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Yellowstone I (Id.No. 2657)


The first Yellowstone (Id.No. 2657) retained the name she carried at the time of her transfer from the U.S. Shipping Board; the second and third Yellowstones were named for the National Park in the states of Montana and Wyoming, established in 1872.


(Id.No.2657: displacement 12,570; length 416'6"; beam 53'0"; draft 26'3" (mean); depth of hold 34'6"; speed 10.0 knots; complement 79; armament none)

The first Yellowstone was a steel-hulled, single-screw freighter launched as War Boy on 9 December 1917 by the Moore & Scott Shipbuilding Co. of Oakland, Calif., and was completed in 1918.

Inspected by the Navy in the Twelfth Naval District, with an eye toward utilizing the ship as a depot collier, and assigned the identification number (Id.No.) 2657, the freighter sailed from the west coast to the eastern seaboard, and was taken over by the Navy at Philadelphia for operation with the Naval Overseas Transportation Service (NOTS). She was commissioned at Cramps' Shipbuilding Co. yard on 21 September 1918, Lt. Cmdr. Lawrence Dodd, USNRF, in command.

Soon thereafter, Yellowstone moved to New York where she arrived on 24 September 1918. She underwent repairs at the Morse Drydock & Repair Co. yards, Brooklyn, and suffered damage in a minor sideswiping collision with the British-registry Moorish Prince on 13 October. Shifting to Pier 5, Bush Terminal, Brooklyn, on the morning of the 15th, after repairs from her brush with Moorish Prince, the vessel took on board 6,672 tons of general cargo, including automobiles and locomotives, earmarked for U.S. forces in France, over the next few days. On 27 October, Yellowstone got underway, in convoy, for France, "proceeding under confidential orders on Army transport duty to port of debarkation." 

The war ended on 11 November 1918 while Yellowstone was en route to France and, three days later, the ship arrived at Quiberon Bay. She remained at anchor there until she received onward routing to St. Nazaire. There, she discharged her cargo and began taking on return cargo for transport to the United States. That load included "aeroplane parts." After shifting briefly to the St. Nazaire roadstead, Yellowstone departed the French coast, proceeding independently, on 27 November.

On 15 December 1918, and when only two days from New York, Yellowstone sighted a derelict three-masted schooner and altered course to close. She discovered the water-logged Joseph P. Cooper of Mobile, Ala., abandoned with her decks and cabin awash and with the fore rigging gone and the forecastle smashed in. She looked like she had been adrift from 6 to 8 weeks.

After leaving the derelict, Yellowstone continued her passage and arrived at Pier 5, Bush Terminal, Brooklyn, N.Y., on 17 December 1919. Shifting to Pier 1 at the end of December, she spent a week at anchor off the Statue of Liberty before returning to Bush Terminal and, later, shifting to the Army docks at Brooklyn. There, from 17 to 25 January 1919, the cargo vessel took on board 5,150 tons of supplies and, on the latter day, got underway for France.

During the crossing, she ran into a heavy gale on 4 February 1919. The ship rolled considerably at the outset, shipping water and spray amidships, and labored heavily. Five days later, with the storm still giving no signs of abating, Yellowstone's steering gear went out of commission. Soon both auxiliary systems, steam and hand-powered, also did likewise. Pumping oil through waste pipes in an attempt to break the force of the waves, Yellowstone wallowed through the storm while her engineers worked mightily to repair the casualty. By the 12th, the situation was well in hand, and the ship was once again able to utilize her steering gear effectively. 

Yellowstone anchored at Quiberon Bay at 0953 on 14 February 1919, but the ship's troubles were not over, however, as she grazed the jetty wall while entering the locks at St. Nazaire. At 0545, the engineer officer reported to the captain that two boilers were under water and the steam was cut off. As the ship moored alongside the nearby quay, Yellowstone's crew broke out a tarpaulin and collision mat. Soon thereafter, the freighter, still with way on, nudged into the bridge walk of the lock. By 0630, under tow by a French tug, Yellowstone reached a safe basin, where she dropped both anchors and began to take stock of the situation.

Divers examining the damage reported that a hole, six inches in width, had been opened up in the ship's side, extending from a point 10 feet beneath the water-line and about six feet in length. Drydocked on 11 March 1919, Yellowstone grazed the steamship Alesia that morning, causing minor damage to that vessel's railings on her promenade and boat decks. Three days later, tragedy struck the ship when Seaman John E. Kincaid fell from the gangplank to the floor of the drydock, suffering facial and internal injuries. Taken away by ambulance, Kincaid died three hours later. He was interred at American Base Cemetery No.21 on the afternoon of 16 March. 

Undocked upon completion of the hull repairs on 6 April 1919, Yellowstone loaded a return cargo of structural iron as ballast, barbed wire, and 6-inch artillery pieces. On 19 April, the ship shifted from St. Nazaire to Brest and got underway the next day for the United States.

Mooring at Pier 3, Bush Terminal, Brooklyn, on 7 May 1919, Yellowstone unloaded through mid-month. At noon on 24 May, a Shipping Board crew reported on board; and, at 1247, Yellowstone was decommissioned.

Simultaneously stricken from the Navy List and returned to the Shipping Board, Yellowstone's subsequent career proved to be a short one. On 10 December 1929, she ran hard aground off St. Michael's, in the Azores. Although the ship was listed as "stranded" and a total loss, her entire crew of 45 men was saved.

Robert J. Cressman

16 February 2022

Published: Wed Feb 16 20:19:58 EST 2022