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California II (Armored Cruiser No. 6)


California (Armored Cruiser No. 6)

California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) in San Diego Harbor, California, circa 1910-1914. Photographed by the Arcade View Company. Courtesy of Captain Don Fink, 1983. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph, NH 94938.

The second U.S. Navy ship named for the 31st state of the Union.

(Armored Cruiser No. 6: displacement 15,138 (full load); length 503'11"; beam 69'6½"; draft 24'1"; speed 22.20 knots; complement 1,114; armament 4 8-inch, 14 6-inch, 18 3-inch, 4 3-pounders (saluting), 2 18-inch torpedo tubes (submerged); class Pennsylvania)

The second California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) was laid down on 7 May 1902 at San Francisco, Calif., by Union Iron Works; launched on 28 April 1904; sponsored by Miss Florence Pardee, the daughter of Governor of California George C. Pardee; and commissioned at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., on 1 August 1907, Capt. Thomas S. Phelps in command.

California departed Mare Island on 8 October for Vallejo Junction, Calif., where she took on ammunition and stores, and coaled (8-21 October). She then called at Sausalito, Calif. (21 October-4 November), for “presentation [of] tablet and colors,” before she called at San Francisco, Calif., to take on stores.

Steaming up the coast to the Pacific Northwest, California entered the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., for docking (16 November-4 December 1908). Following that period in yard hands, the new armored cruiser paid a brief visit to Victoria, British Columbia (4-5 December).

After delivering passengers and prisoners to San Francisco (8-12 December 1908), California operated off Santa Barbara, Calif., to obtain tactical data (13-15 December). The ship then returned to Vallejo Junction to coal (16-17 December), embarked additional members of her crew (17-18 December), then put in to San Diego, Calif., for the sad task of burying one of her men.

Reaching Magdalena Bay, Mexico, three days before Christmas of 1908 [22 December], California carried out her “shaking down” in those waters through the beginning of the new year 1909. Underway on 3 January 1909, she returned to San Diego to participate in the unveiling of the monument to those men who had perished in the explosion of a boiler on board Bennington (Gunboat No. 5) in 1905 (5-7 January). The armored cruiser then returned to San Francisco to prepare for her final trial run (9-17 January), then to perform those final trials (19-21 January).

California returned to Vallejo Junction in accordance with departmental orders (21 January-4 February 1909), then spent time at Mare Island Navy Yard (4-18 February) undergoing repairs. After pausing to coal at Vallejo Junction (18-20 February), the armored cruiser returned to Magdalena Bay for preliminary target practice (23 February-11 March). She then proceeded to San Diego (13-16 March) to join the Second Division, steaming with that unit to San Pedro (16-23 March), then to a succession of California ports: Redondo (23-25 March), Venice (25-27 March), Monterey (28-29 March), and San Francisco (29 March-1 April).

California then returned to the waters of the Pacific Northwest, visiting seaports in Washington State “for exhibition purposes.” These included Port Angeles (4-6 April), Port Townsend (6-8 April), Bellingham (8-11 April), Blaine (11-12 April), Everett (12-13 April), and Seattle (13-15 April), then pausing at Bremerton to coal (15-23 April). She then visited Anacortes in company with sister ship South Dakota (Armored Cruiser No. 9), then paid return calls to Seattle (25-27 April) and Bremerton (27 April-1 May), before returning to San Francisco on 4 May.

Assigned to the Second Division of the Pacific Fleet, California visited San Francisco with the First Squadron, and while there (4-17 May 1908) participated in the naval review by Secretary of the Navy Victor H. Metcalf. She continued operating with the First Squadron into early June, operating off Santa Barbara conducting drills and shaking down (18-22 May), after which she paused at Long Beach (22-25 May) to provide liberty for her crew. She returned to the waters off Santa Barbara for further drills (25-29 May), then put in to Venice for liberty (29 May-1 June). The ship’s ball took place during her stay at Redondo (5-8 June), that followed another period of drills off Santa Barbara (1-4 June).

California drilled with the Second Squadron (8-13 June 1908) off Santa Barbara, then visited Santa Cruz, Calif., for the first time (14-15 June), after which she returned to Vallejo Junction (15-16 June) to coal and take on stores with the Second Division. Steaming to Hunter’s Point, Calif., the armored cruiser docked there (16-19 June), then coaled at San Francisco (19-23 June).  After landing her 3-pounder guns and ammunition at Vallejo Junction (23-27 June), California then steamed to San Francisco, arriving on 27 June to join the flagship. While there, she prepared for towing tests, departing on 1 July.

In company with Tennessee (Armored Cruiser No. 10) and Washington (Armored Cruiser No. 11), California carried out tests towing destroyers (3-7 July 1908) off San Diego, before she proceeded to Mare Island via San Francisco (9-10 July) and Vallejo Junction (10-13 July), arriving at the navy yard on 13 July to receive the installation of a fire control system. Emerging from the yard on 16 August, she proceeded to California City, Calif., and there coaled ship (16-18 August). Shifting to San Francisco (18-24 August), California steamed thence with the Pacific Fleet with a destroyer in tow, pausing at Honolulu, Hawaii ((2-10 September), en route to Pago Pago, Samoa, towing a destroyer on that ten-day voyage (10-20 September). Preparing for the return passage at Pago Pago (20 September-7 October), the armored cruiser, again towing a destroyer, again visited Honolulu (17-20 October), sailing with the First Squadron of the Pacific Fleet with a destroyer in tow, setting course for Mexican waters. She reached Magdalena Bay on 2 November, and operated thence conducting target practice until 1 December.

California cruised with the Pacific Fleet through the end of 1908, visiting Amapala, Honduras (8-10 December), and Panama (12-22 December), spending Christmas at sea while en route to Talcahuano, Chile. After visiting that port (3-14 January 1909), the armored cruiser touched at Coquimbo, Chile (16-22 January), then Callao, Peru (27 January-10 February), and Chatham Island, in the Galapagos Group (14-18 February), before paying a return visit to Panama (22-28 February), then, in company with Pennsylvania (Armored Cruiser No. 4), visiting Amapala. Returning to Magdalena Bay, California carried out target practice in those waters (20 March-4 April). Soon thereafter, she transported passengers from the wrecked Pacific Mail Steamship Company steamer Indiana -- that had gone aground off Cape Tosco, Isla Santa Margarita, Mexico, on 4 April -- to San Francisco (7-8 April), after which she returned to Magdalena Bay to continue target practice (12-17 April).

The armored cruiser returned to the waters of the Pacific Northwest after accompanying the flagship to San Francisco for a visit (21 April-17 May 1909), calling at Port Townsend (20-21 May) en route to Tacoma. She called at that port in connection with the visit of the Japanese Training Squadron to Tacoma (21-29 May) thence to Seattle (29 May-4 June). After coaling at Bremerton (4-7 June), she received orders to return to Mare Island for repairs. Pausing briefly at San Francisco (10-11 June), California reached Mare Island Navy Yard on 11 June, undergoing repairs until 24 July, when she got underway for Hunter’s Point, where she was drydocked from 24 to 27 July.  She returned to Mare Island on 2 August, remaining there completing repairs until 14 August, when she got underway for San Francisco, pausing there only briefly before getting underway in company with West Virginia (Armored Cruiser No. 5), Maryland (Armored Cruiser No. 8) and South Dakota for Seattle.

Making port at Seattle in company with her sisters on 18 August 1909, California remained there for two days, sailing on the 20th with the First Squadron of the Pacific Fleet to conduct standardization trials off Vashon Island, Wash. (20 August) before returning to Seattle. Departing that port city with the First Squadron on 28 August, the armored cruiser paused at California City to coal ship (31 August-1 September), after which time she returned to San Francisco (1-5 September) to prepare for her impending voyage across the Pacific.


USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6)

California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) underway in San Pablo Bay, California, 1909. Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN(MC). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command photograph, NH 55009.

Clearing the west coast on 5 September 1909, California sailed for the Hawaiian Islands, reaching Honolulu on 10 September with the First Squadron. Shifting to Maalea Bay on 20 September to coal ship, she then conducted a four-hour full power trial off Maalea Bay the next day. She visited Hilo, Hawaii, with the First Division of the Pacific Fleet (23-24 September), then paid a return call upon Honolulu with the Pacific Fleet’s First Squadron (25 September-5 October). Departing Hawaiian waters on 5 October, Californiareached the Admiralty Islands a little less than a fortnight later, and coaled ship there with other units of the Pacific Fleet before she continued on, setting course for the Philippine Islands (P.I.) on 25 October.

California made arrival with the fleet at Manila, P.I., on 30 October 1909, and provided her crew with liberty. Shifting to Cavite (4-7 November), she coaled ship there, shifting to Olongapo to conduct preliminary mine practice (7-9 November), then carrying out day and night sub-caliber practice off Manila Bay (9-10 November). She conducted a series of operations over the ensuing period, calibration practice off Olongapo (10-12 November), night record battle practice off Manila Bay (12-20 November), and day battle practice off Olongapo (20 November-6 December). After again providing liberty for her crew at Manila (6-10 December), California sailed for Japan with South Dakota.

California visited Yokohama, Japan (15-30 December 1909), spending Christmas there, before sailing for Woosung, China, on the 30th. After coaling ship and giving liberty to her crew (3-14 January), the armored cruiser set course to return to Yokohama, where she coaled and provided liberty (17-20 January), then proceeded for the Hawaiian Islands, returning to Honolulu with the Pacific Fleet on the last day of January 1910. Sailing on 8 February, she stood in to San Francisco on the 14th with the Pacific Fleet. Remaining there until 23 February, California then coaled ship at California City (23-24 February) and returned to San Francisco on the 24th to provide liberty for her crew over then ensuing days (24 February-1 March).

Soon thereafter, preparations for target practice occupied California for the balance of March 1910, in the waters off Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara channel, Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island. Ultimately, she carried out target practice on the target range off Santa Barbara (29 March-2 April), and Santa Rosa (2-3 April) before conducting standardization runs off Santa Barbara (3 April) and record mine practice off Santa Cruz (4-6 April). Pausing briefly at California City (6-7 April), the armored cruiser moored at the Mare Island Navy Yard for repairs on 7 April.

Completing repairs at Mare Island on 9 August 1910, California coaled at Tiburon, Calif. (9-11 August), then visited San Francisco with the First Division of the Pacific Fleet (11-14 August). Subsequently, she sailed for Peru, calling at Chimbote (28 August-4 September). She then visited Valparaiso, Chile, with the Pacific Fleet’s First Division to take part in the festivities commemorating Chilean independence (10-23 September). After paying a return call at Chimbote (28 September-3 October), the armored cruiser returned to San Francisco on 16 October to provide liberty for her crew.

Underway for San Diego on 8 November 1910, California prepared for battle practice at that port (5-19 November), then returned to San Francisco to entertain a visiting Japanese squadron (21-27 November). Following those festivities, the warship put in to Tiburon to coal (27-28 November). Returning to San Francisco for a liberty visit (28-30 November), the armored cruiser conducted battle practice off San Diego (2-21 December) before putting in to San Francisco to provide her bluejackets liberty over the Christmas holidays (23-28 December). After again coaling at Tiburon (28-29 December), California again visited San Francisco for liberty (29 December 1910-4 January 1911).

Over the ensuing months, the armored cruiser pursued a busy schedule of operations in the waters off the coast of California. She conducted torpedo defense practice off Santa Barbara (5-14 January and 18-31 January 1911), the second time punctuated by drills, liberty, and landing a party of marines. During February 1911, she maneuvered jointly with the torpedo fleet, her marine guard and bluejacket landing force encamped ashore at San Diego and engaged in small arms and field gun target practice; in addition, California drilled in combating submarine attacks. After coaling from the fuel ship Saturn (1 March), she reprised maneuvers with the torpedo fleet (1-4 March), after which she granted her crew liberty at San Pedro (4 March) and Long Beach (4-5 March), then again at San Pedro while preparing for battle practice (5-9 March).

Preparations for battle practice continued during an extended period at San Diego (9 March-25 June 1911), preparative work punctuated by trial runs and bore-sighting her guns, and also coaled again from SaturnCalifornia then conducted full power and endurance runs off San Pedro (26-27 June), and standardization runs off Santa Barbara (28 June). Proceeding via San Francisco (29-30 June), the armored cruiser stood in to the Mare Island Navy Yard for repairs on 30 June.

Emerging from yard hands on 6 July 1911, California visited San Francisco for the National Education Association convention (6-17 July), after which she returned to Mare Island to continue repairs and alterations (17 July-16 September). After coaling ship off Mare Island light 16-18 September), the armored cruiser proceeded to San Diego (20-23 September).

California carried out target practice drills (23-25 September 1911), off San Diego, then practice runs off Coronado Beach (25-30 September), after which returned to San Diego to provide liberty (30 September-2 October). The armored cruiser resumed her training regimen soon thereafter, preparing for target practice off Coronado (2-4 October), then off San Pedro (5-6 October), before putting in to Santa Monica for liberty (6-9 October).

California’s men participated in parades at San Francisco and Oakland, Calif. (10-17 October 1911), events that included President William Howard Taft breaking ground for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in Golden Gate Park on 14 October. Such festivities soon gave way to work, as the armored cruiser coaled ship at California City (17 October), after which she returned to San Francisco for liberty and stores (17-19 October), and a return call for liberty at San Diego (20-23 October).

Returned to the waters off Coronado, California again prepared for target practice (23-27 October 1911), evolutions that continued off San Diego (27-31 October), capped by liberty at that port. Following a brief period at anchor off Coronado (31 October), the armored cruiser participated in a naval review off San Pedro (1-4 November), then resumed target practice, off San Diego (4-6 November), Coronado (8-12 November), San Diego (12 November), and Coronado (12-15 November). She put in to San Diego for stores (15 November), then coaled at Tiburon (17 November), and called at San Francisco to take further stores on board (17-21 November), after which time she set course for the Hawaiian Islands as flagship for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, flying the flag of Rear Adm. Chauncey Thomas.

California arrived at Honolulu on 28 November 1911, then shifted to the waters off Waialua, Hawaii, in company with the other vessels of the squadron, on 2 December. Weighing anchor on the following day, the armored cruiser returned to Honolulu for liberty (3-14 December). At the end of that period, Californiacleared Honolulu for Pearl Harbor, became the first rated man-of-war to transverse the newly dredged channel, returning to Honolulu later the same day. Sailing the following day (15 December), the warship visited the island of Hilo (16-20 December), affording officers and men an opportunity to visit a volcano.

Returning to Honolulu on 21 December 1911, California remained moored for the rest of the year and over three weeks into the New Year 1912, her crew engaged in routine drills on board ship, interspersed with liberty ashore. Underway off Honolulu (29 January-1 February), the ship received an inspection from Rear Adm. Thomas, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, then anchored at that port going through routine drills (1-5 February). Underway again at the end of that time, the ship conducted “maneuvers preparatory to target practice” (5-8 February), then put in to Honolulu to coal ship, provide liberty, and carry out routine drills (8-12 February).

California conducted maneuvers and exercises off Lahaina, Maui, (12-13 February 1912), then off Kealakekua (13-14 February), before putting in to Maui for liberty (15-19 February). Pausing off Kahului (19-20 February) with the squadron, the armored cruiser coaled ship and granted liberty at Honolulu (20 February-11 March), after which she carried out maneuvers off that port (11-16 March). Then, after again coaling ship and granting liberty (16-18 March), she sailed for the Philippine Islands.

Pausing briefly at Guam (2 April 1912) en route, California pushed on for the Philippines, standing in to the waters off Olongapo six days later. After receiving stores there, the armored cruiser steamed to Cavite, arriving there on the 9th to coal ship (9-10 April). Following target practice in Manila Bay (10-12 April), California returned to Olongapo for docking and routine drills (12-26 April) before steaming to Manila for liberty (26-29 April).

Coaling ship at Cavite (29 April-1 May 1912), the armored cruiser returned to the target range in Manila Bay, carrying out night firing practice (1-4 May), then fired night and day practice in two more stints in and out of Manila Bay (6-10 May and 13-17 May), interspersed with providing liberty for her crew in Manila. Clearing ship for action at Olongapo (17-24 May), California carried out speed trial runs and target practice off Manila (24 May-5 June), after which she coaled ship at Cavite (6-7 June). Conducting standardization runs off Olongapo (7-10 June), she again coaled at Cavite (10-12 June), then provided liberty at Olongapo, and sending her men ashore to use the rifle range (12-19 June). Off Manila, the armored cruiser again allowed her crew ashore for recreation and liberty, and conducted torpedo practice (19-24 June); then after coaling ship at Cavite (24-26 June), she sailed for China.

California reached Woosung, near Shanghai, on 30 June 1912, then sailed in company with South Dakotafor Tsingtao, visiting that port (8-14 July) before proceeding on with her sister ship to Yokohama (17-24 July), then to Hawaii. During the passage to the Hawaiian Islands, however,  a revolution had broken out in Nicaragua (29 July), and California and South Dakota paused only briefly at Honolulu (4-6 August) before proceeding on to the west coast, reaching San Francisco to take on coal and stores (15-17 August). Dropping down the coast to San Diego, California held drills at that port (19-21 August) before setting course for Nicaragua, the situation in that country daily posing an “increasing menace to the railroad and other American properties,”  

Clearing San Diego on 21 August 1912, California made port at Corinto on the 28th, and put ashore a landing force to protect American citizens and others threatened by the reigning disorder. Rear Adm. William H. H. Southerland reached Corinto on the 28th and “took complete charge of military affairs in the western part of Nicaragua.” The admiral controlled “the land operations of the bluejackets and marines as well as the duties performed by the ships…patrolling the coast and preventing filibustering.”

Shifting to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, the following day (29 August), California sent and received cablegrams at that port before steaming to Panama, Canal Zone, where (31 August-1 September), she embarked the First Provisional Regiment of Marines – 29 officers, 4 naval officers and 744 enlisted men under the command of Col. Joseph H. Pendleton, USMC. Transporting the regiment to Corinto on 4 September, the armored cruiser disembarked the leathernecks to Annapolis (Gunboat No. 10), whence the force went ashore. Colorado (Armored Cruiser No.7) landed her marine guard as well as a bluejacket detachment on 5 September, and Cleveland (Cruiser No. 19) landed her marines well as a company of sailors with one section of artillery and two Colt automatic guns on the 14th, bringing the total number of bluejackets and marines ashore to about 2,350.

Meanwhile, California completing putting the marines ashore on 5 September 1912 then got underway to return to San Juan del Sur to put a landing force ashore there (5-11 September). Shifting back to Corinto, where she lingered briefly (12-13 September), she steamed into the Golf of Fonseca where she coaled ship (13-19 September), then returned to Corinto where she landed a force (19-25 September), after which she patrolled off the entrance to the Talmarinda River (25-26 September), and off Corinto (26 September). She then kept an eye on conditions in San Juan del Sur (27 September-12 October), then Corinto (13-19 October), where she loaded stores and permitted liberty for the crew, after which she returned for another stint at San Juan del Sur (20 October-4 November). Coaling ship at Corinto (4 November), the armored cruiser then put ashore a force from the Gulf of Fonseca (7 November) before she proceeded back to Corinto to embark part of the expeditionary force (8-14 November), after which she set course for San Diego.

After disembarking her passengers, then conducting elementary target practice with Colorado and Maryland(22 November-20 December 1912), California visited San Francisco with those sister ships (22-23 December 1912). She then stood in to the Mare Island Navy Yard two days before Christmas to begin a period of repairs and alterations that lasted into 1913.

Emerging from yard hands on 16 March 1913, California coaled ship at Tiburon (16-18 March), then paused briefly at San Francisco (18-19 March) en route to San Diego, visiting that port from 21 to 26 March in company with Maryland. The armored cruiser then obtained tactical data off Coronado Island and San Diego on five occasions, concluding that work on 3 April when she cleared San Diego for Guaymas, Mexico, off which she operated for a little over two months (7 April-9 June). After calling at San Diego (13-17 June), California spent the balance of the month of June engaged in various local operations, that included target practice with South Dakota off the Coronado Islands (17-20 June), bore-sighting her own guns off San Diego (20 June), work on the Coronado Islands on the target range (21-22 June) and conducting two periods of speed trials (22-26 June and 27-28 June) off San Diego, after which she put in to San Francisco on 30 June.

California coaled at Tiburon (8-10 July 1913), then returned briefly to San Francisco (10-12 July) before steaming to ports in the Pacific Northwest. During the balance of July, the armored cruiser visited Seattle (15-21 July), Tacoma (21-26 July), and Bremerton (26-30 July), in succession, and concluded the trip to those waters with a visit to Victoria, British Columbia (30 July-2 August). She stood in to San Francisco on 5 August, but shifted to the Mare Island Navy Yard later the same day. Clearing Vallejo on the 8th, she transited the Carquinez Strait (8-9 August), and paused again at San Francisco (9-21 August) before troubled conditions in revolution-torn Mexico compelled her being ordered south.

After “observing conditions” at Guaymas (27 August-4 October 1913), California visited Mazatlan (6-13 October) and Topolobampo (14 October) before resuming her watch at Guaymas (15 October-9 November). Her observing conditions in Mexican waters continued into December, with the ship calling at Topolobampo (10 November) and Mazatlan (11-30 November), adding San Blas and Santa Cruz Village (1 December) as well as Manzanillo (2-8 December) to her Mexican itinerary. Paying return visits to San Blas (9 December) and Mazatlan (10-17 December) concluded her time in those waters, and she put in to San Diego five days before Christmas of 1913 to resume training, holding elementary target practice soon thereafter.

Clearing San Diego on 2 January 1914, California began the year searching for a lost torpedo (2-3 January), then transferred officers to the cruiser New Orleans during a visit to San Francisco (5-12 January). Then, after coaling at Tiburon (12 January) and a period in yard hands at Mare Island (12-29 January), the armored cruiser operated in the waters off San Diego and the Coronado Islands for almost a month. During that time she conducted target practice, spotting practice, torpedo practice (three times), and observed Maryland’s target practice, until conditions in Mexico again resulted in orders for her to proceed to that country’s west coast. Leaving the Coronado Islands in her wake on 24 February, she reached Mazatlan on the 28th.

California stood out of the port of Mazatlan on 3 March 1914, and held full power runs (3-5 March) en route to Guaymas. After a stint of observing conditions there (6-14 March), the armored cruiser again visited Topolobampo (15 March), then Mazatlan (16 March-5 April), before calling at Acapulco (8-16 April) and reprising a visit to Mazatlan (18 April-23 June), steaming thence to Pichilinque, arriving there on 24 June.  California made a second cruise “to observe conditions” along the coast of Mexico (16 July-18 August).

General Order No. 112 of 30 July 1914 re-named the armored cruiser San Diego on 1 September 1914 to clear the name California for assignment to Battleship No. 44. She subsequently became flagship of the Pacific Fleet, and participated in the opening of the Panama-California Exposition on 1 January 1915.

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6)

San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) photographed 28 January 1915, while serving as flagship of the Pacific Fleet. Her name had been changed from California on 1 September 1914. Note two-star Rear Admiral's flag flying from her mainmast top. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command photograph, NH 55013.

A few weeks later, on 21 January 1915, an explosion in San Diego’s no. 1 fire room killed five sailors and injured seven. Ens. Robert W. Cary, Jr., 25 years old and a little over seven months out of the Naval Academy, held the watertight doors between the fire rooms open, enabling three men to escape. Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo Trinidad, 25, blown clear of no. 2 boiler room, immediately returned and brought injured Fireman 2nd Class R. E. Daly to safety. Just after Trinidad and Daly exited the no. 2 fire room, however, an explosion occurred in the No. 3 fire room, flames burning Trinidad’s face. After passing the injured Daly to another sailor, Trinidad entered the No. 3 fire room and rescued another injured man. For their selfless heroism that day, both Ens. Cary and Fireman 2nd Class Trinidad each received the Medal of Honor.

As a result of the damage, the Navy placed San Diego in limited commission from 10 June to 15 September 1915 pending repairs. Rejoining the Pacific Fleet in late 1915, San Diego participated in the successful rescue of 48 people from the schooner Fort Bragg, which had fouled a reef 20 miles northeast of Cabo San Lucas on 15 November 1915.

San Diego, the flagship of the Pacific Fleet, was placed in reserve on 12 February 1917, and the U.S. declaration of war on Germany (6 April 1917) found her in the midst of repairs at Mare Island. She was placed in commission, 456 men short of her full complement, the next day (7 April), Cmdr. Claude B. Price in command.

Less than one week later, active participation began in the mobilization and federalization of the state of California’s Naval Militia, which had previously been mobilized at their local armories. Congestion at the Naval Training Station (NTS), San Francisco, however, had prevented that facility from being used as a Federal Depot to enroll the militia in the National Naval Volunteers (NNV). Consequently, the Navy employed San DiegoHuntington (ex-West Virginia), and the Spanish-American War veteran Oregon(Battleship No. 3) as a collective depot afloat. San Diego received the five officers that comprised the battalion staff of the Naval Militia, as well as officers from the Naval Militia’s Third, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth and Tenth Divisions and about 450 men, of whom some came fully outfitted and some came wearing only the clothes on their backs. Drilling, fitting-out, and examinations began immediately. Enrollment began on 18 April.

On 19 April 1917, San Diego began transferring men from the Sixth Division of the Naval Militia (later NNV) to Frederick (ex-Maryland), Pueblo (ex-Colorado) and St. Louis (Cruiser No. 20) as soon as they could be signed up. Enrollment continued the next day [20 April] with the Sixth and Ninth Divisions going to various ships then in port at San Diego.

Undocked on 21 April 1917, San Diego brought to a close the enrollment of the Naval Militia on board to the NNV, with only 50 men ordered retained on board and the remainder parceled out to other ships, in most cases officers and enlisted men being transferred together. The ship received a draft of 200 recruits from NTS San Francisco, ordered thus to relieve congestion there, but an  arrangement was reached with the Commandant of the Navy Yard to send them to a detention camp at the yard due to a prevalence of measles in the recruits transferred from Goat Island.

The 200 men that were to join the ship essentially being medically hors de combatSan Diego received another draft of 200 men from NTS Great Lakes on 24 April 1917, the new sailors coming via San Diego to report to St. Louis. That ship’s vacancies having been filled by the NNV processed on board San Diego, however, the newly arrived men came with little. Lacking clothes bags, the recruits had spent a week on a train with their clothing in gunny sacks followed for them all. In the wake of the arrival of the new sailors, who immediately began to receive infantry drill, firing, and instruction, with the Reserve Fleet ceasing to exist and the Patrol Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, being organized, Rear Adm. William F. Fullam, accompanied by his staff, broke his flag in San Diego on 5 May 1917.

San Diego held dock trials for her main engines on 16 May 1917, completed outfitting and taking on stores. Her officers and men also conducted trials of repairs and alterations performed by the yard workers, testing boilers, new sections of piping, and ventilation blowers. Ten days later, with all authorized work having been completed by the yard, all stores on board, cold storage spaces filled, the ship then steamed to the Coal Depot at California City, where the newly outfitted armored cruiser coaled ship (28-29 May).

At 6:30 a.m. on 31 May 1917, San Diego sailed for San Francisco, and after arriving there maneuvered for two hours, carrying out experimental work with her radio compass. At 11:30 a.m., the ship set course for the Farallon Islands, in obedience to Rear Adm. Fullam’s orders, standing out to intercept the U.S. steamship Columbia, which had set out from Honolulu with a seized German cargo ship in tow, bound for Bremerton. Arriving at a point some 900 miles from the port of origin of the voyage, San Diego was to convoy Columbia and her tow to Puget Sound. Arriving at the meeting point at 6:00 a.m. on 5 June, the armored cruiser sighted the ships she was to escort at 11:15 a.m. and joined them soon thereafter. Passing into the Straits of Juan de Fuca at 3:15 a.m. on 14 June, San Diego parted company with the convoy at 5:00 a.m. and set course for Port Townsend, reaching her destination at noon. She then exited the Straits at 2:00 p.m. that afternoon and headed for San Francisco.

San Diego anchored off the Tiburon Coal Depot on 16 June 1917, and there replenished her bunkers as well as took on ammunition and stores before continuing on to San Francisco, arriving there on 18 June. Underway again on 23 June, the warship reached the port of San Diego on the 25th. Detached from the Patrol Force, Pacific Fleet, with orders to proceed to the Atlantic, San Diego stood out of the waters of the port whose name she carried on 18 July.

Arriving at Balboa, Canal Zone, on 28 July 1917, San Diego transited the Panama Canal on the 29th, and after arriving at Cristobal, coaled to capacity. She sailed the next day [30 July] for Hampton Roads, Virginia.  Reaching her destination on 4 August, the armored cruiser coaled, and remained there until the 10th, at which point she stood out and set course for New York, where she reported to the Commander, Cruiser Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, upon arrival.

On 19 August 1917, as ordered by the Commander Cruiser and Transport Force, San Diego cleared New York in company with Seattle (ex-Washington), and proceeded to Port Jefferson, N.Y., to embark midshipmen from ships in the Battle Force and transport them to Annapolis, Md., and to return to New York. The armored cruiser reached Annapolis on 22 August, disembarked the midshipmen, then returned to the North River the next day. Rear Adm. Albert Gleaves, Commander Cruiser and Transport Force, shifted his flag from Seattle to San Diego on 25 August, and wore it in the latter for almost one month, transferring back to Seattle on 19 September.

San Diego remained at her North River anchorage for three more days, shifting to Tompkinsville, Staten Island, N.Y., on 22 September 1917 to assume command of an eastbound convoy. Sailing the following day [23 September] as flagship and one of the escorting vessels for Troop Convoy Group Eight, San Diego set course for St. Nazaire, France, in company with the troop ships FinlandAntillesHenderson (Troop Transport No. 1) and Lenape (Id. No. 2700), Kanawha (Fuel Ship No. 13) and Maumee (Fuel Ship No. 14), and Monaghan (Destroyer No. 32) and Roe (Destroyer No. 24). Early in the convoy’s passage, troubles with a low pressure valve stem compelled Lenape to drop out of the formation on 24 September, one day at sea. Six days later [30 September], Kanawha “proceeded on duty assigned,” while Maumee received orders to join the escorting force. Ultimately, on 3 October, Sampson (Destroyer No. 63), Davis (Destroyer No. 65), Fanning (Destroyer No. 37), Winslow (Destroyer No. 53) and Jarvis (Destroyer No. 38), as the Eastern Escort, relieved the Ocean Escort, the latter putting about to return to the U.S. Kanawha rejoined three days later [6 October] and fueled Monaghan and Roe.

One week later, on 13 October 1917, San Diego stood in to Hampton Roads and coaled ship. She then sailed for Tompkinsville on the 15th, arriving the next day. Three days later, the armored cruiser cleared New York for Portsmouth, N.H., and reached her destination on 20 October, entering dry dock there for an overhaul and to receive emergency repairs. She remained there until the 30th, at which point she proceeded back to New York, making her arrival there on 1 November.

Less than a fortnight later, San Diego sailed as flagship for Troop Convoy Group Eleven on 13 November 1917, bound for Brest, France, escorting Madawaska (Id. No. 3011), Powhatan (Id. No. 3013), and Pocahontas (Id. No. 3044), along with her old consorts Monaghan and Roe riding shotgun on the troop transports as well. Putting in to Le Croisic, France, on 26 November, she transferred “supplies and small stores” to the Naval Air Station there on 30 November, then sailed to continue on to Brest on 3 December, reaching her destination the following day.

San Diego cleared Brest as escort for only one vessel on 7 December 1917, and reached New York on the 15th, remaining there for five days before sailing for Hampton Roads. Arriving in those waters the next day [21 December], the armored cruiser coaled, then returned north to the New York Navy Yard, arriving there on 22 December and entering dry dock, where yard workmen began removing most of the ship’s 6-inch guns the next day. San Diego finished taking stores on board, then undocked two days after Christmas, returning to her anchorage in the North River on 3 January 1918.

Ordered to proceed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, San Diego arrived there on 14 January 1918, to escort convoys formed around fast steamships [liners] “until further notice.” The armored cruiser put to sea on 20 January, returning to Halifax on 4 February to coal ship and load supplies.

Following another escort cycle, putting to sea on 21 February 1918 and returning on 8 March, San Diegoset out as escort for convoy HK-26 (Fast) – British steamships AnsoniaAvonmouthCity of ExeterSaturnia, and Glasco – on 17 March. Standing up the North River on 23 April, the ship went into dry dock for a day (25 April), then hurriedly put to sea in response to an SOS the next day, returning to port on 28 April.

San Diego cleared New York on 3 May 1918 in company with HMS Alsatrain as a second escort, with mercantile convoy HX-32 (Fast) that included Cuyama (Fuel Ship No. 15) and the mine planter Roanoke(Id. No. 1695) and 12 British ships.  After returning to Hampton Roads on 20 May, the armored cruiser carried out gunnery exercises and torpedo practice (22-25 May) after which she cleared the Tidewater region and, proceeding via Cape Charles City, Va., steamed to New York, arriving there on the 26th.

A little over a fortnight later, San Diego sailed from New York with HX-37 (Fast), along with the armed merchant cruiser HMS Edinburgh Castle, shepherding a convoy formed around the troop transport Plattsburg (Id. No. 1645) and ten British vessels, bound for Liverpool, England.

Arriving at Portsmouth Navy Yard on 29 June 1918, San Diego entered dry dock the next day. She emerged on 16 July, then coaled ship and loaded supplies. Two days later [18 July], the armored cruiser cleared Portsmouth for New York. Steaming at 15 knots, San Diego was attempting to make a landfall on the Long Island shore, northeast of the Fire Island light vessel. She had run a continuous line of soundings that, while they “did not agree with any line on the chart,” indicated that land would be found at the point desired. When landfall did not occur as expected, the armored cruiser changed course 30 degrees to the right at 10:30 a.m. on 19 July 1918, rounding the Nantucket Light Vessel at a distance of 20 miles.

Lookouts, gun crews, and fire control parties had manned their stations, and from his vantage point atop the wheel house, a structure eight feet in height that afforded Capt. Harley H. Christy, San Diego’s commanding officer, a “good view of the bridge lookouts and many others on watch and their attention to their duties. Everyone on watch in sight was on the alert.” A smooth sea “made small objects easily visible,” and the lookouts made “frequent reports of drift wood and other objects…”

At about 11:05 a.m. on 19 July 1918, San Diego hit a mine, the explosion sounding like “a dull heavy thud,” lifting the stern slightly and shaking the ship “moderately fore and aft.” The warship assumed an immediate six to eight degree list, and she lost headway. The mine had exploded on the port side about frame 78, well below the waterline, rupturing the skin of the ship and deforming the bulkhead at that location, opening watertight door no.142 between the port engine room and no. 8 fireroom. Flooding occurred in the port engine room, adjacent compartments, as well as no. 8 fireroom, and San Diego then took on a 17½ degree list, water entering through an open gun port for 6-inch gun no.10.

At the outset, “the behavior of the ship did not convince me she was in much danger of sinking,” Capt. Christy later wrote, but he soon received the report from the engineer officer that the ship had lost power in both engines. Loss of motive power “precluded any maneuvering to combat a submarine.” The list increased. “When I was convinced that there was no hope of her holding and that she would capsize,” Christy gave the order to abandon ship, the gun crews remaining at their stations “until they could no longer fire,” and the depth charges being “secured so that they would be innocuous.” San Diego’s sailors launched life rafts, whaleboats, dinghies and punts by hand, as well as mess tables, benches, hammocks and lumber – “ample material to support the crew” – “an evolution…performed in an orderly manner without confusion,” while the broadside gun crews fired about 30 to 40 rounds “at possible periscopes.”

With San Diego nearly on her beam ends, Capt. Christy, along with his executive officer, Cmdr. Gerard Bradford, were the last to leave the ship. Bradford went down the port side, the commanding officer went over the starboard side by a rope, swinging down to the bilge keel then the docking keel before going overboard. Christy then watched his ship turn turtle, “in a symmetrical position with the keel inclined about ten degrees to the horizontal, the forward end elevated” before gradually sinking.

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6)

San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6). Painting by Francis Muller, 1920. It depicts the ship sinking off Fire Island, New York, after she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-156, 19 July 1918. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command photograph, NH 55012-KN.

San Diego sank about 10.5 miles from Fire Island Lighthouse, taking with her Eng2c Clyde C. Blaine, F1c Thomas E. Davis, Sea2c Paul J. Harris, MM2c Andrew Munson, MM2c Frazier O. Thomas, and Eng2c James F. Rochet (USNRF). Six other enlisted men suffered injuries in the sinking.

With the radio apparatus having been rendered inoperable by the shock of the explosion, Capt. Christy had ordered Lt. Clarkson J. Bright “to proceed with a dinghy crew to Long Island to report the disaster and request rescue vessels.” Bright accomplished his mission and carried out his orders. Picked up by a whaleboat, Capt. Christy directed operations, ordering a mast stepped and a sail hoisted to attract attention, and his boat “pulled around the rafts and picked up a few sick and injured.” The survivors caught sight of two steamers to the south and headed for them – these proved to be the U.S. Shipping Board freighter Bussum (Capt. Brewer) that had been formerly operated by the Naval Overseas Transportation Service, together with the steamship Malden (Capt. Brown). Soon thereafter, the steamship S. P. Jones (Capt. Dodge) arrived on the scene and assisted in rescuing the armored cruiser’s survivors and took them to New York. The court of inquiry into San Diego’s loss lauded the masters of BussumMalden, and S. P. Jones for displaying “...courage and a splendid spirit in taking their ships into these waters, where a submarine had been operating,” and recommended that “suitable acknowledgement be made by the Navy Department of their gallantry.”

“The conduct of then officers and men throughout the disaster,” Christy wrote later, “was in keeping with the best traditions of the service and exactly what I had good reason to expect of them whenever the test should come…” The Court of Inquiry attributed the “remarkably small loss of life…to the high state of discipline maintained on board.”

San Diego had fouled a mine laid by the German submarine U-156. Subsequently, naval forces in the vicinity of the sinking located six contact mines the next day. Ironically, U-156 was believed sunk by a mine on her return voyage to Germany, on 25 September 1918. Having sunk 36 ships (including San Diego) and damaged two during her second patrol, she was lost with all hands, 77 souls all told, including 36-year old Kapitänleutnant Richard Feldt, her commanding officer.

San Diego was stricken from the Navy List on 26 August 1918.

Robert J. Cressman and Christopher J. Martin

18 July 2017

Published: Wed Jan 17 01:41:24 EST 2024