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Panther I (Iron-hulled Steamer)

(AD–-6: displacement: 3,380 tons; 1ength 324'’4"”; beam 40'’8"”; draft 15’' 9"”; speed 13.5 knots (maximum); complement 138; armament 6 5-inch guns, 2 4-inch guns, 6 3-pounders, 1 colt, 1 3-inch howitzer)

A large cat of the cougar family.


The first Panther, the former Venezuala, an iron-hulled steamer built by William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, Pa. in 1889, was purchased by the Navy from Red D. Line Steamship Co. 12 April 1898, and commissioned as an auxiliary cruiser at New York 22 April 1898, Comdr. George C. Reiter in command.

Since Panther had been designated as transport for the 1st Marine battalion on 16 April, the auxiliary cruiser finished loading equipment and supplies, as well as 647 marines, in time for her commissioning ceremony on 22 April. The warship departed Brooklyn that same day and sailed south toward Cuba for service in the war between the United States and Spain. After a short stop at Hampton Roads 23 to 26 April, Panther arrived at Key West on 29 April, landing the battalion which went into camp there. Over the next few weeks, Panther waited for news from the North Atlantic Fleet under Admiral William T. Sampson, then carrying out blockade operations of the north coast of Cuba and searching for a Spanish squadron under Vice Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete steaming west to Cuba.

On 19 May, Admiral Sampson received word that Cervera’s squadron was very likely at Santiago de Cuba, and a Flying Squadron under Commodore William S. Schley was dispatched there to contain his force. Admiral Sampson got underway from Key West on the 21st with reinforcements and joined the Flying Squadron in the blockade of Cervera on 1 June. With the main Spanish force located, a large Army convoy that had been gathering at Tampa was ordered to sail for Cuba. In support of that movement, Panther and the 1st Marine battalion, in company with gunboat Yosemite and the press-chartered yacht Kanapaha, sailed from Key West on 7 June.

After rendezvous with the blockading fleet at Santiago de Cuba on the 10th, Panther was ordered to Guantanamo Bay that same day and anchored in the outer bay that afternoon. Most of the battalion landed within an hour at a fishing village next to Playa del Este (East Beach) and set up Camp McCalla atop a nearby hill, securing the bay for coaling and repair of the blockading ships off Santiago de Cuba.

After the destruction of the Spanish fleet off Santiago de Cuba on 3 July, Panther retired to New York to refit. After a short yard period, the auxiliary cruiser patrolled between New York, Boston, Norfolk, and Portsmouth until 20 October 1899, when she went into ordinary at Philadelphia.

Panther remained in ordinary until recommissioning 19 June 1902, when she fitted out as a training ship. In July, she steamed to New York to begin operations with various state militias. In this connection, she embarked crews from New Jersey in July, Pennsylvania in early August, and Connecticut later that month. In 1902, disturbing conditions in the West Indies and Caribbean required the constant presence of U.S. ships to maintain order and preserve U.S. treaty rights. In September 1902, Panther embarked a Marine battalion and departed for Caribbean waters to serve as a station ship to protect American interests during unrest in Honduras. She continued with the Caribbean Squadron until 21 October 1903, when she decommissioned a second time at Philadelphia.

Panther recommissioned 18 November 1907 to serve as auxiliary repair ship for the North Atlantic Fleet. Following the entry of the United States into World War I, Panther sailed for Brest 1 July to serve as tender for the U.S. destroyer force in European waters. After the war, her crew continued repair duties for troop ships and sub chasers at such diverse ports as Bassens, France; Kirkwall and lerwick, Scotland; and Davenport, England. Departing the latter port on 10 October 1919, Panther escorted a squadron of sub chasers across the Atlantic, stopping at Brest; Lisbon, Portugal; Ponta Delgada, Azores; Bermuda; and finally arriving in New York on 19 November.

Shifting to Philadelphia for repairs on the 29th, the auxiliary repair ship remained there until 6 February 1920 when she sailed to the Azores to serve as a station repair ship. Later in the year, Panther was tapped for duty as flagship for Destroyer Division 13 and she steamed to the Far East for duty with the Asiatic Fleet. Stationed at the Cavite Navy Yard, she tended six destroyers as they conducted patrols in Chinese and Philippine waters. Panther remained there only briefly, however, and she returned stateside to decommission at New York on 10 May 1922. Struck from the navy list on 5 August, she was subsequently sold to Tioga Steel Co., Philadelphia, on 24 March 1923.

12 April 2005

Published: Wed Jan 13 10:25:11 EST 2016