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USS Panther as an auxiliary cruiser in 1898
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Class: PANTHER (AD-6)
Design Passenger & Cargo, 1889
Displacement (tons): 2,500 light, 3,380 normal
Dimensions (feet): 324.3' oa, 304.7' pp x 40.7' e x 15.75' mn
Original Armament: 6-5"/40 2-4"/40 6-3pdr (1898)
Later armaments: 2-6pdr (1908) as repair ship;
4-3"/50 2-6pdr (1916) as AD; 4-3"/50 (1918 and 1920); 4-3"/50 1-3"/50AA (1919)
Complement 320 (1920)
Speed (kts.): 13.5
Propulsion (HP): 3,200
Machinery: Vertical triple expansion, 1 screw
||19 Apr 98
||William Cramp & Sons
||13 Oct 89
||22 Apr 98
||16 May 22
||5 Aug 22
||24 Mar 23
In 1879 the Atlantic & Caribbean Steam Navigation Co. (Red D Line Steamship Co.) began the transition from sail to steam by chartering foreign steamers, and it then began building steamers in the United States specially for its trade from New York to Venezuelan ports and Curacao. Its preferred shipyard, William Cramp & Son of Philadelphia, delivered the steamer CARACAS in 1881, VALENCIA in 1882, PHILADELPHIA in 1885, and a second CARACAS in 1889. Charles Cramp told Congress in 1890 that the line had sold the first CARACAS by mistake and had to build another, which it built larger because it had found that it could carry freight more cheaply by increasing the size of the vessel. The new CARACAS was a 290-foot long vessel with accommodations for 100 first cabin and 27 second cabin passengers and a saloon finished in quartered oak with terra-cotta upholstery. She had four boilers operating at 160 pounds of pressure, triple-expansion engines, Edison incandescent lighting throughout, plus steam steering gear, winches, windlass, and capstans. Cramp's followed her later in 1889 with the VENEZUELA, similar in every respect to CARACAS except that she was 20 feet longer. Both ships had smoking rooms, social halls, bathrooms, and promenade decks running from bow to stern. In around January 1892 a Navy board conducted trials of VENEZUELA to determine her suitability for use as an auxiliary cruiser in wartime; during these trials she maintained a mean speed of 14.8 knots during a four-hour run, a bit above her designed speed of 14 knots.
On 12 Mar 98 the Secretary of the Navy appointed a Naval Board on Auxiliary Cruisers to select civilian vessels for Navy use in the impending war with Spain. The Board initially focused mainly on potential auxiliary cruisers and on tugs and yachts. On 4 Apr 98 the Navy Department directed the Board to select at once ten vessels for auxiliary cruisers, and late in the same day the Board reported to Washington that it had made arrangements for the purchase of ten steamers including the VENEZUELA and CARACAS of the Atlantic & Caribbean Steam Navigation Co. (Red D Line). VENEZUELA was purchased on 19 Apr 98 but CARACASCARACAS ceased to be available when she sailed for the Caribbean on 5 Apr 98. VENEZUELA was sent to the New York Navy Yard for immediate conversion into an auxiliary cruiser. Reportedly she bore the Navy name AUSTIN for a few days before being named PANTHER but this has not been confirmed in Navy sources.
Before her acquisition PANTHER had been designated as a transport for a battalion of 647 Marines, and she completed loading them in time for her commissioning on 22 Apr 98. She transported them to Key West where they went into camp. The ship waited until the Spanish squadron then enroute to Cuba had been located, and then landed her Marines at Guantanamo Bay on 10 Jun 98. After the destruction of the Spanish Fleet off Santiago de Cuba on 3 Jul 98 PANTHER went to the New York Navy Yard for a short refit, then patrolled along the East Coast until going into ordinary at Philadelphia on 20 Oct 99. PANTHER recommissioned as a training ship on 19 Jun 02, but in September she embarked a Marine battalion and joined the Caribbean Squadron in response to unrest in Honduras. She decommissioned again at Philadelphia on 21 Oct 03.
PANTHER recommissioned 18 November 1907 to serve as a repair ship for the North Atlantic Fleet. In 1898 the Navy leadership had been impressed with the support the hastily converted repair ship VULCAN had provided to the blockading squadron off Santiago and concluded that her work showed "the necessity of providing a repair vessel for every large squadron of war ships." Since 1900 the General Board had been recommending a repair ship as an integral part of the fleet, and on 30 Jul 03 it supported a recommendation from the Bureau of Steam Engineering that a collier or other available ship be so fitted in time to accompany the fleet to the Caribbean for winter maneuvers. This action was not taken, but on 17 Jun 07 the Board returned to the subject and recommended the immediate fitting out of a vessel to be used as a repair ship. It noted that in the event of hostilities with certain nations it would become necessary for the U.S. to send a fleet many thousand miles to reach the theater of war and it would be essential that adequate facilities for repair be at all times available. Since the need was urgent the Board recommended the immediate conversion of a fast transport or auxiliary already in the naval service and her retention on the Pacific Coast. The Board suggested using SOLACE (see AH-2), then in reserve at Mare Island, but PANTHER was apparently selected instead. The Board also noted that a repair vessel would be of great value to a fleet in time of peace, making it more self-sustaining and reducing the costly time ships spent in Navy Yards, and PANTHER ended up being attached to the fleet in the Atlantic instead of being sent to the Pacific. The General Board really wanted a specially designed and built repair ship, however, and after a few years' experience with the converted vessel it wrote in 1911 that PANTHER had never been satisfactory, even in peace, and would be still less so in war.
Following U.S. entry into World War I, PANTHER was detached from the Patrol Force, Atlantic Fleet, on 17 May 17 and assigned to the Destroyer Force. On 1 Jul 17 she sailed for Brest, France, to serve as tender for U.S. destroyers in European waters. Following the arrival of BRIDGEPORT at Brest in August 1918 PANTHER moved down the French coast to provide repair services at Bassins and then supported U.S. units in the United Kingdom. She returned to New York on 19 Nov 19, and on 6 Feb 20 she sailed for the Azores to serve as station ship there. PANTHER was designated AD-6 when the Navy's standard hull classification scheme was implemented on 17 Jul 20. The Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet requested her services on 8 Oct 20, and on 22 Oct 20 CNO detached her from the Atlantic Fleet and from temporary duty as a repair ship in European waters and assigned her as flagship and tender for the Destroyer Squadrons, Asiatic Fleet. Stationed at Cavite, PANTHER supported the six destroyers then in the Asiatic Fleet and the six that joined them in February 1921.
On 2 Nov 21 CNO instructed the Commandant, 3rd Naval District, to place the newly-acquired ALTAIR (AD-11) in commission at the New York Navy Yard and direct her to proceed to the Pacific with minimum crew and equipment to relieve PANTHER at San Diego, PANTHER having been ordered there from the Asiatic Station. On 21 Nov 21 the Navy Department ordered that PANTHER be placed out of commission and sold when relieved. By 8 Dec 21 PANTHER had been ordered to New York to be relieved there. On the way she stopped at the Philadelphia Navy Yard to pick up machine tools from closed defense factories for ALTAIR and her sister RIGEL. On 5 Aug 22 the Acting SecNav directed the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts to advertise the now-decommissioned ship for sale, and in view of this action he also directed the Bureau of Construction and Repair to take immediate steps to strike the vessel from the Navy Register. The ship was sold to the Tioga Steel & Iron Co. of Philadelphia for scrapping.
||Ex merc. VENEZUELA (completed Dec 89). To buyer 7 Apr 23, scrapped at Philadelphia.
Compiled: 23 Oct 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012