Aroostook II (Id. No. 1256)
A river which rises in Piscataquis County, Maine, and meanders in a generally northeasterly direction through much of the northern tip of the state before entering the Canadian province of New Brunswick and joining the Saint John River. Aroostook is an Algonquian word meaning a bountiful and unobstructed river.
(Id. No. 1256: displacement 3,800; length 395'0"; beam 52'2"; draft 16' (mean); speed 20.0 knots; complement 313; armament 1 5-inch, 2 3-inch, 2 .30-caliber Colt machine guns; class Aroostook)
The second Aroostook was originally constructed as the passenger steamship Bunker Hill by the William Cramp & Sons shipyard in Philadelphia. She was launched on 26 March 1907 and sponsored by Miss Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, daughter of the Mayor of Boston. Bunker Hill was inspected by the Navy on 2 November 1917 for possible use as a passenger and freight carrying steamship. Acquired by the Navy from the Eastern Steamship Lines, of Boston, on 12 November 1917, Bunker Hill was renamed Aroostook in General Order No. 343 of 15 November 1917, and given the identification number (Id. No.) 1256. Aroostook was commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on 7 December 1917, Cmdr. James H. Tomb in command.
As the ship's crew was organized and assembled, the conversion of the ship to a "mine planter" proceeded apace. Upon removal of the former cruise ship's wooden superstructure, the crew, organized by Cmdr. Tomb into industrial "gangs" of riveters, caulkers, shipfitters, and carpenters, was scattered to available spaces in yard shops, and subsisted on other ships; all work on the ship being performed in spite of a severe winter. Ultimately, her crew was shifted to a hospital barge nearby, where they lived until accommodations could be found on board. The ship's officers, in the meantime, established themselves in the superstructure that had been removed from the ship.
Aroostook conducted a brief shakedown in Massachusetts Bay from 6 to 10 June 1917, arriving in Boston harbor on 10 June 1918 to load mines. Shifting to the waters off Cape Cod on the following day, she sailed for Scotland on 12 June, in company with Shawmut, the mine planter Saranac (Id. No. 1702), and the tender Black Hawk (Id. No. 2140).
Prior to these ships' sailing, concern had arisen over the fuel capacities of Aroostook and Shawmut, since their abbreviated trial runs off Provincetown had disclosed that they consumed fuel at a higher rate than had been anticipated. Faced with an indefinite delay, Capt. Wat T. Cluverius and Cmdr. Roscoe Bulmer devised a plan to refuel the ships at sea from Black Hawk. They procured enough oil hose to do so, and the ships all sailed accordingly.
Both fuelings at sea, the first considered a "novel undertaking" and done in spite of a gale, were successfully carried out, and the ships made arrival without further incident. Aroostook reached her destination, Cromarty Firth, on 28 June 1918. She proceeded to the mine fields in the North Sea, arriving there to take up her duties as a mine planter, on 16 July, attached to Mine Squadron 1. By 30 September 1918, during her three months in European waters, Aroostook had planted 2,510 mines, steaming 4,066 miles during her mining "excursions" into the North Sea.
The armistice that stilled the guns on the Western Front meant a cessation of mining operations. Her task done, Aroostook sailed from Portland, England, on 14 December 1918, for the United States, in company with Shawmut, and arrived at Hampton Roads two days after Christmas. The following day, she discharged her mine cargo to barges in the York River. Aroostook remained in the Hampton Roads area into 1919, transferring mines and taking experimental mines from the mine planter Baltimore to the Mine Depot at Yorktown, Va.
Aroostook put into the Norfolk Navy Yard on 1 April 1919 for alterations to fit her out for to serve as the base ship for the NC flying boats earmarked to attempt a transatlantic flight. She received tanks for 5,000 gallons of gasoline, cradles to handle two small Curtiss MF flying boats, and modifications to her berthing and messing spaces to enable her to accommodate the men needed to service seaplanes. Underway for New York on 9 April, Aroostook arrived in the North River on the morning of the 10th, to take on board additional "aeroplane stores" and supplies for the upcoming flight. She sailed for Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland, on the morning of 27 April 1919.
After anchoring briefly off Miquelon, Aroostook put into Trepassey Bay on 2 May, joined soon thereafter by other ships assigned to support the NC flight. Aroostook completed the task of anchoring seaplane moorings on 3 May, and, on 5 and 6 May, tried to assist the tanker Hisko (Id. No. 1953), which had arrived on 3 May, off the beach were she had drifted aground.
Aroostook commenced tending the NC boats on 10 May 1919, with the arrival of NC-1 and NC-3. NC-4 arrived on the afternoon of the 15th, and moored astern of the ship, the last of the NC Division to make port before the commencement of the flight. Late the following afternoon, 16 May, the crews of the big flying boats mustered aft on board Aroostook, where the flight commander, Cmdr. John H. Towers, thanked Capt. Tomb for his ship's hospitality. Tomb good-naturely bet Towers that his ship would reach Plymouth, England, before the flying boats arrived.
Soon thereafter, the crews manned the three big flying boats and started their engines. NC-4, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Albert C. Read, cast off from Aroostook's stern and took off a little over an hour later, following Towers' NC-3 and preceding Lt. Cmdr. Patrick N. L. Bellinger's NC-1.
After fueling from Hisko, Aroostook recovered the seaplane moorings she had lain almost two weeks before and stood out of Trepassey harbor on the morning of 17 May 1919, bound for Plymouth. She arrived on the 23rd, to await the arrival of the flying boats. Ultimately, only NC-4 completed the flight-NC-1 and NC-3 were both forced down at sea and their crews rescued by passing ships, coming into sight of Aroostook's lookouts at 2:20 p.m. on 31 May. The flying boat touched down eight minutes later, and her crew embarked on board Aroostook "for quarters and subsistence" at 3:00 p.m.
After disassembling NC-4, Aroostook took the engines, hull, and wings on board on separate days, completing the process by 17 June 1919. The following day, the ship sailed for the Azores, reaching Ponta Delgada on 23 June. She then countinued her voyage to the U.S., reaching New York on 2 July 1919. After fueling, taking on water and provisions, and undergoing voyage repairs at Brooklyn, the ship proceeded to Newport, R.I., on 15 July, and remained there, awaiting orders, until the 23rd.
Aroostook stood out of Newport harbor on 23 July 1919, and steamed to Hampton Roads, arriving the following day. She then transported a draft of men to Portsmouth, Va., on 31 July, and took on supplies before shifting to Portsmouth to load mines and more supplies, completing the loading by 7 August. After a period of recreation and liberty for her crew, Aroostook sailed for Colon, Panama Canal Zone, on 12 August. She reached her destination on 18 August and transited the Panama Canal the following day.
Subsequently taking on fuel off Salina Cruz, Mexico, on the 26th, she reached San Diego on 1 September 1919. On 10 September, she proceeded to the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., arriving the next day to unload the mines brought from Hampton Roads. She returned to San Diego on 22 September to launch aviation barges, and from 24 September through the second week of December 1919, remained at San Diego, awaiting orders and undergoing machinery overhaul.
Departing San Diego on 13 December 1919, Aroostook steamed to Mare Island, arriving the following day, and there embarked a draft of men for transportation to San Diego. Underway on the 17th, she arrived back at San Diego on the 18th.
Aroostook had been one of two ships in the Mine Detachment (the other being Baltimore) that had accompanied the fleet to the Pacific during 1919-1920; immediately upon arrival in thePacific, however, Aroostook had been assigned to temporary duty as flagship for the Air Detachment, Pacific Fleet.
From 18 December 1919 to 16 February 1920, Aroostook operated out of San Diego, and over the next few months tended aviation units at San Diego, Santa Barbara, and San Pedro until 14 June, when she proceeded to San Diego for a machinery overhaul, and thence to the Mare Island Navy Yard. At the start of that period of availability, the ship received the alphanumeric hull designation CM-3.
Assigned to the Pacific Fleet as an aircraft tender, Aroostook, under the command of Capt. Henry C. Mustin, one of naval aviation's pioneers, sailed for Sausalito, Calif., on 14 August 1920, and thence to San Diego, arriving on the 19th. The ship tended seaplanes and participated in tactical exercises with the fleet in the waters off the coast of southern California into the autumn of 1920, after which time she shifted down to Balboa, Canal Zone, for further duty in the same vein. Aroostook then proceeded up to Magdalena Bay, Mexico, continuing her support operations there with the fleet's aircraft squadrons from 31 December 1920 to 8 March 1921, after which time she returned to her base at San Diego.
Dropping down to Guadalupe Island, Mexico, Aroostook tended planes there until returning to San Diego on 30 May 1921. She operated locally in the waters off the coast of southern California through the June 1922, a period of active operations punctuated by upkeep and repairs at San Diego. She operated locally at the Naval Air Station (NAS), San Diego, for the remainder of 1922 and into 1923. Following a period of repairs at Mare Island, Aroostook sailed for San Diego on 28 November 1923.
Aroostook sailed for Panama soon thereafter, in company with Jason (AV-2), and supported aviation operations in the fleet's annual winter maneuvers. After local operations from San Diego later that year, she returned to Panamanian waters, this time to Coco Solo, on the Atlantic side of the canal, to assemble and operate aircraft and participate in the winter fleet exercises. Also during 1924, the ship tended Scouting Squadron (VS) 2 at Sand Point, Wash., during an advanced base exercise, that summer, and underwent repairs and alterations at the Mare Island Navy Yard into November.
On 27 April 1925, Aroostook arrived in Hawaiian waters, and operated with the fleet out of Pearl Harbor on exercises through the summer, at Lahaina Roads and at Nawiliwili, Kauai. Chosen as one of the plane guard ships for the West Coast-to-Hawaii flight of the Navy PN-9 flying boats (PN-9 No. 1 commanded by Cmdr. John Rodgers and PN-9 No. 3 commanded by Lt. A. P. Snody), Aroostook sailed for station "Vice" on the morning of 29 August 1925. She reached her station late on the afternoon of the 30th.
Earlier that same day, Rodgers and Snody had taken off for Hawaii from San Pablo Bay, Calif. Less than five hours later, however, an oil leak forced Snody's PN-9 No. 3 down. All was not well on board Rodgers' plane, either, as he discovered that gasoline consumption on board PN-9 No. 1 was six gallons per hour higher than had been indicated in test flights. Before the plane had flown 1,200 miles, Rodgers decided that he would have to land alongside one of the plane guards and refuel. He figured he had enough gasoline to reach Aroostook at station "Vice."
Rodgers' dead reckoning navigation showed him to be a few miles north of his projected track, but radio compass bearings from Aroostook (erroneous, as it turned out) indicated that he was flying to the south of that ship. Assuming that the tender was not on her proper station, he turned PN-9 No. 1 to the north to look for her. The presence of rain squalls in the area increased Rodgers' uncertainty, the plane's gasoline ran out, and the flying boat made a forced landing at 4:15 p.m. on 1 September, 25 hours and 23 minutes after having taken off from San Pablo Bay.
The flying boat's disappearance triggered an intensive search, led by Cmdr. W. R. Van Auken, Aroostook's commanding officer. Langley (CV-1) also took part, her planes conducting daily searches in the adjoining waters, while submarines and patrol planes flying from the Hawaiian Islands joined in the effort to find PN-9 No. 1.
Sweeping the sky with her searchlight at night and stationing extra lookouts at all hours, Aroostook looked for the missing fliers until 7 September 1925, when she briefly put into Pearl Harbor to take on fuel and water. She stood out the same day to resume the search, and joined Langley and the destroyers Reno (DD-303) and Farragut (DD-300). Eventually, however, the submarine R-4 (SS-81) encountered Rodgers and his intrepid crew sailing PN-9 No. 1 ten miles from the island of Kaui at 1600 on 10 September-- some 450 miles from where the flying boat had gone down when its fuel gave out, and rescued them.
Aroostook soon returned to the west coast, transporting men and materiel for VS-2. Following local operations out of NAS San Diego, the ship underwent further overhaul work at Mare Island from 24 November 1925. She sailed for Panamanian waters the following March for Battle Fleet maneuvers. Returning to San Diego on 24 April 1926, she served as acting tender for Langley during Fleet Exercise No. 2 that June. Operating at San Diego for the remainder of the year, she rounded out the year tending the floatplanes of Torpedo Squadron (VT) 2. The following year, 1927, Aroostook operated between San Diego and Panama, conducting maneuvers with the fleet and, upon occasion, operating again as plane guard for Langley, On Navy Day 1927 (27 October), she visited San Francisco.
After conducting tactical exercises with the fleet in November and December 1927, Aroostook sailed for Hawaii the following spring. During this period, she again plane-guarded for Langley. Returning to San Pedro on 23 June, and thence to San Diego on the same day, the ship remained at San Diego thru mid-September, at which time she entered Mare Island Navy Yard for overhaul. Upon completion of that period of repairs and alterations, she sailed for Panama, arriving in those waters on 27 January 1929. She served as plane-guard there for the aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3) and participated in fleet problems with the Battle Fleet in Panama Bay. She returned to San Diego on22 March 1929.
After accompanying the fleet to Guantanamo Bay in March of1930, she proceeded to Hampton Roads and then visited Washington, D.C. before returning to Hampton Roads with a congressional party embarked. While in those waters, she served as plane guard for Lexington (CV-2). Returning to Washington on23 May, she sailed two days later for the Southern Drill Grounds, ultimately returning to San Diego on 13 June 1930 in company with Battleship Division 3, and duty as plane guard for Langley. Later that year, she tended planes involved in the bombing of target ships ex-Sloat (DD-316) and ex-Marcus (DD-321) and inspected targets. On 2 December 1930, Aroostook, with one utility and two patrol squadrons, reported for duty with Commander Base Force, providing that command with its first aviation organization. She rounded put the year tending planes from Patrol Squadron (VP) 7B, participating in a scouting problem.
Decommissioned at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, on 10 March1931, Aroostook remained inactive for the next ten years. The Navy considered reactivating her for service as a cargo vessel, taking the step of reclassifying her as AK-44 on 20 May 1941, but found her unsuited for this task. Her name was stricken from the Naval Register on 5 February 1943, and she was transferred to the War Shipping Administration.
Taken to the Maritime Commission's lay-up area in Suisun Bay, Calif., the ship, listed under her former name, Bunker Hill, was acquired by the Seven Seas Trading and Shipping Co., of Beverly Hills, Calif. The new owners christened her as Lux and converted her to a non-self-propelled floating casino to be anchored outside the three-mile limit. The U.S. Coast Guard seized the "gambling ship" on 17 September 1946, and, after she had been declared surplus by that service, was transferred to the Maritime Commission. She entered into the Reserve Fleet's berthing area at Suisun Bay at noon on 24 July 1947, and was advertised for sale on 8 August.
Ultimately, the Basalt Rock Co., Inc., purchased the hulk on 30 September 1947. The Maritime Commission delivered the vessel to her purchaser at 4:00 p.m. on 17 October 1947, and she was towed away to be broken up for scrap.
Robert J. Cressman
22 January 2018