Tuesday, July 13, 2010

USS Amphitrite (BM-2)

Figure 1: USS Amphitrite (BM-2) at the Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts, during the 1890s. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on the photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Amphitrite (BM-2) at anchor off the Boston Navy Yard, 27 August 1901. US Navy photograph and text, courtesy of Monitors of the U.S. Navy, 1861-1937, page 40, by Lt. Richard H. Webber, USNR. Library of Congress (LOC) Catalog Card No. 77-603596. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: Stern view of USS Amphitrite (BM-2). Date and place unknown. Digital ID # ggbain 24106v, LC-B2-4172-8. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, from the George Grantham Bain Collection. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: USS Amphitrite (BM-2) underway. Date and place unknown. Courtesy of Robert Hurst. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: USS Amphitrite (BM-2) drying signal flags in the Reserve Basin at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, while waiting to be decommissioned in May 1919. Image cropped from a panoramic view (Photo # NH 105512) by Frawley and Collins, Mount Holly, New Jersey. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after a character in Greek mythology, USS Amphitrite (BM-2) was a 3,990-ton, iron-hulled, double-turret, coastal defense monitor that was built by the Harland and Hollingsworth Yard at Wilmington, Delaware, and was laid down in 1874. But, because of the lack of funds for new shipbuilding programs after the Civil War, Amphitrite was not launched until 7 June 1883. Incredibly, she was finally commissioned on 23 April 1895, 20 years after the ship was laid down. Amphitrite was approximately 262 feet long and 55 feet wide, had a top speed of 10.5 knots, and had a crew of 171 officers and men. The large monitor was armed with four 10-inch guns (two guns per turret), two 4-inch guns, two 6-pounders, and two 3-pounders.

After being commissioned, Amphitrite was assigned to the North Atlantic Squadron and she visited a number of ports on America’s east coast during her shakedown cruise. However, numerous defects were detected in the monitor’s design, especially regarding the lack of adequate ventilation in the engine and fire rooms. The heat generated by the engines and boilers, along with the lack of proper ventilation, made it almost impossible for the crew to work, let alone live, below deck. The ship, therefore, was sent to the Norfolk Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia, and design alterations were made to fix these defects.

Once the alterations were completed, Amphitrite initially steamed to Annapolis, Maryland, on 20 November 1895, but then headed south, arriving at Key West, Florida, on 9 January 1896. She was used as a training ship for naval militia at Key West for six months and left Florida on 10 June. After that, the monitor returned north and was used as a training ship at various ports along America’s east coast until May 1897.

On 7 May 1897, Amphitrite was briefly placed in reserve and used as a training ship for gun captains at Norfolk. The ship was re-commissioned on 2 October 1897 and proceeded to visit ports in New York and Massachusetts before returning south and arriving at Lambert’s Point, Virginia, on 14 November. Amphitrite then divided her time between Port Royal, South Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina, until January 1898.

As tensions between Spain and the United States escalated in 1898, especially after the sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor on 15 February, Amphitrite left Port Royal on 5 April and was sent south to Key West, arriving there on 8 April. After war with Spain was declared on 25 April 1898, Amphitrite was joined by her sister ship, USS Terror (BM-4), at Key West and they both left on 1 May to join Admiral William T. Sampson’s fleet, which was approaching San Juan, Puerto Rico. But the two monitors carried a modest amount of coal, so the ships had to be towed to extend their limited range. The battleship USS Iowa (under the command of then Captain Robley D. Evans, later an extremely famous Rear Admiral) had to tow Amphitrite. But the process proved to be an extremely slow one, given the size, weight, and lack of seaworthiness of the monitors. The two ships finally arrived at San Juan on 11 May.

Sampson’s fleet had already reached San Juan, so after Iowa and Amphitrite arrived, Sampson’s ships attacked the Spanish-held city on 12 May. Amphitrite fired 17 10-inch shells at Spanish positions in San Juan, as well as 30 4-inch shells, 30 3-pounder shells, and 22 6-pounder shells. Poor ventilation continued to plague the monitor, with one member of the crew actually dying in the ship’s after turret because of the heat. Once the bombardment of San Juan was over, Amphitrite returned to Key West and arrived there on 19 May. For the next two and a half months, Amphitrite was assigned to blockade duty while based at Key West. Her area of operations also included the waters off Cape Haitien, Haiti. Amphitrite continued patrolling the waters near Key West until the war ended on 12 August 1898.

After the war ended, Amphitrite was sent to various ports along America’s east coast and was used primarily as a training ship specializing in gunnery practice. It was an important assignment and because the ship was a very steady gun platform she was well suited for the job. In need of a general overhaul, Amphitrite was decommissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on 30 November 1901. The ship was re-commissioned on 1 December 1902 at Boston and reported for duty at the Naval Training Station at Newport, Rhode Island, on 10 January 1903. Amphitrite remained there until early 1904 and then was sent south to serve as the station ship at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The monitor stayed at Guantanamo Bay until 19 June 1907 and was decommissioned at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 3 August.

Amphitrite was re-commissioned but placed in reserve on 14 June 1910. The monitor was again used as a training ship until the United States entered World War I in April 1917. After war was declared, she was used to guard against German submarines at the entrance of New York Harbor. On 26 October 1917, Amphitrite went to the New York Navy Yard for an overhaul which lasted until 20 November. She then resumed her duties as a guard ship, but was rammed by the steamship British Isles during a heavy snow squall on 14 December. Amphitrite returned to the New York Navy Yard for repairs and then once again resumed her duties as a guard ship. The ship remained in New York until October 1918, when she was sent to Hampton Roads, Virginia, for training exercises and target practice. After completing these exercises, Amphitrite returned to New York and arrived there on 11 November 1918, the day the war ended. The monitor remained in New York for several months before going to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, arriving there on 1 May 1919. USS Amphitrite was decommissioned for the last time at Philadelphia on 31 May 1919 and was stricken from the Navy list on 24 July.

On 3 January 1920, Amphitrite was sold to A. L. D. Buckstenof of Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The ship was stripped of her turrets and superstructure and was towed to Beaufort, South Carolina, where she was converted into, of all things, a floating hotel. The ship was eventually towed to Florida, where it was rumored that gambling took place in the hotel. It was also rumored that the infamous gangster Al Capone was interested in purchasing the ex-warship. The hotel remained in Florida until World War II, when it was towed to Elizabeth City and used as housing for workers building a new naval air station there. After the war, the ship was tied to a dock in Georgetown, South Carolina, and then was towed to Baltimore, Maryland, in the spring of 1950. At that time, there was little demand for a floating restaurant and hotel, so the ship was sold again in the spring of 1951. At that point, plans were made to convert the hull into a platform that would support oil exploration in Venezuela, but these plans never materialized. The now old and battered hulk that once was USS Amphitrite was finally scrapped in 1952, ending the amazing career of an unusual warship.