Tuesday, July 24, 2007

USS Castine (Gunboat No. 6)

Named after a town in Maine, the USS Castine was launched on 11 May 1892 at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. The ship was commissioned on 22 October 1894 and was immediately assigned to the US Atlantic Fleet. The Castine (along with her crew of 154) circled the globe on her shakedown cruise, traveling to the Azores and then on to Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, Zanzibar, Mozambique, around the Cape of Good Hope, and finally ending her journey at Pernambuco, Brazil, on 13 October 1895. The Castine was a typical gunboat of the day, showing the flag and protecting American lives and property in distant corners of the world. Except for a brief overhaul in Norfolk, Virginia, the Castine continued to patrol South American and West Indian waters for the United States for more than two years.

In March of 1898, just before America’s formal declaration of war against Spain, the Castine was ordered to steam north and join the US Navy’s blockade of Cuba. With a length of 204 feet and a beam of just over 32 feet, the Castine had a speed of 15.5 knots and was armed with eight 4-inch guns and four 6-pounders. Although useful for shelling land targets and intercepting unarmed merchant ships, a gunboat like the Castine was a questionable selection for blockade duty, especially if it ran into a larger, faster, and more powerful warship. Perhaps the US Navy realized the Castine’s limitations, because for the rest of the war she was used to escort merchant transports for the US Army.

In December 1898, the Castine was sent to the Far East. She sailed to the Philippines to help the US Army put down the insurrection that began there shortly after the end of the Spanish-American War. This was the way gunboats were normally used, by shelling land targets and patrolling the coastal waters of countries that did not possess any major naval vessels. The Castine patrolled the southern islands of the Philippines for several months and was then sent to cruise the coast of China until June 1901, when she was sent back to the United States.

From October 1901 to October 1908, the Castine was placed in and out of commission by the Navy, being recalled to active duty every now and then to serve as a gunboat in the South Atlantic or Caribbean. But from October 1908 to May 1913, the Castine served as a submarine tender at naval bases along the East Coast. After that she returned to her more familiar role of US Gunboat, patrolling the Caribbean and the coast of Mexico.

During World War I, the Castine was assigned to the US Naval Patrol Force in Gibraltar on 5 August 1917. She remained there until 21 December 1918. The ship was then sent back to the United States and was decommissioned at the New Orleans Navy Yard in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 28 August 1919. The US Navy then sold this fine ship on 5 August 1921 to a private shipping firm, which converted her into, of all things, a banana boat. The USS Castine met an ignominious end when it was sunk in a collision on the Mississippi River on 12 December 1924.

Tough warships such as the Castine played an important role by patrolling the coasts of foreign lands for the United States for many years. They literally sailed all over the world and did the dirty little jobs that the larger, more glamorous warships could not do. Although few people remember them today, they made their mark on naval history in their own, quiet way.


Figure 1 (Top): Color-tinted post card of a photograph taken of the USS Castine circa 1905 at Pensacola, Florida, by Enrique Muller. It was published by the American News Company, of New York City. Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN (Retired), 1983. U.S. Navy photo. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle, top): USS Castine underway in harbor in 1898, during or shortly after the Spanish-American War. Copied from "The New Navy of the United States," by N.L. Stebbins, (New York, 1912). Donation of David Shadell, 1987. U.S. Navy photo. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Middle, bottom): USS Castine in drydock at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, circa 1905-1908, while out of commission. USS Topeka (1898-1930), also out of commission, is astern of Castine Collection of Harry Gilfillan. U.S. Navy photo. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4 (Bottom): Photograph autographed by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, circa the later 1950s or early 1960s. He served on board the Castine while commanding the Atlantic Fleet Submarine Flotilla between 20 May 1912 and 30 March 1913. U.S. Navy photo. Click on photograph for larger image.