Tuesday, December 22, 2009

USS Bancroft

Figure 1: USS Bancroft (1893-1906) dressed with flags, circa 1893-98. Halftone photograph published in “Uncle Sam's Navy,” 1898. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Bancroft (1893-1906) firing a salute in 1898. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: Commander Richardson Clover, USN (1846-1919). This photograph was taken circa 1898. He was Chief of the Office of Naval Intelligence immediately before and during the first weeks of the Spanish-American War and commanded USS Bancroft during the rest of the conflict. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: In June 1906, Bancroft was transferred to the Treasury Department. Renamed US Revenue Cutter (USRC) Itasca, she served in the Revenue Service until sold in May 1922. The Revenue Service became the US Coast Guard in 1915. This photograph shows Bancroft serving as the USRC Itasca after she was acquired by the Revenue Service, date and place unknown. US Coast Guard photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: The USRC Itasca in Naples, Italy, on a cadet training cruise. Date unknown. US Coast Guard photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: USRC Itasca in dry dock, date and place unknown. US Coast Guard photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7: USRC Itasca, date and place unknown. US Coast Guard photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after George Bancroft, a famous American historian and diplomat, the 839-ton USS Bancroft was the first training ship authorized by Congress for the new Steel Navy. The ship was basically a steel gunboat similar in size to USS Petrel and was equipped with modern engines as well as an auxiliary barkentine sail rig. Bancroft was built by Moore & Sons at Elizabethport, New Jersey, and was commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 3 March 1893. The ship was approximately 189 feet long and 32 feet wide, had a top speed of 14.37 knots, and had a crew of 130 officers and men. Though considered a training ship, Bancroft was heavily armed with four 4-inch guns, two 6-pounders, two 3-pounders, one 1-pounder, and a pair of 18-inch torpedo tubes.

After being commissioned, Bancroft steamed to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and became the training ship for the school’s naval cadets (which are what the students at the Academy were called at that time). For the next three years, Bancroft sailed up and down America’s east coast on summer training cruises for the cadets. Unfortunately, the ship only could accommodate about 40 cadets as well as the crew, which made her too small for use as a training ship at the Academy. Therefore, in the summer of 1896, Bancroft was converted into a conventional gunboat and was ordered to join America’s European Squadron. On 15 September 1896, Bancroft left New York and headed for Europe. After making stops in the Azores and at Gibraltar, Bancroft reached Smyrna, Turkey, on 15 October. For the next 15 months, the ship steamed in the eastern Mediterranean. Visiting ports in both the Ottoman Empire and Greece, Bancroft, as well as other US Navy warships, provided a measure of protection for Americans living in these areas, which often were engulfed in political turmoil and civil unrest.

Bancroft left the Mediterranean on 12 February 1898 and arrived at Boston, Massachusetts, on 4 April for an overhaul. The Spanish-American War was declared on 25 April and Bancroft was sent into action. She left Boston on 30 April and, after a brief stop at Norfolk, Virginia, arrived at Key West, Florida, on 9 May. She made several trips between Key West and Tampa, Florida, and on 14 June Bancroft left Key West and assisted in escorting American troop transports to Cuba. After arriving at a point near Santiago, Cuba, on 20 June, Bancroft steamed towards Altares, Cuba, the next day. For the rest of the war, Bancroft was assigned to blockade duty around Cuba. On 9 August, the ship returned to Key West and, after a brief stay, headed north. Bancroft arrived at Boston on 2 September and was decommissioned on 30 September 1898.

Bancroft was re-commissioned on 6 October 1902. She left Boston on 26 October and steamed south, stopping briefly at Norfolk and then continuing to the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies. For almost 12 months, she patrolled the Caribbean and then spent several months off the coast of Central America, especially Panama, which had just won its independence from Columbia. Bancroft, as well as a number of other American gunboats, ensured that Panama remained independent so that the United States could build the canal there. Bancroft steamed along the coast of Panama between Porto Bello and Colon from 6 December 1903 to 28 February 1904, before returning to her regular patrol duties in the West Indies. Bancroft remained in the West Indies for the rest of the year and into 1905. On 29 January 1905, she left the Caribbean and headed north, arriving at Norfolk on 24 February. Bancroft was decommissioned once again on 2 March 1905.

On 9 July 1906, USS Bancroft was transferred to the Revenue Cutter Service (the forerunner of the US Coast Guard) at Arundel Cove, Maryland. The ship was renamed US Revenue Cutter (USRC) Itasca on 23 July and spent almost a year at Arundel Cove before being fully commissioned in the Revenue Cutter Service on 17 July 1907. From the summer of 1907 to the fall of 1911, Itasca again was converted into a training ship, only this time for Revenue Cutter Service cadets. She made five summer cruises to Europe and also enforced maritime and tariff laws off the coast of the United States. By September 1911, Itasca was assigned to patrol duties off America’s eastern seaboard, and also made occasional trips to the West Indies.

After World War I started in Europe on 1 August 1914, Itasca was given the new task of enforcing American neutrality laws, along with her regular duties of upholding maritime and tariff laws. For almost three years, Itasca steamed along the east coast of the United States and in the West Indies performing these duties. After America entered World War I in April 1917, Itasca (which, as of 1915, was part of the newly formed US Coast Guard) was transferred to the US Navy. For the rest of the war, Itasca patrolled off the eastern coast of the United States, basically performing the same duties she did before the war started. However, antisubmarine patrols were added to her list of responsibilities.

On 28 August 1919, Itasca was transferred back to the Coast Guard from the Navy. She resumed her former patrol duties and during the summer of 1920 made one final trip to Europe. Itasca returned to the United States on 3 October and on 31 October arrived at the Coast Guard Depot at Arundel Cove. The old gunboat remained there until she was sold for scrapping in May of 1922.