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USS Glacier circa 1898
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Class: GLACIER (AF-4)
Design Passenger & Cargo, 1891
Displacement (tons): 8,325 normal
Dimensions (feet): 388.6' oa, 353.0' pp x 46.1' wl x 25.3' mn
Original Armament: 3-6pdr (ca. 1898)
Later armaments: 3-6pdr (1899);
1-5"/51 2-3"/50 (1918); 1-5"/51 2-3"/50 1-3"/50AA (1919);
2-3"/50 (by 1922)
Complement 153 (1920)
Speed (kts.): 12.3
Propulsion (HP): 2,127
Machinery: Vertical triple expansion, 1 screw
||5 Jul 98
||J. L. Thompson & Son
||22 Jul 91
||5 Jul 98
||6 Mar 22
||17 Aug 22
PORT CHALMERS was one of three similar steamers ordered from three British shipyards in around 1890 for the passenger and wool service of the Anglo-Australasian Steam Navigation Co., owned by W. Milburn & Co. of London and also known as the Milburn Line and the Port Line. The other two steamers in this order were PORT ALBERT (built by W. Dobson & Co.) and PORT DOUGLAS (by J. Laing). PORT CHALMERS was described in the Australian press as "a splendid type of a commodious passenger and cargo steamer" and "built on a nice model, brig-rigged with clipperstem, expansive hull, and elliptical stern." She had a poop deck 219 feet long and a forecastle deck 49 feet in length. Her triple expansion engines were supplied by J. Dickinson of Sunderland and installed by the Wallsend Co. The latest appliances were provided for discharging cargo and handling the vessel. She was reported to be excellently fitted up for carrying passengers, with cozy and well ventilated staterooms and an elegantly furnished saloon with a piano. An artistic boudoir was fitted for the ladies. The steamer was built in accordance with British Admiralty requirements and in time of war could be fitted up as a transport vessel with accommodations for 1,000 passengers in the 'tween decks. She left London on 16 Sep 91 on her first voyage to Australia and arrived on 26 Oct 91 with 12 saloon passengers, 38 passengers in the second cabin, and cargo for Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney. Her owners reportedly soon decided to discontinue carrying passengers. In 1896 she was sold to the Federal Steam Navigation Co. of London. When she stopped at Wellington, New Zealand, on 30 Mar 98 on her way to London her cargo included 7,000 bales of wool, 40,000 carcasses of mutton, and a quantity of rabbits, the latter being in her refrigerator chambers.
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, but eventually it and other naval authorities acquired ships of other types including four "supply ships" (CELTIC, CULGOA, SUPPLY, and ZAFIRO) and one "refrigerating ship" (GLACIER). GLACIER, one of the last acquired, was purchased in July 1898 from the Federal Line of London. She was commissioned at New York on 5 Jul 98, renamed DELMONICO on 6 Jul 98, and again renamed GLACIER on 12 Jul 98.
Between August and December 1898 GLACIER supplied ice, meat, and stores to ships of the North Atlantic Fleet operating in the West Indies during the Spanish-American War. She departed the East Coast for the Asiatic Station in May 1899 and operated there until April 1903, supplying Army and Navy forces with ice, meat, and stores and transporting large quantities of meat and provisions from Australia to Manila. Returning to the East Coast, she carried supplies and provisions to Guantanamo, Pensacola, and the new Canal Zone until decommissioning on 30 Jul 04.
When GLACIER recommissioned on 15 Sep 05 she was probably manned by a Naval Auxiliary Service merchant marine crew. Attached to a Special Service Squadron that also included the colliers BRUTUS and CAESAR and the tug POTOMAC, she helped tow the floating drydock DEWEY from Sparrows Point, Md., via Suez to the Philippines between December 1905 and July 1906. (The normal towing order was GLACIER, CEASAR, BRUTUS, and DEWEY.) Retracing this route she arrived at Boston in November 1906 and rejoined the Atlantic Fleet in January 1907. In December 1907 she departed New York as a storeship supporting the Great White Fleet on the first part of its voyage around the world. She was reassigned to the Pacific Fleet while at Cavite in October 1908, joined it in Chile in January 1909 with a full load of supplies, and continued to support it until 1918 by delivering fresh provisions, stores, ammunition, target material, and mail; transporting personnel; and towing target rafts and coal barges. She also made two more voyages to Asiatic waters, one in 1909-10 and one in 1912. GLACIER probably replaced her merchant crew with a Navy one on either 13 Feb 12 or 13 Feb 13.
On 23 Apr 10 the Navy Department forwarded to the General Board a memorandum relative to supply ships, which explained why the three supply ships then in the Navy (CELTIC, CULGOA, and GLACIER) were not entirely satisfactory for the purpose for which they were employed. These vessels were originally designed to take on board a cargo of already frozen meat at one port and then transport it, without opening the cold rooms, to another port for discharge. They were never intended to take on board cargo under other conditions or to open the cold room frequently for partial discharges, as was necessary in serving the fleet. Nor were these ships fitted with cooled and ventilated compartments for the storage of fresh vegetables, eggs, and similar provisions. The memo also stated that soon, because of their age, these three ships would become very expensive to keep in service, but with no new supply ships joining the force before the U.S. entered World War I in 1917 the three ships remained in operation. In 1916 a material inspection of GLACIER found her fit for service only in a limited sense, estimated her serviceable life as but a few years, and recommended that she be replaced and sold as soon as she could be spared, but Commander, Pacific Fleet reported that she was providing essential services, and once again with no replacement in sight she remained in service.
On 26 Apr 18 GLACIER, then at New York, was attached to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service, and between June 1918 and January 1919 she made three voyages from New York to the British Isles and to France. She was reassigned to the Train Squadron, Atlantic Fleet on 8 Apr 19 but was soon reassigned to the Train Squadron, Pacific Fleet and arrived at San Pedro, Calif., on 17 Aug 19. A material inspection board during 1919 reported that, considering the age of the vessel, she was in excellent condition throughout and reflected credit to her personnel. She was designated AF-4 when the Navy's standard hull classification scheme was implemented on 17 Jul 20. For the rest of her Navy career she transported stores, ammunition, and personnel to ships operating off the California coast and the Canal Zone.
CNO on 2 Nov 21 directed the Commandant, 4th Naval District, to place the newly-acquired YUKON (AF-9) in commission at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and have her proceed to the Pacific as the relief for GLACIER. She was to proceed to Mare Island with a minimum crew and with equipment reduced to bare necessities for the voyage. On 7 Dec 21 the Department stated that GLACIER was to be sold. By 8 Dec 21 the plans for YUKON had changed, and the cargo ship QUINCY had been designated to receive personnel, material, and equipment from GLACIER at Mare Island and sail for Philadelphia where she would place YUKON in commission before herself being relieved there by REGULUS. YUKON's scheduled completion date was 1 Feb 22. In the meantime, however, the Navy had found that postwar force reductions had dramatically reduced its requirements and funding for auxiliary vessels, and YUKON was decommissioned at Philadelphia after only four months of service. GLACIER was decommissioned at Mare Island on 6 Mar 22 and sold on 17 Aug 22 to Barde Steel & Machinery Co. of Seattle. SecNav directed on 18 Apr 22 that GLACIER would be considered as being stricken from the Navy Register as of the date she was actually disposed of by sale. She went on to have over thirty more years of merchant service, being scrapped only in 1956.
||Ex merc. PORT CHALMERS (completed 29 Aug 91). Merc. GLACIER ca. 1923, CARBELLA (Panamanian) 1941, PRESIDENTE JUAREZ (Mexican) 1945, scrapped in the United Kingdom (Inverkeithing) 1956.
Compiled: 13 Oct 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012