Named after a town in Maine, the gunboat USS Machias was launched at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, on 8 December 1891. She was the sister ship to the USS Castine, which was also built at the Bath Iron Works. The Machias was commissioned on 20 July 1893 and went on her shakedown cruise along the east coast of the United States. In November 1894 the Machias left her home port of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and headed for the Far East, where she was assigned to the US Asiatic Fleet. Her journey would take her to the Azores, Gibraltar, Malta, the Suez Canal, Aden, Ceylon, Singapore, and finally to her new home in Hong Kong, where she arrived on 6 March 1895. The Machias stayed in the Far East for the next two years, protecting American interests primarily in Korea and Japan, but also making occasional visits up the Yangtze River in China. On 16 December 1897 this sturdy gunboat was ordered to return home and she made it back to Boston on 18 March 1898.
The Machias was sent on 7 April 1898 to join the North Atlantic Fleet that was given the task of blockading Cuba. On 11 May 1898 the Machias was ordered to lead an attack on the port of Cardenas, Cuba, along with the US Gunboats Wilmington, Hudson and the torpedo boat Winslow. The Machias was armed with eight 4-inch guns and four 6-pounders, as well as four 1-pounders. With a length of 204 feet, a beam of just over 32 feet, and a crew of 154, the Machias was a typical gunboat designed for operations just like this one. As the small task force neared the port of Cardenas, the Spaniards attacked with three gunboats and began firing highly accurate artillery shells from concealed positions on shore. It was a quick but extremely vicious battle, with Spanish artillery shells almost demolishing the torpedo boat Winslow. But the other three American gunboats gave a stiff reply by bombarding the town of Cardenas, silencing all of the land-based artillery, and destroying two of the three Spanish gunboats. What was left of the Spanish garrison in Cardenas soon gave up, with the American warships winning the day, even though over half of the Winslow’s crew was either dead or wounded. After a few brief stints serving as a transport for Army troops and supplies, the Machias continued on blockade duty until September 1898. After that she returned to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for an overhaul.
On 15 January 1899 the Machias resumed her career as a typical gunboat, patrolling the waters of the Caribbean, the West Indies, and steaming off the coasts of Cuba and Central America. She carried the US Minister to Venezuela on a diplomatic mission in January 1900 and was ordered to return home on 8 July. Oddly, even though she was in almost constant use, the Machias was decommissioned on 14 August 1900 and placed in reserve in Boston.
The Machias was recommissioned on 24 July 1901 and was quickly sent off to Panama and Columbia, where she was given the task of protecting American lives and property during the Panamanian Revolution. After briefly going back to Boston for repairs, the Machias then landed American troops at Boca del Toro, Columbia, from 17 to 19 April 1902. She continued to patrol the coasts of Latin America until 8 January 1903, when she was assigned to the US Navy’s “European Squadron” in the Mediterranean. She visited various European ports until 1 March 1904, when she was ordered back to the United States. The Machias arrived in Pensacola, Florida, on 26 March 1904 and was decommissioned on 14 May. The gunboat languished until she was assigned to the Connecticut Naval Militia on 19 November 1907. After steaming to New York and undergoing a complete overhaul, the Machias was formally handed over to the Connecticut Naval Militia on 27 June 1908. She was based in New Haven, Connecticut, and functioned as a training ship until 27 April 1914, when she was recommissioned back into the regular Navy. Once again the Machias did what she knew best, working as a gunboat in the Caribbean.
On 14 June 1915 the Machias was sent to Vera Cruz, Mexico, to protect American lives and property during one of that country’s bloody revolutions. She returned to New Orleans from October 1915 to February 1916 for repairs, and was then sent back to Mexico to evacuate American nationals from the town of Tuxpan, which was in the middle of some civil unrest at the time. After that the Machias resumed patrolling the Caribbean until the United States entered World War I in April 1917.
During the war the Machias was based at Gibraltar for antisubmarine duty and stayed there until July 1918, when she was ordered home. She was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, for a complete refit and then left in April 1919. This time she was headed for the Pacific via the Panama Canal. After transiting the Panama Canal, the Machias steamed along the west coast of Central America until she finally reached the Mare Island Navy Yard in California on 27 August 1919. She was decommissioned on 3 October 1919 and a year later was sold to the Mexican Navy. Renamed the Agua Prieta, the old gunboat functioned as a transport and coast guard ship for the next 15 years. The Mexican Navy finally scrapped her in 1935.
Both the USS Machias and her sister ship the USS Castine had long and remarkable careers. They literally sailed around the world protecting American interests and they proved to be important naval assets in times of war and peace. Few people today know their names, but they successfully accomplished the many mundane (yet vital) missions that are usually assigned to smaller warships. Their contributions to the US Navy should never be forgotten.
Figure 1 (Top): The USS Machias (Gunboat No. 5) circa 1903. Courtesy U.S. Warships of World War I. Click on Photograph for larger image.
Figure 2 (Middle): The USS Machias off the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 7 August 1901. Courtesy of Howard I. Chapelle, Smithsonian Institution. U.S. Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3 (Bottom): USS Machias (Gunboat No. 5) and USS Castine (Gunboat No. 6) general appearance plan, with decorated mount, showing the ships' preliminary design. It was presented to the Secretary of the Navy (the Honorable Benjamin F. Tracy) by the Chief Constructor, circa the early 1890s. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. U.S. Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.