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Wanderer III (S. P. 132)

Image related to Wanderer III
Caption: USS Wanderer (S. P. 132).

(Yacht: 362 tons (gross); length 197'; beam 24'2"; draft 13'0" (aft); speed 12 knots; complement 56; armament 2 3-inch guns, 2 machine guns)


Kethailes, —a gentleman's private steam yacht built in 1897 at Leith, Scotland, by Ramage & Ferguson for William Johnston, a wealthy shipowner—, was sold to Mr. H. A. C. Taylor of New York City in 1903 and renamed Wanderer. The Navy acquired Wanderer from Mr. Taylor on 10 June 1917; classified the yacht as S. P. 132 and commissioned her at New York on Bastille Day 1917, Lt Pierre L. Wilson in command.

A fortnight later, the converted yacht departed New York for a brief shakedown before she joined the rest of her division at St. John's, Newfoundland, where she arrived on 9 August. Wanderer and six other yachts cleared St. John's on 12 August, bound for Ponta Delgada in the Azores, where they made a four-day stop between 19 and 24 August. Late in the evening of the 29th, the little band of yachts anchored off the breakwater at their destination, Brest, France. The following morning, she and her division mates entered the port itself and tied up to mooring buoys.

Wanderer was assigned to antisubmarine patrol and coastal convoy escort duties along the north Bay of Biscay coast. Her duty there was enlivened by the weather which was known for its severity. The little yacht, designed as a pleasure craft, not as sturdy as a warship, had less to fear from German U-boats than from mines, weather, and the rocky, foggy shore. She operated initially on the Brest-to-Quiberon Bay leg of the coastal convoy route. To add to the danger, the Americans initially adopted the French-British system of running their coastal and channel convoys at night.

The darkness, however, did not hide Wanderer's convoy on the night of 28 and 29 November when a submarine successfully sank one of the ships in the convoy and made good her escape. The darkness that was supposed to conceal the convoy actually covered the U-boat's retirement and foiled attempts to hunt the submerged enemy.

Nevertheless, the French and British stuck stubbornly to their guns on the question of night versus daylight convoys. It was not until the evening of 7 January 1918, when another Wanderer-escorted convoy lost four ships to a lurking U-boat, that the Allies grudgingly acquiesced to American demands for daylight convoys supported by patrolling aircraft.

The theory behind sending convoys through dangerous waters during daylight was the belief that it is better to find and attack the enemy than try to conceal shipping from him. The very next week, Wanderer's first daylight convoy, also one of the first so conducted, helped to prove the validity of the concept. On 12 January, while escorting that convoy from Brest to Quiberon Bay in daylight, the warship rescued 10 survivors from the French ship SS Chateau Faite which had stubbornly stuck to the defensive tactics of the night transit. "Penmarch Pete," as the U-boat usually stationed off Point Penmarch was nicknamed, exacted his toll. By contrast, Wanderer's own convoy accompanied by converted yachts and aircraft made the passage unmolested.

On 8 February 1918, Wanderer's portion of the coastal convoy route was extended. From then on, instead of simply making the single-day passage from Brest to Quiberon Bay, she laid over for the night at Quiberon Bay and continued south with the convoy to the mouth of the Gironde River and thence into Bordeaux. On the night of 22 and 23 April, during the layover at Quiberon Bay on the return trip from Bordeaux to Brest, she witnessed the explosion of the ammunition-laden SS Florence H. Though in reasonably close proximity to the ill-fated ship, Wanderer was prevented from approaching the floating conflagration by the large quantity of high explosives she carried to use against U-boats. Instead, she was forced to leave the rescue operations to the destroyers and smaller craft in the bay.

The little warship continued her escort and patrol service on the French coast through the end of the war. It appears that she made no further noteworthy encounters, because the German submarine war gradually waned with the approach of fall, the collapse of the German army, and the armistice of 1918. Wanderer departed Brest on 5 December 1918, sailed via the Azores and Bermuda, and reached New London, Conn., on 30 December. The following April, she moved to New York City and was placed out of commission. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 24 April 1919, and she was sold on 22 July 1920 to Mr. J. S. Webster, of Baltimore, Md.

Published: Wed Feb 17 13:30:31 EST 2016