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San Francisco I (Cruiser No. 5)

1890-1937

A city in California.

I

(Cruiser No. 5: displacement 4,088; length 324'6"; beam 49'2"; draft 18'10"; speed 19 knots; complement 384; armament 12 6-inch, 4 6-pounders, 4 3-pounders; class San Francisco)

The first San Francisco, a steel protected cruiser, was laid down on 14 August 1888, at San Francisco, Calif., by the Union Iron Works; launched on 26 October 1889; sponsored by Miss Edith W. Benham, daughter of Commodore Andrew E. K. Benham, Commandant, Mare Island (Calif.) Navy Yard; and commissioned on 15 November 1890, Capt. William T. Sampson in command.


San Francisco fitting out at Mare Island, Calif., about 1890. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 68690)
Caption: San Francisco fitting out at Mare Island, Calif., about 1890. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 68690)

Assigned to the South Pacific Squadron, San Francisco moved south and became the squadron's flagship on 31 March 1891. Five months later, as an eight-month-old civil war drew to a close in Chile, she landed a force of sailors and marines on 28 August to protect the U.S. Consulate at Valparaiso. September brought an end to the war, and San Francisco resumed her cruising off the South American coast. With the New Year 1892, she sailed north and west and arrived at Honolulu on 27 February as political differences deepened between monarchists and republicans. Through the spring, friction increased, and San Francisco, with others of the unofficial international "police force," deterred extreme action. The unrest, complicated by diplomatic maneuvering, continued through the year and was climaxed by the January 1893 revolution. San Francisco, having departed Hawaii, in August 1892, was then en route to Norfolk, where she arrived in February 1893.

San Francisco became the flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron on 31 May 1893, and cruised off the New England coast into the fall. In November, she sailed south, visited ports in the Caribbean; and, in late December, reached Rio de Janeiro and assumed flagship duties for the South Atlantic Squadron. She called at ports in Brazil, the Netherlands West Indies, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua during the next six months, then returned to the United States, anchoring at New York, on 29 July 1894. After a period at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., she departed on 30 December, for Newport, R.I., and arrived the next day. After spending the New Year’s holiday in port, she departed on 10 January 1895, bound for the Mediterranean and the European Station. En route, she called at Horta, Fayal, Azores (19-20 January), and Gibraltar (25 January). Entering the Mediterranean, she spent the next five months showing the flag in the “Middle Sea” and visiting ports throughout. Returning to Gibraltar on 21 May, she cleared the straits and re-entered the Atlantic en route to Britain. She arrived at Southampton (27 May-7 June), before moving on to Copenhagen, Denmark (10-14 June); Kiel, Germany (15 June-2 July); Kronstadt, Russia (5-11 July), Stockholm, Sweden (13-19 July); and Christiana, Norway (22-24 July), before returning to Britain at Gravesend (27 July-20 August).


USS SAN FRANCISCO (C-5) 1890-1937
Caption: Junior officers on board San Francisco, Flagship, European Station, in 1895. Standing (Left to Right): Naval Cadets Carlton F. Snow, Roscoe Spear, Joseph M. Reeves; Asst. Surgeon Charles E. Riggs; Asst. Engr. Milton E. Reed; Ens. Holden A. Evans; Ens. John F. Hines; Ens. Benjamin B. McCormick; Naval Cadet Roscoe C. Bulmer; sitting (Left to Right): Naval Cadets Raymond Stone and Ridley McLean (on deck); pay clerk Colcord & Asst. Engr. Claude B. Price. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 108606)

San Francisco would go on to visit LeHavre, France (21 August-9 September 1895); Southampton (10-21 September), and Greenock, Scotland (23 September-4 October), before returning to Gibraltar via Lisbon, Portugal (8-19 October), on 20 October. Re-entering the Mediterranean on 21 October, she continued to cruise those waters well into the next year. She conducted target practice off Alexandretta [Iskenderun], Syria [Turkey] (11-14 December), before entering Smyrna [Izmir], Asia Minor [Turkey] where she remained in port from 19 December to 23 March 1896. Resuming operation underway, she cruised the eastern Mediterranean throughout the first half of 1897. Departing Katakolon, Greece, on 2 July, she steamed to Gibraltar, via Tangier, Morocco (8-14 July), and arrived on 14 July. Passing into the Atlantic, two days later, she visited ports throughout western Europe into late September. Departing from Lisbon on 20 September, she re-entered the Mediterranean, and cruised exclusively there through the autumn. The ship arrived at Villefranche, France, on Christmas Eve, and remained in port there through the new year and into January. Departing on 31 January 1898, she visited Genoa, Italy (1-6 February), then passed through the straits at Gibraltar, back out into the Atlantic, raising Lisbon, on 12 February. She would remain there until 15 March, when, as a result of increasing tensions between the U.S. and Spain over Cuba, she was recalled from the European station.

San Francisco touched at Gravesend (18-27 March 1898), then made her transit back across the Atlantic via Halifax, Nova Scotia (11-12 April). She arrived at Tompkinsville [Staten Island], N.Y., on 14 April, then shifted to the New York Navy Yard on 19 April. She remained there undergoing preparations for war. Spain severed diplomatic relations with the U.S. on April 21, and that same day, the U.S. Navy began a blockade of Cuba. Four days later, on 25 April, Congress declared that a state of war between the U.S. and Spain had de facto existed since April 21, the day the blockade of Cuba had begun. Clearing the yard on 30 April, she steamed to Provincetown, Mass. Operating from this location and Boston, Mass., San Francisco cruised the waters off New England, patrolling for Spanish warships believed to be headed to raid the U.S. coast. With the absence of any real threat in these waters, San Francisco cleared Provincetown, on 26 June, bound for Key West, Fla., and arrived on 1 July. Departing on 7 July, she crossed the Florida straits and joined the U.S. forces blockading Havana, Cuba. Arriving on the 8th, she blockaded this harbor, with the exception of shuttling to Key West (17-23 July), until 4 August. She then shifted to Cardenas and Sagua Island Grande (4-5 August) before returning to Key West (6-11 August). Returning to blockade Havana on 11 August, she remained on that duty only two days, as hostilities ceased on 13 August. She returned to Key West (14-17 August), en route to Hampton Roads. Arriving on 21 August, she remained at the anchorage there, until shifting to the Norfolk Naval Yard, Portsmouth, Va., on 7 October. San Francisco was subsequently, decommissioned on 25 October 1898.

San Francisco was re-commissioned on 2 January 1902, Capt. Asa Walker in command, and was again assigned to the European Squadron.


San Francisco at the Norfolk Navy Yard, February 1902. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-N-10-5-21, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
Caption: San Francisco at the Norfolk Navy Yard, February 1902. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-N-10-5-21, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

In September 1902, she returned to the United States and commenced operations southward into the Caribbean until May 1903. Departing from Santiago de Cuba on 21 May, she steamed for a return to Europe via the British colony of Bermuda (25-27 May) and arrived at Lisbon on 7 June.

San Francisco arrived at Kallundborg, Denmark, on 1 July 1903 and remained there until the 3rd, when she got underway for a return to the Mediterranean. En route she visited Portsmouth, England (7-17 July), Lisbon (21 July-8 August), and Gibraltar (10-13 August). After her return to the Mediterranean, she called at Villefranche (16-28 August) then Genoa, Italy (29-30 August), before steaming back into the eastern Mediterranean and cruising the waters off the Ottoman Empire, into December.

San Francisco, having spent the holiday season in port, cleared Beirut, Syria [Lebanon] on 5 January 1904 and proceeded to Alexandria, Egypt, arriving on 7 January. She departed the next day, shifting to Aboukir Bay, Egypt (8-29 January), before returning to Alexandria on the 29th. She remained until 8 February, when she got underway bound for the Philippine Islands (P.I.). The cruiser arrived at Port Said, Egypt, on 9 February, and then departing on 13 February, transited the Suez Canal to touch at Suez, Egypt (14 February) en route to the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. She raised Bombay [Mumbai], India, on 1 March, then departing on the 6th, she moved on to Singapore (19-24 March), before entering Manila Bay, and mooring at Cavite, P.I., on 30 March. Remaining until 11 April, she went to sea and steamed across the South China Sea to the British Crown Colony at Hong Kong, arriving on 14 April. After a fortnight in port, she got underway on 28 April and returned the next day to Cavite, where she entered the navy yard and underwent maintenance into the summer. While in the western Pacific she made port visits to Woosung [Wusong], China (5-10 September), and the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong (14-22 September), before returning to Cavite on 25 September. Departing on the 28th, she began her return to the U.S. transiting via Singapore (3-8 October); Colombo, Ceylon [Sri Lanka] (15-20 October); Aden (28 October-1 November); Suez (7-8 November); Port Said, Egypt (9-10 November); Algiers, Algeria (16-21 November); Gibraltar (23-24 November); Ponta Delgada, Azores (28-30 November), and arrived back at Hampton Roads on 12 December. Shifting to Norfolk on 15 December, the protected cruiser again entered the Norfolk Navy Yard, where she was decommissioned on 31 December 1904.


A cancelled postcard depicting the decommissioned San Francisco with torpedo boats in the Norfolk Navy Yard wet dock, 1905. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 100043-KN)
Caption: A cancelled postcard depicting the decommissioned San Francisco with torpedo boats in the Norfolk Navy Yard wet dock, 1905. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 100043-KN)

In June 1908San Francisco was ordered refitted as a mine vessel and, in 1910, was rearmed with 8 5-inch guns. On 21 August 1911, she was recommissioned, but retained in reserve, Cmdr. William H.G. Bullard in command; and, after participation in the Fleet Review at New York, she was placed in full commission on 29 November 1911, with the same commanding officer. Designated a mine planter on 19 December 1912, she remained based at Norfolk, and operated in the western Atlantic and the Caribbean.

San Francisco operated in the waters off Rhode Island during July and August 1913, conducting mining and other tactical training exercises. On 18 August, she departed New England and steamed south to the Virginia capes, raising the Norfolk Navy Yard on 19 August. Remaining there until 25 August, she took on target material. Over the next couple of months, she would conduct additional training in the waters off the capes. Docking at the Norfolk Navy Yard, on 20 October, she remained there until 8 November. Undocking, she went to sea and set a southerly course, touching at Key West on 14 November, before continuing on to Pensacola, Fla. Operating from this base, San Francisco conducted mining exercises into 1914.

San Francisco cleared the Florida panhandle and made her way to Cuba to join the Atlantic Fleet for its annual winter training exercises. Arriving at Guantanamo Bay on 10 January, she operated with the fleet in the waters around Cuba and Puerto Rico into February. On 12 February, she arrived at Cap-Haitien, Haiti, to put a landing party ashore in order to protect U.S. interests in the troubled island nation. She departed on 16 February and returned to Guantanamo Bay, where she took on stores on 18 February. Departing that same day, she steamed to the Mexican coast.

In early 1914, Mexico writhed in the throes of a revolution (1910-1920). President Victoriano Huerta faced challenges from Emiliano Zapata and his rebels in southern Mexico and the Constitutionalists under Venustiano Carranza in the north. With this ongoing internecine conflict, tensions heightened between the U.S. and Mexico. President Woodrow Wilson had concerns for the safety of U.S. citizens and business interests in Mexico and dispatched naval units to the Mexican coast. San Francisco arrived off Vera Cruz, Mexico, on 23 February. Over the next month, she shuttled between Vera Cruz and Tampico, Mexico, carrying mail and stores between U.S. ships. On 25 March, she shifted to being based off Tampico.

On 9 April 1914, the commander of the gunboat Dolphin at the Mexican port of Tampico dispatched a purser and eight sailors to purchase fuel for the ship. Though the sailors were on board a whaleboat flying a U.S. flag, did not deter forces loyal to Huerta from seizing the sailors and escorting them to the nearby regimental headquarters. Rear Adm. Henry T. Mayo, the commander of the Fourth Division, Atlantic Fleet, demanded a 21-gun salute and formal apology from Huerta's government. Huerta ordered the release of the sailors within 24 hours and gave a written apology, but refused to have his forces raise the U.S. flag to provide a 21-gun salute. As a result of this “Tampico Affair,” international attention centered on the Mexican port. The bulk of U.S. naval forces, including San Francisco, were located in the mouth of the Pánuco River and off the Tampico Bar. Making a landing at Tampico, however, was fraught with potential difficulties given the port’s topography.

With Florida (Battleship No. 30), Utah (Battleship No. 30), and the transport Prairie with the First Provisional Battalion, Second Advanced Base Regiment, U.S. Marines embarked, lying off Vera Cruz under the command of Rear Adm. Frank F. Fletcher, President Wilson asked Congress for permission for a landing there. At the direction of Rear Adm. Fletcher, on the morning of 21 April 1914, Capt. William R. Rush, commanding officer of Florida as the Naval Brigade commander, led a combined force of bluejackets and marines ashore. Earlier Fletcher requested that Mayo dispatch San Francisco to join him at Vera Cruz. The mine planter arrived at 8:30 p.m. that same day and anchored north of Prairie. Upon her arrival, Cmdr. William K. Harrison, the ship’s commanding officer, was summoned on board Prairie to meet with Rear Adm. Fletcher. The latter ordered a landing party ashore. Just after midnight on 22 April, Lt. William J. Giles led the ship’s battalion of two companies (125 officers and men) ashore. Taking a position on the left of Utah’s battalion, they set to work building a barricade which they completed before dawn. The bluejackets and marines secured the town and held it for a week until relieved by U.S. Army forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Frederick N. Funston. San Francisco continued to support the occupation of the port with 13 5-inch/40 caliber rounds from her No. 8 gun at the Mexican Naval Academy. Cmdr. Harrison was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in support of the landing at Vera Cruz. San Francisco continued to cruise off the Mexican coast supporting the U.S. occupation of Vera Cruz through 17 July, including convoying a U.S. Army transport to the port (3-6 June).

San Francisco departed bound for a return to the U.S., on 17 July 1914. Touching briefly at Key West, on 20 July, she continued on to Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard, where she entered the yard and underwent overhaul (25 July-9 December). Clearing the yard at the completion her maintenance, she steamed to Rockland, Maine (10-11 December) and Boston (12 December) en route to Hampton Roads. After a two day visit, she was underway again on 16 December. Touching at Key West on 20 December, she continued on to Pensacola. Arriving on 22 December, the ship remained there in port until 28 April 1915, with the exception of one day at sea on 9 February, when she received orders to return to Pensacola. The mine planter finally cleared the Florida panhandle on 28 April, and steamed directly for New York, where she arrived at the North River anchorage on 5 May. Remaining until the 12th, she steamed to Newport, where she arrived the next day. Going to sea on 14 May, she returned on 26 May. Departing on 31 May, she shifted to the yard at Portsmouth (1-26 June), then returned to Newport (27-29 June).

San Francisco conducted fleet maneuvers and war games based from Newport (13-14 May and 26-31 May 1915). On 1 June, she entered the Portsmouth (N.H) Navy Yard, and underwent overhaul until 26 June. Clearing the yard, she shifted to Newport, arriving on 27 June. She remained two days before getting underway on 29 June for mining exercises. San Francisco spent the next two months engaged in mining and tactical exercises and target practices in the waters off New England. On 23 August, she cleared Narragansett Bay, bound for Hampton Roads. Conducting training while en route, she arrived on 28 August. Over the next five weeks, she would conduct additional tactical and mining training exercises along with target practices, in the waters of the lower Chesapeake Bay and off the Virginia capes. On 3 October, she went to sea for a return to Newport, after touching at the Delaware Breakwater (3 October), she raised the Narragansett Bay, on the 10th. She departed on 14 October, and moved on to the North River anchorage (15-17 October), before steaming back northward and entering the Portsmouth Navy Yard, on 19 October. She would remain at the yard undergoing overhaul through the new year.

San Francisco cleared the yard on 3 January 1916, and steamed to Nantasket Roads, at Boston. Arriving on the 6th, she loaded ammunition, and departed the same day for Tompkinsville. Upon her arrival, early the next day, the mine planter took on a load of mines and then departed again. Steaming to Hampton Roads, she arrived on 9 January, and took additional equipment on board and departing later that day. Steaming for the Caribbean and the annual Atlantic Fleet winter exercises, she arrived at Culebra Island, off Puerto Rico, and conducted reconnaissance (13-18 January), before heading to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to coal (21-24 January). Once refueled, she steamed to Guacanayabo Gulf, Cuba. While in Cuban waters from 25 January to 26 March, San Francisco conducted mining and tactical exercises with the fleet. At their conclusion, she departed on 26 March, and steamed to the Navy Yard at Warrington, Fla. (29-30 March), where she underwent full-power and endurance trials. Afterward, she shifted to Pensacola (30 March-5 April), then returned to Warrington (5-7 April) for inspection. She made one more visit to Pensacola (7-9 April), before getting underway for Portsmouth. Arriving on 15 April, she entered the yard and underwent overhaul for just over a month (15 April-16 May). One day out of the yard, she ran aground on Nantucket Shoals, Mass., on 17 May. After extricating herself, without assistance, she steamed back to Portsmouth. Re-entering the yard on 18 May, she underwent repairs into the summer. During this time, she was placed in reserve at the Portsmouth Navy Yard on 6 June 1916, but resumed full commissioned status again on 18 October 1916, Cmdr. Henry V. Butler in command. After being placed back into full commission, she re-located to Hampton Roads, where she engaged in making antisubmarine netting for placement between Cape Henry and Cape Charles in order to protect the Navy anchorages and facilities in the lower Chesapeake Bay.

With the 6 April 1917 declaration of war against Imperial Germany, San Francisco lay at Hampton Roads, Va., still engaged in making antisubmarine nets for placement between the capes. Three days later on 9 April, she began planting the netting for the Army, just south of the Fort Monroe, Va. lighthouse. By 14 April, she had completed laying the Hampton Roads net, continued rigging the net for the capes. She also continued working on various nets in the Chesapeake Bay into May. She proceeded to the Southern Drill Grounds (9-11 May) for the conduct of gunnery training and returned to the Chesapeake Bay each day. She then shifted to Tangier Sound, Va. (Base No. 1), for additional gunnery training on 15 May. She returned to Hampton Roads (Base No. 3) on 20 May, and after coaling, got underway on 23 May, bound for New York, where she arrived the next day. On 6 June, she moved to Port Jefferson, [Long Island] N.Y. (Base No. 10), for experiments in connection with deep mine planting. Four days later, on 10 June, she crossed Long Island Sound to New London, Conn. (Base No. 22). Arriving the same day, she made preparatory arrangements for using New London as a base from which to operate for laying antisubmarine nets at the eastern end of Long Island Sound. She departed the next day for a return to Hampton Roads, where she arrived on 13 June. She conducted target practice rehearsals en route. While at Hampton Roads, she refueled and took on supplies, stores, and mine apparatus. At 6:28 p.m., on 18 June, she got underway from Hampton Roads, and arrived at New London two days later. She remained at New London operating in Long Island Sound, from Base No. 22, until 21 July, when she departed for Portsmouth Navy Yard. Arriving the next day, she entered the yard and underwent repairs and alterations until 11 September. With her yard work completed, she steamed to Boston, Mass., where she received ammunition from the Naval Ammunition Depot, Hingham, Mass., and departed the same day for Newport (Base No. 12). Arriving on 13 September, she anchored off Rose Island, R.I.

San Francisco cleared Narragansett Bay, R.I., on 17 September 1917, and moved to New London, where she remained based for training and performing duty in connection with antisubmarine nets until 26 October. Departing that day, she steamed to Hampton Roads, and arrived on the 28th. She moved to Tangier Sound (29 October-4 November), where she conducted target practice in company with Baltimore (Cruiser No. 3). Returning to Hampton Roads on 5 November, she coaled, then proceeded to sea to conduct drills and additional training. She arrived at Newport, on 10 November. From 11 November to 21 December, she operated in Long Island Sound based from Newport. Her primary duty was in the conduct of mine warfare experiments and conducting training for the instruction of naval reserves and her crew. On 21 December, she anchored off Tompkinsville (Base No. 21), and the next day crossed to the James Shewan & Son Yard, South Brooklyn, N.Y., for repairs and alterations to 8 March 1918. During this time, on an urgent request had come from the British Admiralty about 1 March, for the services of one or two minelayers to help out in laying a field in the North Channel to the Irish Sea, using British mines. Baltimore was sent in response to this, sailing on 7 March, via Halifax, N.S. (Base No. 23).

The next day, 8 March 1918, San Francisco received from the Naval Ammunition Depot, Long Island, a large quantity of ammunition and departed the shipyard for Hampton Roads. Arriving the following day, 9 March, she received from St. Juliens Creek, Va., 50 Mk. VI mines, mine anchors, and miscellaneous mining gear. She then proceeded to the experimental grounds off Cherrystone Light in the lower Chesapeake Bay (13-15 March). She returned to Hampton Roads, on 16 March, and received additional mining equipment on 18 March. She then steamed northward and conducted additional mining experiments in Narragansett Bay, (20-21 March), and finally off Cape Ann, Mass. (1-5 April), with Capt. Reginald R. Belknap embarked. San Francisco was the only vessel wholly available for the training of men for the crews of the new mine planters as Baltimore was detailed to carry out certain practical experiments involved in the evolution of the Mk. VI mine design. The results of these trials were all that could be expected. With the exception of a very few minor mechanical faults which were readily corrected, the mine and anchor functioned as designed; and validated the action of the Bureau of Ordnance in having proceeded with the manufacture of 100,000 mines in advance of such tests. A most important consequence of the trials was the confidence engendered in the people of the mine force in the value and safety of the new mine. Clearing Cape Ann, San Francisco steamed to Hampton Roads, where she arrived the next day.

On 10 April 1918, Mine Squadron 1, Atlantic Fleet, was organized at Hampton Roads, with San Francisco as flagship. Capt. Belknap, having been detached from the Office of Naval Operations, reported on board and was assigned Commander, Mine Squadron 1, with additional duty as chief of staff to Commander, Mine Force, Rear Adm. Joseph Strauss, who had already proceeded to the mine force headquarters at Inverness, Scotland (Base No. 18). Cmdr. Bruce L. Canaga was to serve as Belknap’s Aide on Staff.


Capt. Reginald R. Belknap, Commander, Mine Squadron 1, Atlantic Fleet, 1918. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 56136)
Caption: Capt. Reginald R. Belknap, Commander, Mine Squadron 1, Atlantic Fleet, 1918. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 56136)

The ship also received from St. Julien’s Creek and Norfolk Navy Yard, mine cases, anchors, miscellaneous mining gear, and ammunition, and continued experimental work as well as drills and exercises in spotting, fire control, and instructions in shiphandling in the war zone. On 12 April 1918, the first of the new minelayers, Roanoke, stood into Hampton Roads, followed the same day by Housatonic (Id. No. 1697), and the next day by the Canandaigua (Id. No. 1694). Immediately upon arrival, these vessels proceeded to take their complement of mines from the mine carrier Lake Superior and from Southern Railroad Pier No. 4 at Pinners Point, Portsmouth, Va. San Francisco departed Hampton Roads for Provincetown, Mass., on 28 April, and arrived two days later. The squadron conducted mining experiments and training (2-6 May), off Gloucester, Mass., and arrived at Newport, R.I., on 7 May, stopping at Boston, Mass., en route. At Newport, Burney Gear was installed and preparations were completed for distant service.

Mine Squadron 1, San Francisco, Housatonic (Id. No. 1697), Canonicus (Id. No. 1696), Canandaigua (Id. No. 1694), Quinnebaug (Id. No. 1687) and Sonoma (Fleet Tug No. 12), cleared for Scotland and duty in the North Sea, on 12 May 1918. They were joined later in the day by Jason (Fuel Ship No. 12), loaded with aviation stores destined for Killingholme, England. Mining drills and target practices were conducted en route across the Atlantic. The wind and sea on the quarter caused such heavy rolling that San Francisco found it expedient to strike mines from the main to the second deck and fill her boiler and engine room double bottoms with salt water to improve her stability. A week later, on 25 May, at 4:52 a.m., an escort of nine Royal Navy destroyers, led by HMS Anzac, rendezvoused with Mine Squadron 1. This flotilla escorted the squadron past Cape Wrath, through Pentland Firth, and down Moray Firth to Cromarty, where the squadron arrived at 12:40 a.m., 25 May. Pilots, charts, and mine force instructions were placed aboard the ships at the whistle buoy. San Francisco, Canandaigua, Canonicus, and Sonoma then proceeded to Inverness Firth and anchored off Inverness (Base No. 18). Housatonic, Quinnebaug, and Jason, proceeded into Cromarty Firth, then anchored off Invergordon (Base No. 17), where Roanoke (Id. No. 1695), which had departed the U.S., on 3 May, was already lying. Early on the morning of 26 May, in reporting to Rear Adm. Strauss, Commander, Mine Force, Capt. Belknap reported that all his ships would be ready to commence minelaying as soon as they had watered and refueled. The delivery of mine parts, however, specifically antenna floats for mines planted at lower levels, delayed operations and prevented their immediate deployment. In the meantime, San Francisco conducted drills for mining, rigging the Burney Gear, taking Mk. VI mines on board, and inspecting the same.

The first excursion was to be a joint operation with the British minelaying squadron. Finally, at 12:45 a.m., on 7 June 1918, the flagship, in company with Baltimore, Roanoke, Housatonic, Canonicus, and Canandaigua, steamed out of the harbor and began the first mining excursion, the next day. The squadron left the bases, rendezvoused outside Cromarty Firth with the British destroyers sent to escort them, then proceed via the swept channels and across the North Sea until they sighted Udshire Light on the coast of Norway. This was used as the point of departure, being the nearest point of land to the position in which the mine laying was to commence. Under escort by British destroyers, at 5:00 a.m., San Francisco and the others commenced mining at 5:38 a.m. By 9:34 a.m., they had laid 153 mines, and “Mine Excursion No. 1” was completed. The ships then turned homeward for Inverness. While en route, there was a submarine alarm, and HMS G.50, flagship of the escorting destroyers, dropped a depth charge. They all returned to Inverness without further incident at 5:15 a.m., on the 9th. After the completion of the first excursion, further minelaying by the U.S. mine force was temporarily prevented by the delayed delivery of mining material. In the meantime, the British minelaying squadron had completed its second and third operations on18 June and 30 June.

Getting underway for the third excursion on 14 July 1918, the U.S. squadron laid 5,395 mines the following day in 4 hours and 22 minutes, the largest number so far laid in a single operation.

At 4.20 a.m. on 16 July, while just north of Cromarty Firth, one of the escorting destroyers sheered close in to San Francisco and reported that they were too close inshore. The squadron turned out, stopped and backed, but before headway had been checked Roanoke and Canonicus had grounded. Canonicus was able to back off, but attempts to clear Roanoke proved unavailing until she was lightened as much as possible. She came off easily on the following high tide. In light of the fact that neither vessel sustained any damage, the Commander, Mine Force, recommended no further proceedings and the matter was disposed of by Vice Adm. William S. Sims, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in European Waters in a letter.

The fifth British operation was carried out on 21 July 1918, in Area C. Several days delay was encountered before the fourth U.S. operation on account of again having to wait for mining materiel. The squadron was reported ready to sail on 25 July, but it was necessary to wait four days more for the escorting and supporting forces from the Grand Fleet. The British and U.S. operations had recently been overlapping each other in such a manner that one squadron was out at sea while the other was loading in port. This required keeping a large part of the Grand Fleet at sea almost constantly, the Commander-in-Chief, therefore, desired that the U.S. squadron should wait until the British squadron had again loaded, so that it would only be necessary to send one force to support both squadrons.

The U.S. squadron sailed on 29 July 1918, laying 5,399 mines the following day. The premature explosions, much more numerous than on any of the previous excursions -- approximately 14% of the mines going off – proved most disconcerting. Instead of the explosions decreasing as experience was gained in the assembly and laying of the mines, the percentage had been gradually increasing and then had suddenly jumped to 14% on this excursion. Losses of 3-4% could be tolerated, but this latter figure was prohibitive, and the causes of the explosions had to be determined and eliminated. Due to the large number of premature explosions which occurred in the fourth operation, the Force Commander ordered the suspension of further minelaying operations until the cause of the explosions had been ascertained and corrected. The next excursion, a joint effort by the British and U.S. squadrons began on 8 August. The efforts to cure the premature explosions on this excursion were found even less successful than before; approximately 19% of the mines had exploded. After laying 1,596 mines, the operation was discontinued and the squadron returned to the bases. It was found that the rubber insulation between the copper plates on the firing device caused a slight current in the firing circuit in the direction necessary to operate it. Although the current was in most cases small, there was a possibility that if it were eliminated the mines would then have sufficient stability so as not to explode after they had been planted. In order to carry out the practical part of the experiments after the theoretical tests had been completed at the bases, San Francisco proceeded to the mine field on 12 August. The improvement obtained in this test was sufficient to enable minelaying to be resumed. The squadron sailed on the sixth excursion on 18 August, and the minelaying was completed on the 19th. The squadron got underway for the seventh excursion on 26 August, and stood out toward the minefield. Saranac (Id. No. 1702) broke down shortly after leaving the base and had to return to Inverness with her full cargo of mines. San Francisco and the remaining eight ships, however, continued and carried out the operation. Unfortunately, dense fog was encountered practically throughout the operation; so thick at times that it was impossible for the vessels to see the next ship abeam, distant only 500 yards.

The eighth excursion was intended as a surprise. Neutral nations had not been notified that Area B was dangerous to shipping, and with this knowledge, enemy U-boats were constantly passing through it on their way to the Atlantic. It was accordingly decided not to notify neutrals about the area, but to secretly route all shipping so as to avoid it, with the hope that U-boats might still attempt to use it after it had been mined. In order to prevent the enemy observing the mining while it was in progress, an elaborate patrol was arranged, beginning the day before the operation and continuing until after its completion. British and U.S. mining squadrons rendezvoused off the Orkney Islands on 7 September and proceeded to carry out the operation. The U.S. laid six lines of surface mines across Area B, while the British laid one line of surface mines parallel. This was really the first joint operation carried out by the British and U.S. squadrons. On several previous occasions both squadrons had been at sea at the same time, but had not been working side by side, so as to necessitate appointing one officer to command the expedition. On this occasion, Rear Adm. Joseph Strauss, embarked on San Francisco, was designated to take general charge of both squadrons while mining was in progress.


San Francisco in a floating dry dock at Invergordon, Scotland, in September 1918. Official U.S. Navy Photograph. (Naval History and Heritage Command, Decommissioned Ships Files, Box 703, San Francisco (Cruiser No. 5) Photographs folder)
Caption: San Francisco in a floating dry dock at Invergordon, Scotland, in September 1918. Official U.S. Navy Photograph. (Naval History and Heritage Command, Decommissioned Ships Files, Box 703, San Francisco (Cruiser No. 5) Photographs folder)

In the early morning of 20 September 1918, while the U.S. mining squadron was on its way to the minefield to carry out the ninth excursion, a submarine was sighted off Stronsay Firth. She was immediately attacked with depth charges by the escorting destroyers, and at the same time a smoke screen was put out by both the escort and the minelayers. Shortly afterwards, she was again sighted just ahead of San Francisco, and was again attacked. The squadron proceeded through Westray Firth and then to a position about 6 miles to the northward of the western end of the minefield which was laid on 7 September. In this excursion, 5,520 mines were laid in 3 hours and 50 minutes the record number laid by a minelaying force in a single operation. At the same time, the British squadron laid 1,300 mines in a single line parallel and to the northward of those laid by us. Rear Adm. Strauss, on board San Francisco, was in command of the American minelayers while Rear Adm. Lewis Clinton-Baker, CB, RN, commanded the combined forces. The firing devices had been adjusted and there was a reduction of premature explosions on this excursion, being between 5-6%, a marked improvement.

On 27 September 1918, 5,450 mines were laid, slightly over 4% of which exploded prematurely. Only nine of the mine layers, San Francisco included, took part in this operation. The eleventh operation was carried out on 4 October, again in Area A, and approximately 6% of the mines exploded prematurely. The U.S. mining squadron completed the twelfth excursion on 13 October, losing 4% by premature explosions. Roanoke and Canandaigua proceeded to Newcastle for docking upon the completion of the operation. Eight days' delay was encountered before the thirteenth and last operation could begin. On account of the sequence of the British and U.S. operations in Areas A and C, it had been impractical to extend the minefields so as to overlap each other. This left a gap between the two areas approximately 6 miles wide. In order to close this, the next excursion was planned to consist of six rows of surface mines to the southward of the gap, continuing with two rows into Area C, so as to complete the four rows which the U.S. squadron had agreed to lay in this area. The first of the winter weather was encountered in this operation, when it was necessary for the squadron to wait one day after having reached the mine field before the sea moderated sufficiently to enable the mines to be laid. Even then the ships were rolling as much as 20º to 30º on each side of the vertical. This provided an excellent test of the mining installations with the result that no difficulties were encountered by any of the ships, either in the stowing of their mines or in the actual planting under such severe conditions. The operation was completed 26 October, having laid 3,760 mines, of which slightly over 4% were lost by premature explosions.

Although the U. S. mining squadron was again ready for the next excursion by 30 October 1918, it was necessary to wait until the British squadron had completed the operation which they had planned before escort could be furnished us. Reliable information indicated that enemy submarines were crossing the eastern portion of Area A, and the British had decided to lay surface mines in this position to the southward of those laid on our first excursion so as to strengthen this part of the field which was the least effectively mined part of the area. Weather conditions, however, prevented them from going out for several days, and, in the meantime, the series of events during the latter part of October and 1 November brought the end of the war into view. Further mining would have been an unnecessary waste of time, effort, and material. The British squadron did not carry out their contemplated operation, nor did the U.S. squadron. With the armistice of 11 November, came the end of building the North Sea Mine Barrage.


North Sea Mine Barrage, 1918. These vertical and horizontal charts show the locations and densities of the minefields. These were issued in November and December 1918, after the fields were completed. Note that the charts were signed by Rear Adm. Joseph Strauss. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 2437)
Caption: North Sea Mine Barrage, 1918. These vertical and horizontal charts show the locations and densities of the minefields. These were issued in November and December 1918, after the fields were completed. Note that the charts were signed by Rear Adm. Joseph Strauss. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 2437)

San Francisco departed Inverness on 2 December 1918, bound for Portland, England, via Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands. She arrived on 5 December. While at Portland, Vice Adm. Sims came on board San Francisco and broke his flag at the main truck. With all the commanding officers and 25 men from each minelayer assembled, many other officers, on board San Francisco, he addressed those present and lauded the Mine Force’s accomplishments. The squadron cleared Portland on 17 December, bound for a return to the U.S.  Steaming via the Azores; they arrived at Ponta Delgada (Base No. 13) on 23 December, then got underway again on Christmas Day. San Francisco stood in to Hampton Roads on 3 January 1919. While later analysis of the Northern Mine Barrage’s effectiveness would determine otherwise, Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, considered the achievement of the Mine Force “one of the most successful efforts of the whole war by any of the forces engaged.”

San Francisco, needing a post-deployment overhaul, steamed from Hampton Roads on 13 January 1919, and arrived the next day at Newport, before continuing on to the Portsmouth Navy Yard, on the 17th. She arrived and entered the yard the next day. With her overhaul completed, she was assigned to duty along the eastern seaboard and she cruised in the western Atlantic and Caribbean through 1921. San Francisco was assigned the alpha-numeric designation (CM-2) on 17 July 1920, as part of a Navy-wide administrative re-organization. She was later ordered inactivated in 1921; and, on 6 October, she arrived at the Philadelphia (Pa.) Navy Yard to prepare for decommissioning. San Francisco was again decommissioned at Philadelphia on 24 December 1921.

Remaining in reserve through the decade, San Francisco was renamed Tahoe, and then Yosemite, effective 1 January 1931. This enabled the Navy to give her name to CL-38 (later CA-38), then under construction. As Yosemite, she remained at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for another eight years. Her name was stricken from the Navy List on 8 June 1937, but she was retained at the Philadelphia Navy Yard until sold to the Union Shipbuilding Co., Baltimore, Md., for scrapping on 20 April 1939.

Commanding Officers Dates of Command
Capt. William T. Sampson 15 November 1890 – 2 July 1892
Capt. Phillip H. Cooper 2 July 1892 – 20 July 1894
Capt. John C. Watson 20 July 1894– 21 November 1894
Capt. Edwin M. Shepard 21 November 1894  – 1 May 1897
Capt. Mortimer L. Johnson 1 May 1897 – 30 September 1898
Capt. Richard P. Leary 30 September 1898 – 25 October 1898
   
Capt. Asa Walker 2 January 1902 – 31 December 1904
   
Cmdr. William H.G. Bullard 21 August 1911 – 17 October 1912
Lt. Cmdr. Charles S. Freeman 17 October 1912 – 2 December 1912
Cmdr. William K. Harrison 2 December 1912 – 12 December 1914
Capt. Reginald R. Belknap 12 December 1914 – 16 December 1915
Capt. Arthur MacArthur III 16 December 1915 – 6 June 1916
   
Cmdr. Henry V. Butler 18 October 1916 – 20 January 1919
Capt. Sinclair Gannon 20 January 1919 – 24 December 1921

 

Christopher B. Havern Sr.
12 January 2018

Published:Tue Jan 23 09:56:37 EST 2018