Rear Admiral Harley H. Christy

Rear Admiral Harley H. Christy

Harley Hannibal Christy was born in Circleville, Ohio on 18 September 1870, and served in the United States Navy during the Spanish-American War and World War I, and would one day rise to the rank of Vice Admiral. Harley was appointed a Naval Cadet to the Naval Academy in Annapolis from his home state of Ohio on 24 May 1887. After graduation from Annapolis with the class of 1891 and receiving his commission, Christy served in a variety of warship and educational assignments during the next two decades. Christy was in command of two small gunboats during 1902, and as the 1910 Federal Census was taken on the United States Armored Cruiser USS North Carolina on the fouth day of June she was commanded by Captain Clifford J. Boush. His Executive Officer was 39-year old Lt. Cmdr. Harley H. Christy, who by now was a seasoned naval officer with many years of sea service behind him. Lt. Cmdr Christy would one day command a sister ship of the North Carolina, the USS San Diego, and would be the only commander to lose an Armored Cruiser to enemy action during WWI. Christy was promoted from Lt. Commander to Commander on 3 July 1911. Christy saw several years of continuous sea service and was commanding officer of the USS Chester, USS Brooklyn, USS Salem, USS Kearsarge and the USS Minneapolis between the years 1912-1917.

On 7 December 1915 Commander Christy and his wife Helen held a Debut Party for their daughter Miss Gladys Christy. It was noted that in the 12 March 1916 edition of the Washington Post, that Commander and Mrs. Harley H. Christy of Annapolis were the weekend guests at the home of Commander and Mrs. Richard H. Leigh. The Christy’s daughter was the guest of Miss Louise Clark at the Westmoreland. Captain and Mrs. McKean entertained at dinner at the Dresden and their guests included Admiral and Mrs. Howard, Admiral and Mrs. Benson, Capt and Mrs. Oliver, Commander and Mrs. Richard Leigh, Commander and Mrs. Harley H. Christy, Mrs. Martin Trench and Admiral McGowan. Again in the 27 January 1917 edition of the Washington Post, Commander and Mrs. Harley H. Christy of Annapolis were the weekend guests at the home of Commander and Mrs. Richard H. Leigh.

After his duty on the North Carolina and before September of 1915, Commander Christy was in command the USS Reina Mercedes, which was the station ship at Annapolis, Maryland. The Reina Mercedes was built at Cartagena, Spain, in 1887, and was originally named in honor of Queen Mercedes of Spain and was in service in the Spanish Navy. In July of 1898 the Reina Mercedes is sunk at the battle of Santiago, Cuba by the USS Texas and Massachusetts. She was raised in March 1899 and towed to Norfolk Navy Yard where she was converted into a receiving ship. Her overhaul and conversion into a receiving ship was completed and in 1904 she was towed to Newport, Rhode Island, to serve as the receiving ship there. She remained at Newport until 1912. Early in 1912, Reina Mercedes was towed to the Norfolk Navy Yard where she underwent an overhaul and refit. On September 30 she arrived at Annapolis, where she replaced the USS Hartford as the station ship. The latter was Admiral Farragut's flagship during the Civil War. It was customary for many years for the Reina Mercedes to serve as the "brig" for midshipmen being punished for serious infractions of Naval Academy Regulations. Such midshipmen were confined to the ship for periods ranging from one week to two months, depending upon the seriousness of the offense. During that period they attended all drills and recitations at the Naval Academy, but were required to sleep in hammocks in the ship and to take their meals on board. As commander of the Reina Mercedes, Commander Christy likely imparted his wisdom on many a future naval officer and new seamen. This practice was abolished on September 5, 1940, when restriction of midshipmen to their rooms in Bancroft Hall was substituted as a disciplinary measure. From 1912 until 1957 the Reina Mercedes served as the station ship at Annapolis, with the exception of brief periods when she was towed to Norfolk Navy Yard for docking and overhaul. These occurred in 1916, 1927, 1939, and 1951.

Commander Christy was in charge of vessels for the Army Transport, Naval Academy, Annapolis Maryland from 9 September 1915-5 July 1917. Christy was promoted to Captain on 23 May 1917, and was given command of the Cruiser USS Minneapolis from 7 July 1917-17 August 1917.

Two days after leaving the Minneapolis on the 19th of August 1917, Christy was in Command of the Armored Cruiser USS San Diego. Captain Christy would be the San Diego’s last commander as on the 19th of July 1918 she hit a German mine and was sunk. After the loss of the USS San Diego he commanded the USS Wyoming from 29 September 1918 – 22 September 1919 during North Sea wartime operation with the British Grand Fleet.

Christy was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for distinguished service while in command of the USS San Diego engaged in important duty of transporting and escorting troops and supplies to European ports during WWI. Particularly for exceptionally meritorious conduct during the time that the USS San Diego was struck by a mine and sunk and for service while in command of the USS Wyoming in the Atlantic Fleet.

The 1920 United States Federal Census listed Captain Christy stationed at the Naval Air Station, Escambia, Florida where he was station Commander. He was detached from that duty on 23 May 1923 and replaced Captain Lucius A. Bostwick as commander of the Battleship USS California. Captain Bostwick was assigned to chief of staff, commander in chief battle fleet.

On 14 June 1924 Captain Christy, in command of the Battleship USS California, was slated by the Selection Board of the Navy Department to become a Rear Admiral, which was approved by President Coolidge and on 2 December 1924 became eligible for that promotion.

Upon returning from the Pacific coast on 26 July 1924 to his new assignment at the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., Rear Admiral Harley H. Christy stopped at Annapolis Wednesday and visited a number of friends. During 1924 Admiral Christy’s wife passed away. Her name was Helen Manuel Christy and she was born in 1874 in Capetown, South Africa.

RADM Christy subsequently held several flag commands ashore and afloat, as well as serving at the Naval War College and with the General Board and other Navy boards in Washington D.C. Rear Admiral Christy retired from active duty in October 1934, and in January of 1950 was advanced to the rank of Vice Admiral on the Retired List in honor of his combat awards. Vice Admiral Harley H. Christy Passed Away on 4 June 1950 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with his wife.

The events of the sinking of the USS San Diego on 19 July 1918

On June 15, the German submarine, U-156, left its home port with 77 crewmen. It passed through the North Sea, around the north end of the British Isles and into the Atlantic Ocean towards New York's Long Island where she laid mines in the area where the San Diego was lost. On its cruise to North America, the U-156 sank 36 vessels and is credited with sinking the USS San Diego. On 19 July 1918, bound from Portsmouth, N.H., San Diego steams to New York to meet up with a transatlantic convoy. The day dawned warm and hazy with the cruiser steaming along the South Shore in state-of-battle readiness. At about 10 a.m., a lookout spotted a small object moving on the surface. Thinking it might be a submarine periscope, the gun crews fired several rounds until the target disappeared. It was the first time the San Diego's guns had been fired at a suspected enemy. The ship was cutting through the calm sea at more than 15 kts when it was rocked by an explosion, and a column of water erupted along the port side. The San Diego immediately listed 10 degrees. It was 11:05 a.m.

Most the crew of the San Diego feels a dull thud which originated from the port side engine room. The explosion blew a hole in the hull at the port engine room, killing two seamen instantly. Another crewman oiling the port propeller shaft was never seen again. Just after this occurred, residents in Fire Island's Point O'Woods heard a rumbling noise at sea. The noise was the San Diego being jarred to the keel by a violent explosion on the port side just aft of the forward port engine room, later established as contact with a floating mine. The crew that worked in this area must have experienced a large explosion as bulkheads were smashed in. The ocean rushed in and flooding was unstoppable and within 28 minutes the USS San Diego gently rolled over and was gone. Three men died at the instant of the explosion, three died while in the water, and three were injured. Captain Christy rang for full speed on the undamaged starboard engine and turned toward shore, hoping to beach the ship. But the rush of water into the hole flooded the remaining engine and left the San Diego without power, preventing an SOS message. Although the U-156 was already off the New England coast, crew members again thought they saw a periscope and began firing at it.

C.E. Sims, an 18-year-old seaman, wrote maritime historian Henry Keatts years later that he heard the explosion while he was on the bridge. "I looked aft and saw a huge column of smoke about a hundred feet high. There was no panic. There was an officer who stood on the ladder with his hand on his holster. I remember he said 'If anyone jumps before abandon ship is given, I'll shoot him.'"

When the captain gave the order, the crew struggled to launch the lifeboats manually. As the ship heeled, the smokestacks broke loose, one of them fatally crushing a sailor in the water. Another crew member died when a life raft fell on his head. A sixth sailor drowned after becoming trapped inside the crow's nest.

Christy dispatched a small boat to shore to contact the Navy. Two hours later, it sailed through the surf at Point O'Woods. Rescue vessels were soon on their way to help survivors and search for the sub. The ships dropped depth charges on a target that turned out to be the San Diego.

Capt. Harley Christy jumped from the tilting bridge, descended a ladder to the deck, slid down a rope and then walked over the rolling hull as if he were a lumberjack on a floating log, stopped for a moment to salute his vessel, then dropped eight feet into the Atlantic. In keeping with tradition, the captain was the last man to leave his ship. As a lifeboat picked up Christy, the crew members in boats, on rafts or in the water cheered their skipper. And as the San Diego sank stern first into the flat sea, the men sang The Star Spangled Banner and My Country 'Tis of Thee.

The Fire Island Radio Station telephoned stating that they had picked up a very faint SOS from a naval vessel. The Navy Yard was notified and boats were sent out from Oak Island and Fire Island. Over 1100 men were in the water clinging to wreckage when the boats arrived. Four officers and 28 men were carried to the shore of Point O'Woods and the others were transported to Hoboken, NJ. A few months later, on its way back to Germany, the U-156 hit a mine between Scotland and Norway. Within a few seconds, the German U-boat, U-156 disappeared from the surface of the ocean.

Rear Admiral Harley H. Christy, USN.
Portrait photograph, taken June 1929. At that time, he was Commander Battleship Division Three.

The Christy Stone in Arlington.

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