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William Johnson


Born sometime in 1715 at Smithtown, County Meath, Ireland, William Johnson came to America as a young man and soon became a prominent agent of the British in dealing with the Indian tribes of New York, particularly the Mohawks. He deserves much .of the credit for keeping the Six Nations from supporting the French during King George's War in the mid-1740's. He fought with distinction during the French and Indian War; and, in the decade following the return of peace, he contributed greatly to the smooth transition from French to British rule north of the Ohio River. Johnson died on 11 July 1774 near the sight of the present town of Johnstown, N.Y., while attempting to persuade the leaders of the Six Nations not to become involved in Lord Dunmore's War which had broken out in Virginia.


(Tr: t. 324; l. 138'5"; b. 23'7"; dph. 12'8"; s. 10.5 k.; cpl. 25; a. small arms; cl. "Mersey")


William Johnson—a steel-hulled, screw steam trawler built in 1918 at Selby, England, by Cochrane and Sons, Ltd., for the British Admiralty—was acquired by the United States Navy in the spring of 1919 on loan from the Royal Navy for service with the forces sweeping the North Sea Mine Barrage and was placed in commission on 28 May 1919 at Grimsby, England, Lt. Valerious V. Black, USNRF, in command.


Assigned to Trawler Division 2, Minesweeping Detachment, United States Atlantic Fleet, William Johnson shifted to Kirkwall, Scotland—the base of the mine-sweeping force—on 30 May. She participated in the third sweep made by the detachment between 6 June and 1 July, one of seven trawlers to take part in this operation. William Johnson exploded a floating mine on 10 June and destroyed two more the next day. On the 14th, she was rocked by an explosion when a mine detonated under the ship. Fortunately, no damage resulted, and the ship remained on station in the minefields. She destroyed another mine during this sweep— on the 16th—before later returning to Kirkwall.


After voyage repairs and replenishing, William Johnson sailed again for the minefields to participate in the fourth sweep operation. While sweeping on 9 July, the trawler exploded a mine close aboard that "shook up the vessel considerably." Again, however, the trawler seemed to bear a charmed life—her log records (probably with a sigh of relief from the sailor who wrote it) "apparently no damage" was done.


A charmed life, though, did not hold for a sister Mersey-class trawler, Richard Bulkeley. On 12 July, the latter fouled a mine in her kite; and while hercrew was trying to disengage it, accidentally set it off. The resultant explosion shattered the after part of the hull, opening the ship up to the sea; she filled with water quickly and sank within seven minutes. Comdr. Frank R. King, commanding the ill-fated trawler, went down with his ship as he endeavored to make sure that each member of his crew reached safety. William Johnson and John Collins—another trawler—altered course to close as Richard Bulkeley sank, and soon the former had picked up two men. Comdr. Ellis Lando, a classmate of King's, embarked in William Johnson as Commander, Trawler Division 2, risked this own life by diving overboard into the North Sea in an attempt to rescue a third sailor from Richard Bulkeley's crew. Comdr. Lando managed to get the man aboard, but the sailor's injuries proved fatal, and he was pronounced dead a short time later.


The loss of Richard Bulkeley—together with the general fragile construction evidenced in the group of trawlers loaned to the Navy—meant an end for most of the trawler's active minesweeping operations. William Johnson, however, appears to have been an exception, as she not only participated in the last two sweep operations but also performed unglamorous support tasks as well. She arrived at Rosyth, Scotland, Navy Yard, on 1 August; loaded a cargo of 14 reels of sweep wire the next day; and transported the cargo to Kirkwall. There, she took on board some minesweeping kites and delivered both kites and wire to other sweepers anchored in the harbor. She then proceeded to the minefields and took part in the sixth minesweeping operation conducted by the detachment.


Shifting to Inverness upon the completion of her operations, William Johnson took on a cargo of sweep wire and lubricating oil and delivered them to Kirkwall in mid-September before taking part in the last American minesweeping operation in the North Sea. By 30 September 1919, the commander of the Minesweeping Detachment could report that the Barrage was swept. With the task completed, the remaining trawlers were returned to the Admiralty.


Sailing to Brightlingsea, near Harwich, England, William Johnson was decommissioned and simultaneously delivered to the British Admiralty on 8 October 1919.