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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
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History of USS Ariel

An airy and playful spirit who served Prospero, a wizard and the deposed Duke of Milan, who is the leading character in Shakespeare's play, The Tempest. As he carries out the sorcerer's commands, Ariel finds great fun in making sport of humans and in playing pranks upon Caliban, Prospero's deformed, sluggish, ill-humored, and treacherous slave.


I

(Sloop-of-war: tonnage 435; length 108'; beam 30'; complement 45; armament 16 9-pounder smooth bore)

In the spring of 1780, while Commodore John Paul Jones was in command of Alliance, Benjamin Franklin -- then one of the American commissioners at Paris -- ordered him to load that frigate with munitions and military stores which he had acquired for Washington's Army and had assembled at L'Orient for shipment to the New World. Since more material of war was stored at that port than Alliance could hold, Franklin asked the French Minister of Marine for the use of the prize Ariel to carry the surplus. Soon thereafter, that sloop of war arrived at L'Orient for loading.

Built on the north bank of the Thames River, Ariel had been launched on 7 July 1777 by the Perry Shipyard in the Blackwall district of London's Poplar municipal borough. Early during her service in the Royal Navy, she conducted patrols in the Irish Sea. Then, commanded by Capt. Thomas MacKenzie, RN, she headed west across the Atlantic for duty along the coast of England's rebellious American colonies. While cruising off the shore of South Carolina, Ariel -- rated as a 20-gun sloop of war although she then carried 26 9-pounder smooth-bore cannon -- encountered the French frigate Amazone on 10 September 1779 and, after a long and fierce battle, was forced to surrender. Condemned as a lawful prize, the former British warship became the property of the French Navy, but apparently saw no service before she was placed at Franklin's disposal.

Meanwhile, Jones had left L'Orient, and journeyed to Paris to obtain funds with which to pay Alliance's crew back wages and long overdue prize money. During Jones' absence from his ship, Capt. Pierre Landais arrived in L'Orient. Franklin had recently relieved this erstwhile commanding officer of Alliance from command of that frigate for his disobedience to orders during a recent cruise of Jones' squadron and for his incompetence and disloyalty during the historic and heroic battle between the squadron's flagship, Bonhomme Richard, and the British frigate Serapis. Landais -- prompted by Arthur Lee, a fellow commissioner but enemy of Franklin -- seized command of Alliance on 13 June 1780. He sailed in the frigate on 8 July, bound for America with Lee, and his suite on board as passengers but without most of the desparately needed military cargo which he left in L'Orient.

Since Landais' bizarre behavior had deprived Jones of Alliance, Jones assumed command of Ariel. He had the ship rerigged to improve her sailing qualities and removed 10 of his 26 guns to make room for more cargo. However, Ariel's sailing was also long delayed by loading the ship and by the need to obtain other vessels to carry the surplus cargo which Ariel could not hold. The ship -- accompanied by merchantmen Luke and Duke of Leinster which Franklin had chartered to take care of the surplus supplies -- departed L'Orient on 5 September, but they were held up in Groix Roads for over a month by contrary winds. The trio of ships finally put to sea on 7 October; but, the following day, one of the most severe storms in the history of the French coast broke and wreaked great havoc in the area, destroying many ships. Ariel lost all her masts, sprang leaks, and suffered much other damage. Only Jones' superb seamanship enabled her to stay afloat and then to limp back into Groix Roads, under a jury rig on the morning of 12 October.

Luke -- faster and less damaged than Ariel -- also managed to get back to port, but sailed independently before Ariel's repairs could be completed and was captured by a British warship. No record has been found of Duke of Leinster after her sailing on 7 October, so it is quite possible that she foundered during the hurricane.

More than two months passed before Ariel was seaworthy once more. She finally got underway again on 18 October. Since much of his ship's battery had been left in France, Jones followed a southern route in the hope of avoiding interference by the Royal Navy.

However, in this strategy, he was only partially successful. When his ship had reached a point some 200 miles north of the Leeward Islands, a lookout reported a large ship which soon began to approach Ariel. Rather than risk his only partially armed ship and the vital cargo and dispatches which she was carrying, Jones reluctantly had Ariel take to her heels. Jones hoped that she would shake off her pursuer during the night, but the stranger was in full sight when daylight returned the following morning, closer than she had been when last seen the previous evening.

Ever resourceful, Jones then shifted to a new plan. He would try to pass Ariel off as a warship of the Royal Navy. When his pursuer reached hailing distance of Ariel, Jones demanded that her captain identify himself and his ship which proved to be the 20-gun British privateer Triumph commanded by John Pindar. Jones then ordered the privateer's captain to come on board Ariel with documents to verify his statements. When Pindar did not do so, Jones opened fire and forced his surprised enemy to surrender following a short and one-sided struggle. However, after Triumph had struck her colors, Pindar maneuvered his ship to Ariel's weather bow while the latter was lowering a boat for a prize crew and then quickly sailed away from the slower American ship.

This engagement was John Paul Jones' last battle in the cause of American freedom, but he soon had to deal with trouble of another sort, a budding mutiny. After uncovering a plot to take over the ship by the English seamen whom he had enlisted from among British prisoners of war in France to fill out a crew built around survivors from Bonhomme Richard, he clapped a score of the troublemakers in irons. The rest of her voyage to the Delaware capes was uneventful, and Ariel finally reached Philadelphia with her badly needed military stores -- which included 437 barrels of gunpowder, 146 chests of arms, a large quantity of shot, sheet lead, and much medicine -- on 18 February 1781.

At the beginning of March, Ariel -- still in port discharging her cargo -- fired a salute to celebrate Maryland's ratification of the Articles of Confederation activating the new Nation's first central government.

Early in June 1781, Jones turned Ariel over to the Chevalier Anne-Cesar de La Luzerne -- the French minister to the United States -- who manned her with a French crew for the voyage back to France. She apparently served the French Navy until she was lost in 1793.


II

(Schooner: tonnage 75; complement 36; armament 4 12-pounders)

The second Ariel -- a schooner built on Lake Erie at Presque Isle (Erie), Pa., by Adam and Noah Brown -- was launched in April 1813 and commissioned sometime during the ensuing summer, Lt. John H. Packett in command.

At the outset of her service, Ariel was blockaded in the harbor at Presque Isle by the British squadron under Capt. Robert Heriot Barclay, RN, until 2 August. However, when the English warship sailed away that day, Lt. Oliver Hazard Perry at once moved to get his squadron out into the lake. That action necessitated removing the guns from the two largest vessels of the squadron -- the 20-gun brigs Lawrence and Niagra -- and literally carrying them over the shallow bar at the entrance to the harbor. Lawrence passed over the bar early on the morning of the 5 August. At about 8:00 that morning, the British squadron reappeared and traded long-range gunfire with Ariel and other small units of the American flotilla. Apparently Barclay did not realize that the two heaviest units in the American force were still without guns and undermanned for, after trading a few rounds with Ariel and her colleagues, he drew off and gave the Americans time to rearm and bring their complements up to strength. Soon thereafter, Niagra also crossed the bar; and the Americans began preparations for battle.

Perry and his squadron left Presque Isle on the 18th to search for the British. However, by then Barclay had put into Amherstburg; and he remained there until the beginning of the second week in September. Meanwhile, after cruising around the lake fruitlessly for a time, Perry took all his ships -- except Ohio which he sent down the lake -- into Put-in Bay. On 9 September, the British squadron, dangerously short of provisions, left Amherstburg in search of a decision with the superior American unit. When Lawrence's lookout sighted Barclay's squadron on the horizon at daybreak on 10 September, Perry immediately ordered his ships to weigh anchor. As the American force steered generally northwest to meet the enemy, Ariel and Scorpion led the column, with Lawrence immediately astern and the rest of the Americans at some distance back. The action opened at about 1145 with some extreme range shots from a long 24-pounder on board the HMS Detroit, second ship in the British column. Scorpion responded with her long 32-pounder, but Ariel -- armed only with long 12-pounders -- apparently held her fire for a time. Within 10 minutes, the action became general -- at least between the British and three or four of the leading American ships. The rear-most American's were still quite out of range. Ariel, Scorpion, and Caledonia appear to have suffered little due to the fact that the British concentrated upon Lawrence. The smaller warships, however, stood gallantly by their stricken flagship inflicting on the enemy what damage they could. During the first phase of the Battle of Lake Erie, Ariel lost one of her four 12-pounders when it burst due to an overload.

Two hours and 30 minutes into the action, Lawrence was a battered wreck with her last gun silenced. Ariel, Scorpion, and Caledonia remained in action as the fresh Niagra finally hauled up to join in the close action. At that point, Perry shifted his flag to Niagra and charged to break the British line of battle. Lawrence, with but 14 effective seamen, struck her colors soon after Perry crossed over to Niagra. The British were never able to take possession of her, though, because Niagra succeeded admirably in breaking the British line and raking three of their ships to port and the other four to starboard. Meanwhile, Ariel and Scorpion provided what amounted to a crossfire on the three ships to Niagra's portside. Within 15 minutes of his line being broken, Barclay -- his major units in shambles -- lowered his flag in surrender. Two of the smaller British ships tried to flee, but Scorpion and Trippe shepherded them back later that night. Throughout the battle, Ariel lost only one man killed and three wounded. On the night of 11 September, both squadrons entered Put-in Bay.

The defeat of the British Squadron on Lake Erie opened the way for the recapture of the Northwest Territory (primarily what is now the state of Michigan) and for an invasion of Canada. After repairing the ships of the squadron and their prizes, Perry began embarking the troops of General William Henry Harrison's invasion force on 24 September. That operation complete, the squadron and its embarked troops set out for the mouth of the Thames River on the 27th. They reached their destination at about 4 o'clock that afternoon, and the troops moved ashore unopposed. Three ships of the squadron moved upriver as the American troops advanced on the retreating British. Although some sources indicate that Ariel was one of those ships, others which are probably more reliable indicate that the troops were accompanied by Scorpion, Tigress, and Porcupine. However, these records state that even these three ships were unable to ascend the river far enough to participate in the American victory in the Battle of the Thames fought on 5 October 1813. Ariel, therefore, probably rode at anchor at the mouth of the river throughout the operation. The brief campaign ended two days after the battle when the American troops returned to Detroit to consolidate once more their position in Michigan while the American flotilla reigned supreme on Lake Erie.

Ariel's subsequent career remains a mystery. One source suggests that she was burned during the British raid on Black Rock (now Buffalo), N.Y., on 29 and 30 December. That end, however, seems unlikely for she was carried on a list of ships dated 18 March 1814; and Theodore Roosevelt, in his still-respected study, Naval War of 1812, indicates that she joined three other small warships on a brief raid of British posts along the northern shores of Lake Huron. Unfortunately, none of the sources offer any real substantiation for their assertions. All that can be clearly stated is that her name was not included with those of her sister schooners on a list of United States naval war vessels dated 2 January 1816.


III

(Schooner; tonnage 48; speed 7.5 knots; complement 13; armament 1 gun)

The third Ariel -- a schooner, built in Baltimore by Dorgin and Bailey as Fourth of July -- was purchased by the Navy in April 1831 and commissioned as Fourth of July 19 May 1831, Lt. Ebenezar Farrand in command.

Renamed Ariel on 9 June 1831, she served as a patrol vessel guarding a live oak forest growing on the gulf coast of Florida between Cape Sable and the Perdido River. That duty lasted from June 1831 to December 1832. She entered port at Norfolk, Va., on 31 December 1832. Decommissioned there, she was sold on 3 January 1833.


IV

(Schooner: tonnage 20; draft 4'; armament 1 light 12-pounder smooth bore)

Early in the Civil War, the fourth Ariel -- a small, privately owned schooner --worked out of Mobile, Ala., under Confederate papers as a blockade runner. Few details of these operations have been found, but we do know that, on the night of 11 October 1862, she succeeded in slipping through the Federal blockade off Mobile Bay and sailed to Cuba laden with cotten. After arriving at Havana six days later, she delivered her cargo and filled up with lead, tin, medicine, wine, coffee, and other items needed by the South. On the evening of 14 November, as she was attempting to return to Mobile, Ariel was detected and captured by the Union screw steamer Huntsville. Sent to Key West, Fla., for adjudication, the schooner was eventually condemned as a lawful prize and was purchased by the Union Navy from the Key West prize court on 24 July 1863.

However, long before her formal acquisition, Ariel was fitted out for service in the East Gulf Bloackading Squadron. On 21 December 1862, Rear Admiral Theodorus Bailey detached Acting Master's Mate William C. Molloy from the recently arrived bark Gem of the Sea and ordered him to assume command of the schooner; and she began service as a tender to the squadron flagship, the frigate St. Lawrence. For the remainder of her service in the Union Navy -- some two and one-half years -- she spent most of her time acting as a tender to a larger warship, often the flagship.

While carrying out the unglamorous, monotonous, but important tasks assigned to her as she labored in her ancilliary capacity, Ariel managed to take three prizes. The first came on 6 January 1863. As she was cruising off Key Biscayne, Fla., about mid-afternnoon, she "...saw a suspicious looking craft..." sailing close to shore and immediately changed course to investigate. The stranger attempted to flee; but, after a chase lasting over two and one-half hours, was overtaken and forced to heave to.

The prize proved to be the sloop Good Luck, bound from New Smyrna, Fla., with a cargo of turpentine and cotton to be delivered to Nassau, New Providence Island, in the Bahamas. Her master, Edward Dexter, had already achieved considerable notoriety as a blockade runner. Since the sloop was leaky, Ariel towed her to Key West where she was turned over to the prize court.

Her next score did not come until late in the year when she captured Magnolia on 16 December 1863. When Ariel took that Confederate sloop, she was in the Gulf of Mexico, some 70 miles west of Charlotte Harbor, Fla., and heading for Mobile with medicines and liquor.

Off the mouth of the Cassahowitzka River, Fla., on 28 May 1864, two boats from Ariel captured General Finegan carrying cotton and turpentine from Crystal River, Fla., and heading for Havana. The cargo was removed and sent to Key West; but, since she was leaking, the sloop was burned.

About this time, Ariel became active in supporting Army operations. In mid-April 1864, she assisted troops which had been ordered to reinforce Fort Myers, Fla., and she continued to conduct silmilar operations through the ensuing summer. For instance, on the evening of 16 September, while Ariel was acting as a tender to screw steamer Hendrick Hudson, the schooner's commanding officer, Acting Master J. Russell, organized an expedition to a point near Tampa Bay, Fla., to take possession of a large amount of cotton owned by David Hope, a renowned skipper of southern blockade runners. What cotton the expedition could carry was sent to Key West and the rest was put to the torch.

Thereafter, Ariel continued to serve among the Florida coast through the end of the Civil War. After the collapse of the Confederacy, she was sold at Key West on 28 June 1865 to a John Curry.


V

(Store Ship - 22: displacement 11,875; length 446'10"; beam 60'3"; draft 26"; speed 18.5 knots; complement 328; armament 1 5", 3 3", 12 20millimter)

Jamaica was built in 1933 at Newport News, Va., by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co.; owned by the United Fruit Co.; operated in that company's "Great White Fleet" as a passenger liner until leased by the Navy on 24 March 1942; converted for naval services as a store ship by Todd's Galveston, Tex., shipyard; renamed Ariel and designated AF-22; and placed in commission at Galveston on 14 May 1942, Capt. E.P. Hylant in command.

On 25 May, the new store ship got underway for Norfolk, Va. Upon arriving there, she assumed duty with Service Squadron 7, Service Force, Atlantic Fleet. During the next one and one-half years, Ariel operated along the east coast and made numerous voyages to ports in the Caribbean. Among her stops were Bermuda; Trinidad; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Havana and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This routine was intrerrupted by a cruise to Iceland in August 1943. The ship left New York City on the 15th and sailed to Argentia, Newfoundland, before continuing on to Iceland and reaching Reykjavik on 24 August. After unloading her holds, the ship retraced her course back to the east coast, arrived back at New York City on 7 September, and resumed her schedule of supply runs to the Caribbean.

On 4 January 1944, the store ship left Norfolk, with a convoy bound for the Mediterranean. She touched at Algiers, Algeria, on 24 January and soon sailed for Naples, Italy. The ship reached that Italian port later the same month and discharged supplies. She then sailed eastward and paused at Oran, Algieria, in early February before sailing back to the United States. The ship arrived at New York City on 13 February.

Ariel set sail for the Caribbean on 20 February and made port calls at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, to unload supplies. The ship then returned to New York. In late March, she commenced another voyage to Iceland and arrived back at New York on 10 April. After a few weeks of upkeep, Ariel sailed for the United Kingdom. Upon her arrival there, the vessel provided food and supplies to ships preparing for the cross-channel invasion of Normandy. She operated from the ports of Clyde, Scotland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Plymouth and Portland, England. The store ship left England on D day, 6 June, and sailed back to the United States.

Ariel reached New York on 16 June. After a fortnight of leave and upkeep, the vessel cleared that port and sailed to Norfolk. On 1 July, she set out across the Atlantic on another resupply trip to Mediterranean ports. The vessel unloaded stores and equipment at Oran and Naples before reversing her course and steaming back to the United States. She made a stop in the Azores before finally putting in at New York on 3 August.

After one week in port, Ariel shaped a course to the Caribbean and discharged her cargo at Guantanamo Bay and Trinidad before returning home. Another round-trip from New York to Bermuda came in September. The ship sailed from Norfolk on 20 September bound for the Mediterranean. She once again moored at Oran and Naples to reprovision Allied forces operating ashore. The ship completed her unloading, sailed back to New York, and arrived there on 23 October. She remained long enough to replenish her supplies before getting underway for San Juan and Guantanamo Bay. In early November, the vessel returned to Norfolk for much needed upkeep. She resumed operations on 10 December when she set a course for the now familiar ports of Oran and Naples. After discharging her cargo, Ariel sailed back to the east coast and reached Norfolk on 6 February 1945. Later that month, she made another round-trip voyage to Oran.

In March, Ariel left New York en route to San Juan. She sailed back to the east coast and put into Boston, Mass., on 12 April. From that port, the vessel made a run to Argentia and arrived back at Boston in late April to take on more cargo, then set sail for Bermuda.

The ship continued her supply runs to Caribbean ports from New York, Norfolk, and Boston through May 1946. On the 12th of that month, Ariel got underway from New York for a final voyage to Iceland. After a pause at Argentia, the vessel sailed on for Reykjavik. She reached Icelandic waters on 29 May and proceeded to unload her cargo. On 1 June, she set a course for New York, arrived there one week later, and enetered the New York Naval Shipyard to prepare for inactivation. Ariel was decommissioned at New York on 21 June 1946 and was transferred to the War Shipping Administration that same day. She was ultimately returned to the United Fruit Co. The ship's name was struck from the Navy list on 3 July 1946. She was later converted for merchant service that same year.


6 August 2001