USN Coalburners at the beginning of WWII

Last week’s article showing the dawn of Naval aviation 8 years before Dad was born made me realize – I can show the ships, and their ages, that he served on in the second World War.  The first two were coal burners, both launched in the 1890s, both having served in the Spanish American War, in World War I and in World War II.

As the US entered World War II, he was a First Class Petty Officer on the Hannibal.  I’ve selected this photo, because Hannibal had been a tender for submarine chaser during the first World War.  Dad’s time on the Hannibal in the late 1930’s prepared him for his career, largely because, as a survey ship in the Caribbean, Hannibal still had a YP (Yard Patrol) boat attached. 

The YP boat was, essentially, a scaled down ship, where a petty officer could develop all the requisite skills for a deck officer – the next photo is a YP boat, but not the one where Dad learned shiphandling.

Hannibal was launched in March, 1898, as the Joseph Holland,  and purchased by the US Navy in April, 1898, then renamed Hannibal.

These sub chasers were of the class that Hannibal tended – after World War I, they went to the Coast Guard for duty enforcing prohibition and intercepting rum runners.  By the time Dad was surveying in the Caribbean, the remaining boat was reclassified YP – and, unlike the Hannibal, was powered by an internal combustion engine.

The Hannibal was pulled back from survey duties  and set up to degauss (demagnetize) both Navy and Civilian ships to make them less susceptible to mines (which had magnetic triggers).  While the ship kept that duty, Dad was sent to Dover, as the ship’s Chief Petty Officer and Boatswain.

Renamed Dover when Dad reported aboard, this ocean going gunboat had an impressive service record.  She had steamed to Eastern Peru, traveling up the Amazon.  When World War I was declared, she was a river gunboat in China – when ships of belligerent nations were ordered to be interned, Wilmington steamed to the Philippines, to take up her place with the fleet.  She was the smallest ship to sail round the world with Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet.  She was commissioned in 1897.

With the coming of World War II, she steamed out of the Great Lakes and down to Louisiana, to be used as a gunnery training ship for junior reserve officers who were assigned gunnery duties on merchant ships crossing the Atlantic.  Bill Shelley, Lincoln County’s long-time SCS District Conservationist, came to Dover for his training in gunnery.  The conversations I heard as a kid were about “the little ship.”  The next photo shows how she looked when Dad and Bill served aboard “the little ship.”

After his one year spent as a chief petty officer, Dad was promoted to Warrant Officer and transferred to the seaplane tender Kenneth Whiting, and moved to the Pacific Fleet.

It was quite a change, moving from ships launched in 1897 and 1898 to brand new ship, burning oil instead of coal, launched in December 1943.  Dad said that only three of the ship’s officers had been to sea before when he reported for duty – which is even more impressive when I read that the ship’s complement was 113 officers and 964 enlisted.  

In June, 1946, the Whiting participated in Operation Crossroads – where a pair of atomic bombs were tested at Bikini.  Whiting, as a seaplane tender without seaplanes had berths available for the nuclear scientists observing the tests.  Dad described the protective gear issued to him – a pair of sunglasses.

The Korean Conflict provided two more ships for his career – first the Japanese Koan Maru, launched in 1937 as the world’s first air conditioned ship.  As the only US Navy officer aboard this leased transport, Dad had the finest quarters of his career . . . his own suite.  The Maru had operated as a transport through World War II for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

As the Korean conflict moved along, Dad went to his last ship – the USS General Breckenridge – transporting soldiers to and from Japan and Korea.  A smaller crew than Whiting, but designed to transport around 4,000 soldiers.  Launched late in World War II, the war ended with Breckenridge in the middle of the Atlantic on her first trip. 

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