thetis Bay pictured underway transporting PBY Catalinas and other aircraft in need of repair to Alameda,CA. July 8,1944

For the Coast Guard’s part, they celebrated their former Revenue Marine Cutter with the 165-foot patrol cutter Thetis (WPC-115) who served from 1931-47 and chalked up at least one German U-boat during WWII as well as the more modern 270-foot medium-endurance cutter USCGC Thetis (WMEC- 910) which has been based out of Key West since 1989.

USCGC Thetis (WMEC-910) docked in the La Puntilla USCG base in San Juan, Puerto Rico

USCGC Thetis (WMEC-910) docked in the La Puntilla USCG base in San Juan, Puerto Rico

As for Greely and his expedition, he went on to become head of the Signal Corps, led the government’s responce to the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, retired as Maj. General, was issued a MoH for lifetime achievement, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Of the other survivors, many were active in exploration the rest of their lives:

  • 1SG David L. Brainard went on to serve throughout the Spanish-American War, wrote two books about the expedition, and was the last member of the group to die in 1946. Rising to Brig. Gen., he was U.S. military attaché in Buenos Aires then Lisbon, Portugal during the Great War.
  • Hospital Steward Henry Bierderbick was active in the National Geographic Society, Explorers’ Club, and the Arctic Club until his death on March 25, 1916 and wrote several scholarly works about the polar region.
  • Pvt. Julius Frederick named his daughter Thetis and worked for the Weather Bureau for years.
  • Pvt. Francis Long would later join the Baldwin-Ziegler Expedition, which would attempt to reach the North Pole.
  • Pvt. Maurice Connell continued working for the Weather Bureau well into the 20th century after his retirement from the Signal Corps.

The expedition, gathering three years of met data in the far North at a time when none existed, produced a wealth of information that is still proving useful today.

“We are now using [Greely’s] data to understand how global warming happens,” says historian Michael Frederick Robinson, “to understand how the climate has changed over the last hundred years.”

A memorial placed in 1923 by the National Geographic Society near the site of the Greely Expedition’s landing on Pim Island endures.

Image via Wiki

Image via Wiki

Then of course, there is the Bear, but that is another story…

Specs:

usmc_midway_thetisDisplacement: 1,250 tons
Rig: Barquentine
Length: 188′ 6″
Beam: 29′
Draft: 17′ 10″
Machinery: Compound-expansion steam
Propellers: 1
Armament:
(As commissioned)
Small arms and mines
(USN, 1887-97)
1x53mm Hotchkiss 5-barreled gatling gun
(USRM)
3 x 3-pounder 47mm rapid-fire guns

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Got six SKS’s taking up space in your closet? Want a Gatling gun? Done…

So yeah, the Rock Island Auction house’s Regional Firearms Auction is this weekend and they have the normal collection of odds, ends, and in-betweens. One of which is a six-barreled, six-actioned, Gatling gun made from a half dozen Chinese Norinco SKS Type 53 rifles. The gun fires by a crank located on the right hand side of the device that turned the whole assembly as it rotates.

click to big up. You are gonna want to big this up...

click to big up. You are gonna want to big this up…

They look to be fitted with 30-round aftermarket mags which would give it a ready capacity of some 180-ish rounds of 7.62x39mm (bring on the Wolf!). The guns look like they are in pretty poor condition with pitted metal showing on most and all have very different serials.

Ian over at Forgotten Weapons calls it the “Redneck Oblitorator”

Value is expected to start at $800, which may be a little high considering what we have here.

Whats the Goldblum line? Oh wait….

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