USS Nero (1898-1922) -- 1912 Alaskan Radio Expedition

To maintain order following the discovery of gold in Alaska, the Army in 1897 established military posts in various parts of Alaska and built an extensive system of telegraph wires and submarine cables to allow them to communicate with each other and with Seattle, Washington. In 1904 the Navy won jurisdiction over the new technology of radio, and it soon came under intense pressure from the Army and other Government departments to provide a network of stations along the Alaskan coast. The Navy responded with stations at Japonski Island near Sitka in 1907 and at Cordova in 1908, but a larger effort was needed. Between 1911 and 1914 the Navy sent a series of three Alaskan Radio Expeditions to build additional stations. The 1911 Alaskan Radio Expedition, supported by USS Buffalo, built stations on Woody Island near Kodiak, on St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands, and at Dutch Harbor near Unalaska. USS Nero followed with the 1912 Alaskan Radio Expedition, which built a new station on the island of Unalga, an auxiliary station on St. George in the Pribilofs, and performed additional work at the other five stations. Buffalo returned with the 1914 Alaskan Radio Expedition, which upgraded and repaired all seven stations. These expeditions involved a mix of naval and civilian personnel--the 1912 expedition consisted of two officers, 32 civilians (including radio experts and manual laborers) and 38 enlisted men.

On 20 May 1912 Nero departed the Mare Island Navy Yard, California to begin that year's expedition. After six months en route and in Alaskan waters, she returned there on 23 November. The operation's official report describes Nero as "not well adapted for the required purposes on account of her slow speed, small crew, low-powered radio set, and lack of sufficient accommodations, provision storage, cold storage plant, and machine shop." (No such complaints were lodged against Buffalo.) The ship was extensively modified to compensate for these shortcomings, although its crew was never large enough to provide much assistance to the expedition besides handing some cargo, boats, and radio traffic. Nero was beset by violent storms throughout her voyage, in strong contrast with Buffalo's 1914 expedition, which encountered generally mild weather. Fortunately Nero's seagoing qualities were revealed to be "excellent." Both expeditions had particular difficulties at Unalga, where storms frequently forced the ships to sea or to nearby Dutch Harbor. The Unalga station ultimately had to be abandoned in 1915, after only three years of use, because the surrounding mountains blocked radio transmissions, while weather conditions made it nearly impossible to maintain or resupply the facility. In June 1912 the Kodiak station was largely destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Katmai, and Nero helped rebuild it during a three week stay there in October and early November.

The photographs on this page are from the official report of the expedition, an oversized looseleaf volume containing copies of documents, blueprints of facilities and equipment, and photographs. A copy of this report is in the Naval Historical Foundation photograph collection held by the Naval Historical Center (Lot NHF-165-A).

This page features views related to USS Nero's participation in the 1912 Alaskan Radio Expedition.

For other images concerning this ship, see:

  • USS Nero (1898-1922, later AC-17)
  • USS Nero -- 1912 Alaskan Radio Radio Stations and Settlements
  • USS Nero -- 1912 Alaskan Radio Equipment

  • Click on the small photograph to prompt a larger view of the same image.

    Photo #: NH 105442

    USS Nero
    (1898-1922, later AC-17)

    Loading supplies while in dry dock at the Mare Island, California, Navy Yard in May 1912.
    The ship was preparing to depart on the 1912 U. S. Navy Alaskan Radio Expedition.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     
    Photo #: NH 105441

    USS Nero
    (1898-1922, later AC-17)

    Loading livestock and other supplies at the Mare Island, California, Navy Yard in May 1912.
    The ship was preparing to depart on the 1912 U. S. Navy Alaskan Radio Expedition.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     
    Photo #: NH 105440

    USS Nero
    (1898-1922, later AC-17)

    Departing Mare Island, California, on 20 May 1912 on the first leg of the 1912 Alaskan Radio Expedition.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     
    Photo #: NH 105443

    USS Davis
    (Torpedo Boat No. 12) and
    USS Fox (Torpedo Boat No. 13)

    Off Tatoosh Island, Washington, on 24 May 1912.
    They were parting company with USS Nero which had towed them from San Francisco, California, to the vicinity of the Puget Sound, Washington, Navy Yard, where they were to join the Pacific Reserve Fleet. Nero was on the first leg of the 1912 Alaskan Radio Expedition.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     
    Photo #: NH 105433

    USS Nero
    (1898-1922, later AC-17)

    At Dutch Harbor, Alaska, during the 1912 Alaskan Radio Expedition.
    Nero made frequent stops here between early June and early September 1912, often to take shelter from storms while erecting a radio station at nearby Unalga.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     


    Photo # NH 105433-A is a cropped version of this view, emphasizing the ship and pier head.

    Photo #: NH 105436

    USS Nero
    (1898-1922, later AC-17)

    Approaching Unalga Island, Alaska, from the north during the 1912 Alaskan Radio Expedition.
    Akutan Pass is on the left and Unalga Pass is on the right in this panoramic photograph. Nero first called at Unalga in early June and departed for the last time in early September 1912. Note the details of the ship's forecastle.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     
    Photo #: NH 105434

    USS Nero
    (1898-1922, later AC-17)

    Off Unalga Island, Alaska, during the 1912 Alaskan Radio Expedition.
    In the foreground is the just-completed second wharf built by the ship to get supplies ashore for the radio station under construction there, the first wharf having been destroyed by a storm on 19-21 June 1912.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     
    Photo #: NH 105435

    USS Nero
    (1898-1922, later AC-17)

    Offloading a motor boat built for use by the new radio station on Unalga Island, Alaska, circa June 1912 during the Alaskan Radio Expedition.
    The boat was swamped in a storm on 12 September 1912 and gales thwarted efforts by the cutters Tahoma and Bear to raise it. Note the details of the cargo handling gear on this Navy collier, built in 1895 as a British freighter.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     
    Photo #: NH 105439

    USS Nero
    (1898-1922, later AC-17)

    At sea during a storm on 5 September 1912 during the 1912 Alaskan Radio Expedition.
    The view was taken from the ship's bridge looking forward, with the top of one of the ship's short kingposts and a canvas covered boat in the foreground. The ship was underway riding out the storm off Unalga Island, Alaska, just before completing her work there. Nero encountered numerous violent storms during this expedition.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     
    Photo #: NH 105438

    USS Nero
    (1898-1922, later AC-17)

    Enroute from Dutch Harbor to Cordova, Alaska, between 8 and 14 September 1912 during the 1912 Alaskan Radio Expedition.
    The ship constructed a radio station at Cordova during September and October 1912. Note the details atop the bridge (amidships) island of this former British freighter.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     
    Photo #: NH 105437

    USS Nero
    (1898-1922, later AC-17)

    Returning to Mare Island, California, on 23 November 1912 at the conclusion of the 1912 U. S. Navy Alaskan Radio Expedition.
    Note the long homeward bound pennant flying from the top of the main mast.

    Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF-165-A).

    U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

     


    For other images concerning this ship, see:

  • USS Nero (1898-1922, later AC-17)
  • USS Nero -- 1912 Alaskan Radio Radio Stations and Settlements
  • USS Nero -- 1912 Alaskan Radio Equipment

    Page made 18 May 2008