Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Nov. 13, 2019: A Dazzling Flivver
Here we see the narrow stern of the Paulding/Drayton/Monaghan-class “flivver” type destroyer USS Fanning (DD-37) filled with “ashcans” as she rests in an Irish port, likely Queenstown in 1917-1918, alongside the larger four-piper Wickes-class destroyer USS Sigourney (DD–81). Note her double ship’s wheel and a trainable twin 18-inch torpedo tube set shoe-horned into the narrow space as well. Don’t let her size fool you, though, Fanning would go on to prove herself well.
The 21-vessel Pauling class, built across four years from 1908 to 1912 were smallish for destroyers, tipping the scales at just 742-tons. Overall, they ran 293-feet long, with a razor-thin 26-foot beam. Using a quartet of then-novel oil-fired Normand boilers (later boats like Fanning used Thornycroft boilers) pushing a trio of Parsons direct-drive steam turbines, they could gin nearly 30-knots when wide open, although they rattled and rolled while doing so. This earned them the “flivver” nickname after the small and shaky Ford Model Ts of the era. Armament was five quick-firing 3″/50 cal guns and a trio of twin 450mm torpedo tubes, to which depth charges would later be added.
Fanning was the first ship named for famous 18th Century American spy, privateer, and naval officer Nathaniel Fanning. A native of Stonington, Connecticut, and son of a sea merchant, Fanning suffered at the hands of the British in 1775, with his home and those of his neighbors bombarded by the Royal Navy and his brothers Gilbert and Thomas, held prisoner on the infamous prison hulk HMS Jersey, where one died. Fanning got his licks in and during the war served on several privateers, including commanding the privateers Ranger and Eclipse, and signed on with John Paul Jones as a midshipman aboard Bonhomme Richard in 1779, distinguishing himself in the famous battle with HMS Serapis, charging aboard the British vessel with cutlass and pistol at the head of a boarding party.
Mr. Fanning went on to serve on the frigate Alliance and later the captured sloop HMS Ariel. Finishing the war intact despite being captured several times by the RN, he later died of yellow fever in 1805 while an officer in the early U.S. Navy.
USS Fanning was laid down at Newport News, 29 April 1911. Her cost, in 1912 dollars, was $639,526.91, which adjusts to $16.5 million in today’s script, on par with an 85-foot Mark VI patrol boat today, a deal by any means. She was commissioned at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 21 June 1912 and spent the next five years in a series of drills, exercises, experiments, high profile port calls, gunboat diplomacy, and tense neutrality patrol– where she came face to face with but did not engage German U-boats prowling just off the U.S. coastline as well as the auxiliary cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich.
Once the balloon went up in April 1917, Fanning stood to and readied herself for war. By June, she served as part of the escort for the first American Expeditionary Force (AEF) convoy to sail for France, although she did so without depth charges.
By Independence Day 1917 Fanning was in Queenstown, Ireland, where the ship “landed all unnecessary stores,” while workmen fitted her with depth charges “and chutes for releasing the same,” in addition to splinter mattresses, preparing her for operations in European Waters. She began her first anti-submarine patrol on 10 July and proceeded to play cat-and-mouse games with the Kaiser’s U-boats. Just three days in, she rescued survivors of the Greek steamship Charilaos Tricoupis, that had been torpedoed by SM U-58 (Kptlt. Karl Scherb) that morning while en route from Dakar to Sligo, Ireland, with a cargo of corn. They would meet with U-58 again soon enough.
A new U57-type boat, U-58 had commissioned 9 Aug 1916 and would claim some 21 ships in just an 11-month active career across 8 combat patrols, mostly Scandinavian sailing vessels that her crew would send to the bottom with charges or surface gunfire. U-58‘s new skipper on her 8th sortie was Kptlt. Gustav Amberger, formerly of U-80. Amberger and U-58 would leave Germany for the British Isles on Halloween 1917 and take the small schooner, Dolly Varden, on 14 November.
Then, Fanning and U-58 would meet again.
At 1145 on 17 November 1917, the six American destroyers and two British corvettes that comprised the escort of convoy O.Q. 20, steamed out of Queenstown harbor under the command of the senior officer, Commander Frank D. Barrien, Nicholson’s captain. Throughout the afternoon, the convoy’s eight merchant vessels fell in with the escort and set about forming into four columns arranged abreast. Fanning, under acting commander Lieutenant Arthur “Chips” Carpender, guarded the rear port flank of the convoy as O.Q. 20’s formation slowly took shape. At 1610, seven miles south of Queenstown, the convoy encountered SM U-58.
The battle almost ended before it began. When the sound of propellers announced O.Q 20’s presence, the German commander ordered a torpedo prepared to fire and brought his boat to periscope depth. Soon after surfacing, poor visibility nearly led the submarine to ram Nicholson accidentally, and Amberger had the engines put full back to avert disaster. Nicholson continued, oblivious to the close encounter, and the submarine escaped unnoticed. After avoiding detection, U-58 again raised its periscope to reestablish contact with the target.
Victory in “The Action of 17 November 1917” rested less on a sophisticated new technology or a brilliant tactical maneuver, and more on the eyes of Fanning’s Coxswain David D. Loomis, who was standing watch on the bridge. He was already renowned for his remarkable eyesight, with a Fanning officer later recalling Loomis’s possession of “a most extraordinary set of eyes.” In foggy conditions, Loomis spotted the 1.5-inch-diameter periscope protruding 10 inches out of the water at 400 yards away on the port bow. Although lookouts usually spotted submarine periscopes by the telltale wake, they caused, U-58 was proceeding so slowly at the time of the sighting that it was not producing any noticeable disturbance in the water. After the eagle-eyed Loomis called out the periscope, officer-of-the-deck Lieutenant Walter O. Henry sounded General Quarters as he ordered the rudder hard left and rung up full speed. Through his periscope, Amberger suddenly saw a destroyer emerging from the mist, close aboard, and threatening to ram his boat. The U-boat skipper had no time to react before Fanning was upon him. On the destroyer’s bridge, Lieutenant Carpender, now on deck, ordered Fanning’s rudder right, swinging the ship into the submerged U-boat’s path before dropping a single depth charge off the fantail.
U-58’s crew felt the shock of the exploding depth charge, which damaged the U-boat’s stern and disabled its electrical gear. Fanning’s depth charge exploded prematurely in the water, slightly damaging the destroyer as well. Amberger, underestimating the damage to his vessel, attempted to dive and elude his assailant. To his dismay, Fanning’s attack left U-58 unmanageable and leaking badly, with the diving gear, motors, and oil leads all wrecked. The U-boat dangerously sank to between approximately 150 and 250 feet, below its maximum diving depth, before Amberger blew the tanks and surfaced.
On the surface, approximately 500 yards away, sailors aboard Nicholson witnessed Fanning’s attack and Commander Barrien turned his ship toward the spot of the explosion. As the destroyer completed its turn, U-58’s conning tower breached the surface. Nicholson rapidly closed and dropped a depth charge close aboard, scoring another hit on the submarine. The second explosion brought the U-58’s bow up rapidly before it righted itself. Fanning, having turned in Nicholson’s wake, again closed on the submarine. Gun crews on Fanning’s bow and Nicholson’s stern opened fire on the doomed U-boat. After three shots from both destroyers’ guns, the German sailors flung open U-58’s hatches and poured on deck, arms raised in surrender. The battle had lasted approximately 15 minutes.
Fanning made history as she was the first U.S. Navy ship to capture a German submarine and she was photographed extensively after the event, leaving a great record of a dazzle-flauged Great War Paulding.
On 19 November 1917, Adm. Sir Lewis Bayly, RN, Commander-in-Chief, Coast of Ireland, came on board and read a congratulatory cablegram from the Admiralty addressed to the ship. Capt. Joel R. P. Pringle, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Destroyer Flotilla operating in European Waters, also visited, reading similar laudatory cables from Adm. William S. Benson, the Chief of Naval Operations, and Vice Adm. William S. Sims, the Force Commander. Adm. Bayly authorized the Fanning’s crew to paint a coveted star on her forward funnel to proclaim her victory over U-58. For their part in the victory Lt. Carpender received the Distinguished Service Medal, Lt. Henry and Cox. Loomis the Navy Cross.
As for the 36 survivors of U-58, they became celebrities on their own accord, being among the first of the Kaiser’s guests sent back to the States that were captured in combat and not taken into custody from interned vessels. One of their crew, engineering Petty Officer Franz Glinder drowned in the engagement and his body was recovered by Fanning’s crew and later buried at sea with full honors. A second man, first machinist Franz Baden, went down with his ship.
The remaining survivors eventually shipped across the Atlantic on USS Leviathan (formerly the giant Hamburg-American liner Vaterland, which during WWI was helmed by none other than a young Humphrey Bogart) and were put up as guests of President Wilson at the EPW Barracks in Fort McPherson, Georgia.
A group of images from U-58‘s crew’s imprisonment at Fort McPherson, Georgia are in the Library of Congress.
Following the war, the men of U-58 returned home in 1919 with Amberger and Ritgen at least later serving in the Kriegsmarine in WWII, albeit in training capacities.
Back to our destroyer
Just three days after her tangle with U-58, Fanning sailed again on 20 November to escort convoy O.Q. 21 and would spend another year taking part in fighting U-boats and the cold, stopping to rescue survivors and batten the hatches against the heavy seas. She would drop depth charges on numerous further occasions, often resulting in oil slicks.
When the Great War ended, Fanning stood by for the arrival at Brest of President Wilson on 13 December in the troop transport George Washington and passed in review with other U.S. warships.
Post-war, she would return to the States while, with other destroyers, shepherding dozens of small submarine chasers from the Azores to Charleston, arriving 3 May 1919. On 24 November her remaining men were transferred to Henley (Destroyer No. 39) and she was decommissioned.
Placed on red lead row, just five years later Fanning was reactivated, although in poor shape, and transferred to the Treasury Department for service with the Coast Guard on 7 June 1924.
As deftly retold in a paper by the USCG Historians Office, the service, then part of the Treasury Department, was hard-pressed to chase down fast bootlegging boats shagging out to “Rum Row” where British and Canadian merchants rested in safe water on the 3-mile limit loaded with cases of good whiskey and rum for sale.
Rum Runners in Canada and in the Bahamas had the cry, “For some, there’s a fortune but others will die, come on load up the ship boys, the Yankees are dry.”
This led the agency to borrow 31 relatively new destroyers from the Navy, an act that would have been akin to the USN transferring most of the FFG7 frigates to the Coast Guard during the “cocaine cowboy” days of the 1980s.
From the USCG Historian:
In the end, the rehabilitation of the vessels became a saga in itself because of the exceedingly poor condition of many of these war-weary ships. In many instances, it took nearly a year to bring the vessels up to seaworthiness. Additionally, these were by far the largest and most sophisticated vessels ever operated by the service and trained personnel were nearly nonexistent. As a result, Congress authorized hundreds of new enlistees. It was these inexperienced men that made up the destroyer crews and contributed to the service’s greatest growth prior to World War II.
A total of 31 destroyers served with the Coast Guard’s Destroyer Force. These included three different classes, the 742-ton “flivver-class,” “1,000-ton class”, and the 1,190-ton “Clemson-class” flush-deckers. Capable of over 25 knots, the destroyers had an advantage in chasing large rumrunners. They were, however, easily outmaneuvered by smaller vessels. The destroyers’ mission, therefore, was to picket the larger supply ships (“mother ships”) and prevent them from off-loading their cargo onto smaller, speedier contact boats that ran the liquor into shore.
Still able to make 25-knots on her worn plant, Fanning would patrol extensively from New England to the Caribbean under the Coast Guard ensign on anti-smuggling interdiction duties. However, with little funds to keep her running, by 1929 she was in an exceptionally rundown condition. The Coast Guard decommissioned Fanning at New London on 1 April 1930 and returned her to the Navy Department on 24 November.
Stricken from the Navy list on 28 June 1934 at the age of 22, she was scrapped under the terms of the London Treaty, and her materials sold.
Fanning was celebrated in U.S. military history with a 1921 painting by Edwin Simmons depicting U-58 surrendering. As the first of Uncle Sam’s destroyers to catch one of the Kaiser’s sneaky boots, she was popular in period art.
Once she left the fleet for good in 1934, her name was recycled for a Dunlap (Mahan)-class destroyer, DD-385, sponsored by Miss Cora A. Marsh, the great-great-granddaughter of Nathaniel Fanning; and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., on 8 October 1937. This very active tin can receive four battle stars for her World War II service, taking part in the Doolittle Raid. This, however, did not save her from being scrapped in 1948, surplus to the Navy’s needs.
A third Fanning, FF-1076, a Knox-class frigate, commissioned in 1971 and had deployments in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, participating in Desert Storm. She decommissioned in 1993 and spent another seven years with the Turkish Navy as Adatepe (F-251).
Perhaps the SECNAV will name a new DDG-51 after Nathaniel Fanning to perpetuate the long and distinguished line. I do believe that I have some letters to write!
742 long tons (754 t) normal
887 long tons (901 t) full load
Length: 293 ft 10 in
Beam: 27 ft
Draft: 8 ft 4 in (mean)
Installed power:12,000 ihp
4 × Thornycroft boilers
3 × Parsons Direct Drive Turbines
3 × screws
29.99 kn on Trials
Range: 2175(15) on 225 tons oil
Complement:4 officers 87 enlisted U.S. service. 75 in Coast Guard
5 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 caliber Mark 3 low-angle guns
6 × 18-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes (3 × 2)
Depth charges, in two stern racks and one Y-gun projector, added in 1917, removed in 1924
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