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Cummings I (Destroyer No. 44) 

1913-1934

Andrew Boyd Cummings -- born in Philadelphia, Pa. on 22 June 1830 -- was appointed midshipman from the state of Pennsylvania in 1847.  After examination, the Secretary of the Navy appointed him acting Midshipman on 7 April 1847.  On 3 August of the same year, with the Mexican-American War raging, he was detached from the Naval Academy and ordered to Norfolk to embark in the frigate Brandywine and proceed to Brazil where he would report to the ship-of-the-line Ohio.  He then served off the coast of Brazil until Ohio rounded Cape Horn to blockade Mexican ports in the Pacific.  By the time Ohio reached Mazatlán, however, the war was over, but despite her tardy arrival she rendered important services to locals in Baja California who cooperated with Americans during hostilities, evacuating them when the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo left the southern territory to Mexico.

While the big warship missed the war, conflict of an altogether different kind broke out on board Ohio and within the Pacific squadron.  As the ships patrolled offshore in the summer of 1848, gold fever seized California and the prospect of riches beckoned sailors earning far less pay than they could attain in the gold fields.  Desertion and the threat of mutiny became a serious problem, forcing commanding officers to confine their crews on board and keep them at sea.  The draconian system pitted the crews against officers and junior officers against their superiors.  In addition, confinement on board and high local prices for fresh food led to scurvy among the crew.  Amidst those troubled times, Cummings received his midshipman’s warrant in December 1849, and his momentous first voyage ended in April 1850 when Ohio returned east.

In the summer of 1850 Cummings served in the sloop-of-war St. Mary’s for a month before transferring to sloop Saratoga on 20 August.  He came back to the Pacific and served with the East India Squadron, returning in June 1852 in the sloop-of-war Marion with orders to report to the Naval Academy after five years’ absence.  Ordered to the side-wheel steamer Fulton on 15 June 1853 and informed of his promotion to passed midshipman, he received further advancement -- to lieutenant -- in September 1855, and served in the Home Squadron until November 1855.  He reported to the receiving ship at Philadelphia and remained there until April 1857 when he began service in the sloop-of-war Dale, which operated against the slave trade off of the coast of Africa.  He returned to the receiving ship at Philadelphia and waited there until the early autumn of 1860 when he reported for duty on board the new wooden steam-sloop Richmond, that set course for the Mediterranean on 13 October with the contentious presidential election of 1860 less than one month away and the nation careening toward fratricidal conflict.

Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, Richmond steamed back across the Atlantic, arriving in New York in July 1861.  There, she refitted, then steamed to the Caribbean in search of the cruiser Sumter (Capt. Raphael Semmes, CSN, commanding), but the Confederate warship escaped and Richmond joined the Federal squadron blockading the Mississippi, patrolling off the mouth of the river near New Orleans as the flagship of a small squadron. The Confederate “Mosquito Fleet” guarding New Orleans confronted the Federal squadron at “The Battle of the Head of the Passes.”

The cigar-shaped rebel ironclad Manassas rammed Richmond and the mosquito fleet loosed three fire ships to drift downriver at the U.S. vessels.  The Federal ships frantically sailed and steamed toward open waters as Richmond covered the retreat.  In the subsequent panic, Richmond and the sloop Vincennes ran aground and suffered fire from sea and shore, fortunately escaping without any fatalities.  Naval officers viewed the battle as a disgrace and the commander of the blockade relieved Richmond’s captain two weeks later. The ship continued to patrol the mouth of the river until November when she underwent temporary repairs.

Under Captain Francis B. Ellison, her new commanding officer, Richmond engaged Forts Pickens and McRee at Pensacola on 22 November 1861, suffering damage and casualties from Confederate fire on the second day but heavily damaging the fort during the bombardment. Richmond returned to New York for repairs, then set course for the Gulf of Mexico in February 1862 and joined Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron off the coast of New Orleans in early March.  The squadron soon engaged Forts Jackson and St. Philip protecting the approaches to the city.  As Cmdr. David Dixon Porter shelled the forts beginning on 18 April, Richmond and the remainder of the squadron dodged Confederate fire ships, and the battle reached its climax in the early morning of 24 April when Farragut led the squadron past the forts. Hit 17 times above the waterline, Richmond suffered a glancing blow from a ram but effective chain armor staved off heavy damage and casualties. Despite the precautions, however, two members of the crew died and several suffered wounds.  The attack bypassed the forts and defeated and badly bloodied the Rebel squadron, and the maneuver left New Orleans open and the city fell to the Federal ships on 28 April. Richmond’s new commanding officer, Cmdr. James Alden, lauded his crew, and particularly singled out Lt. Cummings, his executive officer, giving him credit for the success of the ship in the recent battle. “By his [Cummings’] cool and intrepid conduct the batteries were made to do their whole duty,” Alden wrote, “not a gun was pointed or a shot sent without his mark.”

After helping consolidate the Navy’s hold on territory in Louisiana and Mississippi along the Mississippi, Richmond took position below Vicksburg in early July 1862. Farragut’s squadron, with Richmond in company, successfully passed the city, exchanging heavy fire on 28 June 1862.  She was present when Farragut’s fleet joined with Commodore Charles H. Davis’ Western Flotilla above Vicksburg on 1 July. Richmond again suffered casualties and damage similar to that she had received during the New Orleans campaign. Cmdr. Alden again lauded Cummings as the individual most worthy of praise, claiming that the “careful training and consequent steadiness of the crew,” was due to Cummings’ leadership and concluded “I trust that a grateful country will soon reward him in some way for his untiring zeal and devotion to his profession and her cause.”

On 15 July 1862, the Confederate casemate ram Arkansas emerged from her lair in the Yazoo River and ran past the Union Fleet above Vicksburg. Although hotly pursued by Richmond and other ships, the ram escaped to shelter under the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg. Cummings received to lieutenant commander on 16 July when an act of Congress created the position.  Farragut’s fleet again raced past Vicksburg and Richmond continued to escort supply steamers and provide shore bombardment support. The squadron returned to New Orleans on 28 July being unable to threaten Vicksburg without corresponding effort from ground forces.

While Richmond lay downriver on the lower Mississippi, Confederate forces constructed strong and well-armed fortifications at Port Hudson, Louisiana, that guarded a sharp bend in the river, treacherous to pass under fire. On 14 March 1863, the Union forces planned a joint operation consisting of ground forces under General Nathanial Banks and riverine forces under Rear Adm. Farragut, utilizing ground forces to distract defenders and allow the squadron to pass the fortifications.  After passing the guns, naval forces would control the river north of the works, denying river-borne supplies and munitions as well as establishing communications with the Federal squadron remaining at Vicksburg. Farragut picked seven vessels for the operation, including Richmond.

By 5:00 p.m. on 14 March 1863, General Banks sent word that his troops were approaching the town, to which Rear Adm. Farragut replied that he would pass the batteries before midnight.  Richmond, lashed to the gunboat Genesee, formed up as the second pair of vessels in the column behind Farragut’s flagship, the sloop Hartford.  Shortly past 9:00 p.m., the squadron worked up steam and plowed up river through the dark.  Three miles of the river bank studded with rebel batteries greeted the squadron, and at 11:10 p.m., the shore seem to explode with cannon fire.

On Richmond’s bridge, Cummings calmly directed fire through his speaking trumpet: “You will fire the whole starboard battery, one gun at a time, from bow gun aft.  Don’t fire too fast, aim carefully at the flashes of the enemy guns. Fire!” The gun crews fired shrapnel, shell, grape, and canister, silencing batteries and small arms fire along the way.  From his vantage point on board Hartford, the admiral noticed Lt. Cmdr. Cummings’ handiwork. “When we rounded the bend I saw the Richmond,” Farragut later wrote in approbation, “and the effect of each of her broadsides upon the batteries.” As the sloop ran the gauntlet, however, the combination of the darkness and smoke, the latter exacerbated by high humidity, limited vision and slowed her progress.  As Richmond approached the turn, Confederate guns found their mark and raking fire began to take a toll on the ship and her crew.  Throughout those harrowing moments, Cummings remained on the bridge, relaying orders and encouraging the gunners.

Suddenly, Cummings crumpled to the deck, struck by artillery fire that carried off his left leg below the knee. Cmdr. Alden later recalled that his executive officer bravely beseeched his men: “Quick, boys; pick me up; put a tourniquet on my leg; send my letters to my wife; tell them I fell doing my duty.”  Carried below, Cummings gamely insisted that surgeons treat other wounded first.  Richmond’s misfortunes, however, continued.  Soon after enemy fire felled her hardy executive officer, a torpedo [mine] exploded close astern causing minor damage.  Much more serious damage resulted when a six-inch rifle solid shot hulled Richmond and destroyed several pieces of machinery, letting off steam and putting the fires out, effectively stopping the sloop dead in the water.

Unable to maneuver and taking heavy fire from the Rebel batteries, Cmdr. Alden ordered the vessel’s head turned downstream to drift out of danger.  When surgeons informed Cummings of the development, he exclaimed “I would rather lose the other leg than go back; can nothing be done?  There is a south wind; where are the sails?” Genesee towed the sloop to safety below the guns of Port Hudson.

Daybreak revealed grisly scenes on Richmond’s deck and throughout the squadron.  Three of Richmond’s crew died in the initial fighting and twelve lay wounded.  Of Farragut’s squadron, only his flagship Hartford and the gunboat lashed to her side passed Port Hudson successfully.  Among the remaining five vessels, four suffered severe damage and the crew of the paddle frigate Mississippi abandoned ship, setting her afire to deprive the Rebels of her use.  Richmond picked up the majority of Mississippi’s crew and they were milling around on the splintered and blood-stained deck when Cummings was borne ashore, rushed to New Orleans for treatment.  Although he departed Richmond appearing “quite well,” Cummings succumbed to his wounds and died in the city on 18 March 1863 at the age of 32.

“It has pleased God to take from among us our gallant friend in the fullness of his energies and usefulness,” Cmdr. Alden told his grieving crew as he eulogized the fallen executive officer, “You all well know the importance of his services in this ship; his conscientious devotion to duty; his justice and even temper in maintaining discipline; his ability in preparing for emergencies, and his coolness in meeting them.  All these qualities he brought to his country in the hour of need, and he has sealed his devotion with his life.”

Cummings was buried on 7 September 1864 in his family plot at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.


Photograph of Lt. Cummings from a Carte de Visite by Augustus Morand, Brooklyn, New York, circa 1862. Courtesy of Dr. Walter B. LaBerge, Under Secretary of the Army, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.
Caption: Photograph of Lt. Cummings from a Carte de Visite by Augustus Morand, Brooklyn, New York, circa 1862. Courtesy of Dr. Walter B. LaBerge, Under Secretary of the Army, 1978. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 88504).

I

(Destroyer No. 44: displacement 1,020 (standard); length  305'3", beam 30'4"; draft 9'3"; speed 30.57 knots; complement 101; armament 4 4-inch guns,  8 18-inch torpedo tubes; class Cassin)

The first Cummings (Destroyer No. 44) was laid down on 21 May 1912 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works.; launched on 6 August 1913; sponsored by Mrs. Henry Beates, Jr., niece of the late Lt. Cmdr. Cummings; and commissioned on 19 September 1913 at the Boston [Mass.] Navy Yard, Lt. Cmdr. Arthur Crenshaw in command.

Cummings, attached to the Sixth Division, Atlantic Torpedo Flotilla, sailed for Pensacola, Fla., on 4 November 1913 beginning her shakedown cruise, and continued her cruise in Cuban waters.  She returned to Hampton Roads in April 1914, and soon afterwards was ordered to duty in Mexican waters, where she remained until June 1914, when she sailed for Boston for overhaul, arriving at the yard on 18 June.

After visiting Baltimore, Md., to participate in the War of 1812 Centennial ceremonies there in September 1914, Cummings operated in the waters of Chesapeake Bay, conducting target practice and routine drills until December 1914, when she entered the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., for overhaul.  In February 1915, she joined other vessels of the fleet for winter maneuvers in Cuban waters.   Returning northward, she operated off Newport, R.I., until October when she again entered the Navy Yard for three months overhaul.  In the early part of 1916, Cummings returned to Cuban waters for maneuvers and later operated in the Caribbean.  In June she returned to operate off the northeast coast of the United States.

On 7 October 1916, the German submarine U-53 (Kapitänleutnant Hans Rose, commanding) entered Newport harbor, home to the Atlantic Fleet’s destroyer force.  After Kapitänleutnant Rose met with naval and civilian dignitaries and delivered dispatches to German diplomats, the boat beat a hasty retreat when the Americans threatened to intern her and her crew. The following day, U-53 sank five merchant vessels off the coast of New England. The destroyer force stood to sea on 8 October after receiving news of the destruction, some ships standing out in such haste that some left the majority of their crews on shore. Cummings served as the senior ship in the search for any remaining survivors on 9 October.  Although the destroyermen did not report recovering any further survivors all crewmembers of the five sunken vessels survived.


Cummings, her division number (a script “6”) displayed on her no. 2 stack, lies anchored in Hampton Roads, circa December 1916. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-N-1745, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)
Caption: Cummings, her division number (a script “6”) displayed on her no. 2 stack, lies anchored in Hampton Roads, circa December 1916. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-N-1745, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)

On 6 April 1917, the U.S. declared war on Germany and Cummings received her mobilization orders.  She served on picket duty near the York River until 11 April when she steamed to Key West, Fla., to patrol the Gulf of Mexico (14-29 April).  She then set course north, returning to the New York Navy Yard to fit out for foreign service, being assigned to the division consisting of Cushing (Destroyer No. 55), Nicholson (Destroyer No. 52), Sampson (Destroyer No. 63), Benham (Destroyer No. 49), and O’Brien (Destroyer No. 51). The destroyers first escorted two French warships, the battleship Lorraine and the armored cruiser Amiral Aube, out of New York then steamed to a point fifty miles east of Cape Cod, where Cmdr. David C. Hanrahan, his broad pennant in Cushing, opened sealed orders that instructed the division to steam to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, whence they would continue on to Queenstown [Cobh], Ireland.

When the division reached Queenstown on 24 May 1917 after its transatlantic voyage, the Americans had little time to rest, for the ships company and British workmen prepared the vessel for her mission, unloading mine tracks and minesweeping gear and installing anti-submarine equipment such as depth charges. Less than a week later, on 30 May, Cummings began patrolling the Western Approaches, and on 2 June lookouts spotted a suspicious object in the water.  The crew on No. 1 gun opened fire but on closer inspection their target proved to be a floating spar.  Sailors commonly misidentified debris, oceanic features, or even sea life, as enemy submarines in the Western approaches.  Inevitable mistakes in an environment where a ship’s safety depended on a lookout detecting the slightest disturbance at great distances in seas sometimes littered with floating debris.

Lookouts sighted a submarine periscope on 18 June 1917, 300 yards away on the starboard bow.  The periscope submerged immediately and the officer-on-deck ordered the rudder put over hard right and the ship closed on the spot where the submarine was sighted.  The destroyer dropped two depth charges, resulting in a “black blotch” thirty or forty yards in diameter spreading over the water.  The commanding officer surmised that the discoloration was from the depth charge explosive’s residue. Four days later, lookouts sighted a U-boat 1,000 yards on the port bow.  The destroyer rang down full speed and closed on the adversary but the submarine escaped. The green crew showed their inexperience when the jumpy torpedo crew fired a torpedo without orders.

The active month of June 1917 continued on the 26th when while guarding a troop convoy the crew spotted the bow wave of a submarine two points on the port bow about 1,500 yards away and closing.  Cummings crossed in front of the wake and dropped a depth charge ahead of it.  She left a buoy to mark the spot for other escorts.  The officers believed that the gun crews scored a direct hit with the charge, citing increased debris in the vicinity, discolored water and air bubbling from below the surface.  Officials originally speculated that the U-boat damaged by the attack was U-60 (Kapitänleutnant Karlgeorg Schuster, commanding) but information on U-boat activity collected after hostilities ended proved that the submarine was elsewhere at the time of the attack. Nonetheless, the British Admiralty recommended the ship’s commanding and executive officers for decorations.

After leaving Queenstown on 12 August 1917 at the start of a patrol, Cummings spotted an oil slick and dropped a depth charge ahead of it.  Gun crews dropped a second charge after the first did not explode, but noticed no apparent results.  On the night of 13-14 August, the destroyer was patrolling off the southwest coast of Ireland when, at 11:59 p.m., lookouts spotted a steamer through the dark on the port bow.  Suddenly, as Cummings initiated maneuvers to avoid the steamer, she spotted a tug on the starboard bow.  The executive officer, on duty on the bridge, blew a blast on the whistle, turned on the vessel’s running lights and put the rudder hard right as the mid watch began.  The tug turned to port, forcing the destroyer to back full while continuing hard right, but the maneuver came too late.  The tug, which proved to be HMS Flying Spray, blew three blasts on her whistle before colliding with Cummings, crumpling several plates and putting a hole on the port side.  While the damage proved serious, the ship did not take on any water and steamed to Queenstown.  She continued to Liverpool on 17 August and later to Chatham for refit and repairs.  She entered the dockyard at Chatham on 20 August and remained there until 31 August, a subsequent board of review determining that responsibility for the incident lay with the British vessel, proving Cummings to be correct in her actions and precautions.

While convoying the British steamer Virgil on 7 September 1917, lookouts sighted what appeared to be a submarine cruising, decks awash, 10,000 yards away on the starboard bow.  Cummings sounded general quarters and closed on the “enemy” at full speed, firing sixteen shots at what proved to be a partially submerged wreck.  After determining the nature of her target, the destroyer continued convoying the British vessel. 

While escorting a convoy with U.S. and British destroyers on 17 November 1917, Cummings was present for the sinking of U-58 (Kapitänleutnant Gustav Amberger) by Fanning (Destroyer No. 37) and Nicholson when the former forced the submarine to surface following a well-placed depth charge.  The incident was the only confirmed U.S. victory over a German submarine unassisted by British forces during the World War.  On 7 December, she searched for survivors of the destroyer Jacob Jones (Destroyer No. 61) sunk the previous day by U-53 (Kapitänleutnant Rose).

In an early example of coordination, Cummings and a British dirigible attacked a suspicious oil slick on 11 December 1917. Over a fortnight later, U-61 (Kapitänleutnant Victor Dieckmann) torpedoed Santee, a “Q-Ship,” on 28 December. While the ship was designed to absorb a torpedo attack and trick a submarine into exposing herself to a counter-attack, Santee’s assailant anticipated the ruse and withdrew.  Cummings arrived to aid the vessel and escort her home.  She stood by as a tug brought Santee safely into Queenstown and recovered lifeboats containing the crew.

On the first day of 1918; Lt. Cmdr. Owen Bartlett relieved Cmdr. George F. Neal, who had commanded the vessel since the declaration of war.  On 14 January, Cummings steamed to Birkenhead, England, for a refit at the Cammell Laird & Co., Ltd., yard. Alterations to the ship included larger depth charge tracks that allowed for the dropping of up to 22 charges, and the addition of two depth charge projectors.  She remained there until 27 January, but returned to the dockyard in mid-February to address damage after the dockyard pilot damaged one of her screws on the corner of a dock.  She received repairs at various facilities until 13 March.

While escorting a British steamship on 13 April 1918, Cummings’ lookouts sighted a floating mine.  The crew opened fire with the Nos. 1 and 2 guns and small arms, destroying it.  Later in the day, the crew spotted an object that resembled a periscope, Cummings dropping a depth charge that had no effect. Eight days later, she dropped six depth charges after sighting an oil slick and continued on to Queenstown.  She dropped another two depth charges on a suspicious slick on 27 April without any results.  On the following day, lookouts spotted a suspicious wake running parallel to the wake of the vessel she was convoying, the British transport CzaritzaCummings dropped a pattern of nine depth charges to head off a potential attack.  She continued with her charge conducting only a cursory inspection of the results of the attack.

Cummings continued guarding convoys into the summer, dropping three depth charges on a slick on 13 May 1918 and eight more on 20 May when Davis (Destroyer No. 65) dropped a barrage.  On 5 June the commanding officer spotted through binoculars what he originally thought was sea life near an oil slick at the distance of 14 miles.  The vessel closed on the sighing, and believing it could be a submarine, dropped 23 depth charges without result.

Four days later, on 9 June 1918, the British steamship Vandalia – bound, in ballast, for Montreal, Canada -- was being escorted by Cummings when U-96 (Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Jeẞ) torpedoed and sank her. While bringing Vandalia’s survivors on board, Cummings sighted a submarine 1,000 yards distant.  The destroyer shoved off, rang down full speed and dropped a barrage of 17 depth charges from her racks and Y-guns.  She witnessed no results and continued the recovery of survivors.  Two days later, she dropped another 17 charges when a torpedo wake passed her bow 25 yards away.  The destroyer tracked the wake to its source and dropped the charges.  She later noticed two more wakes, one passing under the ship and another crossing the vessel’s bow.

On 1 July 1918, after U-86 (Kapitänleutnant Helmut Patzig) -- that only a short time before [27 June] had sunk the British hospital ship Llandovery Castle not only against international law but the Imperial German Navy’s standing orders -- torpedoed the troop transport Covington (Id. No. 1409), Cummings arrived to screen the doomed vessel.  While guarding her, Cummings spotted a moving wake close aboard on the port bow.  The commanding officer put the rudder hard left and the ship dropped a barrage of 17 depth charges, but without achieving any apparent results. Over a fortnight later, the crew noticed what seemed to be torpedo wake, this time on the port beam on 16 July.  Cummings followed the wake and dropped a barrage of 20 depth charges with, again, no observed results.

Transferred from Queenstown to Brest, France, Cummings operated thence for the remainder of the World War escorting troops and supplies to French ports.  She used new tactics to attack an oil slick on 10 October 1918, dropping nine depth charges in the vicinity of the slick and employed a “K-tube” – a listening device of dubious value, for even if a submarine was nearby there was no guarantee the operator would detect it -- designed to locate noises under water, in an attempt to locate an enemy submarine. Cummings proved unable to locate her adversary and continued guarding her convoy.  She repeated those tactics two days later, dropping one charge on a slick and again unsuccessfully employing a listening device.

Cummings continued to escort allied vessels up to the Armistice of 11 November 1918 and beyond, and participated in escorting the troop transport George Washington (Id. No. 3018), with President Woodrow Wilson embarked, into Brest.  On 16 December 1918, Cummings cleared Brest and arrived at Philadelphia on 2 January 1919 after proceeding via the Azores and Bermuda.  After an overhaul period (2 January-3 February 1919) she joined the fleet at winter maneuvers off Guantanamo, Cuba (6 February-9 April) later returning north to operate in the vicinity of Newport (10 July-28 August). Later, at Melville, R.I., Cummings collided with Rowan (Destroyer No.64) while coming alongside.


Cummings, circa 1919, with her crew at quarters and lowering a boat on the starboard side. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-N-10963, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)
Caption: Cummings, circa 1919, with her crew at quarters and lowering a boat on the starboard side. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-N-10963, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)

Cummings remained in a reserve status at the Philadelphia Navy Yard from 29 August 1919 into March 1921, after which she operated along the East Coast. In August 1921 she damaged one of her screws on an underwater object while entering the Boston Navy Yard.  She again entered the Navy Yard at Philadelphia, in March 1922, and was placed out of commission there on 23 June1922.

The ratification of the 18th Amendment [Prohibition] had spawned a thriving traffic in smuggling alcoholic beverages by 1924. The Coast Guard’s small fleet, charged with stopping the illegal maritime importation of liquor, proved unequal to the task. Consequently, President Calvin Coolidge proposed to increase that fleet with 20 of the Navy’s inactive destroyers, and Congress authorized the necessary funds on 2 April 1924. Cummings was transferred to the Treasury Department for service with the Coast Guard on 7 June 1924.

Those who championed the transfer reasoned that adapting the vessels to law enforcement service would cost less than building new ships. In the end, the rehabilitation of the vessels became a saga in itself because of the exceedingly poor condition of many of the war-weary destroyers. Coast Guardsmen and navy yard workers went to work on Cummings. It took nearly a year to remove the installed anti-submarine warfare equipment and rehabilitate these vessels in order to bring them up to seaworthiness and operational capability. As historian Malcolm F. Willoughby noted, “The winter of 1924-25 was exceptionally severe. Work on destroyers went on day after day in close to zero weather often without the vestige of heat. Some boilers and engines were in fairly good condition, while others were in a deplorable state. New, quick-firing, long-range guns were installed; torpedo tubes and Y guns for depth charges were removed to lighten weight and remove unneeded equipment.” Additionally, the destroyers were by far the largest and most sophisticated vessels ever operated by the Coast Guard; trained crewmen were nearly non-existent. As a result, Congress subsequently authorized hundreds of new enlisted billets. It was these inexperienced recruits that generally made up the destroyer crews. In preparation for operational service, Cummings, in company with McDougal (CG-6) was ordered to proceed to the vicinity of Brown’s Shoal, Del., for the purposes of testing and calibrating her communications equipment and direction finder. Maintaining her name, but re-designated CG-3, Cummings was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 15 May 1925, Lt. Cmdr. Ralph H. Dempwolf, USCG, in command.

Cummings reported to Cmdr. William H. Munter, USCG, Commander, Destroyer Force, New London, Conn., as a unit of Division Four, on 16 May 1925. While capable of well over 25 knots, seemingly an advantage in the interdicting of rum runners, Cummings and the other units in the Destroyer Force were easily outmaneuvered by smaller vessels. As a result, the destroyer typically patrolled her assigned sector and picketed the larger supply ships (“mother ships”) on Rum Row in an attempt to prevent them from off-loading their illicit cargo onto the speedier contact boats that ran the liquor into shore.

During the annual battle practices for the Gunnery Year 1926-1927, the first in which Cummings participated as a Coast Guard destroyer, she rated seventh among sixteen ships in the competition. Rating 8th in the short-range practice, she stood 4th in the long range. Later in the year, while still operating from New London on 6 December 1927 as a unit in Division One, Cummings boarded the auxiliary schooner Funchal, out of New Bedford, Mass. Rigged for scallop fishing, but with that equipment rusted and in disrepair, the destroyer’s commanding officer decided to seize the suspected rum runner. The schooner came into New London under her own power escorted by the destroyer. The next day she was inspected by U.S. Customs officials and released without charges.

Cummings stood out of New London on 4 February 1929 bound for the Gunnery Year 1928-1929 target practices off Charleston, S.C. During this competition her performance improved considerably as she rated 8th among the 24 destroyers competing.  Though she stood only 16th in the short-range practice, hitting only twice in 16 shots, her long-range gunnery was markedly better, rating 4th overall. The destroyer’s achievement contributed to Division One’s standing as the best division in the Destroyer Force. After her annual shoot, Cummings returned to New London on 8 March to resume her routine patrolling of Rum Row. From 4 June to 2 July 1929, Cummings and the other destroyers of Division One, Shaw (CG-22), Davis (CG-21), Ericsson (CG-5), Tucker (CG-23), and Wilkes (CG-25), were pulled out of operational service for inspection and overhaul. After her maintenance availability, she collided with the Canadian schooner Silver Arrow out of Lunenburg, N.S., while on patrol on 6 August 1929. The damage to the destroyer included bent hull and deck plates, destroyed rail stanchions, loosened rivets, and lifelines that were carried away.


Cummings (CG-3) underway on patrol during her service with the Coast Guard. Courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps Museum. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 103523)
Caption: Cummings (CG-3) underway on patrol during her service with the Coast Guard. Courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps Museum. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 103523)

With the New Year came the need to again conduct her annual target practices. Cummings steamed from New London, this time bound for St. Petersburg, Fla., on 6 February 1930 and arrived on 12 February. Her performance in the Gunnery Year 1929-1930 shoot, however, fell off from that in the preceding year. Despite improving her short-range performance to 4th, her overall standing was undermined by a poorer long-range practice and her overall standing dropped to 11th out of 19 destroyers. With her gunnery training complete, she returned to New London on 16 March and resumed her routine patrol operations.

Cummings received orders on 20 February 1931 re-assigning her to a new permanent station at Stapleton [Staten Island], N.Y. She was to be replaced at New London by the soon-to-be- commissioned flush-deck destroyer Welborn C. Wood (CG-19). In the meantime, the destroyer departed New London on 9 March 1931 bound for her annual target practice at St. Petersburg. Arriving at Charleston on 11 March, she got underway again on the 16th and arrived at her destination on the 19th. During this competition for the Gunnery Year 1930-1931, Cummings stood seventh among the 13 destroyers conducting battle practices. Interestingly, she rated second in the short-range practice, but only ninth, in the long-range, thus ensuring her median standing. After the competition, she returned to New London on 21 April.

Shortly after her return, Cummings reported for duty with the Division Two at Stapleton on 26 May 1931. One of her first missions, as conveyed in her orders of 19 May, was to proceed to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to embark sailors from the decommissioned Ammen (CG-8) and Jouett (CG-13) along with supplies, and transport them to New York, New London, and Boston, Mass. She stood out of Philadelphia on 22 May. Afterward, she returned to her regular patrol duties.

While on patrol on 16 June 1931, Cummings seized the steam yacht Surf out of New York, south of Block Island, R.I., for violation of the Volstead Act. Taking her under tow, the destroyer brought her back into New York on the 15th, and on the next day turned her prisoners over to the U.S. Customs inspector before getting underway to resume her patrol. During July, Cummings and McDougal docked at the New York Navy Yard to undergo overhaul. Afterward, she returned to Stapleton for assignment to future duty on 26 July.

Cummings’ grueling anti-smuggling interdiction duties, however, eventually wore on her and over time she, along with others of her fellow former Navy destroyers, had become unfit. In a memo dated 19 January 1932, it was noted that future repairs to Cummings “will be considered,” provided the Treasury Department released the requisite funds. On 6 October 1931, she received orders to New London, to be placed in inactive status. The destroyer Shaw (CG-22) was designated as her replacement at the Stapleton CG Base. On 3 December, the destroyer departed Stapleton, arriving at New London that same day. After just over three months of inactivity, she sailed for the New York Navy Yard on 14 March 1932, and arrived the next day. Five weeks later, the destroyer got underway one final time and arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard with a tug providing assistance on 23 April. The Coast Guard decommissioned Cummings at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 30 April 1932 and returned her to the Navy Department that same day.

On 1 July 1933, the Navy dropped the name Cummings, leaving the vessel to be referred to by her identification number, DD-44, onlyOn 29 June 1934, the ship was authorized for “disposal by salvage” and on 5 July 1934, DD-44 was stricken from the Navy Register. She was sold to Michael Flynn, Inc., of Brooklyn, on 22 August 1934, and was broken up subsequently.

 

S. Matthew Cheser, Christopher B. Havern, Sr., and Teresa R. Hasson
26 April 2017

Published: Thu Apr 27 13:41:33 EDT 2017