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Neptune III (Fuel Ship No. 8) 

1910-1938

Neptune, in Roman mythology, was the god of the seas.  His Greek counterpart was Poseidon.

III

(Fuel Ship No. 8: length 542′; beam 65′ 3″; draft 27′ 7″; displacement: 19,531 tons; speed 12.9 knots; complement 101; armament: 4 4-inch)

The third Neptune (Fuel Ship No.8) was laid down on 23 March 1910, at Sparrows Point, Md., by the Maryland Steel Co.; launched on 21 January 1911; and placed in service with a merchant crew at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va., 20 September 1911, Master F. E. Horton, Naval Auxiliary Service, in command.

Upon being placed in service, Neptune wasted no time starting on what she was built to do: keep the fleets of the U.S. Navy stocked with coal.  After a short visit to New York City, she delivered her first load in Norfolk, Va. on 10 October, then spent the rest of the month in Bradford, RI, for naval review.  


Neptune, New York City, 3 October 1911. Note athwartships funnel arrangement, details of the extensive coal-handling gear, the words AUXILIARY U.S. NAVY NEPTUNE just below her foc’sle deck, as well as the painting stages over the side, indicating maintenance is being carried out. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-N-61-8-13, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)
Caption: Neptune, New York City, 3 October 1911. Note athwartships funnel arrangement, details of the extensive coal-handling gear, the words AUXILIARY U.S. NAVY NEPTUNE just below her foc’sle deck, as well as the painting stages over the side, indicating maintenance is being carried out. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-N-61-8-13, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)

On 8 November she returned to Norfolk for experimental work, then cruised in local waters the rest of the year for sea trials.  On 31 January 1912 she departed for Baltimore, Md. where she took on more coal, then underwent additional trials in Rockland, Maine from 9-12 February.  After stopping off in Boston for fresh water, she set out on her first major cruise, spending a month from 20 February to 20 March delivering coal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  On 23 March she put back in at Norfolk, where she promptly went into dry dock and remained for the next nine months.  On 5 December she finally was able to put to sea again, traveling the short distance to Lambert’s Point, Virginia to pick up a supply of coal.  On Christmas Eve she returned to Norfolk, where she remained for the rest of the year.

On 11 February 1913 Neptune set out for Guantanamo Bay again, where she remained for a full month.  On 24 March she reached Annapolis, Maryland, home of the U.S. Naval Academy, where she remained for a day before moving on to Norfolk.  After spending April there, she returned to Guantanamo from 1-10 May, and then traveled south to Vera Cruz, Mexico from 15-28 May.  She started the month of June towing barges in Key West, Florida, and finished out the month retrieving a supply of coal from Sewell’s Point, Virginia.  She then spent two weeks at the beginning of July at Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island before returning to Vera Cruz from 25 July to 30 August and assisting with operations there.

On 6 September 1913 Neptune returned to Hampton Roads, Virginia, and entered the Norfolk Navy Yard two days later.  On 2 October, she was placed in reserve.  Tilton remained in command and a skeleton crew mustered on board each morning, but the collier spent over a year held at Norfolk.  The Navy soon needed her again, however, and from 16-20 November 1914 she went into drydock in preparation for a return to service.  At 3:00 PM on 7 December 1914 she was formally transferred to Naval Complement and resumed service, with Lt. A.S. Hickey assuming command.  His tenure proved short, as Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens took over on the last day of the year, but Hickey remained on board as the Executive Officer.  She departed Norfolk on 16 April 1915 for post-repair trials of her machinery, only to return to the yard for another month while additional maintenance was performed.  After another trial run on 4-5 June, she was ready for her shakedown cruise – a trip to Guantanamo bay and back that took up most of July.  On 2 August she put in to Newport, Rhode Island to distribute a draft of men, and then unloaded a cargo from Guantanamo at the Navy Yard, New York the following day.  In late August she made two more short runs to Lambert’s Point for coal, but otherwise spent the month at Norfolk.

From 7-17 September 1915, Neptune found herself at the Southern Drill Grounds operating as a station ship.  She followed that up by spending the first two weeks in October temporarily assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, and upon release took a load of coal to Boston.  From 14-19 November she underwent her final machinery trials, including a full-power acceptance run off Boston on the 18th.  Post-trial examinations of her machinery on 21-22 November confirmed that the collier was “ship-shape” and she finished out the year in Norfolk.  On 6 January 1916, Neptune set out in company with the Atlantic Fleet for maneuvers, but suffered a machinery casualty two hours later, prompting a return to the Norfolk Navy Yard for a three-month period of repairs, after which she conducted her post-repair trials off Virginia from 11-15 April.  By that point, winter maneuvers were over, and Neptune instead traveled to Cristobal, Canal Zone, to discharge a cargo of coal.  On 9 May she discharged gravel at Guantanamo Bay, and left for home the next day with passengers and stores. 

Shortly thereafter, Neptune was drawn into what was then the center of American naval activity: the Caribbean Sea.  Although the brutal trench warfare decimating Europe dominated the headlines, the neutral U.S. government remained focused on events closer to home.  Having emerged as a naval power in the Spanish-American War two decades prior, the U.S. in the early twentieth century was finally in a position to enforce the Monroe Doctrine and maintain hegemony over Latin America.  Unfortunately, the island nations in question were roiled by political turmoil, including near-constant civil wars, and the task of intervening to create stability fell to the Navy as an instrument of foreign policy.  In 1911, the president of the Dominican Republic was assassinated, and the Navy and Marines supervised the subsequent special election (held in the face of demands by the Wilson Administration).  The U.S. remained as a constabulary force to both prop up and supervise the winner, Juan Isidro Jimenez. 

By the spring of 1916, Jimenez’s government was widely unpopular, and a coup by General Desiderio Arias sent the U.S.-backed president fleeing for his life to the countryside.  Marines under the command of Maj. Frederic Wise, USMC, arrived from Haiti, and Wise quickly concluded that the capital could only be retaken by American arms. President Jimenez resigned in protest, refusing to attack his own city, but the assault and occupation of the Dominican Republic proceeded nonetheless on 15 May 1916.  It took about a month for the marines to assert control of the entire country, but martial law and government by U.S. officers followed.    

Neptune put in to Lambert’s Point for coal on 8 June 1916 and Norfolk for stores the following day.  After taking on these crucial supplies for ships operating off the Dominican Republic, she departed on 10 June and spent the rest of the month traveling to ports all along the island.  On 2 July, she put in at Santo Domingo and embarked a contingent of marines for the Santo Domingo Expeditionary Force, putting them ashore at Porto Plata on the 4th and 5th.  After carrying a shipload of coal and transporting passengers from Haiti to Virginia, she embarked a second contingent of marines at Charleston, S.C., on 5 August and set out again for the Caribbean.  From 8 August to 13 September she discharged marines, coal, and stores at various ports in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and Mexico. 

After her Caribbean run, Neptune spent just long enough to take on another load of coal in the U.S. before embarking her third contingent of marines at Charleston on 2 October 1916.  From 5 October to 19 November, she again traveled throughout the Caribbean and Mexico unloading people, supplies, and fuel.  She finished her journey at Guantanamo Bay, where she had orders to take the refrigerator ship Culgoa in tow for return to the U.S.  A brutal storm forced her to anchor off Monte Christi, Dominican Republic on 28-29 November, but afterwards the weather finally cleared for her and Culgoa to set out on their journey.  They reached American waters on 5 December.  Later that month, she took on coal, stores, and marines, and on 28 December she set out again for Cuba, this time also towing battle target rafts 19 and 21.  From 5-12 January 1917, Neptune delivered her battle targets and other stores at Guantanamo, and then set out around the Caribbean joining in fleet maneuvers and keeping other ships coaled.  On 8 February, she put back in to Norfolk and remained there for three months. 

Meanwhile, America’s fragile neutrality in the war raging across Europe and elsewhere on the globe crumbled.  Although President Woodrow Wilson had won reelection in 1916 on a campaign slogan of “He kept us out of war,” U.S. public opinion turned against Germany when the latter resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in January 1917, Germany hoping that by totally crippling shipping to Britain and France, they could win the war before the U.S. had time to create the vast machinery needed for full-scale mobilization.  To keep the Americans distracted, German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman also dispatched a telegram to Mexico offering to help them regain territory lost in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.  On 6 April 1917, President Wilson formally asked Congress for a declaration of war, which the Senate passed by a vote of 82-6.  The World War had at last reached America’s shores.

Neptune loaded wheat and steel billets at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad yard at Locust Point, Md., on 12 May 1917. Ten days later, on 22 May, the fuel ship cleared Baltimore for the Norfolk Navy Yard to pick up additional cargo, arriving there the following day. Neptune then embarked Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Whiting and 6 officers and 63 men [some sources give the number of men as 64] of Aeronautic Detachment No. 1. When she cleared Norfolk on 25 May, Jarvis (Destroyer No. 38) and Perkins (Destroyer No. 26) accompanied her, and were both towed and refueled underway by her during the voyage to Europe, a passage punctuated by heavy weather on 2 June in which Neptune lost two lifeboats. Making contact with the French patrol vessels Chiffon and Engageante on 6 June, Neptune finally reached St. Nazaire on 8 June, and after unloading returned to the U.S.

 Subsequently, from 30 July to 3 August 1917 she delivered over 3,000 tons of coal to British vessels in St. Lucia, British West Indies, and then delivered another 3,000 tons at Kingston, Jamaica, from 7-11 August.


Neptune, her name clearly emblazoned on her stern in raised steel letters, lies moored at St. Nazaire, France, in June 1917. (U.S. Army Signal Corps Photograph 111-SC-95451, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)
Caption: Neptune, her name clearly emblazoned on her stern in raised steel letters, lies moored at St. Nazaire, France, in June 1917. (U.S. Army Signal Corps Photograph 111-SC-95451, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)

After brief voyage repairs at Norfolk, Neptune spent September of 1917 servicing the fleet at Port Jefferson, N.Y., for the first two weeks, then put in to Norfolk again on the 19th for further work on her engines. By 27 October, she was ready to set out again, and she spent the rest of the year taking on coal at Lambert’s Point and servicing naval vessels in the waters off Virginia.  The year 1918 dawned with her taking on a cargo of coal at Newport News, but doing so “very slowly” thanks to the coal being frozen in the chutes. She spent the rest of the month delivering it to ports in Virginia, then spent six months coaling the Atlantic Fleet during its exercises. By 8 September, she was in need of maintenance, and she put in to the Norfolk Navy Yard for a month of work.  Returning to sea on 2 October, the collier finished out the year doing what she had been for most of it: coaling the Atlantic Fleet.  She put in to Base Three – located on the York River – on 20 December to await orders, the war having ended in November with the Armistice. 

On 18 January 1919, Neptune began her next mission by loading coal and cargo at Sewell’s Point.  After taking on additional stores at Base Three, she set out for Guantanamo Bay, where she coaled the fleet (3-17 February).  She made additional trips to Guantanamo (3-13 March and 30 March-8 April).  From 14 April to 11 May, she toiled in Hampton Roads taking on a 5,000-ton load of coal, which she delivered to the Atlantic Fleet at Lambert’s Pier (11-12 May).  Neptune entered Norfolk Navy Yard on the 19 May and remained until 3 October.  Immediately following overhaul she set out on a Pacific cruise, transiting the Panama Canal (10-12 October) and putting in to Corinto, Nicaragua; Ampala, Honduras; and San Jose, Guatemala during the week of 15-19 October, she reached San Diego, Calif., on the 26th,  where she remained for four days, finally putting in to San Francisco on the first day of November.  She spent the rest of the month at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, and California City, California.  On 4 December, she put in to San Diego, and on the 23rd and 24th she went out on trial runs, lasting for seven hours each, before finishing out the year moored in San Diego’s harbor.

Neptune remained in California for the first four months of 1920 ferrying freight and passengers along the coast.  On 8 May she put in to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash. for repairs, but was ready to go again only six days later.  She then took on a load of coal at Charleston, Wash., and spent almost a month (24 May to 22 June) loading freight and coal, and embarking passengers, various ports on the West Coast.  Her crew soon prepared themselves for another trans-oceanic voyage, however, as that summer her mission changed to service “between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.”  She was designated to carry cargo, coal, and steel back to the East Coast, and departed towards the Canal Zone at the end of June.  She put in at both Ampala, and Corinto, , on 30 June before reaching Cristobal, Canal Zone, on the first day of July.  She reached Norfolk on 12 July, and five days later, on 17 July 1920, she was given the new identification number AC-8 After spending most of the month of August at Philadelphia, she departed on the 29th for her return trip to the Pacific, and transited the Panama Canal on 8 September.  She reached Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on the 24th and reached Bremerton exactly one month later.  She remained in the Puget Sound Navy Yard until 26 December, the day after Christmas, but finished out the year at Mare Island.

During the winter and spring of 1921, Neptune maintained her duties supplying coal and stores to naval vessels on the West Coast, before going into overhaul again (12 April-10 June).  Afterwards, she was designated to make another journey to her old home port of Norfolk, and after loading stores and embarking people at Bremerton she departed.  From 13-21 June she stopped off at San Pedro, setting course for Panama on the 23rd and reaching Balboa, on the Pacific side of the canal, on 3 July.  She immediately made passage to the Atlantic, reaching Colon on the 5th to take on a load of bunker coal.  She was back in Virginia on 11 July, and spent the next two weeks in Hampton Roads discharging general cargo and loading more coal and cargo for the Pacific Fleet.  On 30 July, she was back at Colon, and reached Balboa the next day.  There she took U.S. Navy Coal Barge No. 467 in tow.  After stopping off in Pichilinque, Mexico, on 11-12 August, she reached San Diego on the 17th and remained for 12 days discharging coal and cargo.  From there she traveled to Bremerton from 3-10 September to discharge further cargo, before making her way back to California.  She coaled the fleet stationed at San Pedro on 19 October and discharged a cargo of coal at California City 21-29 October.  From 1 November to 1 December she lay at Bremerton getting an overhaul and repair work done, and then spent 4-10 December receiving and discharging passengers all along the California coastline.  On 21 December she was back at the Panama Canal, and reached the Atlantic the following day.

Neptune stood in to Hampton Roads on 30 December 1921 and was promptly detached from the Pacific Fleet and transferred to the Atlantic.  Her active duty on the East Coast, however, proved brief.  During the 1921-1922 Fiscal Year, the Navy reduced its enlisted complement drastically, authorizing only 86,000 men.  As a result, over 300 vessels, including Neptune, were put out of commission. 

After coaling the Atlantic Fleet (4 February- 20 March 1922), Neptune  put in to Culebra (23-25 March) and St. Thomas (25-29 March), Virgin Islands, before returning to Hampton Roads on 3 April.  On 14 April, she began her last voyage under her own power.  After arriving at Boston three days later, she lingered there until decommissioning on 28 June.  

Towed by the fleet tugs Kalmia (AT-23) and Wandank (AT-26), Neptune departed Boston on 14 December for her final voyage, arriving on the 17th at Philadelphia. There she remained, in reserve, until stricken from the Navy List on 14 May 1938.

The collier that had supported contingency operations off the coasts of the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua was sold to the Northern Metals Co. of Philadelphia on 18 April 1939, and was subsequently broken up for scrap.       

Commanding Officers Dates of Command
Master F.E. Horton, Naval Auxiliary Service 20 September 1911-5 December 1912
Master C.O. Tilton, Naval Auxiliary Service 5 December 1912-7 December 1914
Lt. Andrew Hickey 7-31 December 1914
Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens 31 December 1914-29 May 1916
Lt. Cmdr. Louis Shane 29 May 1916-5 March 1917
Lt. Frank Eklund 5-18 March 1917
Lt. Cmdr. Louis Shane 18 March-8 September 1917
Lt. Cmdr. Frederic Horton 8 September 1917-4 August 1919
Cmdr. Frank Burkhart 4-29 August 1919
Cmdr. Harry Bostwick 29 August-17 November 1919
Cmdr. William Kelton 17 November 1919-23 January 1922
Lt. Cmdr. Frederic Neal 23 January-28 June 1922

Thomas Sheppard
24 March 2017    

Published: Thu Apr 27 00:49:15 EDT 2017