USS Rijndam, WWI Troopship

USS Rijndam

The Rijndam was launched in 1901 and built by Harland & Wolf Ltd., Belfast, Ireland, as a passenger liner for the Holland American Line for the Rotterdam to New York service. The contract between her owners and builders was signed on April 18, 1897 and her keel was laid under the Harland & Wolf Yard Number 336 on November 23, 1899. She was 12,527 gross tons, 575 feet in length and 62 feet wide. Her engines were coal powered steam triple expansion with twin screws giving her a service speed of 15 knots. She carried 2,282 passengers with 286-first class, 196-second class and 1,800-third class passengers.

She was launched at the Harland & Wolf Yards on May 18, 1901, and her sea trial with officials from both her builders and owners aboard took place on October 3, 1901 where the Holland-America Line formally accepted her. Her maiden voyage began on October 10, 1901 when they departed from Rotterdam to New York.

During her working career Rijndam would have several alterations to her passenger accommodations, where the first took place in 1906 and then again in 1910, 1912 and 1925 & 1926. Additionally in 1912 the number of lifeboats were increased because of the Titanic sinking.

On May 25, 1915, while steaming about 10 nautical miles south of the Nantucket Shoals, the Norwegian-flagged fruit steamer SS Joseph J. Cuneio rammed the SS Rijndam. At about 3:40 in the morning the Cuneio rams into the Rijndam who had aboard some 230 passengers among whom were 32-women and ten children including four newborn babies. An SOS call was sent out from the stricken ships and quick was the response to the scene of the collision. Responding to the SOS, the U.S. Navy battleships USS Texas, and South Carolina, came on to aid the Rijndam. Within an hours time the USS South Carolina had taken aboard the 230 passengers from the Rijndam as the Texas stood by the ship to render assistance to her crew. The Master of the Rijndam commented about the two Navy ships that this was a great example of good seamanship and splendid comradeship. Once the passengers were safe aboard the South Carolina she took off and arrived in Tompkinsville, New York at midnight. The passengers were then transferred to the Holland-American Line steamer Mellard. The USS Texas then stayed and escorted the Rijndam back to the Ambrose Lightship where she was stabilized and continued on alone.

While the Rijndam was operating on the New York-Rotterdam route on January 18, 1916 a mine that was laid by the German U-boat UC-1 under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Egon Von Werner damages her. This occurred just off the Elbow Buoy near the entrances to the Thames River Estuary. Rijndam is was damaged but was able to make way by herself and puts into an English port for emergency repairs. She is then sent back to her homeport in Rotterdam for more extensive repairs where she is deemed sea worthy and put back into the Rotterdam-New York route again on April 15, 1916.

The Rijndam was on the way from New York to Rotterdam when Germany called the unlimited U-boat war on February 1, 1917. Returning to New York she was interned and seized (pursuant to the right of angry) on March 21, 1918 by U.S. Customs officials along with 88 other Dutch vessels, 31 of which entered U.S. Navy service. Rijndam was commissioned on May 1, 1918 at New York as a troopship, Commander John J. Hannigan in command. Converted to a troopship, USS Rijndam could carry nearly 3,200 soldiers.

Now in service as a troop transport, gone was her dark color with her name painted in large white letters along her sides. This was replaced with a “dazzle” type painted camouflage, she would wear this throughout the war until after the war when she was bringing back servicemen she was once again repainted in Navy Gray.

She departed New York on May 10, 1918 in a 13-ship eastbound convoy on the first of six voyages to Europe before war’s end. The other ships in the convoy were: Antigone, Kursk, Duca d' Aosta, Pastores, President Lincoln, Caserta, Lenape, Wilhelmina, Covington, Devinsk, Rijndam, and the Dante Alighieri. The American cruiser USS Frederick served as escort for the assembled ships, which was the 35th U.S. convoy of the war. On 20 May, the convoy sighted and fired on a "submarine" that turned out to be a bucket; the next day escort Frederick left the convoy after being relieved by 11 destroyers. Three days later the convoy sighted land at 06:30 and anchored at Brest that afternoon.

During the War period, she transported almost 18,000 troops to Europe, and after the Armistice, carried nearly 21,000 troops back from Europe. She landed troops and supplies at Brest on five occasions and once at St. Nazaire. Rijndam was nearly torpedoed on May 31, 1918, at the same time as the transport President Lincoln was sunk. Aboard the Rijndam a wireless operator had witnessed the torpedoing of the President Lincoln; the wireless operator took a picture and then sending an S. O. S. message stating she had been hit. Avoiding the torpedo attack, Rijndam nearly rammed the German U-boat cruising at periscope depth.

On her next transport voyage, Rijndam left New York on June 15, 1918 with Kroonland, Finland, DeKalb, George Washington, Covington, the Italian steamer Dante Alighieri, and British steamer Vauban and met up with the Newport News portion of the convoy, which included Lenape, Wilhelmina, Princess Matoika, Pastores, and British troopship Czar, the next morning and set out for France. Cruisers USS North Carolina and Frederick, and destroyers Stevens and Fairfax escorted the convoy; battleship Texas and several other destroyers joined in escort duties for the group for a time. The convoy had a false alarm when a floating barrel was mistaken for submarine, but otherwise uneventfully arrived at Brest on the afternoon of 27 June.

On July 1, 1918 the Rijndam was sailing in a convoy when the USS Covington was torpedoed and sunk the next day. The transports in this convoy were Dekalb, Covington, George Washington, Rijndam, Lenape, Dante Aleghieri, Princess Matoika and Wilhelmina. The escorting destroyers were Little, Conner, Cummings, Porter, Jarvis, Smith and Reid.

Rijndam made seven round-trip voyages from Quiberon, Saint-Nazaire, and Brest, France, following the end of World War I, returning U.S. troops and personnel to Newport News, Virginia; Norfolk, Virginia; Hoboken, New Jersey; and New York.

The 61st Field Artillery Brigade, the 111th Ammunition Train, with the main body of the 36th division, and the 111th Trench Mortar Battery had left Coetquidan in the latter part of February, 1919, and had been "dipped" for cooties at St. Nazaire where they were loaded aboard the Rijndam, the Aeolus, Kroonland, De Kalb, and the Arcadia for what, except for seasickness, proved to be an uneventful voyage to America. At least one coal-burner, the Aeolus, which carried some 1,400 men of Colonel Birkhead’s 131st Artillery Regiment, stopped by the Azores for coal and water.

The 114th Machinegun Battalion embarked for the States on the Rijndam at 9:00 a.m. on March 9 and after squally weather, rough seas and seasickness, landed at Newport News, VA at 8 o'clock in the morning on March 20, 1919. On 13 April 1919 the Rijndam was reported as being in St. Nazaire, France. In March 1919, Rijndam and Princess Matoika raced each other from Saint-Nazaire to Newport News in a friendly competition that received national press coverage in the United States. Rijndam, the slower ship, was just able to edge out the Matoika, and cut two days from her previous fastest crossing time, by appealing to the honor of the soldiers of the 133rd Field Artillery returning home aboard her and employing them as extra stokers heaving coal for her boilers.

On 15 May 1919 the 88th Division (less Artillery) with the Engineers moved to the port at St. Nazaire, France, where on Monday, 19 May 1919, the entire Second Battalion together with other elements of the 88th Division embarks on the Rijndam bound for Newport News, Virginia.

Rijndam carried over 3,000 passengers on many of her 26 trips across the Atlantic and completed her service upon arrival in New York from Brest on August 4, 1919. She was transferred from the Cruiser and Transport Force on August 11, 1919 to the 3rd Naval District. USS Rijndam was decommissioned and returned to her former owner on October 22, 1919 at New York. SS Rijndam returned to her mercantile career under the Dutch flag, remaining active back on the Rotterdam to New York service where she made her first trip on July 31, 1920.

During her post-war service the American College of Chapman University in California chartered the SS Rijndam for several months for the purpose of giving the students a world study tour.

In May of 1925 her passenger cabins were changed to Cabin Class and 3rd Class, and then again in May of 1926 they were again changed to Cabin Class, Tourist Class and 3rd Class accommodations. She remained on the Rotterdam to New York service until her last trip, which began on April 16, 1929.

Deemed obsolete by her owners Rijndam was destined for the breakers torches. It was on December 15 of 1928 that an agreement was signed with the Dutch demolition yard of NV Frank Rijsdijk’s Company of Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht to demolish the ship, which began in May of 1929. Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht is a city located in the western Netherlands located along the Noord River. Over the years due to the rapid industrial growth in Germany the Frank Rijsdijk’s Company had begun a large ship-breaking yard that would become known worldwide as the “ship-breaking village.”

Rijndam as she looked during post WWI returning troops. The above post card shows the Dutch liner Rijndam after she collided with a cargo ship Cuneo off the east coast of the U.S. on May 25, 1915. The USS Texas (BB-35) assisted the Rijndam to a safe return to port.

Undated photo but she is seen in the same paint as the above photo so this likely dates to 1915.

Post card of the Rijndam sometime during 1901 under steam in Rotterdam, Netherlands; picture taken from what is now named Parkkade

Ships Muster

As I find names of men who sailed this ship I will add them here with what I know of each. If you know additional facts about these men or others who were crew of the USS Rijndam please e-mail them to: Joe Hartwell

Seaman 2c, Mc Henry Wood, USNRF

Mc Henry Wood was a Seaman Second Class and was stationed on the USS Rijndam during WWI. Mc Henry's daughter, Maxine Cox shared this story and photo of her father.

Mc Henry's Discharge from the USS Rijndam dated 2 May 1919, Norfolk, Virginia, reads as follows.

From: Commanding Officer
To: McH. Wood, S2c, USNRF
Subject: Release from Active Duty in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force.
Reference: (a) Bureau of Navigation Circular Letter No. 3-19 of 5 January 1919.
(b) ALNAV 85.

1. You are hereby relieved from all duty you may be performing on board the USS Rijndam and will proceed immediately to your home and reguard yourself relieved from active duty in accordance with reference (a) subject to recall in case of future national emergency.
2. Your latest address on record to date is Oakville, KY. Keep the Commandant of the 9th, 10th and 11th Naval District informed of any change therein.
3. A statement of your account and transportation is handed you herewith.

It was signed by Howell the commander of the Rijndam and Pay Clerk G. H. Upton and stamped by Lt. jg F. M. Conrad, Pay Corps, USN.

Seaman 2c, Mc Henry Wood was paid $60 gratuity and sent home.

Electricians Mate Charles W. Burton

Charles W. Burton served aboard the Rijndam as an electrician from June 17, 1917 to February 13, 1919. According to John Burton who is the grandson of Charles W. Burton, he recounted that his grandfather had a rich and adventurist life. When Charles Burton was 12-years old he lived with the Indians in Ontario, Canada as his father studied their music. Charles was given an Indian name for being able to row a boat so well. Charles and his father along with 40 Indians toured Europe putting on exhibits and went to school in London during that time. Charles joined the navy during WWI and after returning to civilian life worked in Boston for the WEEI radio station in the 1920's as station manager.

The photo above was provided by John Burton, the grandson of Charles W Burton. John relates of the picture, "...the picture is of a group of sailors from the Rijndam and "Charlie" is wearing the white cap."


S1C Edgar Ernest Woods Sr. Naval Armed Guard

S1C Edgar Ernest Woods Sr., served aboard the USS Rijndam as a Naval Armed Guard crew and made all of the Rijndam's crossings of the Atlantic during WWI. Woods also served on the ship for each of the crossings she made after the war returning doughboys back to America. He served about 9 months after Nov 11, 1918,  and  later  re-enlisted.  In his second enlistment Woods served aboard the destroyer USS Fox , while they served in the Black Sea during the Russian Civil War and in the other countries bordering the Black Sea.

Bob Woods, tells about his father Edgar Woods, "I have a few pictures of him, and his official Navy records.  I wish I knew more about my father and his ancestors but he died when I was 8-years old. This left my mother Ruth Stone Woods with seven young children in midst of the Great Depression.  My father was 'out west' working on building of the Hoover Dam, and caught double lobar pneumonia in both lungs. This was in the pre-penicillin days, and he passed away from his sickness."

Bob went on to say that, "Dad told us older kids before he died of many of his adventurous days in the WWI Navy, and of his time around the Black Sea.  So one by one from WWII, each of his four sons followed his footsteps into the Navy."
It was on the same day America became embroiled in WWI, April 1917 Edgar E. Woods enlisted into the navy. A few days later he boarded the battleship USS Nebraska for training as a Naval Armed Guard crew. The Atlantic was swarming with German U-Boats, and many merchant vessels were in danger of being sunk, so the Navy instituted a convoy system to stop this threat. Each merchant vessel would need trained lookouts, gunners and signalmen to function in the relative safety of a convoy system, and armed guard crews began their training quickly. This was Seaman First Class Ernest E. Woods, Sr. contribution to the war effort.

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This page was created on 14 February, 2004 and last modified on: September 20, 2018

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