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May (S. P. 164)


The Navy retained the name carried by this ship at the time of her acquisition.

(S. P. 164: displacement 1,100; length  243'; beam 27'8"; draft 16'; speed 13 knots; complement 110; armament 1 4-inch, 2 3-inch; 4 Lewis .30 caliber machine guns, 2 Colt .30 caliber machine guns, Y-gun depth charge thrower)

May--a single-screw, steel-hulled steam yacht built in 1891 at Troon, Scotland, by Ailsa Shipbuilding Co. -- was purchased by the Navy from J. R. De Lamar on 11 August 1917; given the identification number S. P. 164, and commissioned at James Shewan and Sons, Inc. Dock Yards, South Brooklyn, N.Y. on 7 October 1917, Cmdr. Franck T. Evans in command.

After her commissioning, May moved to the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., on 30 October 1917 to prepare for distant service May -- designated the flagship of Squadron Five, Patrol Force -- cleared New York on 2 November, and arrived later that day at Newport, R.I. Base (No. 12). After two days, she stood out in company with the Second Detachment consisting of Artemis (S. P. 593), Wenonah (S. P. 165), Rambler (S. P. 211), Helenita (S. P. 210), Margaret (S. P. 328), Utowana (S. P. 951), and the submarine chasers, S. C. 348, S. C. 65, S. C. 66, S. C. 75, S. C. 315, S. C. 76, and S. C. 313, bound for Bermuda (Base No. 24) en route to the European War Zone. Arriving on 10 November, she remained until the 18th. During her time at Bermuda on 15 November, May collided with S. C. 347 causing damage to the latter. 

May, photographed from Margaret (S. P. 527), at Bermuda in November 1917, during their deployment to the war zone. Courtesy of Raymond D. Borden. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 46437)
Caption: May, photographed from Margaret (S. P. 527), at Bermuda in November 1917, during their deployment to the war zone. Courtesy of Raymond D. Borden. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 46437)

Having set a course for the Azores, in company with Cythera (S. P. 575), the former collier Hannibal – designated as tender to submarine chasers, Margaret, Rambler, Lydonia (S. P. 700), Artemis, and Wenonah, she arrived at Horta, Fayal, on 6 December 1917, and remained there until 19 December. She then steamed to Leixoes, Portugal, reaching her destination on Christmas Day. Two days later, on 27 December, May, with Capt. Newton A. McCully, Commander, Squadron Five, Patrol Force, embarked, and Cythera, departed bound for Gibraltar. Arriving on 29 December, she remained until 8 January 1918, when she departed with Capt. McCully again embarked, to escort the 24-ship Convoy HG 44. At the Admiralty’s request, however, she was diverted to Brest, France (Base No. 7), where she arrived on 15 January. With these orders, her homeport was reassigned to Brest and another ship was requested by Vice Adm. William S. Sims, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to fill her billet at Gibraltar.

Upon her arrival at Brest, May was assigned to convoy escort and antisubmarine patrol duties. On 7 April 1918, she, in company with Noma (S. P. 131), Wakiva II (S. P. 160), and the French yacht Rivoli, escorted a 16-ship convoy out of Verdon, France. She was again escorting a convoy on 2 June. Operating in company with Noma, Nokomis (S. P. 609), and the French destroyer Adventures, the escorts shepherded the 21 ships westward until 9:00 p.m., when they parted in order to rendezvous with an inbound convoy and escorted them into France.

About a week later on 10 June 1918, she was again leading the escort of a 21-ship convoy steaming out of Verdon. This time her fellow escorts were Aphrodite (S. P. 135) Corsair (S. P. 159) and the French gunboats Yser and Regulus. They conducted the escort westward until 7:00 p.m. on 12 June and then parting, returned to Verdon. The yachts encountered an oil slick and dropped depth charges with no apparent result. After her return, May was again very quickly dispatched on another convoy escort steaming westward out of Verdon. Leading at the head, on 17 June, she was accompanied by Aphrodite, Corsair, Nokomis, and the French gunboats Etourdi and Belliquese, escorting 20 vessels. Having steamed to 9º40'W, the convoy dispersed at 7:30 p.m., on the 19th and the escorts returned to Verdon. The following month, May and her crew helped lay a submarine cable between Royan and Verdon across the Gironde River on 17 July.

Returning to her escort duties, on 4 August 1918, May was again the chief of escort for a convoy steaming from Verdon. She was joined by Corsair and Noma, along with the French ships Etourdi, Alberte, Vaillante, and Cassiopée. Having conveyed the convoy to its westernmost boundary, the escorts parted with their charges on 7-8 August and May, Noma, and Cassiopée (Capitaine de Corvette Douguet commanding) steamed eastward to overtake an inbound convoy.

In the meantime, on 8 August 1918, while some 350 miles off the coast of France, the Naval Overseas Transportation Service cargo vessel Westward Ho (Id. No. 3098) was in convoy bound from New York to the Bay of Biscay. The westbound escort, however, failed to join as planned, as at 10:00 p.m. on 7 August, the French light cruiser Dupetit-thouars was struck by a torpedo from U-62 (Kapitänleutnant Ernst Hashagen commanding) and sunk.  At 6:40 the following morning, Westward Ho was also torpedoed by U-62, but remained afloat. Some destroyers, who were steaming westward to meet a troopship convoy, intercepted the call for help. They proceeded to the area of the torpedoed Dupetit-thouars and rescued all of the surviving crew. They also found Westward Ho, but as they were urgently needed to provide the escort for the inbound troopship convoy, they were not permitted to delay; they rescued Westward Ho’s crew and hastily proceeded westward toward their rendezvous. The ship, however, was left in a sinking condition, her fires out and none of her crew on board. 

May, Noma, and Cassiopée intercepted the call for assistance from the convoy in which Westward Ho had been hit. As she was still afloat, they maneuvered to attempt to tow her, but their lack of power and of large lines, and the fact that the injured ship was so deep in the water; they were unable to make much progress with her. Led by Lt. Thomas Blau, USNRF, a volunteer crew from May boarded the abandoned ship and, finding that she stood a chance of remaining afloat, proceeded to get up steam in spite of the fact that May was a coal-burning vessel and the men from her crew on board Westward Ho possessed no experience with oil-burning or turbine machinery. Nevertheless, Lt. (j.g.) William R. Knight, USNRF, Noma’s engineer officer, managed to build up steam in the boiler to start the main engines, and to start one of the pumps to clear the water from the ship's hold, lightening her somewhat and making towing a bit easier. The new crew continued their work of raising steam until they were able to start the main engines. As she was so deep in the water forward, however, she could not make much headway without the danger of foundering. Therefore, they backed her instead of going ahead and in doing so, proceeded to port – a truly allied effort with the two small U.S. yachts towing and the French sloop providing escort to keep off U-boats. Although the group was eventually joined by two British sea-going tugs which took over the tow, the men on board Westward Ho continued to back her. Two days later than scheduled, but before her own crew were brought in by the destroyers, Westward Ho reached port.

May received orders on 3 September 1918 to intercept a three-ship inbound convoy on 5 September and escort them into Verdon. Departing on the 4th, she successfully rendezvoused and conducted them into port without incident. She continued to escort convoys into and out of French ports through the end of the war.

On 11 November 1918, even after the cessation of hostilities, May engaged in escort duties. Proceeding to sea at 4:17 p.m., she steamed to a rendezvous the next day with Ohioan (Id. No. 3280). She then encountered additional ships over the ensuing days, conducting target practice on 15 November, she stood back in to the Gironde River on 5:05 p.m. and then arrived back at Royan, at 6:21 a.m. the next day. She was again dispatched on 22 November and proceeded to the vicinity of Ile d’Yeu, in order to escort ships through the mine areas and providing information via wireless for safe routes into port. She returned to Verdon at 12:38 a.m. on 26 November.

May received orders on 4 December 1918 to depart Brest the next day in order to proceed to the United States. Getting underway at 7:00 a.m. the next day, she steamed westward, bound for Ponta Delgada, Azores. Reaching on the 12th, she refueled and then got underway again on 15 December. Raising Bermuda on Christmas Day, she departed two days later. Originally ordered to the New York Navy Yard, she was instead diverted to Hampton Roads, Va. and entered the Navy yard at Norfolk, Va. on New Year’s Eve.

With the new year, she was again underway on 6 January 1919, enroute to New London, Conn. Reaching on the 8th, she remained until the 14th, when she shifted to Newport, R.I.  Two days later, she returned to New London and remained there until 27 March, when she entered the New York Navy Yard. She steamed out of the yard on 1 April and set a southerly course for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Reaching St Thomas on the 7th, she left the next day bound for Charleston, S.C. She entered the Charleston Navy Yard on 13 April and remained there undergoing maintenance. Clearing the yard on 17 May, she steamed to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (D.R.) where she arrived on 20 May. On 31 May, Rear Adm. Thomas Snowden, the Military Governor of Santo Domingo, ordered that May was to be regarded as the station ship for that station.

May ran aground on a reef off Cape Engaño, D.R., with Rear Adm. Snowden on board, on 27 July 1919. Several vessels, including the U.S. Lighthouse tender Lilac, with a contingent of bluejackets embarked; Mohave (Fleet Tug No. 15); and the subchasers S. C. 126 and S. C. 136, to render assistance. After efforts to refloat her failed, she was declared abandoned and stricken from the Navy Register on 13 January 1920. Her hulk was sold on 6 February 1922.

Commanding Officers Dates of Command
Cmdr. Franck T. Evans 7 October 1917 – 19 January 1918
Lt. Cmdr. Chester L. Hand 19 January 1918 – 14 October 1918
1st Lt. James Pine, USCG 14 October 1918 – 7 March 1918
Lt. William E. Gunn 7 March 1919 – 27 July 1919


Christopher B. Havern Sr.
2 October 2017

Published: Thu Oct 12 16:00:21 EDT 2017