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USS Prometheus (Fleet Collier No. 1) in 1910
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Class: VESTAL (Fleet Collier No. 1)
Design Navy Fleet Collier No. 1
Displacement (tons): 12,585 normal
Dimensions (feet): 465.75' oa, 450.0' pp x 60.0' wl x 26.0' mn
Original Armament: None installed
Later armaments: --
Complement: 103 (civ.)
Speed (kts.): 16
Propulsion (HP): 7,500
Machinery: Vert. 3-exp., 2 screws
||12 Jul 06
||NYd New York
||25 Mar 07
||19 May 08
||4 Oct 09
||12 Jul 06
||NYd Mare Island
||18 Oct 07
||5 Dec 08
||15 Jan 10
||25 Oct 12
||7 Apr 13
FY 1905 (Act of 27 Apr 04). On 17 Oct 03 the General Board recommended colliers of 15 knots sustained sea speed. The Board did not provide characteristics and VESTAL and PROMETHEUS were built on Department designs without further reference to the General Board. On 3 Oct 03 the Board, while recognizing that a few fast colliers might be valuable in emergency operations, had recommended a sustained sea speed of 14 knots for the great majority of naval auxiliaries, and it held to this recommendation for the next decade. On 27 Apr 04 Congress authorized the construction of "two colliers, to be capable of accompanying the battle fleet; to carry 5,000 tons of cargo coal, loaded, and to have a trial speed of not less than 16 knots, to cost not exceeding one $1,250,000 each. Said colliers shall be built in navy-yards, one on the Pacific and the other on the Atlantic coast."
The Bureau of Construction and Repair authorized construction of VESTAL at the New York Navy Yard on 12 Jan 05 and the yard received on the same date preliminary copies of the specifications and contract plans. It prepared the principal structural plans and schedules of material and laid down the lines, but it was decided that the original appropriation was insufficient to complete the ship and work was suspended until additional appropriation was available. Additional funds became available on 1 Jul 06 and the order to proceed with both ships was given on 12 Jul 06. The plans for VESTAL were modified to reduce cost, and contracts for material were let as soon as possible. By 30 Jun 08 the BuC&R work on VESTAL was estimated to be 90 percent complete, and her coaling apparatus was complete except for the installation of winches. Mare Island completed fairing the lines of PROMETHEUS and placed the initial orders for hull materials in October 1906. This ship was estimated to be 66.8 percent complete on 30 Jun 08 and the BuC&R work on the ship was practically completed by 1 Jan 09. However insufficient funds were available for funds to complete their propelling machinery until Congress provided additional funds on 3 Mar 09 and the ships entered service near the end of that year.
Both ships were put in service with civilian crews commanded by licensed masters as part of the Naval Auxiliary Service. The coal capacity of the ships as built was from 5,600 to 6,410 tons of cargo and 1,576 tons of bunkers. The beam of PROMETHEUS was 60.1' wl. On 18 Sep 12 the Bureau of Ordnance inquired whether the Navy Department desired to have a battery installed on the converted VESTAL and if so what. The Bureau noted that when VESTAL was built 4-3"/50 guns with mounts were provided but never installed. The Bureau did not know if the gun foundations and magazines had been installed when the ship was built.
The VESTAL class colliers were fitted with Lidgerwood (Spencer-Miller) marine transfers, which used self-filling clamshell buckets to take coal out of the collier's large holds and move it to the receiving ship. This equipment was selected after the Lidgerwood winches won a competition with a winch built at the Norfolk Navy Yard. Each collier had eight hatches, and between each pair of hatches was a tall mast carrying four booms for the marine transfers and two for other services. When the transfer system was set up for use, two booms were outstretched over opposite sides of the ship so that a line between them passed directly over the center of a hatch. The bucket was supported vertically by a line from a heavy stay between the masts and was moved over the receiving ship and back by inhaul and outhaul lines that ran through pulleys at the ends of the extended booms. The whole operation could be conducted by two winch operators, one hoisting the bucket as well as opening and closing it and the other handling the inhaul and outhaul lines. In August 1910 VESTAL accompanied the battleship MICHIGAN and some destroyers off New England and coaled MICHIGAN three times. The amounts transferred were very small because of other tests being conducted on the battleship, but these quantities were delivered in record time and VESTAL had no trouble delivering coal to the destroyers faster than they could strike it below.
However professional opinion was already turning against the VESTAL type. On 18 May 10 a memo written at the Naval War College explained that the new VESTAL and PROMETHEUS were unsatisfactory as fleet colliers because, due to their extreme length and the location amidships of their superstructure and machinery uptakes, they could not bring all eight of their hatches into use at one time in coaling any battleship at present in service. In coaling the CONNECTICUT (BB-18), the maximum number of working hatches was five. In addition the coal carrying capacity of VESTAL was 51 percent of her displacement while that of VULCAN (Collier No. 5), which had its machinery aft, was 73 percent. Finally the 16-knot maximum (4-hour) speed of the VESTAL class substantially exceeded the speed required of colliers, most of which were slow. The memo recommended converting the two ships to supply ships, but they were instead used to fill a need for repair ships.
On 20 Dec 11 the General Board noted that it had unsuccessfully recommended including a repair ship in the 1912 and then the 1913 building programs because the Navy's only repair ship, PANTHER, had never been satisfactory even in peace and would be still less satisfactory in war and because the number of capital ships that needed repair ship support was rapidly increasing. On the other hand, VESTAL and PROMETHEUS had not proved to be convenient for their purpose as colliers, and if appropriations for the construction of a specially designated repair ship could not be obtained the General Board recommended converting the two colliers to repair ships in accordance with recommendations to this effect made by the Bureau of Steam Engineering on 12 Oct 11 and the Bureau of Construction and Repair on 24 Oct 11. The FY 1913 appropriation, passed by Congress on 22 Aug 12, included the conversion of VESTAL or PROMETHEUS into a repair ship, and the Department selected VESTAL because PROMETHEUS was the only modern collier on the Pacific Coast. The FY 1914 appropriation passed on 4 Mar 13 included the conversion of PROMETHEUS into a second repair ship. See the PROMETHEUS (AR-3) class
for the remaining history of these two ships along with their characteristics as repair ships.
||Ex ERIE 25 Oct 05. Decommissioned as collier 25 Oct 12, recommissioned as repair ship (q.v.) 3 Sep 13. To AR-4 17 Jul 20.
||Ex ONTARIO 25 Oct 05. Merchant crew. Decommissioned as collier 7 Apr 13, recommissioned as repair ship (q.v.) 23 Dec 14. To AR-3 17 Jul 20.
Compiled: 11 Aug 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012