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Trenton II (CL-11)


The capital city of the state of New Jersey and of Mercer County, located at the head of navigation on the Delaware River about 33.1 miles northeast of Philadelphia, Pa.


(CL-11: displacement 7,500; length 555'6"; beam 55'0"; draft 14'3"; speed 33.91 knots; complement 458; armament 12 6-inch, 4 3-inch, 2 3-pounder saluting, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Omaha)

The second Trenton (CL-11) was authorized on 20 August 1916; and the Navy signed the contract for the scout cruiser on 24 January 1919. She was laid down on 18 August 1920, at Philadelphia, Pa., by William Cramp & Sons; launched on 16 April 1923; sponsored by Katherine E. Haulenbeek, née Donnelly, daughter of Trenton Mayor Frederick W. Donnelly; accepted on 15 April 1924; and commissioned on 19 April 1924, Capt. Edward C. Kalbfus in command.

Trenton carried out various drills and trials in Long Island Sound and visited Newport, R.I., and then accomplished additional work at New York Navy Yard. The newly commissioned cruiser cleared New York harbor on 24 May 1924, and set out on her 25,000-mile shakedown cruise through Trinidad in the British West Indies (28 May–2 June), and called at Cape Town and Durban (16–23 June and 25 June–1 July, respectively), South Africa, in June, as she rounded the stormy Cape of Good Hope. The ship made a splash there as this letter she received elaborates:

“The American community of Johannesburg with to express their appreciation of the visit of seventy officers and men from the cruiser U.S.S. Trenton and consider such inland visits in foreign countries greatly assist in maintaining cordial relations. The men made a very favorable impression everywhere and their conduct was most excellent and a source of great pride to local Americans.”

Vought UO Floatplane from USS TRENTON (CL-11)

A Chance Vought UO-1 scout-observation plane from Trenton taxis past a tug in the harbor of Durban, South Africa, 25 June–1 July 1924. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 43423)

Trenton continued on her voyage up the African coast and stopped at Zanzibar in British East Africa [Tanzania] (5–9 July 1924), then Aden [Yemen] (14–16 July), and northward into the Red Sea, where she called at Arabia [Saudi Arabia]. The passage of that sea did not pass without incident, however, as a storm arose inland and the strong gusts of wind blew sand out to sea. Trenton proceeded along her charted course when lookouts sighted what appeared to be dense fog, only to discover a sand storm hurtling toward them at 1320 on Sunday 20 July. The storm fiercely crashed into the ship and compelled her to drop speed because of the poor visibility, the air became heavy and oppressive, the water took on a purplish hue, brownish colored sand covered the outer shell of the cruiser, and men struggled to breathe without effort as Trenton attempted to extricate herself from the howling tempest. “Marked relief was immediately felt,” the ship succinctly reported when the storm finally passed after nearly two hours.

Vice Consul to Persia [Iran] Robert W. Imbrie and a companion visited a bazaar in the capital of Tehran when a mob attacked and pursued the men to the Cossack Parade Grounds, where they overtook and beat them on 18 July 1924. Imbrie died from his wounds, and Iranian Prime Minister Reza Shah declared martial law and attempted to track down the culprits. Trenton meanwhile continued her voyage and passed northward through the Suez Canal to call at Alexandria, Egypt (20–26 July).

USS Trenton (CL-11)

A view of Trenton’s main deck, just aft of the forward superstructure, as the newly commissioned ship visits Alexandria, Egypt, 20–26 July 1924. The after legs of the ship’s tripod mast rise in the background, as does a boat cradle in the right foreground. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 83568)

The ongoing Iranian violence led the Department of State and the Navy to order Trenton to swing around—just in case. The ship slipped back through the Suez Canal and while she steamed from Port Said, Egypt, to Aden on 14 August 1924 received orders directing her to Bandar Būshehr, Persia. The cruiser arrived on the morning of the 26th and took Imbrie’s remains on board, received and returned the gun salute to the late vice consul, and departed the same day. Following stops at the Egyptian cities of Suez and Port Said (the later on 5 September) as the warship passed northbound through the Suez Canal, she crossed the Mediterranean and called at Villefranche-sur-Mer in the south of France (9–16 September), before passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, where she called at the British Royal Navy’s Dockyard (18–20 September). Although originally scheduled to return to the U.S. at Hampton Roads, Va., she actually steamed up the Potomac River to the Washington Navy Yard, D.C., where she moored on 29 September. Following further trials, she joined Light Cruiser Division 3 of the Scouting Fleet.

While Trenton carried out gunnery drills about 40 miles off the Virginia capes on 24 October 1924, powder bags in her forward turret exploded, killing or injuring every man of the gun crew. The explosion erupted with such force that it thrust open the rear steel door and blew five men overboard, one of whom, SN William A. Walker, drowned. During the ensuing fire, Ens. Henry C. Drexler and BM1c George R. Cholister attempted to dump powder charges into the immersion tank before they detonated but the charges burst, killing Drexler, and fire and fumes overcame Cholister before he could reach his objective, and he died the following day. Both men received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Ensign Henry C. Drexler

Ens. Drexler received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his extraordinary heroism while attempting to dump powder charges into the immersion tank before they detonated, 24 October 1924. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 66702)

Cmdr. Paul F. Foster, the Engineer Officer, had received the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Vera Cruz, Mexico (21–22 April 1914). Men attempting to rescue their shipmates from the turret found it impossible to enter the mount while it was trained in its position. Foster noted the difficulties of rescuing the men through the turret access door, and of extinguishing the fire from the forecastle. Foster disregarded his own safety and entered the turret from the Upper Powder-Handling Room, climbed up through the hoist into the mount, where the fire still burned furiously, took the fire hose that other men passed to him from without, and extinguished the blaze in the turret and on the clothes of the men. As a result of his action the crew saved a number of men, the guns leveled and the mount trained in mow, which enabled the sailors and marines to remove their dead and injured fellows from harm’s way through the access door. He subsequently received the Navy Cross for his “extraordinary heroism” during Trenton’s ordeal, retired as a vice admiral, and the service named destroyer Paul F. Foster (DD-964) in his honor.

The blast knocked several men unconscious and threw them into a pile around the hand rammer near the rear access door. The press of gunners doubled up one of S2c Thomas H. Bailey’s legs and pinned him, and skin from his face and hands hung in shreds from severe burns. Nonetheless, Bailey bravely succeeded in getting the nozzle of the hose and passing it into the turret, thereafter keeping the kinks out of it where it passed over the edge of the door. Bailey gamely refused help more than once until his shipmates first evacuated the fallen men. Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur wrote Bailey a Letter of Commendation for his “devotion to duty, his fortitude, his endurance and his courage.” The ship swung around and headed at high speed for Hampton Roads, where she evacuated the wounded men to Portsmouth Naval Hospital.

Lt. (j.g.) John A. Sedgwick, Ens. Drexler, Turret Capt. Joseph L. White, BM1c Cholister, S1c Joseph Cohen, S1c Arthur J. McCormick, S2c Richard E. Denker, S2c George J. Gaffney, S2c Mervin F. Seaman, S2c John V. Uzzolino, S2c Bennet Williams, SN Bernard B. Byam, SN Rolland P. Hanson, SN Edgar J. Ivey, SN Franklin B. Jeffrey, SN George D. Luker, and SN William A. Walker died. Bailey, S2c William D. Sterling, and S2c Calmon C. White sustained injuries that required medical attention.

As those tragic events unfolded, Arthur Hildebrand and William W. Nutting, two American authors and entrepreneurs, and Eric Todahal, an artist, put to sea in 42-foot American motor yacht Leif Ericsson from Bergen, Norway, for the United States. Nutting had served in submarine chasers during World War I and penned a book about the diminutive vessels, Cinderellas of the Fleet, in 1920. Two years later, Nutting encouraged some friends to establish the Cruising Club of America. Leif Ericsson signaled that she made for Iceland but radio operators lost contact with her off Greenland. Later that month, Capt. Robert A. Bartlett, representing the Cruising Club of America, boarded Trenton and the ship steamed north to join in the search. Despite an extensive hunt, Capt. Kalbfus signaled the Department of State on 12 November that he was reluctantly cancelling the search as the heavy seas made it likely that the vessel foundered and the trio perished. Bartlett concurred and the ship swung around and plowed through heavy swells as she returned to port.

Following that mission, the light cruiser operated along the east coast until 3 February 1925, when she departed Philadelphia to join the rest of the Scouting Fleet for Fleet Problem V off Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The annual fleet problems concentrated the Navy’s power to conduct maneuvers on the largest scale and under the most realistic conditions attainable. Fleet Problem V ranged across the Caribbean and off the coast of Southern California, and marked the first problem to incorporate aircraft carriers (2–11 March 1925). The small size of aircraft carrier Langley (CV-1) and the inexperience of the ship’s crew in aircraft handling restricted her operations to sending no more than ten planes aloft simultaneously to scout in advance of the Black Fleet movement to Guadalupe Island. Langley once launched ten planes in 13 minutes but her limited performance convinced Adm. Robert E. Coontz, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, to recommend that the country rapidly complete converting Lexington (CV-2) and Saratoga (CV-3) from battlecruisers to carriers. The admiral advocated introducing steps to insure the development of planes of greater durability, dependability, and radius, and the further improvement of catapult and recovery gear. Coontz also reported that experience now permitted catapulting planes from battleships and cruisers as routine.


Secretary of the Navy Wilbur and Haitian President Louis Borno embark on board Trenton (left) as she passes battleship Arizona (BB-39) (right) during maneuvers off Gonaïves Bay, Haiti, 1925. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 73962)

Trenton next (14–17 April 1925) took part in Grand Joint Army Navy Exercise No. 3, which involved an enormous transoceanic movement of more than 75 ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific, including 11 battleships, Langley, two seaplane tenders, several cruisers, upward of 50 destroyers, and a train of auxiliaries. After gunnery exercises Trenton and many ships of the fleet headed for the Panama Canal and passed through it in mid-month. On the 23rd, the combined forces of the Battle Fleet and Scouting Fleet departed Balboa and steamed north to San Diego, Calif. En route, the ships participated in a training exercise, then assembled in the San Diego-San Francisco area. The United States Fleet put to sea for the Central Pacific on 15 April, and a battle problem en route designed to test fully the defenses of the Hawaiian Islands. After reaching Hawaiian waters, the Fleet as a whole conducted tactical exercises there until 7 June when most of the Scouting Fleet headed back toward the Atlantic. The two sides struggled over hundreds of miles of ocean, and the attackers landed marines on more than one occasion.

Following the exercise, Coontz and Gen. John L. Hines, USA, the Army’s Chief of Staff, convened a week long meeting by nearly 3,800 officers in a Navy recreation hall to evaluate the training. The attendees concluded among other topics that the Americans needed to straighten the Hawaiian Islands’ defenses, increase the garrison, add and expand fortifications, enhance and enlarge the aviation facilities, and convert Pearl Harbor into an adequate anchorage for the fleet. The ships continued to carry out maneuvers in Hawaiian waters through the summer.

USS Trenton (CL-11)

A starboard bow view of Trenton shows her in sleek fighting trim, with a number of crewmen mustered forward, mid-1920s. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 43751)

USS Trenton (CL-11)

A photo of the ship in dry dock appears to indicate that she mounted hydrophone fairings on both sides of the underwater hull, a short distance aft of the stem, mid-1920s. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 76226)

Naval planners had begun envisioning an antipodean cruise to the South Pacific in 1923, and on 1 July 1925, Coontz broke his flag in heavy cruiser Seattle (CA-11) as he set out to lead the Battle Fleet from Honolulu, T.H. Nearly 27,000 sailors and marines manned California (BB-44), Colorado (BB-45), Idaho (BB-42), Maryland (BB-46), Mississippi (BB-41), New Mexico (BB-40), Nevada (BB-36), Oklahoma (BB-37), Pennsylvania (BB-38), Tennessee (BB-43), and West Virginia (BB-48), the ships of Light Cruiser Division 2, Rear Adm. Thomas P. Magruder, Marblehead (CL-12), Memphis (CL-13), Richmond (CL-9), and Trenton, 32 destroyers led by Rear Adm. Frank H. Schofield, Commander Destroyer Squadrons, Battle Fleet, who broke his flag in Omaha (CL-4), and 10 auxiliaries in the vast assemblage. Cmdr. Stanford C. Hooper, an officer who specialized in communications, served on Coontz’s staff and worked on his forte during the voyage. The flagship also embarked several newspaper journalists and a member of Congress. Each of the four cruisers embarked a pair of UO-1s and they launched their operational planes every morning for scouting and familiarization flights—without accidents.

The ships crossed the equator during the voyage southward on 5 July 1925, and Coontz afterward reflected humorously on the “Crossing the Line’s ceremony. “That section of the ocean along the Equator, known as ‘The Line,’ is the particular domain of King Neptune and Prime Minister David Jones. Neither of these gentlemen ever allows anyone to enter his realm without being initiated.”

“In the grand old period of wine messes, officers could ‘get out’ of appearing before Neptune’s court by paying a price in beer. Nowadays, of course, this is utterly ridiculous.”

The Shellbacks, the men who had already crossed the equator, initiated the Pollywogs, those who had not, for Neptunus Rex. Each of the ships put their own stamp on the ribald proceedings, but the ceremony on board Seattle offers a representative example of the indignities heaped upon the unfortunates. The officers, chiefs, and enlisted men passed through the gauntlet in that order, and “the accused” took his seat in a special chair before the royal court to be shaved, the lather composed of soap and molasses. He next ate a sweet flavored quinine pill, and then with a flourish the court bouncer pressed a magic button and the chair dumped the victim into a tank of water, the ‘Bears’ helping him along with liberal applications of their ‘socko jimmies.’

The ships stopped at Pago Pago on American Samoa, but only a few could anchor in the small harbor and the balance of the fleet dropped anchor on a shelf northwest of Tutuila, where they refueled. Coontz and Rear Adm. Henry F. Bryan, Governor of Samoa, were old friends, and High Chief Mauga and his wife hosted Coontz and his men to a feast where the kava, a local drink, flowed freely. Bryan drove them on a tour around the south side of the island along a narrow road beside some cliffs, which the admiral recalled gave him “some anxious moments.” Two British liaison officers joined the Americans for the cruise, one of whom served on Coontz’s staff and the other with the Battle Fleet.

The Americans intended to divide into two contingents and visit the Australian ports of Melbourne and Sydney, arriving at the former an hour before the latter. Coontz was to sail the flagship and her consorts to Melbourne, then the seat of government of the federation before the Australians later moved it to Canberra. The ships reached a point off Gabo Island off the coast of eastern Victoria, Australia, on 21 July 1925. The fleet split as planned and the greater part of the vessels headed northward for Sydney, while Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Seattle, Marblehead, Memphis, Richmond, Trenton, 29 destroyers, and a half dozen support ships made for Melbourne. Heavy seas and winds buffeted the vessels as they crossed the Tasman Sea and passed through Bass Strait, which compelled them to drop from an average speed of 14 knots to barely seven. Adm. Coontz despaired of reaching Melbourne on time, and the foul weather shook the bridge loose on one of the destroyers and she fell behind, only to complete hasty repairs and catch-up with the heavier ships.

The ships held their formation and launched their planes as they steamed through The Rip at Port Phillip Bay and called on time at Melbourne on the 23rd despite the delays. Thousands of people braved the rain and wind to welcome the ships and gathered in large crowds ashore and in scores of small boats in the harbor. The U.S. vessels anchored in Hobson Bay and moored at the Port of Melbourne piers and at Victoria Dock, where destroyers nested in groups. Coontz’s wife and daughter were traveling overland across Australia as guests of that government and met the admiral on the pier. Bluejackets and marines formed color guards and shore parties that paraded at a number of events, and U.S. Consul Norman L. Anderson and his wife entertained at a reception for Adm. Coontz and his wife. The Australians gave Capt. Willis MacDowell, Oklahoma’s commanding officer, a wallaby to serve as a mascot for the battleship. The Y.M.C.A. asked for families willing to host an American sailor or marine for dinner and an overnight accommodation and multiple families responded, as did a number of churches.

Early the next day, however, tragedy struck Melbourne when an awning on Hoyt’s Theatre de Luxe in Bourke Street collapsed under the weight of spectators, many of whom enthusiastically climbed onto it to watch a parade by 2,000 men from the fleet. The theater rose close to the reviewing stand outside the federal parliament building and consequently, people packed into the area. The collapse injured more than 100 people, but sailors, marines, and civilians rushed to aid the victims and pulled out a number of people pinned under the awning or helped casualties. The injured were treated in the Tivoli Theatre before being taken to Melbourne Hospital. The Americans escaped without injuries but a few days later trams accidentally struck two sailors as they were sightseeing, and both men required hospitalization.

Governor-General Sir Henry W. Forster and his wife Rachel feted more than 1,000 men of the fleet at tea in Federal Government House at Melbourne. A special train made up of Pullman cars carried Rear Adm. William C. Cole, Chief of Staff, United States Fleet, and 60 select officers on a picturesque three day’s journey inland to the Murray River. Six thousand guests attended a ball the final night on board Nevada, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania, moored at Princes Pier with their quarter-decks decorated and illuminated for dancing.

Following World War I a sense of optimism often prevailed among global leaders and when Cole addressed a gathering of the English-Speaking Union in the lounge of Scott’s Hotel on Collins Street, Melbourne, the admiral expressed his admiration for the British people. The carnage of the war had given birth to an entente cordiale between the United States and the British Empire, and he observed that they could solve any future disputes by a handshake and a discussion because ‘families had to do that.’ Coontz also lavished praise on his hosts and summarized the Australian hospitality as providing a “royal welcome.”

A number of Australian cities vied to host the Americans but scheduling conflicts opened only a single opportunity, and on 1 August 1925, Magruder led Marblehead, Memphis, Richmond, and Trenton briefly (48 hours) to Hobart, Tasmania. Col. George E. J. Mowbray, Earl of Stradbroke and Gov. of Victoria, boarded Richmond there and rode the ship to New Zealand.

Unlike the weather at Melbourne, beautiful sunshine greeted the ships as they visited Sydney. Despite the large city the accommodations ashore proved troublesome and so sailors could not acquire a 24-hour liberty pass, as their shipmates did in Melbourne. The people of Sydney nonetheless showered their guests with hospitality that ran the gamut from dinners to dances, races, and sports events. People also wanted to tour the ships, and visits to the battleships proved especially popular. The well-wishers sometimes overwhelmed the capabilities of the port to handle such large crowds, however, and nearly 4,000 people ended up stranded on board Tennessee when the launches and ferries could not keep up with the number of visitors. The sun set before all the guests could be ferried back ashore, and the authorities regretfully turned away thousands more waiting in line. Adm. Sir Dudley de Chair, RN, Governor of New South Wales, and his family took Adm. Samuel S. Robison, Commander in Chief, Battle Fleet, and his staff on a weekend excursion to snow-capped Mount Kosciusko. American sailors competed in a whaleboat race against teams from the Royal Australian Naval Reserve.

“The visit was received in the spirit in which it was made—a mission of neighborliness, peace and goodwill,” Donald MacKinnon, President of the Victorian Branch of the English Speaking Union of Australia, wrote for Harvester World (November–December 1925). “This sentiment prevailed in all sections of our community and organizations for entertainment sprang up in cities and towns and suburbs and country districts with a delightful promptitude.”

“We learned that the sailors of the Fleet came from all states, from New England and Texas, Illinois and California, and we were able to draw the conclusion that if these were a fair sample of bulk, the young manhood of the U.S.A. was worthy of our friendship.”

The fleet turned their prows seaward from Australian waters on the bleak and overcast day of 6 August 1925. Vast crowds saw their guests off and at least ten Americans who jumped ship mingled in the press of people. The ships steamed to New Zealand waters and again divided as they turned for their ports of call (10–11 August). Coontz led Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Seattle, Marblehead, Memphis, Richmond, Trenton, and support ships to Wellington. Robison broke his flag in California as he took the other seven battleships to Auckland. Destroyer tender Melville (AD-2), a dozen destroyers, and the supply ships visited Dunedin, and the rest of the destroyers under Rear Adm. Schofield went to Lyttelton.

The sun broke through and bathed the ships in its rays as they stood in to Auckland, and a veritable fleet of small vessels transported hundreds of people out to usher the fleet in. Onlookers packed the shoreline as the battleships steamed through Hauraki Gulf to their anchorages in Waitematā Harbour. The ships headed to Wellington launched six seaplanes as they threaded their way through the ferries and motorboats that carried hundreds of people to greet the Americans. Crowds of well-wishers thronged every vantage point they could find from Point Jerningham to Thorndon.

The visitors to Wellington numbered 456 officers and more than 6,300 men; and those to Auckland were recorded as 694 officers and nearly 11,000 men. New Zealand Prime Minister J. Gordon Coates welcomed the Americans, and observed the amiable relations that the New Zealanders enjoyed with their neighbors across the Pacific, including the Americans and Japanese, and made several references to the need for regional peace. Adm. Coontz responded by emphasizing that his nation prized “the doctrine of peace with honor.”

The following day, 2,000 bluejackets and marines marched through the streets of Wellington, their colors waving and bands playing, to the great delight of the hordes of children. In Auckland an estimated 80,000 people watched another parade. “For once,” the New Zealand Herald proudly commented, “Aucklanders came out of their shells and cheered.” Native Māori representatives visited to appraise the Americans’ “war canoes.” Coontz and a large official party went to Rotorua for three days, and Robison followed with an even larger group of officers. Many men also enjoyed tours of Napier.

New Zealand authorities distributed a souvenir program listing arrangements and helpful hints to the men of the Fleet, and the Y.M.C.A., local churches, and Navy League offered hot meals, and converted dockside warehouses into huge dormitories for sailors on leave. The Automobile Association arranged hundreds of excursions, and a wide variety of athletic events marked the festivities, though the civic leaders thought they would be pushing their luck if they organized boxing matches. The New Zealanders also took ferries out to the ships, most of which opened for daily inspection. The battleships largely rode at anchor in the channel at Auckland, but California moored at Prince’s Wharf. The ships held a variety of events on board ranging from an exchange of diplomatic courtesies and official balls, banquets, and receptions to less formal concerts and mess-deck dances.

Rain and freezing temperatures struck Auckland during much of the visit, and compelled the hosts to cancel several athletic competitions. The New Zealanders entertained the officers but initially neglected many of the enlisted men. Journalists learned of and reported the oversight, and the situation gradually improved. The reception committees organized additional hospitality for the sailors and marines. The Americans arrived unfamiliar with driving on a different side of the road and two separate accidents killed and seriously injured a seaman in Wellington, respectively. The availability of alcohol sparked a huge political debate, as the men went ashore from “dry” ships and from a country attempting to enforce prohibition, and so they imbibed at times to excess.

In addition, as the Americans marched in Christchurch some locals taunted them with questions about who won World War I. Tempers flared and later in the day a fight broke out, and the Navy cancelled liberty for a couple of days. The Lyttelton Times postulated that Bolshevik agitators triggered the brawl, but nonetheless lavished praise on the guests and the proceedings.

“The present voyage of the United States Fleet,” the Lyttelton Times observed, “is intended to promote friendship among the nations whose lands border upon the Pacific.” The newspaper also lauded the “splendid services rendered on behalf of the peace of the world by President [T. Woodrow] Wilson and President [Warren G.] Harding.” The fleet’s voyage reprised the expressions of kinship and goodwill of the Cruise of the “Great White Fleet” (16 December 1907–22 February 1909—the ships visited Australia and New Zealand 9 August–18 September 1908).

Heavy rain blanketed Wellington as the ships stood out to sea, rendezvoused with the other vessels, and the combined fleet then turned for home. The armada steamed via the Marquesas and Galapagos Islands, San Diego, and the Panama Canal to rejoin the Scouting Fleet near Guantánamo Bay on 4 October 1925. After further gunnery practice, Trenton returned to Philadelphia on 9 November. Numerous American officials hailed the voyage as a success, one that trained the men, tested their ships and aircraft, and demonstrated the fleet’s ability to project power.

In January 1926, Trenton joined the other ships of the Scouting Fleet and returned to Guantánamo Bay for gunnery drills and tactical exercises. On 1 February she departed Cuban waters with them, bound for Panama. She participated in combined maneuvers with both the Battle Fleet and Scouting Fleet during the next six weeks culminating in Fleet Problem VI (1–15 March). In mid-March, the Scouting Fleet returned to their home yards for repairs before leaving for summer training cruises with naval reservists and tactical exercises in the area around Narragansett Bay, R.I. In mid-September, Trenton returned to Guantánamo Bay for winter maneuvers until just before Christmas when the Scouting Fleet dispersed to their home ports for the holidays. Early in 1927, she joined the Scouting Fleet in combined maneuvers with the Battle Fleet near Guantánamo Bay.

Just prior to Fleet Problem VII the Army and Navy engaged in a joint exercise to test the defenses of the Panama Canal (1–5 March 1927). During the simulation ships bombarded the Pacific side of the canal and aircraft bombed the Miraflores Locks. Evaluators noted that the exercises confirmed their opinion that the ships could not have knocked-out the canal by themselves but could have accomplished this principal objective in combination with the aerial attacks. Their findings called for greater defense of the canal from attacks from above. On the 7th planners reassigned some of the ships of the Light Cruiser Divisions, Scouting Fleet, so that Trenton (flagship), Detroit (CL-8), Milwaukee (CL-5), and Raleigh (CL-7) formed Division 2, and Richmond (flagship), Cincinnati (CL-6), and Marblehead Division 3. Trenton operated two Chance Vought UO-1C scout-observation planes during this period.

During Fleet Problem VII (9–14 March 1927) in the Caribbean sailors and marines gained further experience in operating together, and the Bureau of Aeronautics summarized some of the lessons as they pertained to naval aviation and its impact on future battles: The necessity to allow the ships “great latitude in maneuvering,” Commander Aircraft Squadrons was to “be allowed wide freedom of action in employing planes,” and the necessity of “constant protection of carriers against air attack brought home forcibly.” Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore D. Robinson briefly embarked on board Trenton the following month.

The Nicaraguan Civil War wracked that country (1926–1927), and President Calvin Coolidge sent Brig. Gen. Henry L. Stimson, Organized Reserve Corps, as a presidential emissary to help the rival factions negotiate an end to the fighting. Stimson and Mabel W., his wife, arrived in Nicaragua on 17 April 1927, and worked tirelessly to address the various issues they faced. As they completed their mission in May orders directed Trenton to transport the general and his wife home, and the cruiser embarked the Stimsons at Corinto on 16 May and carried them back to Hampton Roads.

Following a review by President Coolidge in June, the various ships of the two fleets departed Hampton Roads for their normal summer routines. Trenton continued to operate as Light Cruiser Division 2’s flagship for a series of training exercises off Narragansett Bay; then, in the fall, rejoined the Scouting Fleet for gunnery and tactical exercises along the east coast between Chesapeake Bay and Charleston, S.C.

In January 1928, Trenton and her division embarked marines at Charleston and returned to Nicaragua, where they landed to assist in supervising the elections which resulted from Stimson’s visit. She and her sister-ships rejoined the Scouting Fleet at Guantánamo Bay and resumed maneuvers. On 9 March, Light Cruiser Division 2 parted company with the Scouting Fleet. The four light cruisers rendezvoused with the Battle Fleet off the California coast and headed for Hawaiian waters, conducting drills en route. They then (18–28 April) took part in Fleet Problem VIII in the Pacific waters between San Francisco, Calif., and the Hawaiian Islands. Trenton embarked two Vought O2U-1 Corsairs of Observation Squadron (VO) 3-S.

After completing the problem Memphis and Trenton cleared Honolulu to relieve Light Cruiser Division 3 on the Asiatic Station. During that tour of duty, Trenton entertained Brig. Gen. Stimson, now the Governor General of the Philippines. She participated in joint Army-Navy maneuvers in the Philippines and patrolled the northern Chinese coast, on one occasion in March 1929, putting a landing force ashore at Chefoo [Yantai]. Trenton served there to restore order in a time of political tension between rival Chinese factions, and Rear Adm. John R. Y. Blakely, Commander, Light Cruiser Division 2, wore his flag in the ship. The Chinese Chamber of Deputies explained to Minister to China John Van A. MacMurray that a U.S. warship would reassure the people of Chefoo. MacMurray thus recommended to his superiors that “a naval vessel be left at Chefoo pending the outcome of the present situation,” and the cruiser continued to influence the people in the area until the violence simmered down.

Trenton’s division was detached from the Asiatic Fleet in May 1929, and she steamed back to the United States in company with Memphis and Milwaukee. The light cruiser accomplished an overhaul at Philadelphia in the latter part of 1929, and then rejoined the Scouting Fleet. During the next four years, Trenton resumed the Scouting Fleet schedule of winter maneuvers in the Caribbean followed by summer exercises off the New England coast. Periodically, however, she was ordered to the Panamanian coast to bolster the Special Service Squadron during periods of extreme political unrest in one or more of the Central American republics.

Despite adverse weather during Fleet Problem X in the Caribbean (10–15 March 1930), commanders exercised in maneuver to gain tactical superiority over ‘enemy’ forces, and in the employment of light forces and aircraft in search operations. The two fleets’ planes and ships searched for their opponents’ and on the afternoon of the 13th clashed as they met in a series of skirmishes. Trenton served in the Black Fleet and at 1435 sighted and fired on and sank Contocook (AT-36), an ocean tug operating as a minesweeper for the Blue Fleet. The problem’s developments included an appraisal of the suddenness by which air power completely reversed engagements, and of planes that bombed and strafed battleships. Observers also recognized the shortcomings of the scouting planes in the inventory. In addition, failures in recognition led to ships shooting at friendly planes, and cruiser gunfire damaged Langley.

Trenton steamed into Fleet Problem XI in the Caribbean (14–18 April 1930). The exercise focused on scouting and in concentrating dispersed forces, and in how concentrated forces attacked dispersed opponents. Unfavorable weather and poor visibility complicated the exercise. Planes from both sides flew multiple aerial reconnaissance flights but the foul weather hampered their efforts, and the rival fleets spent nearly two days searching before they clashed. Some of the Black Fleet’s cruisers closed the Blue Fleet’s scouting line south of Navassa Island on the afternoon of the 16th. At 1605 Blue’s cruiser Milwaukee sighted smoke on the horizon and narrowed the range, and 12 minutes later opened fire on her opposing Black warship Memphis. The ships engaged in a running duel that drew other vessels and Blue’s Cincinnati joined the fray at 1644, followed 16 minutes later by Black’s Trenton. The umpires soon ruled that Memphis and Trenton knocked Milwaukee out of the battle, and Trenton attempted to open the range, hotly pursued by Cincinnati.

A Blue task force built around Lexington, Detroit, and a pair of plane guard destroyers ran afoul of Black’s Richmond on that busy day, and the latter briefly fired her 6-inch guns at Lexington. The umpire ruled that the shots knocked-out six planes on the flight deck, and evaluated the failure of Lexington’s other aircraft to lay smoke as a serious tactical omission. Two nights’ later Black battlewagons Tennessee and West Virginia mistakenly identified their carrier Saratoga as Lexington and opened fire at her from a range of 9,000 yards with their 14 and 16 inch guns, respectively. The umpire subsequently ruled Saratoga out of action but not before her planes dropped 11 1,000-pound bombs from an altitude of 10,000 feet on Blue battleships prior to the problem’s conclusion on 18 April. Experience from Fleet Problem X and in this exercise led the Bureau of Aeronautics to call for the establishment of several “semi-permanent task groups [each] consisting of carrier, cruisers and destroyers.”

The Great Depression devastated the Honduran banana industry, one of the country’s principal crops, and led to strikes and widespread unrest. Gen. Gregario Ferrera in particular led an armed uprising against President Dr. Vicente M. Colindres in 1930, and the following year a cabal of generals including Ferrera, Carlos Sanabria, Domingo Torres, and Justo Umaña, sparked another rebellion against President Colindres. The fighting seesawed back-and-forth across the country and threatened some of the Americans who lived there, primarily in the banana trade. The Department of State estimated that 1,252 Americans lived in the “disturbed areas of Honduras”—300 at Ceiba, 242 at Puerto Castilla, 372 at Puerto Cortés, and 338 at Tela. The vice consuls at Puerto Castilla, Puerto Cortés, and Tela believed that detachments of armed men advanced on those cities as the violence spread. A column estimated at 200 strong robbed the Bank of Honduras at Progresso and requisitioned arms, railroad and other stock. Honduran soldiers counterattacked and the battle served as further notice to Americans in the embittered republic, and the vice consuls requested immediate naval assistance.

The Americans dispatched reinforcements and Memphis arrived at Ceiba at 1235 on 20 April, and the following morning Marblehead called at Puerto Cortés. Rear Adm. Clarence S. Kempff, Commander, Light Cruiser Division 2, Scouting Fleet, broke his flag in Trenton and also arrived that morning at Puerto Castilla. A number of the naval officers called on various Honduran authorities at their ports and Kempff and Capt. Frank B. Freyer, the cruiser’s commanding officer, called on the authorities at Truxillo. Ambassador to Honduras Julius G. Lay asked Secretary of State Stimson to direct Memphis to Tela “where there exists high nervous tension.” Orders so directed the ship and she steamed to that area. The United Fruit Company also sent two of its ships to Tela and Truxillo, respectively, to evacuate workers there as needed. “These visits are having a beneficial effect,” Lay summarized to the Secretary. Government troops ambushed and killed Ferrera in June but in 1932, Dr. Colindres fled the country and a new government emerged.

Planners envisioned Fleet Problem XIII off the West Coast as the first step in an overseas campaign in which an advanced force made an initial move from a concentration point to a first objective (7–18 March 1932). The multi-faceted problem included scouting and tracking, attacking and defending a convoy, and attrition attacks by aircraft, light vessels, and submarines. Repairs delayed rigid airship Akron (ZRS-4) from participating. Planes from Blue Saratoga and Pearl Harbor bombed Black submarine Narwhal (SS-167) and rendered her out of action on 10 March, which forced the command of that submarine division to pass to Argonaut (SM-1). Blue aircraft subsequently sank Barracuda (SS-163) and Bonita (SS-165).

Aircraft flying from Lexington and Saratoga struck and damaged each other’s carriers on the afternoon of the 14th. The observers ruled that the attacks inflicted 38% damage on Black’s Lexington and 25% on Saratoga. Capt. Ernest J. King, who commanded Lexington, complained that the umpires inflicted excessive damage on his ship that appeared to outweigh the actual results of the battle, and the umpires revised their determination and announced that both carriers repaired their injuries. Capt. Frank R. McCrary, Saratoga’s commanding officer, understandably protested the decision but nonetheless sent another strike aloft and the planes caught Black’s Trenton and savaged the ship for 64% damage later that afternoon. Observers called for increased antiaircraft measures against dive bombers to include installing .50 caliber machine guns on board ships. Evaluators also recommended adding six to eight carriers in order to project forces overseas, and noted submarines’ vulnerability to aerial attack, and that battleship and cruiser planes needed better flotation gear.

In the spring of 1933, Trenton moved to the Pacific and became flagship of the Battle Force cruisers. She operated in the eastern Pacific until September 1934. At that time, the ship returned to the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal to cruise with the Special Service Squadron as they visited Caribbean, Central American, and South American ports on a good-will cruise over the next 15 months. In January 1936, the ship passed back through the Panama Canal and completed an overhaul at Mare Island Navy Yard, Calif. Trenton wrapped-up the yard work and rejoined the Battle Force until late in the spring of 1939.


“Cruiser Formation” captures Trenton (right) and her consorts crashing through heavy swells, 1934. (Lt. Arthur Beaumont, USNRF, Naval History and Heritage Command Painting NH 657)

USS Trenton (CL-11)

Trenton’s four stacks and distinctive profile help identify the light cruiser as she anchors, most likely at San Diego, mid-1930s. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 64632)


The ship’s Christmas Program shows the importance of the event to the crew as they spend the holidays at San Diego, 1937. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 82496)

The Australians in the interim invited the Americans to send a squadron to join them at Sydney for the sesquicentennial of the first colonization of that continent, set for early 1938. Additional Australian ports also invited their allies to participate in the festivities, a celebration otherwise remembered mournfully by Aboriginal Australians. The Navy decided to dispatch Rear Adm. Julius C. Townsend, Commander, Cruisers, Battle Force, who broke his flag in Trenton, together with Louisville (CA-28), Memphis, and Milwaukee as the Australian Cruise Detachment. Navy planners considered modifying the ships’ return itinerary by sending them via Singapore, where the British Admiralty proposed to the Department of State they should arrive for the opening of the Royal Dockyard on 14 February 1938. The trio of light cruisers rounded Point Loma, rendezvoused with their heavier companion, and headed out into the open sea for their sail into the South Pacific (3 January–February).

The four ships steamed to Pearl Harbor in six days, where the liberty party enjoyed swimming at Waikiki Beach. One group also ascended Nu'uanu Pali, a ridge with a panoramic view of the verdant valley below. The detachment spent another six days steaming to Pago Pago and crossed the equator on 15 January 1938. “Plying the calm and peaceful waters of the South Pacific,” YN2 Claude E. Jendrusch of the ship’s company recalled, “there wasn’t a disturbing thought on our minds. Without a warning strange happenings and goings-on began to take place. The target of these mysterious doings were the Pollywogs. Upon close investigation it was found that these ships were lousy with them.” At 1900 on the night before they crossed, “King Rex himself” sent a priority message ordering the vessels to slow to five knots and to play their searchlights on their forecastles. As Trenton complied Davy Jones, the Royal Messenger, and the Royal Police, appeared through the hawespipe and directed all hands to muster between the catapults to hear the royal message.

The morning of the 15th “found all Pollywogs willingly resigned to whatever their fate might be” as the ship raised the skull and crossbones of the king’s Royal Ensign at the main. When Rear Adm. Townsend welcomed King Neptune he implored His Highness not to be too severe with several of the younger officers who had yet to cross the line. “Ah, Admiral,” his royal personage replied, “I’ll be as severe as I possibly can, yes, sir, just as severe as I can.” True to his word, Neptune’s court treated the Pollywogs to the “unnerving strains” of the “Funeral March,” trials, sentences, and convictions. The accused endured imaginative torments including the electrical shock of the Bible, the kiss for the Royal Baby, a taste of very sour milk from the Royal Sea Cow of the Deep, and a regulation haircut. Upon attempting to answer questions asked them while in the barber’s chair, a whitewash brush soaked with sour tasting fluids and paste would invariably be shoved into their mouths. A sudden lurch of the chair hurled the wretches into a pool of cold salt water, where the Royal Bears set upon them with gusto. As Trenton lowered the Royal Ensign the king and his court disappeared through the hawespipe into the briny deep as quickly as they had arrived. “Many were sore…but none were soreheads. It was all in fun. Shellbacks and landlubbers enjoyed the initiation alike.”

An overcast sky and low handing clouds dampened their arrival at Pago Pago, but Capt. Macgillivray Milne, Governor of American Samoa, greeted the ships. Some of the liberty party retired to the Navy canteen where Jendrusch wryly observed “they could hoist a few cold ones,” along with enjoying a delicatessen menu, cake, and homemade ice cream. Foul weather crashed into the ships as they resumed their voyage and “foaming waves shot streams of water over the topside,” and rain showers “followed one after another.” The ships increased speed to 20 knots to make up for the lost time while battling the swells, and “lost” Friday the 22nd as they crossed the 180th Meridian. The detachment steered for Sydney, where their hosts treated them to the usual warm welcome (25 January–13 February 1938). Tragedy struck on the 13th of February, however, when 19 people died as the nearly 150 passengers on board sightseeing ferry Rodney crowded to the rail to wave the heavy cruiser off and Rodney capsized. American crewmen heroically saved a number of people from the harbor. Following that horrific accident schedule conflicts led the service to route Louisville’s return voyage by a southerly route via Australian ports, Auckland, and Tahiti, while the other three cruisers steamed a more northerly course via Singapore, Manila, and Guam.


The light cruiser is “dressed overall” with the Australian flag at the main as she visits Sydney, 25 January 1938. The famed bridge rises just behind her, and a French Bougainville class colonial sloop lies astern. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 82486)

USS Trenton (CL-11)

Trenton stands out of Pearl Harbor during a training exercise, 1939, as photographed by Tai Sing Loo. The ship embarks Curtiss SOC 1 or 2 Seagulls of VCS-2. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 82489)

In May 1939, Trenton passed through the Panama Canal and returned to the Atlantic where, after a stop at Hampton Roads, she got underway on the 3rd of June for Lisbon, Portugal. There the seasoned ship joined Squadron 40-T, Rear Adm. Henry E. Lackey in command, a small naval force which had been organized in 1936 to evacuate U.S. citizens from Spain and to protect American interests during the Spanish Civil War. The squadron normally operated directly under the control of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).

Trenton and Jacob Jones (DD-130) lay at Villefranche-sur-Mer toward the end of the summer, while Badger (DD-126) departed Monoco and arrived at Sete, France, on the same day on 27 August 1939, and then (28–29 August) steamed to join the other ships at Villefranche-sur-Mer. Trenton served as the squadron flagship and Rear Adm. Charles E. Courtney relieved Lackey as Commander Squadron 40-T on board the cruiser at Villefranche-sur-Mer on 6 September. The following day Jacob Jones visited Marseilles, France, for a few hours before returning alongside her consorts, where French patrol boat Rédacteur Alexandra called on her U.S. counterparts on the 14th.


Trenton and a “four-stack” destroyer, most likely Badger or Jacob Jones, anchor at Villefranche-sur-Mer, 1939. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 82489)

Squadron 40-T stood out of Villefranche on 20 September 1939, and Trenton and Jacob Jones steamed for Lisbon, while Badger called at Marseilles the same day. As Trenton steamed en route, she intercepted a distress signal from British freighter Constant which reported being pursued by what she believed to be a German U-boat (submarine). Rear Adm. Courtney dispatched Jacob Jones to provide water and provisions to the English merchantman. Trenton and Jacob Jones reached the Portuguese port on the 23rd, and the following day Badger rendezvoused with them after voyaging from Marseilles (21–24 September). Trenton thus worked at times with Badger, Jacob Jones, and some auxiliaries as she patrolled the western Mediterranean and waters off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Dickerson (DD-157) and Herbert (DD-160) reported for duty with the squadron as they reached Ponta Delgada in the Azores on the 25th. The pair then (29 September–2 October) charted a course for Lisbon, where they relieved Badger and Jacob Jones, which in turn departed homeward bound two days later.

When the Germans overran Luxembourg on 10 May 1940, Grand Duchess Charlotte, Prince Consort Félix, his sister Zita, and their children fled in exile. The Luxembourgers raced to escape the advancing German panzer (armored) columns and hid in various homes of sympathetic people in France, and then crossed the Pyrenees and stayed with friends and relations as they continued their flight across the Iberian Peninsula to Lisbon, which they reached in late June.

In the meanwhile on 28 May 1940, Ambassador to France William C. Bullitt sent a telegram to Secretary of State Cordell Hull to urgently ask President Franklin D. Roosevelt to send a cruiser to Bordeaux, France. Bullitt asked her to bring arms and ammunition urgently required by the French police to quell a feared “Communist uprising” as the German advanced on Paris and other industrial centers, and to take away the French and Belgian gold reserves. “If you cannot send a cruiser of the San Francisco [CA 38] class to Bordeaux,” Bullitt implored, “please order the Trenton at Lisbon to take on fuel and supplies at once for a trip to America and order her today to Bordeaux.” Consequently, the heavy cruiser Vincennes (CA-44) stood out of Hampton Roads in company with Simpson (DD-221) and Truxtun (DD-229) on a voyage undertaken in response to the ambassador’s second concern. The ships touched briefly at Ponta Delgada (4–6 June), and three days later arrived at Casablanca, French Morocco. Vincennes loaded 200 tons of the Bank of France’s gold reserves brought to Casablanca by French auxiliary cruiser Ville d'Oran. The cruiser and her consorts then (10–20 June) returned to New York Navy Yard, where the Americans transferred the French gold ashore for deposit in U.S. banks.

Despite the original orders Trenton did not participate in the operation, but Rear Adm. David M. LeBreton relieved Courtney in command of Squadron 40-T on board Trenton at Lisbon on 10 June 1940. On the 23rd, Portuguese police arrested 30 sailors, three of them injured, of the ship’s company in a street brawl in the Lisbon suburb of Praia de Santo Amaro de Oeiras, on the banks of the Tejo River. Trenton’s turn for home service approached at any rate and on the day after Independence Day Omaha relieved her as the squadron flagship. Trenton prepared for her voyage homebound and the authorities directed her to transport the Luxembourger royals to safety. The Grand Duchess decided to remain in the Portuguese capital but the others boarded Trenton and crossed the Atlantic to Annapolis, Md., where they disembarked (15–25 July). President Roosevelt hosted the exiles at a lunch at the White House, and they continued to reunite with other members of their temporarily sundered family throughout the war.

Trenton reentered the Pacific in November 1940, and rejoined the Battle Force as a ship of Cruiser Division 3. The Americans in the meantime belatedly reinforced their forces across the Pacific and Concord (CL-10) escorted transport Chaumont (AP-5) as she carried men and equipment to strengthen the U.S. forces in the Philippines and set out from Pearl Harbor (23 January–1 February 1941). The ships touched at Midway and Wake Islands and disembarked her passengers and unloaded their gear at Naval Station Apra, Guam. Marblehead relieved Concord, which swung around and returned to Hawaiian waters, while Chaumont and her new shepherd continued on to arrive separately at Manila (5–10 February). Chaumont resumed her voyage sans escort to Chinese waters and returned to the Philippines on the 26th. Trenton joined her for the return cruise at Manila and the pair steamed to Pearl Harbor via Guam and Wake (10–23 March).

Adm. Stark, now the CNO, sent the following message to Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, Commander in Chief United States Fleet, and Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet (CinCPac), on 28 August 1941:

“Certain operations prescribed for the Atlantic by WPL 51 are hereby extended to areas of the Pacific Ocean as described herein in view of the destruction by raiders of merchant vessels in the Pacific Ocean within the Western Hemisphere Neutrality Zone as defined in the Declaration of Panama of October 3, 1939. Formal changes in WPL 51 will be issued, but meanwhile action addresses will execute immediately the following instructions. CinCPac constitute the Southeast Pacific Force consisting of two 7,500-ton light cruisers and dispatch it to Balboa. For task purposes this force will operate directly under CNO after entering the Southeast Pacific sub area as defined in WPL 46 Par. 3222 except western limit is longitude 100 West. Within the Pacific sector of the Panama Naval Coastal Frontier and within the Southeast Pacific sub area the Commander Panama Naval Coastal Frontier and Commander Southeast Pacific Force will in cooperation and acting under the strategic direction of the Chief of Naval Operations execute the following task: Destroy surface raiders which attack or threaten Unites States flag shipping. Interpret an approach of surface raiders within the Pacific sector of the Panama Naval Coastal Frontier or the Pacific Southeast sub area as a threat to United States flag shipping. For the present the forces concerned will base Balboa, but CNO will endeavor to make arrangements for basing in South American ports as may be required. Action adees and Commander Southeast Pacific Force inform CNO when these instructions have been placed in effect.”

Rear Adm. Abel T. Bidwell hoisted his flag as the force’s first commander, and at times he commanded a number of ships including Concord, Richmond, Trenton, and Warrington (DD-383). As the war clouds loomed Trenton continued to serve in the Southeast Pacific Force and operated off the Panamanian coast, patrolling the Americas for any enemy incursion while the ship’s company also trained and honed their skills. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Trenton lay moored at Balboa in the Panama Canal Zone, and Richmond steamed in Peruvian waters en route to Valparaiso, Chile.

As the Japanese thrust across the Pacific Adm. King, now Commander in Chief United States Fleet, on Christmas ordered the War Plans Division of the CNO’s office under the direction of Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner to “proceed at once to study the matter of a fueling base in the central South Pacific area.” Five days later Turner recommended that the Allies establish a refueling station, airstrip, and seaplane anchorage in Travanui Harbor on Bora Bora, in the Leeward Group of the western Society Islands. The facilities there would protect the long and vulnerable supply and communications lines with Australia and New Zealand. Rear Adm. John F. Shafroth Jr. relieved Bidwell in command of the Southeast Pacific Force on 6 January 1942. Two days later the Navy and Army developed a Joint Basic Plan, which directed that the Navy would establish the fueling station, codenamed Bobcat, while the Army was to defend it.

The Americans gathered nearly 4,400 men for their garrison, which they dubbed Task Force (TF) 5614, but the men often called themselves Bobcat Force after the code name for the operation. The Navy dispatched 484 men including 258 of the 1st Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees) who would build, and at least initially, help garrison the station. Another 87 men manned eight Vought OS2U-3 Kingfishers of Scouting Squadron 2 Detachment 14 (VS-2-D14), and 139 would establish and operate the fuel depot. The Army deployed 3,838 soldiers of the 102nd Infantry (less the 1st and 3rd Battalions), the 198th Antiaircraft Regiment, and Batteries F and H of the 3rd Battalion of the 13th Coast Artillery Regiment, which manned at least eight 7-inch coast defense guns provided by the Navy, which they were to emplace at strategic points around the island. These men required altogether almost 20,000 tons of supplies to set up the facilities, with more cargo to follow.

Navy planners sought to conserve escorts and combine the convoy to reinforce Bora Bora with a second convoy carrying TF 6814 to Nouméa, New Caledonia. Convoy BT.200 consisted of troopships Argentina, Cristobal, Island Mail, John Erickson (ex-Kungsholm), J. W. McAndrew (ex-Deltargentino), Santa Elena, Santa Rosa, and Thomas H. Barry (ex-Oriente), which carried 16,766 troops and 113 nurses of Poppy Force, the Army’s TF 6814, from the New York Port of Embarkation on 23 January 1942. Several of the ships had been converted from liners by the simple process of removing nearly all of their appurtenances and installing pipe bunks, and crewmen accomplished additional conversion during the voyage. Vincennes, Milwaukee, and seven destroyers also set out with the convoy.

Work on several of the ships earmarked to transport TF 5614 and cargo delivery snags delayed their departure, however, and because of the urgency of reinforcing New Caledonia in the face of the Japanese onslaught the convoys split and Poppy Force continued on its voyage independently. The convoy passed through the Panama Canal (31 January–1 February), and on 27 February reached Melbourne, where the troops and their equipment were disembarked and spent a week recuperating from the voyage, as well as reorganizing the cargoes that had been hastily if not efficiently loaded. The ships resumed their journey as convoy ZK.7 from Melbourne to Nouméa (6–12 March). John Erickson experienced engine trouble and fell behind but reached safe harbor at Nouméa on 18 March. The soldiers formed the advance elements of what activated on 27 May as the Americal Division, a contraction of American, New Caledonian Division, and was subsequently designated the 23rd Infantry Division but usually known by the popular name. Brig. Gen. Alexander M. Patch Jr., USA, led the soldiers during the voyage and they saw hard fighting during the Guadalcanal Campaign.

Convoy BC.100 finally wrapped up the work and received its supplies, and the Bobcats set out from Charleston for the Pacific (27 January–17 February 1942). The convoy included cargo ships Alchiba (AK-23) and Hamul (AK-30), Arthur Middleton (AP-55), troopship President Tyler, and steam merchantman Irénée Du Pont. Richmond had slipped back through the Panama Canal into the Atlantic and up the coast to rendezvoused with the convoy, and she led six destroyers as they carefully shepherded the ships southward through the German U-boat infested waters along the east coast and across the Caribbean. The gunners of the 198th augmented their naval counterparts’ firepower against enemy aircraft by siting their 37-millimeter guns on the decks of some of the ships. Despite the work performed on them before the departure, however, several of the vessels suffered problems during the voyage. The ships passed through the Panama Canal on the 3rd of February, where Milwaukee and Trenton joined the convoy and helped escort the ships. Rumors of enemy submarines and commerce raiders abounded among the crews of the ships and their passengers as a torrent of ill tidings flooded in concerning Allied defeats at the hands of the seemingly invincible Japanese, but they resolutely continued on across the South Pacific to Bora Bora.

The Americans negotiated for the use of Bora Bora with Monsieur Charles Passard, the Free French Administrator of Bora Bora, but the agreement ended up being subject to ratification by Lt. Col. Georges L. J. Orselli, Governor of the French Establishments of Oceania, whose headquarters lay at Tahiti. The Americans and Free French discussed making arrangements to acquire leases, defend the other islands in the group, employ native workers, and so on, and Shafroth and Orselli signed the agreement for the use, administration, and operation of the proposed naval station at a conference on board Trenton on 23 February 1942. Under the agreement the Americans recognized Free French sovereignty.

Unloading the cargo from the ships proved to be a difficult task owing to improper loading and a lack of landing facilities. The limited services lacked weight-handling equipment, and it took three weeks to locate and unload the first crane. The Bobcats could not assemble the pontoon barges that were supposed to facilitate unloading and handling cargo until they uncovered the tie rods and accessories needed from beneath other cargo. Rain and mud added to the difficulties. The men ended up scattering large quantities of construction materials such as cement, tools, heavy pipe, and special fittings along a two-mile beach. Nonetheless, they laboriously built causeways out to deep water as well as a marginal pier, large enough to permit discharging cargo from two hatches. Additional ships arrived and in the course of 18 months the Bobcats unloaded 60,000 tons of cargo. The eight Vought OS2U-3 Kingfishers of VS-2-D14 inaugurated air operations from the Society Islands on 8 March.

From mid-1942 to mid-1944, Trenton primarily patrolled the western coast of South America between the Panama Canal and the Strait of Magellan. The Germans converted a number of ships to operate as Hilfskreuzer (auxiliary cruisers) that stalked Allied shipping during World War II. The raiders often sailed disguised as neutral or even Allied ships, and hid their armament from prying eyes as they closed the range to their victims and unleashed devastating firepower. In 1939, the Germans seized Polish Gdynia-American Shipping Line fruit carrier Bielsko, which they initially contemplated converting into hospital ship Bonn but instead changed into an auxiliary cruiser and renamed Michel (Schiffe 28). The Germans did not intend for the ships to battle Allied cruisers like Trenton but they could prove formidable opponents in rare circumstances, as occurred when Kormoran (Schiff 41) sank Australian light cruiser Sydney (D-48) about 130 miles of Shark Bay, Western Australia, on 19 November 1941.

The enemy used some of the weapons from Widder (Schiff 21), which had just returned from a voyage in which she sank ten Allied ships under the command of Korvettenkapitän Hellmuth von Ruckteschell (5 May–31 October 1940), to arm the ship. Michel packed a powerful broadside in the form of six 5.9-inch guns: the first pair cleverly built into the forecastle behind hinged sides which could be raised by means of counterweights; the third sunk into a six foot well in the second hatch; the fourth inside a deckhouse on the boat deck, which could be rolled forward; and the last two fitted aft in the poop behind more hinged sides. She also boasted two Arado Ar 196A-2 float planes, 37-foot motorboat Esau (LS-4) equipped with two 18-inch torpedo tubes, and a 4.1-inch and 37 and 20-millimter guns.

Von Ruckteschell led Michel on the first of two raiding cruises (19 April 1942–2 January 1943 and 15 June–11 September 1943) in which she sank Allied 15 merchantmen. Michel slipped past watchful Allied forces across the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans and ended her first cruise in Kobe, Japan. There, Kapitän zur See Günther Gumprich relieved Kapitän zur See von Ruckteschell, and the Germans refueled and repaired the ship and she began the second raiding cruise from Yokohama. The ship charted southerly courses through Japanese-held waters and passed through the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java in the enemy-occupied Netherlands East Indies [Indonesia] into the Indian Ocean. In rapid succession Michel sank the first two of three victims during the second voyage, Leif Høegh and Company’s 7,715-ton Høegh Silverdawn on 15 June and two days later Fearnley and Eger’s 9,940-ton Ferncastle. The raider then turned eastward and passed beneath Australia and New Zealand to prowl the waters of the Eastern Pacific, an area the Germans thought would contain lucrative victims in the form of ships steaming independently as stragglers.

Michel hunted uneventfully for some weeks but unbeknownst to the Germans, Trenton patrolled that area between 22°5'S, 172°46'W, and 20°16'S and 174°56'W. The U.S. cruiser detected an unknown contact on her radar on 28 August 1943, and for nearly 15 minutes tracked the elusive foe but could not positively identify the pip. The following day Michel reached the waters off the coast of Chile only for her stunned lookouts to sight the American ship, which they misidentified as a Pensacola (CA-24) class heavy cruiser. Trenton had called away general quarters a short while before and just secured, and steamed on a base course of 132°.

Despite exceptions like the battle between Kormoran and Sydney, the Germans entertained no illusions about the probable outcome of a fight. “Hackfleish [minced meat], the fast, four-stacker could have made of our raider,” 2nd Torpedo Officer Wilhelm Schmolling recalled after the war. “It seemed like a very long day” until Trenton inadvertently failed to challenge Michel, came about on a zig zag course, and the raider slipped away. Norwegian 9,977-ton tanker India set out from Talara, Peru, for Sydney, Australia, with a cargo of oil on 3 September. Michel intercepted and sank India with all 41 hands not far from Easter Island on 11 September. The ship’s fate did not become known until after the war, and if Trenton had queried Michel she might have saved the ship and her crew. The raider turned westward but submarine Tarpon (SS-175), Lt. Cmdr. Thomas L. Wogan, sank Michel with four torpedoes off Chichijima in the Bonins on 17 October, and she took Gumprich and 289 of his men with her to the bottom. Some 116 men survived and floated for several days before their erstwhile Japanese allies rescued them.

Trenton continued her wartime service and visited Valparaiso, Chile, early in the New Year on 11 January 1944. In addition to communist demonstrators tensions ran high as a result of Axis influence in the country. Thousands of Germans and Italians lived in Chile, and numbers of native Chileans traced their descent from German or Italian immigrants. German and Italian schools and newspapers served some of these communities, and a German Chilean youth organization existed. In some instances, members of these communities espoused Nazi or Fascist Italian ideologies, and the Allies feared that enemy agents and spies infiltrated these communities and operated among them. Allied fears proved justified as the war continued and they uncovered evidence of Operation Bolívar—German espionage in Latin America.

The Department of State believed that German and Japanese agents in neutral countries were intensifying their efforts to obtain Allied information. The department instructed posts to review their security measures, and to investigate the associations of all post staff “down to the lowliest members.” Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Vice Consul in Arica, Chile, discovered that his 17-year-old janitor had been selling the Consulate’s trash to the local chief of Investigaciones (Chile’s counterpart to the FBI), a man known to have contacts with Axis agents. One document in the trash identified U.S. Navy codes but did not contain enough information to permit decoding of messages. The Consulate promptly fired the janitor, and later learned that the chief probably gave the documents to his superiors in order to improve his chances for promotion, rather than passing them to Axis agents. The ship’s visit helped to emphasize U.S. support for a democratically elected Chilean government and opposition to the Axis.

The ship’s visit thus generated heated controversy and a flurry of diplomatic activity preceded her port call. Secretary of State Hull decided on the visit and so informed Ambassador to Chile Claude G. Bowers on 6 January:

“This information has been transmitted to the Naval Attaché with instructions to furnish it to you for your information only. The Department, however, has been informed by the competent official of the Navy Department that no objection is perceived to the transmission by you of this information in confidence to President [Juan A.] Ríos immediately and to other officials of the Chilean Government at an appropriate time before the contemplated arrival of the vessel.”

Trenton called at Valparaiso without incident and faithfully resumed her patrols across the East Pacific, and headed north for duty in the waters surrounding the Aleutian Islands on 18 July 1944. She stopped at San Francisco on 11 August and on 2 September arrived at Adak, Alaska. Following a month of patrolling the cruiser shifted stations to Massacre Bay on Attu. Trenton joined the North Pacific Force, TF 94, Rear Adm. John L. McCrea, which also comprised Concord and Richmond, along with the ships of Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 57, Capt. John M. Worthington, which consisted at times of the vessels of two divisions: Rowe (DD-564), Smalley (DD-565), Stoddard (DD-566), and Watts (DD-567) of Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 113; and Bearss (DD-654), Jarvis (DD-799), John Hood (DD-655), Porter (DD-800), and Wren (DD-568) of DesDiv 114. Despite the strong gathering the harsh weather of the region repeatedly impacted their operations.

The cruisers and destroyers stood out of Massacre Bay on 14 August 1944 to raid the Japanese-held northern Kuril Islands as a diversion during the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines. They turned toward Japanese-held waters but fierce storms buffeted the vessels and compelled them to cancel the raid and come about for Attu. The task force was redesignated TF 92 and then on the 26th the force undauntedly tried again, but the northern weather foiled them a second time and they returned to Attu. The ships attempted to sortie two more times but heavy seas lashed them and they intermittently steamed through thick fog that dangerously impeded visibility, so orders recalled them in both instances (14–19 and 24–29 October).

The following month (1–25 November 1944), however, the weathered ships departed Attu for a fifth attempt at bombarding the Kurils. That one proved successful and overnight (21–22 November) their guns shelled the airfield, seaplane station, and installations on Matsuwa To, a volcanic island near the center of the Kurils. Heavy winds and seas slowed their retirement to nine knots, but at the same time, grounded the Japanese naval Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers (Vals) of the 553rd Kōkūtai, and the bombardment group arrived safely back at Attu. Early in December Rowe, Smalley, Stoddard, and Watts were detached and steamed to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians for voyage repairs and upkeep, and following a brief stop at Adak rejoined the others on 21 December 1944.

McCrea led the ships out of Massacre Bay for another sweep of the waters surrounding the northern Kurils (3–13 January 1945). Two days later and under the cover of snow squalls but with calm seas the task force pounded the Surabachi Wan area of Paramushiro, severely damaging the airfield and canning facilities. The ships swung around and retired at high speed to Attu and Dutch Harbor for ten days of what little recreation the men could find. On the 16th Rowe and Stoddard headed south for operational training in the Hawaiian Islands. They arrived at Pearl Harbor on the 22nd and departed on 7 February to return to Attu. Concord, Richmond, Trenton, and seven destroyers meanwhile charted a course to bombard Kuabu Zaki (8–14 February). As they neared the area and prepared to unleash their guns on the 11th, however, they struggled through heavy seas that would most likely prevent them from making a high speed retirement, and they consequently came about and returned to Attu. Rowe and Stoddard in the meantime on the 13th reached Massacre Bay, just in time to join the group as they headed for another foray.

The Americans determinedly steamed westward yet again (16–20 February) and just after sunset on the 18th arrived off Paramushiro. The Japanese deployed a substantial garrison on the island, which at times included Nakajima Ki-43 (Hayabusas) Oscars and Kawasaki Ki-61 (Hiens) Tonys. The ships therefore bombarded installations in the Kurabi Zaki area until midnight and then retired to Attu. Jarvis and Watts departed the Aleutians headed for Pearl Harbor (22 February–1 March) and began a fortnight of training and voyage repairs. Some of the remaining vessels in the intervening time (23 February–8 March) shifted to Adak for supplies and repairs.

McCrea and his redoubtable crews again hit Matsuwa on 15 March 1944. Five days later they headed out but the unruly sea once again drove them back into port. Following the ships’ return they carried out task force exercises in the vicinity of Adak (1–17 April). On the 18th Rowe, Smalley, Stoddard, and Watts bade farewell to the cold winds and waters of the Aleutians chain and turned for the warmers waters of the Hawaiian Islands. Anderson (DD-411) and Hughes (DD-410) of DesDiv 3 in the meanwhile relieved them.

Early in May 1945, the ships of the North Pacific Force, Task Group (TG) 92.2, now led by Rear Adm. John H. Brown Jr., set out for the Kurils and shelled Suribachi Wan on the 19th. They then broke away and swept through the Sea of Okhotsk searching for Japanese ships. Additional ships set out to reinforce them but Porter collided with Army cableship Silverado, screened by escort vessel PCE-893, in what they reported as “extremely poor” visibility off Kulak Bay, Attu, on 3 June. The destroyer required some limited repairs before she could rejoin the fighting.

Trenton and her consorts shelled Matsuwa once more on 10 June and during the evening hours of the 11th made an antishipping sweep before carrying out another bombardment on the 12th. Trenton then (23–25 June) conducted what turned out to be her last offensive operation of the war when she led an antishipping sweep of the central Kurils. The group split into two task units for the purpose. Bearss, John Hood, Jarvis, and Porter formed one of the task units and intercepted a small Japanese convoy and sank auxiliary submarine chasers Cha 73, Cha 206, and Cha 209, and guardboat No. 2 Kusunoki Maru, and damaged auxiliary submarine chaser Cha 198, south of Onekotan in the Kurils, 49°40'N, 155°30'E, on the 26th. Trenton, Anderson, and Hughes formed the other unit and patrolled to the east of the Kurils to intercept any of the Japanese ships if they attempted to escape in that direction, though because of the destroyers’ success did not engage any of the enemy vessels.

Some of the other ships continued to raid the Japanese but not long after that operation, Trenton steamed south for yard work. The veteran light cruiser reached San Francisco on 1 August 1945, and the end of the war found her at Mare Island Naval Shipyard awaiting an inactivation overhaul. Early in November she headed south to the familiar waters off Panama. Trenton passed through the canal on the 18th, a week later arrived at Philadelphia, and decommissioned there five days before Christmas on 20 December 1945.

Trenton was stricken from the Navy List on 21 January 1946, and on 29 December 1946, sold for $67,228 for scrap to the Patapsco Scrap Co. of Bethlehem, Pa.

Trenton earned one battle star for her World War II service.

Commanding Officers

Date Assumed Command

Capt. Edward C. Kalbfus

19 April 1924

Capt. Joseph K. Taussig

6 September 1926

Capt. Stafford H. R. Doyle

7 October 1927

Capt. Frank B. Freyer

8 July 1929

Capt. John H. Newton

26 June 1931

Capt. Nelson H. Goss

28 May 1933

Capt. John J. London

5 December 1934

Capt. Cary W. Magruder

26 June 1936

Capt. Frank A. Braisted

8 June 1937

Capt. James R. Barry

22 December 1938

Capt. Arthur D. Struble

2 January 1941

Capt. Joseph W. Gregory

25 May 1942

Capt. Stanley C. Norton

26 June 1943

Capt. William B. Coleman

24 June 1944

Capt. Joseph T. Talbert

20 August 1945


Mark L. Evans

8 May 2020

Published: Thu Mar 07 12:10:50 EST 2024