(Tug: displacement 420; length 170'; beam 29'; draft 16'; speed 13 knots; complement 38; armament 2 3-inch, 2 machine guns; class Conestoga)
The second Conestoga--built in 1904 by the Maryland Steel Co., Sparrows Point, Md. -- was acquired by the Navy on 14 September 1917 from her owners, the Philadelphia and Reading Transportation Line, for use as a fleet tender and mine sweeper and assigned the identification number SP-1128; and commissioned on 10 November 1917, Lt. (j.g.) Carl Olsen, USNRF, in command.
Assigned to the Submarine Force and fitted out for distant service at Philadelphia, Conestoga carried out towing duties along the Atlantic coast, transported supplies and guns, escorted convoys to Bermuda and the Azores, and operated with the American Patrol Detachment in the vicinity of the Azores. At the end of the war she was attached to Naval Base No. 13 (Azores), from which she towed disabled ships and escorted convoys until her arrival at New York on 26 September 1919. Assigned to harbor tug duty in the 5th Naval District at Norfolk, Virginia, she was formally classified as a fleet tug, AT-54, on 17 July 1920 during the fleet-wide assignment of alphanumeric hull numbers.
Conestoga (AT-54) at San Diego, circa January 1921. Note name at bow, windscoops in the ports below the level of the main deck, and unusual clustered arrangement of her battery, forward of the foremast. (Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 71299, original courtesy of W. P. Burbage, 1970)
Ordered to duty as station ship at Tutuila, American Samoa, Conestoga underwent alterations and fitting out at Norfolk, and cleared Hampton Roads on 18 November 1920. Reaching San Diego, Calif., on 7 January 1921, she continued on to Mare Island, Calif., on 17 February for voyage repairs. Conestoga, Lt. Ernest L. Jones in command, with a crew of three warrant officers and a crew of 49 men, then sailed from Mare Island on 25 March 1921. She never reached her destination. The steamship Senator came across a boat with a brass letter C on its bows on 17 May 1921 at 18º15' N, 115º42' W, some 650 miles west of Manzanillo, Mexico, and about 30 miles off Clarion Island, but the identification number obtained from the waterlogged craft, M5535 B, did not match Navy Department records for a boat of that kind. A thorough search by ships and aircraft of the islands in the vicinity failed to locate either men or wreckage verifiable as having come from Conestoga, leading the Commandant of the 14th Naval District to conclude in a dispatch: "No trace of tug. Loss probable."
Lt. Ernest Larkin Jones, 41, Conestoga's last commanding officer, in a taken circa January 1921, perhaps just after her voyage from the eastern seaboard, with sailors of his crew looking on at upper right. Note boat at upper left, with identifying "C" on her bows, and worn condition of the strake along the hull. (Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 71504, original courtesy of W. P. Burbage, 1970)
On 30 June 1921, the Navy declared Conestoga lost with all 53 souls.
Rewritten, Robert J. Cressman, February 2008