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USS Buffalo at Kodiak, Alaska, on 4 July 1914
Click on this photograph for a multi-page photo essay on this ship.
Class: BUFFALO (AD-8)
Design Cargo, 1893
Displacement (tons): 5,000 light, 6,525 normal
Dimensions (feet): 406.1 oa, 391.1 pp x 48.25' reg (e?) x 20.75 mn
Original Armament: 2-5"/40 4-4"/40 6-6pdr (1898)
Later armaments: 6-4"/40 4-3pdr (ca. 1913); 6-4"/40 4-3pdr 2-1pdr (1917)
Complement: 431 (1922)
Speed (kts.): 14.5
Propulsion (HP): 3,600
Machinery: Vert. 3-exp., 1 screw
||11 Jul 98
||Newport News SB & DD
||25 Aug 92
||31 May 93
||22 Sep 98
||15 Nov 22
||27 May 27
||28 Sep 27
In around 1885 the Southern Pacific Railroad purchased the Morgan Line, which had been founded by Charles Morgan in the 1840s, and to compete with the transcontinental railroad further north established the Sunset Route, along which freight was carried from New York to New Orleans on Morgan steamers and then to the West Coast on the railroad's newly completed line between New Orleans and California. Between 1884 and 1889 the Morgan Line took delivery of five 14-knot ships of 3,500 tons from William Cramp & Sons, and in 1890 it jumped to 15 knots and 4,500 tons with its last Cramp-built ship, EL SOL (later USS PRAIRIE). Morgan then successively ordered four near sisters from the new Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., EL SUD (later USS YOSEMITE), EL NORTE (YANKEE), EL RIO (DIXIE), and EL CID (BUFFALO ex Brazilian NICTHEROY). These 405-foot long (overall) ships, designed to carry freight only, had three decks (lower, main, and awning) with low deckhouses that contained the officers' quarters. For rapid cargo handling they had four cargo hatches served by booms on their masts and six cargo ports in her sides (which the Navy used as gun emplacements). The ships also had four coal ports on each side. The vertical triple expansion engines were supplied by three cylindrical return-tube double-ended boilers arranged side by side under the single smokestack. They could carry up to 14,000 bales of cotton. In the last two of these ships, EL RIO and EL CID, steel replaced iron as the construction material and the number of masts was reduced from four to two.
EL CID ran builder's trials on 9 Aug 93 and left the builder's yard to enter commercial service on 24 Aug 93. However in October 1893 she was purchased by Charles R. Flint for the Constitutional Government of Brazil, which was then at war with the rebel Admiral Mello who controlled the entire Brazilian Navy. Flint fitted EL CID with a 15-inch dynamite gun (like those in USS VESUVIUS), one Halpine dirigible torpedo, one 55-pound rapid fire gun, two 33-pounders, 19 light guns, and four Howell automobile tubes with torpedoes. She was renamed NICTHEROY and was sent to Bahia, Brazil. The naval rebellion ended soon afterwards, around the time that NICTHEROY arrived at Rio de Janeiro. Lacking a role in the post-revolutionary Brazilian Navy, NICTHEROY was one of the surplus warships that the U.S. Navy was able to purchase abroad at the outbreak of the Spanish American War.
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 EL CID's four sisters, EL SUD, EL SOL, EL RIO, and EL NORTE. At around the same time steps were taken to acquire NICTHEROY. The ship was drydocked and inspected by the U.S. Minister to Brazil, left Rio de Janeiro with a U.S. crew on 5 May 98, and reached the New York Navy Yard on 15 Jun 98. She was formally purchased by the Navy from the Brazilian Government on 11 Jul 98, was renamed BUFFALO, and was placed in commission in ordinary a week later for conversion.
According to a New York Times feature article dated 26 Jun 98 her conversion was to include a steel protective belt 2.5 inches thick (she already had a 2.5" plate over her steering gear) and a battery of ten five-inch guns plus smaller rapid-fire and machine guns. However by the time she was placed in full commission on 22 Sep 98 most of the fighting was over and she ended up receiving no armor and a lighter armament than her four sisters (probably the 2-5"/40 Mk. III and 4-4"/40 Mk. III that she still had as a transport in 1909). BUFFALO made a cruise from New York to Manila and back between December 1898 and May 1899 and was decommissioned on 3 Jul 99.
BUFFALO was recommissioned on 2 Apr 1900 as a training ship for newly recruited personnel. While on training duty, the ship made four voyages from east coast ports to Manila with replacement crews for the Asiatic Fleet. On the last of these voyages she also convoyed the five destroyers of the 1st Torpedo Flotilla to Manila. BUFFALO was decommissioned at Mare Island in April 1905. When recommissioned on 17 Nov 06 she began a decade of service as a transport in the Pacific. In addition to transport missions such as carrying Marines to Nicaragua in 1909 and supporting operations off Mexico in 1914 and 1916, she carried out a number of special missions, including the 1911 Alaskan Radio Expedition, which built a number of radio stations in Alaska, and the 1914 Alaskan Radio Expedition, which provided additional support to those stations. She was rearmed with 6-4"/40 Mk. VI between 1912 and 1914 and retained this armament through the end of her career. In May and June 1917 BUFFALO carried the Special Diplomatic Mission of the United States to Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), Russia. Upon her return in August she entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard for conversion to a destroyer tender. She was formally assigned as a destroyer tender on 25 Sep 17.
Upon completion of conversion in June 1918 BUFFALO sailed to Brest, France, and then proceeded to Gibraltar, from where she operated as station and repair ship for the U.S. destroyers and submarine chasers in the western Mediterranean. After performing similar duty in the Azores between February and September 1919 the tender returned to New York. She arrived San Diego 31 Dec 19 as repair ship and tender to two destroyer squadrons there. She was designated AD-8 when the Navy's standard hull classification scheme was implemented on 17 Jul 20. In November 1921 she was ordered to the Asiatic Fleet as tender to its destroyer squadron. After a cruise in Chinese and Japanese waters, BUFFALO returned to West Coast on 8 Oct 22 and was decommissioned at San Diego in November 1922. She was used as a barracks ship until stricken from the Navy List in May 1927 and offered for sale. On 28 Sep 27 the Navy Department instructed the Commander, 16th Naval District to write a letter of award to the successful bidder, Vicente Madrigal & Co., Manila, P.I.
[Note: The extensive material on BUFFALO presented here, far more than normal for this site, was prepared in 2008 for the Naval History and Heritage Command's Online Library of Selected images but has not yet been posted there.]
||Ex Brazilian Navy NICTHEROY, ex U.S merc. EL CID (completed 24 Aug 93). Auxiliary cruiser 1898, training ship 1900, transport 1906, and destroyer tender 1917. Merc. SIRIUS 1929, BU 1933.
Compiled: 30 Apr 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012