John Ericsson was born in Långban, Värmland, in the Kingdom of Sweden, on 31 July 1803. Ericsson’s father was a local mine inspector and his mother was a well-educated daughter of a previous inspector. They mentored John and his brother Nils to become accomplished engineers. After enjoying a childhood where he exhibited prodigious talents in drawing, surveying and mechanics, young John attended the engineering school in Tåtorp as a cadet of the Swedish Navy Mechanical Corps, where he performed work in leveling and surveying for the expansive Göta Canal, intended to connect the Baltic Sea with the North Atlantic. Before his 18th birthday, 600 troops worked on projects under his supervision and teachers regarded him as a prodigy.
In 1820, Ericsson enlisted in the Swedish Army as a lieutenant in the northern province of Jämtland. Army service allowed him to practice the skills he learned as a boy, such as cartography, and acquire new ones, such as those of an artillery draughtsman. Ericsson also used the time to perform experiments on new inventions, foremost of which was his flame-motor that converted hot air, rather than steam, from thermal to mechanical energy. The concept featured prominently in many of Ericsson’s later projects.
Ericsson’s inventions and his mastery of cartography impressed superiors including the Swedish monarch. In 1826, Ericsson took leave of the Swedish Army and traveled to England in hopes of finding success with his flame motor. Initially, it failed to impress his British counterparts, but the imaginative Ericsson responded by churning out new patents.
Ericsson suffered another setback when he furnished innovative new boilers to polar explorer John Ross for his 1829 expedition. Ross attempted to locate the Northwest Passage in the auxiliary steam ship Victory but due in part to the failure of the vessel’s steam propulsion his expedition became stranded. After returning from the expedition, Ross blamed its failure on engineers including Ericsson. In Ross’s telling, the Swede provided him inferior quality boilers. Ericsson, never one to accept blame that he felt unwarranted, countered that Ross held the arctic destination of his expedition secret until too late. The inventor contended that he could have compensated for the extreme cold of the polar region with earlier notice.
In the late 1820s Ericsson partnered with English inventor John Brainwaithe to patent several innovative machines. In 1829 they debuted a steam-powered fire engine. The machine was capable of shooting two tons of water per minute to the top of the highest building in London and would not freeze in cold temperatures. The invention’s attractive ability to deliver large quantities of water to douse flames also proved to be its weakness. Early Nineteenth Century cities had little access to the plentiful water supplies required for such an engine. He attempted to use his earliest invention concept, a hot air powered water pump, to alleviate chronic flooding in Cornish mines. The project became another costly failure for the Swede. Despite those setbacks, he retained the support of his countrymen and King Karl Gustav XIV extended his leave and promoted him to captain.
In 1829 the directors of the Manchester-Liverpool Railroad sought to find a steam engine to run on their proposed railway. They offered a prize of £500 to the best locomotive. Ericsson and Brainwaithe provided an entry aptly named The Novelty. The locomotive’s engine and boilers were more efficient than her contemporaries and she was the only locomotive entered in the competition to carry her own fuel and water. The test of The Novelty came at the Rainhill Trials where she competed against four other locomotives. Spectators 10,000 strong, from the British scientific elite to the English public turned out to witness the spectacle. The Novelty early established itself as the fan favorite, matching beautiful workmanship with a then lightning fast speed of 28 mph. In later trials, however, she proved prone to break downs. At the end of eight days of trials the directors awarded the prize to George Stephenson’s more reliable entry The Rocket. Stephenson won the £500 and more importantly, renown as the father of the locomotive.
While those setbacks and failures did not break Ericsson’s creativity and drive, they did put him deep into debt. By 1832, he owed £15,000 to creditors, a considerable fortune at the time. While confined to debtor’s prison on two instances starting in 1832, Ericsson continued brainstorming and drawing while in confinement. He further investigated the concept that he earlier explored with the flame engine. When free of prison in 1833, he released an improved model named the caloric engine. While built on the same principles he added improvements such as a heat sink or “economizer” to improve efficiency.
While imprisoned he also contemplated problems of steamship propulsion. Early steamships were propelled by side wheels which had the disadvantage of being large, unwieldy, fuel inefficient, and susceptible to damage. Ericsson’s answer was to locate the propulsion aft and below the waterline to address many of these issues. His first propulsion method was based on the movement of duck’s feet, with paddles driven back and forth by a steam driven cylinder. He sunk $2,000.00 to create a prototype tug boat with this style of propulsion for a group of interested sponsors. The investors withdrew their support when the vessel could not pull the weight specified in the contract, leaving Ericsson further in debt. He next dreamed up a working double propeller in a spiral layout but filed a patent too late and in 1836 shared credit with the inventor of a similar device.
Again down on his luck, Ericsson entered into a partnership with U.S. inventor and statesman Francis Ogden, then serving as U.S .Consul in Liverpool, England. Ogden supported Ericsson’s experiments with naval propulsion both financially and with technical insight, resulting in the screw-powered tug Francis G. Ogden which the Swede demonstrated for the British Lords of the Admiralty on the Thames in May 1837. Although the vessel performed well and did not suffer any difficulties the Admiralty rejected her, handing Ericsson yet another setback. The Admiralty could not conceive of a method to steer a ship if the propeller was installed aft. The vessel succeeded, however, in impressing Capt. Robert Stockton, U.S. Navy, who ordered a model for himself.
Stockton – a proponent of modernizing the U.S. Navy -- convinced Ericsson to make the trans-Atlantic voyage to the United States, where he hoped Ericsson’s genius would convince Congress of the merits of screw propelled warships. Ericsson arrived in November 1839 and settled in New York. The U.S. Navy proved unready for a screw powered vessel but the persistent Ericsson found work building shipborne machinery at the Phoenix foundry in New York, where he worked with Henry Delamater who would remain a backer and a partner throughout the remainder of his life. The foundry manufactured screw-driven private vessels and steam fire engines based on Ericsson’s designs while providing the Swede an outlet for his creativity.
After the ascension of John Tyler to the Presidency in 1841 the politically connected Capt. Stockton convinced government officials of the merits of building a revolutionary warship. He enlisted Ericsson’s help and the wooden screw sloop Princeton -- the first screw steamship in the U.S. Navy -- was launched two years later. The sloop boasted an Ericsson-designed engine that was small and light enough to perform completely below the waterline. Ericsson also designed a six-bladed propeller, a telescoping smoke stack, and the ship’s main guns.
The guns were two massive 12-inch smoothbores. Ericsson fabricated the first of these guns, later named Oregon, while living in England and transported it across the Atlantic. He fitted the breech with red hot hoops for greater strength to withstand a stronger charge. Against the Swede’s wishes, Stockton used Ericsson’s plans to build the second gun named Peacemaker. The American did not sufficiently understand the inventor’s construction methods and used inferior materials. His most important oversight was the lack of fortifying hoops around the breech. He nonetheless installed Peacemaker on the vessel despite its deficiencies.
Americans initially viewed Princeton with pride as a technological marvel. She defeated a British Paddle-wheel steamer Great Western in a race on New York’s East River. Stockton left Ericsson in New York and introduced the vessel to the Washington political elite. On 28 February 1844, President Tyler, members of his cabinet, congressmen and a cross section of Washington high society met on board the sloop for a gala event. Stockton fired Peacemaker twice, and at the special request of the Secretary of the Navy set her off one last time.
The gun burst near the breech, however, scattering fragments among the officials present on deck. The explosion killed six including the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Navy, two congressmen, the Chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Construction and an enslaved servant of the President. Stockton was among the many wounded. While Stockton’s ties to President Tyler helped him escape blameless from the “Princeton Disaster,” he heaped blame on Ericsson, who refused to attend inquiries into the incident and therefore proved unable to counter his former associate’s accusations. Furthermore, even though the concept of the screw propelled warship and Ericsson’s many inventions proved to be a success, Congress never paid him for Princeton or refunded his expenses. The Princeton disaster and its aftermath left Ericsson distrustful of the Navy.
In 1849, Ericsson proudly became an American citizen but his mind remained back with one of his old world pursuits, the caloric engine. The following year he created a shipborne engine that used heat, rather than steam, for propulsion. Ericsson saw caloric power as a cleaner, safer, and more efficient means of propulsion than steam. In 1852, he launched Ericsson as the first vessel running on such power to much fanfare. Despite initial enthusiasm, the vessel ran only eight knots, significantly slower than similar sized steamships. In addition, Ericsson foundered in a storm, continuing the terrible luck of her namesake. While seen as a feat of mechanical genius by contemporaries, caloric energy proved to lack the practical utility of steam on larger scales. Ericsson found success beginning in 1857 by selling smaller versions of his engine useful for various agricultural, industrial, and maritime purposes.
Following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the numerically superior U.S. Navy implemented a blockade of the southern states intending to cut them off from foreign trade and assistance. The Confederacy sought to challenge the overwhelming blockade by building ironclad warships to neutralize the Federal advantage. In June 1861, the Confederacy began construction of an ironclad on the hulk of the scuttled screw frigate Merrimack.
Congress was initially reluctant to pursue armored vessels but formed a committee to investigate the possibility in July 1861. When Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles invited proposals in August, Ericsson had already completed his entry. The inventor based his proposal on earlier plans for a “cupola vessel” that he unilaterally and unsuccessfully submitted to Napoleon III of France in 1855. The proposed vessel contained several revolutionary features, including a raft-like silhouette and a rotating turret. When he mailed his entry to President Abraham Lincoln, however, Navy engineers rejected the proposal and it never reached the President or his cabinet. Instead the board tapped two other models for the building project named New Ironside, and Galena.
Fortunately for the Union, Ericsson coincidently met Cornelius Bushnell, the designer of Galena. The Swedish-American’s proposal so impressed Bushnell that he interceded on Ericsson’s behalf with his personal friend Secretary Welles. The Secretary of the Navy realized that Ericsson’s craft was the only ironclad capable of completion in time to stop CSS Virginia, as the rebuilt Merrimack had been named.Bushnell continued to operate as advocate for the warship, successfully pitching the vessel to President Lincoln before joining Ericsson in front of the ironclad board that expressed lingering doubts about the vessel’s seaworthiness. The urgent need for a warship to counter Virginia, however, trumped those misgivings and the Navy granted Ericsson a contract dated 4 October 1861.
With Virginia nearing completion, the contract stipulated that if Ericsson’s vessel proved a failure he would be compelled to refund the government the cost of construction. Ericsson built the ship with the most advanced naval technology of the day, much of it conceived on his own drafting table. The ironclad included dozens of patentable inventions. She was propelled by one of Ericsson’s screw propellers and mounted two XI-inch Dahlgren guns in her armored revolving turret, the first of its kind. Below deck, the ship also boasted steam powered ventilation and heating systems and even underwater heads. Ericsson suggested the name Monitor characterizing his new warship as watching and intimidating the enemies of the United States.
Ericsson launched Monitor on 30 January 1862. She conducted trials in New York and her crew immediately identified problems with her steering and speed. The inventor righted the pressing deficiencies in spite of the derision of the press who remembered his past failures and dubbed the vessel “Ericsson’s Folly.” The Navy commissioned Monitor on 25 February 1862 at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., where she fit out for service. She departed New York on 6 March 1862 and set course to confront Virginia.
Monitor reached Hampton Roads on the night of 8-9 March 1862 in time to witness the destruction caused by Virginia earlier. Virginia had rammed and sunk the frigate Cumberland and run the frigate Congress aground before destroying her with heated shot, while screw frigates Roanoke and Minnesota ran aground attempting to enter the battle. After besting an entire Yankee squadron she retired to the safety of Confederate controlled Sewell’s Point, where she prepared to destroy the stranded Federal frigates at daybreak. Ericsson’s creation took position near Minnesota and waited for her adversary to emerge.
At dawn, Virginia steamed toward Minnesota to administer the coup de grace. Monitor emerged out of Minnesota’s shadow to intercept the Confederate ironclad. A Confederate officer on board CSS Patrick Henry, one of Virginia’s paddle wheel consorts, described the Union challenger as “an immense shingle floating on the water with a gigantic cheese box rising from its center; no sails, no wheels, no smokestack, no guns.” The unusual Federal vessel soon won the respect of friend and foe alike, however, fighting the Confederate ironclad to a standstill in an exhausting four-hour duel. With both warships damaged and running low on shot, Virginia again retired to Sewell’s Point after failing to break the Federal blockade.
Monitor’s performance electrified the North which dreamed up daring, war-winning exploits for their new ironclad champion. The Navy, however, was initially loathe to risk the technological marvel and frustrated Ericsson by deploying her conservatively. Monitor and Virginia played an elusive game of cat and mouse until the Confederates scuttled Virginia on 11 May 1862, thereby keeping her from capture by advancing Union Troops. Four days later Monitor’s armor proved superior to Galena at the battle of Drewry’s Bluff on the James River outside of Richmond. Heavy Confederate artillery fire from Fort Darling, situated on the bluff, pierced Galena’s armor but glanced off the smaller ironclad. The squadron withdrew, but Monitor proved she could withstand shore batteries.
Monitor’s success profoundly affected the nation, the world, and Ericsson’s fortunes. The North celebrated the previously hard-luck inventor. Congress passed a resolution of thanks and citizens and societies throughout the nation expressed their appreciation and admiration. Contracts poured in from the Navy. President Lincoln visited the ship in May as recognition of her achievement. Foreign governments quickly realized that Monitor rendered their storied wooden navies and early ironclads obsolete, and studied Ericsson’s inventions to modernize their own fleets. Ultimately, what Confederate guns had been unable to accomplish, an Atlantic storm did, and Monitor foundered on 30 December 1862, taking 16 souls with her. While her loss underscored the model’s dubious seaworthiness, the Navy was already committed to the shipbuilding revolution ushered in by Ericsson’s masterpiece.
The inventor designed two further classes of monitor s during the war, the Passaic and the Canonicus classes and two enormous monitors named Dictator and Puritan, each displacing over four times more than Monitor. Future models also housed larger guns and improved the vessels’ seaworthiness. Other shipbuilders fabricated monitors that incorporated Ericsson’s inventions. The Navy ordered sixty monitor type vessels during the war and those completed performed invaluable work in several naval theaters. Monitors served navies around the world well into the twentieth century.
Following the war, Ericsson continued to dream up inventions far ahead of their time. In the realm of naval technology, he conceived technologies capable of rendering his own ironclad monitors obsolete. He long expressed interest in self-propelled underwater torpedoes, and experimented with the technology starting 1866. In 1878, he constructed Destroyer, a small, fast fighting vessel designed to employ torpedoes as her primary armament. Destroyer presaged the torpedo boats employed by world navies throughout the decades straddling 1900. While Washington and London rejected the experimental vessel and Ericsson’s torpedoes, the Brazilian Navy purchased Destroyer following Ericsson’s death.
If Destroyer was the futuristic culmination of Ericsson’s life work in naval technology, his experiments with solar energy were his penultimate contributions to the mechanical applications of heat. Throughout the remainder of his life he invented and improved devices that concentrated heat from the sun to produce mechanical energy. He viewed solar energy as his gift to the world and consequently did not seek patents on his inventions. None of Ericsson’s solar engines achieved widespread use, but concepts he developed, like the solar energy collecting parabolic trough, proved important to the later development of practical solar power.
John Ericsson died in New York City on 8 March 1889, and the Swedish government requested that the U.S. return their native son to the land of his birth for burial and the Department of the Navy acceded. On 23 August 1890 Marine guards draped the Swedish captain’s coffin in Monitor’s battle flag. Rear Adm. John L.Worden, who had commanded the ironclad at the Battle of Hampton Roads, led a procession to Battery Park where the guard transferred the remains to the Navy. Two screws, descended from those Ericsson pioneered fifty years earlier, propelled Baltimore (Cruiser No. 3) on the final journey home. The warship carrying the great inventor was greeted by solemn crowds of adoring countrymen and Ericsson was buried in Filipstad, Värmland.
The first Ericsson (Destroyer No. 56) was laid down on 10 November 1913 at Camden, N.J. by New York Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 22 August 1914; and sponsored by Mrs. J. Washington [Mary Barry] Logue, wife of Congressman J. W. Logue of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Commissioned on 14 August 1915 at the Philadelphia [Pa.] Navy Yard, Lt. Cmdr. William L. Pryor in command, Ericsson steamed to Tompkinsville, Staten Island, N.Y., on 21 August 1915 where crews performed additional work on the vessel. In early October, she conducted various drills and exercises to prepare for service. On 22 October the destroyer arrived at Boston and began conducting neutrality patrols. After another round of trials and exercises in early November, Ericsson patrolled out of New York until late December. On 31 December 1915 the Navy assigned her to Division Six, Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet.
For the first three months off 1916, Ericsson engaged in exercises and maneuvers along the east coast and in the Caribbean. She returned to New York on 15 April and conducted patrols and exercises along the east coast from New England to Virginia. On 1 October, Ericsson was transferred to Newport, R.I., where she was serving when the German submarine U-53 (Kapitänleutnant Hans Rose, commanding) entered the port on 7 October to deliver a message to the German Ambassador.
Although the threat of internment compelled U-53 back to sea within four hours’ time, Rose sank five allied vessels off the coast of Massachusetts soon thereafter. Upon receiving word of the attacks, the destroyer flotilla at Newport steamed out to assist the crews of the stricken vessels. Ericsson got underway at 1:11 p.m. on 8 October, and arrived on the scene in time to see the Dutch Steamer Blommersdijk hove-to near the submarine. At 5:10 p.m., U-53 fired three shots across the bow of British steamer Stephano and she hove-to as well. Rose warned both merchant vessels to abandon ship before he sank them. As the ship’s bell called the end of the first dog watch, Ericsson pulled close aboard to Stephano and at the steamship’s request took 85 passengers and crew on board. The destroyer then set course for Newport as further American vessels arrived. She reached Newport at 1:30 a.m. on 9 October, during the mid watch, and disembarked her passengers. Later that morning, the destroyer suffered a collision with Cassin (Destroyer No. 43), that caused damage to Ericsson’s port side. Due to the sensation caused by the actions of U-53, U.S. destroyers reconnoitered the New England coast searching for suspicious submarine activity starting on 12 October.
Ericsson, transferred to the Division Seven, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, on 1 January 1917, engaged in war exercises with the fleet throughout February before returning to New York on 13 March for repairs. The Navy ordered her to steam to Hampton Roads and the York River on 3 April where the Atlantic Fleet was gathering anticipating hostilities.
The U.S. declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917, officially beginning the nation’s involvement in WWI. Ericsson received the news while anchored in the York River. The Navy transferred the ship’s commanding officer to another destroyer on the same date and the ship went through a succession of commanding lieutenants until 18 April when Lt. Charles T Hutchins took command. In the interim, the vessel performed picket duty at the mouth of the York River starting on 11 April and the crew busied themselves with drills and exercises. On 22 April, Ericsson stood out to sea with five destroyers and the flagship Seattle (Armored Cruiser No. 11) to rendezvous with the French cruiser Admiral Aube and the steamer Lorraine carrying French military representatives to the United States. The convoy reached Norfolk, Va. on 23 April where the representatives met Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.
On 26 April 1917, Ericsson received orders to prepare for deployment to European waters. The destroyer departed from Norfolk and steamed to New York, arriving there the following day. After undergoing repairs and fitting out for distant service, Ericsson sailed for Boston where she joined the remainder of Division Seven of the destroyer force. On 7 May the Seventh Division -- Cassin, Jacob Jones (Destroyer No. 61), Rowan (Destroyer No. 64), Tucker (Destroyer No. 57)and Winslow (Destroyer No. 53) – cleared Boston for the British Isles and the European war zone, the second division to embark on that journey.
On 16 May 1917, nine days after leaving Boston, the destroyers were approaching Queenstown [Cobh] at the end of their voyage. Amid the watery landscape of wreckage and debris that characterized the war-time Western Approaches to the British Isles the enemy gave the green destroyermen a hair-raising welcome. Lookouts spotted a torpedo on the port quarter closing on Ericsson. The torpedo moved slowly, only 15 knots, and the officer of the deck rang down full speed ahead to avoid it. The maneuver proved effective and the torpedo broached 100 yards astern. Initially, Ericsson’s sailors speculated that the torpedo had been intended for them, but later revised the report to suggest that the aggressor had fired at Jacob Jones. The division continued toward their objective, steaming into Queenstown on the following day.
The Americans had little time to rest. The crew and British dockworkers prepared the vessel for her mission, unloading irrelevant equipment like mine laying tracks and minesweeping gear and installing anti-submarine equipment such as state-of-the-art depth charges. On 21 May 1917, Ericsson began patrolling the Western Approaches.
Ericsson’s first patrol in the war zone proved far more eventful than most. She left Queenstown at 12:14 p.m. on 21 May 1917 to patrol in the Western Approaches. Less than two hours later, she sighted the German submarine U-48 (Kapitänleutnant Karl Edeling) running on the surface engaging the four-masted Russian bark Lynton and the Norwegian sailing ship Madura with her deck gun. The destroyer closed on the submarine and opened fire, then loosed a torpedo against the aggressor at 7,000 yards. It was the first U.S. torpedo fired at the enemy during the war. Seeing the destroyer’s approach, U-48 dove and sank both sailing vessels with torpedoes of her own. Ericsson searched for the U-boat but could not locate her and proceeded then to pick up the surviving crew of the sunken vessels. She disembarked the survivors at Queenstown and returned to her patrol.
The destroyer seemed to be heading for a second taste of action at 11:00 a.m. on 5 June 1917 when lookouts reported a periscope. She closed on the sighting, firing eight shots from her four-inch guns during the charge. Upon reaching the location of the sighting, however, the crew of Ericsson determined the target was actually a floating spar. Sailors commonly misidentified debris, oceanic features, or even sea life as submarines in the Western Approaches. Such mistakes were inevitable in an environment where a ship’s safety depended on a lookout detecting the slightest disturbance at great distances in seas cluttered with floating debris.
Ericsson and several Queenstown destroyers met the first U.S. troopship convoy at sea on 23 June 1917 and took up escort duties. The convoy proceeded to St. Nazaire, France, their numbers increased by French warships along the way. They arrived safely at their destination on 26 June and the U.S. destroyers returned to Queenstown.
Back on convoy duty on 9 August 1917, Ericsson dropped depth charges over suspicious oil slicks without visible results. Ten days later, shewas escorting another convoy when a destroyer in proximity spotted a submarine at 2:23 p.m. Ericsson reached the scene of the sighting and dropped a pattern of depth charges after the vessel submerged. Another U-boat sighting followed Ericsson’s and prompted the transports in the convoy to open fire against the elusive foe. A torpedo passed across the bow of the U.S. merchant ship San Jacinto. The engagement continued at 8:26 a.m. when the U.S. armed merchantman Finland opened fire astern. Soon several vessels opened fire and continued sporadically for over an hour. Trippe (Destroyer No. 33) dropped a depth charge behind the convoy. The convoy reached the Coast of Ireland before splitting up and Ericsson returned to Queenstown.
On 28 September 1917, a British “Q-Ship,” a warship disguised as a merchant vessel, reportedly scored eight hits on a German submarine that somehow escaped. Ericsson charted a course to intercept her based on intercepted radio transmissions from the fleeing U-boat. At sunsetthe destroyerspotted the hobbled submersible 4,000 yards ahead and fired two shots. Before the destroyer could take further action, however, the setting sun blinded Ericsson’s men, forcing them to lose track of the enemy. With fire-control temporarily hindered, Lt. Cmdr. Hutchins ordered his ship to prepare to ram her adversary. The pursuing destroyer located the submarine’s wake in the dimming light, but lost her prey after nightfall. Following a drydocking for repairs and alterations (1–14 October) Ericsson conducted trial runs (15–16 October) and resumed convoy duty on 19 October.
The German submarine U-101 (Kapitänleutnant Karl Koopmann) torpedoed Ericsson’scharge Crenella on 26 November 1917. Escorts chased away the attacker and the injured steamer limped into Queenstown under her own power. It was the only vessel guarded by Ericsson struck by a torpedo during the war. She was guarding another convoy on 13 December when Davis (Destroyer No. 65) sighted a submarine on the surface five miles ahead. Ericsson joined Davis in dropping depth charges, targeting a moving oil slick with no results. Fellow escorts witnessed a torpedo pass the convoy harmlessly and dropped further charges with no result. On 31 December the Navy replaced Cmdr. Hutchins with Lt. Cmdr. Lawrence N. McNair marking the destroyer’s first command change since the opening month of the conflict.
Ericsson underwent her second refit (22 February–5 March 1918) at the Cammell-Laird yards, Liverpool, England, before returning to the fray. At the beginning of afternoon watch on 26 March, she sighted a suspicious wake 700 yards away on her starboard beam and took up the chase. Gun crews dropped a pattern of 13 depth charges without any evidence of success. Four days later, while escorting a convoy to Liverpool she fired a four inch round at a surfaced U-boat. A torpedo fired from the intruder passed under the stern of both the U.S. steamship St. Paul and the new Stockton (Destroyer No. 73) but proved harmless. The steamer opened fire at the source of the wake. Ericsson and Stockton closed on the spot dropping depth charges with no sign of a hit. Later that night, at the end of first watch, Stockton collided with British steamer Slieve Bloom. Ericsson sprang into action, taking 131 British citizens off the vessel. She transferred survivors to a British tug off Liverpool before returning to Queenstown on 1 April.
The month of May proved busy. Ericsson was steaming to Bordeaux on the morning of 12 May 1918 guarding the troop transport Martha Washington (Id. No. 3019) when the escort sighted an oil slick on the port beam. She rang up full speed and dropped a pattern of eleven depth charges on the slick without any results. The following morning, the convoy again spotted a perceived enemy vessel. One of the vessels in the convoy opened fire on the sighting and Ericsson closed on the splashes left by the fire, dropping four depth charges in the vicinity with no results. One week later on 28 May the destroyer engaged another oil slick, dropping 11 charges but again observing no results. Ericsson also changed command during May with Lt. Cmdr. Ralph R Stewart taking the helm.
Ericsson laid a smokescreen to obscure her convoy from a submarine sighted on 3 June 1918. Later that month she transferred to Brest, France which remained her base of operations for the remainder of the war. Ericsson was escorting the British troopship Mauretania on 10 June 1918, when she spotted an oil slick and dropped a depth charge. She repeated that action on 12 June and 8 July, both times without results. 16 July witnessed yet another command change with Lt. Murphy J. Foster taking command.
A few weeks later, on 8 August 1918, the merchant ship Westward Ho, in a westbound convoy, was torpedoed 350 miles off the French coast by U-62 (Kapitänleutnant Ernst Hashagen, commanding), but remained afloat. Ericsson sighted the crippled steamer at the beginning of afternoon watch and patrolled the area, looking for any sign of the attacker. After depth charging a suspicious oil slick she stood by the vessel until more help arrived.
The converted yachts Noma (S.P. 131) and May (S. P. 164), along with the French sloop Cassiopée, came to the stricken Westward Ho’s rescue. The yachts attempted a tow, but were unable to make progress. A volunteer crew from May and Noma under Lt. Thomas Blau, USNRF, boarded Westward Ho and Lt. (j.g.) William R. Knight, USNRF, Noma’s engineer officer, managed to build up steam, start the main engines, and pump out the vessel; under power together with towlines rigged by British tugs Woonda and Epic, and finally the tug Concord (Id. No. 773), the ship managed to reach port in France, towed stern-first a distance of 315 miles. The Latvian-born Blau, who had followed the sea since 1893 and who had just turned 34 three days before, received the Navy Cross, and Lt. (j.g.) Knight a Letter of Commendation, for their roles in bringing Westward Ho safely to port.
Ericsson depth charged an oil patch at the scene of a previous submarine sighting on 9 August 1918 and laid a barrage of five two days later. Neither attack proved successful.
On 14 August 1918, Ericsson began her first cruise towing observers aloft in a kite balloon, a common role for her during the remainder of the war. Kite balloons allowed escorting destroyers to spot submarines and friendly vessels from a distance, but by the same token also enabled enemies to easily determine the location of a convoy. With the balloon attached, she departed Brest to rendezvous with a convoy on 20 August. On the way she supplemented a depth charge pattern dropped by a fellow escort with four charges of her own. The observers in the balloon spotted the convoy on 23 August and Ericsson helped escort it safely to port.
The crew quickly formed on deck on 20 September 1918 when the captain sounded general quarters due to the destroyer passing through a possible minefield. Ericsson continued escorting convoys to and from France until 5 November when she put into the Cammell-Laird yard at Birkenhead, England, to refit. She was at that facility when the Armistice ended fighting on 11 November. She completed repairs and steamed for Brest on 5 December, arriving two days later.
Ericsson’s first mission after her return to Brest was to convoy the troop transport George Washington (Id. No. 3018) carrying President Woodrow Wilson on that leg of his journey to the Paris Peace Conference. She met the vessel and an entourage of war ships at sea on 12 December 1918 and assisted guarding them to port in France. Following arrival on 13 December, Ericsson steamed in review of the Commander-in-Chief and to render honors due to the office.
On 21 December 1918, four days before Christmas, the destroyer’s European service came to a close. At 9:40 a.m. she broke her homeward pennant and stood out of Brest. Proceeding via the Azores and Bermuda, she reached New York on 8 January 1919. The fleet operated out of the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., starting on 16 January and soon after was assigned to Division Two, Group One, Flotilla One, Atlantic fleet. Ericsson spent March and part of April 1919 in the Caribbean for maneuvers and fleet exercises.
On 1 May 1919 she returned to the Azores, this time to assist in the transatlantic flight of U.S. Navy NC flying boats. She took meteorological observations for the flight (15–25 May), then remained in the Azores until 29 May when she sailed for Newport, operating thence for the summer until returning to New York.
She remained based out of New York until 12 December 1919 when she cleared that port for Philadelphia, where she remained until 21 March 1921. During that time (1 July 1920), she was re-designated as DD-56 vice Destroyer No. 56. The old destroyer steamed to Charleston, S.C. on 21 March 1921, and remained there until 10 May after which she operated from a succession of east coast ports until June 1922. Ericsson was decommissioned on 16 June 1922 and turned over to the Commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
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. Ericsson 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 Ericsson. 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. Retaining her name but re-designated CG-5, Ericsson was commissioned into Coast Guard service at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 28 May 1925, Lt. Cmdr. Lloyd T. Chalker, USCG, in command.
Though she was originally slated to be assigned to Boston, Mass., along with Terry (CG-19), Fanning (CG-11), and Roe (CG-18), as per her orders dated 23 January 1925, Ericsson reported for duty with the Destroyer Force at New London, Conn., on 29 May 1925. While capable of well over 25 knots, seemingly an advantage in the interdicting of rumrunners, Ericsson 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.
Within a year of her commissioning, Ericsson participated in the competition for Gunnery Year 1925–1926. Competing with both recently-transferred destroyers and large cutters in the short range battle practice (SRBP), Ericsson stood first and won the trophy. Later that year, she seized the motor vessel Annette I (formerly the Navy’s 110-foot wooden-hulled submarine chaser S. C. 193) out of New York on 12 July 1926, and arrested the seven men on board for violations of U.S. Customs laws in the illegal importation of liquor. Under orders of the Commander, Destroyer Force, the destroyer proceeded to Sandy Hook Bay, N.J., and turned the seized vessel over to the New York Division the next day for turnover to the Collector of Customs for New York.
Ericsson repeated her performance as the trophy-winning ship for the Gunnery Year 1926–1927. This time competing only against the other units in the Destroyer Force, she stood second in the SRBP and third in the long range battle practice (LRBP). Her combined score placed her first overall, as second place Jouett (CG-13) could only place sixth in the LRBP after winning the SRBP.
While operating off the Florida coast with the Special Patrol Force on 16 February 1928, Ericsson seized the motorboat V-16080 with 154 havelocks [three-bottled sacks] of liquor and arrested the two men that were on board. After her southern assignment, she returned to duty at New London.
Ericsson departed New London on 4 February 1929 bound for Charleston, S.C., and target practice for Gunnery Year 1928–1929. Arriving on 6 February, she topped the Destroyer Force in the SRBP, but her 9th place standing in the LRBP saw her overall placement relegated to 2nd behind the trophy-winning Wilkes (CG-25). After the competition Ericsson returned to her regular patrolling and interdiction duties at New London on 12 March.
The target practices for Gunnery Year 1929-1930 were re-located to St. Petersburg, Fla. Departing New London on 6 February 1930, Ericsson arrived on the 12th. Unlike her previous performances, the destroyer shot poorly and rated only 17th among the 19 destroyers participating in that year’s competition. Her standing was doomed by finishing 15th in the SRBP and 13th in the LRBP. With this poor showing, the destroyer returned to New London on 16 March for her routine of patrols and regular maintenance periods as part of Division One.
Ericsson stood out of New London on 6 February 1931 bound for St. Petersburg and arrived on the 10th. In what turned out to be her final gunnery competition, Ericsson’s descent in the overall standings proved complete as she finished dead last among the 13 destroyers in the Gunnery Year 1930–1931 shoot. It should be noted that while Ericsson shot poorly, especially as it related to her previous achievements, the Report for Gunnery Exercises for Gunnery Year 1931–1932 noted that the results “of the practices were generally disappointing” for other ships as well. Having fired her last time she cleared St. Petersburg on 15 February 1931, but did not return to her home port at New London until 27 March. She would continue her patrols through most of 1931.
Ericsson’s grueling anti-smuggling interdiction mission duties, however, eventually wore on her and over time, she had become unfit. In a memorandum dated 19 January 1932, it was deemed that repairs would not be made to Ericsson and that “it may be found advisable to return the vessel to the Navy.” It was also recommended that she be “placed in an indefinite off-duty status.” She left New London for the New York Navy Yard on 14 March 1932 and arrived on 15 March. Just over a month later, on 23 April, she shifted to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where she was decommissioned on 30 April and returned to the Navy Department the same day.
Ericsson returned to Navy control on 23 May 1932, and was stricken from the Navy List on 5 July 1934 in accordance to the limitations placed on naval tonnage in the London Naval Treaty of 1930. The Navy scrapped her and sold the materials on 22 August 1934.
Dates of Command
Lt. Cmdr. William L. Pryor
14 August 1915–18 April 1916
Lt. William H. Lee
18 April–8 June 1916
Lt. Cmdr. William S. Miller
8 June–7 November 1916
Lt. (j.g.) Murphy J. Foster
7–28 November 1916
Lt. (j.g.) Frank Carey McCord
28 November–18 December 1916
Lt. Cmdr. William S. Miller
18 December 1916–6 April 1917
Lt. (j.g.) Murphy J. Foster
6–17 April 1917
Lt. John Henry Newton
17–18 April 1917
Lt. Cmdr. Charles Thomas Hutchins Jr.
18 April 1917–1 January 1918
Lt. Cmdr. Laurance N. McNair
1 January–18 May 1918
Lt. Cmdr. Ralph Roderick Stewart
18 May–15 July 1918
Lt. Murphy J. Foster
15 July 1918–29 January 1919
Lt. Cmdr. Abner M. Steckel
29 January–30 April 1919
Lt. Cmdr. Robert P. Hinrichs
30 April–11 August 1919
Lt. (j.g.) Ralph Edward Jennings
11 August 1919–1 July 1920
Lt. Clarence Earle Williams
1 July 1920–10 December 1921
Lt. Martin R. Derx
10 December 1921–10 June 1922
Ens. George F. Prestwich
10–16 June 1922
Lt. Cmdr. Lloyd T. Chalker, USCG
28 May 1925–25 May 1928
Lt. Cmdr. Henry G. Hemingway, USCG
25 May 1928–8 September 1930
Lt. Cmdr. John E. Whitbeck, USCG
8 September 1930–30 April 1932
S. Matthew Cheser and Christopher B. Havern, Sr. Commanding Officers Table compiled by Thomas Biggs. 28 June 2017