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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Vessels Lost and Salvaged, Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1916

Related Resources:

Tsunami (Tidal Wave) Disasters and the U.S. Navy
Photos of USS Memphis beached by tsunami

Excerpt from Report of the Secretary of the Navy to Congress, 1 December 1916

The U.S.S. Memphis (formerly the U.S.S Tennessee), and armored cruiser of 14,500 tons displacement, was lying at anchor in the harbor of San Domingo City, San Domingo, on the afternoon of August 29.  The sea was smooth, and no storm warnings had been received.  Suddenly the sea rose, and waves resembling tidal waves in size rolled into the harbor, lifting the ship by successive steps, and finally, in less than an hour, depositing her on the rocky bottom in from 12 to 19 feet of water and only 40 feet from the precipitous shore line.  The loss of life on the vessel itself consisted of three men washed overboard and seven men who died as the result of injuries from the bursting of a steam pipe, probably caused by the displacing of several boilers from their settings when the bottom of the vessel was forced upwards by successive blows on the rocky bottom.  In addition, 25 men were drowned from small boats enroute from the shore to the ship, and 5 men from 2 other boats which had put out to sea for safety but were finally driven ashore during the following night.


The wreck has been carefully examined by both naval and civilian experts, the consensus of whose reports is to the effect that although salvage of the vessel, as a whole, is practicable the cost would be excessive and the ultimate delivery of the vessel at a repair port would be a difficult and dangerous undertaking.  The salvage, if successful, and repairs would take between two and three years.  In view of the great expenditure which would accompany an attempt at salvage, whether successful or not, and the certainty that, if successful, the ultimate cost would be close to the present book value of the ship; and further, in view of the fact that Memphis is of a class no longer constructed by any naval power, of comparatively small military value, and, if repaired, by two or three years from now would, in view of her age, etc., do little or no active service thereafter, the department has decided not to undertake salvage operations.  In the meantime all articles of a portable nature, whose value is commensurate with the cost of removal, are being recovered, and shipped to the United States whenever Government transportation is available.  Subsequent to the stranding of the Memphis the Government and citizens of San Domingo extended the utmost courtesy and hospitality to the officers and crew of the vessel.


Source: Annual Report of the Navy Department for the Fiscal Year 1916. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1917): 66-67.


12 January 2005