Tag Archives: Virgin Islands 1917

Warship Wednesday, July 6, 2022: Dispatches from the New Navy

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, July 6, 2022: Dispatches from the New Navy

Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 69187

Above we see the one-of-a-kind steel-hulled dispatch boat USS Dolphin (later PG-24) off New York City, about 1890. Note the Statue of Liberty in the right background. A controversial warship when she first appeared, she later proved to have a long and star-studded career.

Dolphin was part of the famed “ABCD” ships, the first modern steel-hulled warships of the “New Navy” ordered in the early 1880s along with the protected cruisers USS Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago. While the ABC part of this quartet was built to fight, running 3,200 tons in the case of Atlanta and Boston and 4,500 tons for Chicago, with as much as 4-inches of armor plate and a total of eight 8-inch, 20 6-inch, and two 5-inch guns between them, Dolphin was, well, a lot less of a bruiser.

Laid down on 11 October 1883 as an unarmored cruiser by John Roach and Sons, Chester, PA, Dolphin hit the scales at just 1,485 tons with a length of 256 feet (240 between perpendiculars). Her armament was also slight, with a single 6″/30 Mark 1 (serial no. 1), three 6-pounders, four 3-pounders, and two Colt Gatling guns.

6″/30 (15.2 cm) Mark I gun on the protected cruiser USS Atlanta circa 1895. Note three-motion breech mechanism and Mark 2, Muzzle Pivot Mount inclined mounting. Dolphin was to carry one of these, but it wasn’t to be. Detroit Publishing Company Collection Photograph Library of Congress Photograph ID LC-USZ62-60234

However, although all the ABC cruisers would successfully carry 6″/30s along with their other wild mix of armament, it was soon seen that Dolphin was too light for the piece and she transitioned to two 4″/40 (10.2 cm) Mark 1 pieces as her main armament.

Equipped with four (two double-ended and two single-ended) boilers trunked through a centerline stack pushing a single 2,253ihp vertical compound direct-acting engine on a centerline shaft, she also had a three-mast auxiliary sail rig, a hermaphrodite pattern carried by all the ABCD ships. With everything lit and a clean hull, it was thought she could make 17 knots on a flat sea, something that was thought to equal 15 knots in rough conditions.

Brooklyn, NY. Dock No 2 with USS Dolphin (dispatch boat) showing her hull shape, masts, stack, and screw. USN 902198

Unofficial plans, USS Dolphin, published in the Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1893. By Deutsch Lith and Ptg Co., Photo-Lith, Balto. NH 70119

However, in the spring and summer of 1885, the ship was the subject of much controversy. The first of the ABCD ships nearing completion, she could not make her target speed under any condition, barely hitting 14 knots, and incapable of sustaining that for over six hours. Meanwhile, the Herreshoff-built steam yacht Stiletto was hitting 24.8 knots and the Cunard steamship Etruria was logging over 19 sustained across a 72-hour period.

That, coupled with the issue of armament, led to a special board directed by President Chester A. Arthur’s SECNAV Bill Chandler to inspect and evaluate Dolphin, which was accordingly reclassified as a dispatch boat rather than a cruiser.

A subsequent board formed by President Cleveland’s incoming SECNAV William C. Whitney, consisting of Capt. George E. Belknap, Commanders Robley D. Evans, William T. Sampson, and Caspar F. Goodrich (all of which became famed admirals); Naval Constructor Francis Bowles, and one Mr. Herman Winters, was formed to criticize the first board later that fall, and by early 1886 it was deemed Dolphin had caulking and planking issues, a few defective steel trusses, and her plant was never able to make the designed 2,300 hp on her original boilers. Further, it was thought her powerplant and battery were too exposed to any sort of fire to be effective in combat.

The papers were filled with drama, with the New York Times archives holding dozens of stories filed on the subject that year.

“Cruelty” Dolphin: “What! go to sea, Secretary Whitney! Why, that might make me seasick!'”– says the caption of this Thomas Nast cartoon published in Harper’s weekly, satirizing the mediocre performance during sea trials of the USS Dolphin, one of four vessels ordered by Congress in 1883 to rebuild a United States Navy that was in disrepair. Secretary of the Navy William Whitney refused to accept the new ship, setting off a well-publicized political controversy and eventually driving the shipbuilder into bankruptcy. Via the NYPL collection.

“John Roach’s little miscalculation” Illustration shows Secretary of the Navy, William C. Whitney, handing a boat labeled “Dolphin” to James G. Blaine who shies away, refusing to accept it; in the background, John Roach, a contractor, who built the ship “Dolphin”, is crying because the Cleveland administration has voided his contract. Published in Puck, May 20, 1885, cover. Art by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler. Via LOC

Completed on 23 July 1884, Dolphin was only commissioned on 8 December 1885, while the Navy would work out her issues and pass on her lessons learned to the other new steel warships being built.

Notably, her skipper during this period was Capt., George Dewey (USNA 1858), later to become the hero of Manila Bay.

The first of the vessels of the “New Navy” to be completed, Dolphin was assigned to the North Atlantic Station, cruising along the eastern seaboard until February 1886 when it was deemed, she was ready to undertake longer runs, embarking in a stately three-year, 58,000-mile deployment and circumnavigation of the globe under CDR George Francis Faxon Wilde (USNA 1865). America had to show off her new warship via foreign service.

Accordingly, as noted by DANFS, “she then sailed around South America on her way to the Pacific Station for duty. She visited ports in Japan, Korea, China, Ceylon, India, Arabia, Egypt, Italy, Spain, and England, and the islands of Madeira and Bermuda, before arriving at New York on 27 September 1889 to complete her round-the-world cruise.”

USS Dolphin, some of the ship’s officers, with a monkey mascot, circa 1889, likely picked up on the way round the globe. Odds are the officer holding him is CDR George Francis Faxon Wilde. Decorated as a midshipman at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Wilde would go on to command the monitor USS Katahdin, the cruiser USS Boston during the Span Am War, and the battleship USS Oregon then retire in 1905 as head of the Boston Navy Yard. NH 54538

This trip, with the ship proving her worth, led to her appearing in the periodicals of the day in a much more impressive take. 

Dispatch-vessel Dolphin from The Illustrated London News 1891

Harpers Weekly cover USS Dolphin

Harper’s Weekly January 1886 USS Dolphin in sails

By the time she arrived back home, the Navy’s other steel ships were reaching the fleet and they all became part of the new “Squadron of Evolution.”

USS Dolphin (1885-1922); USS Atlanta (1886-1912); and USS Chicago (1889-1935) off New York City, about 1890. NH 69190

As with most Naval vessels of the era, Dolphin would spend her career in and out of commission, being laid up in ordinary and reserve on no less than three times between 1891 and 1911, typically for about a year or so. Today the Navy still conducts the same lengthy yard periods but keeps the vessels in commission.

In April 1891, Dolphin was detached from the Squadron of Evolution and the Navy made $40,000 available for her cabins to be refitted to assume the task of Presidential yacht from the older USS Despatch, a much smaller (560 ton) vessel that was in poor condition.

She would continue this tasking off and on mixed with yearly fleet exercises and experiments for the rest of her career.

Speaking to the latter, in April 1893, she embarked pigeons from the Naval Academy lofts, the Washington Navy Yard’s loft in Richmond, and of Philadelphia Navy Yard then released them while steaming off Hampton Roads. The birds all made it back to their nests, covering 98 miles, 212, and 214 miles, respectively, delivering short messages penned by the daughter of SECNAV Hilary A. Herbert.

The same year, she took part in the bash that was the Columbian Naval Review in New York, where Edward H. Hart of the Detriot Post Card Co. captured several striking views of her with her glad rags flying.

Dolphin LC-D4-8923

Dolphin LC-D4-20362


In 1895, she carried out a survey mission to Guatemala

She carried President William McKinley and his party to New York for the ceremonies at Grant’s Tomb on 23 April 1897.

Grant Tomb dedication, 1897: View of Grant’s tomb, Claremont Heights, New York City, in the background, and the USS Dolphin and tugboats in the foreground. J.S. Johnston, view & marine photo, N.Y. LOC LC-USZ62-110717

Then came war.


In ordinary when the USS Maine blew up in Havanna, Dolphin recommissioned on 24 March 1898 just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. She then rushed south to serve on blockade duty off Havana, Cuba, a mission she slogged away on during April and May.

It was during this period she captured the Spanish vessel Lola (31 tons) with a cargo of fish and salt.

She covered her white and buff scheme with a more warlike dark grey. 

U.S. Navy gunboat/dispatch vessel USS Dolphin (PG-24), port bow. Photographed by J.S. Johnston, 1898. LOC Lot-3370-8

USS Dolphin overhauling Schooner Kate [Kate S. Flint] with an unknown young woman in white. Dolphin in distance. Santiago de Cuba. 1898 Stevens-Coolidge Place Collection via Digital Commonwealth/Massachusetts libraries system.

A second view of the same centered on Dolphin.

On 6 June she came under fire from the Morro Battery at Santiago and replied in kind. Less than two weeks later, on 14 June, Dolphin bombarded the Spanish positions in the Battle of Cuzco Well, near Guantanamo Bay, carrying casualties back to the American positions there.

Sent back to Norfolk with casualties, she arrived there on 2 July and the war ended before she could make it back to Cuba.

U.S. Navy dispatch vessel, USS Dolphin, port view with flags. Lot 3000-L-5

Good work if you can get it

Her wartime service completed; Dolphin would spend the next two decades heavily involved in shuttling around dignitaries. This would include:

  • Washington Navy Yard for the Peace Jubilee of 14 May to 30 June 1899.
  • New York for the Dewey celebration of 26 to 29 September 1899.
  • Alexandria, Va., for the city’s sesquicentennial on 10 October 1899.
  • Took the U.S. Minister to Venezuela to La Guaira, arriving in January 1903.
  • From 1903 through 1905 she carried such dignitaries as the Naval Committee, Secretary of the Navy, Admiral and Mrs. Dewey, the Philippine Commissioners, the Attorney General, Prince Louis of Battenberg and his party, and President T. Roosevelt on various cruises.
  • Participating in the interment of John Paul Jones at the Naval Academy, and the departure ceremonies for the Great White Fleet, in 1908.

Early in August 1905, she carried the Japanese peace plenipotentiaries from Oyster Bay, N.Y., to Portsmouth, N.H., to negotiate the settlement of the Russo-Japanese War.

Footage exists of her role in the event.

She also was used in survey work during this time, completing expeditions to Venezuela and the southeast coast of Santo Domingo, in addition to carrying inspection boards to survey coaling stations in the West Indies.

She also had a series of updates. For instance, in 1910, she had her original single/double-ended boilers replaced with cylindrical boilers. In 1911, she had her 6-pounder mounts deleted due to obsolescence, and in 1914 her 4″/40s were removed as well. She also had her masts reconfigured from three to two in the early 1900s.

USS Dolphin steaming alongside USS Maine (BB-10), with the Secretary of the Navy on board, circa 1903-1905. Note she still has her figurehead bow crest. Description: Collection of Mr. & Ms. Joe Cahn, 1990. NH 102421

USS Dolphin docked at the western end of the Washington Navy Yard waterfront, District of Columbia, circa 1901. The view looks north. The old experimental battery building is on the right. NH 93333

USS Dolphin (PG-24) photographed following the reduction of her rig to two masts, during the early 1900s. Note her bowcrest figurehead is now gone. NH 54536

Back to haze grey! USS Dolphin (PG 24), which was used as a dispatch ship of the Naval Review for President William Taft in New York City, New York, on October 14, 1912. Note the battleship lattice masts in the distance and the torpedo boat to the right. Published by Bain News Service. LC-DIG-GGBAIN-10794

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt in the crow’s nest of the dispatch boat USS Dolphin off Old Point Comfort, VA during the Naval review. 10/25/1913. National Archives Identifier: 196066910

ASECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt on the USS Dolphin in 1913, observing gunnery trials of the fleet

USS Dolphin view looking forward from the bridge, taken while the ship was at sea in February 1916. Note ice accumulated on deck and lifelines. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. NH 103039

War (again!)

Sailing from the Washington Navy Yard on 2 April 1917 to take possession of the recently purchased Danish Virgin Islands, four days later, Dolphin received word of the declaration of war between the United States and Germany. Arriving at St. Croix in the now-USVI on 9 April, she would carry the new American Governor-General James Oliver to and St. John on 15 April for a low-key flag-raising ceremony. The islands had initially been handed over in a ceremony on 31 March between the Danish warship Valkyrien and the American gunboat USS Hancock, but Oliver’s arrival on Dolphin sealed the deal.

Remaining in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean region to protect merchant shipping from German raiders and U-boats, Dolphin would pick up a camouflage scheme as she served as flagship for the very motley American Patrol Detachment at Key West, gaining a new 4″/50 gun and depth charges to augment her surviving 6-pounders.

USS Dolphin at Galveston, Texas, 1 March 1919. Photographed by Paul Verkin, Galveston. Note that the ship is still wearing pattern camouflage nearly four months after the World War I Armistice. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2007. NH 104949

She would remain in her quiet backwater into June 1920, when she was finally recalled to the East Coast and a short overhaul at Boston.

USS Dolphin (PG-24) at dock at Boston Navy Yard, MA, September 1920, back to a grey scheme. She had been designated a Patrol Gunboat, PG-24, 17 July 1920. S-553-J

Now 35 years old and with the Navy in possession of many much finer and better-outfitted vessels, Dolphin would have one last cruise. As the flagship of the Special Service Squadron, she joined the gunboat USS Des Moines (PG-29) in October 1920 to represent the U.S. at the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Straits of Magellan. The next year, she would attend the anniversary of Guatemalan independence.

Dolphin arrived at Boston Navy Yard on 14 October 1921. She was decommissioned on 8 December 1921 and was sold on 25 February 1922 to the Ammunition Products Corp. of Washington, DC. for scrapping. Rumors of her further service in the Mexican navy are incorrect, confusing a former steamer originally named Dolphin for our dispatch ship.


Few relics remain of Dolphin. Like most of the American steel warships, in 1909 she had her ornate bow crest removed and installed ashore. It was photographed in Boston in 1911 and, odds are, is probably still around on display somewhere on the East Coast.

Figurehead, USS Dolphin photographed in the Boston Navy Yard, 15 December 1911. NH 115213.

Her bell popped up on eBay in 2019 with a kinda sketchy story about how it got into civilian hands.

The National Archives has extensive plans on file for her. 

As for her name, the Navy recycled it at least twice, both for submarines: SS-169 and AGSS-555, the former a V-boat that earned two battlestars in WWII and the latter a well-known research boat that served for 38 years– the longest in history for a US Navy submarine.

Speaking of WWII, importantly, between 1915 and 1917, our USS Dolphin’s 18th skipper was one LCDR William Daniel Leahy (USNA 1897) who, interacting with then ASECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt, would become close companions. Although retired after service as CNO in 1939, Leahy would be recalled to service as the personal Chief of Staff to FDR in 1942 and served in that pivotal position throughout World War II. It is rightfully the little dispatch ship’s greatest legacy.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in conference with General Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Chester Nimitz, and Admiral William D. Leahy, while on tour in the Hawaiian Islands., 1944. 80-G-239549

Displacement 1,485 t.
Length 256′ 6″
Length between perpendiculars 240′
Beam 32′
Draft 14′ 3″
Speed 15.5 kts.
Complement 117
1910 – 152
1914 – 139
Armament: Two 4″ rapid fires, three 6-pounder rapid-fire guns, four 3-pounder rapid-fire guns, and two Colt machine guns
1911 – Two 4″/40 rapid-fire mounts and five 3-pounder rapid-fire guns
1914 – Six 6-pounder rapid-fire mounts
1921 – One 4″/50 mount and two 6-pounders
Propulsion two double-ended and two single-ended boilers (replaced by cylindrical boilers in 1910), one 2,253ihp vertical compound direct-acting engine, one shaft.

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Warship Wednesday, June 23, 2021: The St. Thomas Slugger

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, June 23, 2021: The St. Thomas Slugger

Danish National Library DH030850

Here we see the krydserkorvetten (cruiser corvette) Valkyrien of the Royal Danish Navy in exotic Hong Kong on 8 April 1900 while notably under the command of H.K.H. Prins Valdemar, son of then-King Christian IX. Note the junks, small vessel traffic, and destroyers near the gleaming white Nordic warship, which is firing a salute to the harbor battery. Ushered in just after Denmark suffered twin military humiliations, the relatively mighty vessel– for the Danes– would have a quiet and long-ranging career, making several footnotes in history.

Laid down at Orlogsværftet København for the Danish admiralty 27 October 1888, she was reportedly a close cousin of the Armstrong-built Chilean protected cruiser Esmeralda (2,992 tons, 18.3 kts, 2 x 10″/30, 6 x 6″/26) but had a different armament (Krupp-made: 2 x 8.2″/35, 6 x 6″/32), more economical domestic Burmeister & Wain machinery of a lower horsepower, and thicker armor (up to 2.5-inches rather than 1-inch), factors that dropped her speed to 17 knots.

Chilean cruiser Esmeralda by Edoardo de Martino Tyne & Wear Museums Maritime and Industrial Collection http://www.artuk.org/artworks/esmeralda-41851

Using a dramatic ram bow, in vogue after 1866, Valkyrien also had some other tricks up her sleeve to include five above deck torpedo tubes arrayed at various angles from her beam (two bows, one stern, two amidships) and carried a pair of 68-foot Thornycroft-made torpedo boats (Torpedobaad Nos. 10 and 11) which were capable of independent operations.

Orlogsmuseet – Model of the Danish Cruiser Valkyrien. Note her ram bow

VALKYRIEN (Danish Cruiser, 1888) Photographed circa 1890 with 2nd class torpedo boat numbers 10 and 11 embarked. NH 85380

A celebration of the Viking choosers of the slain, the ship carried war shields, swords, and battle-axes on her bow, and wings on her bow in careful ornamentation. 

Note the auxiliary sail rig

Note her stern “stinger” torpedo tube below the winged crest

At the time of her commissioning, Valkyrien far outclassed the other “cruisers” under the Danish ensign, some of which were more appropriately described as armored schooners: Absalon (533 tons, 1 x 60-pounder, 2 x 5.75″), Fylla & Diana (560 tons, 1 x 60-pounder, 3 x 30 pounder), St. Thomas (1,700 tons, 8 x 4.7-inch guns), and Ingoff (1,012 tons, 2 x 6″). Valkyrien held the heavyweight champ title even as the later Hekla-class of light cruisers– Gejser, Hejmdal, and Fyen (1,282 tons, 2 x 4.7″, 4 x 3.5″, 4 x torpedo tubes, 17 knots) — were delivered in the 1890s. When compared to Denmark’s squadron of “bathtub battleships” or kystforsvarsskibIver Hvitfeldt (3,446 tons, 2 x 10″ guns, 8-inches armor), Skjold (2,195 tons, 1 x 9.4″, 10 inches armor), and the three Trolle-class (~3,500 tons, 2 x 9.4″, 4 x 6″, 7 inches armor) vessels– she also compared favorably in size, if not in throw and armor, while being a couple of knots faster.

Danish Navy’s silhouettes of primary vessels, showing how Valkyrien compared in size against the rest of the fleet.

In short, Valkyrien, from the time of her commissioning to her eventual retirement three decades later, was the ideal vessel to show the Danish flag overseas, especially in her territories such as Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the Danish West Indies (Dansk Vestindien). Her 3,900nm range certainly helped with that. Once she joined the fleet, she became very busy.

In the summer of 1893, she escorted the royal ship yacht Dannebrog to England for the marriage of the Duke of York (grandson of the Danish king) and Princess Marie of Teck. She followed that royal visit up three years later to represent Denmark at Prince Carl of Denmark’s marriage to Princess Maud.

Danish protected cruiser Valkyrien, in a very dark scheme, on a visit to England

She met Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s returning 1896 polar expedition as his famed ship, Fram, arrived back home.

Fram’s return to Kristiania, 9 September 1896. A large fleet of over a hundred small and large ships met Nansen’s ship. Bottom left five torpedo boats, in the middle the new cruiser Valkyrien with her glad rags out, and closest S. S. Haalogaland who had towed Fram (here partly covered by white smoke). Via the Fridtjof Nansen bildearkiv, National Library of Norway

Valkyrien, dansk krysser, krigsskip, Oslofjorden Norwegian archives HHB-15663

In October 1899, she left on a trip to the Far East under Prince Valdemar. No paper sailor, the son of King Christian IX spent most of his life on active duty with the Danish navy– a tradition for a country known for “sailor kings.” She returned home 10 months later, after calling at more than 30 overseas ports.

Danish protected cruiser Valkyrien in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland, circa 1900, in dark scheme.

Prince Valdemar with King Chulalongkorn of Siam. He also met with the Japanese Emperor on the trip

From 1901 through 1902, she continued her out-of-Europe service with a stint as a station ship in the Danish West Indies.

It was during this detail that she sailed to Martinique after a volcanic eruption there which killed over 30,000 people, and her crew participated with local French authorities in the rescue operation at the town of Le Precheur.

Crew members of the Danish cruiser Valkyrien pose with the Krupp ship gun in front of St. Thomas, Via the Orlosmuseet (War Museum), Copenhagen

After a period in ordinary as the fleet expanded, she returned to service with a Med cruise in 1913-1914 on the eve of the Great War. Once Europe was ablaze in conflict, she donned a wartime scheme and maintained a defensive posture in home waters, serving through 1915 as a barracks and school ship training Sikringsstyrken, or security forces.

Then came a wartime modernization, landing her old 8.2- and 6-inch guns in favor of more modern weapons, albeit of a smaller caliber. Her 8.2s had a rate of fire of one shot every three minutes and the original 6-inchers could achieve one shot per. minute. The new 6-inch guns she mounted in place of her main battery could fire 5-6 rounds per minute, as could her new secondary battery, composed of 3-inch guns.

Danish protected cruiser Valkyrien 1919, wartime grey scheme

Shoving off for the Danish West Indies in November 1915, she remained in place as a station ship in that far-off territory as the U.S. and others sought to purchase the islands for their own use. Times were tense on the ground, with wartime shortages, labor problems, local unrest, and Great Power spies all on the list of problems. The cruiser’s captain, CDR Henri Konow, became local governor when the vessel arrived.

H. M. S. Valkyrien ved Frederiksteds, 1915. DT133709

Valkyrien i St.Thomas havn 1915 DT130531

Valkyrien Virgin Islands DVS 0062-1236-900-600-80

In October 1916, the islands were slammed by a strong Category 3 hurricane that left the Danish bark Thor wrecked, three steamers grounded, as well as the schooner Irma II and sloop Faith sunk. It was Valkyrien’s officers who sounded the alarm about the oncoming storm, firing her guns and rockets on command of Konow, and her crew that saved dozens of lives in and around St. Thomas while, as telecommunications and electricity were knocked out, her searchlights and signal lamps illuminated the night sky. The ship’s junior surgeon was sent to Saint John to render assistance due there as there was no medical personnel on that nearby island.

Following along that vein, Valkyrien was the muscle on hand representing the Danish government at the transfer of the colony to Uncle Sam on 31 March 1917, just days before the American entry into WWI. Her band played during the ceremony while an armed 24-man honor guard drawn from her crew marched in tandem with a squad of local gendarmes and Yankee bluejackets from the transport USS Hancock (AP-5), who was very lightly armed with only a few 3-inch guns.

Valkyrien crew on Transfer Day March 31st, 1917

Konow and a dozen of his officers looked on, surrounded by consular representatives of foreign nations and the American delegation. It was Konow who had read the public proclamation of the even aloud two weeks prior, an act that notified the locals of the change in management.

Once the flags were exchanged at 1600hrs, Valkyrien and Hancock fired 17-gun salutes across St. Thomas harbor. Notably in the port at the time were the interned German ocean liners Wasgenwald and Calabria of the Hamburg America Line, who watched the events cautiously.

Valkyrien as the Danish flag comes down, Hancock is behind her. DH009717

Valkyrie salute 1917 DH009665

The territory (save for 500-acre Vand or Water Island, which was retained as property of the Danish East Asiatic Company until 1944) became the U.S. Virgin Islands with Hancock’s skipper, LCDR Edwin Taylor Pollock, becoming Acting Governor. Hancock’s crew would take the German steamers into custody just a week later as the U.S. declared war on the Kaiser.

Deprived of a station to serve overseas, Valkyrien returned home, served as a quarantine vessel during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, and soon got back to her globetrotting once the war ended.

Used as a training vessel for naval cadets as newer cruisers were available for front-line use, she stopped at Egypt and Malta during her 1919 summer cruise to pick up 160 former German POWs of Danish extraction from the British and returned them to Denmark. That winter she performed the same task in visits to Holland, Belgium, and France, repatriating 135 further Danes, most of whom lived in German-controlled Southern Jutland where the Kaiser’s army conscripted over 30,000 Danish-speaking residents into his legions, over the howls of Copenhagen. The Schleswig Plebiscite later returned much of the region, captured by the Prussians in 1864, to Danish control.

Her summer cruise in 1921 carried, besides her cadets, King Christian X, who used the opportunity to pay visits to the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Christian, who had spent four years with the Danish army as a dragoon officer and would later become famous for his daily horseback rides through German-occupied Copenhagen in WWII, proved adept at instructing the boys in close order drill and morning calisthenics.

Christian is the mustachioed officer with carefully parted hair. If your sovereign is behind you doing calisthenics, you are gonna do calisthenics

Laid up in 1923, Valkyrien was sold for scrap the next year.


She is remembered in period maritime art and postcards. Danish maritime artist Christian Benjamin Olsen, who sailed on her several times, painted no less than three handsome portraits of the cruiser.

The Valkyrie Off Tenerife, 1923 Olsen

“The Spanish general visiting the Danish ship of war Valkyrien.” Signed Chr. Benjamin Olsen, Santa Cruz

Cruiser Valkyrien by Christian Benjamin Olsen, 1913 at Royal Danish Naval Museum

A set of plans is in the U.S. National Archives. 

She is probably best known for her Virgin Islands service and is noted there annually on Transfer Day, observed each March. Konow, her skipper during the transfer, later retired as a vice admiral and served the Danish government in the 1920s as Minister of Defense and Minister of Foreign Affairs. A holder of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog, he died in 1939 (ironically the same year as Prince Valdemar, another of her famous captains) and is well remembered in Danish history. 


(Jane’s 1914 listing)

Displacement: 3,020 tons
Length: 266.75 ft.
Beam: 43.25 ft.
Draft: 18.25 ft.
Machinery: Burmeister & Wain, 2 VTE, 6 cylindrical boilers, 5,300shp
Speed: 17.4 knots
Range: 3,900nm at 10 knots on 496 tons coal
Crew: 282 to 310
2 x 21 cm/32cal Krupp C/86 L/35 bagladekanoner
6 x 15 cm/32cal Krupp C/88 L/35 bagladekanoner
4 x 57 mm/40cal Hotchkiss kanoner
8 x 37 mm/17cal Hotchkiss kanoner
2 x 8mm machine guns
5 x 381 mm above water torpedoapparater (later reduced to three in 1913, deleted in 1919)

2 x 14.9 cm/32cal L/50 M.06 bagladekanoner (from Peder Skram)
4 x 75 mm/52 L/55 M.12 patronkanoner (increased to six in 1919)
2 x 57 mm/40cal Hotchkiss kanoner
2 x 37 mm/17cal Hotchkiss kanoner

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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.

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Warship Wednesday April 5, 2017: Of black cats, bad luck and tempests

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, April 5, 2017: Of black cats, bad luck, and tempests

LC-DIG-det-4a15636 Click to big up.

Here we see Peter Arrell Brown Widener’s custom-built schooner-rigged steam yacht Josephine visiting New York’s Larchmont Yacht Club in the summer of 1896 by the Detroit Publishing Co, John S. Johnston, photographer. This beautiful ship would go on to spend most of her life in military service and die a sad death at the hands of the ocean.

First off, who was Widener?

As noted by the Philly History Blog: 

There were few people in Philadelphia who could rival the wealth of Peter A.B. Widener. Born on November 13, 1834, to a bricklayer, Widener worked as a butcher and saved enough money to start one of the first meat store chains in the country. He also began buying stocks in street railways. Together with his friend William L. Elkins, Widener eventually controlled the streetcar system in Philadelphia. His wealth grew even more as he became involved in public transportation systems in Chicago and other cities. He later expanded his power by purchasing large blocks of stock in the United States Steel Corporation, Standard Oil, and Pennsylvania Railroad.

In late 1895, Mr. PAB, a director at the time of the White Star Line (future builders of the RMS Titanic) ordered from Lewis Nixon Shipbuilders, Elizabethport, NJ, a grand steam yacht for personal use. As described by the Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers of that year, for $400,000 the yard crafted a 257-foot (oal) vessel in just 10 months. Powered by a 1250 IHP quadruple expansion engine fed by two boilers, she could make 17 knots. She was exceptionally appointed:

The bridge extends across the boat, with wheel, compasses and chart table. Under the bridge will be the chart room and aft the captain’s room extending the width of the house, 12 feet. Next aft on the upper deck will be the library, 26 by 12 feet. Over this apartment will be an elliptical skylight for ventilation and a dome. The engine room skylight will be aft the library, and the remainder of the upper deck will be given up to a promenade, 145 feet in length.

At the forward end of the space under the bridge will be the owner’s rooms, each 19 by 15 feet. Aft, will be the bathroom, Between the bathrooms a stairway will extend to four lower guest rooms. From the stairs, a passageway will lead to the dining room, whose dimensions will be 30 feet 6 inches by 16 feet. Aft, the starboard side will be the reception room, 29 by 9 feet, extending half the yacht’s width and over the engine room. It will be finished in antique oak, paneled.

At the after end of the ladies’ room will be a mahogany staircase…

You get the idea. Besides the above, of course, was extensive pantry space, trunk storage, bunkerage for 240 tons of coal, a full kitchen, maids’ quarters with four berths, and separate messing/bunking and pantry space for the crew, quartermaster and ship’s captain.

Named after Mr. Widener’s beloved wife, Hannah Josephine Dunton Widener, the yacht Josephine was palatal.

On her first voyage, a planned summer cruise from Philadelphia along the Maine coast saw Josephine, with the Widener family aboard, call on Bar Harbor– then a popular getaway summer resort for the rich and famous– Friday, 31 July 1896. The next morning, Mrs. Widener was found expired in her bed, age 60. An attending physician ruled her death due to heart disease and the brand-new yacht, her gay bunting stowed, sailed sadly to New York where the late Mrs. Widener was taken back to Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery to be placed in the family vault.

The proud vessel was tied to pier side and sat swaying at her ropes.

When war with Spain came, Mr. Widener sold his unwanted steamship to the U.S. Navy for reportedly 1/10th of her value on 9 April 1898. Her life as a grand yacht had lasted less than two years.

As for Mr. Widener, his son and grandson perished on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic in 1912 and he died in 1915, aged 80. His daughter-in-law built Harvard University’s Widener Memorial Library to honor those lost on Titanic.

At the time the Navy needed to rapidly expand and among the ships acquired for Spanish-American War service were no less than 28 yachts. A baker’s dozen of these former pleasure craft were large ships, exceeding 400 tons. With relatively good gun-carrying capacity and sea-keeping capabilities, most saw service off Cuba where they were used as scouting vessels and dispatch ships.

Speaking of guns, the Navy needed some in a hurry to arm all these yachts with. After contacting Vickers, the company in March 1898 sold the Americans 16 Maxim-Nordenfeldt “1pdr Automatic Guns” from a Russian contract that had been reworked. These 37mm “pom-pom” heavy machine cannon had a cyclic rate of 250-300 rounds per minute and could perforate a 1-inch iron plate at 100 yards.

The Navy issued these guns to several armed yachts and up-armed Revenue Marine Cutters.

Our converted yacht was given two of these 1-pdrs

Click to big up. Note the great bushy lip lizards and the BM to the right smoking a square. Also, there is a three-piper warship in the distance. LC-DIG-det-4a13890

Plus, she was given two manually loaded 1-pdrs

Note the flat cap and the canvas bags marked ‘Tourniquet” LC-DIG-det-4a14809

And four 6-pdrs (57mmm) Hotchkiss breechloaders.


The Navy renamed most of these yachts and Josephine was no exception. She was the 6th Navy ship since 1803 to be christened USS Vixen (Patrol Yacht No. 4).

Vixen was commissioned on 11 April 1898– just two days after her sale– with Lt. (J.G) Alexander Sharp (USNA 1873) in command. Sharp had before the war had served as an aide to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt.  Among the 5 officers and a 74-man crew were Midshipman Thomas C. Hart (later of WWII Asiatic Fleet fame) and Midshipman Arthur MacArthur III, (Douglas “I shall return” MacArthur’s brother). On 6 May 1898, MacArthur was promoted to ensign.

U.S.S. Vixen, Capt. and officers, 1898. Can you spot the very MacArthur-looking figure in the back row? LC-DIG-det-4a14811

There was also a mascot, a black cat appropriately enough given the ship’s history. U.S.S. Vixen, Miss Vixen, the mascot. LC-DIG-det-4a13999

Given a gray coat of paint, she was now a warship. LC-DIG-det-4a14831

Vixen 1898. Note the three-master schooner in the distance and a distinctive 1-pdr both forward and aft. This is the only photo I can find of her with canvas aloft. USNHC photo.

As noted by DANFS:

Assigned to the North Atlantic Station, Vixen sailed for Cuban waters on 7 May and arrived off the coast of Cuba nine days later. For the duration of the “splendid little war,” the graceful armed yacht performed a variety of duties, blockading and patrolling, carrying mail and flags of truce, ferrying prisoners, establishing communications with Cuban insurgents ashore, and landing reconnaissance parties. Among her passengers embarked during that time was Colonel (later President) Theodore Roosevelt, of the famous “Rough Riders.”

Vixen was present with at least two other armed yachts, USS Gloucester, and Hist during the Battle of Santiago on 3 July 1898.


Vixen was patrolling off Santiago between 0935 and 0945 and was at a point some four miles to the westward of the distinctive landmark, the Morro Castle. At about 0940, a messenger reported to the captain, Lt. Sharp, that there had been an explosion at the entrance to the harbor. Rushing on deck, Sharp almost immediately sighted the first Spanish vessel to sortie– the cruiser Vizcaya.

Sharp ordered full speed ahead and hard-a-port, a move was taken in the nick of time because of shells from his own ships, alerted to the sortie of Admiral Cervera’s fleet, splashed in the water astern in the yacht’s frothing wake. Vizcaya acknowledged the presence of the yacht in the vicinity when she sent a salvo toward her with her starboard bow guns. Fortunately for Vixen, the shells passed overhead, “all being aimed too high.”

As Vixen gathered speed, she steered south by east, clearing the armored cruiser Brooklyn’s field of fire, about two points on Vixen’s port bow. The yacht then steered west by south, as Sharp wanted to steer a course parallel to that of the Spanish fleet that was then under fire from the other American ships. Unfortunately, the helmsman erred and steered southwest by south-a mistake not discovered until Vixen had steered farther from the action.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn had engaged the leading ships of the Spanish fleet and was trading shell for shell in a spirited exchange of fire. Shells from Cristobal Colon passed over Brooklyn. One splashed “close ahead” and another splashed astern on the yacht’s starboard beam. Several others passed directly overhead, a piece of bursting shell going through Vixen’s battle flag at her mainmast!

Vixen witnessed the battle as it unfolded, but, as her commanding officer observed, “. . . seeing that the Spanish vessels were out of range of our guns while we were well within range of theirs, we reserved our fire.” In fact, Vixen did not fire upon the enemy ships until 1105, when she opened fire on the badly battered Vizcaya, which had gone aground, listing heavily to port. Vixen’s fire was short-lived for Vizcaya’s flag came down at 1107, and Lt. Sharp ordered cease fire. The yacht remained underway to participate in the chase of the last remaining heavy unit of the Spanish fleet, Cristobal Colon until that Spanish warship struck early in the afternoon.

Battle of Santiago, 1898 Caption: USS VIXEN cheering on USS OREGON (BB-3) after the fight. USS VIXEN answering NEW YORK’s (CA-2) signal number, 3 July 1898. Description: From the Collection of Rear Admiral C.H. Taylor Catalog #: USN 903386

Santiago Morro, USS Vixen passing the wreck of the REINA MERCEDES. Note the rakish bow. Source: From a book of letters, etc. kept by Assistant Surgeon William S. Thomas, MRC, USN, Spanish-American War, 1898. #: NH 111953

One gunner, a man by the name of Smith, on the forward 1-pdr, was said to have gotten off 400 rounds on his piece during the battle.

Sure, you are salty, but are you “I shot up the Spanish Navy with 400 shells from a 37mm machine gun while on the bow of a yacht,” salty? U.S.S. Vixen, Maxim machine gun and gunner Smith, LC-DIG-det-4a14810

After the war, the Navy found the 13 large yachts they picked up were a worthwhile investment for a fleet with a new colonial empire. With small crews, they could conduct coastal surveys, carry mail, stores, and passengers for the fleet, perform yeoman service in various sundry duties, wave the flag at small far-off ports too shallow for larger cruisers and battleships, and serve as station ships at the disposal of U.S. counsels.

From 1899 through 1906, Vixen served off Puerto Rico and Cuba, shuttling between there and Key West as needed, painted a gleaming white.

Almost like her yacht days…USS VIXEN (1898-1923, later PY-4) Caption: At Santiago, Cuba, on 20 May 1903. USS OLYMPIA (C-6) is in the right background. Description: Collection of Commander R. Roller Richardson, USN (MC). Donated by B. Bradford Richardson, 1988. Catalog #: NH 96571

Decommissioned 30 March 1906, she was loaned to the New Jersey Naval Militia to serve alongside the monitor USS Tonopah (who in turn was swapped out in 1914 for the old screw gunboat USS Adams) as a training ship. The militia, some 400~ strong, was organized in two battalions with the first battalion on Tonopah/Adams based in Hoboken and the second battalion, based in Camden, headquartered on Vixen.

Photographed circa the early 1900s. USS TERROR (Monitor No. 4) is on the opposite side of the pier. Terror was laid up at Philadelphia from 1906, a port shared by Vixen, so this is likely around that time. Description: Courtesy of Rear Admiral Joseph M. Worthington, USN (retired) Catalog #: NH 90937

In 1910, her 1-pdrs were considered obsolete and were removed, her armament streamlined to a set of 8 6-pdr singles.

As noted by Annual Report of the Operations of the Naval Militia filed with the Navy Dept., Vixen was housed across the Delaware River in Philadelphia as dock space in Camden was inadequate and, besides occasional pier side drills, the ship regularly got underway only for about a week in July every summer. It should come as no shock that reports note, “The men were very poor in handling boats and lubberly” though gun battery drill was exercised as “a box was thrown overboard having a red flag on it and the men took turns firing at the mark with the Colt’s automatic guns,” likely Model 1895 Colt “potato diggers” in 30.06 caliber.

When the U.S. entered the Great War, Vixen was taken back into regular U.S. Navy service in April 1917, her armament again updated with the 6pdrs coming off and four QF 47mm 3-pdrs going on in replacement.

She patrolled off the eastern seaboard and, following the establishment of the Navy activity in the recently acquired Virgin Islands (purchased from Denmark), served as station ship at St. Thomas., USVI for the rest of the conflict, keeping an eye out for the Germans.

About half of her 60-man crew ashore as an armed naval party complete with leggings, cartridge belts, and M1903s. She would remain as station ship in the Virgin Islands for almost six years.

The harbor from the east, showing the USS RAINBOW and USS VIXEN -station ship, also Marine barracks and radio towers. Navy Yard Virgin Islands. Description: Catalog #: NH 122615

Vixen remained in the USVI for several years after the conflict, being called back to New York where she was decommissioned on 15 November 1922.

She was sold 22 June 1923 to the Fair Oaks Steamship Corp. of New York. Besides some federal lawsuits from the same era, little is known about Fair Oaks with the Bureau of Shipping only listing them for a few years in the 1920s, with an office at 17 Battery Place in NYC, and only owning the 413-ton steam tug H.C. Cadmus and (briefly) Vixen. Cadmus later turned up in U.S. Army service as LT332 during WWII and Vixen would quickly be resold to one Barron Gift Collier of South Florida in late 1923.

Named first Tamiami Queen, then Collier County, then Princess Montagu, she was operated on a regular coaster service by Collier’s Florida Inter-Island Steamship Company, Ltd.

She made the 80-mile run from Miami to the Bahamas several times a week carrying mail, freight and 75 (!) overnight berths for first class passengers. Typically, she left Nassau every Monday and Thursday at 8 am and sailed from the P&O dock in Miami on Tuesday and Friday at the same time. She also did weekend excursions from Miami to Cat Island in the Bahamas. As Florida was dry because of Prohibition, and the Bahamas was not, this was a very lucrative junket.

Passenger steamship, Princess Montagu, owned by Barron Collier. She was operated by his Florida Inter-Island Steamship Company, Ltd, and made regular trips between Miami and Nassau. The photograph was probably taken in Miami, c1925. Via Collier County Museums

Then came the Great Bahamas Hurricane of 1929 which left Princess Montagu (nee Josephine) high on Tony Rock outside of Nassau. Thankfully free of passengers, her crew was rescued via lifeline.

She was salvaged in place the next summer.

Besides her plans which are in the Library of Congress, few remnants of Josephine/Vixen remain, though a set of ivory poker chips from her heyday are in circulation.

Note the early white star line logo. Widener was a board member. The first photo in this post also shows this flag flying from both her masts in 1896.

Also, remember those 16 37mm 1-pdrs sold by Vickers to the Navy to arm their new ships in 1898? One of that very lot is still around. Placed on the U.S. Revenue Cutter Manning and used during the Span-Am War, it was recently sold at auction.

These style guns, though considered obsolete before the Great War, were used in that conflict as early AAA, specifically in the role of balloon busters.

German M-Flak (3.7 cm Maschinenkanone Flak). From late 1915 M-Flak batteries defended balloons and important positions and installations. German flak units were part of the Air Service, whilst the majority of the Allied anti-aircraft units were part of the artillery. Sources: https://www.flickr.com/photos/drakegoodma

The world, on the other hand, has not heard the last of Peter A.B. Widener. His immense and architecturally significant Philadelphia mansion was destroyed by fire in 1980. However, it had served as a library for almost four decades and its sale (prior to the inferno that destroyed it) allowed the Widener Branch of the Free Library to remain in service–  its current location is at 2808 West Lehigh Avenue.

Further, in 1972 Pennsylvania Military College rebranded itself after the prominent Widener family, first as Widener College then as Widener University and currently has 6,400 students in attendance. The family over the years has also been scions of thoroughbred horseracing, and Philadelphia professional sports franchises, including the Eagles, the Phillies, the Flyers, the Wings and the 76ers.

Notably, none have a black cat as a mascot.


Displacement: 806 long tons (819 t)
Length: 257 ft. (oa) 182 ft. 3 in (wl)
Beam:   28 ft. 0 in
Draft:    12 ft. 8 in (mean), 16 full load
Propulsion:  1 VTE steam engine, 1250 IHP, twin boilers, auxiliary schooner rig
Speed:  17 kts as built. 15 kts by 1918.
Complement: 5 officers and 74 enlisted (1898), 5 officers, 62 men (1917)
four 6-pounder breechloaders guns
four 1-pounders (2 pom poms, 2 manually loaded)
eight 6-pounders
four 3-pounders

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