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USS Kittery on 18 July 1917
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Class: KITTERY (AK-2)
Design Pass. & Cargo, 1905
Displacement (tons): 1,570 light, 3,330 deep load
Dimensions (feet): 293.7' oa, 282.2' pp x 40.5' x 13.25' mn deep load
Original Armament: 4-3"/50
Later armaments: none (1920)
Complement 137 (1929)
Speed (kts.): 12
Propulsion (HP): 1,400
Machinery: Vertical triple expansion, 2 screws
||14 May 17
||26 Aug 05
||6 Jul 17
||4 Apr 33
||11 Apr 33
||26 Jun 33
||27 May 37
PRAESIDENT (PRÄSIDENT), a small one-deck twin-screw twin-funneled vessel, was built in 1905 by G. Seebeck A.G. of Geestemunde, Germany, as a feeder passenger steamer for the Hamburg-American Line. She sailed on 9 Dec 05 from Hamburg on her positioning voyage to the Caribbean where she was subsequently based. She operated on an "intercolonial" service circumnavigating the island of Hispaniola visiting a host of Dominican and Haitian ports every month, sometimes visiting several seaside villages on the same day. She also called at St. Thomas and San Juan and connected at Kingston, Jamaica with larger Hamburg-American ships that ran between the Caribbean and New York. Her U.S. Navy crew described her in 1922 as "flat bottomed, light draft, specially built for West Indies run by Hamburg-American line. Can make all docks at all ports. Suitability for present service excellent. Present general condition very good, except for deterioration due to age." Official Navy "Ships' Data" books through 1931 listed her speed as 15.5 knots, but her designed speed was probably not over 12 knots and by 1933 her maximum speed for a 24 hour period had fallen to 10.3 knots.
During the months after World War I began in August 1914 PRAESIDENT served Germany as a floating wireless station, and coded messages to other German ships in the West Indies went through her. She arrived at Havana 25 Sep 14 and remained there until she suddenly put to sea on 1 Dec 14 without obtaining clearance. She arrived at San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 12 Dec 14 and took refuge there as tender to the similarly idle ODENWALD (see AK-3). The radio and agent network of which she was part was exposed after ODENWALD's failed effort to get to sea in March 1915.
On 31 Jan 17 Germany notified the United States that it intended to resume unrestricted submarine warfare the next day, leading the U.S. to cut off diplomatic relations with Germany on 3 Feb 17 and enter the war on 6 Apr 17. By this date PRAESIDENT was in charge of a U.S. Coast Guard custody crew, her German crew having been removed. On 14 May 17 Presidential Executive Order 2619-A ordered the Secretary of the Navy to seize the ship at San Juan for the use of the Navy. SecNav informed the Bureaus and the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 19 May 17 that ODENWALD and PRAESIDENT were then being towed from San Juan to Philadelphia where they were to be fitted out and commissioned as Navy colliers and cargo carriers. PRAESIDENT was one of 14 seized steamers for which SecNav announced new names on 4 Jun 17. These, including KITTERY for PRAESIDENT, were promulgated in Navy General Order 301 of 9 Jun 17.
On 8 Jun 17 a Board of Inspection at Philadelphia reported, "on account of the construction of the vessel, the relatively light draft, the small cargo carrying capacity, and the special design adaptable to West Indian service, that the KITTERY was best suited for the use of carrying supplies and passengers to and from our forces in Haiti and San Domingo." The Board also recommended a battery of 4-3" guns, two on the forecastle and two on the after deckhouse. SecNav promptly approved these recommendations. The ship was commissioned in Philadelphia on 6 Jul 17 and departed Philadelphia on 18 Jul 17 to commence her many years of providing cargo and troop transport services between the East Coast of the United States (primarily Charleston, S.C. and Norfolk) and the West Indies.
As built the ship had 30 permanent and 15 temporary first class berths, 36 second class, 30 third class, and space for many deck passengers, with a crew of 54 men. As a Navy ship in June 1917 she had 16 staterooms with two bunks and one transom in each (providing space for 24 officers) and space for 200 troops in addition to her complement of 85 officers and men. In 1921 she was authorized to carry passengers not in excess of her 16 first class accommodations and 55 bunks or cots for officers and troops.
KITTERY was designated AK-2 when the Navy's standard hull classification scheme was implemented on 17 Jul 20. At this time KITTERY and GULFPORT (AK-5, with a capacity for 12 first class and 54 enlisted passengers) were alternating on the West Indies route. In early 1922 KITTERY was rotating sailings from Hampton Roads to West Indian ports with HENDERSON (AP-1) and, for one sailing, BEAUFORT (AK-6). Ports in the order visited were Guantanamo, Port au Prince, Cape Haitien, Monti Cristo, Puerto Plata, Sanchez, St. Thomas, Santo Domingo City, and San Pedro de Macoris. By 1927 her route covered Guantanamo, Port-au-Prince, Cape Haitien, San Juan, and St. Thomas.
KITTERY arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 28 Jan 33 and decommissioned there on 4 Apr 33. Her transfer to the Shipping Board was authorized on 12 May 33 and she was turned over on 26 Jun 33 and laid up in the James River reserve fleet. The new Maritime Commission opened sale bids on 27 May 37 for 28 old ships and the Union Shipbuilding Co. of Baltimore was the high bidder on 14 of them, including KITTERY.
||Ex merc. PRAESIDENT (completed 30 Nov 05). Converted by NYd Philadelphia. Scrapped in September 1937.
Compiled: 26 Aug 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012