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USS Nereus in San Francisco Bay circa 1916
Click on this photograph for links to larger images of this class.
Class: PROTEUS (Fleet Collier No. 9)
Design Navy Fleet Collier No. 9
Displacement (tons): 5,100 light, 19,080 full
Dimensions (feet): 522.0' oa, 502.1' wl, 500.0' pp x 62.0' mld x 27.7' mn
Original Armament: 4-4"/50 (1916/17)
Later armaments: --
Complement: 104 (civ.)
Speed (kts.): 14.67
Propulsion (HP): 7,202
Machinery: Vert. 3-exp., 2 screws
||29 Aug 11
||Newport News SB & DD
||31 Oct 11
||14 Sep 12
||9 Jul 13
||29 Aug 11
||Newport News SB & DD
||4 Dec 11
||26 Apr 13
||10 Sep 13
||25 Mar 24
||5 Dec 40
||8 Mar 41
||28 Jun 22
||5 Dec 40
||10 Mar 41
FY 1911. On 24 Jun 10 Congress authorized the construction of two fleet colliers of 14 knots trial speed, when carrying not less than 12,500 tons of cargo and bunker coal, to cost not exceeding $1,000,000 each. General plans and specifications for the ships were completed and the circular was signed by the Secretary of the Navy on 16 Aug 10 for subsequent issue to bidders. The only formal bid received was one from the Union Iron Works that was in excess of the appropriation and a new circular was signed by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy on 18 Apr 11 and bids were opened on 20 Jun 11 at the same time as those for Colliers Nos. 11 and 12. This time the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. also bid, and on 18 Jul 11 it was awarded a contract for the construction of two ships with hull and machinery to the bidder's design for delivery in 22 months at a price of $990,000 each. The contract was signed on 29 Aug 11, seven days after the contract for Colliers Nos. 11 and 12. Bidding for the FY 1911 ships was also complicated by the need to comply with a law imposing an eight hour workday; this law did not apply to the FY 1912 ships.
Like their large predecessors these ships had six holds, of which the after five had two large athwartships hatches each and the foremost was subdivided into four holds with small hatches that were designed to carry either coal or oil. As built the ships' cargo capacity was 11,800t coal and 1,125t oil or 10,100t coal and 3,050t oil. Like CYCLOPS they had coal handling gear produced by the Mead-Morrison Mfg. Co. This included 24 coaling winches, four between each pair of holds and two at each end of the cargo area. Seven A-frame towers, each about 50 feet high above the upper deck, were placed one over each group of winches. These towers supported the booms, stays, and running gear used in loading and discharging cargo coal, and the after tower was also used for loading bunker coal. There were four steel-girder booms of box section pivoted to each tower, two to port and two to starboard, except the forward tower which had but two, one on each side. These booms were suitably guyed and supported the cableways on which the coal conveyors traveled. The coal was handled by mechanically operated clamshell buckets of the Mead-Morrison type, each of one ton capacity. The contractors guaranteed a discharging capacity of 75 tons per hour per hatch when discharging from all hatches simultaneously; actual results exceeded this figure and were similar to those achieved by the colliers with Lidgerwood equipment. The ships were self-trimmed by using topside water ballast tanks located outboard of the coal cargo holds in addition to the usual double-bottom tanks. They were easily distinguished from the Navy's other large colliers by their single smokestack and different coal handling gear.
The ships were initially placed in service with civilian crews commanded by licensed masters as part of the Naval Auxiliary Service. On 7 May 17 the Navy directed that all Naval Auxiliaries that had previously been manned by civilian officers and crews be placed on a naval status and manned by naval crews, who in practice were often civilian seamen enrolled in the Naval Reserve. As of 1 Mar 14 the large colliers had an allowance of 13 officers and 91 men while the small colliers (Nos. 5-7) had an allowance of 12 officers and 70 men.
In the spring of 1914 a test was conducted to see how quickly a battleship could load coal from modern colliers. In the test NEREUS with her twelve special cableways each operated by two winch men tied up on one side of the new battleship WYOMING and JASON with her twelve marine transfers each operated by one winch man tied up on the other. Both colliers rigged out eight booms over the deck of the battleship. JASON used her eight booms continuously while NEREUS used six to eight intermittently on account of breakages. The test ran for nine and a half hours, during which the battleship received and stowed 2,060 tons of coal or an average of 217 tons per hour. The admiral conducting the test estimated that the battleship could have taken aboard the coal in five hours if the stowing of surplus coal on deck had been left to later.
NEREUS was decommissioned and laid up in 1922 and PROTEUS followed in 1924. When laid up colliers were considered for conversion to oil tankers in December 1930 PROTEUS was considered the best candidate because her coaling towers had already been removed and she was probably in the best structural condition. At that time both ships were in the Shipping Board's James River reserve fleet, where they continued to receive periodic inspections and some maintenance by the Maritime Commission through the 1930s. In 1936 an Insurv board recommended that both vessels be stricken from the Navy List because the only possible service that they could be employed in in wartime would be as colliers, which the Navy no longer needed, and that the expenditure of money for conversion to any other type of service was not warranted. Due to the objection of CNO's Plans Division that they could be converted into [bulk] cargo carriers the matter was dropped and they remained on the list. NEREUS was drydocked in November 1939 and it was found that extensive re-driving of rivets and other underwater hull maintenance would be necessary because of corrosion if the vessel were to be recommissioned. On 23 Feb 40 SecNav placed NEREUS and PROTEUS on the sale list, agreeing with CNO that the expenditure of money for their upkeep of was not warranted and that recommissioning and converting them to cargo carriers in wartime would be out of all proportion to their worth. They were stricken from the Navy List at the end of 1940 and in March 1941 were delivered to a Canadian buyer, Saguenay Terminals, Ltd., of Ottawa for use in the bauxite trade. They must have been put into service rapidly and with minimal repairs. On 23 Nov 41 PROTEUS departed St. Thomas, V.I., for Portland Maine with a cargo of bauxite and disappeared, and on 10 Dec 41 NEREUS did the same thing. The most widely held theory is that these bulk cargo ships broke up in heavy seas, the inherent weakness of the type probably being aggravated by corrosion from age and from years of carrying coal. Other theories including U-boats, sabotage, and the Bermuda Triangle are now generally discounted.
||Sold to Saguenay Terminals Ltd., Ottawa, Canada (to buyer 8 Mar 41). Departed St. Thomas, V.I., 23 Nov 41 for Portland Maine with a cargo of bauxite, not seen again.
||Sold to Saguenay Terminals Ltd., Ottawa, Canada (to buyer 10 Mar 41). Departed St. Thomas, V.I., 10 Dec 41 for Portland Maine with a cargo of bauxite, not seen again.
Compiled: 11 Aug 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012