Tuesday, October 27, 2009

USS Marblehead (C-11, later PG-27)

Figure 1: USS Marblehead (C-11, later PG-27) at anchor, date and location unknown. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Marblehead (C-11, later PG-27) in an icy harbor, circa 1894-99. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Marblehead (C-11, later PG-27) "stripped for battle" in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, circa June-July 1898. Donation of Capt. Dudley W. Knox, 1926, from the McCalla collection. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: "Our Warships off the Coast near Santiago de Cuba, June 3, 1898." Colored print based on a drawing by Carlton T. Chapman, depicting US Navy ships off Cuba at the time of the Battle of Santiago. Ships present are identified on the print as (from left to right): USS Marblehead, USS Oregon, USS St. Louis and USS New York. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Sheldon Collection. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: US Pacific Station warships in Magdalena Bay, Mexico, circa 1900. The ships are, from left to right: the cruisers USS Marblehead (C-11, later PG-27) and USS Philadelphia, and the battleship USS Iowa. The original photograph was found in old Bureau of Navigation files in June 1941. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: USS Marblehead (C-11, later PG-27) in the Mare Island channel a month after her re-commissioning in December 1902. Courtesy Darryl Baker. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7: USS Marblehead (C-11, later PG-27) while at anchor at Mare Island 13 March 1916. Courtesy of Thomas P. Naughton. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after a port in Massachusetts, USS Marblehead (C-11) was a 2,072-ton Montgomery class cruiser that was built by the City Point Works at Boston, Massachusetts, and was commissioned on 2 April 1894. The ship was approximately 269 feet long and 37 feet wide, had a top speed of 18 knots, and had a crew of 274 officers and men. Officially listed as “unprotected cruisers” by the US Navy, the Montgomery class warships were essentially large gunboats. Their engine and boiler rooms were protected by watertight steel decks that were less than half an inch thick. That thin armor was slightly thicker than the armor used on gunboats at that time, but it was far thinner than the armor found in protected cruisers. Like all peacetime gunboats, the Montgomery class cruisers were not meant to be used in fleet battles against major warships. They were equipped with a schooner sail rig to reduce their dependency on coal, they were fairly slow but had a large bunker capacity for greater range and endurance, and they had wide beams and shallow drafts, making them suitable for use in rivers and in coastal waters. They also possessed roomy (by gunboat standards) and well-ventilated berth decks, making the ships more habitable in hot tropical climates. Like the other ships in her class, Marblehead was armed with nine 5-inch guns, six 6-pounders, and two 1-pounder guns.

Marblehead initially was assigned to the US Navy’s North Atlantic Station and left New York on 6 June 1894, bound for the Caribbean. A serious political crisis engulfed Nicaragua at that time, so Marblehead was sent further south to protect American interests in that troubled nation. On 19 June, Marblehead arrived at the Nicaraguan port of Bluefields and encountered major civil unrest. Basic law and order were deteriorating rapidly and the US consul in Nicaragua urgently requested that steps be taken to protect American lives and property at Bluefields. On 7 July 1894, a landing party of US Marines and sailors from Marblehead was sent ashore to restore order and protect American interests. A second landing party was placed ashore on 31 July and all of the marines and sailors remained there until order was restored. The landing force was withdrawn on 7 August and on 12 August Marblehead left Bluefields to continue her patrol duties throughout the Caribbean. Marblehead left Port Royal, Jamaica, on 26 November and returned to the United States, arriving at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 6 December.

Marblehead left Norfolk, Virginia, on 4 March 1895, this time bound for Europe. After making a port visit in the Azores, Marblehead arrived at Gibraltar on 31 March. For the next two months, the American cruiser steamed throughout the Mediterranean. She eventually made a trip to Germany to represent the United States at the opening of the Kiel Canal on 20 June. For five months, Marblehead steamed along the coast of western Europe and the Mediterranean, covering more than 11,000 miles and visiting approximately 40 ports. She then returned to the United States and arrived at Tompkinsville, New York, on 23 November 1896.

On 1 February 1897, Marblehead was re-assigned to the North Atlantic Station and spent the rest of the year patrolling off America’s east coast and in the Caribbean. At the start of the Spanish-American War, Marblehead was at Key West, Florida. She quickly was sent to Cuba, arriving off the coast of Havana on 23 April 1898. On 29 April, Marblehead assisted in the bombardment of enemy ships and shore batteries at Cienfuegos, Cuba, and she was part of the naval operation to cut the telegraph cables at Cienfuegos on 11 May. After that, Marblehead began patrolling off the coast of Santiago de Cuba, but on 7 June, along with the schooner-rigged cruiser Yankee, captured the lower section of Guantanamo Bay. On 10 June, she supported a battalion of US Marines in the amphibious assault on Guantanamo and Marblehead assisted the battleship USS Texas in destroying the Spanish fort at Cayo del Toro on 15 June.

Marblehead continued patrolling off the coast of Cuba until 2 September 1898, when she left to go to the St. Lawrence River to attend the opening ceremonies for the Champlain monument in Quebec. The cruiser then went to the Boston Navy Yard for an overhaul that lasted from 2 November to 9 February 1899. Once the overhaul was completed, Marblehead steamed to the Caribbean and eventually continued her journey down the coast of South America. After passing through the Straits of Magellan on 16 June, Marblehead headed north to California and joined the US Navy’s Pacific Squadron on 4 July 1899. Marblehead was assigned to patrol duties off the coasts of South America, Mexico, and California until she was decommissioned at the Mare Island Navy Yard in California on 20 April 1900.

Marblehead was re-commissioned on 10 November 1902 and spent the next four years steaming along the coasts of North and South America. She acted as the flagship for Rear Admiral Henry Glass, Commander of the US Navy’s Pacific Squadron, from October 1903 to March 1904. But the cruiser again was decommissioned at the Mare Island Navy Yard on 1 October 1906. On 31 March 1910, Marblehead became a training ship for the California Naval Militia. Placed in reserve on 22 July 1911, Marblehead then was transferred to the Oregon Naval Militia in 1916 as a training ship.

Marblehead was fully re-commissioned on 6 April 1917 at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, and on 4 May joined the Pacific Patrol Force. As part of this unit, Marblehead was assigned to convoy, patrol, and survey duties off the coast of Mexico and guarded California against the threat of German raiders. On 11 June 1918, Marblehead left California and steamed south towards the Panama Canal. After transiting the canal, Marblehead arrived at Key West on 22 June and spent the rest of World War I in the Caribbean performing patrol and escort duties. Marblehead was sent back to the west coast on 4 December 1918 to rejoin the Pacific Fleet and she arrived at the Mare Island Navy Yard on 17 February 1919. But on 21 August, the veteran warship was decommissioned for the last time. Although reclassified PG-27 in July 1920, USS Marblehead never returned to duty and was sold for scrapping on 5 August 1921.