Tuesday, June 30, 2009

USS Wheeling (PG-14)

Figure 1: USS Wheeling (PG-14) at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, circa August 1897. Photo from the William H. Topley Collection, courtesy of Charles M. Loring, Napa, CA, 1972. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: Photograph of USS Wheeling (PG-14) from the 1914 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: Photograph of USS Wheeling (PG-14) from the 1919 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships. Click on photograph for larger image.

USS Wheeling (PG-14) was a 990-ton steel gunboat that was built by the Union Iron Works at San Francisco, California, and was commissioned on 10 August 1897. The ship was approximately 189 feet long and 34 feet wide, had a top speed of 12.88 knots, and had a crew of 140 officers and men. Wheeling was armed with six 4-inch guns, four 6-pounder rifles, two 1-pounders, and a Colt machine gun.

After a trip to the Hawaiian Islands in 1897, Wheeling patrolled off the coast of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands during the Spanish-American War. During the spring of 1899, Wheeling was sent to the Far East to assist in the suppression of the Philippine insurrection. For the next year, Wheeling patrolled the Philippine Islands, escorted troop transports, and assisted in maintaining communications between US Army units throughout the islands. When the infamous Boxer Rebellion erupted in China in March 1900, Wheeling was sent to that troubled country. Wheeling spent much of her time patrolling northern Chinese waters from 23 March to 9 May and her primary duty was to protect American lives and property along the coast. Wheeling also joined gunboats from other European nations at Taku, the port city for both Tientsin and Peking. Taku was the scene of major fighting between the western powers and the Boxers and the port had to be secured by the westerners if a major relief expedition was to be mounted for the rescue of the diplomats at Peking, who were being besieged by the Boxers. The western nations took Taku and eventually used this port to reinforce and rescue the diplomats and other western nationals at Peking.

On 9 May 1900, Wheeling left Taku and was sent back to the United States. She made a long journey that took her to Yokohama, Japan, and then to the Aleutian Islands. On 25 August, Wheeling headed south and, after visiting several Alaskan ports, reached Bremerton, Washington, on 11 December. By 19 December, Wheeling arrived at Mare Island, California, where she stayed until 1902. From 1902 to 1904, Wheeling was the station ship at American Samoa, where she set up signal installations, completed survey work, and transported passengers between the Samoan Islands. On 15 June 1904, Wheeling left American Samoa and returned to the United States, where on 1 July she was decommissioned at Bremerton, Washington, and docked at the Puget Sound Navy Yard.

Wheeling was re-commissioned at Puget Sound on 3 May 1910. In June, Wheeling left for an amazing journey to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, via the Pacific. During this voyage, Wheeling nearly circumnavigated the globe. She left the west coast on 17 June and steamed to Yokohama, Japan. From there she went to Singapore and then to the Suez Canal. After transiting the canal, Wheeling continued westward across the Mediterranean and made a stop at Genoa, Italy. From there she stopped at Gibraltar and then Hamilton, Bermuda, before finally arriving at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on 22 November.

After an overhaul, Wheeling spent almost six years patrolling off the coasts of the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico. On 15 July 1913, she was positioned near Vera Cruz and Tampico, Mexico, to protect American lives and property during that nation’s political unrest. Wheeling also “showed the flag” and protected American interests in Haiti and Santo Domingo in 1914. In April and June of that same year, she was sent back to Mexico to take part in the famous American intervention and landing at Vera Cruz. After her mission was completed at Vera Cruz, Wheeling was sent back to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for repairs.

In 1916, Wheeling once again came to the aid of American citizens in Mexico and assisted US Army units in fighting Mexican bandits that were threatening American lives and property. After the United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917, Wheeling still was anchored at Vera Cruz. On 13 April, Wheeling arrived at New Orleans, Louisiana, where she was prepared for overseas service. Wheeling was sent to Europe and arrived in the Azores in September. For the next seven months, she was assigned to patrol and escort duties between the Azores and Gibraltar. In April 1918, Wheeling was based at Gibraltar and escorted convoys to Bizerte, North Africa, and to Genoa, Italy. Wheeling continued escorting convoys to and from Gibraltar for the rest of the war. On 7 December 1918, Wheeling left Gibraltar and headed back to the United States and, after making stops in the Azores and at St. George in the British West Indies, eventually reached New Orleans. She was decommissioned there on 18 October 1919 and on 31 December was assigned to the Eighth Naval District as a training ship for naval reservists. On 1 July 1921, her classification was changed from PG-14 to IX-28 and on 21 January 1923 she was sent to the Third Naval District and used as a training ship for the Sixth Naval Reserve Battalion. Wheeling was based in New York on 14 July 1923 and stayed there in a training and support role until World War II ended. On 13 February 1946, USS Wheeling was placed out of service and on 28 March her name was struck from the Navy list. The gallant old gunboat eventually was sold for scrap on 5 October 1946, after almost 50 years of service.