Tag Archives: USS Charleston

Warship Wednesday, Sept, 12, 2018: Of Chucktown, Apra and Camiguin

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

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018: Of Chucktown, Agana and Camiguin

NH 88407 Photographed by A.J. McDonald

Here we see the U.S. Navy’s one-of-a-kind protected cruiser USS Charleston (C-2) in San Francisco Bay, circa early 1890.

Protected cruisers, generally what would be termed in WWII as light cruisers, were a class all to their own in the late 19th Century and the U.S. Navy was just getting into the business. The first three steel cruisers for the USN– Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago— the so-called “ABC” cruisers, were all ordered in the early 1880s as the country was shaking off the slumber of the Civil War and the Navy’s “Great Repairs” period.

To see what was going on in Europe, a fourth cruiser was to be built to plans purchased from Armstrong in Britain, similar to the Armstrong-built Japanese cruiser Naniwa, which launched in 1885. Some 3,800-tons, she was to be constructed on the West Coast at Union Iron Works in San Francisco.

Just 320-feet long, she was smaller than a frigate of today but had a complicated steam plant of six fire-tube boilers and two engines that allowed a speed of some 19-knots, which was fast-ish for the 1880s. Protected (see where the designation comes from?) by 2-3 inches of steel plate armor, she carried a pair of breechloading 8″/35 guns (one aft and one forward), as well as a half-dozen 6″/30s and a dozen smaller 1-, 3-, and 6-pounder guns. She also had four above-water torpedo tubes.

The crew of Charleston’s after 8″ Gun exercising, circa 1890-93. The 8″/35 was used on the Indiana (B-1), Iowa (B-4) and Kearsarge (B-5) class battleships, as well as the cruisers New York (ACR-2), Brooklyn (ACR-3), Baltimore (C-3) and Olympia (C-6) classes. NH 73390

Compare the above to this image of dapper officers of Japanese protected cruiser Naniwa, Charleston’s half-sister, posing near one of that ship’s two 10-inch (25.4 cm) main guns, 1885.

Charleston further carried some Gatlings and landing guns as she could put her 30-man Marine detachment and as many as 100 of her sailors ashore to act as light infantry.

Ship’s marine guard at the American Legation, Seoul, Korea, during the Sino-Japanese War, Winter of 1894-95. First Lieutenant B. S. Neuman, USMC, in command. Officers on the left of the line, from L. to R.: Naval Cadet W. S. Crosley; Naval Cadet W. G. Powell; Assistant Surgeon R. G. Brodrick; Pay Clerk K. J. Griffin. NH 55561

Confusingly, what was to be the first numbered cruiser USS Newark (C-1), actually was ordered after Charleston, from William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, in 1888. Cramp was also building the cruiser Baltimore (C-3) at the same time to plans purchased from Armstrong, to make things even more confusing. Anyway, back to our ship.

Charleston In drydock at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, circa 1889, when nearly completed. Note her bow scroll. NH 89724

Only the second U.S. Navy ship to carry the name, the first being a short-lived galley that commissioned in 1798, Charleston commissioned 26 December 1889, CAPT G. C. Remey in command and, after working out some bugs with her engineering plant, sailed for the Far East to become the flag of the Pacific Squadron.

Another view of that big forward 8″ gun. NH 55081

NH 55082 Photographed about 1890.

According to DANFS, She carried the remains of the “Merrie Monarch,” King Kalakaua of Hawaii to Honolulu after his death abroad, and between 8 May and 4 June 1891, took part in the search for the Chilean steamer Itata which had fled San Diego in violation of the American neutrality laws, enforced strictly during the Chilean Revolution.

In 1893 she was back on the East Coast as part of the International Naval Review conducted at New York City 26 April 1893 during the Columbian Exposition before heading to Latin American waters to provide gunboat diplomacy amidst the Brazilian Revolution.

That national ensign, tho

Charleston seemed a popular ship and had good duty, traveling the world from Singapore to Halifax and back several times. The below images show her off Brazil, where she was part of the international force there.

Three-legged race onboard Charleston during Thanksgiving Day celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 1893. Participants include British and German sailors. The onlookers appear to be of mixed nationalities, as well. Courtesy of Captain Henry F. Picking, 24 December 1893. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 52452

Men running an obstacle race, during Thanksgiving Day celebrations on board Charleston in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 1893. Assistant Engineer Louis M. Nulton, whose name appears in the lower right of this image, was an officer of the ship at this time. Courtesy of Captain Henry F. Picking, 24 December 1893. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 52451

USS Charleston Thanksgiving Day celebrations on board in November 1893, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. NH 52449

By 1896, already growing increasingly obsolete and in need of an overhaul, she was placed in ordinary in San Francisco.

NH 71753 In dry-dock at the Mare Island Navy Yard. Work is progressing under electric lights in 1896

When war with Spain reared in 1898, she was called out of extended repair and, with the captain of the Mare Island yard, Henry Glass, assigned as her skipper.

Group photo of USS Charleston’s officers at Mare Island in 1898. Glass in the center. Note the collection of lieutenants in their 30s and 40s along with a sole warrant officer in the back row.

Just two weeks later, she sailed for Honolulu where the cruiser met three steamers, City of Peking, the City of Sydney, and Australia, packed with Marines and U.S. Volunteers headed to the Philipines.

Leaving Honolulu on 4 June, Glass, a 54-year old Union Navy vet who ironically saw hard service on the steam sloop Canandaigua blockading the port of Charleston during the Civil War, opened sealed orders from SECNAV John Davis Long:

Sir: Upon the receipt of this order, which is forwarded by the steamship City of Pekin to you at Honolulu, you will proceed, with the Charleston and the City of Pekin in company, to Manila, Philippine Islands. On your way, you are hereby directed to stop at the Spanish Island of Guam. You will use such force as may be necessary to capture the port of Guam, making prisoners of the governor and other officials and any armed force that may be there. You will destroy any fortifications on said island and any Spanish naval vessels that may be there, or in the immediate vicinity. These operations at the Island of Guam should be very brief, and should not occupy more than one or two days. Should you find any coal at the Island of Guam, you will make such use of it as you consider desirable. It is left to your discretion whether or not you destroy it. From the Island of Guam, proceed to Manila and report to Rear-Admiral George Dewey, U.S.N., for duty in the squadron under his command.

Just over two weeks later, Charleston and her convoy sailed to Guam and “sailed boldly into the harbor, firing a challenge at Fort Santa Cruz.

Almost at once, a boatload of Spanish authorities came out to apologize for having no gunpowder with which to return the supposed salute. They were astounded to learn that a state of war existed and that the American ships had come to take the island.

According to the July 5, 1898 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, the men apologized to Captain Glass for not returning his “salute” – the thirteen shots fired – and told him if they could just borrow a little gunpowder, they would return to shore and respectfully reciprocate. They were even nice enough to ask after the crew’s health and to try and engage in friendly conversation.

How sad it must have been when Captain Glass informed them of Spain’s defeat at Manila, his intention of taking Guam, and that when they had boarded the ship they had become prisoners of war.

Glass, in turn, learned that the island was not greatly fortified and the Spanish military presence was merely 54 Spanish soldiers and 54 Chamorros (indigenous peoples of Guam) armed with Mausers and Remingtons Rolling Block 45-90s. The four cannons peering out from the port were nearly unusable, and besides, they didn’t have gunpowder.

The next day the surrender was received by a landing party sent ashore from Charleston. With the Spanish governor and the island’s garrison of 54 as prisoners in one of the transports, Charleston then sailed to join Admiral Dewey’s fleet in Manila Bay.”

More on the seizure here, if curious.

When the American and Spanish negotiators finally signed the Treaty of Paris on 10 December, one of its provisions gave possession and control of Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico to the United States. Likewise, CDR (later RADM) Edward D. Taussig of the gunboat USS Bennington took formal possession of Wake Island for the United States with the raising of the flag and a 21-gun salute on January 17, 1899. The only witnesses aside from her crew were seabirds. The ship arrived at Guam at the end of the month and on 1 February the US colors were raised by Taussig at the Government House there. Taussig reportedly found the abandoned Spanish positions, masonry works constructed c.1800 and armed with four or five black powder guns, in poor shape.

Back to Charleston, post-Guam.

Arriving at Manila on 30 June 1898, she was too late to take part in Dewey’s epic naval skirmish that left the Spanish fleet at the bottom of the harbor but did take place in the naval blockade that followed and provided naval gunfire support against first the retiring Spanish Army and then the local insurgents.

NH 55084 At Manila, Philippines, in 1898. She had convoyed the first U.S. troops to Manila in May-June of that year, capturing Guam while en route.

A recently scanned photo shows Sailors of USS Charleston (C-2) manning one of the ship’s guns during the Spanish-American War, likely working up on the way to Hawaii. Note the cutlasses and flat caps. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command/Released)

Ending a short naval career, she proved another first for the Navy when she became the first steel-hulled ship lost by the service after she grounded on an uncharted reef near Camiguin Island, north of Luzon on 2 November.

Wrecked beyond salvage, she was abandoned by her crew, who made camp on a nearby island, later moving on to Camiguin while the ship’s sailing launch was sent for help. Keeping over 300 safe and together for two weeks on a desolate atoll is the stuff of blockbuster movies today but has escaped the attention of Hollywood. Either way, on 12 November, the gunboat USS Helena (PG-9) arrived to rescue the shipwrecked survivors.

She is remembered in maritime art.

U.S. Navy “Second Class Cruisers – 1899” Monitor, USS Amphitrite; USS Atlanta; USS Columbia; USS Charleston, USS Minneapolis. Published by Werner Company, Akron, Ohio. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The remains of the ship were apparently plundered first by locals and then by groups of better equipped “treasure hunters” armed with explosives in the 1990s and little is thought to endure. The illegal salvors were looking for everything from coins stored aboard following the occupation of Manila to souvenirs bought by her crew in China.

The wreck did not end the career of Glass, who was sent back to the states to take command of the naval training station at San Francisco. By 1901 he was CIC, Pacific Squadron, and served until he was placed on the retired list in 1906 as Commandant, Pacific Naval District, leaving the service as a RADM. He died in 1908, aged 84.

Naval Base Guam has a plaque commemorating him and the Glass Breakwater in Apra Harbor is named in his honor.

The Charleston‘s name was reissued in 1905 to another cruiser (C-22) which served through the Great War, and by the Erie-class gunboat (PG-51) for WWII service. Since then, it has been carried by an amphibious cargo ship (LKA-113) and issued to PCS-Charleston (LCS-18) which is expected to commission later this year. The Navy took delivery of her in Mobile last week.

Austal’s ninth Independence Class LCS, USS Charleston (LCS 18), has completed acceptance trials in the Gulf of Mexico and has been delivered to the Navy. She is 98-feet longer than her cruiser namesake, though a good bit lighter and without the torpedo tubes and batteries of 6- and 8-inch guns! (Photo: Austal)

As for reefs in the Philippines, they are still claiming warships.

Specs:

NH 75308 Builder’s model Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1972. Copied from the Union Iron Works scrapbook, vol. 2, page 8

Displacement 3,730 tons,
Length: 320′ (oa)
Beam: 46′
Draft: 21′ 9″ (Max)
Machinery: 7,500 IHP; 2 Horizontal, Compound engines, 2 screws
Speed: 19 Knots
Crew 300.
Armor, 3″ Shields, 3″ Deck, 2″ Conning Tower.
Armament:
2 x 8″/35 Mark III
6 x 6″/30
4 x 6pdr
2 x 3pdr
2 x 1pdr

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday Sept 17, the slow gunboats of the Canal

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, Sept 17, the slow gunboats of the Canal

U.S.S. ERIE moored to her sister ship (U.S.S. CHARLESTON) at Balboa, CZ. (Colorized photo courtesy of Clive Fennessy, http://www.usserie.org/ )

USS ERIE moored to her sister ship USS CHARLESTON at Balboa, CZ. (Colorized photo courtesy of Clive Fennessy, http://www.usserie.org/ ) Click to bigup.

Here we see the two Erie-class gunboats USS Erie (PG-50) and USS Charleston (PG-51) at Balboa in the Panama Canal Zone in a photo courtesy of the Erie Memorial association.

These two ships were built under the specifications of the Washington and London Naval treaties on ‘slow gunboats.’ While carriers, battleships, cruisers, and submarines all had several very strict limits as to the maximum number of vessels of each type that could be produced by signatory powers, there was no limit how many small patrol-type combatants (such as gunboats, coast guard cutters, sloops, armed yachts, etc.) each navy contained on their list so long as the ships were generally built for what we would term littoral, convoy escort, and sovereignty type operations, not general fleet use.

To limit these ships to that spectrum of the naval diet, as described by Article 8 of the 1930 London Treaty:

Subject to any special agreements, which may submit them to limitation, the following vessels are exempt from limitation: Naval surface combatant vessels exceeding 600 tons (610 metric tons), but not exceeding 2,000 tons (2,032 metric tons) standard displacement, provided they have none of the following characteristics:
(1) Mount a gun above 6.1 inch (155 mm) calibre;
(2) Mount more than four guns above 3 inch (76 mm) calibre;
(3) Are designed or fitted to launch torpedoes;
(4) Are designed for a speed greater than twenty knots.

So there you had it, a ship, at 2000-tons or smaller, with no more than four large guns no bigger than 155mm, no torpedo tubes, and go no faster than 20-knots. This rough specification gave the U.S. Navy an outline for a pair of ships that they could use to patrol the Panama Canal Zone, freeing more flexible destroyers and cruisers for other missions. Naval architects Howard C. Fletcher and Mandell Rosenblatt crafted the design of these ships, which were budgeted at about $4-million apiece (in 1933 dollars, which is about $71 million today—a bargain when you consider an LCS, which is about the same size, is over $300 million).

Click to bigup. Newspaper write up from the day. These were handsome ships

Click to bigup. Newspaper write-up from the day. These were handsome ships

Erie, patrol gunboat #50, was laid down on 17 December 1934 at New York Naval Yard while Charleston, #51 was laid down about the same time, appropriately at the Charleston Navy Yard. It should be remembered that most other PGs of the day were “China” patrol boats that were much smaller, and much less heavily armed.

With their economical Parsons geared turbines coupled to a pair of Babcock and Wilcox boilers, these new patrol gunboats were rather beamy, with a 327-foot long hull and 41-foot beam giving them a length to beam ratio of 1:8. With everything lit they could just touch 20-knots, but running on one boiler they could churn up the seas at 12 knots for a pretty impressive 12,000nm, meaning they could go a long time between port calls if needed.

USS ERIE (PG-50) at the Canal Zone, Nov.1942.

A quartet of 6-inch/47 cal low-elevation guns in single mounts (150mm bores– just under the limit!) gave the boats enough punch to capture random enemy merchantmen and run off smuggler, pirates, and small warships. These MK 17 guns were a single-mount improvement over the guns carried in triple mounted turrets on U.S. light cruisers of the Brooklyn, Cleveland, classes et al. Only mounted on the two Erie-class ships, they were neat in the respect that they used 3.5hp motors for both powered elevation and training, which wasn’t very common for the time. They could fire the same 105-pound “Common Shell” used by the rest of the 6-inch guns of the fleet out to 19,000-yards, at a rate of up to 8 rounds per gun. They also used bagged charges, which were a pain compared to full-up once-piece shells. However, firing these big guns on a short boat led to some issues. According to reader Ed Foster, whose father served on Erie, they had to fill ballast tanks before firing a broadside.

I believe him.

Four quad 1.1-inch AAA mounts largely felt to be the worst AAA mount ever fielded by the U.S. Navy, gave the ships a modicum of protection against random air attack. Novel for the time, these 327-foot ships had accommodations for up to 44 Marines to put ashore (back then Marine detachments were just for cruisers, battleships, and come carriers). They could also carry an OS2U Kingfisher floatplane. Overall this ship type was designed as something of a force projection platform in low-threat areas. A mini, if somewhat slow, cruiser if you will.

Aerial starboard bow view of Erie underway in May 1940. Click to bigup

Aerial starboard bow view of Erie underway in May 1940. National Archives photo 80-G-466205. Click to bigup

Their plant was an experiment of sorts and helped advance naval engineering designs that followed them. According to the Naval History Command:

Although their propulsion powering requirements were far lower than those of a destroyer, Charleston, and Erie’s machinery plants incorporated numerous advancements in marine engineering that had been first introduced aboard the Farragut Class destroyers, which were designed in 1932 and entered service in 1934 and 1935. These advancements included the use of superheated steam at higher pressures, air encased boilers, semi enclosed feed water systems, an AC electrical distribution system, an emergency diesel generator, and a number of other improvements. The ship had a single rudder operated by an electro-hydraulic steering engine. Prior to 1930, steam steering gears had been standard aboard naval vessels. Although Charleston was not a destroyer, a number of these design features carried over to the design of surface combatant ships that were built up through and during World War II

If these boats look familiar, you should realize that the U.S. Coast Guard’s ‘Secretary‘ class of high endurance cutters (originally classified as gunboats), were based on the design of these two Navy ships. We profiled one of these, Spencer, here earlier this year. Instead of the 6”/47 MK17s, the Coast Guard went with 5”/51’s and saved money in other areas, building their cutters out at about 30 percent less cost than the Eries.

USCGC Duane(WHEC33, formerly WPG-33) returning from Vietnam 1968. She is a half-sister to the Erie and Charleston.

USCGC Duane (WHEC33, formerly WPG-33) returning from Vietnam in 1968. She is a half-sister to Erie and Charleston.

This produced the simultaneous phenomena of the Navy ships of the class being among the slowest and most poorly armed in the fleet, while the Coast Guard ships, which were even more lightly armed, were the fastest and best equipped in that service’s armada! Different strokes for different folks.

Erie rolled down the ways and was commissioned 1 July 1936 while sister Charleston followed just a week later. These ships proved popular with the U.S. Navy of the Great Depression-era due to their small crew size, just 180 officers, men and marines (fewer on a peacetime cruise), and an economical cruise speed. Even though they were designed originally as the Panama Canal’s guard force, this allowed the ships to deploy far and wide for several years, waving the flag on the cheap. Remember, we have “Hope and Change,”  the sailors of the 1930s had the “New Deal”,  but money had to be saved for both.

Erie in Atlantic Ocean off New York Navy Yard. October 19, 1936

Erie in the Atlantic Ocean off New York Navy Yard. October 19, 1936

Erie went to Spanish waters in 1936 to be an armed observer of American interests in the Spanish Civil War and then served as a midshipman trainer at Annapolis the next year. Charleston, meanwhile, did a Med cruise with stops that included Yugoslavia and Algiers and then spent a period poking around the coast of Canada’s Pacific shoreline and the Alaskan Territory.

Of course, they did still spend time in the Canal, as witnessed in the image at the top of this post. Ideally, one would be based at Balboa, on the Pacific end, while the other would be at Cristóbal, on the Atlantic. However, this did not go down as planned.

When World War II came to the Americas, Charleston was still in Alaskan waters and proceeded to spend most of her wartime service there.

Fore view of Gunboat USS Charleston at Ketchikan AK Harbour 1941.

Aft view of Gunboat USS Charleston at Ketchikan AK Harbour 1941.

She avoided Japanese torpedoes and bombs and bombarded shore positions in the Aleutians during the recapture of those islands from the Imperial Army– making her one of the only U.S. Navy ships in history to fire weapons into U.S. territory in wartime since the Civil War. Even when the Japanese were kicked out in 1943, Charleston spent the next two years on quiet anti-submarine patrol in Alaskan waters, after the addition of depth charge roll-off racks, while the rest of the fleet moved on. While assigned to the Aleutians the ship completed 130 escort missions involving a total of 253 convoyed ships. She performed a needed if unsung war, being decorated with but a single battle star.

Erie, however, had a much different wartime experience.

When the balloon went up on Dec. 7, 1941, Erie was in the Canal Zone where she was designed to be. Based at the Pacific end, she shuttled around in a mad dash for several weeks picking up interned Japanese citizens and directing questionable ships to authorities. Then, with Nazi U-boats haunting the U.S. East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, Erie was called up to the majors and sent through the Canal and into the Caribbean.

German U-boats haunted the Dutch West Indies in 1942. The image above shows a torpedo that ran up on Eagle Beach in Aruba 16 Feb 1942. Fired from U-156, it missed the Texaco tanker Arkansas, berthed at Eagle Pier (although a second hit the ship). Shown being inspected by an unidentified Dutch Marine (Korps Mariniers) officer and U.S. Army Capt. Robert Bruskin, the steel fish was very much still a live war-shot round. It later killed four Dutch Marines who tried to disassemble it for study. Photo from LIFE March 2, 1942

German U-boats haunted the Dutch West Indies in 1942. The image above shows a torpedo that ran up on Eagle Beach in Aruba on 16 Feb 1942. Fired from U-156, it missed the Texaco tanker Arkansas, berthed at Eagle Pier (although a second hit the ship). Shown being inspected by an unidentified Dutch Marine (Korps Mariniers) officer and U.S. Army Capt. Robert Bruskin, the steel fish was very much still a live war-shot round. It later killed four Dutch Marines who tried to disassemble it for study. Photo from LIFE March 2, 1942

One of the small regional convoy routes established at the time was the Trinidad to Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) run. These “TAG” convoys shuttled across the Caribbean at low speed due to the nature of the small coasters and tankers that often made them up, which made them the perfect target for U-boats. On 12 Nov 1942, not even a year into her war, Erie was escorting TAG Convoy #20 when U-163 came across the little gunboat just out of Curacao. Being the most valuable ship in the convoy, KrvKpt. Kurt-Eduard Engelmann fired three torpedoes at her. In a testament to her sturdy design, she suffered just 18 casualties and was able to beach rather than sink.

USS Erie (PG-50) beached and burning after being torpedoed by U-163 off the coast of Curaçao, November 1942

Erie, stricken, port side three-quarter view. Fort Nassau is at top right of photo. Note dramatic list of port quarter. Photo http://www.usserie.org/

Erie, stricken, port side three-quarter view. Fort Nassau is at the top right of the photo. Note the dramatic list of port quarter. Photo http://www.usserie.org/

However, a resulting fire left Erie at a near-total loss. Towed to Willemstad harbor in the Dutch West Indies (now Curacao), she capsized three weeks later and settled in the harbor. Struck from the Naval List on 28 July 1943, she was salvaged in 1952, and her hulk sunk in deeper water. Today her memory is kept alive for posterity online by a most excellent association from which we used much information for this piece.

(Note: Erie‘s death was avenged. U-163 was sunk on 13 March 1943 just four months after Erie‘s attack. The boat was sent to Davy Jones in the North Atlantic northwest of Cape Finisterre by depth charges from the Canadian corvette HMCS Prescott with all hands, to include Engelmann, lost).

Erie‘s sister Charleston, after World War II, was largely unneeded. The Navy had hundreds of new ships and no naval limitations treaty requirements to adhere to anymore, which made the lone survivor of a two-ship class that carried a unique main gun and propulsion plant very much surplus.

The ships carried a very distinctive camouflage scheme during the war.

The ships carried a very distinctive camouflage scheme during the war.

Even the Coast Guard, who still operated six half-sisters (one, Hamilton, was torpedoed and sunk 10 miles off Iceland 29 January 1942), didn’t need the aging and in need of refit Charleston for their fleet since they had picked up 13 brand new Owasco-class cutters as a result of wartime spending that they were having a hard time finding crews for. The Owascos, and Secretary class cutters, augmented by a few WWII-built fleet tugs and seaplane tenders transferred from the Navy, carried the Coast Guard through the 1960s and 70s when two new-built classes took their place.

USTS Charleston in the late 1940′s at Buzzard’s Bay while a school ship for the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. NHHC image NH 77120.

USTS Charleston in the late 1940′s at Buzzard’s Bay while a school ship for the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. NHHC image NH 77120.

This led Charleston to be disarmed (except for a single aft 6-incher), her wartime camo removed, and transferred to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy on 25 March 1948, where she served as a training ship for a decade. Accordingly, this led to other modifications:

A number of changes had to be made in order to make the ship suitable for duty as a school ship. All of the ship’s wartime armament had been removed with the exception of one of the after 6” mounts. The removal of all of this topside weight resulted in an increased metacentric height, which, if anything, made the ship too stable. Naval architects refer to this as being “stiff.” During the first few days of the annual training cruises, the ship often encountered a seaway off Cape Hatteras and it would start violently rolling. The majority of the cadets and some of the instructors would become seasick. This condition would last until calmer waters were reached in the Caribbean. When it was originally commissioned, Charleston was fitted with portholes along the side. These had been sealed up in its wartime configuration but they had been reinstalled to provide at least some degree of ventilation as the ship had no air conditioning system. Invariably some would be found to be leaking under the conditions described above resulting in water with a very unpleasant odor sloshing around in the berthing compartments.

According to CAPT. George W. Stewart, USN Ret., 1956 MMA alumni who sailed on USTS Charleston as a start to his thirty-year (SW) Navy career, she was a good ship to learn on.

“Despite its limitations, Charleston was an excellent ship to learn the basics of marine engineering aboard during the 1950s. The lack of automation was actually an advantage because there were plenty of underway watch stations with things for the Midshipmen to do. The experience gained aboard Charleston would prove to be extremely valuable to me aboard both naval and commercial steam-powered ships during a seagoing career,” wrote Stewart.

By 1958, however, she had become too expensive to operate and was turned back over to Uncle. Disposed of by MARAD in 1959 just past her twentieth birthday. Rumor is that she was sold to an Italian developer for use as a floating casino, but I cannot find anything on her past 1960 (so if you know what happened to PG-51, share please!).

Although Erie and Charleston are no longer with us, and five of their Coast Guard sisters have likewise vanished, two of that class are preserved as floating museums.

Erie‘s Kingfisher knocked off the ship by U-163‘s torpedoes in 1942, is a popular dive site off Curacao today as is her final resting place offshore for deepwater ‘bounce’ dives.

The USCGC Taney is currently a museum ship at the Baltimore Maritime Museum, in Baltimore, Maryland and the USCGC Ingham is part of the Key West Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida. Please visit them if you have a chance and when you go, give a moment’s respect to the noble Erie and Charleston as well.

Specs:

KlpdHSh

Via Shipbucket

Length overall: 328 feet, 6 inches
Length on waterline: 308 feet (at standard displacement)
Extreme beam at/below the waterline: 41 feet, 3 inches (at standard displacement)
Mean draft: 11 feet, 4 inches (at standard displacement)
Maximum draft in service: 14 feet, 6 inches
Design displacement: 2,000 tons
Displacement in service: 2,830 tons
Maximum speed: 20 knots
Range: 8,000 nautical miles at 12 knots
Engines: 2, Parsons geared turbine
Boilers: 2, Babcock and Wilcox
Generator sets: 3 (2 turbos, 1 diesel), all A.C.
Armament:
6-in., 47 caliber, Mark 17 guns: 4, with Mark 35 battery director
1.1 in., quadruple anti-aircraft guns: 4
20 mm, single anti-aircraft guns: 4
Depth charge roll-off racks: 2, Mark 6 (each holding 15 depth charges)
Smoke pipes: 1
Masts: 2
Armor: 3½ inch side belts (over vital spaces)
Armor: 1 inch on six-inch gun shields
Armor: 1¼ inch on main deck
Armor: 4 inches on conning tower
Radar: 1, Mark 3 (mounted atop battery director)
Sonar: 1, ASDIC
Scout plane: 1, OS2U “Kingfisher”
Captain’s cabin: 1
Admiral’s cabin: 1
Guest cabin with 2 staterooms: 1
Officers’ wardrooms: 15
Chief Petty Officers’ quarters: 18
Enlisted men’s berths (inc. 44 Marines): 213
Boats:
36-ft motor launch (70 men): 1
35-ft motorboat (27 men): 1
30-ft motor launches (40 men each): 2
26-ft motor whaleboats (24 men each): 2
Balsa life floats (25 men each): 2
10-ft punt: 1
If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/

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.

I’m a member, so should you be!