The most recent littoral [close to shore] combat ship to join the U. S. Navy, the USS Fort Worth [LC3] was commissioned at Galveston on September 22, 2012 and being capable of in excess of 40 knots she is fast beyond the wildest dreams of John Paul Jones. She is by no means the first Navy ship named for Texas, a Texan or a city in Texas and ever since the Republic of Texas navy, under sail, defeated the Mexican navy – which was steam driven – Texans have crossed the bar from Galveston in fast ships looking for harm’s way. This entry is going to return us to the days of the Great White Fleet and the World War – which is what they called it before they started numbering them – and will tell tales of ships and sailors and Galveston, of how great the ocean is and how small the world is.
In the days when Alfred Thayer Mahan’s theories were being implemented to protect the United States we produced protected cruisers [so known because its armored deck offered protection for vital machine spaces from shrapnel caused by exploding shells above. Protected cruisers were an alternative to the armored cruisers, which also had a belt of armour along the sides], of which more than two-dozen were built or acquired between the mid-1880s and the early 1900s. Twenty-two of these warships received “cruiser numbers”, which were abbreviated “C-1” through “C-22”. In 1920-21 the surviving members of the group received new designations and numbers in the Armored Cruiser (CA), Light Cruiser (CL) and Gunboat (PG) series.
USS Galveston, a 3200-ton protected cruiser was built at Richmond, Virginia and commissioned in February 1905. During the next eight months she visited Galveston, Texas, crossed the Atlantic to France to participate in the return of the remains of John Paul Jones to the United States, helped host the Russo-Japanese peace conference, and carried State Department representatives to the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
In late December 1905 the cruiser left the U.S. for service in the Mediterranean and the Far East, where she remained until February 1910. After operating off the U.S. West Coast and in Alaskan waters during 1912-1913, Galveston was back on the Asiatic Station from November 1913 to late 1917.
Galveston next performed World War I convoy escort and training duties in the Atlantic, taking part in an engagement with the German Submarine U-152 while en route to the Azores on the 30th of September 1918.
U-152, a 1512-ton cruiser-type submarine built at Hamburg as part of Germany’s World War I shipbuilding effort, was commissioned in October 1917. Initially intended as a submersible merchantman for transporting critical war materials through the British blockade, she was converted to a combat ship while under construction. U-152 was actively employed in the Atlantic during the last year of the conflict. Among her victims were two American schooners, Julia Frances (sunk on the 27th of January 1918) and A.E. Whyland (sunk on 13th of March 1918), the Norwegian bark Stifinder (sunk on 13th of October 1918), and USS Ticonderoga. The latter was sunk, with heavy casualties among her crew and passengers, on 30 September 1918. The submarine also fought a gun battle with USS George G. Henry on 29 September. After returning to Germany in November 1918, at the end of her final wartime cruise, U-152 went to Harwich, England, where she was surrendered to the British. She sank in 1921, while on her way to be scrapped.
USS Ticonderoga, a 5130 gross ton cargo ship and animal transport, was built at Bremerhaven, Germany in 1914 as the German flag merchant steamer Kamilla Rickmers. Seized by the U.S. Government in 1917, she was renamed Ticonderoga later in that year, turned over to the Navy under charter and placed in commission in early January 1918. Later in that month she loaded cargo and, during February and March, made her initial voyage to France and back. Two more such round-trips followed in May-June and July-September 1918. On the 27th of August, while homeward-bound, she was unsuccessfully attacked by German submarine gunfire.
Ticonderoga left New York for her fourth trip to France on the 22nd of September 1918, but experienced machinery problems that caused her to drop behind her convoy during the night of 29-30 September. At about 5:45 in the morning of the 30th, a submarine was spotted ahead. As the ship’s gun crews prepared for action, her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander James J. Madison, tried to ram the enemy, but narrowly missed. The German, the large and heavily-armed cruiser submarine U-152, opened fire and hit Ticonderoga hard, setting her ablaze, killing several men, temporarily disabling her helm and knocking out her forward gun. With her radio wrecked, she was unable to call for help and had to continue the contest unsupported. Though badly wounded, LCdr. Madison regained his position on the bridge, got the ship under control and turned so her aft 6 inch gun , could bear on the enemy. U-152 submerged, then returned to the surface and resumed the battle. Once Ticonderoga’s aft gun was put out of commission, she was relentlessly pounded by exploding shells from the submarine’s two 15cm (5.9-inch) deck guns.
Casualties among Ticonderoga’s crew and passengers were very heavy. Unable to steer and incapable of fighting back, she was now helpless. U-152 took position off the American ship’s starboard beam and fired a torpedo that hit just aft of her engine room. Ticonderoga began to sink. Most of her lifeboats were full of holes and others swamped on launching, leaving only one boat and a raft for her survivors. As the ship was being abandoned under a white flag, the submarine continued to fire, killing and wounding even more men. After Ticonderoga had sunk, U-152 approached in search of officers, finally capturing her Executive Officer, Lieutenant Frank Muller, and Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Junius Fulcher. The remaining men, among them the gravely injured Lieutenant Commander Madison, were left adrift. After four days, the British freighter Moorish Prince came upon them, rescuing the twenty-two still alive. Those, plus the two officers taken by U-152, were the only survivors of the 237 on board Ticonderoga when the battle began. The dead included 112 U.S. Sailors and 101 Soldiers. This was the greatest combat loss of life on any U.S. Navy ship during the First World War. Only the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa, sunk a few days earlier, had more Naval personnel killed by hostile action. The 309 lost with the collier Cyclops, which disappeared in March 1918, were probably the victims of an accident.
George G. Henry, a 6936 gross ton (10,500 tons displacement) tanker, was built at San Francisco, California, in 1917. In August 1918 Her owner, the Los Angeles Petroleum Transportation Company, chartered her to the U.S. Navy, which placed her in commission at that time as USS George G. Henry Late in that month she began her first trans-Atlantic voyage as a Navy ship, taking aviation gasoline and other cargo to France. While returning to the U.S. on 29 September 1918 she engaged in a running gun battle with the German submarine U-152. The tanker was able to escape, although she was hit by one enemy shell and near-missed by others, which set her afire and wounded several crewmen. Later in that trip, on 3 October, George G. Henry collided with and sank USS Herman Frasch . Following repairs, she made four more voyages from the U.S. to France before being decommissioned and returned to her owner in May 1919.
Employed commercially under the American flag for the next twenty years, George G. Henry was transferred to Panamanian registry in July 1940 and, in mid-1941, steamed to the western Pacific where she transported fuel between the Dutch East Indies, Borneo, the Philippines, China, and Hong Kong. She was at Manila when Japanese attacks started the Pacific phase of World War II on 8 December 1941 (local date), but was able to escape to Borneo in mid-December. During the next two months, as Japanese forces advanced into the East Indies, she mainly operated in northern and eastern Australian waters, providing fuel oil to Allied warships as they fought fruitlessly against the enemy onslaught.
In mid-April 1942, after a voyage to Melbourne, George G. Henry was taken over by the U.S. Navy. Soon renamed Victoria (AO-46), she entered active Naval service in November 1942. She served along the Australian east coast until late August 1943, then shifted to New Guinea, where she supported U.S. and Australian operations in that island’s northeastern waters until November. Late in the year Victoria returned to New Guinea and resumed her service there and, on-and-off beginning in April 1944, in the Admiralty Islands. On 2 September 1945, the day of Japan’s formal surrender, the old ship steamed into Manila Bay to begin furnishing fuel to U.S. ships in the Philippines. Following brief air-sea rescue service in mid-October, Victoria went home to the United States, arriving at Mobile, Alabama, in late November. She was decommissioned in December 1945, turned over to the Maritime Commission and, in January 1946, stricken from the list of Navy ships. Recovering the name George G. Henry, she was delivered to the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey in March 1946 and, in April 1948, sold to Panamanian interests.
After that lengthy digression we return once again to the USS Galveston. Although Woodrow Wilson may have had the heart and soul of a Bolshevik the United States Senate had not yet been co-opted into the cause of world socialism. While having no affection for Tsarist Russia it had been a brief 20 years since an anarchist had assassinated William McKinley who was one of the most popular presidents of his time. Bolshevik or anarchist was not a distinction made in America in 1919 and we supported both the White Generals and Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky in an effort to ameliorate the worst effects of the Russian Revolution. In March 1919 USS Galveston began service in European waters, initially carrying troops to northern Russia. From July 1919 until July 1920 she was station ship at Constantinople. Among her functions there was the transportation of refugees, Red Cross officials and senior officers in the troubled Black Sea region.
Reclassified as a gunboat in July 1920, with the hull number PG-31, Galveston became a light cruiser (CL-19) in August 1921. She operated with the Special Service Squadron in the Caribbean and off Central America for nearly all of the 1920s, landing forces in Nicaragua during that Nation’s revolution in 1926.
Not all of a Naval vessel’s life is spent on diplomatic missions, fighting naval battles or showing the flag and helping allies suppress revolutions. A ship is a community where hundreds of crew members live in close proximity and while they fight shoulder to shoulder when they have to they enjoy the small pleasures of life side by side when they can. One of the time honored traditions of life on board a ship is the ceremonies that accompany the crossing of the equator and generally include some good natured hazing of the crew members who are making their first crossing.
Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona had not become states when she was launched. In a career that began before there was a Panama Canal and included service with both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets this proud vessel did just about everything that a naval vessel could do. She had to be a source of considerable pride to Galvestonians and Texans as well as the nation and she was intergal to the maritime tradition that includes a merchant marine that serves with the fleet in time of war.
USS Galveston concluded her two and a half decades of service in early September 1930, when she was decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Stricken from the Navy list a few months later, she was sold for scrapping in September 1933. The measure of the ship is the affection her crew has for her and this last picture shows them headed for liberty ashore but they still want the photographer and all who view his picture to know what ship they hail from.