Figure 1: American steam yacht Aztec, 1902. Photographed prior to World War I by Edwin Levick, New York. This yacht was acquired by the US Navy on 29 June 1917 and commissioned one day later as USS Aztec (SP-590). She was returned to her owner on 7 August 1919. The original print is in National Archives' Record Group 19-LCM. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Aztec (SP-590) at the Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts, 20 December 1917. Note the ship's unique camouflage scheme and the coaling facility beyond her bow. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Aztec (SP-590) in port on 1 January 1918, probably at the Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, Massachusetts. Note the ship's unique camouflage scheme and ice on the ship and the water. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: The yacht Aztec in dry dock for inspection and repairs at Boston, Massachusetts, after being purchased by Mr. T.H.P. Molson of Canada. Courtesy of T.H.P Molson. Photograph from The Armed Yachts of Canada by Fraser McKee. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: HMCS Beaver (S10), formerly USS Aztec (SP-590), also served in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Initially carrying the pendant number S10 and later Z10, she was commissioned into the RCN on 4 April 1941. In this photograph, Beaver looks almost worn out from patrol duties. The ship was scrapped on 17 October 1944. Courtesy Department of National Defense [Canada], Historical Section. Photograph from The Armed Yachts of Canada by Fraser McKee. Click on photograph for larger image.
The 848-ton Aztec was originally built as a private steam yacht in 1902 by the Lewis Nixon Company at Elizabethport, New Jersey. Her owner, A.C. Burnage, leased her to the US Navy on 29 June 1917 for use during World War I. The ship was commissioned on 30 June and then converted into the gunboat USS Aztec (SP-590). She was approximately 260 feet long and 30 feet wide, had a top speed of 12 knots, and had a crew of 96 officers and men. Aztec was armed with two 3-inch guns and two machine guns.
Aztec’s conversion into a gunboat involved an extensive overhaul and repairs. After the conversion was completed, Aztec became the flagship for the First Naval District and was based at Boston, Massachusetts. As a flagship, Aztec made numerous inspection tours of naval bases within her district. She also escorted submarines steaming from Boston to New London, Connecticut, as well as British troop ships sailing from Boston to Halifax, Nova Scotia. While escorting one of these convoys to Nova Scotia, Aztec was asked to assist a foundering British transport. She lowered her boats and rescued several hundred troops from the sinking British ship.
During the last three months of World War I, Aztec patrolled the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. On 24 December 1918, the gunboat steamed to New York City and, on 26 December, with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt on board, participated in a fleet review honoring the American battleships returning from duty in European waters.
Aztec continued serving in the First Naval District until she was placed out of commission on 15 March 1919. Aztec was returned to her owner on 7 August 1919 and converted back into a civilian yacht. But after the death of her owner in 1931, the former gunboat was laid up at Boston and remained there until purchased in early 1940 by Mr. T.H.P. Molson from Montreal, Canada, for service in the Royal Canadian Navy. Aztec was handed over to Canada on 28 May 1940 and was taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she was converted back into a warship at the Halifax Shipyards Ltd. The ship was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy as HMCS Beaver (S10) in March 1941.
For the next year and a half, Beaver was assigned to antisubmarine patrols and was also used as a convoy escort. She was based at various times at Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick. On 27 December 1942, Beaver was reassigned to duty as a tender to HMCS Cornwallis, which was based at Halifax. In early 1943, the ship was sent to a new base at Deep Brook, Nova Scotia.
From 9 February to 24 June 1944, Beaver completed a major overhaul at Halifax. At some point during this time, the Royal Canadian Navy decided to use the ship as a transport for naval personnel between Halifax and St. John’s, Newfoundland. Beaver served in this capacity through late September 1944, when serious mechanical and structural defects caused the gunboat to be placed in a dockyard at Halifax for repairs.
Because of the poor condition the ship was in, the Royal Canadian Navy decided that it wasn’t worth repairing the gunboat. Beaver was decommissioned on 17 October 1944 and eventually declared surplus on 13 July 1945. Beaver was eventually sold (probably for scrapping) on 7 January 1946. So ended the amazing career of an American ship that was originally built as a civilian yacht, but went on to serve in two navies and in two different wars.