Tuesday, September 29, 2009

USS Paducah (PG-18)

Figure 1: USS Paducah (PG-18) date and place unknown. Courtesy Historical Collections of the Great Lakes, Bowling Green State University. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Paducah (PG-18) date and place unknown. Courtesy Robert Hirst. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Paducah (PG-18) at Gibraltar during World War I. Courtesy David Smith. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: USS Dubuque (PG-17) or USS Paducah (PG-18) underway in harbor, circa 1916 or early 1917. Probably seen from USS Melville (Destroyer Tender # 2). A column of older ("pre-Dreadnought") battleships is steaming past in the background, headed toward the right. The original photograph is printed on postcard stock. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2007. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: The former American gunboat USS Paducah (PG-18) as she appeared in 1947 after being converted into the passenger ship Geula. She is seen here entering the Mediterranean on her way to Bayonne, France, just before embarking on her epic journey to Palestine. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: Geula being boarded by British Royal Marines after she was captured by the Royal Navy on 2 October 1947. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7: Passengers leaving Geula after she was brought to Haifa by the Royal Navy on 2 October 1947. These Jewish refugees then were taken to detention camps on Cyprus before eventually being sent back to Palestine to become citizens in the new state of Israel. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after a city in western Kentucky, USS Paducah (PG-18) was a 1,084-ton Dubuque class gunboat that was built by the Gas Engine and Power Company at Morris Heights, Long Island, New York, and was commissioned on 2 September 1905. She was the only sister ship of USS Dubuque (PG-17) and also had a “composite” hull (which was made up of wooden planks over a steel frame) that was built specifically for service in tropical climates. Paducah was approximately 200 feet long and 35 feet wide, had a top speed of 13 knots, and had a crew of 184 officers and men. The ship was armed with six 4-inch guns, four 6-pounders and two 1-pounder guns.

After a shakedown cruise, Paducah was assigned to the Caribbean Squadron in early 1906 and was used as a typical gunboat, protecting American lives and property throughout the Caribbean and along the coasts of South and Central America. She patrolled off the coast of Mexico right after the famous American landing at Vera Cruz in the summer of 1914, but returned to operations in the Caribbean shortly after that.

After America entered World War I in April 1917, Paducah was sent to the Portsmouth Navy Yard at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and converted into a convoy escort. She left the United States on 29 September 1917 and arrived at Gibraltar on 27 October and was based there throughout the war. While based at Gibraltar, Paducah escorted convoys to North Africa, Italy, the Azores, and Madeira. On 9 September 1918, Paducah attacked a German U-boat after it had torpedoed and sunk a ship in the convoy she was escorting. Paducah was credited with damaging the submarine, but there was no confirmation that the submarine had actually sunk.

Paducah left Gibraltar on 11 December 1918 and returned to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on 7 January 1919. The ship was decommissioned on 2 March 1919 but was re-commissioned on 16 August 1920. Paducah was assigned to survey duty in the Caribbean and then was decommissioned once again on 9 September 1921. The gunboat was re-commissioned for the third time on 2 May 1922 and on 20 June she began a new career as a training ship for Naval Reservists in the Ninth Naval District and was based at Duluth, Minnesota.

Paducah returned to the East Coast in early 1941 and, after America entered World War II on 7 December, the old gunboat was sent to Little Creek, Virginia, where she was used as a gunnery practice ship for the US Naval Armed Guard School that was located there. For the remainder of World War II, Paducah served as a training ship for the Naval Armed Guard and stayed primarily in Chesapeake Bay. Paducah was decommissioned for the last time on 7 September 1945 and was transferred to the Maritime Commission. She was sold to Maria Angelo of Miami, Florida, on 19 December 1946.

After the ship was sold, she was transferred to the Israeli group Haganah and was renamed Geula, which means “Redemption” in Hebrew. A crew of American volunteers sailed the ship to Bayonne, France, and then continued the trip to Bulgaria, where Geula took on board 1,388 Jewish refugees. The ship tried to break through the British naval blockade of Palestine but was captured on 2 October 1947. Geula was brought to the port of Haifa, where she was held with other ships that also attempted to bring Jewish refugees to Palestine. She remained there for a while until the fledgling Israeli Navy examined her in 1948 for possible use as a warship. However, Geula was in such bad shape that the Israeli Navy decided against taking her into service. She then was converted into an Israeli merchant ship and steamed from Haifa to Naples, Italy, in late 1948. But this proved to be the end of the road for Geula, once known as USS Paducah. The elderly ex-gunboat never left Naples again and eventually was sold for scrap in 1951.