Dewey Drydock

Dewey Drydock YFD-1

The Dewey Dry-dock was built in 1905 in Virginia for the U.S. Navy to handle fleet repairs of it's largest ships of the time. The drydock was named after Admiral Dewey of Spanish-American war fame. She was 18,500 tons and 501' 3/4" long, 100' wide and 37' tall. The dry-dock was a floating type and could accommodate a 20,000-ton battleship.

She was built by the Maryland Steel Co., at Sparrow Point, Md., and was floated for the first time on June 10, 1905. The ceremonies were kept private and Miss Edicott, (daughter of Rear Admiral Edicott) christened it Dewey with the proverbial bottle of wine.

She is 500 feet long, with a width of 100 feet between fenders and has a freeboard of 11feet when empty, and when lowered has 30 feet of water above the keel blocks. She contains 11,000 tons of steel, and 2,000,000 rivets. Her sidewalls are 42 feet high and have a thickness of 14 feet. The monster structure draws only 6 1/2 feet of water and she is very simply built. Basically she consists of three pontoons, or metal tanks, with two sidewalls. The center one is 320 feet long, and the end tanks measure 90 feet each in length. These pontoons are constructed on the principle of a huge sponge. There are 24 cells, or watertight compartments in the middle tank, and 18 in each of the others. These are all connected with the pumping plant, located in one of the sidewalls. The pumping system consists of three 24-inch horizontal, centrifugal pumps. When it is desired to submerge the dock, to receive a vessel, the valves leading to the watertight compartments are opened, the water rushes in and the pontoons gradually sink, the ship is placed in the proper position over the keel plates, blocks are adjusted, and then the pumps are set to work to expel the water from the steel tanks. An electrical device indicates whether the water is taken out evenly, so that there will be no danger of straining the vessels by lifting one part faster than another. One of the many remarkable qualities is the power to dock itself and is so constructed that one of it's three parts may be floated by the other two.

The original cost for which the bid was let was $1,127,000. [1905 dollars] This was increased somewhat by the addition of machinery and equipment not called for in the specifications. She was designed for use at Manila, P. I. and was towed there after the completion of her acceptance trial. The acceptance trial board consisted of the following naval officials.

Captain A. Marix, U. S. N.
Naval Constructor D. W. Taylor, U. S. N.
Commander J. F. Parker, U. S. N.
Commander W. F. Worthington, U. S. N.
Naval Constructor G. H. Rock, U. S. N.
Civil Engineer A. C. Cunningham, U. S. N.
Assistant Civil Engineer J. S. Shultz, U. S N.

In 1905, the Navy selected the mouth of the Patuxent River as the best site in the tidewater to test the famous Dewey floating dry-dock, recently constructed at Sparrow's Point, Baltimore, and completed at Solomons Island. This mammoth vessel needed deep water for its test and the waters off Solomon’s Island fit the bill. In the final test for the craft the cruiser USS Colorado was dry-docked on Friday June 23rd, followed by the battleship USS Iowa. In both cases, the Dewey passed with flying colors. In the first test with the Colorado the Dewey lifted the Colorado, which her displacement was estimated at 13,500 tons, in two-hours and fifteen minutes a full six feet above the surface of the river.

The Iowa shown in the Dewey during her test lift in 1905

From 28 December 1905 - 9 July 1906 she underwent the greatest sea-towing feat of it's day. It took four ships to tow the Dewey Dry-dock 12,000 miles from the U.S. East coast across the Atlantic, into the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, Red Sea and into the Indian Ocean and ending the journey at Olongapo, Luzon, Philippines. The four ships were the USS Caesar (AC-16), USS Brutus (AC-15) under the command of Lt. V. L. Cottman, USS Glacier (AF-4) and the USS Potomac (AT-50). During 1901 the Navy had selected Subic Bay on the island of Luzon, Philippines, for a major repair and supply facility. During the late 1880's Spain had invested considerable money in making Subic Bay usable for it's fleet. After the Spanish-American War the United States took it over and completed the work begun by the Spanish Navy. The summer of 1906 saw the arrival of the dry-dock and she would remain at Subic Bay servicing ships in the Asiatic and Pacific Fleets until 1941.

In 1906 the Navy made its first efforts to make use of naval radio on its ships of the line. In the early months of 1906 Rear Adm. Robley D. Evans, Commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet saw an opportunity to experiment with the new radios. The Dewey Dry-dock had just sailed under tow across the Atlantic for the Philippines and he formed a scouting line composed of the USS Illinois, USS Pennsylvania, USS West Virginia, USS Colorado and the USS Maryland. The distance the ships in the scouting line kept from each other was dependent on the ability of each ship to keep in radio contact with the next ship in the line. The idea was to keep in radio contact with the towing party of the Dewey Dry-dock as she was towed across the Atlantic. It was on the 19th of January that the Maryland was 500 miles east of Cape Hatteras, NC and 600 miles north of San Juan, PR, and 640 miles west of the USS Glacier, the flagship of the towing group, when the Maryland received a message from the Glacier for relay to Washington, DC. The Maryland relayed this the USS Illinois, which relayed it to the USS Missouri and she sent it to RADM Evans’ flagship the USS Maine. The Maine then tried the relay to a shore station but was not able to make contact. One week later another attempt was tried as the scouting line had moved another 300 miles farther south. The Glacier again sent a message to the Maryland, which she was able to relay to the Missouri. But the Missouri had to relay the message visually to the Maine. On this attempt the Maine did make radio contact with the shore station. These were the only two communications that were relayed from the Glacier through the Maryland. The Maryland herself was able to keep fairly good radio communications with the Glacier for several days.

During WWI Subic Bay served the fleet well supporting and repairing ships for the Pacific and Asiatic forces. When the United States entered the war in 1917, twenty-six German ships were captured and interned in Subic Bay including the 600 foot German passenger ship that was renamed the USS Madswaska and served the Navy during WWI and WWII.

The 1922 Washington Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armaments nearly dealt a death-blow to Subic Bay. This treaty included provisions that facilities for the repair and maintenance of U.S. naval forces in the Philippine Island would be reduced. Shops were dismantled at the navy yard at Subic Bay, Fort Wint was reduced to caretaker status and personnel levels were cut. In addition to the limitations imposed by the treaty, the Navy was enduring a hand-to-mouth existence during the lean national defense days of the Coolidge Administration. Even though the facilities at Subic Bay were reduced, some ship repair capability remained, including the Dewey Dry-dock. On August 30, 1923, an earthquake devastated Yokohama, Japan and the transport Merritt was made seaworthy in 72 hours and left Subic Bay loaded with Red Cross relief supplies and 200 Filipino nurses.

In July 1941, the Dewey Dry-dock, which had served at Subic Bay for 35 years, was towed to Mariveles harbor on the tip of the Bataan Peninsula. It was scuttled there on April 8, 1942 by docking officer Lieutenant C.J. Weschler and Engineer Jose Otero to prevent its falling into Japanese hands. Capt. K. M. Hoeffel, U. S. N., the senior U. S. naval officer in the forces defending Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor, acting under the orders of Lt. Gen. Wainwright, U. S. A., ordered the complete destruction of the previously damaged U. S. submarine tender Canopus, the Dewey Dry-dock, the mine sweeper Bitern and the tug Napa in order to prevent their being of use to the enemy in the event of capture. The destruction was ordered when it became apparent that the increasing weight of enemy numbers, combined with the fatigue and exhaustion of our forces, made imminent the fall of Bataan. These ships and the Dewey Dry-dock were used at and near Corregidor and Bataan Peninsula by the Army, Navy, and Marine forces serving under General MacArthur and later under Lt. Gen. Wainwright in the valiant defense of these vital positions which control the entrance to Manila Bay. Then after the fall of the Philippines the Japanese raised the dry-dock, but she was soon sunk again by American forces and remains there today.

Above is a photo of the working model of the Dewey Drydock that was on display at the 1907 Jamestown exposition. There is a notation of this model in the official report of the Jamestown exposition. This photo came from the Jamestown Exposition Blue Book via the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

The above photo was shared by Dan Kerlee. Dan maintains a web site ( with the history of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909 (AYPE). This is a postcard from his collection and shows a working scale model of the Dewey Drydock that was used to demonstrate to the public how the Dewey worked. This model was known to be displayed at several expositions and it is not know exactly where this is at and may be at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909.

This is another photo of the working scale model of the Dewey taken by photographer Frank H. Nowell in 1909 at the United States Government Building at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held in Seattle. In this view the Dewey has a scale model of a 11,552 ton battleship lifted up, which is of the general type, which looks to be the Alabama, Illinois or Wisconsin all built in 1898.

The USS Pennsylvania in the Dewey Drydock at Olongapo, Philippines.

A view of the Dewey in Olongapo, submerged as a ship prepares to enter.

An undated photo of the USS South Dakota in the Dewey Dry-dock. This is a view of the South Dakota's stern and her rudder and port side 3-bladed propeller can be seen. Her starboard propeller has been removed for repairs as it was bent. She had her bottom scraped and painted also at the same time. I would think that this photo was taken sometime in 1912 as the Armored Cruiser Squadron was on station in the Philippines during that time. Later when the Squadron was returning from Yokohama to Honolulu she broke her Starboard main shaft, no doubt due to the stress of the bent propeller that was repaired months earlier.

Above is another early photo of the USS Maryland in the Dewey Drydock. You can see that the floor of the drydock is partially awash. Indicating that she was rising or lowering the Maryland. On the right side of the photo can be seen two smoke stacks billowing coal smoke, again showing the drydock pumping water to rise or lower the Maryland. This photo shows the Maryland with her original fore mast indicating this photo is before 1910.

The photo on the left is of the USS Houston in the Dewey Drydock. This photo is of the same general view as the above photo with the USS Maryland.

In a night action in the Sunda Strait, February 28, 1942 USS Houston steamed to her death in a desperate attack with HMAS Perth against an entire Japanese Battle Fleet. This photo is undated but is likely to be March of 1933 as she was on a good will cruise to the Philippines in March and one to Japan in May 1933. The Houston was a favorite ship of President Roosevelt who took several cruises on the Houston.

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This page was created on 20 May, 2004 and last modified on: 6/23/07

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