Tuesday, March 15, 2011
USS Fulton (AS-1, PG-49)
Figure 1: USS Fulton (AS-1) at the Naval Submarine Base at New London, Connecticut, during World War I. USS Ardent (SP-680) is partially visible on the opposite side of the pier. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Fulton (AS-1) at the Naval Submarine Base at New London, Connecticut, during World War I. A motor launch is in the center foreground and USS Ardent (SP-680) is at the right. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Fulton (AS-1) with submarines alongside, probably during or soon after World War I. The third submarine from the left (second outboard of Fulton) is a Lake-type "boat," probably L-5, L-6 or L-7. Donation of Captain Stephen S. Roberts, USNR (Retired), 2008. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Fulton (AS-1) towing the submarine G-1, circa 1915. The original print's reverse contains the hand written comment: "Towed 30 hrs. parted two line off Cape Hatteras, Fulton relieved by Castine, Castine stood by G-1 in storm off Hatteras for 48 hrs. before she could pick her up. G-1 registered a roll of 72 degrees. Arrow over rubber necks head." "Rubber neck" is probably Chief Quartermaster John Harold. Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: Ship's Chief Petty Officers of USS Fulton (AS-1) photographed on board the ship at the New London submarine base, New London, Connecticut, in 1919. The conning tower of USS H-2 (Submarine # 29) is visible in the right background. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS G-2 (Submarine # 27) underway, circa 1916, with USS Fulton (AS-1) following astern. Courtesy of Alfred Cellier, 1977. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Fulton (AS-1) underway in New York Harbor, date unknown. Photo from "Jane's All The World's Fighting Ships 1924." Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after the famous American inventor Robert Fulton (1765-1815), the 1,308-ton USS Fulton was a submarine tender that was built by the New London Ship and Engine Company at Groton, Connecticut, and was commissioned on 7 December 1914. The ship was approximately 226 feet long and 35 feet wide, had a top speed of 12 knots, and had a crew of 135 officers and men. Fulton was armed with two 3-inch guns.
After being commissioned, Fulton spent the first six months of her career tending submarines at Norfolk, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; New York City; and Newport, Rhode Island. Then, after undergoing an overhaul, she arrived at New London, Connecticut, on 2 November 1915. New London would be Fulton’s primary base of operations until 1922, although during that time she also visited ports along America’s east coast, the Caribbean, and Cuba. Fulton also participated in numerous naval exercises, acted as the station ship at New London, and during the summer of 1922 served as the flagship for the Commander of the Atlantic Submarine Flotillas.
Fulton became a submarine tender at Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone, on 4 April 1923 and for the next year participated in naval exercises on both sides of the Panama Canal. During that time, she also completed a survey of Almirante Bay, Panama. Fulton returned to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 14 July 1925 and was decommissioned there and placed in reserve on 5 October.
Fulton was re-commissioned on 2 September 1930 and was given the assignment of acting as a survey ship in the Panama Canal Zone. On 29 September 1930, Fulton was re-classified a gunboat and designated PG-49. On 3 March 1931, Fulton returned to Balboa, Panama, but was eventually sent to San Diego, California, arriving there on 13 August 1932. Once in San Diego, she was converted into a gunboat to serve with the US Asiatic Fleet in Hong Kong. Fulton arrived at Hong Kong on 3 November 1932. Although she made occasional trips to the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines, Fulton’s primary assignment was to patrol off the southern coast of China, from Hong Kong to Canton. Like all US Navy gunboats at that time, her primary duty was to protect American lives and property in China. But on 14 March 1934, disaster struck when a major fire broke out amidships on board Fulton. Faulty exhaust lines from a diesel engine ignited some oil and the fire spread rapidly. The crew quickly assembled on the bow and the stern of the ship, awaiting rescue. Fortunately, the British destroyer HMS Wishart and the steamer SS Tsinan were able to come alongside the stricken American gunboat and evacuate the crew. Another British destroyer, HMS Whitshed, stood by the burning ship until a salvage party made up of Fulton’s crewmembers could be placed on board the gunboat. Once they were finally transferred back to Fulton, the salvage party managed to bring the fire under control. An American tug towed Fulton to Hong Kong where she received emergency repairs which enabled her to be towed to Cavite. Fulton made it to Cavite but was probably considered not worth salvaging because she was decommissioned on 12 May 1934. After twenty years of service, USS Fulton was sold for scrapping on 6 June 1935.
Fire has been and always will be a major danger on board all ships. Fortunately, the fire that destroyed USS Fulton did not claim any lives.