Tuesday, February 15, 2011

USS Don Juan de Austria

Figure 1: Spanish cruiser of the Infanta Isabel class photographed in US waters, with the river steamer Angler in the background, circa the 1880s or 1890s. This class of small cruisers included the Infanta Isabel (1885-1926), Isabel II (1886-1902), Cristobal Colon (1887-1895), Conde del Venadito (1888-1902), Don Antonio de Ulloa (1887-1898), and Don Juan de Austria (1887-1898). The latter two ships were lost in the Battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898, along with the Velasco (1881-1898), a ship of similar design. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Don Juan de Austria probably taken while serving with the Michigan State Naval Militia. Photograph from Jane's Fighting Ships 1914. Click on photograph for larger image.

Don Juan de Austria was a 1,160-ton Infanta Isabel class cruiser that was built in 1887 at Cartagena, Spain, for the Spanish Navy. The ship was approximately 215 feet long and 32 feet wide, had a top speed of 12 knots, and had a crew of 153 officers and men. As built, Don Juan de Austria was armed with two 4-inch guns, eight 6-pounder guns, and two 1-pounders. This armament, though, was altered slightly in later years.

At the time of the Spanish-American War, Don Juan de Austria was part of the Spanish Squadron based in the Philippines. She was sunk by American warships under Commodore George Dewey during the Battle of Manila Bay on 1 May 1898. After the war was over, the US Navy salvaged the ship and, after extensive repairs were made at Hong Kong, commissioned the vessel into the Navy on 11 April 1900. After being commissioned, USS Don Juan de Austria was assigned to the Asiatic Station.

From 5 June to 18 October 1900, Don Juan de Austria was ordered to patrol off the coast of Canton, China. As part of the Asiatic Station, her primary duty was to protect American lives and property in the area. On 25 November, the ship left Hong Kong and arrived at Cavite in the Philippine Islands on 28 November. Don Juan de Austria then played a significant role in assisting US military forces in suppressing the Filipino revolt on the islands. Her primary duties included supporting Army operations against rebel forces, transporting troops and supplies, blockading specific islands to prevent the rebels from receiving supplies and weapons, and searching various towns for contraband. Don Juan de Austria visited Yokohama, Japan, from 1 June to 27 July 1902, but then returned to the Philippines and remained there until 19 April 1903.

Don Juan de Austria underwent an overhaul at Yokohama from 27 April to 1 June 1903. She then steamed along the coast of China and participated in naval exercises with the Asiatic Fleet. The ship left Hong Kong on 16 December 1903 and began a long journey to the United States. Don Juan de Austria visited Singapore, Ceylon, and India, transited the Suez Canal, and stopped at ports in the Mediterranean before crossing the Atlantic and reaching the United States. The ship arrived at the Portsmouth Navy Yard at Kittery, Maine, on 21 April 1904. She was then decommissioned on 5 May 1904.

After a thorough overhaul, Don Juan de Austria was re-commissioned on 10 December 1905. The ship was assigned to the Third Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet and on 28 February 1906 was sent to the Dominican Republic to protect American interests there. She returned to the Portsmouth Navy Yard on 21 February 1907 and was again decommissioned on 7 March 1907. Don Juan de Austria was then loaned to the Michigan Naval Militia, left Portsmouth on 28 July, and sailed for Detroit via the St. Lawrence River. Once there, she became a training ship for the Michigan Naval Militia and remained there until America entered World War I.

Don Juan de Austria was re-commissioned on 6 April 1917 and left Detroit on 17 July for Newport, Rhode Island. She arrived there on 6 August and was given the task of patrolling the inshore waters and coastline of New England. The gunboat was sent to New York on 7 August 1918 and escorted two tugboats that were towing barges to Bermuda. After completing the mission and reaching Bermuda, Don Juan de Austria returned to Newport on 1 October and towed the SS Charles Whittemore to Charleston, South Carolina. She then went back to Bermuda and escorted a flotilla of American and French submarines to Newport, arriving on 1 November. On 3 April 1919, Don Juan de Austria left Boston and assisted in escorting several transports that were bringing soldiers home from Europe. But with the end of World War I, the US Navy decided that there was no further use for this old gunboat, so on 18 June 1919 USS Don Juan de Austria was decommissioned at Portsmouth for the last time. The ship was sold on 16 October 1919. Although not built for the US Navy, she still managed to give the United States almost 20 years of faithful service.