William Thomas Sampson -- born to James and Hannah Sampson, Scots-Irish immigrants of modest means, on 9 February 1840 in Palmyra, N.Y. -- spent long hours as a youth assisting his father in odd jobs around that country town and yet found time to excel in his studies at school. While his parents did not possess the finances to send their talented son to college, his teachers and a wealthy Palmyra resident championed his cause with Congressman Edwin B. Morgan, who secured an appointment for William at the U.S. Naval Academy. Acting Midshipman William Sampson matriculated in September 1857. Now free to focus fully on his studies, he particularly impressed his instructors in the sciences, and ranked first in the class of 1861.
As graduation approached, the United States completed its descent into civil war. Union Brig. Gen. Benjamin Butler and a regiment of New York Infantry landed at Annapolis on 22 April 1861 to secure the Naval Academy. When secessionist Annapolitans gathered to protest and hurl debris, Cadet Commander Sampson led his classmates to take up a defensive position at the academy’s front gate.
The Navy activated the first class of cadets and dispersed them to various commands. When the New York troops continued on to Washington, Sampson accompanied them on his way to the Washington Navy Yard, his first duty assignment. Once there, he joined the screw steamer Pocahontas and served in her as she patrolled the Potomac River and protected the capital. Following that tour of duty, he served in the frigate Potomac on blockade duty off Mobile, Alabama. Assigned to the side-wheel gunboat Water Witch as executive officer on Christmas Day 1861, he remained in the gulf until April 1862 when he was detached to await further orders.
Ordered to Newport, R.I. -- to which place the Naval Academy had been moved for the duration -- in May 1862, Sampson began service as acting master of the training frigate John Adams, and while so serving received a promotion to lieutenant in July 1862. There, he instructed the wartime midshipmen in the many skills required in a navy reliant on both sail and steam. In 1863, he served on board the sloop-of-war Macedonian during her practice cruise to Europe, not only introducing his pupils to the rigors of sea life but keeping a weather eye open for the very real threat of Confederate cruisers, especially CSS Alabama. While Macedonian operated off the coast of France, the crew painted her to resemble a Spanish vessel and the sloop flew Spanish colors hoping to surprise Alabama and defeat the elusive raider. The midshipmen and their disguised man-of-war never encountered Alabama and Macedonian returned to Newport without incident.
On 10 June 1863, Lt. Sampson received orders to the ironclad monitor Patapsco, with the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. The monitor participated in several bombardments of the forts protecting Charleston S.C., then briefly operated off Wassaw Sound, Ga., in the winter of 1864 before returning and participating in further attacks on Charleston. Sampson took leave of Patapsco to command the gunboat Dai Ching in the autumn of 1864 while the vessel lay under repair at Port Royal, S.C. Rear Adm. John A. Dahlgren, commanding the southern blockade, ordered Dai Ching to blockade the Ossabaw river in Georgia where Sampson’s former ship, Water Witch had fallen into Confederate hands. Dai Ching’s badly needed repairs, however, prevented her from blockade duty. His assignment to Dai Ching likely lasted from August to October while the vessel’s assigned commanding officer took another assignment at Stono Inlet. Soon after Sampson returned to Patapsco, the ironclad approached Charleston harbor on 5 November and shelled a small beached sloop at the foot of Fort Moultrie. The fort’s return fire did nothing to harm or deter the ironclad before a well-placed 150-pound shell from Patapsco set the rebel vessel ablaze.
On 13 January 1865, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman met with Rear Adm. Dahlgren at Savannah and requested attacks be conducted on Charleston in concert with his planned march on South Carolina. In preparation, Rear Adm. Dahlgren ordered a force of boats to search the harbor entrance for torpedoes [mines] and obstructions. On the night of 15 January, Patapsco proceeded toward those waters to protect the small craft engaged in those operations. Sampson was standing in the monitor’s pilot house, located atop the monitor’s turret. Ordered not to employ an anchor, the ironclad alternated drifting with the current and steaming back to retain position. Patapsco had completed a stint of drifting and then working up steam for the third time when, at 8:10 p.m., Sampson felt the deck rise beneath him. Initially, he believed that the ship had been hit by a round from a Confederate shore battery but a column of smoke and spray on the port bow revealed that the ironclad had fouled a mine.
Lt. Cmdr. Stephen P. Quackenbush, the monitor’s commanding officer, ordered Sampson to start the pumps but the latter soon realized the measure to be useless as Patapsco was settling rapidly -- only two men on board were able to reach a boat before the deck submerged. Standing at the highest point of the vessel, Sampson attempted to escape as Patapsco slipped beneath the waves but protective netting atop the conning tower had ensnared one of his feet and dragged him below. Fighting his way free, he floated to the surface, where the crew of a picket launch recovered him, at which point he ordered the boat to continue to assist in the recovery of survivors. The ironclad sunk in a mere 15 seconds from the moment she struck the mine. Sampson proved to be among the fortunate members of the crew, for due to the rapid nature of her loss and the disruption on board caused by the shock of the explosion, 62 of the 105 crew members drowned in the sinking. Sampson’s conduct during the incident impressed his commanding officer. “The cool intrepidity displayed by Lieutenant Sampson, my executive officer,” Quackenbush wrote, “deserves the highest praise.”
Detached from the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in February 1865, Sampson received assignment to the steam frigate Colorado in the waning days of the war. The frigate served as flagship of the European Squadron following the conflict and “showed the flag” at several ports on the continent. Sampson received promotion to lieutenant commander on 25 July 1866.
When Colorado returned stateside in late summer, Sampson -- who believed that a naval officer be firmly grounded in the sciences in the age of steam -- received orders directing him to return to the Naval Academy, where he taught sciences and during his term was named the head of the newly formed Department of Physics and Chemistry. He numbered among his students the future Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Michelson.
In June 1871, the Navy appointed Sampson executive officer of the steam frigate Congress. While so serving, he was present as she greeted a visiting Russian squadron before undertaking a cruise to the West Indies. She then joined the Mediterranean squadron in early 1872, then participated in 1874 exercises in the Caribbean intended to intimidate Spain following the execution of several U.S. merchant sailors in Cuba incident to the “Virginius Affair.” In the spring of 1874, detached from Congress, he returned to the Naval Academy.
Promoted to commander in August 1874 shortly after he returned to the academy in those post-bellum years, he witnessed the decline of U.S. naval power to near irrelevancy. Attempting to counteract the nation’s apathy toward naval innovation with his teaching, Sampson wrote, “Great and rapid changes are liable at any moment to arise in this profession… readiness for the future is only to be secured by arming the graduates of this institution by such scientific training as will best prepare them for any contingency.” Under his supervision, midshipmen toured modern manufacturing and industrial plants learning first-hand the science behind armor, ordnance, shipbuilding and other essential subjects. He brought the cadets on a practical cruise on board the screw steamers Alert in 1875 and Mayflower in 1877 to familiarize them with modern propulsion. At Annapolis in 1877 he mentored Ens. Albert Michelson as he designed and conducted important experiments aimed at measuring the velocity of light. Sampson traveled to Creston, Wyo., in July 1878 to observe and collect data related to a total eclipse of the sun. Detached from the Naval Academy in 1878, he saw brief shore duty in the Bureau of Navigation in 1879 before receiving orders to command the screw sloop Swatara in December.
Swatara proceeded to the Far East via the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, and arrived in China and joined the Asiatic Squadron in April 1881, as hostilities between Russia and China appeared imminent. The war did not materialize, however, and the sloop visited the closed Japanese cities of Nagoya and Kagoshima with Imperial permission. Spending the summer in Northern China, Sampson designed shore exercises for the crew in July. In May 1882 the sloop carried Como. Robert Shufeldt to Korea to negotiate a treaty attempting to establish relations with the so-called “hermit kingdom” of Joseon. On 22 May, Shufeldt and his counterpart signed “The Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce and Navigation” and Swatara ran up the Joseon Korean ensign, firing salutes to Joseon and China. Following ratification the U.S. became the first western nation to treat with the kingdom. Swatara called at many East Asian ports during her Asiatic duty, including long stays at the Chinese ports of Shanghai and Chefoo, and at Yokohama, Japan. Clearing Yokohama on 7 July 1882, Swatara set course for home via the Cape of Good Hope, and reached Hampton Roads on 4 December 1882. Sampson was detached two days later.
Reporting to the Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. in late January 1883, Sampson served as assistant to the superintendent, focusing on collecting astronomical data utilizing the facilities there and gathered by expeditions dispatched to various locations throughout the world. In May 1884 he served on a board that recommended the establishment of a naval postgraduate school that eventually became the Naval War College. In October of that year he was appointed an American delegate to the 41-nation International Meridian Conference in Washington D.C. which was convened to uniformly decide the location of the prime meridian. The British steadfastly insisted on Greenwich, England, while the French, who had previously used a prime meridian that passed through Paris, preferred a neutral alternative that did not pass through a major power. Sampson served as a driving force at the conference, offering important resolutions and often engaging in respectful debate. Sampson championed Greenwich as the sensible choice and pointed out the flaws of a neutral meridian -- such as high costs to replace existing charts and the lack of an established observatory along its path. The American proposal won the day after a 22-1 vote, and the Greenwich prime meridian received uniform adoption.
Sampson took charge of the Newport, R.I., torpedo station in October 1884, at a time when torpedoes in the U.S. had progressed little from mines and spar-torpedoes of the Civil War. He experimented with manufacturing more effective explosives, and helped establish the Naval War College at Newport in addition to his duties at his station. In September 1886, he attained the pinnacle of Navy education by accepting an assignment as Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, returning to his alma mater at a challenging juncture when poor morale among the midshipman manifested itself in cheating and hazing, and the academy infrastructure had fallen into disrepair. Sampson endeavored to improve morale, reforming several aspects of Academy life related to discipline, grading, and professional training with midshipmen’s interests in mind, sought congressional appropriations to modernize Academy facilities and conduct training cruise, and sought to stamp out rampant hazing of plebes and underclassmen. When Sampson left the academy in 1890 the Navy and the public applauded the improvements that had occurred on his watch.
Promoted to captain on 26 March 1889, Sampson departed Annapolis for the west coast in May 1890, where he supervised the fitting out of the protected cruiser San Francisco (Cruiser No. 5), and assumed command when she was placed in commission. His ship wore the broad pennant of Rear Adm. George Brown as the ship proceeded to Chile to monitor a civil war engulfing that South American nation. When the merchant ship Itata departed San Diego loaded with munitions for Chilean rebel forces, San Francisco was ordered to locate and recover her. The rebels surrendered Itata in June and she returned to San Diego. After the conclusion of the civil war, San Francisco steamed to Honolulu, Kingdom of Hawaii, amid tensions between monarchists and republicans there. San Francisco’s presence protected American interests and furthered U.S. influence on the island, and while there hosted politicians and Queen Liliuokalani.
Detached from San Francisco in Hawaii in June 1892, Sampson returned to Washington, where he was assigned duty as Inspector of Ordnance (September 1892-January 1893) after which he was named Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. He supervised the development of advanced steel armor that proved to be among the best in the world, employed legal action to prosecute fraud and ensure that the contractors upheld that quality, and oversaw technological innovation in the fields of gunpowder and gun construction. He was the senior line officer on the board that decided to combine the engineering officers with those of the line. Relieved as chief of the bureau to return to sea duty, Sampson took command of the newly constructed Iowa (Battleship No. 4) on 16 June 1897. In 1897, he also began serving as the President of the U.S. Naval Institute, an office he held until 1902.
When an explosion demolished the battleship Maine in Havana harbor on 15 February 1898, Secretary of the Navy John D. Long named Sampson president of the court of inquiry that investigated the explosion. The board conducted an exhaustive investigation that featured extensive testimony from several sources. The board ruled that a subterranean mine had touched off a partial explosion of Maine’s magazines causing the destruction of the ship. When Rear Adm. Montgomery Sicard resigned due to health problems, Capt. Sampson ascended to the command of the North Atlantic Station, turning Iowa over to Capt. Robley D. Evans on 24 March 1898 at Key West, Fla., and broke his flag in New York (Armored Cruiser No. 2) on 26 March. On 21 April, Sampson was appointed acting rear admiral as the U.S. prepared for war with Spain.
On 25 April 1898 the United States declared war on the Kingdom of Spain. Sampson’s North Atlantic Squadron established a blockade of Havana soon after the declaration of war. Reports arrived that the Spanish fleet under Rear Adm. Pasqual Cervera y Topete was steaming west from Spain to an unknown destination. Initially, Sampson hoped to deny Cervera access to Havana and force him to coal in the exposed harbor of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Hearing of Cervera’s departure from the Cape Verde Islands, Sampson left the blockade at Havana with the stronger portion of his squadron to confront the Spanish at San Juan. Sampson Arrived at the city on 12 May, but Cervera was not present. The U.S. ships shortly engaged the forts at San Juan and after inflicting damage on them and the city proceeded to Key West.
As Sampson’s squadron was bombarding the Spanish town, Cervera was reported off Martinique headed for Curaçao. At Hampton Roads, a second American squadron, the “Flying Squadron” under Acting Commodore Winfield S. Schley – one number higher on the seniority list than Sampson but acting in a junior assignment -- departed for the Caribbean on receipt of the news. Schley met with Sampson outside of Key West on 18 May and the two officers ironed out their strategy to locate and defeat the Spanish: Schley and the Flying Squadron would blockade Cienfuegos, Cuba. Upon arrival off that port, Schley believed that he had successfully trapped Cervera.
Sampson issued a second order, however, on 23 May 1898, and ordered the Flying Squadron to Santiago but only if Schley was sure that the Spanish were not at Cienfuegos. Schley believed that the Spanish were still in the port until Cmdr. Bowman McCalla, who had contact with Cuban rebels, confirmed that Cervera was not present. The Flying Squadron reached Santiago on 26 May, but Schley decided to return to Key West without orders, citing difficulty coaling his ships. Adding to the confusion, the commodore ordered his squadron to stop dead in the water after one day of steam to coal and then ordered them back to Santiago. Sampson lost confidence in Commodore Schley as did Secretary of the Navy John D. Long. Sampson, took command of capitol ships from the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and led them to Santiago. While the North Atlantic squadron was under steam, Schley sighted the Spanish at Santiago and established a blockade outside the narrow channel that led to Santiago.
Flying his flag in New York, Sampson arrived at Santiago on 1 June 1898 and took command. He attempted to trap the Spanish squadron on 3 June when he ordered Naval Constructor Richmond P. Hobson to sink the collier Merrimac at the mouth of the harbor. The gambit proved unsuccessful and Cervera captured the American volunteer crew. Next Sampson commenced the bombardment of the forts protecting the harbor on 6 June and began a tight nighttime blockade aided by electric searchlights.
Sampson helped Army forces under General William Rufus Shafter land nearby at Daiquiri at the end of the month. The two flag officers clashed over the appropriate strategy to employ against Santiago. Shafter wanted the navy to force a passage into Santiago and destroy the Spanish ships and forts capable of assisting in the landward defense of the city. Sampson, himself once a victim of a mine, contended that such a bold maneuver would risk his battleships. Instead, he insisted that the army clear the channel forts first so that the squadron could drag for mines. The impasse continued after Shafter’s troops took heavy losses at the battles San Juan Heights and El Caney and the general insisted that the navy assault from the sea. On 3 July 1898 Admiral Sampson prepared to go ashore and meet General Shafter at his camp to discuss their disagreements. The army’s show of force at San Juan Hill, however, had compelled Spanish civil authorities to order Adm. Cervera’s fleet to sortie.
As New York left the blockade with Rear Adm. Sampson’s flag flying, lookouts sighted smoke in the harbor. The Spanish fleet stood out and turned west upon reaching open water. Sampson, in New York, was seven miles east of the channel when the enemy emerged, ordered his flagship to join the fight, but from a distance he could see that it had already begun. The Spanish column steamed directly at the western flank of the semi-circle of U.S. men-of-war. With guns booming the American ships steaed west after the escaping Spanish. The Americans almost experienced a disaster when Admiral Schley’s flagship Brooklyn nearly collided with the battleship Texas trying to avoid the charging Spanish flagship Infanta Maria Theresa intent to ram. The two American vessels narrowly avoided catastrophe and followed the Spanish vessels. By the time the final Spanish vessel, Cristobal Colon, had struck her colors three and a half hours later, the U.S. ships had destroyed the Spanish. Despite pushing New York as hard as he could to join the fight, Sampson;s flagship played a minimal part in the battle.
Sadly, the aftermath of the battle stoked the already smoldering tension between the two senior officers of the fleet, Rear Adm. Sampson and Commodore Schley. When New York approached Brooklyn, Schley signaled “We have gained a great victory,” then felt slighted when Sampson replied: “Report your casualties.” Sampson also did not respond when Schley signaled “This is a great day for our country.” New York also ignored Commodore Schley’s request to take the surrender of Cristobal Colon. On the following day, 4 July 1898, Sampson sent a dispatch to Secretary Long beginning with “The fleet under my command offers the nation as a Fourth of July present the whole of Cervera’s fleet.” Many noticed that the admiral did not recognize Schley in the dispatch despite being the senior officer present for the battle.
The dispute that clouded the days preceding the battle continued following victory. Shafter and Sampson continued to dispute the proper actions and both were too ill to meet to conference. The fleet bombarded enemy positions Santiago on 10 July hoping to spur negotiations. Despite this overture, the Army refused to let the Navy participate in negotiations and when the Spanish surrendered Cuba on 14 July the general did not invite a Navy representative.
Following the war, the controversy between Sampson and Schley intensified. The press split soon after the battle into pro-Sampson and pro-Schley camps. The Schley papers attacked Sampson for not giving the commodore his due and criticized Sampson’s unwillingness to acquiesce to General Shafter and force the channel. Further anger met Secretary Long’s decision to promote Sampson and Schley permanently to Rear Admiral. The promotion left Sampson one number above Schley even though he had been one below prior to hostilities.
The dispute that became known as the “Sampson-Schley Controversy” raged in the press although neither of the officers publically engaged in it. The issue came to a head in 1901 when the third volume of Edgar Maclay’s History of the United States Navy, the first two volumes of which were used as textbooks at the Naval Academy, tarred Schley as a coward. The enraged admiral requested a court of inquiry settle the controversy. The court convened in September 1901 at the Washington Navy Yard under three eminent naval officers led by the hero of Manila, Admiral Dewey. After convening for three months and hearing extensive testimony from witnesses including Schley, the court exonerated Schley’s conduct on the day of the battle but criticized him for his leadership and decisions before the blockade. Dewey dissented from the court’s majority findings and praised Schley and contended that he deserved credit as the acting commander at the time of the battle. Schley appealed the court’s findings to President Theodore Roosevelt. The President, hoping to finally rid the Navy and the country of the damaging dispute, upheld the court’s ruling while making minor concessions to Schley.
While the controversy raged, Rear Adm. Sampson’s health worsened. He remained in command of the North Atlantic Squadron until September 1899 when, unable to endure the rigors of a command life at sea, he was transferred to serve as the commandant of the Boston Navy Yard. After another health setback, he left for New Hampshire where he attempted to recover in seclusion. His illness affected his speech and thought, and although he desired to testify at the Schley Court of Inquiry, his ailments precluded his doing so.
Sampson died at the age of 62 on 6 May 1902 in Washington D.C. His funeral was well attended, with public officials including President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Navy. Also present were representatives of the Bluejackets he led in the Spanish-American War, and Naval Academy Cadets who benefited from the admiral’s tireless fight to better their education. He lies buried in Arlington [Va.] National Cemetery.
(Destroyer No. 63: 1,111 (standard); length 315'3", beam 29'11"; draft 9'6" (mean); speed 29.52 knots; complement 103; armament 4 4-inch, 2 1-pounder anti-aircraft, 12 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Sampson)
Destroyer No. 63 was laid down on 21 April 1915 at Quincy, Ma., by the Fore River Shipbuilding Co.; named Sampson on 28 September 1915 in General Order No. 162; launched on 4 March 1916; sponsored by Miss Marjorie Sampson Smith, grand-daughter of the late Rear Adm. Sampson; and commissioned at the Boston [Mass.] Navy Yard on 27 June 1916, Lt. Cmdr. Burrell C. Allen in command.
Assigned to Division 9 of the Atlantic Destroyer Force, Sampson conducted her shakedown training out of Narragansett Bay, basing upon Newport, R.I., the location of the Naval Torpedo Station, after which she proceeded to the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., for repairs and alterations and drydocking, arriving there on 31 October 1916. Emerging from yard hands on 10 December, Sampson sailed for Hampton Roads, taking part in a fleet review three days later by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and his guests [13 December]. Steaming thence for Provincetown, R.I., the destroyer participated in war games while en route, and, in company with her sister ship Davis (Destroyer No. 65) from Nantucket Shoal, suffered damage in a storm and put in to the New York Navy Yard for repairs on 18 December.
Sampson collided with a French bark off Staten Island, N.Y., on 26 January 1917, and repairs to that damage and her condensers continued into the spring, the sailing ship’s spars having caused to the destroyer’s superstructure and carried away several pieces of equipment. Soon thereafter, after a period of tension between the U.S. and Germany, the former declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917, thus aligning itself with the Allied and Associated Powers, and Sampson performed various tasks along the east coast until she was transferred to Division 6, slated for service in the European theater.
Division 6 steamed out of the New York Navy Yard on 13 May 1917 led by Cushing (Destroyer No. 55). After anchoring off of Staten Island, the division, consisting of Benham, Cummings (Destroyer No. 44), Cushing, Nicholson (Destroyer No. 52), O’Brien (Destroyer No. 51), and Sampson convoyed the French cruisers Admiral Aube and Lorraine to sea. After parting with their new allies, the six destroyers steamed to a point off Nantucket, where the division commander opened sealed orders instructing him to proceed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where they would rendezvous with a convoy of merchant vessels and proceed to Queenstown [Cobh], Ireland.
Reaching Halifax on 16 May 1917, met upon arrival by HMS Drake, which led the U.S. destroyers into the harbor, Sampson remained only briefly, clearing that port soon thereafter, on 17 May, and set course for Queenstown. They arrived at their destination on 25 May, the third U.S. destroyer division deployed to the war zone. There, the newly arrived Americans received instruction in the codes and signal procedures of the Royal Navy, and received British depth charges. Sampson emerged ready to depart on her first patrol on 29 May.
On 18 June 1917, Sampson’s lookouts spotted a small boat at 9:15 p.m. in the gathering dusk. The crew brought on board the master and 13 men of the British steamer English Monarch, that had been torpedoed earlier that day by the German submarine U-24 (Kapitänleutnant Walter Remy, commanding). The master told the U.S. destroyermen that another boat from the ship lay nearby. Sampson searched the sea without success until the first watch, when a flare caught a lookout’s attention, and the destroyer altered course to close. Instead of more survivors from English Monarch, however, the lifeboat contained the master and 17 men from the Liverpool-bound British steamer Elele, another of U-24’s victims, which had been torpedoed and sunk on 18 June. Sampson landed the English Monarch and Elele survivors at Queenstown on 20 June. In the wake of her rescue operations for torpedoed vessels, Sampson suffered a minor collision with the U.S. Army Transport (USAT) Saratoga at St. Nazaire, France, on 2 July.
Sampson came upon the abandoned bark Bellville (F. Wallin, Master) floating abandoned on 24 July 1917, and her crew in a lifeboat a mile away. The displaced mariners informed the destroyermen that a German submarine (U-95, Kapitänleutnant Athalwin Prinz) had fired a torpedo at their vessel earlier that day, then had shelled her (ten rounds), at which point they abandoned ship. The destroyer returned the jumpy crew to their vessel and escorted her until dark.
U-boats did not pose the only threats. After having rescuing survivors from ships that had met with disaster inflicted by German submariners, Sampson narrowly escaped disaster herself at the hands of her Allies when the inbound convoy she was shepherding unintentionally passed through an outbound group at night during a rain squall on 16 September 1917. Three months later, Sampson was battling the elements when, during a heavy gale on 16 December, a wave washed over her stern, carrying loose equipment overboard and causing damage to the after deck house.
Four days later [20 December 1917], while on convoy, Wadsworth (Destroyer No. 60) spotted a submarine with a sail set, and attempted to engage. The boat submerged, after which Wadsworth dropped depth charges. Tucker (Destroyer No. 59) and Sampson added depth charges to the effort but none of the warships witnessed any results.
On 4 April 1918, USAT Powhatan fired at a periscope. While the troopships avoided the spot, destroyers, including Sampson, passed over the sighting location astern and dropped depth charges. On 8 July, during another convoy run, the Le Havre-bound British steamer Mars took two torpedoes from U-92 (Kapitänleutnant Günther Ehrlich), and sank. While other escorts rescued the survivors, Sampson took part in a three-ship patrol in the wake of the convoy to find, or drive off, the assailant, the destroyers sowing four depth charges and the convoy did not suffer any further attacks. On 17 July, Sampson recovered seven survivors of the Norwegian steel-hulled bark Miefield, bound for Reykjavik with a cargo of coal, which had been stopped the previous day by U-55 (Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Werner), and had then been sunk by shelling and scuttling charges.
On 19 July 1918 after another U.S. destroyer spotted a submarine, Sampson dropped a pattern of ten depth charges over the alleged target. Four days later, lookouts on board Sampson spotted another submarine, and she gave chase. The U-boat submerged almost immediately but the destroyer spotted a well-defined oil slick on the water’s surface. Sampson dropped two depth charges on the first slick and eight more on other slicks the crew noticed subsequently. The explosions brought thick batches of oil to the surface, but later review from the British Admiralty determined that any submarines in the vicinity continued to operate as normal. Sampson believed she spotted another enemy boat on 23 July. After standing toward the submarine and firing a single shot, her adversary fired off a recognition symbol identifying herself as a U.S. boat.
A hair-raising event occurred on 8 September 1918 when a heavy sea washed over the fantail carrying the safety fork of a depth charge with it. The live charge lay precariously in the path of the swells and disarming the explosive was unwise on the pitching and rolling destroyer. Sampson released the charge and it exploded 90 seconds later. After the weather scare, the destroyer again turned her attention to a U-boat on 13 October. At 1:00 p.m., the watch heard several explosions astern after which the commanding officer rang down for full speed and turned toward the sound. Seeing small motor launches and the British destroyer HMS Griffon dropping depth charges, Sampson joined the barrage with eight of her own but the attack yielded no results. Soon thereafter, Sampson picked up a radio message from the British trawler HMS Dunnet telling of the location of a periscope. By the time the U.S. destroyer arrived, the submarine had submerged. Sampson located a two and a half mile oil slick and traced it toward the setting sun, after reaching the end of which she dropped a barrage of twelve charges.
While the armistice of 11 November 1918 ended hostilities, the U.S. destroyers continued escort allied ships in the war zone. Sampson escorted the troop transport George Washington (Id. No. 3018) to Brest, France, with President Woodrow Wilson on board. Sampson met George Washington at 4:01 a.m. on 13 December and escorted the steamer into Brest the same day. After reaching port, she later passed in review before the President before returning to Queenstown on 14 December.
After breaking her homeward-bound pennant the day after Christmas of 1918 [26 December], Sampson sailed for New York. She proceeded via the Azores and Bermuda, and reached the New York Navy Yard on 17 January 1919.
Repairs lasted until 22 March 1919, at which point she was reassigned to the 4th Division, 2nd Flotilla, Destroyer Force. Proceeding thence to the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, she reported to the Inspector of Ordnance in Charge, and participated in experimental tests for torpedoes and mines. In May 1919, Sampson served a tour of temporary duty as a plane guard along the route of the transatlantic flight of the NC flying boats before returning to the Torpedo Station for further experimental work on underwater ordnance.
Transferred to reserve status in November 1919, Sampson entered the New York Navy Yard on 1 December 1919 for deactivation overhaul which was completed on 14 February 1921. Towed to the Philadelphia Navy Yard by the tug Lykens (AT-56), Sampson was decommissioned there on 15 June 1921. She remained inactive during the years that followed, and, on 17 July 1935, was ordered scrapped in accordance with the London Treaty for the reduction of naval armaments.
Stricken from the Navy List on 7 January 1936, she was sold for scrap on 8 September 1936 to Boston Iron & Metal Co., Inc., Baltimore, Md., along with ex-Bush (DD-166), ex-McKee (DD-87), ex-Dyer (DD-84) and ex-Stevens (DD-86). The purchaser reduced ex-Sampson to a hulk by 21 December 1936.
S. Matthew Cheser (Biography)
S. Matthew Cheser and Theresa R. Hasson (History)
14 February 2017