Tuesday, October 6, 2009

USS Palos (PG-16)

Figure 1: US Navy photo of USS Palos (PG-16) from the 1924 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: US warships at Hankow, China, at low river level, 1925. The ships are USS Truxtun (DD-229) at left; USS Isabel (PY-10) in center, and USS Palos (PG-16) in the right foreground. Also present are several junks, and a British Cornflower-class sloop (partially visible at far right). From the collection of Captain Glenn Howell, USN. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Palos (PG-16) circa 1930. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after the port of Palos de la Frontera, Spain, where Columbus sailed from on his first voyage to the New World in 1492, USS Palos (PG-16) was a 204-ton shallow-draft gunboat that was built specifically 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 Palos (PG-16) and USS Monocacy (PG-20). Palos, like her sister ship Monocacy, 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.

Because of its shallow draft, Palos was assigned to the upper Yangtze River, which was approximately 900 miles inland from the coast of China. Palos left Shanghai on 29 June 1914 and steamed up river, passing steep gorges and encountering strong rapids along the way. On 28 August, Palos became the first US warship to reach Chungking, roughly 1,300 miles inland from the coast. Palos stayed at Chungking until 23 September, when she was joined by her sister ship Monocacy. Except for four months in 1917 when she was interned in Shanghai because of an international agreement during World War I, Palos spent the rest of her career in these waters and as part of the Yangtze Patrol.

While assigned to the Yangtze Patrol, Palos protected American lives and property along the entire length of the Yangtze. Her primary duties also included convoying US and foreign merchant ships on the river and evacuating American citizens from cities and consulates during periods of civil unrest. During the 1920s, Palos spent the bulk of her time patrolling the upper Yangtze as warlords and bandits terrorized that region. In 1923, Palos was on continuous patrol between the cities of Ichang and Chungking. She provided armed guards for merchant ships in the area and protected American citizens in Chungking while that city was being attacked by a warlord army. As the Nationalist Revolution gripped the Middle Yangtze Valley, Palos moved down river and patrolled the waters between Hankow and Kiukiang and remained there until 1927. Palos was reclassified PR-1 on 15 June 1928 and continued her work on the Yangtze until she was placed in reserve in June 1929, when six new American river gunboats were attached to the Yangtze Patrol.

But even while in reserve, Palos had an active career. She was based in Shanghai and primarily patrolled the lower Yangtze and its tributaries. However, she occasionally made the trek up river when an additional US gunboat was needed for specific naval missions, such as rescuing American nationals in danger. During the summer of 1930, Palos steamed to Changsha, a port on Tungting Lake near Hankow and rescued American, British, and German nationals who were being threatened by local warlords. Palos received an official thanks from the German government for this operation. Palos was fully re-commissioned on 5 September 1931, because additional 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. Palos worked with other Yangtze Patrol warships to bring humanitarian aid to these unfortunate people.

In October 1934, Palos left Shanghai for Chungking and became the permanent station ship there on 12 November. She remained at Chungking until she was decommissioned and struck from the Navy List on 21 May 1937. Palos was sold to the Ming Sung Industrial Company on 3 June of that same year and then scrapped.

USS Palos was one of the few American warships that never docked in the United States while in commission. But she served this country well and achieved an excellent record of accomplishments in a very turbulent part of the world.