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Official confirmation of the planned organization of a Pacific Fleet which would include all of the United States naval forces in that ocean came on 27 February 1907. Rear Admiral William T. Swinburne, Commander in Chief, Pacific Squadron, was informed that he would report to Commander in Chief, Asiatic Squadron, for duty as Commander, Second Squadron, Pacific Fleet, upon receipt of telegraphic orders. These arrived on 13 April, and Swinburne reported accordingly to Rear Admiral James H. Dayton, who became Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, on 15 April 1907.
The new fleet was made up of three squadrons and two torpedo flotillas. The First and Second Squadrons consisted of fairly efficient fighting ships, while the Third Squadron contained a heterogeneous force of gunboats not suitable for tactical exercises. It was intended for detached duty in Chinese and Philippine waters, with headquarters at Cavite, and would necessarily operate as an almost independent force. The five destroyers of the First Torpedo Flotilla were also in Asiatic waters and continued to serve in that area.
The Second Squadron was almost identical with Swinburne's old Pacific Squadron and continued to cruise on the former Pacific Station. It was considered to be detached from the Pacific Fleet for special service until 1908.
In short, the only real change brought about by creation of the Pacific Fleet was that Admiral Dayton brought the four armored cruisers and four protected cruisers of his First Squadron from Asiatic waters to the west coast of the United States. Under his personal supervision, these vessels would devote their time to the endless drills and maneuvers necessary to transform them into an efficient fighting force, while Swinburne's Second Squadron performed its usual duties in the accustomed waters, and Rear Admiral Giles B. Harber directed the p165 activities of his Third Squadron from Cavite. It was expected that the First Squadron would visit most of the areas bordering on the Pacific Ocean, but in fact much of its time was spent in the eastern Pacific.
During 1907, the protected cruisers of Squadron One were replaced by four armored cruisers, and Squadron Two became a fairly homogeneous unit including the big first-class cruisers Charleston, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, the protected cruiser Albany, and the gunboat Yorktown. This was far and away the most formidable naval force ever assembled in the eastern Pacific, and for the first time it became possible to hold tactical drills and maneuvers that would be something other than a farce.
Neither the armored cruisers nor the big Charlestons have fared well at the hands of naval historians — they sacrificed far too much in the way of armament and protection to gain an extra few knots of speed — but they seem to have been suitable for service in the eastern Pacific.
The only possible major threat in the Pacific Ocean could have come from Japan. It was hardly likely that the Pacific Fleet would have attempted to protect American possessions in the Far East for the cruisers would have had to face a much heavier force operating almost in its home waters, while there was no large United States base nearer than Mare Island.
On the other hand, any Japanese fleet with hostile intent toward Hawaii or the American Pacific coast would have had to operate at the end of a long and vulnerable line of communications. The armored cruisers still could not have hoped to accomplish much against battleships, but they should have presented a serious threat to the auxiliary vessels supporting the enemy fleet. With their great cruising radius, the big cruisers could have operated from the Hawaiian and Aleutian Islands, and even from the ports on the long Pacific seaboard. Using their superior speed to avoid action with the more heavily armed ships, the cruisers should have forced the Japanese admiral to divert so many of the battleships to guard his supply line as to handicap seriously the main fleet.
Mahan might frown on such guerrilla warfare, but only two factors would have made it impractical. The armored cruisers were virtually the only scouting force possessed by the United States Navy, p166 and it might have been considered undesirable to risk the "eyes" of the battleship fleet before the latter could arrange in the Pacific Ocean. And the successful raiding operations of the armored cruisers depended on the availability of fueling stations. The United States had many suitable sites, particularly in the Aleutians which flanked the great circle route from Japan, but most of these were undeveloped or at best had facilities and supplies only for the revenue cutters and small warships cruising in the Bering Sea.
Nevertheless, the mere presence of a fast and homogeneous squadron in the eastern Pacific must have acted as a deterrent to the Japanese high command had there been any tendency toward an adventurous policy in the waters to the eastward of the 180th meridian of longitude.
There was very definite tension in American-Japanese relations in 1907. Despite Japanese displeasure at the American annexation of Hawaii, relations between the two nations had been amicable until after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904‑5. American public opinion had been pro‑Japanese during that conflict, and the United States had acted correctly toward the few Russian ships which made their way to American ports. But President Theodore Roosevelt's efforts to conclude the war, advantageous to Japan though they probably were, had aroused Japanese antagonism.
In addition, there were conflicting interests in Manchuria, and then San Francisco, rebuilding after its 1906 earthquake and fire, forced children of Oriental descent to attend segregated schools. Japanese newspapers promptly protested against this discrimination, and anti-American feeling ran high in Japan. Roosevelt was highly indignant at this foolish attitude on the part of the Californians and unleashed the full fury of his vocabulary against them. But the westerners were not impressed and retorted that their real enemy might well be an "unpatriotic President." Roosevelt finally solved the difficulty by arranging a visit of the San Francisco school board to Washington. The school officials agreed to rescind their segregation order in return for a promise that coolie immigration would be restricted. This was accomplished by the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907‑8 in which the Japanese government promised to issue no more passports to laborers going directly to the continental United States.
However, the "Rough Rider" President was afraid that the Japanese p167 would take his efforts on their behalf as evidence that he feared them. To demonstrate American power, he decided to send the Atlantic Fleet around the world. It was announced in July 1907 that the fleet would visit the Pacific coast, and on 27 August, the various bureaus of the Navy Department were informed that the battleships and a destroyer flotilla would sail for San Francisco, the small vessels departing not later than 1 December and the capital ships before 16 December.a
This brought a storm of protest from easterners who saw that the Atlantic seaboard would be left unprotected, but the President pointed out that the Pacific coast was just as emphatically the national interest and so was entitled to a visit from the fleet. He even expressed the hope that the fleet might be shifted to the Pacific Ocean every year or two until the completion of the Panama Canal made such a transit much simpler.
The fleet sailed on schedule and proceeded down the Atlantic coast of South America, through the Strait of Magellan, and northward in the Pacific, meeting with a vociferous welcome wherever it touched. Reaching Magdalena Bay, Mexico, two days ahead of schedule, the battleships paused for target practice, and then went on to San Francisco. Here, the fleet was joined by two more battleships and the armored cruisers of the Pacific Fleet. The whole vast armada entered San Francisco Bay together and anchored simultaneously with flying moors, a method in which a ship uses two anchors, dropping the first while making considerable headway. Mooring in an assigned berth with this method requires superb seamanship.
A round of parades and banquets followed, after which the fleet was divided for docking, with the battleships going to Bremerton or to Hunter's Point at San Francisco, while the smaller vessels were accommodated at Mare Island. Various Pacific coast ports were visited, and then the fleet reassembled at San Francisco before sailing westward on its voyage of circumnavigation. The battleships Alabama and Maine, replaced in the fleet by the Wisconsin and Nebraska, proceeded independently to the Atlantic via the Suez Canal. The fleet was greeted as enthusiastically in Japan as elsewhere, and there can be no doubt that Roosevelt's bold stroke was an outstanding success.
p168 Among other things, the cruise revealed a serious lack of colliers. It was obvious that many more of these vessels would be necessary were the fleet sent to the Pacific in wartime — it was largely dependent on chartered foreign colliers on its round-the‑world voyage — but the building programs of the next few years indicated that no alarm was felt on this point. The United States Navy remained seriously in need of all types of auxiliaries until World War I.
Lieutenant Hutchinson I. Cone's destroyer flotilla did not accompany the Atlantic Fleet when it left San Francisco, but was added to the torpedo force temporarily attached to the Pacific Fleet. The nine destroyers and five torpedo boats were grouped in three flotillas as the Eleventh Fleet with the former hospital ship Solace as tender. This force constituted a separate command, but joined the Pacific Fleet for annual maneuvers and was placed under the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, permanently in 1913.
The old and small torpedo boats were of doubtful value. The Department suggested that they might make occasional cruises northward to Puget Sound, but their commanding officer pointed out that they would be endangered in rough weather north of San Francisco. The only ports which could offer refuge south of the Columbia River were Coos Bay, Oregon, and Humboldt Bay, California, and these could not be entered when the seas were breaking over their bars. The torpedo boats might be towed by the larger destroyers, but the latter were so lightly constructed that the practice resulted in damage to engines and hulls. The 420‑ton "flivver" destroyers were subject to enough ills without forcing them to tow the outmoded torpedo boats. The desirability of concentrating the flotilla for maneuvers made it impossible to disperse the boats at strategic Pacific coast ports, and Mare Island was the only place where they could be kept up in reserve. So at Mare Island they stayed, except for an occasional short coastwise cruise.
San Diego was a persistent claimant as a base site for all or part of the torpedo flotillas. Many naval officers found its climate much pleasanter than that of San Francisco and sought to have it developed as a naval base, but the Navy Department would not divert funds from the stations already in existence, and it could not compete with San Francisco's more central location. San Diego's citizenry had to p169 remain content with an occasional visit from ships of the Pacific Fleet for the next several years.
After the Atlantic Fleet left the eastern Pacific, the Pacific Fleet continued its usual cruising and target practice. Rear Admiral Swinburne took his armored cruisers and some of the destroyers on a cruise to Samoa and Honolulu later in 1908. The large vessels towed the destroyers part of the distance to save coal, and the experience revealed a few of the difficulties that might have been expected. Hawsers parted occasionally, but in a smooth sea it was an easy matter to retrieve the tows. One division of the cruisers with its destroyers stopped at Pago Pago while the others touched at Apia, receiving an enthusiastic welcome from the inhabitants of that German outpost.
Pago Pago, Samoa, 1908. Destroyers and armored cruisers at anchor.
In 1909, Rear Admiral Uriel Sebree cruised in western Pacific waters with the armored cruisers. Calling at Japan nearly a year after the battleship fleet's visit, his ships were received with comparable joy and probably helped to maintain the amicable feeling then manifested toward Americans by the Japanese populace.
In no sense, however, were the cruises merely intended to impress foreigners. Regardless of their destination, the ships were continually engaged in maneuvers and tactical drills. The succeeding commanders in chief of the Pacific Fleet strove to increase the fighting efficiency of their vessels, and something of their enthusiasm was instilled in the captains, junior officers, and enlisted men under their command. The deficiencies of the armored cruiser type were not yet widely realized. To those who served in the big white ships with their distinctive four funnels, they were the dashing cavalry of the sea, an elite force which boasted the highest morale. The tradition of the "Armored Cruiser Squadron" has not yet disappeared entirely from the United States Navy.
The Tennessee and Washington, the heaviest armored cruisers in the Pacific Fleet, were detached for duty in the Atlantic early in 1910. The Washington's departure was delayed by smallpox among her crew and the smaller South Dakota was sent in her place. The latter returned to the Pacific Fleet upon being relieved in Atlantic waters by the Washington, and the six ships remaining in the Pacific were divided into two divisions of three ships each, still large enough for effective tactical use.
USS South Dakota in her 1916 rig.
p170 One of these vessels, the Pennsylvania, was to take part in two important experiments early in 1911. After Mare Island workmen erected a temporary platform above her stern, she was moored in San Francisco Bay, and on 18 January 1911, Eugene Ely, a civilian pilot, landed a Curtiss biplane on this "flight deck," the first such landing to be attempted.b Onlookers were aware of the significance of his feat, but the masking of the cruiser's after eight‑inch mount by the temporary structure caused the Secretary of the Navy to express interest in a float-equipped airplane which could be carried by warships unencumbered by platforms. Glenn Curtiss was already at work on such a machine, and on 17 February landed his hydroairplane alongside the Pennsylvania in San Diego Bay. The cruiser's boat crane hoisted aircraft and pilot on board and then returned them to the water, whence Curtiss flew back to his base on North Island. While the success of these experiments augured well for the future of naval aviation, its development was not rapid. A few vessels of the Atlantic Fleet received aircraft in 1914 and 1915, but apparently no aviation unit was assigned to a ship of the Pacific Fleet before 1917.
By 1910, notwithstanding the fact that it was desirable to have all American naval forces in the Pacific Ocean under one command, it had become apparent that the area was simply too vast for the commander in chief to wield effective control over the whole station. The Third Squadron had been acting under direct orders of the Navy Department ever since the formation of the Pacific Fleet and so had never been a true part of that organization. Accordingly, the Asiatic Fleet was re‑established as a separate command in 1910, and a few years later the Pacific Fleet's cruising ground was defined as an area almost identical with the old Pacific Station. But the Pacific Fleet was much stronger than the Pacific Squadron had ever been. Rear Admiral John Hubbard's Asiatic Fleet received only the few old cruisers and gunboats which had been assigned to the Third Squadron. Even as reduced, the Pacific Fleet was still the strongest American naval force after the immeasurably superior Atlantic Fleet.
Regardless of the strength of the Pacific Fleet, it was not well fitted in every respect for its normal duties. The recurrent Central American difficulties had to be dealt with by armored cruisers, and this was not the proper use of those vessels. They were too large to enter p171 many of the ports on the Central American Pacific coast, and large as their coal bunkers were, their furnaces seemed to have an even larger capacity for consuming coal. Smaller cruisers and gunboats were needed for such duties, but these were few in number and so decrepit that most of them should long since have been stricken from the Navy Register. The "reign of Roosevelt" had resulted in a navy of large ships, and President William H. Taft's Navy Department was unable to relieve the almost desperate need for light craft and auxiliaries. To be sure, the number of battleships authorized was reduced during Roosevelt's second term, but there was no comparable increase in the construction of smaller vessels.
As a result, every new crisis in Central America called the armored cruisers away from the maneuvers which alone could keep them an effective squadron. Life in these ships and in the little old gunboats may well be imagined. Day after day they rode at anchor in the tropical heat, rolling monotonously in the ever-present ground swell. Refrigeration facilities were small or nonexistent, and only limited supplies of fresh food could be obtained from the shore. Evaporators were barely efficient enough to keep the boilers supplied with fresh feed water, so the grime and dust which accompanied every coal-burning vessel could be removed only with salt water. Despite their white paint (most American warships were painted grey after 1910, but some vessels on duty in tropical waters retained their white coats), the living quarters and engineering spaces of the ships reached notably high temperatures under the tropical sun. Nor was there much relief when finally empty coal bunkers and supply lockers forced the vessel to depart for replenishment, usually in San Diego. Of course, there would be mail and perhaps liberty, but first all hands, including junior officers, turned to at the incredibly dirty and hard task of coaling ship. This completed and the ship washed down to remove the coal dust which penetrated every crack and covered every square inch of her topsides, there might be time for leisure. Too often, however, the coaling gear and hoses were stowed only to be followed by orders to unmoor and return to the area whence the ship had just come.
One of the crises which were such a trial to the Pacific Fleet occurred in the form of the Nicaraguan revolution of 1911. American interests were endangered, and although the Panama route had been p172 chosen for the isthmian canal, some Americans feared that an unfriendly foreign power might seize control of the Nicaragua route and build a canal which would weaken our strategic position. So long as the United States controlled the only canal, any foreign naval force would have to make the long passage around South America in order to threaten the Pacific coast. With a Nicaraguan canal, however, an unfriendly fleet might be able to arrive in the Pacific before the American Atlantic Fleet, which would have to take the slightly longer way through the Panama Canal.
Therefore, warships in the Caribbean and the Pacific were frequently in Nicaraguan waters, and when President Adolfo Diaz invited intervention for protection of American citizens in 1912, the gunboat Annapolis promptly arrived at Corinto and sent a landing force of sailors and Marines to Managua. They helped to keep fighting to a minimum in Managua and kept the railroad to the Pacific coast open. Rear Admiral William H. H. Southerland hastened to the scene in his flagship California to take command of the American forces, and additional men were landed from warships on both coasts. Major Smedley Butler's Marines from Panama were also dispatched to Nicaragua, and within two months United States forces in the Central American republic numbered some twenty-seven hundred men. Southerland's Marines and sailors captured the last rebel stronghold, León, on 6 October, and the violence was ended. Soon thereafter the Americans were withdrawn, leaving only a legation guard of Marines at Managua.
An unfortunate corollary of the Nicaraguan intervention was its effect on Latin American public opinion. Combined with the other and smaller interventions in the past, it was hardly calculated to instill a feeling of friendliness in the inhabitants of those areas toward the United States Navy. Their animosity did not ease the task of American sailors and Marines when, soon afterward, Mexican affairs became the overriding concern of the Pacific Fleet.
President Taft's exceptionally able Secretary of the Navy, George von Lengerke Meyer, was essentially a businessman, and his strong desire for efficiency was immeasurably helpful to the service. Among other reforms, he introduced scheduled visits of warships to the navy yards so that the latter maintained fairly constant work loads. Thus some of the ships were unavailable for service at all times, but no p173 longer would an entire fleet be immobilized for overhaul at one time with a resulting strain on yard facilities. Nowhere was this more important than in the Pacific, where only Mare Island and the poorly equipped Puget Sound yard were available to keep the fleet in repair. There were no less than nine navy yards on the east coast, several with better facilities than those at Mare Island.
Up to this time, decommissioned ships had been laid up at navy yards and allowed to deteriorate at their moorings. Meyer instituted a system of reserve fleets which contained the more effective of these vessels. They were kept in reduced commission with nucleus crews which were occupied with the upkeep of the ships. Occasionally each vessel's complement would be supplemented from those of the others, and she would go to sea on a short training cruise. Thus the personnel was kept at a fair state of efficiency, and defects in the material condition of the vessels were revealed.
Most of the ships assigned to the Pacific Reserve Fleet were based at Bremerton. They included two armored cruisers, the old battleship Oregon, two first-class cruisers, three protected cruisers, two torpedo boats, two submarines, and a submarine tender. Rear Admiral Alfred Reynolds commanded this force with his flag in the armored cruiser Pittsburgh (ex‑Pennsylvania). Sometimes vessels of the Pacific Fleet would be transferred to the Reserve Fleet when they were due for major overhauls, but usually such work required that they be placed out of commission entirely. Generally, however, the more modern warships alternated between active service with the Pacific Fleet and idleness with the Pacific Reserve Fleet.
By 1913, the United States Navy was experiencing a serious personnel shortage, obvious to naval officers, but overlooked by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and most other civilians. In the absence of any attempts to remedy this deficiency, it was natural that the officer and enlisted components of the reserve fleets would have been reduced to man fully the ships in full commission. This policy resulted in deterioration of the reserve vessels, and soon they were in little better condition that those which were decommissioned and laid up. In 1916, the Pacific Reserve Fleet staff engineer, a lieutenant, was commanding two 14,000‑ton armored cruisers in addition to his staff duties. In fact, he was the only commissioned officer assigned to the two ships. The beneficial aspects of Meyer's p174 system disappeared soon after its progenitor left the Navy Department.
The end of violence in Nicaragua was followed closely by the outbreak of disorder in Mexico which required the presence of American warships in the Pacific coast ports of that republic. President Woodrow Wilson had refused to recognize the government of Victoriano Huerta, who had declared himself provisional president of Mexico, and succeeding events culminated in the arrest of an American naval boat party in Tampico on 9 April 1914. President Wilson then ordered a blockade of Mexican harbors and the seizing of the custom house at Veracruz. There was some fighting in this city, and later in April, five American battleships arrived in the harbor. However, the further spread of hostilities was prevented when a joint arbitration proposal by Argentina, Brazil, and Chile was accepted. The cities near the seaboard of western Mexico had sizable American "colonies," and American investments in mines, railroads, and oil wells were valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. However, the situation had not called for active intervention by the Pacific Fleet, although some American property at Manzanillo had been destroyed before a warship could arrive. Usually the mere presence of a cruiser or a gunboat had been enough to guarantee the safety of foreign residents and property.
After the outbreak of World War I, some anxiety was felt lest German agents gain a controlling voice in Mexican affairs, and this added to the necessity of keeping ships in or near the western harbors. The armored cruisers in commission were first on the scene, but they were soon joined by smaller vessels operating directly under Navy Department orders at first. By 1915, however, the Pacific Fleet included five protected cruisers and two gunboats in addition to its three armored cruisers and the torpedo flotillas. The conditions under which the Mexican coastal operations were carried out were no more attractive than those which had characterized the earlier Central American patrol duties, and the ships remained the same except that their increasing years made themselves felt in aggravated material defects.
Gradually conditions became more tranquil, and on 7 May 1915, Admiral Thomas B. Howard advised the Department that the continued p175 presence of his warships in Mexican ports would serve only to irritate public opinion in Mexico. Further, he warned that American citizens wished to detain the vessels in those harbors for purposes other than protection. Few of the cities enjoyed radio or cable connections with the interior or with the United States; therefore, the merchants were availing themselves of the radio facilities of the men-o'‑war to communicate with those points. Instead of keeping a ship constantly in each major harbor, Howard set up a patrol system whereby each port would be visited periodically by a warship.
Later in 1915, Howard's fleet was reduced drastically. Only one armored cruiser was retained in commission to serve as his flagship. His request that more small vessels be commissioned for duty in Mexican waters received little notice, and his desire for information as to the expected role of the Pacific Fleet in event of war with a major power seems to have been ignored also. A few months earlier, the Pacific Fleet had been advanced to a dignity comparable to that of the Atlantic Fleet when the former's commander in chief was authorized to break an admiral's four-starred flag at his flagship's main truck. This was the only similarity between the two fleets; that in the Atlantic was made up of the most modern dreadnought battleships, while its Pacific counterpart contained only one obsolete armored cruiser.
Nor were conditions any better in the Pacific Reserve Fleet. Rear Admiral William F. Fullam, appointed to that command in 1915, found it in a sadly neglected state. The inadequate personnel had done its best, but the ships were badly run down, and it was impossible to carry out the desired training exercises. The facilities of the Bremerton yard were not adequate for the upkeep of several large ships, and Fullam absolved its commandants of any blame for the deterioration.
A lesser man might have accepted the situation and contented himself with routine work and explanations, but not Fullam. Innumerable letters, reports, and requests crossed his desk, and he spent hours inspecting the ships, encouraging the disheartened junior officers and enlisted men whose best efforts hitherto had been unappreciated. He bombarded the Navy Department with demands for more men and appropriations for repairs. Under this leadership, p176 something had to happen, and happen it did. The Pacific Reserve Fleet eventually became what George von L. Meyer had intended — an effective addition to the Pacific Fleet when needed.
Admiral William B. Caperton assumed command of the Pacific Fleet in 1916 and lost no time in asking for reinforcements. He thought that some of the ships of the Pacific Reserve Fleet might serve in Mexican waters, and at the same time Fullam was requesting that four of the older pre‑dreadnought battleships be sent to the Pacific for use as training ships by his men since the armored cruisers were still immobilized. The desires of both men were met by a Navy Department order authorizing the use of Pacific Reserve Fleet vessels on active service, but without placing them in full commission. Their complements would be increased only to the minimum required for sustained operations, and the ships would not be considered as units of the Pacific Fleet although cruising under Caperton's orders. Soon the latter was demanding that all routine reports of these vessels be sent to him, but Fullam insisted that they were still a part of his command and he must be the recipient of such reports. Fullam was undoubtedly correct in this stand, but it is impossible to escape the conclusion that all warships cruising actively in Mexican waters should have been attached to the Pacific Fleet.
Fullam lost no time in preparing some of the armored cruisers for this service, and even more defects came to light when they put to sea. The West Virginia sailed in spite of the bad condition of her main engines, controlled by hand gear aft because her steering engine was inoperative, and passing engine orders through voice tubes since her annunciators refused to function properly. She spent five months on Mexican patrol before receiving essential repairs at Mare Island.
Nor were all of the Pacific Fleet vessels in good material condition. While the small cruiser Chattanooga was bound for San Diego early in 1916, damage to her starboard high pressure cylinder caused her engineering force to compound the engine. There was no time for repairs at San Diego, and she sailed for Mexican waters once more with her starboard engine running at seriously reduced efficiency. The Chattanooga met the larger Milwaukee at Guaymas, and the latter's repair force worked around the clock for four days to cast and machine the necessary parts to return the cylinder to use. The general decrepitude of the ships was surpassed only by the ingenuity p177 and hard work of the repair forces which kept them at sea long after navy yard refits seemed imperative.
Although the Navy Department had ordered that two of the Pacific Reserve Fleet ships should be in Mexican waters at all times, that organization received no corresponding increase in personnel for some months. And when the Reserve Fleet complements were increased to 50 per cent of normal in February 1917, Admiral Caperton expressed his dissatisfaction because the men had not been sent to the Pacific Fleet instead. Fullam's reply is not known, but he might well have repeated the words earlier attributed to a sailor of the Reserve Fleet: "If we need a rest we will go into the active fleet."1
There is some evidence of friction between the two admirals somewhat earlier. Late in October 1916, the Maryland required relief, and Caperton had no vessel available for that assignment. Fullam advised him that the Reserve Fleet flagship Colorado was ready for sea, only to be told that the commander in chief did not wish him to go to Mexican waters. The irate rear admiral informed Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations:
I expressed my willingness to go to Mexico and relieve the Maryland, and shall still be glad to do so if necessary; but Caperton informs me that he prefers that I should not go there at present! Why? Is he or is the Department afraid of me? I should gladly go as a passenger in the Colorado, but I do not wish to be compelled to shift my flag again, having shifted it five times in one year.2
Eventually the Department authorized Caperton to man and recommission the old cruiser New Orleans as the Maryland's relief. No reason for Caperton's refusal of the Colorado appears in official correspondence.
It would be strange if this period of active cruising by worn‑out and undermanned ships had ended without a disaster, but when that did occur, it was not attributable to the afore-mentioned deficiencies. A division of submarines was proceeding southward along the coast early in January 1917, when one of them, H‑3, grounded near Humboldt Bay, California, owing to a navigational error. The Milwaukee and the monitor Cheyenne (ex‑Wyoming), both serving as submarine tenders, were ordered to her assistance. The H‑3's crew was removed by surfmen from the Humboldt Bay Coast Guard Station, and civilian salvage firms were asked for estimates on the cost p178 of refloating the submarine. However, these were considered to be unduly high, and the Navy decided that the two sailing vessels should attempt to pull the H‑3 off.
On 12 January, the Milwaukee steamed into position and passed a towing hawser, while the Cheyenne took a line from the cruiser's bow to assist in keeping the latter perpendicular to the beach. The first effort was unsuccessful, so the Milwaukee anchored and kept a strain on the hawser while awaiting the next flood tide. But during the night, her anchors dragged, and the current swung the cruiser into the surf, broadside on. The Coast Guardsmen removed her crew in the morning, just in time to escape a storm which drove the stranded warship even more firmly onto the beach. It was obvious that she would never be refloated; the removable gear was salvaged, and the Milwaukee's hulk was abandoned to the surf. Ironically enough, the H‑3 was later returned to service after having been refloated by one of the salvage firms whose bid had been rejected previously.
It might be argued that the slow and weakly armed cruiser was no real loss to the United States Navy, but the sight of her disintegrating hulk was certainly an embarrassment for some time. However, just as the Levant's disappearance was all but forgotten in the excitement attending the preliminaries to the Civil War, so the events leading up to 6 April 1917 soon drove the Milwaukee's fate from the minds of American citizens.
1 Fullam to Caperton, 30 October 1916, "W. F. Fullam Papers."
2 Fullam to Benson, 26 October 1916, ibid.
a For full details of The Great White Fleet, especially as to policy and public opinion both Stateside and overseas, see "The World Cruise of the American Battleship Fleet, 1907‑1909" (PacHR 1:389‑423).
b For details, including a photograph, see A. D. Turnbull and C. L. Lord, History of United States Naval Aviation, pp12‑13.
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