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USS Newport News circa 1919
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Class: NEWPORT NEWS (AK-3)
Design Cargo, 1903
Displacement (tons): 8,150t [at 23.5' draft]
Dimensions (feet): 371.4' oa, 356.75' pp x 45.4' wl x 23.5' mn
Original Armament: 4-3"/50
Later armaments: none (1920)
Complement 128 (1924)
Speed (kts.): 13
Propulsion (HP): 2,400
Machinery: Vertical triple expansion, 1 screw
||14 May 17
||12 Dec 03
||14 Jul 17
||1 Aug 24
||1 Aug 24
||4 Apr 25
In 1904 three cargo steamers with accommodations for 26 first class passengers, ST. CROIX, ST. JAN, and ST. THOMAS, were completed for the Danish West India Co., the first two at Flensburg, Germany, and the third at Copenhagen. In 1905 they were transferred to the Danish East Asiatic Co., which ran a joint West Indies service with the Hamburg-American Line, and on 18 Jul 07 they were sold to the German line and renamed SACHSENWALD, ODENWALD and NIEDERWALD. ODENWALD departed Hamburg on 6 Jun 14 on a run to the West Indies and the Canal Zone. She arrived at San Juan, P.R., on 6 Aug 14 and took refuge there. The smaller PRAESIDENT (see AK-2) joined her there as tender on 12 Dec 14. While at San Juan she helped the commerce raiding light cruiser KARLSRUHE load 550 tons of coal and some reservists. ODENWALD tried to leave San Juan 21 Mar 15 but gave up and anchored off El Morro when the fort put a 5" round across her bow. It was believed she was trying to deliver coal and supplies to the German commerce raiding liner KRONPRINZ WILHELM, which ended up taking refuge at Newport News on 11 Apr 15 with only 25 tons of coal left in her bunkers. The Navy ordered two destroyers to San Juan on 23 Mar 15 to prevent a second attempt to depart, and local forces also kept an eye on her.
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. ODENWALD was probably formally seized on 6 Apr 17. 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. On 22 May 17 a court decided that she was legitimately a prize of war because of her actions in 1915. On 23 May 17 ODENWALD was towed out of San Juan by the transport HANCOCK (see AP-3). She was one of 14 seized steamers for which SecNav announced new names on 4 Jun 17. These, including NEWPORT NEWS for ODENWALD, were promulgated in Navy General Order 301 of 9 Jun 17. A Board of Inspection at Philadelphia reported on 9 Jun 17 that the vessel was particularly adapted to be used as a grain carrier and that she was at present fitted for that service. The Board did not consider her suitable for use as a transport. In September she was reported as being fitted for service as a fuel ship (collier) but she was used primarily to carry cargoes of general supplies. She spent most of her wartime and immediate postwar career on transatlantic supply runs, concluding with a famine relief voyage to Constantinople.
On 12 Jul 19 NEWPORT NEWS departed Norfolk for the Pacific, where she and PENSACOLA (AK-7) provided freight services on the route between the West Coast, Hawaii, Guam, and Manila. These two ships were essentially cargo vessels that carried a few passengers (4 first class and 125 troops in NEWPORT NEWS) for lack of other public transportation, especially to Guam. Larger trans-Pacific troop movements were conducted on Army transports. NEWPORT NEWS was designated AK-3 when the Navy's standard hull classification scheme was implemented on 17 Jul 20. As of 1924 her authorized gun battery (stored ashore) was 2-5"/51 and 1-3"/50 guns.
In October 1923 a material inspection board recommended the sale of the ship. She was ordered sold 18 Jun 24, was decommissioned and stricken on 1 Aug 24 at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, and was sold on 4 Apr 25 to John F. Blain of Berkeley, Calif. (the former marine superintendent of the Dollar Steamship Co.). After trying in vain to get her back to sea, Blain sold her in November 1925 to the Alaska Packers Co. who renamed her ARCTIC and converted her at Seattle to a cannery ship and cannery tender. Typically she would load a season's worth of provisions, fuel and supplies, embark cannery workers, steam north to Alaska with her 53 man crew, process the season's catch, and return to San Francisco for winter layup. After being chartered in November 1936 to bring relief to Alaska during the big West Coast maritime strike of 1936-37 she was sold in January 1937 for scrapping in Japan.
ODENWALD's German-built sister SACHSENWALD was interned at Colon, Panama, in 1914, turned over to the U.S. in 1917, and renamed GENERAL O. H. ERNST. Her Danish-built sister NIEDERWALD was mined on 23 Feb 17 off the Dutch coast.
||Ex merc. ODENWALD, ex ST. JAN (Danish) 1907 (completed Feb 04). Converted by NYd Philadelphia. Merc. ARCTIC 1925. Scrapped in Japan 1937.
Compiled: 26 Aug 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012