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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Wadena

 

The Navy retained the name carried by the ship before her acquisition.

 

(Converted yacht: tonnage 246 (gross); length 176'; beam 20' 10"; draft 10'6"; speed 13 knots; complement 66; armament 2 3", 2 .30-caliber Colt machine guns, 10 Mk. I depth charges)

 

Wadena -- a steel-hulled schooner-rigged screw steam yacht -- was built in 1891 at Cleveland, Ohio, by the Cleveland Shipbuilding Co. In the spring of 1917, the Navy inspected Wadena and acquired her from J. H. Wade, of Cleveland, who delivered the ship to the 3d Naval District on 25 May 1917. Designated SP-158, Wadena fitted out at the New York Navy Yard for “distant service” and was commissioned on 14 January 1918, Lt. Comdr. Walter M. Falconer, USN (Ret.), in command.

 

In company with converted yacht Yacona (SP-617) and tug Mariner (SP-1136), Wadena got underway a half hour before the end of the forenoon watch on 6 February 1918, for New London, Connecticut. The little convoy encountered ice floes the next day; Mariner towed Wadena on two occasions, the tug having to stop and repair her ice-damaged bow on the second occasion, necessitating Yacona’s towing Wadena for a time. Anchoring off New London at the outset, the yacht shifted berths to the Central Vermont Railroad Pier, where she remained until steaming to Newport, R.I., on the 22d. She then coaled from a barge at the coaling station at Melville, R.I., Wadena’s crew having to transfer the dusty and dusky fuel into their ship by hand-shovels.

 

Wadena got underway from Newport, bound for Bermuda, on 24 February 1918 in company with Yacona and Mariner, and the tug Lykens (SP-876). The four ships then rendezvoused with eleven 110-foot  submarine chasers soon thereafter. The French tug Mohican accompanied the group, bringing up the rear. As the convoy worked its way down the eastern seaboard, however, Mariner fell progressively astern. She briefly towed the submarine chaser SC-177 before the tug began to founder in a heavy southwesterly gale that sprang up on 26 February. Mariner hoisted the breakdown flag shortly before the end of the forenoon watch and cast loose SC-177. Soon thereafter, at the start of the afternoon watch, Mariner, her seams opened by the pounding sea, her pumps inoperative, and boiler fires put out by the rising water in her engineering spaces, signaled: “We are sinking fast.” Wadena stood by to render assistance, her quartermaster noting that the sea was “very rough and running high.” After embarking two increments of the doomed tug’s crew from life rafts, Wadena sprayed oil on the water to calm the seas, and then brought on board the rest of Mariner’s entire complement from three rafts, the last, its occupants having abandoned the tug, decks awash, reaching the yacht’s side a half hour before the end of the first dog watch with Lt. (jg.) Martin Miller, Mariner’s commanding officer, on board. Later, while the rest of the convoy continued on its passage and Mariner, abandoned, drifted off to sink by day’s end, Wadena retrieved SC-177 and ultimately reached the British naval station at Hamilton, Bermuda, on 1 March.

 

Wadena returned to the east coast of the United States soon thereafter, reaching Charleston, S.C., on 10 March 1918. She remained there until the 25th, when she escorted another convoy of submarine chasers to Bermuda, arriving there on the 29th. Assigned to the “special task force” to safeguard the transatlantic passage of submarine chasers slated to operate in European waters, Wadena sailed for the Azores on 15 April in company with seven submarine chasers, the U.S. Army tug Knickerbocker, and the tug Lykens. Making most of the passage under sail, Wadena reached Ponta Delgada, Azores, on the 27th. In company with Yacona and the fuel ship Arethusa, Wadena then sailed for Bermuda on 4 May and reached the British admiralty dockyard there 10 days later. While at Bermuda, she was drydocked for repairs and the application of anticorrosive (Italian Venecium Moravia red) and antifouling (Italian Venecium Moravia gray) paint to her hull. Underway again on 25 May, Wadena sailed for the Azores and returned to Bermuda in company with old consort Yacona and a trio of tugs, Undaunted (SP-1950), Goliah (SP-1494), and Arctic (SP-1158), on 20 June.

 

After subsequently taking part in another transatlantic movement of submarine chasers from Bermuda to Europe, Wadena continued on via Ponta Delgada to Gibraltar in a truly allied assemblage, in company with the Italian Navy fuel ship Bronte and three French submarine chasers. Reaching Gibraltar on 31 July 1918, the yacht operated with the U.S. Patrol Squadrons based at that port into the autumn. She performed patrol and escort duties between Gibraltar and Funchal, Madeira; Ponta Delgada and the Canary Islands; and Tangiers and Safi, Morocco. On occasion, she also transported mail and people. After escorting the Naval Overseas Transportation Service cargo vessel Mount Shasta from Ponta Delgada to Gibraltar between 16 and 21 October, Wadena remained at Gibraltar into the second week of November 1918. An hour into the afternoon watch on 11 November, her quartermaster recorded: “At 1:00 (pm) received word that Germany had signed the armistice and that hostilities had ceased at 11:00 a.m.”

 

While the ship lay at Gibraltar, she was inspected by Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack, Commander, Squadron 2, Patrol Force. Eventually getting underway on 11 December 1918 to return to the United States, she made part of the passage in company with Sacramento (Gunboat No. 19), Paducah (Gunboat No. 18), and the Coast Guard cutter Manning. Wadena employed her sails for most of the passage, sailing via Ponta Delgada and Bermuda, and reached New London in company with Manning on 3 January 1919.

 

Placed in reserve, Wadena remained at New London into the spring of 1919. Although stricken from the Navy Register on 24 April 1919, she remained in commission. As squadron flagship, she departed New London on 5 May 1919, bound for the New York Navy Yard, reaching there the following day in company with converted yachts Wanderer (SP-132), Corona (SP-813), Christabel (SP-162), and Emeline (SP-175). Later that day, the process of removing her guns and other Navy equipment began. After shifting to the Marine Basin at Brooklyn a week later, Wadena was decommissioned on the afternoon of 19 May 1919. She was sold to S. H. Johnson of New York City on 12 July 1920.

 

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Robert J. Cressman

13 July 2006