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Petrel III (Gunboat No. 2)

A small long-winged sea bird which flies far from land.


(Patrol Gunboat-2: displacement 867; length 188'; beam 31'; draft 11'6"; speed 11.4 knots; complement 138; armament 4 4", 2 3-pounders.)

The third Petrel, a 4th rate gunboat laid down 27 August 1887, was built by the Columbia Iron Works and Dry Dock Co., Baltimore, Md.; launched 13 October 1888; and commissioned 10 December 1889, Lt. Comdr. W. H. Bronson in command.

Assigned to the North Atlantic Station, Petrel continued with it until September 1891, when ordered to the Asiatic Station where she was to serve until 1911. Steaming north in May 1894, she reported at Unalaska, T.A., in July to operate with the Bering Sea patrol to discourage seal poaching. In July, she operated off the Pribiliof Islands; and in August she returned to her Asiatic station.

Petrel arrived in Japan in mid-September and spent a month conducting repairs in Nagasaki. While there, the Navy Department transmitted orders to Rear Admiral Charles C. Carpenter, commander of the Asiatic Squadron, to dispatch a ship to protect the foreigners and their concession in Newchwang (Yingkou), Manchuria, during the ongoing Sino-Japanese War, 1894-1895. Rear Admiral Carpenter selected Captain William Hemsley Emory’s Petrel due to her size and fitness. Realizing that he would need a berth in a river that froze over during winter, before leaving Japan Emory placed an order for the locals to construct a mud dock to house the boat and for a supply of coal for the winter.

Passing through hazardous winter weather, Petrel reached Chefoo on 4 November and then steamed into Newchwang on the 8th. Petrel joined HMS Firebrand, who was already in dock; the ships protected the foreign enclave over the winter against looters and deserters fleeing the fighting. Captain Emory handed off protection duties to the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) in March 1895, after the IJA emerged victorious in a nearby battle. Emory appears to have established cordial relations with the Japanese while waiting for the river to thaw. Petrel undocked on 11 April following the break-up of the river ice and sailed for Shanghai on the 24th to resume her commerce protection duties.

Withdrawing from Hong Kong in April 1898, Petrel became part of Dewey's fleet in the campaign against Manila. On 1 May, after Dewey's squadron had defeated the heavy Spanish ships, Petrel entered the inner harbor and lowered a boat to destroy 6 Spanish ships there. Petrel then steamed to the navy yard at Cavite and forced its surrender. Sent into Cavite to destroy any Spanish ships seeking refuge there 2 May, Petrel sent a party ashore which seized the arsenal at Cavite and returned with 2 tugs, Rapido and Hercules, plus 3 additional launches.

Petrel continued operations in the Philippines throughout 1898 and 1899. She joined Boston in shelling Panay Island 11 February 1899; on the 22nd, a force of 48 men from Petrel occupied Cebu. In October, Petrel joined Callao in supporting the Marine Corps assault on Neveleta by bombarding ahead of the advancing Marine column.

Decommissioning at Cavite after the war, Petrel re-commissioned 9 May 1910. After visiting European waters in 1911, she returned to the Atlantic coast. Disturbances in the Caribbean sent her to Mexican and West Indian waters from 1912 to 1915 to protect American interests, and in 1916 she became station ship at Guantanamo. With the declaration of war, Petrel returned to the United States to serve with the American Patrol Detachment at Boston throughout the war.

After 30 years of service, Petrel decommissioned at New Orleans 15 July 1919 and was struck from the Naval Register 16 April 1920. She was subsequently sold to Snare and Treest, New York, 1 November 1920.

Updated 6 September 2023 by Daniel Curzon.

Published: Wed Sep 06 16:03:28 EDT 2023