Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Figure 1: The Chicago-South Haven Steamship Line steamer SS Eastland getting underway circa 1905-07, location unknown. Photo source Eastland Disaster Historical Society. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: Postcard image of SS Eastland in the livery of the Eastland Navigation Co., Cleveland, Ohio, and SS Christopher Columbus underway from Chicago in 1909. Courtesy Robert Hurst. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Wilmette at Chicago, circa 1918. US Navy Photograph (19-N-10494). Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Wilmette moored at the Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois, date unknown. Courtesy Gunter Krebs. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Wilmette moored at Chicago, Illinois, circa 1932. Courtesy Robert Peterson. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: Aerial view of German submarine UC-97 at Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 1919. The submarine was given to the United States as part of German war reparations after World War I ended and was brought to the Great Lakes to be put on display for people living in the region. The submarine was sunk as a gunnery target by USS Wilmette on Lake Michigan on 7 June 1921. Courtesy the Canadian Navy Heritage website and the Canadian Post Card Company. Image Negative Number PA-030314. Click on photograph for larger image.
The steamship SS Eastland was built in 1903 by the Jenks Shipbuilding Company at Port Huron, Michigan, and was acquired on 21 November 1917 by the US Navy for service in World War I. The ship was converted into a gunboat and was renamed USS Wilmette, after a town in Cook County, Illinois. The 2,600-ton Wilmette was commissioned on 20 September 1918 and was approximately 265 feet long and 38 feet wide, had a top speed of 16.5 knots, and had a crew of 209 officers and men. The ship was armed with four 4-inch guns, two 3-inch guns, and two 1-pounders.
Because Wilmette was commissioned late in World War I, she did not see any combat service. But the Navy did use her as a training ship until she was placed in reserve on 9 July 1919. Wilmette had a 10-man caretaker crew on board until she was re-commissioned on 29 June 1920. For the rest of her 25-year career, Wilmette served as a training ship for naval reservists on the Great Lakes. Wilmette made voyages along the shores of the Great Lakes and, as part of a training exercise, the gunboat participated in the gunfire sinking of the former German submarine UC-97 on Lake Michigan. The submarine was given to the United States as part of German war reparations after World War I ended and was brought to the Great Lakes to be put on display for people living in the region. After the submarine was no longer of any interest, UC-97 was sunk on 7 June 1921 as a gunnery target by Wilmette. The gunboat remained in commission and continued training naval reservists until she was decommissioned on 15 February 1940.
Wilmette was re-designated IX-29 on 17 February 1941 and resumed her training duties on 30 March 1942. Her primary function was to train armed guard crews for duty manning the guns on armed merchant ships. This was a critical job considering the large number of merchant ships that were lost to German U-boats at the start of the war. She continued fulfilling this duty until the end of World War II. USS Wilmette was decommissioned for the last time on 28 November 1945 and her name was struck from the Navy list on 19 December 1945. On 31 October 1946, the old gunboat was sold for scrapping. All large navies need training ships and Wilmette accomplished this task for many years. Not bad for a gunboat that started out her career as a private steamship.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Figure 1: USS Alchiba (AK-23) off the Boston Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts, 18 June 1941. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Alchiba (AK-23) off the Boston Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts,18 June 1941. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Alchiba (AK-23) off the Boston Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts, 18 June 1941. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Alchiba (AK-23) photographed circa early 1942. Note her camouflage scheme. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: Guadalcanal-Tulagi Landings, 7-9 August 1942. A US Marine Corps M2A4 "Stuart" light tank is hoisted from USS Alchiba (AK-23) into a LCM(2) landing craft, off the Guadalcanal invasion beaches on the first day of landings there, 7 August 1942. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Alchiba (AK-23) fighting fires in her forward holds, with the assistance of a tug (probably USS Bobolink, AT-131), while she was aground near Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, circa late November 1942. Torpedoed on 28 November by the Japanese submarine I-16 and torpedoed again on 7 December, she was salvaged and repaired. Note smoke venting from the top of her kingposts. US Marine Corps Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Alchiba (AK-23) on fire near Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, circa late November 1942, after she had been torpedoed in the forward holds. Alchiba was torpedoed on 28 November by the Japanese submarine I-16. Her crew ran her aground and delivered her cargo while fighting fires, which burned until 2 December. She was torpedoed again on 7 December, but was salvaged and reentered service. Photographed by Sgt. Robert Brenner. US Marine Corps Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Alchiba (AK-23) aground and on fire near Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, circa late November 1942. She had been torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-16 on 28 November. Men are handling cargo on the beach, possibly assisting in unloading Alchiba while she was fighting her fires. Note barbed wire fencing in the foreground. US Marine Corps Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Alchiba (AKA-6) underway off Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, 4 August 1943. US National Archives photo # 19-N-49818., a US Navy Bureau of Ships photo now in the collections of the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: Broadside view of USS Alchiba (AKA-6) underway off Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, 4 August 1943. Alchiba was overhauled at the shipyard from 3 June until 7 August 1943. Navy Yard Mare Island photo # 5645-43. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Alchiba (AKA-6) departing Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, 4 August 1943. Note the imposing bridge front in this class and the semi-enclosed bridge wings. US National Archives, RG-19-LCM. Photo # 19-N-49818. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: Amidships looking aft view of USS Alchiba (AKA-6) at Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, 31 July 1943. Navy Yard Mare Island photo # 5542-43. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 13: Aft view of USS Alchiba (AKA-6) at Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, 31 July 1943. USS Suamico (AO-49) is pictured at left. Navy Yard Mare Island photo # 5541-43. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 14: USS Alchiba (AKA-6) photographed circa 1945. Courtesy of James Russell. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 15: Ex-USS Alchiba (AKA-6) in commercial service as the Dutch flagged Royal Interocean Lines MS Tjipanas, circa 1950, location unknown. Courtesy Gerhard Mueller-Debus. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 16: Ex-USS Alchiba (AKA-6) in commercial service as the Singapore flagged MS Tong Jit underway in the Malacca Straits, date unknown. ©Airfoto, Malacca. Courtesy Gerhard Mueller-Debus . Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a star, the 14,125-ton cargo ship USS Alchiba (AK-23) was originally built in 1940 as the civilian freighter Mormacdove by the Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Company at Chester, Pennsylvania. The US Navy acquired the ship on 2 June 1941 from the Moore-McCormack Ship Lines, renaming it Alchiba the next day and giving it the designation AK-23. Alchiba was converted into a cargo ship for naval service by the Boston Navy Yard at Boston, Massachusetts, and was officially commissioned into the Navy at Boston on 15 June 1941. Alchiba was approximately 459 feet long and 63 feet wide, had a top speed of 16.5 knots, and had a crew of 356 officers and men. The ship was armed with one 5-inch gun, four 40-mm gun mounts, and four single .50-caliber machine guns. Alchiba could also carry roughly 274,000 cubic feet or 4,705 dead-weight tons of cargo.
After being commissioned, Alchiba spent the rest of 1941 hauling cargo for the Navy in the western and north Atlantic, going as far east as Iceland. In early 1942, Alchiba was sent to the Pacific to transport supplies to the Society Islands and then returned to America’s east coast via Chile and the Panama Canal. The ship was ordered back to the Pacific in mid-June of 1942 and arrived in New Zealand the following month to join the amphibious force that was gathering there for the invasion of Guadalcanal. In early August 1942, Alchiba took part in the initial invasion of Guadalcanal and continued providing vital supplies to the American troops on the island for the next four months.
On 21 November 1942, Alchiba and the transport Barnett left Noumea, New Caledonia. Both ships were escorted by a destroyer. The ships were bound for Guadalcanal and Alchiba was carrying a highly volatile cargo of aviation gasoline, bombs, and ammunition. Alchiba was also towing a barge filled with Marston mats, steel mats needed for the critical runways on Guadalcanal. On the morning of 28 November, just two days after Thanksgiving, Alchiba was starting to unload her deadly cargo at Lunga Point on the coast of Guadalcanal when the Japanese midget submarine I-16 crept into the area. The submarine fired a torpedo that ran past a screen of five American destroyers and hit Alchiba right in her No.2 hold. There was a large explosion followed by a huge fire in the forward part of the ship. Alchiba took on a 17-degree list as the fire made steady progress to the aviation gasoline and bombs stored deep within her hull. The captain of the ship, Commander James S. Freeman, decided that the only way to save Alchiba was to beach her, giving his crew a chance to concentrate on the fire without having to worry about the ship sinking. Commander Freeman then gave the order to beach the transport two miles west of Lunga Point. At least if the ship blew up, it wouldn’t take the whole landing area along with it.
Within minutes, the burning Alchiba moved away from Lunga Point and grounded her bow hard into the sand so that more than 150 feet of her keel rested on the solid bottom. At the same time, Alchiba’s executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Howard R. Shaw, organized damage control teams to fight the fires, flood the magazines, and pour CO2 into the blazing hold. As the rest of the crew were frantically unloading ammunition from the ship onto small landing craft that transported the supplies to the beach, fire hoses were passed over from the minesweeper Bobolink (now doubling as a fleet tugboat), which was assisting Alchiba in fighting the blaze. The firefighting efforts continued all day, as exploding machine gun ammunition filled the air along with the smoke and the fire. Men scrambled all over the ship to fight the blaze, even though some of them passed out from all the smoke generated by the fire. That night, all crewmembers that were not fighting the fire were evacuated from the ship. By now Japanese aircraft were attracted to Alchiba, which was glowing in the night like a beacon because of the flames. Some bombs were dropped close to the cargo ship at 0330, but none of them scored a direct hit. For the time being, Alchiba was still alive.
The crew continued fighting the fire throughout the next day, 29 November 1942. Good progress, though, was being made in unloading the ship, thereby reducing the risk of a major explosion taking place. But the flames kept growing and there was still much more cargo to pull off Alchiba. The ship continued to burn for four more days, until finally the crew got the situation under control. An incredible effort was made by the crew to not only stop the ship from being consumed by the fire, but to also unload the precious cargo that was desperately needed by the men on Guadalcanal. Then on 7 December 1942, a torpedo was fired by yet another midget submarine and this one hit the aft section of the ship. The explosion killed three men, wounded six others, and caused severe structural damage to the ship. Fire and flames once more engulfed the ship, while the crew tried frantically to plug the new hole that was torn into the transport. Alchiba was in such bad shape now that the US Navy announced her to be a “total loss.” But the captain and the crew of this tough ship simply would not give in. They continued to battle the fires until they were finally extinguished. They also managed to patch up all the holes in the ship so that Alchiba actually floated again. The transport was eventually pulled off the sand and, remarkably, was able to start all its engines. The ship then was ordered to return to America for more permanent repairs. After spending the rest of December and part of January 1943 getting Alchiba in good enough shape to make the trip back to the United States, the ship began her long journey home. Although Alchiba had to make a stop along the way at Espiritu Santo for further temporary repairs, the battered cargo ship finally made it back to the United States and entered the Mare Island Navy Yard at Vallejo, California, on 2 June 1943.
Extensive repairs were made to Alchiba and work continued on the ship until August 1943. Alchiba was also re-classified an attack cargo ship and re-designated AKA-6. For the remainder of 1943 and up until March 1944, Alchiba performed logistics duties in the south Pacific. After an overhaul in mid-1944, the ship was plagued by recurrent engine troubles. She was in and out of shipyards for the next year and, during that time, completed only one voyage to the south Pacific. In July and August 1945, Alchiba delivered cargo to bases in the central and western Pacific. She stayed in the western Pacific area until late October 1945 and then returned to the United States, reaching the east coast by way of the Panama Canal in mid-December 1945.
USS Alchiba was decommissioned at Portsmouth, Virginia, on 14 January 1946 and her name was struck from the Navy list on 25 February 1946. The ship was transferred on 19 July 1946 to the Maritime Commission for disposal. She was sold in 1948, refitted as a civilian merchant vessel, and entered service as the Dutch-flagged MS Tjipanas. In 1967, the ship was sold to a Singapore-based company and re-named MS Tong Jit. In 1973, she was sold to a company in Whampoa, China, and scrapped.
The crew of USS Alchiba not only refused to give up their ship, but they knew they had to get their valuable cargo to the men who were struggling on Guadalcanal. For her service in World War II, Alchiba was awarded three battle stars as well as a Presidential Unit Citation for her service at Guadalcanal from August to December 1942. This was a rare honor for a US Navy cargo ship, but one that was certainly well deserved.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Figure 1: Late 1930s photograph of USS Northampton (CA-26) while at anchor. Note that all four of her scout planes are on catapults. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: Late 1930s photograph of USS Northampton (CA-26) while underway. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Northampton (CL-26) underway during builder's trials, circa spring 1930. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Northampton (CA-26) underway during the early 1930s, prior to the removal of her torpedo tubes. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Northampton (CA-26) photographed during the later 1930s, after her forward smokestack was raised. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: This appears to be the Pedro Miguel locks, Panama Canal Zone. If so, the Northampton (CA-26) is heading south toward the Pacific, December 1934. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: Starboard beam of Northampton (CA-26) while underway, 23 August 1935. Excellent detail image of the ship. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Northampton (CA-26) entering the river at Brisbane, Australia, 5 August 1941. Note her false bow wave camouflage. Courtesy of Perry M. Allard, 1983. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Northampton (CA-26) preparing to dock at Newcastle Wharf, Brisbane, Australia, on 5 August 1941. Note her false bow wave camouflage. Courtesy of James W. Fitch, 1984. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Northampton (CA-26) refueling from USS Cimarron (AO-22) during the Doolittle Raid operation. Photographed from USS Salt Lake City (CA-25). The original photo caption states that this view was taken on 18 April 1942, the day the Doolittle Raid aircraft were launched to attack targets in Japan. Note that Northampton's forward smokestack had been reduced in height by this time. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Northampton (CA-26) off Gonaives, Haiti, circa early 1939. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, collection of Rear Admiral Paul H. Bastedo. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: USS Northampton (CA-26) steams into Pearl Harbor on the morning of 8 December 1941, the day after the Japanese air attack. Photographed from Ford Island, looking toward the Navy Yard, with dredging pipe in the foreground. Northampton was at sea with Vice Admiral Halsey's task force on the day of the attack. Note her Measure One (dark) camouflage, with a Measure Five false bow wave, and manned anti-aircraft director positions. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 13: USS Northampton (CA-26) under attack by a Japanese seaplane during the US raid on Wake Island, 24 February 1942. Photographed from USS Salt Lake City (CA-25), one of whose 1.1-inch machine gun mounts is in the foreground. Note anti-aircraft shell bursts above Northampton and nearby bomb splash. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 14: Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, October 1942. USS Northampton (CA-26), at right, attempting to tow USS Hornet (CV-8) after she had been disabled by Japanese air attacks on 26 October 1942. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a city in Massachusetts, the 9,050-ton USS Northampton (CL-26) was built by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation at Quincy, Massachusetts, and was commissioned on 17 May 1930. Northampton was the lead ship of a class of six similar ships and was approximately 600 feet long and 66 feet wide. The ship had a crew of 831 officers and men and a top speed of 32 knots. Northampton was armed with nine 8-inch guns, four 5-inch guns, several 8.50-calibre machine guns, six 21-inch torpedo tubes, and four aircraft.
After being commissioned, Northampton went on a shakedown cruise in the Mediterranean and then participated in the US Navy’s regular program of operations and exercises. The ship was re-classified a heavy cruiser in July 1931 and received a change in hull number from CL-26 to CA-26. Northampton served primarily in the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans until 1932, at which point she was transferred to the Pacific Ocean and served there for the rest of her career. In 1941, Northampton steamed across the Pacific for a good-will trip to Australia.
On 7 December 1941, Northampton was at sea with the carrier USS Enterprise’s (CV-6) task force. The following day, Northampton entered Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and saw firsthand the massive destruction caused by the Japanese the previous day. Northampton’s early wartime operations were primarily in the Hawaiian area, but in late January 1942 she steamed to the central Pacific, where on 1 February she bombarded Wotje in the Marshall Islands. The ship then bombarded Wake Island on 24 February. Northampton was attacked by Japanese aircraft during her assault on Wake Island, but the ship sustained no damage. In March 1942, Northampton was assigned to a carrier task force that struck Marcus Island and then the following month she participated in the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan. She then escorted USS Enterprise to the south Pacific in May 1942 and defended the carrier during the Battle of Midway in early June.
Northampton returned to the south Pacific in August 1942 to participate in the American amphibious assault on Guadalcanal. For the next two months she escorted carrier task forces and was present when the carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) was sunk by a Japanese submarine on 15 September and was escorting USS Hornet (CV-8) during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October. When the carrier was severely damaged by Japanese torpedoes and bombs, Northampton tried to tow Hornet to safety. But Northampton had to cut the tow line with Hornet after another Japanese air attack inflicted additional damage to the carrier, eventually forcing her to sink.
In November 1942, Northampton joined a cruiser-destroyer surface action group that was assigned to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing their troops on Guadalcanal. Forty minutes before midnight, 30 November 1942, Northampton’s cruiser-destroyer surface action group ran right into a Japanese task force off Guadalcanal and the Battle of Tassafaronga began. The American destroyers started the action by firing torpedoes at the Japanese, after which all of the American warships opened fire. This stunned the Japanese task force for approximately seven minutes. But the Japanese soon recovered and fired torpedoes of their own at the American ships. Within the space of a minute, two American cruisers were hit by torpedoes and ten minutes later another cruiser was hit as well. All three of the damaged American cruisers had to leave the area, forcing the US cruisers Northampton and Honolulu, along with six destroyers, to continue the battle on their own. Shells were flying in every direction while Japanese searchlights scoured the water for American warships. Northampton was holding her own with Japanese ships until, towards the end of the battle, two torpedoes hit the cruiser, tearing a huge hole in the port side of the ship. The explosions tore away decks and bulkheads and flaming diesel oil was sprayed all over the ship. Northampton took on water rapidly and began listing sharply to port. The crew did their best to stop the flooding and put out the fires, but the damage was just too much for them. Three hours later, Northampton began to sink stern first. The crew abandoned ship and USS Northampton slipped under the waves. Fortunately, two American destroyers soon arrived on the scene and rescued the bulk of the crew from the water. The destroyers picked up 773 men, remarkable considering the damage that was done to the ship. Northampton lost 58 crewmembers during the battle, most of them when the two torpedoes hit the ship.
The Battle of Tassafaronga was a terrible defeat for the US Navy. At the start of the battle, the US Navy had five cruisers and four destroyers attacking a Japanese force of eight destroyers. The Americans should have overwhelmed the Japanese destroyers, but Japan’s better training at night fighting and their expert use of their “Long Lance” torpedoes, which were fired with deadly accuracy, made the difference. The US Navy lost one heavy cruiser sunk (Northampton) and three cruisers heavily damaged (USS Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Pensacola). The Japanese lost only one destroyer. The only good news was that the Japanese were prevented from reinforcing Guadalcanal that night. The US Navy was sustaining terrible losses to protect the Marines on that island and it would be another few months of intense fighting before the battle for Guadalcanal would end in an American victory.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Figure 1: USS Hornet pursued by HMS Cornwallis, 28 April 1815. Artwork depicting the British 74 gun ship Cornwallis (at left) chasing the US sloop of war Hornet in the South Atlantic, as the latter's crew throws overboard spare spars, guns and other items in an effort to increase her speed. Courtesy of Mr. Beverly R. Robinson, March 1937. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: US Hornet (1805-1829). Rigged model of a brig, made circa 1812. Hornet was converted from brig to ship rig in 1811. Courtesy of the Anderson Galleries, New York. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: Action between USS Hornet and HMS Peacock, 24 February 1813. Artwork depicts Peacock's mainmast collapsing at the close of the engagement. Courtesy of Mr. Beverly R. Robinson, March 1937. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Captain James Lawrence, USN, Commanding Officer of USS Hornet and USS Chesapeake. Engraving of the medal authorized by the United States Congress in honor of Captain Lawrence's 24 February 1813 victory in the action between USS Hornet and HMS Peacock. The Congress ordered a gold version of the medal and requested that the President present it to his nearest male relative. A silver version was presented to each commissioned officer who served under him in Hornet. The engraving was published in Lossing's "Field Book, War of 1812," page 700. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: Captain James Lawrence, USN (1781-1813). Stipple engraving by David Edwin, after Gilbert Stuart, printed with a line engraving by Francis Kearny depicting HMS Peacock sinking after she was captured by USS Hornet, under Lawrence's command, on 24 February 1813. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: Master Commandant James Lawrence, USN (1781-1813). Oil on wood, 28.5" x 23.5," by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), Boston, circa 1812. Painting in the US Naval Academy Museum Collection. Bequest of George M. Moffett, 1952. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Hornet captures HMS Penguin, 23 March 1815. Colored lithograph by S. Walters , after a sketch by William Skiddy, depicting the two sloops close aboard during the engagement, which took place in the south Atlantic off Tristan d'Acunha. Note that the erroneous date of 23 January 1815 appears on the print. Courtesy of the US Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland. Beverly R. Robinson Collection. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Hornet in action with HMS Penguin, 23 March 1815. Halftone reproduction of an artwork by Carlton T. Chapman, depicting the capture of HMS Penguin by USS Hornet off Tristan da Cunha, in the south Atlantic. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: Lithograph of USS Hornet by Imbert, published in "The Sailors Magazine" March 1830. It depicts Hornet foundering off Tampico, Mexico, on 29 September 1829. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Hornet (1805-1829), at top, and the schooner USS Grampus (1821-1843). Sketches of hulls and rigging (with the latter out of scale to the hulls), by William A.K. Martin, circa 1843 or later. Both vessels, which were lost at sea with all hands, are depicted flying their National Ensigns upside down, a sign of distress. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
USS Hornet was a 440-ton brig sailing ship that was built by William Price of Baltimore, Maryland, and was commissioned there on 18 October 1805. She was approximately 106 feet long and 31 feet wide and was armed with 2 12-pounder “long guns” and 18 32-pounder carronades. Carronades were short smoothbore cast-iron cannons that were used primarily as short-range weapons. The long guns were positioned forward for use when chasing an enemy.
After being commissioned, Hornet patrolled America’s Atlantic coastline until 29 March 1806, when she was ordered to join a small US Naval squadron that was protecting American shipping in the Mediterranean from pirates. Hornet then returned to the United States and arrived at Charleston, South Carolina, on 29 November 1807 and was soon decommissioned there.
Hornet was re-commissioned on 26 December 1808. She transported General James Wilkinson to New Orleans, patrolled off America’s eastern coastline, and carried dispatches to Holland, France, and England. Hornet then was sent to the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC, to be rebuilt and re-rigged as a sloop of war. This conversion took place between November 1810 and September 1811.
At the start of the War of 1812, Hornet was assigned to Commodore John Rodgers’ squadron. She captured the privateer Dolphin on 9 July 1812, but the prize ship Dolphin was recaptured by the British while en route back to the United States. By the middle of 1812, Hornet (now under the command of Master Commandant James Lawrence) had been cruising in the Atlantic for nearly four months, sometimes escorting the big frigate USS Constitution. But by early January 1813, Hornet was on her own and spent most of January blockading the Brazilian port of Bahia. While blockading Bahia, Hornet managed to keep the British sloop of war Bonne Citoyenne in port while also capturing several British merchant ships that were sailing nearby.
Then on 24 February 1813, while still sailing off the northern coast of South America, Hornet sighted the slightly smaller brig-rigged sloop of war HMS Peacock. Both ships probably saw each other at approximately the same time and closed for battle. At 1620, Peacock hoisted her colors and so did Hornet. By 1725, both ships were within range to exchange broadsides. Peacock, under the command of Captain William Peake, tried her best, but Hornet was more maneuverable and her gunnery was much more accurate than Peacock’s. Hornet’s guns swept Peacock’s decks and were rapidly blowing the ship to pieces. Within fifteen minutes, after having lost her commanding officer and seven other men killed or mortally wounded, Peacock gave up. The British ship had six feet of water in her hold and was cut to pieces in both her hull and masts. Some British sailors hoisted the Union Jack from her mainmast upside down, a signal of distress. But shortly after that, Peacock’s mainmast collapsed and fell overboard. Both Hornet and Peacock anchored after that and every attempt was made to save the British ship, but HMS Peacock sank soon after the end of the short confrontation. Hornet, which had lost only one man during the battle, took aboard Peacock’s survivors and then went about repairing her own damages. Because of the British survivors, Hornet was now badly overcrowded, so she sailed back to the United States and arrived at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on 19 March 1813.
Upon her return to the United States, Hornet’s commander, Master Commandant James Lawrence, was promoted to full captain and the US Congress authorized that a medal be made in honor of Captain Lawrence’s victory over HMS Peacock. Two months after the battle, Captain Lawrence took command of the frigate USS Chesapeake, which was preparing to go to sea at Boston, Massachusetts. Chesapeake left port on 1 June 1813 and immediately engaged the Royal Navy frigate HMS Shannon in a fierce battle. Unfortunately, Captain Lawrence was mortally wounded by small arms fire and, as he was being taken below to the doctor, he uttered the famous words: “Don’t give up the ship.” Chesapeake was soon overwhelmed by British boarders and the ship had to give up. Captain James Lawrence died of his wounds on 4 June, while Chesapeake was being taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, by her captors. His body was later repatriated to New York for burial. However, Congress still ordered that a gold version of Lawrence’s medal commemorating his victory over HMS Peacock be struck and requested that the president of the United States present it to his nearest male relative. A silver version of the medal was also presented to each commissioned officer who served under Lawrence on board Hornet.
Although the United States Congress ratified the Treaty of Ghent on 18 February 1815, thereby ending the War of 1812 with England, this news took a long time to reach ships at sea. So during the late morning of 23 March 1815, when Hornet (now under the command of Master Commandant James Biddle) sighted the British brig-sloop HMS Penguin off Tristan d’Acunha island in the south Atlantic, neither ship was aware that they were at peace.
The two sloops approached each other on roughly parallel courses, with Penguin to windward. Hornet and Penguin opened fire on each other at roughly 1340, exchanging broadsides, with Hornet firing to starboard and Penguin to port. After fifteen minutes, Hornet let loose a devastating broadside that killed Penguin’s commanding officer and many of her crewmen. Penguin’s bowsprit then caught in Hornet’s rigging and, as the two ships separated, the British ship’s bowsprit broke away, taking her foremast with it. Penguin was totally disabled and what was left of her crew surrendered to Hornet shortly after 1400. After the battle ended, the US schooner Tom Bowline and the US sloop of war Peacock arrived on the scene as Penguin began to sink. After Penguin sank, her surviving crewmembers were sent to Rio de Janeiro aboard Tom Bowline while Hornet and Peacock remained in the area for about three more weeks.
Hornet and Peacock then headed for the East Indies, still unaware that the war had already ended. On 27 April 1815, while sailing to the East Indies, both ships sighted HMS Cornwallis, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line. The two American ships mistook Cornwallis for a merchant ship and decided to attack. But after discovering their error, both ships retreated. However, Cornwallis saw the American ships and decided to give chase to Hornet. Hornet tried her best to get away from the giant British warship, but Cornwallis was beginning to gain on it. So Hornet’s skipper, James Biddle, gave the order to throw almost everything overboard to lighten the ship to gain more speed. Soon spare spars, boats, nearly all of her guns and ammunition, anchors, cables, some ballast, and a lot of other equipment went over the side. Through Biddle’s skillful seamanship and Cornwallis’ poor gunnery, Hornet picked up speed and got away. Now defenseless, Hornet returned to the United States and arrived at New York City on 9 June 1815.
After the war, Hornet went on a cruise to the West Indies and then was sent to Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1818. After making another trip to the Mediterranean in 1819, Hornet returned to the United States. She was based at Key West and Pensacola, Florida, to assist in ending piracy in the Caribbean Sea. Hornet captured the pirate schooner Moscow on 29 October 1821 off the coast of Santo Domingo and continued patrolling the Caribbean for several more years.
Hornet left her base at Pensacola on 4 March 1829 and set course for the coast of Mexico. She was never heard from again. On 27 October 1829, the commander of the US Navy’s West Indies Squadron received information that USS Hornet had been dismasted in a gale off Tampico, Mexico, on 29 September 1829 and had foundered with the loss of all hands. It was a sad end to one of the finest ships in America’s young Navy.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Figure 1: USRC Hudson at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 21 April 1898. Courtesy of the US Coast Guard History website. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USRC Hudson at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 21 April 1898. Courtesy of the US Coast Guard History website. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USRC Hudson at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 21 April 1898. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Winslow (TB-5) photographed circa 1898, with a small "water taxi" rowing past her bow. Courtesy of Jack Howland, 1985. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Winslow (TB-5) off Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1898. The Neafie & Levy shipyard is in the background. The original photograph was copyrighted by William H. Rau, 1898. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USRC Hudson coming to the rescue of USS Winslow during the Battle of Cardenas, Cuba, during the Spanish-American war, 11 May 1898. Courtesy USCG Historian’s website: http://www.76fsa.org/cgta/usrc_hudson_-_battle_of.htm Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after William L. Hudson (1794-1862), a noted US Navy Captain, the 128-ton United States Revenue Cutter (USRC) Hudson was built by John H. Dialogue at Camden, New Jersey, and was commissioned into the Revenue Cutter Service (which was the forerunner of the US Coast Guard) 17 August 1893. Hudson was approximately 94 feet long and 20 feet wide, had a top speed of 12 knots, and had a crew of 11 officers and men. Hudson also was the Revenue Service’s first vessel to have a steel hull and a triple-expansion steam engine. The small ship was armed with two 6-pounder Driggs-Schroeder rapid fire guns and one Model 1895 Colt automatic machine gun.
For most of her career, Hudson was assigned to duties in the New York Harbor area. Since she was a Revenue Cutter, the ship was under the control of the Treasury Department. But with the coming of the Spanish-American War, Hudson was transferred to the US Navy on 24 March 1898 and commissioned as USS Hudson, with First Lieutenant Frank Hamilton Newcomb of the Revenue Cutter Service in command.
Hudson left New York on 24 April 1898, shortly after war was declared with Spain. She steamed south to Key West, Florida, and was assigned to patrol duties as soon as she arrived. Hudson then was used as a dispatch carrier and ordered to join the other US Navy ships that were blockading Cuba. On the morning of 11 May 1898, the gunboats Machias, Wilmington, as well as Hudson, were ordered to blockade the harbor at Cardenas on the north coast of Cuba. These ships were joined by the torpedo boat USS Winslow, under the command of Lieutenant J. B. Bernadou. After three Spanish gunboats were seen in the harbor, the small American task force decided to run in after them. Winslow went in first to reconnoiter the area closest to shore, with the two larger gunboats ready to provide gunfire support as soon as anything was spotted.
At this point, Hudson was sent to scout the western shore of the bay while Winslow was investigating the east side of the harbor. When Winslow was roughly 1,500 yards from Cardenas, numerous shore guns opened fire on the torpedo boat. Shells were exploding all around Winslow, when, suddenly, some of them started to hit their target. Within a few minutes several more shells slammed into the torpedo boat, killing and wounding some men, and disabling the ship. Winslow now was dead in the water and drifting towards shore.
As soon as First Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb, commander of Hudson, saw what was happening to Winslow, he immediately steered his ship into the enemy fire to assist the torpedo boat. Hudson’s six-pounders sent a steady stream of fire at the Spanish artillery emplacements on shore. At the same time, the gunboat Wilmington kept firing everything she had against the town of Cardenas, destroying storehouses along the shore as well as all three of those Spanish gunboats that were originally in port. Because of the fire coming from both Hudson and Wilmington, the shots coming from the Spanish artillery began to subside. This allowed Hudson to gradually come near Winslow and try to rig a tow line. But as the Revenue Cutter neared the torpedo boat another Spanish artillery shell hit Winslow, killing Ensign Worth Bagley and wounding several men. Yet despite the Spanish shells that were now hitting the revenue cutter, Hudson got closer to Winslow and, after two tries, managed to secure a tow line.
By now Winslow was in terrible shape and near sinking. Unfortunately, Winslow’s rudder was jammed due to a direct hit on her stern and this made towing impossible. So, as a last resort, First Lieutenant Newcomb ordered that both ships be lashed together. Even though Spanish shells were still hitting both Winslow and Hudson, the Revenue Cutter managed to pull Winslow away from shore and limp slowly out of the harbor area. Hudson’s two six-pounders kept up a steady stream of protective fire, shooting 120 rounds in less than 30 minutes. But even though progress was unbearably slow, Hudson managed to keep Winslow afloat and pull her to safety.
As soon as Winslow was out of range and out of danger from further damage, Lieutenant Bernadou on board Wilson signaled to Wilmington, “Many killed and wounded—send boat!” Eventually, Hudson brought Winslow alongside Wilmington and all of Winslow’s dead and wounded were transferred to the larger gunboat. Of the Winslow’s crew of 21, five were killed and five were wounded (including Bernadou, who was hit by some shrapnel from an exploding Spanish shell that ripped into his right thigh; he used a towel as a tourniquet so that he could stay in command of his ship during the battle). Once the wounded were treated on board Wilmington, they (along with the dead) were again transferred, this time to Hudson, which was heading back to Key West along with some dispatches regarding the battle.
While this whole battle was going on, the other American gunboat during this operation, Machias, was also very active. Machias was bombarding Spanish positions on the smaller islands within Cardenas Harbor known as “The Keys.” Machias opened fire on the Spanish signal station on Diana Key, destroying it. After it was destroyed, Machias sent a landing party to take over Diana Key and to make sure there were no wires on the island that were attached to mines in the bay. After the landing party arrived on Diana Key, the American flag was hoisted next to the burning Spanish signal station and the men also discovered that there were no wires leading to mines in the bay.
As soon as Hudson returned to Key West, the wounded and the dead were taken off the ship. First Lieutenant Newcomb was interviewed after the battle and stated, “I know we destroyed a large part of the town near the wharves and burned their gunboats. But we were in a vortex of shot, shell and smoke, and could not accurately tell how much damage we did to the city.” Evidently the American ships did a lot of damage to Cardenas, because it was never a problem for the United States for the rest of the war. For their bravery during the Battle of Cardenas, First Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb received a gold Congressional medal, the other officers on board Hudson received silver medals, and the crew received bronze medals. These were unique awards made specifically to commemorate the battle itself and were the only specially struck medals awarded for bravery during the war. President William McKinley noted in his request to Congress for the special medals that: “In the face of a most galling fire from the enemy’s guns, the revenue cutter Hudson, commanded by First Lieutenant Frank H. Newcomb, United States Revenue Cutter Service, rescued the disabled Winslow, her wounded commander and remaining crew. The commander of the Hudson kept his vessel in the very hottest fire of the action, although in constant danger of going ashore on account of the shallow water, until he finally got a line fast to the Winslow and towed that vessel out of range of the enemy’s guns, a deed of special gallantry.”
Hudson remained on blockade duty for several weeks after the attack on Cardenas, mostly to deliver dispatches for the fleet, though she did capture two small fishing sloops that were attempting to run the blockade off Havana, Cuba. She then returned to Key West and steamed to Norfolk, Virginia, arriving there on 21 August 1898. The ship was then returned to the Revenue Service and became, once again, USRC Hudson.
Once back with the Revenue Service, Hudson was again based in the New York Harbor area. She resumed her traditional duties as a Revenue Cutter, which was generally patrol, search and rescue, and stopping any smuggled goods or contraband from entering the country. On 28 January 1915, the Life-Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service were combined to create the US Coast Guard. Hudson became the US Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Hudson and remained with the Coast Guard until 6 April 1917, when she was once again transferred into the Navy for use during World War I. Hudson was mainly given patrol and escort duties during the war, but was returned to the Coast Guard on 28 August 1919. Hudson remained active in the Coast Guard until 3 May 1935, when she was decommissioned and sold after giving more than 40 years of service. USCGC Hudson proved that you don’t have to be big or powerful to make a difference in a battle and both Winslow and her crew owed much to this little ship.