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USS Neptune (Fuel Ship No. 8) circa 1916
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Class: NEPTUNE (Fleet Collier No. 8)
Design Navy Fleet Collier No. 8
Displacement (tons): 5,500 light, 19,480 full
Dimensions (feet): 542.0' oa, 529.8' wl, 520.0' pp x 65.0' mld x 27.7' mn
Original Armament: 4-4"/50 (ca. 1915)
Later armaments: --
Complement: 152 (Navy)
Speed (kts.): 14.28
Propulsion (HP): 7,175
Machinery: Westinghouse geared turbines, 2 screws
||23 Sep 09
||23 Mar 10
||21 Jan 11
||20 Sep 11
||28 Jun 22
||14 May 38
||18 Apr 39
FY 1910 (Act of 3 Mar 09). Although CYCLOPS, NEPTUNE, and JUPITER (Fleet Colliers Nos. 4, 8, and 3, built in that order) had the same hull design and could thus be considered sister ships, they had three different types of propulsion plants and two different types of coal handling gear and are listed separately here.
When bids were opened on 15 Dec 08 for the construction of CYCLOPS (Fleet Collier No. 4) the Navy found that, because of the great scarcity of work in shipyards at that time, the bids received were unusually low and the Department was able to place a contract at less than half the limit of cost authorized by Congress for the ship. The Navy brought this to the attention of Congress and asked for authority to place contracts for four colliers at a price not exceeding that already authorized for the construction of the two in the Act of 13 May 08. Congress instead in the act of 3 Mar 09 gave the Navy only one new ship, authorizing "one fleet collier, of 14 knots trial speed, when carrying not less than 12,500 tons of cargo and bunker coal, to cost not exceeding $900,000." The general plans and specifications of the ship, Fleet Collier No. 8, were completed and circular signed by the Secretary of the Navy on 25 Jun 09 for issue to bidders. Bids were opened on 31 Aug 09 and on 7 Sep 09 a contract was awarded to the Maryland Steel Co. at a price of $889,600 for a ship with hull and equipment on the Navy's plans and twin-screw triple expansion reciprocating machinery on the bidder's design. (The contract was signed on 23 Sep 09.) Although the specifications allowed a length between perpendiculars of up to 530 feet the ship was built to the same hull design as CYCLOPS and JUPITER.
The contractor faired the lines of the ship and started ordering material for her in December 1909, and the principal structural plans for the hull were approved in January 1910. On 26 Feb 10 the Assistant Secretary of the Navy wrote to the shipbuilder probably directing a change in the ship's propulsion machinery from the reciprocating engines in the contract to Westinghouse turbines with reduction gears, the use of reduction gears being experimental. The turbines and reduction gears were installed in April and May 1911 when the ship was otherwise practically complete. The turbines were rated at 4,000 horsepower each. Dock trials began on 9 June, sea trials began on 30 June, and the final 48-hour trial was run on 27-29 July.
The ship failed to make her contract speed of 14 knots in the July 1911 trials, delivering only 12.93 knots with 5,409 horsepower over a 48-hour period and costing the contractor a $20,000 penalty. This shortfall was blamed on the use of very inefficient screws and the inefficiency of the turbines. The reduction gears, on the other hand, worked very satisfactorily. The Navy accepted the ship provisionally so as to lose no time in using the ship and gaining experience with the reduction gears, but the contractor undertook to procure new screws and to replace the present turbines with others "expected to fulfill all requirements." As a preliminary measure new propellers were fitted, and trials in early 1912 produced a comparable speed of 14 knots with 5,980 horsepower. Westinghouse, who was competing with the General Electric Company's turbo-electric machinery in JUPITER, then provided new turbines with new matching reduction gears. The re-engined ship ran full power 12-hour trials at sea on 17-18 November 1915 and this time the machinery performed admirably, generating 7,175 horsepower and a speed of 14.28 knots.
Like the VESTAL and VULCAN classes (but not CYCLOPS), NEPTUNE was fitted with Lidgerwood marine transfers to handle coal. Maryland Steel, which had equipped the VULCAN class with this device, devoted several months to finding the simplest form of coal handling gear for the new collier. Instead of conventional masts the firm used a row of structural steel masts or towers connected at the top by a stiff girder of inverted U-section. This girder formed a trackway running lengthwise along which a carriage with a bucket could transship coal from one hold to another in order to maintain trim for long voyages or to replenish the ship's own bunkers, and it also provided support over each hatch for the overhead block of the marine transfer for that hatch. Each tower carried four booms, two per hatch, which were outstretched over each side of the collier when the marine transfers were operated. The clamshell bucket for a hatch was suspended over the hold by the transfer's overhead block and was moved laterally by inhaul and outhaul lines running through pulleys at the ends of the extended booms. The two winches that operated these lines were improved and simplified to the point that one man rather than the two on VESTAL could operate the entire transfer system for one hatch. The ship had six coal holds with twelve hatches, and of the eight coaling towers all but the forward one had two pairs of booms. The forward coal hold was subdivided into four for the carrying of fuel oil in place of coal when required. As built the ship's cargo capacity was 11,700 tons of coal and 1,250 tons of oil or 10,200 tons of coal and 2,925 tons of oil; she also carried up to 2,500 tons of bunker coal. The ship was self-trimmed by using topside water ballast tanks located outboard of the coal cargo holds in addition to the usual double-bottom tanks.
NEPTUNE was initially placed in service with a civilian crew of 13 officers and 91 men commanded by a licensed master as part of the Naval Auxiliary Service, but after being placed out of service on 13 Oct 13 she was recommissioned on 7 Dec 14 with a Navy crew, probably because of the experimental nature of her machinery. (Two other auxiliaries with experimental machinery, JUPITER and MAUMEE, also had Navy crews before 1917.) On 9 Dec 12 the Navy Department had directed that on all auxiliary vessels, except destroyer tenders and submarine tenders, the authorized battery is not to be installed but the foundations and holding down bolts are to be fitted and the guns provided and held in reserve, but on 13 Mar 15 SecNav rescinded these instructions and instead directed that in future the batteries of auxiliaries manned by civilian crews will be held in reserve as heretofore, but the batteries of auxiliaries manned by naval crews will be mounted and in place. This directive in effect required mounting guns on FULTON, VESTAL, PROMETHEUS, JUPITER, NEPTUNE, BRIDGE, and HENDERSON.
NEPTUNE was decommissioned at Boston in June 1922 and was towed to the Philadelphia reserve fleet between 14 and 17 December 1922 by the tugs KALMIA and WANDANK. A proposal by the Commander in Chief, Battle Fleet, on 16 Apr 27 to convert NEPTUNE to an aircraft carrier like LANGLEY for training, experimental, and second line carrier purposes met with no support from other commanders and was quashed by the General Board in October 1927. In 1930 a proposal was made to convert one of the Navy's colliers to a tanker as had recently been done with the former Panama Canal collier ULYSSES. The General Board reported on 16 Jan 31 that the Navy then had four colliers out of commission, ORION, NEPTUNE, NEREUS, and PROTEUS, and that although the Navy had enough fast tankers for peacetime use it would need more in wartime than were currently available in the merchant marine. It suggested the preparation of conversion plans for possible use during war mobilization but recommended against any conversions at the present time. On 3 Jul 33 the Bureau of Aeronautics asked BuC&R to do a technical study of the conversion of a ship into a seaplane tender to tend 36 VP (patrol). BuC&R concluded that NEPTUNE offered the best possibilities, in part because of her large clear holds and her engines aft, and on 9 Aug 33 tasked the Norfolk Navy Yard to do the study. On 5 Jan 34 CNO informed BuC&R that it did not appear that the NEPTUNE project would receive favorable consideration for funding under the NIRA legislation and that it was more important not to jeopardize the completion date of the modernization of the battleship IDAHO, then in progress at Norfolk. The project was accordingly shelved.
On 27 Apr 37 CNO ordered an Insurv inspection of the ship, and on 6 May 37 the inspectors found the ship to be unfit for further service in her present condition and that the cost of repairs necessary to place her in a condition for service was disproportionate to her value to the Navy. It recommended that she be stricken from the Navy List and disposed of by sale as a hulk. On 21 Feb 38 CNO, citing this report and a directive from SecNav of 17 Feb 38, instructed Philadelphia and the Bureaus to strip the ship and advise him when she was ready to be stricken from the Navy Register and offered for sale. She was stricken three months later and sold in 1939.
||Sold to Northern Metals Co. for scrapping.
Compiled: 11 Aug 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012