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USS Supply before World War I
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Design: Passenger & cargo, 1873
Displacement (tons): 3,422 gross, 4,325 displ.
Dimensions (feet): 355.7' oa, 342.6' pp x 43.3' x 19.4' mn
Original Armament: 2-3" BLR (1898)
Later armaments: none (1899);
6-6pdr 4-1pdr (1902);
4-6pdr 2-1pdr (1918)
Speed (kts.): 9.66
Propulsion (HP): 1,069
Machinery: Vert. inverted triple expansion, 1 screw
||30 Apr 98
||William Cramp & Sons
||7 Jun 73
||30 Apr 98
||15 Sep 19
||30 Sep 21
On 30 Aug 71 the shipyard of William Cramp & Sons at Philadelphia signed a contract to build a class of four iron-hulled passenger-cargo liners for the American Line, which the Pennyslvania Railroad had just established to bring a portion of the immigrant trade to Philadelphia. The ships were to be more than 1,000 tons larger than the largest iron ship built to date in the United States and were to have compound engines, of which only a few had been built in America. The first of the ships, PENNSYLVANIA, was launched in August 1872, with OHIO following in October, INDIANA in March 1873, and ILLINOIS (the future USS SUPPLY) in June. The ships served for many years on the Philadelphia-Queenstown-Liverpool route. Each ship had a single smokestack, a two-masted brig rig (although the sails were only for use in case of mechanical breakdown), and a 2,000 horsepower compound steam engine driving a single screw. Their designed speed was 11.5 knots and they had accommodations for 75 first class and 1,000 steerage passengers.
The financial Panic of 1873 caused a large drop in the immigrant trade, and efforts to bring profitability to the line included experiments such as a voyage in November 1875 in which ILLINOIS successfully carried a shipment of fresh meat to England. A high pressure engine was installed to circulate a current of cold air chilled by eight tons of ice. The ice lasted through the voyage, leading to a second shipment, but reliable shipments of fresh meat only became possible with the invention of refrigeration some 20 years later. Continuing financial problems caused all four ships to be sold to the International Navigation Co. in 1884, and a year or two later they shifted their service to Antwerp. Between 1887 and 1891 all four ships were refitted with more economical triple expansion engines and all but OHIO were downgraded to carry only cabin- and steerage-class passengers. In 1897 their owner took advantage of the high demand for American flag vessels caused by the Alaskan gold rush to sell off three of the ships to Pacific steamship companies. The fourth, ILLINOIS, was still at Philadelphia in early 1898 as the Spanish-American war approached.
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). On 5 Apr 98 the Board reportedly recommended the ILLINOIS of the International Navigation Co., an old but still staunch and serviceable vessel, and on 9 Apr 98 Board members were scheduled to inspect her at Philadelphia. At the end of April the Board revived negotiations and purchased the ship from the International Navigation Co. It had received instructions to secure a vessel with a good refrigerating plant, and thus far ILLINOIS was the only steamship offered for sale that was so equipped though the Board hoped to hear of more. A refrigerating vessel was needed to supply the army and the naval fleet in hot climates with fresh provisions. On 5 May 98 a Navy Department letter assigned to the "beef and ice boat ILLINOIS, recently acquired," the name SUPPLY.
SUPPLY served as the supply ship for the fleet in Cuban waters during the Spanish American War and then decommissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 28 Apr 99. She was recommissioned on 1 Aug 02 and was ordered to the Asiatic Station. She soon became station ship at Guam and retained that assignment until November 1917. Her activities during a typical year were related in the ship's annual report to the Secretary of the Navy dated 30 Jun 15, which showed that she made five voyages during the previous fiscal year to Manila and back for naval and commercial stores, the commercial voyages being in support of trade on Guam. Her regular triennial overhaul period at the Puget Sound Navy Yard was scheduled for the end of 1915 (in fact it lasted from November 1915 to March 1916), during which new auxiliary boilers and new masts would be fitted in addition to routine overhaul or renewal of machinery. In 1916 it was hoped to resume health trips to Japan or other cool climates in support of the policy of the Governor of Guam to give such leave to persons who had been attached to the station for over one year. The need for such support was reduced by the fact that about 38% of the enlisted force of the ship was composed of local Chamorros. Although the duty of the ship was to some extent non-military, she carried out a full schedule of military drills and inspections and also performed the usual duties of station ship at Guam, including caring for aids to navigation and mooring buoys. The Commanding Officer concluded that "in general the structural condition of the ship is very good, and the vessel should be of value for service at Guam for many years. The vessel is especially well fitted for this duty on account of the large coal capacity, ample deck space for crew, large storerooms, extra rooms and deck space for a large number of passengers, both commissioned and enlisted. It would be difficult to find a vessel better suited for Station ship at Guam."
SUPPLY left Guam on 28 Nov 17 and arrived at the Charleston (S.C.) Navy Yard on 25 Jan 18. After repairs and refitting she was assigned duty as Flagship of the Train, Atlantic Fleet, based at Charleston. Her Commanding Officer was assigned additional duty as Chief of Staff to the embarked admiral. SUPPLY was reassigned back to Guam for duty on 29 May 19 but on her arrival on the West Coast she was ordered to Mare Island for repairs and was decommissioned there in September 1919. She was ordered sold by the Secretary of the Navy on 28 Apr 20, withdrawn from sale temporarily on 31 Jul 20, readvertised for sale on 17 Sep 20, and finally sold on 30 Sep 21 to the A. Bercovich Co., Oakland, Calif. for $14,378.50.
||Ex merc. ILLINOIS (completed Jan 74). Sold in 1921 but not scrapped until 1928.
Compiled: 01 Jan 2013
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2013