Tuesday, April 27, 2010

USS Tacoma (C-18/PG-32/CL-20)

Figure 1: USS Tacoma (Cruiser No. 18) at anchor, circa 1907-1909. From the collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: Port side view of USS Tacoma (Cruiser No. 18), date unknown. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: Color postcard showing starboard side view of USS Tacoma (Cruiser No. 18), circa 1910. Courtesy Chuck Munson. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: Black-and-white postcard of USS Tacoma (C-18). The sailor wrote home to his mother and brother and mailed the card aboard ship, as there is a postmark for USS Tacoma dated January 6, 1911. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: Port side view of USS Tacoma (C-18) in 1912, location unknown. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after a city in Washington, the 3,200-ton USS Tacoma (Cruiser No. 18) was the fifth of six Denver class “protected cruisers,” which were ships that possessed armor protection on their main decks but not on their sides. Also known as “Peace Cruisers,” these slow, lightly-armed and armored ships were never meant for fleet actions. They were used as gunboats with the Asiatic Fleet and in the waters off Central America and South America, as well as in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Because they were needed to patrol distant waters with little support, the Denver class ships were furnished with sails to extend their cruising range while economizing on coal, but they also had large coal bunkers, which increased their range and endurance. Their steel hulls were sheathed with pine and coppered for long service in tropical waters and they possessed roomy, well-ventilated quarters for their crews to ease the discomfort of sailing in hot climates. Each Denver class warship had a two-and-one-half-inch-thick armored deck and was armed with ten 5-inch rapid-fire guns. USS Tacoma was built by the Union Iron Works at Mare Island, California, and was commissioned 30 January 1904. She was approximately 308 feet long and 44 feet wide, had a top speed of 16 knots, and had a crew of 309 officers and men.

After making a brief trip to her namesake city, Tacoma, Washington, USS Tacoma steamed to Hawaii and remained there from April to May 1904. She returned to San Francisco, California, on 2 June and one month later left for Cape Horn to sail around the tip of South America. During the trip, Tacoma joined the search for the merchant ship SS Conemaugh, which disappeared after leaving Valparaiso, Chile. After giving up the search for the lost ship, Tacoma resumed her journey and rounded Cape Horn. She then headed north along the Atlantic coast of South and North America until she arrived at New York on 5 November. Tacoma was assigned to the North Atlantic Fleet on 1 January 1905.

At the end of January 1905, Tacoma steamed to the troubled island of Hispaniola, where severe political and civil unrest were threatening American lives and property. Although a cruiser, Tacoma was used as a large gunboat and she succeeded in restoring order to and protecting American interests on Hispaniola. After participating in some naval exercises off the coast of Florida between 27 March and 25 April, Tacoma returned to New York on 19 May.

On 18 June 1905, Tacoma steamed to France and arrived at Cherbourg on 30 June. Some of her crew participated in the ceremonies honoring the remains of John Paul Jones, which were being returned to the United States. Tacoma left Cherbourg on 8 July as part of the US task force that brought the remains of the American hero to its final resting place at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. After the ships returned to the United States, Tacoma went to Tompkinsville, New York. On 5 August 1905, Japanese diplomats boarded Tacoma at New York City and she then transported them to Sagamore Hill, President Theodore Roosevelt’s summer home at Oyster Bay, New York. Once there, the Japanese diplomats made their initial contact with their Russian counterparts for the peace negotiations that were to later take place at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. These peace negotiations, brokered by Roosevelt, eventually ended the Russo-Japanese War and earned the President a Nobel Peace Prize. Tacoma left for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 8 August and was used as a training ship for the Pennsylvania and Massachusetts naval militias before returning to the North Atlantic Fleet for patrol duties in the Caribbean.

For the first five months of 1906, Tacoma was assigned to the Mediterranean. She visited Tangiers, Morocco; Algiers, Algeria; Naples and Genoa in Italy; and Alexandria and Port Said in Egypt. Tacoma also made a visit to Grand Canary Island before returning to the United States in June 1906.

For the next ten years, except for a brief period when she was in reserve at Philadelphia from 1911 to 1912, Tacoma divided her time between America’s east coast, the Caribbean, and the West Indies. From late 1906 to mid 1907, there was a large amount of civil and political unrest in Cuba. As a result, Tacoma was ordered to visit ports throughout Cuba to help control the situation there. She patrolled the West Indies during the spring of 1908 and from the second half of 1908 to the middle of 1909, Tacoma monitored political conditions in Haiti and Honduras. From July to September 1909, Tacoma patrolled off the coasts of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and then returned to Honduras. All of these missions not only protected American lives and property, but they helped to maintain political stability in these troubled nations.

From January to March 1910, Tacoma patrolled off the coast of Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica. After a brief visit to the United States, Tacoma returned to Central America, adding Honduras and Guatemala to the list of countries she visited that year. In January 1911, part of Tacoma’s crew landed at Puerto Cortez, Honduras, to protect American citizens there. In February, the ship and its officers assisted in negotiations that brought the revolution in Honduras to an end. Tacoma returned to New York that summer and remained there until November, when she was placed in reserve in Philadelphia.

Tacoma was taken out of reserve in July 1912 and was sent to the Gulf of Mexico. That same month, a revolution broke out in Nicaragua that lasted until November. Tacoma spent most of her time off the coast of Nicaragua from 3 August to 25 October. In November, she traveled to Boston where she stayed until February 1913. But by 22 February, Tacoma was back off the coast of Central America, this time monitoring events in Honduras and Guatemala. She returned to New York in July and then began patrolling off the coast of Mexico. Tacoma kept a watchful eye on Tampico and Vera Cruz, Mexico, until January 1914, when she returned to the east coast of the United States for an overhaul.

Tacoma was sent back to Mexico in May 1914 because of the explosive “Tampico Incident,” which allowed the US Navy to seize the customs house at Vera Cruz, Mexico. The Tampico Incident, which was actually a minor confrontation between US sailors and Mexican troops under the command of the dictator General Victoriano Huerta, basically gave the Woodrow Wilson Administration a pretext for invading Mexico. Wilson did this in hopes of overthrowing Huerta, whom he despised, but the subsequent invasion of Vera Cruz was a costly endeavor and, in the end, did not achieve its goal. However, the US Navy remained in and near Vera Cruz for a number of months and Tacoma supported military operations there until September. Later that month, Tacoma left Mexico and sailed to Haiti and remained there until December. After a brief visit to Panama, Tacoma returned to Haiti in February 1915 and then steamed on to Santo Domingo in March. She arrived at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, New Hampshire, on 21 March for an overhaul.

While at Portsmouth, Tacoma was again placed in reserve. On 19 May 1916, she went to Boston and became the receiving ship there. Tacoma was fully re-commissioned on 1 December and was again sent to Mexico. She remained there from January to April 1917. After America entered World War I, Tacoma returned to America’s east coast and was assigned to convoy escort duty. Tacoma completed five round-trip voyages to and from Europe, escorting troop ships and merchant ships. While returning to the United States after her third trip to Europe, Tacoma steamed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, right after a disastrous ammunition-ship explosion occurred in Halifax harbor, destroying most of the city. Tacoma assisted relief operations and for three days the ship’s officers and men worked to help the survivors of that shattered city.

After the war, Tacoma was assigned to the Pacific Squadron and remained there until 1920. She spent the bulk of her time patrolling the waters of the Caribbean and Latin America. On 7 July 1920, Tacoma was re-designated PG-32 and classified as a gunboat. But on 8 August 1921, she was re-designated CL-20 and classified, this time, as a light cruiser. For the next few years Tacoma continued her patrol duties off the coast of Latin America, especially Mexico. But during a major storm on 16 January 1924, Tacoma ran aground and was severely damaged on Blanquilla Reef near Vera Cruz. Despite gallant efforts to re-float the ship (in which the captain and three crewmen drowned), USS Tacoma evidently was beyond repair. The cruiser was struck from the navy list on 7 February 1924 and what was left of her was sold for scrapping on 5 September of that same year.