Fort Niagara was captured from the British by American forces 28 November 1812.
(PG–52: dp. 1,922 (f.); l. 267’; b. 35’4”; dr. 17’; s. 16 k.; Cpl. 139; a. 2 3”)
The seventh Niagara (PG–52), a yacht built in 1929 as Hi-Esmare by Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, was purchased by the Navy 16 October 1940 from Mrs. H. Edward Manville of New York City; converted to a gunboat by the New York Navy Yard; renamed Niagara 12 November 1940; and commissioned at New York 20 January 1941, Lt. Edwin W. Herron in command.
Niagara got underway from New York 4 February 1941 to tend units of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2 operating between Miami and Key West, Fla., and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She departed Key West 20 March 1941 for repairs at New York and operations at the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, R.I. during the summer.
Niagara stood out from New York 30 August 1941 enroute to Hawaii, via Guantanamo Bay, the Panama Canal, and San Diego, arriving Pearl Harbor 9 October to patrol on the Hawaiian Sea Frontier. On 29 November she departed as a unit of the escort for a convoy bound to the Fiji Islands. She was at sea with the convoy when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The gunboat returned to that port 15 December, serving as tender to units of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron I until 1 April 1942.
She then escorted a convoy to San Diego enroute Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone, where she tended torpedo boats and helped to guard the approaches to the Panama Canal. During overhaul in the New York Navy Yard in the summer, she fitted out to serve at Newport, R. 1. as a school ship for a training squadron of motor torpedo boats. This duty continued until she headed for the Southwest Pacific 27 November via the Panama Canal and the Society Islands. Enroute, on 13 January 1943 Niagara was reclassified as the Navy’s first motor torpedo boat tender and redesignated AGP–1.
Niagara arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia 17 January and began tending Motor Torpedo Boat Division 23, Squadron 8. She sailed with the division on the 27th and reached her base at Tulagi, Solomon Islands 17 February. In ensuing months, she tended the motor torpedo boats running security patrols off Guadalcanal.
On 7 April the Japanese raided the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area with 177 planes, of which about 25 were shot down. Two bombs sank New Zealand corvette Moa. Niagara, in the thick of the fight, was north of the harbor, moored to the west bank of the Maliali River, heading downstream with minesweeper Rail (AM–26) tied up outboard well aft. Nine enemy planes came up the river, none of them over 150 feet above the water. Niagara and Rail took them all under fire.
The first plane, already aflame, crashed into trees about 1,000 yards astern of Niagara. The next two planes escaped, but the fourth rapidly lost altitude in a stream of white smoke to explode behind the hills to the north. The following two raiders passed within 150 yards and attempted to strafe the ship, but their firing was erratic and they wobbled uncertainly as they passed through Niagara’s heavy fire before crashing into the woods off her port quarter The next two planes sheared up and to the right when taken under fire. One trailed light brown smoke as it disappeared close over the hilltops abaft Niagara’s port beam. The other passed to starboard and crashed in the hills on her starboard quarter.
On 22 May Niagara, with Motor Torpedo Boat Division 23, departed Tulagi headed towards New Guinea. The following morning a high-flying Japanese twin-engined mono-Elane attacked with four bombs. The ship made a tight starboard turn at maximum speed until the bombs were released, then swung ship hard to port. Three near-misses to starboard and one to port damaged Niagara’s sound gear and the training mechanism of one 3-inch gun and knocked out steering control temporarily. Half an hour later, when steering control had been regained, six more highflying twin-engine planes dropped a pattern of over a dozen bombs. One hit directly on Niagara’s forecastle and several were damaging near-misses.
Water rushing through a 14-inch hole 6 feet below her waterline flooded two storerooms, a passageway, and her engine room. All power and lighting failed, and her main engines stopped. Fire below decks forward was out of control, and Niagara listed rapidly to port. Her main engine and steering control were restored 7 minutes after the attack. But her increasing list and imminent danger of explosion of her gasoline storage tanks necessitated the order to “abandon ship.”
PT–146 and PT–147 came alongside her stern to take off some of Niagara’s crew. Others went over her side into rafts and boats to be picked up by other motor torpedo boats. Niagara was then ablaze from bow to bridge. Flames were spreading aft, and ammunition was exploding on deck. Yet, despite her damage, not one of Niagara’s 136 officers and men was killed or seriously wounded.
PT–147 fired a torpedo which struck Niagara in the gasoline tanks. She exploded with a sheet of flame 300 feet high, and went down in less than a minute. The motor torpedo boats landed her crew at Tulagi early the next morning.
Niagara received one battle star for World War II service.