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USS Prometheus (AR-3) during the early 1920s
Click on this photograph for links to larger images of this class.

Class:        PROMETHEUS (AR-3)
Design        Navy AC-1
Displacement (tons):        6,266 light, 8,100 full
Dimensions (feet):        465.75' oa, 450.0' pp x 60.1' wl x 18.0' mn
Original Armament:        4-5"/50 1-3"/50
Later armaments:        4-5"/51 1-3"/50 (1925: AR-4)
2-5"/51 4-3"/50 2-1.1"Q 8-20mm (1942: AR-3);
4-3"/50 6<8-20mm (1942: AR-4); 4-3"/50 2-1.1"Q 8-20mm (1944: AR-4)
Complement:        461 (1929: AR-4)
Speed (kts.):        16
Propulsion (HP):        7,500
Machinery:        Vert. 3-exp., 2 screws

AR Name Ord. Builder Keel Launch Commiss.
3 PROMETHEUS 12 Jul 06 NYd Mare Island 18 Oct 07 5 Dec 08 15 Jan 10
4 VESTAL 12 Jul 06 NYd New York 25 Mar 07 19 May 08 4 Oct 09

AR Name Decomm. Strike Disposal Fate MA Sale
3 PROMETHEUS 1 Jul 46 31 Jul 46 16 Jul 46 MC/D 4 Aug 50
4 VESTAL 14 Aug 46 25 Sep 46 14 Aug 46 MC/D 19 Jul 50

Class Notes:
FY 1905 (both as colliers), 1913 (conversion of AR-4), and 1914 (AR-3). See the separate listing for the VESTAL (Fleet Collier No. 1) class for the design and service of these two ships as colliers. The beam of VESTAL was listed as 60.0' wl. On 18 May 10 a memo written at the Naval War College explained that the new VESTAL and PROMETHEUS were unsatisfactory as fleet colliers because, due to their extreme length and the location amidships of their superstructure and machinery uptakes, they could not bring all eight of their hatches into use at one time in coaling any battleship at present in service. In coaling the CONNECTICUT (BB-18), the maximum number of working hatches was five. In addition the coal carrying capacity of VESTAL was 51 percent of her displacement while that of the newer VULCAN (Collier No. 5), which had its machinery aft, was 73 percent. Finally the 16-knot maximum (4-hour) speed of the VESTAL class substantially exceeded the speed required of colliers, most of which were slow. The memo recommended converting the two ships to supply ships, but they were instead used to fill a need for repair ships.

In 1911 the Secretary of the Navy noted that the Navy had one suitable destroyer tender (presumably DIXIE, then serving as tender to the Atlantic torpedo fleet) and no suitable submarine tender or repair ship (although PANTHER was serving as a repair ship). Construction of new tenders began in that year with the authorization of Submarine Tender No. 1. On 20 Dec 11 the General Board noted that it had unsuccessfully recommended including a repair ship in the 1912 and then the 1913 building programs because the Navy's only repair ship, PANTHER, had never been satisfactory even in peace and would be still less satisfactory in war and because the number of capital ships that needed repair ship support was rapidly increasing. On the other hand, VESTAL and PROMETHEUS had not proved to be convenient for their purpose as colliers, and if appropriations for the construction of a specially designated repair ship could not be obtained the General Board recommended converting the two colliers to repair ships in accordance with recommendations to this effect made by the Bureau of Steam Engineering on 12 Oct 11 and the Bureau of Construction and Repair on 24 Oct 11. The FY 1913 appropriation, passed by Congress on 22 Aug 12, included the conversion of VESTAL or PROMETHEUS into a repair ship, and the Department selected VESTAL because PROMETHEUS was the only modern collier on the Pacific Coast. The FY 1914 appropriation passed on 4 Mar 13 included the conversion of PROMETHEUS into a second repair ship.

VESTAL was converted at Boston between 25 Oct 12 (out of service) and 3 Sep 13 (commissioned). PROMETHEUS was similarly converted at Mare Island between 7 Apr 13 (out of service) and 23 Dec 14 (commissioned). As conversions they retained their original collier official numbers (1 and 2) and did not receive new official numbers as repair ships until 17 Jul 20, when Colliers Nos. 1 and 2 became AR-4 and AR-3 respectively. The guns of the two ships were initially not installed, because on 9 Dec 12 the Navy Department had directed that "on all auxiliary vessels, except destroyer tenders and submarine tenders, the authorized battery is not to be installed but the foundations and holding down bolts are to be fitted and the guns provided and held in reserve." On 13 Mar 15 SecNav rescinded these instructions and instead directed that "in future the batteries of auxiliaries manned by civilian crews will be held in reserve as heretofore, but the batteries of auxiliaries manned by naval crews will be mounted and in place." This directive in effect required mounting guns on FULTON, VESTAL, PROMETHEUS, JUPITER, NEPTUNE, BRIDGE, and HENDERSON, and the two repair ships probably had their guns mounted and magazines fitted between voyages in 1915 or 1916. During World War I PROMETHEUS served at Brest, France, from 18 Feb 18 to 16 Jan 19 while VESTAL supported U.S. destroyers based at Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland, during much of 1918.

After the war PROMETHEUS was the repair ship in the Fleet Train in the Atlantic while VESTAL filled a similar role in the Pacific. They were designated AR-3 and AR-4 when the Navy's standard hull classification scheme was implemented on 17 Jul 20. During 1923 they switched fleets, VESTAL moving to the Atlantic and PROMETHEUS to the Pacific. Upon completion MEDUSA (AR-1) replaced PROMETHEUS in the Pacific, MEDUSA being commissioned at Bremerton in mid-September 1924 and PROMETHEUS being decommissioned there sixteen days later. VESTAL received a major overhaul in 1925 when she was converted from coal to oil and got four 5"/51 guns in place of her 5"/50's. These, in turn, were removed and 4-3"/50 AA guns were mounted on their foundations during battle damage repairs following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec 41. Weight, stability and structural conditions prevented her from carrying a heavier armament without extensive alterations.

By early 1941 the main naval auxiliaries still in reserve were PROMETHEUS and AROOSTOOK (CM-3) at the Puget Sound Navy Yard and BRIDGEPORT (AD-10) and MAUMEE (AO-2) at Philadelphia. On 30 Apr 41 CNO's War Plans Division recommended that, because the growing demand for ocean tonnage was making it difficult to procure proper ships for conversion to naval auxiliaries, the brand new Auxiliary Vessels Board determine the best use that could be made of the two ships at Puget Sound. On 7 May 41 the Board concluded that PROMETHEUS was worth reconditioning. She would require reboilering (surplus destroyer boilers were available and could be used), some auxiliary machinery would have to be replaced, and it would be necessary to acquire and install a considerable number of machine tools, but the hull and main propulsion machinery of the ship were in good shape and the urgent demands from forces afloat for repair facilities warranted reactivating her even though she would be below the standards of other vessels of the repair ship class. OPNAV stated on 17 May 41 that the ship was to be recommissioned as a repair ship at Puget Sound. In October 1941 an armament of 4-5"/51 and 4-3"/23 guns was reserved for her but in 1942 an armament with stronger anti-aircraft capabilities was installed instead. PROMETHEUS was recommissioned on 15 May 42 and departed San Francisco for the Southwest Pacific on 9 Aug 42.

Ship Notes:
AR Name Notes
3 PROMETHEUS Ex Collier No. 2 (q.v.). In service as collier with merchant crew 1910. To repair ship 1913, comm. 23 Dec 14. To AR-3 17 Jul 20. Decomm. 4 Oct 24, recomm. 15 May 42. To buyer 29 Aug 50, scrapped by 19 Dec 51.
4 VESTAL Ex Collier No. 1 (q.v.). In service as collier with merchant crew 1909. To repair ship 1912, comm. 3 Sep 13. To AR-4 17 Jul 20. To buyer 28 Jul 50, scrapped by 15 Jan 51.

Page Notes:
AR        1913
Compiled:        30 Apr 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012