Naval Historical Center
805 Kidder Breese Street SE
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060
Joseph Leroy Nielson attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in the class of 1911. After a month's leave following graduation, his first assignment began in June 1911 on board USS South Dakota. Though an Academy graduate, it was not until 7 March 1912 that Nielson received his commission as Ensign. He remained on South Dakota until November of that year, when he was reassigned to the auxiliary cruiser USS Buffalo. Over the following two years, he served in cruisers and battleships, including USS Pittsburgh, USS Oregon, and a brief return to South Dakota.
Nielson left Oregon in December 1914, and was assigned to begin submarine training on USS Cheyenne. Commissioned a Lieutenant (j.g.) in April 1915, he was detached from Cheyenne in July and assigned to the submarine H-1. Nielson was appointed H-1's commanding officer in August 1916 and, despite a grounding incident, held that post until September 1917 when he began a two-year tour of shore duty.
During those two years, Nielson held postings at Navy submarine bases in San Pedro, California and New London, Connecticut, as well as temporary duty in London, England at Headquarters, U.S. Naval Forces in European Waters. When his shore duty was completed, Nielson returned to submarine service, commanding the captured German UB-88 on a tour of ports throughout the United States, and subsequently the U.S. submarines S-33 and S-6.
In June 1922, Nielson was assigned to command the gunboat USS Monocacy patrolling China's Yangtze River. The highlight of Monocacy's service under his command came in June 1923 when the ship recovered two boats belonging to the Standard Oil Company and their cargo of oil from a group of Chinese "bandits." This operation, executed under fire and in cooperation with local authorities, earned Nielson and his crew a commendation.
Shortly after his action against the bandits, Nielson was transferred from Monocacy to duty on the Receiving Ship at San Francisco and then with the 12th Naval District. His duty in California lasted two years, until he was transferred to USS Nevada in 1925, serving both as First Lieutenant and Navigator. In November 1928, Nielson was reassigned from Nevada to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station.
Nielson retired from active duty in December 1934 and served in the U.S. Navy Reserve until 1946. He died in 1967 in Los Altos, California.
Scope and Content Note
This collection contains the papers of Lieutenant Commander Joseph L. Nielson. The collection is divided into three series.
The Correspondence series, 1911-1932, holds both incoming and outgoing mail. Much of the material is official correspondence, but personal mail and letters describing events in the Yangtze Patrol Squadron in 1922-1923 are present as well. The Correspondence series is arranged chronologically.
In the Publications series, 1914-1923, are clippings collected by Nielson regarding his service with the Asiatic Fleet and reprints of articles from the U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings, which he authored. An article by Ensign Harry W. Hill is also contained in this series, as is a "Programme of Entertainments and Deck Sports" from the voyage of the passenger ship S.S. Presidente Pierce between Yokohama and Honolulu.
Completing the collection is an unidentified photograph of a woman, possibly Nielson's wife.
This collection should be cited as Papers of Joseph L. Nielson, Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
0.25 cubic feet
3 July 2003