Tuesday, November 29, 2011
USS Wilmette (IX-29)
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.