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USS Fulton (Submarine Tender No. 1) on 26 February 1915
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Class: FULTON (AS-1)
Design Navy AS-1
Displacement (tons): 1,450 full
Dimensions (feet): 226.5' oa, 216.0' pp x 35.0' wl (mld) x 13.3' mn and mx
Original Armament: None
Later armaments: 2-3"/50 (ca. 1917)
Complement 109 (1929)
Speed (kts.): 12.34
Propulsion (HP): 1,000
Machinery: Diesel, 1 screw
||19 Jun 12
||New London S&E
||2 Oct 13
||6 Jun 14
||7 Dec 14
||12 May 34
||18 May 35
||6 Jun 35
FY 1912 (Act of 4 Mar 11). A Navy Department memo of 9 Apr 10 stated that a series of Department orders during 1909 had established a certain organization for the torpedo vessels of the Navy and that it was now necessary to furnish the necessary tenders for the submarine divisions. The General Board responded on 25 Jun 10 with its first set of characteristics for a submarine tender. It called for a single screw vessel of minimum draft and 15 knots speed, designed and equipped as a towing vessel for five submarines, and as small as compatible with other necessary characteristics. The vessel should be designed with living spaces, storerooms, and other conveniences for the personnel of the division of five submarines (125 men) as well as for the tender's own crew. Special features included complete equipment for charging five submarines underway, a cable ship bow for lifting a damaged submarine, a boom or cathead and gear fitted aft for lifting the tail of a submarine out of water, an anchor engine powerful enough to assist a submarine in remaining afloat in case a compartment was damaged, and a machine shop, blacksmith shop, foundry, torpedo workshop, and electrical workshop. Also specified was an armament of four 5" guns and an overwater discharge torpedo launching tube. The Board noted that the gunboat CASTINE was reported as adequate for one flotilla of the older boats but that the SEVERN and MOHICAN were unsuitable for continued use as tenders and estimated that, for its current organization of submarine divisions, the Navy needed six tenders, three in the Atlantic and three in the Pacific.
On 11 Mar 11 the Bureau of Construction and Repair reported to the Secretary of the Navy that it had been preparing a preliminary sketch design of a tender for a division of submarines for the 1912 building program in accordance with the General Board's characteristics of 25 Jun 10, and that to embody all of the Board's characteristics a ship of about 3,500 tons displacement was required. However such a ship could not be built within the $500,000 limit set by Congress on 4 Mar 11, and the Bureau was therefore preparing a design of about 2,200 tons that could be built within the cost limit but would omit some desired features. The gear for lifting damaged submarines and lifting the tail of submarines out of the water and the battery of four 5" guns would probably have to be omitted and the personnel accommodations and shop spaces would have to be reduced. Concerning the armament, the Bureau stated that it contemplated designing the external appearance of the vessel to resemble a steam yacht in order that its real nature might be concealed as much as practicable and, for this account and because of the limit of size, recommended that no battery be installed except signal guns and a life saving gun. The General Board replied on 22 Mar 11 that, given the cost and size constraints, it recommended reducing the speed characteristic from 15 to 14 knots, a speed that could be achieved by an internal combustion oil (Diesel) engine. The Board felt that with such an engine a greater number of the desired characteristics could be incorporated on the displacement obtainable under the appropriation. It recommended that the ship be designed for a battery of 4-3" guns but added that it was not necessary for these guns to be installed in peacetime. It also recommended fitting the bow with catheads for lifting the tail of a submarine by use of a windlass driven by the anchor hoisting engine, although this should be omitted if the design was still above cost limits. Finally the Board recommended that bidders be allowed to submit their own designs, either for engines on the Department's design of vessel or for the vessel as a whole. On 17 Oct 11 the Board recommended the approval of a sketch design that BuC&R had submitted on 25 Sep 11. The plans and specifications for the tender were completed and circular signed by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy on 18 Dec 11, and these were then issued to bidders upon request.
The sole bid for construction of the ship, from New London Ship & Engine Co, was opened at the Department on 30 Apr 12. It provided for construction of the hull, machinery, and equipment on the bidder's plans (not on the department's plans) within 24 months (by 19 Jun 14), with propelling machinery listed as internal combustion, 2 shafts (Diesel). The contractor's design (1,260 tons, 206' x 35') was notably smaller than the Department's (2,200 tons, 240' x 42'), it was half a knot slower (13.5 kts.), omitted some items including the 4-3" gun armament and the cable ship bow, reduced others, and contained many unsatisfactory design features (the Bureaus listed 56). The Bureaus concluded that much of the price of the ship was for experimenting with the oil engine and recommended to SecNav on 8 May 12 that they be authorized to redesign the vessel using single-screw reciprocating steam engines and to ask for estimates from navy yards as well as bids from private shipbuilders. They expected the resulting design, to be ready in about six weeks, would have a displacement of about 1,450 tons and a speed of not over 12 or 13 knots and would omit some features including the lifting gear. The General Board on 15 May 12 recommended approval of this request, but the only change made, probably at this time, seems to have been to shift from two screws to one. The contract was signed on 19 Jun 12 with the New London Ship & Engine Co. which provided the diesel engine, the hull being built under subcontract by the Fore River SB Co., Quincy, Mass. Initially named NIAGARA, the ship was renamed FULTON by General Order #12 of 10 Feb 13. The new tender ran trials on 1 Nov 14 and reached a speed of 12.34 knots against a contract requirement of 12.25 kts. Mean trial displacement was 1,408 tons at a draft of 12.9'. Preliminary acceptance took place on 2 Dec 14 and final acceptance came on 25 Sep 16.
As built the ship had no guns installed and had a twin torpedo tube mount on one side of the forecastle that was used for adjusting torpedoes. 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 (which included FULTON) will be mounted and in place." On 30 Jun 16 the General Board concurred with a request from the ship to remove the twin torpedo tubes on the ship's forecastle because they were unsatisfactory for the testing of submarines' torpedoes. By 1917 the torpedo tubes had been removed and 2-3"/50 AA guns had been mounted abreast on the forecastle. The original diesel was replaced with an ex-German type engine at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1921. Decommissioned in 1925, the now-too-small tender was reclassified as a gunboat (PG-49) and reactivated in 1930 for use as a surveying vessel in the Panama Canal Zone. Two 3"/50 AA guns were fitted at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in September 1930 but these were stored ashore during parts of the ship's service, particularly while she was on surveying duty in the Canal Zone.
FULTON burned at sea on 14 Mar 34 after a crankcase explosion in the ex-German main engine ignited diesel fuel in the engine room. The ship's crew was rescued by the British destroyer WISHART and a merchantman. The burned-out hulk was towed into Junk Bay near Hong Kong by a British naval tug and turned over to U.S. naval authorities. USS PECOS (AO-6) then towed it from Hong Kong to Cavite on 6 Apr 34, and the ship was stricken and sold there in 1935.
||Ex NIAGARA 10 Feb 13. Decomm. 5 Oct 25. Recomm. 2 Sep 30 and reclassified PG-49 29 Sep 30. Burned 14 Mar 34. Sold to Lanaviera Filipina Inc. of Cavite, P.I., for use in Philippines coastwise trade (according to their bid). She may have been scrapped instead.
Compiled: 21 Jun 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012