Tag Archives: USS Omaha

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021: A Hell of a Night

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021: A Hell of a Night

As I am currently roaming around the wilds of Utah all week, today’s WWeds is shorter than normal, but I trust no less interesting.

USS Selfridge (DD-357) NH 63121

Here we see the Porter-class tin can USS Selfridge (DD-357), the second warship named after the very sinkable Thomas O. Selfridge which we have covered a few times in the past, in her gleaming pre-war lines.

Fast forward to the night of 6 October 1943, some 78 years ago today. The place, Northwest of Vella Lavella in the hotly contested Solomon Islands. There, three American destroyers– Selfridge, Chevalier, and O’Bannon— bumped into a convoy of barges and auxiliaries escorted by nine destroyers of the Imperial Japanese Navy — Akigumo, Fumizuki, Isokaze, Kazagumo, Matsukaze, Samidare, Shigure, Yūnagi, and Yūgumo— with the latter equipped with the formidable Long Lance torpedo.

The confused, swirling action by moonlight and searchlight lasted less than an hour and left Yūgumo and Chevalier on the bottom while O’Bannon and Selfridge were seriously damaged and left to the field of battle when the Japanese withdrew to attend to their convoy which was filled with evacuated Japanese soldiers.

Selfridge suffered 13 killed, 11 wounded, and 36 missing, with most of those carried away with a hit to her bow from two Long Lances.

As noted by a Navy damage control report, “At 2306-1/2, a torpedo detonated at about frame 40, starboard. There was some indication that a second torpedo detonated almost simultaneously at frame 30, port. The bow severed completely at about frame 40 and floated aft on the starboard side.”

Battle of Vella LaVella (II) 6th-7th October 1943 Damaged USS SELFRIDGE (DD-357) after the battle. Her bow had been wrecked by a Japanese destroyer torpedo in this action. Note 5″/38 twin gun. Alongside is USS O’BANNON (D-450), which damaged her bow in a collision during the action. 80-G-274873.

Extensive details of the damage and how it was repaired while only barely off the line at Purvis Bay and at Noumea, here while the full period 54-page report of the engagement from Selfridge’s skipper’s point of view, here

Selfridge steamed 6,200 miles back to the West Coast with a temporary bow fitted, arriving at Mare Island looking, well, abbreviated.

USS Selfridge (DD-357), coming into Mare Island Navy Yard, California, for bow blown off just forward of the bridge in a heroic action in the Battle of Vella Lavella on October 6, 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-316295

Permanent repairs, including the installation of a new bow, were made at Mare Island and, after refresher training out of San Diego, she returned to Pearl Harbor on 10 May 1944 in time to join the forces staging for the invasion of the Marianas.

USS Selfridge (DD-357), steaming out to sea after repairs at Mare Island Navy Yard, California. Repairs were completed in the spring of 1944. 80-G-316296

Rejoining the war, Selfridge was active in the Philippines and the liberation of Guam, before switching oceans to escort convoys across the Atlantic in 1945, earning four battle stars for her WWII service.

Decommissioned on 15 October 1945, Selfridge was struck from the Navy list on 1 November 1945; sold to George H. Nutman, Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.; removed from Navy custody on 20 December 1946, and scrapped in October 1947.

***

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Warship Wednesday Aug. 31, 2016: The Nebraska stiletto

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. 31, 2016: The Nebraska stiletto

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97970

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97970

Here we see the four-piper Omaha-class light (scout) cruiser, USS Omaha (CL-4) besieged by pelicans in harbor, 8 December 1923. She was fast, could hit hard, chase down enemy steamers, and do it all with an air of efficiency.

With the United States no doubt headed into the Great War at some point, Asst. Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt helped push a plan by the brass to add a 10 fast “scout cruisers” to help screen the battle line from the enemy while acting as the over-the-horizon greyhound of the squadron, looking for said enemy to vector the fleet to destroy.

As such, speed was a premium for these dagger-like ships (they had a length to beam ratio of 10:1) and as such these cruisers were given a full dozen Yarrow boilers pushing geared turbines to 90,000 shp across four screws. Tipping the scales at 7,050 tons, they had more power on tap than a 8,000-ton 1970s Spruance-class destroyer (with four GE LM2500s giving 80,000 shp). This allowed the new cruiser class to jet about at 35 knots, which is fast today, and was on fire in 1915 when they were designed. As such, they were a full 11-knots faster than the smaller Chester-class scout cruisers they were to augment.

Artist's conception of the final class design, made circa the early 1920s by Frank Muller. Ships of this class were: OMAHA (CL-4), MILWAUKEE (CL-5), CINCINNATI (CL-6), RALEIGH (CL-7), DETROIT (CL-8), RICHMOND (CL-9), CONCORD (CL-10), TRENTON (CL-11), MARBLEHEAD (CL-12), and MEMPHIS (CL-13).Catalog #: NH 43051

Artist’s conception of the final class design, made circa the early 1920s by Frank Muller. Ships of this class were: OMAHA (CL-4), MILWAUKEE (CL-5), CINCINNATI (CL-6), RALEIGH (CL-7), DETROIT (CL-8), RICHMOND (CL-9), CONCORD (CL-10), TRENTON (CL-11), MARBLEHEAD (CL-12), and MEMPHIS (CL-13).Catalog #: NH 43051

For armament, they had a 12 6″/53 Mk12 guns arranged in a twin turret forward, another twin turret aft, and eight guns in Great White Fleet throwback above-deck stacked twin casemates four forward/four aft. These guns were to equip the never-built South Dakota (BB-49) class battleships and Lexington (CC-1) class battle cruisers, but in the end were just used in the Omahas as well as the Navy’s two large submarine cruisers USS Argonaut (SS-166), Narwhal (SS-167), and Nautilus (SS-168).

Besides the curious 6-inchers, they also carried two 3″/50s in open mounts, six 21-inch torpedo tubes on deck, four torpedo tubes near the water line (though they proved very wet and were deleted before 1933), and the capability to carry several hundred mines.

Mines on an Omaha class (CL 4-13) light cruiser Description: Taken while the ship was underway at sea, looking aft, showing the very wet conditions that were typical on these cruisers' after decks when they were operating in a seaway. Photographed circa 1923-1925, prior to the addition of a deckhouse just forward of the ships' after twin six-inch gun mount. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist's Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99637

Mines on an Omaha class (CL 4-13) light cruiser Description: Taken while the ship was underway at sea, looking aft, showing the very wet conditions that were typical on these cruisers’ after decks when they were operating in a seaway. Photographed circa 1923-1925, prior to the addition of a deckhouse just forward of the ships’ after twin six-inch gun mount. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist’s Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99637

Triple 21-inch torpedo tubes on the upper deck of an Omaha (CL 4-13) class light cruiser, circa the mid-1920s. The after end of the ship's starboard catapult is visible at left. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist's Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99639

Triple 21-inch torpedo tubes on the upper deck of an Omaha (CL 4-13) class light cruiser, circa the mid-1920s. The after end of the ship’s starboard catapult is visible at left. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist’s Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99639

Omaha had been ordered during the war but she was not laid down at Todd Dry Dock & Construction Co., Tacoma, Washington until 6 December 1918. Built for a cost of $1,541,396, she was commissioned 24 February 1923 and her nine sisters all joined the fleet within two years after, replacing several prewar designs including the Chesters.

Photographed circa 1923, immediately after completion. Note her peculiar stacked casemates. These ships proved top-heavy in operation. Go figure, huh? Catalog #: NH 43052

Photographed circa 1923, immediately after completion. Note her peculiar stacked casemates. These ships proved top-heavy in operation. Go figure, huh? Catalog #: NH 43052

Assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, she spent the early 1920s in calm peacetime service, showing the flag, making training and gunnery cruises, crossing over into the Pacific a few times to visit Canada and Hawaii, and other typical fleet operations. Later she was used to escort the body of the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, J. Butler Wright– who died at his post after an operation at age 62– from Havana to the Washington Navy Yard.

Passing through the Panama Canal, circa 1925-1926. Note the tropical awning over her stern. Catalog #: NH 43054

Passing through the Panama Canal, circa 1925-1926. Note the tropical awning over her stern. Her aft casemates are clear. Catalog #: NH 43054

Boxing match held between the aircraft catapults of an Omaha (CL 4-13) class light cruiser, circa the mid-1920s. View looks forward, with the ship's after smokestack in the left center background. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist's Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99640

Boxing match held between the aircraft catapults of an Omaha (CL 4-13) class light cruiser, circa the mid-1920s. View looks forward, with the ship’s after smokestack in the left center background. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist’s Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99640

Great overhead shot. Anchored in the Hudson River, near New York City, 2 May 1927. Catalog #: NH 43059

Great overhead shot. Anchored in the Hudson River, near New York City, 2 May 1927. Catalog #: NH 43059

Putting the screen in screening! Omaha Class Light Cruisers lay a smoke screen during maneuvers in about 1930. Courtesy of Chief Photographer's Mate John Lee Highfill (retired) Catalog #: NH 94898

Putting the “screen” in screening! Omaha Class Light Cruisers lay a smoke screen during maneuvers in about 1930. Courtesy of Chief Photographer’s Mate John Lee Highfill (retired) Catalog #: NH 94898

In 1932, Omaha set a record for a naval crossing between San Francisco and Honolulu– just 75 hours and change to cover 2,400 miles, humming along at an average speed of 32~ knots for three days and nights. Not bad for 1920s technology.

In 1933, she was given an overhaul that included removing her mine handling capability and lower torpedo tubes, but adding more AAA guns and aircraft handling capabilities.

Underway, circa the early 1930s. The original photograph is dated 20 October 1936, but it was actually taken prior to Omaha's 1933 overhaul, during which her topmasts were reduced and a bathtub machinegun platform was fitted atop her foremast. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97971

Underway, circa the early 1930s. The original photograph is dated 20 October 1936, but it was actually taken prior to Omaha’s 1933 overhaul, during which her topmasts were reduced and a bathtub machinegun platform was fitted atop her foremast. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Catalog #: NH 97971

Two of the 6"/53 casemate guns on USS Omaha CL-4 Picture taken in August 1933 after overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Note newly installed machine gun bathtub atop Omaha foremast, rangefinders, and other fire control facilities on and about the mast, voice tubes running down from the masthead, and Battle Efficiency E painted on the pilothouse. Courtesy of Don S. Montgomery, USN (Retired). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 93507

6″/53 casemate gun on USS Omaha CL-4 Picture taken in August 1933 after overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Note newly installed machine gun bathtub atop Omaha foremast, rangefinders, and other fire control facilities on and about the mast, voice tubes running down from the masthead, and Battle Efficiency E painted on the pilothouse. Courtesy of Don S. Montgomery, USN (Retired). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 93507

However, not all was joyous:

Aground in the Bahamas, 18 July 1937. Note lighthouse at right and vessels alongside Omaha. Meh, these things happen. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 43061

Aground in the Bahamas, 18 July 1937. Note lighthouse at right and vessels alongside Omaha. Meh, these things happen. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 43061

USS OMAHA (CL-4). Description: Courtesy of Mr. Donald M. McPherson, 169 Birch Avenue, Corte Madera, California, 1969 Catalog #: NH 68319

USS OMAHA (CL-4) Post 1933. Courtesy of Mr. Donald M. McPherson, Corte Madera, California, 1969 Catalog #: NH 68319

When World War II loomed, the aging cruiser and her sisters were far outclassed by the newer Brooklyn and St.Louis-classes, but they were uparmed by adding 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns and radar while landing some of their older casemates and 1.1-inchers fitted in the 1930s.

On 6 November 1941, while on neutrality patrol in the mid-Atlantic near the equator with her escort, the USS Somers (DD-381), Omaha spied an American flagged ship, the freighter Willmoto out of Philadelphia, and closed to inspect her. When a boarding team came close, the freighter’s crew started abandoning ship, signaling it was sinking.

Taking quick action, the Omaha‘s team went to salvage work and saved the ship, which turned out to be the 5098-tonner Odenwald owned by the Hamburg-American Line. Enroute to Germany from then-neutral Japan when she was seized, she was packed with 3,800-tons desperately needed rubber and tires that never made it to the Third Reich.

Odenwald, NH 123752

Odenwald, NH 123752

USS OMAHA/ODENWALD Incident during World War II. Autographed Portrait of Salvage Detail. American Flag and emblem of the Nazi party/ Swastika flag on ship with Salvage Detail portrait signed by each member of Salvage Detail.NH 123757

USS OMAHA/ODENWALD Incident during World War II. Autographed Portrait of Salvage Detail. American Flag and emblem of the Nazi party/ Swastika flag on ship with Salvage Detail portrait signed by each member of Salvage Detail.NH 123757

Odenwald was escorted to Puerto Rico and made a big splash when she arrived.

According to the U-boat Archive, Odenwald contained the first German military POW taken by the U.S. though they didn’t know it:

Helmut Ruge was a Kriegsmarine radioman aboard the Graf Spee when that ship was scuttled after the battle of the River Plate. He escaped from internment crossing the Andes on foot to Chile and then on to Japan where he joined the crew of the Odenwald for the return to Germany.

During his initial interrogation both U.S. Army and Navy interrogators failed to discover that Helmut Ruge was not a civilian merchant marine officer but in fact was a German Navy sailor or that he was an escaped internee from the crew of the Graf Spee. Throughout his captivity he was interned with the civilian crews of German merchant ships and not with other German Navy personnel.

When the war kicked off for real, Omaha remained in the Atlantic doing patrol and escort work.

USS Omaha (CL-4) In New York Harbor, 10 February 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Note the added AAA suite. Catalog #: 19-N-40594

USS Omaha (CL-4) In New York Harbor, 10 February 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Note the added AAA suite. Catalog #: 19-N-40594

In the lead up to the Dragoon landings in Southern France, Omaha sailed to the med and gave naval gunfire support to the troops going ashore in August 1944, for which she was awarded one battle star, the only one she would receive.

When the war ended, the writing was on the wall for Omaha and she was decommissioned 1 November 1945, stricken four weeks later, and sold for scrap the following February.

Of her sisters, they proved remarkably lucky, and, though all nine saw combat during the war (including Detroit and Raleigh at Pearl Harbor), none were sunk. The last of the class afloat, USS Milwaukee (CL-5) was sold for scrap, 10 December 1949 mainly because after 1944 she had been loaned to the Soviets as the Murmansk.

In one last laugh, a federal court in 1947 awarded the members of the boarding party and the salvage crew $3,000 apiece while all the other crewmen in Omaha and the Sommers at the time picked up two months’ pay and allowances.

Although it has been reported this was prize money “the last paid by the Navy,” the fact is that the ruling classified it as salvage inasmuch as the U.S. on November 6, 1941, was not at war with Germany.

In all, the court found that the value of the Odenwald was the sum of $500,000 and the value of her cargo $1,860,000, which was sold in 1941 and, “As a matter of law, the United States is entitled as owner of the two men of war involved in this case to collect salvage and the officers and members of the crews of the U.S.S. Omaha and U.S.S. Somers are also entitled to collect salvage. This is not a case of bounty or prize. The libelants are entitled to collect salvage in the aggregate sum of $397,424.06 with costs and expenses.”

So there is that.

One enduring curiosity of the Omaha‘s crew was the issue of V-42 combat knives to some of her boarding crew.

From RIA who has one of these rare Omaha-marked pig stickers up for auction Sept. 7:

Historic World War II Case V-42 Stiletto and Scabbard, Both U.S.S. Omaha Marked

A descendant of the Fairbairn-Sykes combat knife, the V-42 Stiletto was designed with input from members of the First Special Service Force, the joint American/Canadian arctic and mountain warfare unit that is considered one of the forefathers of modern American Special Forces. While the majority went to the 1st SSF, around 70 were diverted to the Navy, and were among the armament issued to the U.S.S. Omaha.

Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

Specs:

uss-cl-4-omaha-1923-light-cruiser

Displacement: 7,050 long tons (7,163 t) (standard)
Length:
555 ft. 6 in (169.32 m) oa
550 ft. (170 m) pp
Beam: 55 ft. (17 m)
Draft: 14 ft. 3 in (4.34 m) (mean)
Installed power:
12 × Yarrow boilers
90,000 ihp (67,000 kW) (Estimated power produced on trials)
Propulsion:
4 × Westinghouse reduction geared steam turbines
4 × screws
Speed:
35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph)
33.7 knots (62.4 km/h; 38.8 mph) (Estimated speed on trials)
Crew: 29 officers 429 enlisted (peacetime)
Armor:
Belt: 3 in (7.6 cm)
Deck: 1 1⁄2 in (38 mm)
Conning Tower: 1 1⁄2 in (38 mm)
Bulkheads: 1 1⁄2–3 in (38–76 mm)
Aircraft carried: 2 × floatplanes
Aviation facilities:
2 × Amidship catapults
crane
Armament:
(1923)
2 × twin 6 in (152 mm)/53 caliber
8 × single 6 in (152 mm)/53 caliber
2 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 caliber guns anti-aircraft
6 × triple 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
4 × twin 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
224 × mines (removed soon after completion)
(1945)
2 × twin 6 in/53 caliber
6 × single 6 in/53 caliber
8 × 3 in/50 caliber anti-aircraft guns
6 × triple 21 in torpedo tubes
3 × twin 40 mm (1.6 in) Bofors guns
14 × single 20 mm (0.79 in) Oerlikon cannons

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The very sinkable Thomas Oliver Selfridge

selfridge

Nice spyglass, Captain

There stands in U.S. Naval History an officer who drew the black bean not once, or twice, but well…let us just get into it.

Born 6 February 1836 in old Charlestown, Massachusetts just a generation past the War of 1812, T.O. Selfridge, Jr. came from a naval family. His father, Thomas Oliver Selfridge, Sr. had been in the Navy since 1818 and at the time of his son and namesake’s birth was a Lieutenant in the Pacific Squadron.

The younger Selfridge soon enrolled at the United States Naval Academy as an Acting midshipman on 3 October 1851, then graduated at age 18 (they minted them young back then) on 10 June 1854 in the Academy’s first class. There were six members, of which Selfridge was curiously the only one whose first name did not start with a “J.”

-John Sanford Barnes
-John Cain
-Joseph N Miller
-Thomas Oliver Selfridge
-John M Stribling
-James Madison Todd

By then his father was a full captain at the Boston Navy Yard and Selfridge the Younger shipped out on the aging 54-gun frigate USS Independence, then in the Pacific Squadron, for two years. Then came service on the 76-foot coastal survey schooner USS Nautilus before heading to the African Squadron for two years as a master on the 18-gun Boston-class sloop-of-war USS Vincennes, fresh off her famous circumnavigation of the globe.

When Vincennes was laid up in 1860, the young Selfridge was assigned to the “razeed” frigate USS Cumberland who had started life as a 50-gun frigate but was given a major overhaul that stripped her top gun deck away and gave her two dozen 9 and 10-inch Dahlgrens. As flagship of the Home Squadron, Mr. Selfridge was probably looking forward to some easy stateside service out of Hampton Roads after spending almost six solid years at sea and abroad.

Then came secession and Civil War.

A gunnery officer on Cumberland, he was part of the men who went ashore in an effort to burn the naval stores and spike 3,000 or so cannon that were scattered about the huge Navy base at Norfolk after Virginia left the Union. Leaving the port just ahead of state militia, Cumberland was soon in action with the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron exchanging pot shots with Confederate positions on the Virginia coast, watching for blockade-runners, and the like.

Cumberland had the misfortune to run into a converted screw frigate scuttled in the retreat from Norfolk– USS Merrimack, turned into ironclad ram CSS Virginia, on the morning of 8 March 1862. The ironclad crippled Cumberland during a furious cannon exchange, and then rammed in her forward starboard bow, sending her to the bottom. While Virginia took a good licking from Cumberland‘s big Dahlgrens, at the end of the day, the ironclad was still afloat and Cumberland was not.

Sinking of the Cumberland James Gurney

Sinking of the Cumberland James Gurney

The survivors of Cumberland, Selfridge included (he was able to slip out of a water filled gun port) soon were dispersed in other assignments throughout the Navy. He briefly commanded USS Monitor, after Lieutenant John L. Worden was wounded, and was soon sent off to another experimental vessel.

Selfridge was sent to the oar-powered submersible (not making this up) Alligator in August where he was the first U.S. Navy officer to command a submarine, though this endeavor tanked miserably. The tests of the green-hulled boat proved unsatisfactory, with the waterlogged ship left adrift as they helplessly floated down the river until rescued, leading Selfridge to pronounce “the enterprise… a failure.”

Alligator in the James. This shows the boat with the steam tug Satelite in the background in the James River in June of 1862 during the Seven Days Campaign. Drawing by Jim Christley.

Alligator in the James. This shows the boat with the steam tug Satelite in the background in the James River in June of 1862 during the Seven Days Campaign. Drawing by Jim Christley via Navsource.

Finding other work for our young mariner, the Navy put Selfridge in his second command, that of the City-class ironclad river gunboat USS Cairo.

The ships, called “Pook’s Turtles” after their designer, were the United States’ first ironclad warship, pre-dating the USS Monitor by several months. Each cost $191,000 (about $5-million in today’s figures) which was a bargain.

The 175-foot long boat could float in just 6 feet of muddy water and motor upstream at over 8-knots, powered by her 2 horizontal steam engines and five oblong coal-fired boilers pushing a 22-foot wide paddle-wheel at her stern.

However, Selfridge would have his command but a few months as Cairo was sunk by a Confederate remote detonated naval mine in the Yazoo River on 12 December 1862. Though she suffered no casualties, it was the second ship Selfridge had blown out from under him in the same year and he expected to be thrown out of the Navy for it.

Her sistership, the equally unlucky USS Cairo, was sunk by a mine in similar fashion 12 December 1862. Raised in 1964, she is now on display at the Vicksburg military park, some about 75-miles from where the DeKalb sits in Lake Yazoo.

From the NPS:

Though no lives were lost, the sinking of the Cairo earned Selfridge considerable criticism.  Admiral Porter accused him of disobeying orders adding, “My own opinion is that due caution was not observed.”  The admiral, apparently impressed with Selfridge’s aggressiveness, however, later withdrew his censure:  “I can see in it nothing more than one of the accidents of war arising from a zealous disposition on the part of the commanding officer to perform his duty.”

With Naval officers short, he was kept in the trade however and given command two subsequent gunboats of the Mississippi Squadron, the sidewheeler tinclad USS Manitou (20 May 1863-12 July 1863) then the larger the timberclad sidewheeler USS Conestoga from 13 July forward.

Conestoga served on the Black, Tensas, and Ouachita Rivers in the Western Department until she was sunk by collision, 8 March 1864, with USS General Price off Bondurant Point while on her way to join the expedition up the Red River.

Doh! Three ships in three years.

Nonetheless, now-Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr. immediately took command of the brand new Neosho-class monitor USS Osage and arguably put her to good use, helping capture Fort DeRussy and then Alexandria, Louisiana, the latter by herself without firing a shot.

Osage, photographed on the Western Rivers during 1863-64

Osage, photographed on the Western Rivers during 1863-64. Selfridge would use this ship to decapitate the Rebel cavalry in the region– literally.

He later used Osage to great effect at Blair’s Landing where bombardment from the monitor killed Confederate Brig. Gen Thomas Green, the swashbuckling Texas cavalry commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, and most of his staff. It was either that or lose his ship to horse mounted troopers, which would have likely been a bit of a sting to the pride of the Navy.

From Ricky Robinson, SFA State University:

General Green asked the 36th Texas Cavalry to mount and then asked who would follow him to the river. The river was at its lowest level in 10 years and with Texas war whoops and Rebel yells, General Green and these brave men rode right into the Red River, right into the mouths of the Yankee guns. They attacked the Osage and got to within 20 feet of it before being pushed back. Suddenly 6 more Yankee gunboats came around the bend in the river and joined in the fight.

General Green decided to make one more charge on the Osage and he ordered his men to fire directly into the portholes of the vessel in an attempt to capture it. General Green was everywhere encouraging his men and cheering them forward like a true leader does in battle. As he led the Texans to within 40 feet of the Osage, we have all heard that one lucky shot can save or win a battle, which is what happened. Suddenly the Osage fired its guns directly into the charging Texans.

The grape shot scatted like giant buckshot and one ball hit General Green above his right eye, decapitating him on the spot. The Texas cavalrymen saw what had happened and brought the General and his wounded horse from the river. Their beloved general was dead. Slowly, after an hour or so, the firing began to subside and eventually the Confederates pulled back from the river.

Those whiskers! Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge Jr., USN Shown at the time he commanded the USS OSAGE on the Red River in April 1864. Catalog #: NH 2858

Those whiskers! Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge Jr., USN Shown at the time he commanded the USS OSAGE on the Red River in April 1864. It was the nature of that campaign that pitted cavalry charges against river monitors. Catalog #: NH 2858

However, in May, with Selfridge aboard going on three months, Osage grounded on a sandbar near Helena, Arkansas and could not be refloated due to the rapidly falling water level even when some of her armor was removed. As the water receded, the heavy gunboat began to hog at the ends because the sand just supported her middle. This caused her longitudinal bulkheads to split and broke many rivets in her hull and on her deck.

Osage was repaired in place before being refloated at the end of November– but by then Selfridge had been reassigned to the USS Vindicator from where he commanded the gunboats of the then-quiet Fifth District near Waterport, Louisiana/Natchez, Mississippi.

It was in his district and during his time in that saddle that one of his small boats USS Rattler, the infamous little gunboat, shelled a church in Rodney, Mississippi after they lost a number of their crew during a Confederate cavalry raid at said church.

There is this dispatch he fired off to Adm. Porter.

rattler selfridge

After this, Selfridge found himself reassigned out of the rivers to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, where he took command of the Unadilla-class gunboat USS Huron and was given command of a naval landing party in the disastrous attack on Fort Fisher in early 1865.

Sent ashore to command the fourth battalion of Navy’s 1,600-sailor brigade in what was to be an “easy” attack on Fisher’s Northeast Bastion, the force was greeted instead by murderous fire from entrenched and protected elevated positions, in short, walking right into tactical disadvantage of the kind shown in the first 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan— only Selfridge had bluejackets and not Rangers, and no bangalores. A small force of Marines were attached to the brigade, but were in the rear to provide covering fire– because all the bluejackets had were handguns and boarding weapons!

Photo-Navy-Charging-Fort-Fisher

From the Army’s Center for Military History’s take on the Navy Brigade’s attack at Fisher, part of the overall Wilmington Campaign

Already under sporadic cannon and rifle fire, the naval brigade charged in an elongated mass of shouting sailors and marines, with the officers quickly losing control. When the naval bombardment shifted to the sea face to prevent firing into their own troops, the unsupported sailors advanced down the open beach into a deadly hail of rifle fire and canister from Confederates on the fort’s parapets. The sailors and marines moved in bounds, fewer getting up to go forward each time. Confusion reigned as officers fell and order disintegrated. With no covering naval gunfire to suppress them, Confederate defenders stood in the open and fired into the mass below. It became a slaughter. A few sailors reached the foot of the Northeast Bastion, only to be cut down from above. Under withering fire and without direction, the sailors and marines broke, degenerating into a disorganized mob and fleeing back up the beach

Of the action, Selfridge said, “expecting a body of sailors, collected hastily from different ships, unknown to each other, armed with swords and pistols, to stand against veteran soldiers armed with rifle and bayonets” amounted to a tragic and “fatal” mistake.

Indeed, his force lost nearly a quarter of the men who hit the beaches that day as casualties within minutes and accomplished little.

Post war shuffles

When peace broke out in April, Selfridge was soon moved to a desk job at the Naval Academy and married Ellen F. Shepley.

The officer was 29 years of age and had 11 years of sea service under his belt including seeing more elephants than an African game warden, leaving hulls scattered around Southern coastlines and river beds and cannonballs in the occasional church.

It was while at the Academy that Selfridge’s father, the Commodore Selfridge, retired from the Navy after 48 years on 24 April 1866, having spent the Civil War in command of Mare Island Naval Yard. He was later elevated to the rank of Rear Admiral on the retired list.

In 1867, Selfridge the Younger was made commander of the Academy’s training ship, the old sail frigate USS Macedonian, took mids out on cruises from Newport and Annapolis, and then in 1869 was tapped to become something of an explorer.

He led the two year long Selfridge Expedition to the Isthmus of Darien (Panama), dropped off by USS Nipsic. The purpose of the expedition was to determine a canal route and a collection of photographs taken by Timothy O’Sullivan is in the Library of Congress.

Darien Selfridge Survey. The First Reconnoitering Expedition, upon its return from the Isthmus of Darien Survey, No. 1 Commander Selfridge. No. 2. Captain Houston, USMC. No. 3. Lieutenant Goodrell, No. 4. Lieutenant Commander Schulze, No. 5 P.A. Surgeon Simonds, No. 6 P.A. Paymaster Loomis, No. 7 Lieutenant Jasper, No. 8 Mr. Sullivan Asst C.S. , No. 9 Lieutenant Allen, USMC: NH 123343

Darien Selfridge Survey. The First Reconnoitering Expedition, upon its return from the Isthmus of Darien Survey, No. 1 Commander Selfridge. No. 2. Captain Houston, USMC. No. 3. Lieutenant Goodrell, No. 4. Lieutenant Commander Schulze, No. 5 P.A. Surgeon Simonds, No. 6 P.A. Paymaster Loomis, No. 7 Lieutenant Jasper, No. 8 Mr. Sullivan Asst C.S. , No. 9 Lieutenant Allen, USMC: NH 123343

Close up of Selfridge from the above. That's a pimp in a big hat, tall boots and a carbine among the palm trees there.

Close up of Selfridge from the above. That’s a pimp in a big hat, tall boots and a carbine among the palm trees there. Now that is a man who knows how to swim! –*In a sidenote, this photo was taken by renowned early photographer Timothy H. O’sullivan who accompanied Selfridge on the expedition and has some 1,700 of his plates in the Library of Congress from the trip and other travels. O’sullivan was second possibly only to Brady in his images of the Civil War, and was at Fort Fisher at the same time Selfridge was, taking a number of images that endure of the fort to his day (once it was captured.)

Upon returning from Panama, Selfridge was given his father’s old position as commander of the Boston Naval Yard, led a surveying expedition of the Amazon River, was sent to France on a diplomatic mission, and commanded the Torpedo Station at Newport (after all, he had been sunk by a naval mine once before, so he was an expert.)

He made full commander 31 December 1869 and captain 24 February 1881.

The same Civil War whiskers now on Captain Thomas O. Selfridge, USN. Catalog #: NH 2779 Naval History and Heritage Command J. Ludovici, photographer

The same Civil War whiskers now on Captain Thomas O. Selfridge, USN. Catalog #: NH 2779 Naval History and Heritage Command J. Ludovici, photographer. Likely while he was in command of the Newport Torpedo Station.

Then came his final sea command of an individual vessel, that of the Algoma-class screw sloop USS Omaha in the Asiatic Squadron, which he assumed in 1885. It was on Omaha that he decided to give her 9 and 11-inch guns some trigger time within 3-miles of the Japanese coast using the Japanese island of Ikeshima as a backstop on 4 March 1887 and surrounded by fishing smacks before scouting the impact zone ahead of time or notifying the locals.

This peculiar peacetime shore bombardment resulted in the deaths of four Japanese and the wounding of seven others.

Omaha Starboard Profile at dock

Selfridge was relieved by Omaha‘s Executive officer who took him to Yokohama where a Court of Inquiry kept him in suspense for five months. Publicly humiliated, he was sent before an official court at the Washington Naval Yard the next year and acquitted.

Photograph_of_Rear_Admiral_Thomas_O_Selfridge_Jr

Selfridge was sent back to the Boston Navy Yard, was promoted to commodore 11 April 1894 and placed as the President of the Board of Inspection, commanded the European Squadron the next year and was made a rear admiral 28 February 1896– making the first father and son to be admirals on the Naval List–  then represented the U.S. at the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

At the royal pavilion on the Champs de Mars, Moscow Russia circa 27 May 1898. Rear Admiral Thomas O. Selfridge Jr., USN shown with the tsar and tsarina. NH 1906 Naval History and Heritage Command

At the royal pavilion on the Champs de Mars, Moscow Russia circa 27 May 1898. Rear Admiral Thomas O. Selfridge Jr., USN shown with the tsar and tsarina. NH 1906 Naval History and Heritage Command

He retired from the Navy 6 February 1898, just days before the Maine blew up in Havana. Settling in Massachusetts, his father, the senior Rear Admiral Selfridge died in Waverly, Massachusetts in 1902 at the age of 98 and the Clemson-class destroyer USS Selfridge (DD-320) was named for him in 1919.

Selfridge the Younger joined his father in the Neptune’s wardroom in 1924 at the age of 87 and he had a destroyer of his own, the Porter-class USS Selfridge (DD-357), named in his honor in 1936. She earned four battle stars during World War II.

NH 63121

NH 63121

The junior RADM Selfridge has gotten a bad wrap from the history books.

Notably, Selfridge was not just a bad omen for ships he remained on, but those he departed as well.

While Osage was eventually put back into service after being pulled off her sandbar, she was sunk at Mobile Bay in 1865 and both the USS Monitor and submarine Alligator, which Selfridge commanded back-to-back then left for other postings, were later lost at sea. USS Nipsic, the Panama expedition ship, was almost destroyed in a hurricane in Apia Harbor, Samoa in 1889. The school ship he commanded after the Civil War, USS Macedonian, was later converted into a private hotel in New York and burned to the keel while employed as such in 1922. Even the church shelling gunboat Rattler, who he only commanded by proxy, was run aground and lost.

He has been called “The Best Swimmer in the Navy” suffering from the “Selfridge Jinx” and described as The “Jonah Man” of the Civil War Navy which in the end could be all a little harsh.

After all, he was in the first Naval Academy class, served his country for a hair under 47 years, and accomplished a number of notable deeds during the Civil War– though he did have three ships blown out from under him, left a fourth broken on a sandbar, and had his naval landing party mauled for no good result. Yes, he was court marshaled, but he beat the wrap, and in the end the Navy kept him around for another decade after, even promoting him to admiral– something that was exceedingly rare in the fleet of the 1890s.

While the destroyer named after him was scrapped, there are some relics of Selfridge that escaped time. His papers, some 1,900 documents, are preserved in 8 boxes at the Library of Congress, donated by the Naval Historical
Foundation in 1949.

Moreover, Cairo was raised from her muddy grave in the 1960s and has been preserved at the Vicksburg Military Park. When they penetrated the captain’s cabin, they found a number of Selfridge’s belongings preserved by the freshwater mud for 104 years. Several of them are on display at the park including his misspelled stamp and a Colt 1849 revolver.

COLT 1849 POCKET REVOLVER. SIX SHOT. OCTAGONAL BARREL. ON LEFT SIDE OF FRAME IS PRINTED "COLTS PATENT" SERIAL NUMBER "75447" PRINTED IN 4 PLACES. WALNUT GRIP, BRASS TRIGGER GUARD. BRASS BACK-STRAP DOWN BACK OF GRIP HAS 'T.O. SELFRIDGE, U.S.N., SEPT. 1861" INSCRIBED ON IT IN FANCY SCRIPT, SLIGHTLY WORN. NOTE; FUNCTIONAL MOVING PART

COLT 1849 POCKET REVOLVER. SIX SHOT. OCTAGONAL BARREL. ON LEFT SIDE OF FRAME IS PRINTED “COLTS PATENT” SERIAL NUMBER “75447” PRINTED IN 4 PLACES. WALNUT GRIP, BRASS TRIGGER GUARD. BRASS BACK-STRAP DOWN BACK OF GRIP HAS ‘T.O. SELFRIDGE, U.S.N., SEPT. 1861″ INSCRIBED ON IT IN FANCY SCRIPT, SLIGHTLY WORN. NOTE; FUNCTIONAL MOVING PART

Thomas O. Selfridge stencil recovered from the Cairo in the 1960s on display at the Vicksburg military park

Oh yeah, and they did wind up building that canal as well.