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USS Wilmette (IX-29) during the 1930s
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Class: WILMETTE (IX-29)
Design: Passenger, 1903
Displacement (tons): 1,961 gross, 2,600 displ. est.
Dimensions (feet): 275.25' oa, 265.0' pp x 38.2' x 15.5' mn
Original Armament: 4-4"/50 2-3"/50AA 2-1pdr
Later armaments: 2-4"/50 2-3"/50AA 2-1pdr (1939); 2-4"/50 2-1pdr (1942); 2-4"/50 1-3"/50 2-1pdr (1942); 2-4"/50 1-3"/50 2-1pdr 2-20mm (1943);
1-3"/50 2-1pdr 2-20mm (1944)
Speed (kts.): 16.5
Propulsion (HP): 4,000
Machinery: Vert. triple expansion, 2 screws
||21 Nov 17
||6 May 03
||25 Sep 18
||28 Nov 45
||19 Dec 45
||31 Oct 46
||31 Oct 46
The excursion steamer EASTLAND was completed for the Michigan Steamship Co. by the Jenks Shipbuilding Co. of Port Huron, Mich., in July 1903. In the same month she listed dangerously when passengers congregated on one side on the upper decks, and on 24 Jul 15 she capsized for the same reason while alongside her dock in the Chicago River, killing 844 passengers and crew. The large salvage tug FAVORITE (see IX-45) took a prominent role in righting and refloating the wreck. The hulk was sold at auction on 20 Dec 15 for $46,000 to Capt. Edward A. Evers of the Illinois Naval Militia. Capt. Evers saw EASTLAND as the ideal, cost-effective solution to the militia's desparate need for a training ship, and in 1916 he began to modify the hulk, then called "S.S. 25," for that purpose.
The portion of the Act of 29 Aug 16 for arming and equipping the Naval Militia included $125,000 for the purchase, repair and alteration of a ship for the Illinois Naval Militia, and an Act of 15 Jun 17 increased that amount by $50,000. On 21 Nov 17 the Navy Department purchased the ship from the Central Trust Co. of Illinois, though different funds may have been used for accounting reasons and the final sale document was only completed on 23 Mar 18. The ship was delivered by the bank on 17 Jan 18 to the Commandant, Great Lakes Training Station, at the Chicago Shipbuilding Co. in Chicago and was renamed WILMETTE by a General Order of 20 Feb 18 in accordance with the wishes of Capt. Evers. The hull was cut down by one deck level and the ship was configured as a gunboat with minimal superstructure and pairs of 4"/50 guns fore and aft. She was commissioned as a gunboat on 25 Sep 18 with orders to proceed to the Atlantic coast for duty. Her bow was cut off in drydock in October 1918 to allow her to transit the Welland Canal enroute Boston, but on 13 Nov 18 CNO cancelled these orders and, "in view of change in conditions" and directed her to report to the Commandant, 9th Naval District, in connection with training personnel. She was put in ordinary on 9 Jul 19 but returned to full commission on 29 Jun 20 for the purpose of training the U.S. Naval Reserve Force in the 9th, 10th, and 11th Naval Districts, Capt. Evers in command. She was included in the "Unclassified" category without a hull number when the Navy's standard hull classification scheme was implemented on 17 Jul 20. In 1922 the Navy Filing Manual assigned the symbol IX-29 for filing correspondence relating to WILMETTE, and on 17 Feb 41 this symbol was assigned by SecNav as a designator (hull number) for the ship.
During the 1920s and 1930s WILMETTE was engaged in training the Naval Reserve on the Great Lakes, taking about 1,000 officers and men to sea during each training season. She was also used extensively to represent the Navy at public functions throughout the Great Lakes. In early 1937 the general condition of her hull was described as exceptionally good, and she had been remodeled and improved from time to time to make her particularly well suited for Naval Reserve training. Her original Scotch fire tube boilers, however, had been condemned for age and deterioration, and they were replaced with water tube boilers in June 1937 in time for the beginning of the underway training season in July. During the 1938 season 104 gun crews fired target practice on board WILMETTE over a period of eight weeks, during which the ship was constantly underway without suffering a major casualty. In September 1938 the vessel was estimated to have at least 15 years more life because of the excellent condition of her hull and power plant.
In June 1939 an armament of 2-4" guns was authorized for each of the three training ships WILMETTE, WILMINGTON, and SACRAMENTO, and on 22 Jun 39 two of WILMETTE's four 4" guns were removed and shipped to WILMINGTON at Toledo. WILMETTE was place in "out of commission, in service" status on 15 Feb 40 but probably continued to train reserves. On 30 Mar 42 she was assigned duty in connection with training armed guard crews, the Navy personnel who manned the guns on armed merchantmen. She was placed back into full commission on 9 Apr 45 with the intention of taking her to Boston but these plans were cancelled at the war's end.
||Ex merc. EASTLAND (completed Jul 03). Sold by MC to Hyman Michaels Co., to buyer 31 Oct 46. Scrapped by 28 Mar 47.
Compiled: 20 Mar 2013
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2013