Tuesday, August 28, 2007
The Vinh-Long was a 5,500-ton screw steamship that was built in 1881 as a military transport for the French Navy. At that time, France had a large empire and ships like the Vinh-Long were needed to move men and material to French colonies all over the world. She continued working as a military transport until the start of World War I, when she was converted into a hospital ship. After the war ended in 1918, the Vinh-Long returned to her former duties as a troop and supply transport.
Early in the morning of 16 November 1922, while sailing with 495 passengers approximately 10 miles off the coast of Turkey in the Sea of Marmora, the Vinh-Long caught fire. The crew tried to extinguish the fire, but the flames spread rapidly throughout the elderly transport. Suddenly, the gunpowder magazines in the after part of the Vinh-Long blew up, causing the fire to engulf almost half of the ship. All seemed lost for both the passengers and crew when, in one of those strange but fortunate quirks of fate, another ship just happened to steam into the area. It was the US Navy destroyer Bainbridge (DD-246) that was passing through the Sea of Marmora on its way to Constantinople.
The Bainbridge was part of a small US naval detachment sent to Turkey in 1922 and was on patrol off the Turkish coast when her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Walter A. Edwards, noticed that a ship was on fire five miles astern of his ship. Edwards quickly ordered the Bainbridge to steam towards the Vinh-Long. Five minutes after he arrived on the scene, another explosion blew the transport’s mainmast over the side. Edwards maneuvered the Bainbridge’s bow alongside the bow of the Vinh-Long, which seemed to be the only part of the transport that was not on fire. Hundreds of passengers (which included civilians as well as military and naval personnel) had gathered on the bow of the Vinh-Long to escape the flames, which were creeping closer to them. As soon as the Bainbridge’s bow was next to the Vinh-Long’s bow, passengers began sliding down rope lines to the American destroyer. Other passengers had made it into the water and were being picked up by lifeboats from the Bainbridge. The crew of the Vinh-Long had also launched several lifeboats and the Bainbridge was picking them up as well. In all, the Bainbridge managed to rescue 482 of the Vinh-Long’s 495 passengers and crew. Concerned that the forward magazines of the Vinh-Long were about to explode, Lieutenant Commander Edwards decided to sail away from the burning transport as soon as the last passenger was brought on board his ship. It was difficult finding room on the small destroyer for all the survivors (since the ship normally carried a crew of about 100), but the Bainbridge managed to get them all back to Constantinople.
As soon as the Bainbridge arrived in Constantinople, the passengers and crew of the Vinh-Long were transferred to the French armored cruiser Waldeck Rousseau. At the time, the rescue by the Bainbridge received much international acclaim. The officers and crew of the destroyer were officially commended for their heroic actions and Lieutenant Commander Edwards received America’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor. Edwards also received the French Legion of Honor and the British Distinguished Service Order.
Although the Vinh-Long had a dramatic end, ships like it typically led a tough and tedious life and received very little recognition. But empires needed them as much as warships in order to survive. They moved troops and military supplies to far-off colonies and brought back people and cargo to the mother country. The Vinh-Long gave France more than 40 years of faithful service. Had it not been for the fortuitous intervention of an American destroyer, she would have met an extremely tragic finish in the Sea of Marmora.
Figure 1 (Top): The Vinh-Long moored at Toulon, France, circa the 1890s. The original print is from Office of Naval Intelligence files. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2 (Middle, Top): The French transport Vinh-Long burning on 16 December 1922. The Vinh-Long is on fire in the Sea of Marmora near Constantinople, Turkey, on the morning of 16 December 1922. Survivors in lifeboats are nearby. Photographed from the USS Bainbridge (DD-246), which was coming to Vinh-Long's assistance. Donation of Frank A. Downey, 1973. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3 (Middle, Bottom): The French Transport Vinh-Long burning on 16 December 1922. The USS Bainbridge (DD-246) noses into Vinh-Long's port bow to remove her survivors, in the Sea of Marmora near Constantinople, Turkey, on the morning of 16 December 1922. This view was taken shortly before an explosion spread flames into the forward part of the ship. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4 (Bottom): The burning French transport Vinh-Long. The Vinh-Long is aflame from stem to stern in the Sea of Marmora near Constantinople, Turkey. This view was taken from the USS Bainbridge (DD-246) soon after she had removed Vinh-Long's survivors. Note that the transport's mainmast has fallen overboard, the result of a series of explosions that spread flames into the forward part of the ship. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Posted by Remo at 3:31 PM