Tuesday, June 9, 2009

USS Wilmington (PG-8)

Figure 1: Post card showing USS Wilmington (PG-8), date and place unknown. Courtesy Darryl Baker. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Wilmington (PG-8), date and place unknown. Courtesy Robert Hurst. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: View of amidships of USS Wilmington (PG-8), 1898, with crewmen on deck. The masts of a schooner are visible beyond her port side. The original photograph was printed on a stereograph card, copyright by Strohmeyer & Wyman, 1898. Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN(MSC), 1981. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: USS Wilmington (PG-8) at Hong Kong, China, circa 1911. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: USS Wilmington (PG-8) at Canton, China, circa 1911. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: USS Wilmington (PG-8) as a Naval Reserve training ship. Note her heavy elevated conning tower, designed to protect bridge personnel from bandit sniping in the Chinese rivers. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7: USS Wilmington (PG-8) circa the 1930s or 1940s, steaming on the Great Lakes. Courtesy the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 8: USS Wilmington (PG-8) circa 1942 as the USS Dover (IX-30). Courtesy E. C. Lowrance, Jr. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 9: USS Wilmington (PG-8) circa 1942 as the USS Dover (IX-30). Courtesy E. C. Lowrance, Jr. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 10: USS Wilmington (PG-8) circa 1942 as the USS Dover (IX-30). Courtesy E. C. Lowrance, Jr. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after a city in Delaware, USS Wilmington (PG-8) was a 1,571-ton gunboat that was built by the Newport News Shipbuilding Company at Newport News, Virginia, and was commissioned on 13 May 1897. The ship was approximately 251 feet long and 40 feet wide, had a top speed of 15 knots, and had a crew of 212 officers and men. Wilmington was armed with eight 4-inch guns and four 3-pounders.

After completing sea trials and training exercises off America’s East Coast, Wilmington was assigned to the North Atlantic Squadron and was based at Key West, Florida. Wilmington continued participating in training exercises until early 1898 as tensions began growing between the United States and Spain over Cuba. On 21 April 1898, the United States declared war on Spain and the US Navy began moving ships south to blockade Cuba.

On 11 May 1898, while on blockade duty off Cardenas, Cuba, Wilmington was ordered to join the gunboat USS Machias (PG-5), the torpedo boat USS Winslow, and the US Revenue Cutter Hudson to attack the port of Cardenas and sink the three Spanish gunboats that were reportedly moored there. The American ships entered Cardenas harbor and withstood a barrage of gunfire from shore batteries as well as from the Spanish gunboats. The American gunboats returned fire and damaged two of the Spanish gunboats, but did not sink either of them. Wilmington and Machias also managed to hit some of the Spanish shore batteries as well as destroy several buildings along the waterfront, causing some Spanish casualties. But the torpedo boat Winslow was heavily damaged by Spanish shore batteries, suffered substantial casualties, and had to be towed to safety by the Revenue Cutter Hudson. After that, the remaining American ships withdrew from the harbor. It was one of the few times the US Navy was forced to retreat during the Spanish-American War.

On 15 July 1898, Wilmington joined the blockade off Cape Cruz, Cuba, near the port of Manzanillo. The next day, Wilmington stopped two small fishing boats outside Manzanillo harbor and, after interrogating their crews, the Americans discovered that there was a submerged telegraph cable nearby. After arriving at the location designated by the fishermen, the Wilmington’s crew lowered a grappling hook and dragged it along the ocean floor until it snagged the cable. The crew then lifted the cable out of the water and cut it. After that, Wilmington steamed to Cuarto Reales and joined USS Helena (PG-9), USS Wompatuck, and USS Hist.

On 17 July, Wilmington and the three other ships sailed to El Guayabal, located 20 miles north of Manzanillo. Once there, the small flotilla rendezvoused with USS Scorpion, USS Hornet, and USS Osceola. That afternoon, the commanding officers of the four largest gunboats held a conference and devised a plan to attack the port of Manzanillo and destroy all of the Spanish shipping located there. At 0300 on 18 July 1898, all seven of the US warships attacked the port, with Wilmington and Helena entering via the north channel; Hist, Hornet, and Wompatuck coming in from the south; and Scorpion and Osceola charging into the center of the harbor. The harbor was filled with Spanish ships and the American gunboats opened fire. The Spanish supply steamer Purissima Concepcion was hit and caught fire and sank at her moorings. The Spanish gunboats Maria Ponton, Estrella, and Delgado Perrado were sunk and the transports Gloria and Jose Garcia were destroyed as well. Two smaller Spanish gunboats, Guantanamo and Guardian, were forced to beach themselves and then were blown to pieces by the American warships. During the 20-minute battle, not one American ship was hit and all of the US Navy warships quickly withdrew to resume their blockade duties with the North Atlantic Squadron off the coast of Cuba.

Wilmington returned to the United States and was dry docked at Boston from 24 September to 3 October 1898. After repairs were made to the ship, the gunboat left Massachusetts on 20 October and arrived at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 1 November for additional repairs. After those repairs were completed, Wilmington spent from 1899 to 1900 on patrol in the Caribbean and off the coast of South America. She even took an amazing 4,600-mile round-trip voyage up the Amazon River. On 16 October 1900, Wilmington left Pernambuco, Brazil, and headed for the Far East.

After arriving at Gibraltar on 3 November 1900, the ship entered the Mediterranean and then transited the Suez Canal. On 21 January 1901, Wilmington arrived at Manila in the Philippines and began her duties with the US Asiatic Fleet, which lasted from 1901 to 1922. During that time, she helped protect American lives and property in both the Philippines and China, sailing to such exotic ports as Swatow, Amoy, Foochow, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. In 1908, Wilmington joined the Yangtze River Patrol and steamed up the river as far as Hankow. While at Shanghai on 7 April 1917, Wilmington received a cable informing the ship that Germany and the United States were at war. China, which was officially neutral during the war, interned five American gunboats in its waters, but Wilmington managed to slip away and escape to the Philippines. Wilmington was assigned to patrol duties in the Philippines and remained there throughout the rest of World War I. She returned to Shanghai, China, in February 1919.

On 2 June 1922, Wilmington left the Far East and returned to the East Coast of the United States. On the way back, she visited the ports of Singapore, Colombo, Bombay, Karachi, Aden, Port Said, Gibraltar, and Ponta Delgada in the Azores. On 20 September 1922, she finally reached the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Navy Yard. The gunboat remained there until July 1923, when she was ordered to join the United States Naval Reserve Force and became a training ship on the Great Lakes. For the rest of the 1920s and throughout the entire 1930s, Wilmington continued serving as a training ship for naval reservists on the Great Lakes, operating from Chicago, Toledo, Buffalo, and Cleveland.

On 27 January 1941, USS Wilmington was designated IX-30 and was renamed Dover. Based at Toledo, Ohio, the old gunboat made trips on Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland until the fall of 1942, when she steamed down the St. Lawrence River towards the Atlantic Ocean. She visited Quebec on 24 November and on 18 December arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia. On 25 December 1942, Dover assisted in escorting Convoy HF-42 from Halifax to Boston. The convoy arrived there without incident on 27 December.

After that, Dover was sent south and arrived at Miami, Florida, on 1 February 1943. Three days later, Dover arrived at Gulfport, Mississippi, and remained there as an armed guard training ship for the rest of World War II. The ship was finally decommissioned on 20 December 1945 and was sold for scrap on 30 December 1946, after serving in the US Navy for almost 50 years.