Tuesday, August 3, 2010

USS Dolphin (PG-24)

Figure 1: USS Dolphin (PG-24) is depicted in her as-built rig in a lithograph produced for the Los Angeles Daily Herald. The art was one in a set of eight illustrations the newspaper offered for a month's advance subscription. Price: 75 cents. US Naval Institute Photo Archive image from the April 2008 edition of Naval History magazine. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Dolphin (PG-24) photographed during the 1890s. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: “Homecoming of the Great White Fleet," Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 22 February 1909. Yachts and other vessels welcome the fleet upon its arrival to Hampton roads. The large yacht in the right distance is USS Mayflower, which had President Theodore Roosevelt embarked. The steamer on the left, with three masts, is USS Dolphin. She carried members of Congress during the welcoming ceremonies. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: Cutter race among the crews of the Squadron of Evolution's ships, in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, 29 November 1889. The squadron then consisted of the cruisers Chicago, Boston and Atlanta, gunboat Yorktown and dispatch vessel Dolphin. Courtesy of Doctor Henry P. Walker, 1975. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: USS Dolphin (PG-24) docked at the western end of the Washington Navy Yard waterfront, District of Columbia, circa 1901. The view looks north. The old experimental battery building is at the right. The original glass plate negative is # 19-N-24-2-24 in the collections of the National Archives. Plate # 19-N-24-3-5 is a very similar view. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: A view of USS Dolphin (PG-24) looking forward from the bridge, taken while the ship was at sea in February 1916. Note ice accumulated on deck and lifelines. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7: USS Dolphin (PG-24) at Galveston, Texas, 1 March 1919. Photographed by Paul Verkin, Galveston. Note that the ship is still wearing pattern camouflage nearly four months after the World War I Armistice. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2007. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

The 1,485-ton USS Dolphin was one of the first ships built for America’s Steel Navy. Called the “ABCD ships” (for Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Dolphin), these were the first four ships made of steel for the “New Navy,” as it eventually became known in the 1880s. Dolphin was designed as a dispatch vessel, a ship that could quickly carry messages to naval bases and to other naval warships at sea. It was an important job during the days of elementary naval communications. Dolphin was built by John Roach & Sons at Chester, Pennsylvania, and was commissioned on 8 December 1885, the first of the ABCD ships to enter service. Dolphin was approximately 256 feet long and 32 feet wide, had a top speed of 16 knots, and had a crew of 152 officers and men. Although never intended to be a warship, let alone a gunboat, the ship was armed with two 4-inch guns and two six-pounder rapid-fire guns.

Dolphin initially was assigned to the North Atlantic Station and patrolled off America’s east coast until February 1888. She then went on an incredible around-the-world cruise, steaming first around the tip of South America and entering the Pacific Ocean. Dolphin went on to visit ports in Japan, Korea, China, Ceylon, India, Arabia, and Egypt, and then entered the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal and made stops in Italy, Spain, and England. After moving on to the Madeira Islands and then Bermuda, Dolphin reached New York on 27 September 1889 after completing a 58,000-mile journey around the world. The trip was used as an opportunity to show the world America’s new steel and steam technologies and it also demonstrated how tough and efficient our new ships were. Dolphin’s engine was shut down for less than two hours during the entire trip for maintenance purposes and no problems were experienced with the steel hull. Dolphin proved that the quality of the new steel ships being produced in the United States was excellent and that the US Navy had successfully entered this new era of warship construction.

After the trip, Dolphin returned to the North Atlantic Station and patrolled around the West Indies from December 1889 to June 1890. On 23 December 1890, Dolphin was assigned to the “Squadron of Evolution,” the experimental task force that consisted of all of the ABCD ships. The Squadron of Evolution was created by the US Navy as a training tool to teach a new generation of officers and sailors how to operate modern steel warships. New naval tactics also were specifically created for these warships and guidelines were established for the care and maintenance of these vessels. Dolphin remained with the Squadron of Evolution until 7 April 1891.

Dolphin was placed out of commission at Norfolk, Virginia, on 1 May 1891 but was re-commissioned on 14 March 1892. She patrolled along the Atlantic coast of the United States and on many occasions served as a transport for the Secretary of the Navy. Dolphin was sent on a surveying expedition to Guatemala from January to February 1896 and she carried President William McKinley to New York City for the ceremonies at Grant’s Tomb on 23 April 1897. Dolphin again was placed out of commission in New York on 23 November 1897.

Re-commissioned on 24 March 1898, just prior to the start of the Spanish-American War, Dolphin eventually was sent to Cuba and was part of the US Naval blockade of Havana during April and May. On 6 June, Dolphin was fired on by the Morro Battery at Santiago, Cuba, but later that month she steamed back to Norfolk, arriving there on 2 July.

From 1899 to 1914, Dolphin served on many occasions as a special dispatch ship for the Secretary of the Navy. She also carried the president of the United States as well as other important officials and diplomats. In August 1905, Dolphin carried Japanese diplomats from Oyster Bay, New York, to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to attend the peace conference (which was brokered by President Theodore Roosevelt) that ended the Russo-Japanese War. Dolphin continued to be used for ceremonial duties until 22 October 1908, when she became the flagship of the Third Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet. In this capacity, she patrolled the West Indies and assisted in the occupation of Santo Domingo from 12 to 22 May 1916.

Dolphin left Washington, DC, on 2 April 1917 to take possession of the Virgin Islands, which had recently been purchased by the United States. Four days later, the United States declared war on Germany, officially entering World War I. On 7 April, Dolphin arrived at St. Thomas and on 9 April, the United States officially took over the islands. On 26 April, Dolphin searched for the steamer Nordskar, ostensibly a Danish vessel, which was suspected of assisting German ships in the area. Dolphin located Nordskar at St. Lucia on 5 May. Dolphin kept Nordskar in custody until she was able to turn the merchant ship over to British authorities on 28 June. Dolphin then went to Key West, Florida, and patrolled the Caribbean until returning to Washington, DC, on 6 September 1917.

Dolphin became the flagship for the American Patrol Detachment on 17 September 1917 and was based at Key West. She patrolled the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean and protected merchant shipping there until the end of the war. Dolphin remained in the Caribbean until 25 June 1920, when she left for New York. Dolphin was designated a Patrol Gunboat (PG-24) on 17 July 1920 and, after being sent to Boston, Massachusetts, for an overhaul, Dolphin left on 16 October 1920. She was assigned to Balboa, Panama, for target practice and hydrographic experiments, and was ordered to travel to neighboring countries for “good-will” visits. On 16 September 1921, Dolphin went to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, to attend the anniversary of Guatemalan independence.

Dolphin returned to Boston on 14 October 1921. This proud little ship, the first to be commissioned into America’s New Steel Navy, was decommissioned for the last time on 8 December 1921. USS Dolphin was sold for scrapping on 25 February 1922 after almost 40 years of service in the US Navy.