Tuesday, October 13, 2009

USS Monocacy (PG-20)

Figure 1: USS Monocacy (PG-20, later PR-2) while stationed at Shanghai, China. This picture was taken from a post card dated 17 April 1935. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Monocacy (PG-20, later PR-2) while stationed on the Yangtze River in China, date unknown. US Naval Institute photograph, Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, Yangtze River Patrol Memorial Exhibit. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Monocacy (PG-20, later PR-2) circa 1919 on the Yangtze River in China, exact location unknown. Courtesy Robert Hurst. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after a Civil War battle, USS Monocacy (PG-20) was the second American warship to bear that name and was a 204-ton, shallow-draft gunboat specifically built for service on the Yangtze River in China. At the beginning of the twentieth century, American business interests were growing in China and gunboats were needed on the Yangtze to protect American lives and property against violent Chinese warlords and bandits. The US Navy realized that it did not have any suitable gunboats for this mission since all of the American warships on the river were either ex-Spanish Navy vessels captured during the Spanish-American War or ships that were built for use on the high seas and not for the shallow waters of the Yangtze River. Therefore, the US Navy had two shallow-draft gunboats built in 1912 at the Mare Island Navy Yard in California and then had the ships disassembled and transported to Shanghai, China. The parts of the ships then were laid down at the Shanghai Dock and Engineering Company on 28 April 1913 and the gunboats eventually were reconstructed and commissioned on 24 June 1914. The new ships were named USS Monocacy (PG-20) and USS Palos (PG-16). Monocacy, like her sister ship Palos, was approximately 165 feet long and 24 feet wide, but had a draft of only 2 feet 5 inches, making it ideal for steaming on the shallow waters of the Yangtze. The gunboat had a top speed of 13.25 knots and a crew of 47 officers and men, and was armed with two 6-pounders and six machine guns.

Monocacy was assigned to the Second Division of the Asiatic Fleet, also known as the “Yangtze Patrol.” Because of her shallow draft, Monocacy was assigned to the upper Yangtze River, which was approximately 900 miles inland from the Chinese coastline. The gunboat left Shanghai on 29 June 1914 and made her way up the mighty Yangtze River to Chungking, which was roughly 1,300 miles inland from the coast. When Monocacy reached Chungking, she joined her sister ship Palos, which had already reached the inland city. For the next 15 years, aside from annual trips to Shanghai for overhauls, Monocacy patrolled the upper Yangtze, using Chungking as her upriver base. At times, Monocacy (along with Palos) also were called on to protect American lives and property in the treaty ports along the entire length of the Yangtze River. Her primary duties included escorting merchant ships, guarding US consulates in various cities, and rescuing American citizens from Chinese warlords and bandits.

There were numerous instances where Monocacy played an important role in saving foreign nationals on or along the Yangtze. On 16 January 1918, Chinese bandits fired on Monocacy 50 miles from Chenglin as the gunboat tried to protect a Japanese steamer that was being attacked by the marauders. One American sailor was killed and two others were wounded before the bandits fled the area. From February to March 1923, Monocacy fought bandits who were assaulting American missionaries and firing on US merchant ships. Later that same year, Monocacy escorted and protected US merchant ships that were being threatened by local warlords. Monocacy continued her patrols on the upper Yangtze for six more years and was reclassified PR-2 on 15 June 1928.

Monocacy was placed in reserve on 24 June 1929 and was based at Shanghai. She patrolled the lower river and made fewer trips to Chungking and Ichang. Monocacy was fully re-commissioned on 19 September 1931 because additional US ships were needed to assist in a natural disaster. Massive summer floods, the worst in the Yangtze’s history up to that time, had inundated 34,000 square miles of land and left millions homeless. Monocacy worked with other Yangtze Patrol warships to bring humanitarian aid to these unfortunate people. In 1933, Monocacy was used as a station ship at the various US treaty ports along the river and her crew served as an armed landing force in case of emergencies.

As the 1930s progressed, the war between Japan and China was intensifying. On 29 August 1938, while protecting American interests and citizens at Kiuklang, Monocacy got trapped in the conflict between the two warring Asian nations. Several mines detonated 80 yards from the gunboat, raining down shell fragments on her. Monocacy remained at Kiuklang for several days until Japanese ships could sweep the river of any remaining mines. But the end was near for the aging gunboat. On 31 January 1939, Monocacy was decommissioned at Shanghai and on 10 February she was towed out to sea and sunk off the Chinese coast. For 25 years, Monocacy protected American lives and property in a troubled nation, fighting warlords, bandits, and an unforgiving river. The US Navy certainly got its money’s worth out of this gunboat and her tough sister ship, USS Palos.