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Supply II (Supply Ship)

1898–1919

II

(Supply Ship: displacement: 4,325; length 355'8"; beam 43'4"; draft 19'5"; speed 95 knots; complement  128; armament 6 6-pounders, 4 1-pounders)

Illinois -- a square-rigged steamship completed in 1873 at Philadelphia, Pa., by William Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia, Pa., for the American Steamship Co. -- gained fame less than a decade later, in 1882, for transporting large numbers of Russian Jews to the U.S., thus enabling them to escape the brutal pogroms taking place in their homeland.

Subsequently, amidst rising tensions that resulted in the U.S. declaration of war on Spain on 25 April 1898, the U.S. Navy acquired Illinois from the International Navigation Company on 30 April 1898 for $325,000 and, renaming her Supply, commissioned her on the same day, Lt. Cmdr. Royal R. Ingersoll in command.

Supply cleared New York on 11 July 1898 and put in to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on the 27th, just two days after the Spanish surrender of Santiago, and with it the whole of Cuba. Nevertheless, she spent the next two months supplying U.S. forces taking possession of, and occupying, the island. On 11 November, the ship returned to Staten Island, N.Y., and with the end of hostilities with Spain, Supply was deactivated and put in reserve.

During the next three years, however, Supply received extensive upgrades, including better living quarters for both officers and crew. On 1 August 1902 she was recommissioned, Lt. Cmdr. William E. Sewell in command, and, over a fortnight later, promptly sailed on 17 August for a shakedown cruise off the coast of New Jersey. Once determined to be ready for sea, the Navy ordered her to the Pacific. After stopping off in Algiers and Egypt in November, she reached Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in December. On 29 January 1903, she arrived at the recently acquired U.S. territory of Guam.


Painted white and spar color, Supply was most likely photographed before the World War, possibly during one of her long periods of duty as station ship at Guam. Donation of Capt. Stephen S. Roberts, USNR (Ret.), 2008 (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 105955)

Painted white and spar color, Supply was most likely photographed before the World War, possibly during one of her long periods of duty as station ship at Guam. Donation of Capt. Stephen S. Roberts, USNR (Ret.), 2008 (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 105955)

With the Spanish-American War, decades of staunch opposition to overseas colonies had crumbled and the United States asserted itself as a global power. Although the war was more famous for adding the Philippines to America’s territorial possessions and establishing a foothold in Cuba, the acquisition of Guam was among the primary goals of the Navy Department at the outset of the conflict. Thirty miles long and ranging from four to twelve miles wide, Guam’s strategic value lay in its location at the southernmost tip of the Marianas Islands. Centrally located between Hawaii, the Philippines, Japan, and New Guinea, it promised an ideal stopping point for ships looking to refuel and also an excellent base of operations in the event of a war in the Pacific. The U.S. took possession of Guam on 10 December 1898. On the 23rd, the Navy Department assumed formal control.

Given the U.S. Navy’s possession of Guam, the service provided the island’s governors, and more than once Supply’s commanding officer also served as the senior political figure. Such was the case with Lt. Cmdr. Sewell, who assumed the governorship on 9 February 1903. During his tenure, Sewell reversed a number of regulations imposed by his predecessors. He lifted a general order preventing the native Chamorro from dressing in their traditional fashion, and also restored their rights to engage in the popular pastime of cockfighting. To the pleasure of the men under his command, he rescinded restrictions on importing alcohol and also issued a general order permitting personnel to live with islanders. Under his leadership, the first telegraph line to reach the island arrived. Finally, Sewell implemented long-lasting judicial reforms, establishing a court system on the island that remained largely unchanged until the 1930s.

On 29 January 1904, Supply set out on a voyage back to the U.S. amid tragic circumstances. Sewell had taken ill with an intestinal infection earlier that month. As his condition rapidly deteriorated, it became obvious that he would need better medical care than doctors on Guam could provide, and Supply raced to return him to the United States. After pausing in Honolulu (15-20 February) to coal, she reached San Francisco on 1 March and immediately transported Sewell to a nearby hospital. The urgent voyage proved too late, however, for Sewell died at Mare Island on 18 March 1904, leaving behind three daughters, all of whom traveled to be with extended family in the U.S.  Helen Sewell, only eight when she lost her father, retained vivid memories of her time in Guam and later used the island’s scenery as partial inspiration for her career as an illustrator of children’s literature.

Lt. Frank H. Schofield replaced Sewell as commanding officer. Officially the transition took place on 5 March 1904, but in practice Schofield had been commanding Supply since the prior commander’s illness set in, also serving as Acting Governor of Guam (11-28 January). On 7 April, the ship set out for her return to homeport, and after stops at Honolulu and Midway Island to coal, she arrived back at Guam on 15 May, where Cdr. George L. Dyer took command of her just two days later. Dyer likewise became the new governor of Guam on 16 May. Dyer launched a series of substantial reforms, the most significant of which focused on improving public health.  He built a new hospital with more modernized facilities and sought to improve the quality of the drinking water.

Meanwhile, America’s station ship in Guam also functioned as the supply ship of the Asiatic Fleet. As a new global empire, the nation needed a perpetual naval presence to signal her power and deter enemies from her newly acquired possessions. Supply made routine trips to the Philippines, Japan, and Shanghai, China keeping America’s far-flung ships well-stocked with provisions and fuel.

Supply continued her supply ship duties the rest of the year, departing Guam again on 28 October 1904 for a fall and winter cruise that included stops at Shanghai, Hong Kong, and the Philippines before putting back in at the Port of Apra on Christmas Eve. She spent most of 1905 on her usual station and supply ship duties. By the end of the year, however, she was showing signs of wear and in need of maintenance. She accordingly steamed out of Guam on 3 November and put in to Mare Island on 12 December. On the 22nd Supply entered a short dry dock period; she was back afloat on 24 January 1906 and returned home on 5 February, arriving on 7 March. The ship made a fall cruise to Yokosuka, Japan, from late August to early October.

For Supply, 1907 offered little outside of her normal routine. She remained in Guam for the bulk of the year, venturing out in May and June for short trips to Subic Bay, Philippines, and again in October for a cruise to Yokohama, Japan. For 1908, the ship voyaged to the Philippines in January, Yokohama in May-June, and Nagasaki in October-November. The following year, however, brought a marked change in routine; 1909 began with a trip to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., for drydocking. Standing out on 13 January 1909 for her voyage to the Pacific Northwest, she reached her destination one month later, on 13 February, then promptly entered dry dock, where she remained until 4 May. After a brief trip to San Francisco (6-12 August) Supply set course for home, steaming via Honolulu, and reached Guam on 11 September.  The last three months of the year found Supply providing logistical support at Yokohama (12 October-11 November) and Shanghai (17-23 November). She returned home on 1 December.

For the first half of 1910, Supply remained at Apra. She ventured out on 12 June and arrived in Nagasaki six days later. She also took a trip to the Philippines from 16 September to 26 October, and again from 27 December to 5 January 1911. The rest of the year kept her active on her usual route, with stops in Japan and the Philippines that summer and Shanghai in November. She put back into Guam on Christmas Day, and remained there until making another run to the Philippines in February 1912. On 26 May  she set out for o Bremerton, Wash., arriving on 26 June. She remained there until October, including a period in dry dock (19 July-14 August)undergoing repairs.

Supply then convoyed F-3 (Submarine No.22) to San Francisco, a coastwise trip that proceeded via Port Angeles (6-8 October 1912) and Seattle, Wash. (8-11 October), arriving with her charge on 15 October. The auxiliary vessel then cleared San Francisco on 19 October and set course to return to her station, steaming via Honolulu (29 October-2 November). She then resumed duties at Guam (18 October- 3 December).

Sailing for the Philippines on 3 December 1912, Supply arrived at Panderochan Bay on 9 December and embarked a disparate group of passengers: U.S. Marines and lepers. Arriving at Cullon, P.I., she disembarked the latter (10 December), after which she proceeded directly to Mariveles (11 December) to be fumigated and disinfected. Once that task had been accomplished, Supply steamed to Manila, where she disembarked the leathernecks and took on stores (11-15 December), clearing the Philippines to return to Guam at the end of that period, making arrival three days before Christmas [22 December] to resume duties as station ship.

To afford her officers and men a change of climate and opportunities for liberty, Supply departed Guam on 8 April 1913. She visited Shanghai (16-26 April), then proceeded via Obe Wan (29-30 April) to Kobe (30 April-1 May), and ultimately to Yokohama, which she visited from 2 to 14 May. At the end of that period, she set course for Guam, reaching her destination on 21 May. 

Supply, due for repairs and refurbishment, steamed to the U.S. Naval Station at Olongapo, Philippines, on 25 July 1913 and promptly entered the floating dry dock Dewey. Five days later, she emerged with a fresh paint job and a much cleaner interior. She left for her return to Guam on 24 August and arrived a week later. She finished out the year 1914 conducting her usual supply ship duties in the Philippines, Japan, and Shanghai, then continued as a supply ship for the first seven months of 1915, setting out for the Puget Sound Navy Yard again on 22 August. She arrived in Bremerton on 2 October and entered dry dock three days later, and was not undocked until 3 November.

On 26 November 1915, Lt. Cmdr. William P. Cronan became the new commanding officer of Supply. He remained in command for over two years, and was present when the ship secured lasting fame as the first U.S. ship to take an enemy in the World War. Such highlights seemed inconceivable in the waning days of 1915, however, while the (then) bloodiest war in history ravaged Europe, the U.S. remained firmly committed to neutrality, and Supply floated far from the dreaded trenches in the relatively calm waters of the Pacific. Thus, for the first several months of Cronan’s tour of duty, nothing out of the ordinary took place. For all of 1915 and 1916, Supply kept up her usual routine, making brief trips to Japan, the Philippine Islands, and Shanghai. She did another stint in dry dock at Puget Sound from 22 January to 6 March 1916, and returned to the Dewey dry dock in Olongapo in January of 1917.

Meanwhile, Supply’s crew and the residents of Guam fraternized with the detainees on board the German auxiliary cruiser Cormoran, Capt. Adalbert Zuckschwert commanding, that had put in to Apra on her last reserves of coal on 10 August 1914. Cormoran’s presence created an awkward situation for Capt. William J. Maxwell, who held the post of governor at the time, who sought to provide the least favorable treatment to an auxiliary warship of a belligerent nation. Capt. Zuckschwert requested enough coal -- about 1,500 tons’ worth -- to enable his vessel to reach German possessions in East Africa, as well as provisions for his men.  Guam was suffering a coal shortage at the time, and Maxwell could not have granted this even if he had been inclined to.  He refused Zuckschwert’s request. Under terms of international law, the Germans faced two stark choices: depart within a day or be interned for the remainder of the war. Having been reduced to burning coconut shells as a substitute for coal just to get into the island, Zuckschwert knew it would be suicidal to sail, and he had no choice but to accept internment.

Zuckschwert and Maxwell suffered from severely fractious relations, even by wartime standards. Maxwell showed signs of psychological strain early on in his tenure on the remote outpost, and he clashed with his German counterpart repeatedly over adequate supplies and the rights and privileges of detainees. Not infrequently, cables from the U.S. State Department clarifying international law, however, favored Zuckschwert. Nevertheless, the Germans were mostly confined to the ship for what proved to be a much longer stay in Apra than anticipated, and it came as a great relief to them when Cronan replaced Maxwell as governor on 29 April 1916. The new governor promptly granted the detainees freedom to go about on the island as they pleased. When Capt. Roy C. Smith relieved Cronan as governor on 30 May, he continued the policy of relatively lenient treatment for Cormoran’s crew, and the Americans thoroughly enjoyed socializing with the refined and charming Zuckschwert.

Such affability, however, proved short-lived. Word reached Guam telling of growing tensions bringing America ever-closer to the World War. In January 1917, the U.S. officially severed all diplomatic ties with Germany -- a normal prelude to a declaration of war. Although limited in what information he could receive, Zuckschwert easily foresaw that he and his men would soon pass from detainees to prisoners of war, and he began making plans for his response. Realizing that his meager coal supplies made escape impossible, the German officer very briefly toyed with the possibility of trying to seize control of the entire island once war was declared. He wisely abandoned this course; the Americans would be the first to learn of the declaration, so he had no hope of the element of surprise, nor could his handful of men hold out against reinforcements even if they did manage to overpower the existing U.S. force. He determined to destroy his ship rather than let it fall into enemy hands.

From the U.S. Naval Station, Capt. Smith engaged in similar deliberations with his subordinates. Knowing full well Zuckschwert’s state, he had no trouble deducing exactly what his German counterpart’s plans were. He confined all Cormoran’s people to the ship, allowing only small parties to pick up supplies on the pier. Smith believed his men could swarm over the ship before the Germans had the chance to do extensive damage, but he was unaware that Zuckschwert had been concealing a demolition charge under a hidden panel in the coal bunkers during the entirety of his confinement. When the time came, it would take a matter of minutes to sink the interned ship.

Early on the morning of 6 April 1917 [7 April Guam time], the United States formally declared war on Germany. Smith dispatched Lt. Owen Bartlett and Lt. William Lafrenz to inform Zuckschwert that a state of war existed and demand the surrender of the ship. Meanwhile, Cronan maneuvered Supply to block the entrance to the harbor in case Cormoran attempted to escape, not knowing that Zuckschwert, however, entertained no such plans. When two emissaries from Smith arrived in the German captain’s cabin and handed him a letter from the governor demanding unconditional surrender, Zuckschwert refused, but offered to submit himself and his crew to captivity. As for his ship, however, he flatly stated that the Americans could not have her, a move that surprised Capt. Smith’s representatives, who had assumed, given the odds facing him, that Zuckschwert would immediately surrender with honor. When he refused, they warned him that his unarmed and defenseless vessel would be treated as an enemy combatant as soon as they left. Zuckschwert replied that he understood, and dismissed them. They immediately embarked in the governor’s barge to take word back to the governor’s office, but only minutes later, a ball of flames erupted from Cormoran, hurling debris across the harbor. As German sailors scrambled overboard, the cruiser listed over on her side, then vanished beneath the waves in a matter of minutes.

Bartlett turned his barge around and raced back to the site to begin taking in survivors. Supply likewise hastily shifted to the scene of the explosion and began pulling German sailors from the water. In going overboard, the prisoners had carried only the essentials with them – nearly every man had a flask of some sort of alcohol handy, and rescuers were greeted with the site of men clinging with one arm to whatever would float and downing spirits with the other. Somehow, the ship’s musician managed to play his oboe while keeping his head above water, and several of the destroyed ship’s men joined in singing the German national anthem with pride even as they were taken into captivity.

Zuckschwert, ever-committed to naval traditions, was the last man to abandon ship, but he quickly boarded his vessel’s small motor boat and took part in the rescue operation. Impressed by his enemy’s poised and courageous handling of the crisis, Cronan smartly saluted Zuckschwert as Supply drew near, and afterwards heaped praise on the German captain. Despite both men’s efforts, however, seven of Cormoran’s men drowned before they could be recovered. Smith granted each a separate funeral service and burial with full military honors. A small cemetery on Guam remains to this day, along with a memorial erected by the German government after the war. The rest of the crew was transported to the U.S. to serve out the war in captivity. With the return of peace, all but three returned to Germany, the holdouts having taken American wives.

With the events of that morning, Supply had become part of a momentous occasion; she was the first U.S. ship to capture enemy prisoners in the World War, and was present for the first German casualties and the destruction of the first German ship by U.S. forces in the conflict. Cronan went on to receive a Navy Cross for his command of the troop transport Koningin Der Nederlanden (Id. No. 2708) later in the war.

Her moment of glory over and her encounter with Cormoran being her lone contact with the enemy in the World War, Supply resumed her normal routine on the Asiatic Station, and having been equipped for the purpose by the Hydrographic Office with “specifications, boat sheets, and other data,” engaged in surveying the coasts of Guam, completing at least two thirds of the work by the end of the Fiscal Year 1917. Reassigned to the Atlantic Fleet, she departed Guam for the final time on 27 December 1917 for her journey back through the Panama Canal to the east coast of the U.S. She transited the isthmian waterway on 19 January 1918, and reached Charleston, S.C., a week later, on 26 January 1918.

Within six months, however, Supply received orders to return to the Pacific. She cleared Hampton Roads, Va., on 2 July 1918 and transited the Panama Canal two weeks later, on 16 July, then stood in to Mare Island on 2 August, where an inspection revealed numerous issues that called for extensive repairs, and the Navy concluded it was better to scrap her. Sadly, soon thereafter, she lost four members of her crew -- Sea2c Juan Cruz, Sea2c Vicente Santos, F2c Ralph R. Davis and F2c John R. Nolan – who drowned on 10 August 1918.

On 15 September 1919, Supply was decommissioned “with the usual ceremonies.” She was ordered sold on 28 April 1920, but was temporarily withdrawn from the sale list on 31 July 1920. Re-advertised for sale on 17 September 1920, the ship was ultimately sold on 30 September 1921 to A. Berkovich & Co., of Oakland, Calif., for $14,378.50.

Commanding Officer

Date Assumed Command

Lt. Cmdr. Royal R. Ingersoll

30 April-11 November 1898

Lt. Cmdr. George Rodgers

11 November 1898-28 April 1899

Decommissioned

28 April 1899-1 August 1902

Lt. Cmdr. William E. Sewell

1 August 1902-5 March 1904

Lt. Frank H. Schofield

5 March-2 April 1904

Lt. Cmdr. Charles F. Pond

2 April-17 May 1904

Cmdr. George Dyer

17 May 1904-25 August 1905

Lt. Cmdr. Reuben O. Bitler

25 August 1905-29 November 1907

Lt. Frank H. Schofield

29 November 1907-8 January 1909

Cmdr. Robert M. Hughes

8 January-3 March 1909

Lt. Cmdr. Eugene L. Bisset

3 March 1909-late 1912

Lt. Cmdr. James J. Raby

Late 1912-26 November 1915

Lt. Cmdr. William P. Cronan

26 November 1915-26 January 1918

Lt. George Dalton

26 January-29 April 1918

Boatswain Albert Speaker

29 April-1 May 1918

Ens. John J. Clausey

1-6 May 1918

Lt. (j. g.) Frederick L. Oliver

7 May-10 November 1918

Lt. Cmdr. James Comfort

10 November 1918-17 September 1919

Thomas D. Sheppard
26 January 2017

Published: Wed Mar 14 08:56:59 EDT 2018