USS Mongolia, World War One Troopship

USS Mongolia

The First to Americans to Draw Blood with the Germans in WWI

USS Mongolia in her war time paint.

The aft deck gun of the Mongolia that took the first action against Germany. This gun was named "TEDDY" by the gun crew in honor of President Teddy Roosevelt.

Mongolia was first owned and operated by the Atlantic Transport Line and had a capacity of 1,818 passengers. The New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey built and delivered the Mongolia on July 24, 1903 to her owner, Edward H. Harriman the railroad magnet and owner of the Union Pacific Railroad. Harriman purchased the Mongolia and her sister-ship the Manchuria while still under construction from the Atlantic Transport Lines. Harriman was also the owner of the Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company.

At 13,639 tons, her twin screws and quadruple expansion engines made 16kns at full speed. She was 616 feet in length and her beam was 65 feet. She was built for the North Atlantic trade route but once Harriman purchased her she was assigned to the San Francisco, Hawaii and Hong Kong service. She and the Manchuria worked this route from 1904-1915. Within two years of Harriman’s death Mongolia in 1911 her ownership passed to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, still working the Pacific trade route. Mongolia went aground on the western side of Midway Island on September 16, 1906, but succeeded in getting off again even before the arrival of the ships Buford, Iroquois, and Restorer, which went to her aid from Honolulu.

On May 4, 1910, the Steamer Mongolia was at Pier No. 42 in San Francisco, California, when the United States Census was taken aboard the ship. Those crew who were listed aboard were:

Name Age Place of birth Job aboard ship
Andrew Martin 33 England 1st Officer
Thos. F. Sandon                                     41 Delaware Chief Engineer
C. N. Ludvigson   27 California Purser
A. Hieronymus                      37 Indiana Surgeon
H. E. Frassett                         46 Canada Freight Clerk
S. A. Kennedy Jr.    27 Pennsylvania 2nd Officer
W. Wesley Rirlil     28 New York 3rd Officer
John G. Dennis                       24 England 4th Officer
A.Thompson                                                  28      England  5th Officer
C. Ydeprow                  23                    German                       Quartermaster
Joseph Wolf 34  England                       Deck Watch
William Connell 33 California         Quartermaster
P. Grifall                                      23 Greece  Quartermaster
S. Solberg       23 Norway Quartermaster
John Bolke                                                    46 Greece Carpenter
C. F. Webber   27  Virginia 1st Asst. Engineer
James Bullock                          28 England 2nd Asst. Engineer
W. Burns                             28 California 3rd Asst. Engineer
C. Stewart                                    22 Oregon Junior Engineer
K. Woodlinker      31 New York Junior Engineer
J. McCullock                                          29 California Junior Engineer
C. J. Lundler       43 Sweden Junior Engineer
C. E. Carter                       27 Arkansas Junior Engineer
W. J. Rahlen                                    23 Delaware Junior Engineer
E. W. Harness                               39 Illinois Relief Engineer
W. J. Kistle                           35 California Electrician
W. H. Heel                                24 Louisiana Watertender
J. Curley               22 California Watertender
W. H. Ruster                     30 Iowa Watertender
Bert S. Shaffner                                           22 Pennsylvania Oiler
C. A. Deaslil                              25 Washington Oiler
P. Holder                    25 Illinois Deck Engineer
E. L. Hargus                                               45 Massachusetts Steward
S. Jones                          41 England 2nd Steward
J. Hagerty                 42 California Steerage Steward
John P. Cashin           30 California Store Keeper
H. H. Berg          31 New York Baggage Clerk
Mrs. L. L. Smith             40 New York Stewardess
Louise Pendes 53 Indiana Stewardess
J. P. Thrift                       40 Kansas Butcher
J. Rosenhue     43 California Steerage Watch
J. H. Haggins                    44 California Barber
T. E. Besteel              30 English Salon Watch

1915 brought changes to the Mongolia when the Pacific Mail Steamship Company sought to sell their fleet of five ships, partly due to competition of Japanese shipping lines and the La Florette Seaman’s Law. This law required the crew and officers of a ship were to speak the same language. This meant that the crews of the Pacific Mail Steamship lines would have to be changed as the ships crews were Chinese and the Officers were American. In August of 1915 the Atlantic Transport Line paid $1,500,000 for the Mongolia. She arrived in San Francisco for the last time on October 27, 1915 and U. S. Customs who had been alerted to the fact that the Mongolia was carrying Chinese stowaways. Customs agents found 86 stowaways in every part of the ship, some who were found in places in the ship that took great inventiveness to hide in. It turned out that this was not an isolated event but part of a much larger organized conspiracy to bring illegal Chinese into the United States.

With the purchase of the Mongolia, the Atlantic Transport Line acquired the services of Emery Rice, her captain. Rice, a graduate of the Boston English High School and the Massachusetts Nautical Training School, had commanded the China before becoming captain of Mongolia at only 35 years of age. Rice, was released on a $1,000 witness bond because of the pending prosecutions from the illegal Chinese scandal and sailed Mongolia out of San Francisco on November 9 bound for New York via Cape Horn. Because the Allies were in such great need of wartime ship tonnage to carry food and munitions across the Atlantic the Mongolia was contracted to wartime services. She commenced her first voyage to London on January 5, 1916. Her ninth and final voyage on this route started on March 18, 1917, and afterwards she became a U.S. Army Transport (#SP 1615). She was then operated between New York and London. On February 17, 1917, the Mongolia reached port in Baltimore, Maryland and according to one of her Engineers William Palmer, he saw with his own eyes 187 German submarines captured in the harbor in Plymouth, England.

The Mongolia was the first American vessel to sail for a British port after the Imperial German Government issued its submarine warning. She at the time was still painted in her per-war neutrality colors and the words “American S. S. Mongolia” was clearly painted in large letters along the sides of her hull with two large painted American flags. The Mongolia passed through Sandy Hook, NJ on February 20, 1917 on her way to England and was closely followed by the Freighter Aquingui, where she arrived in London on 5 March. Mongolia was under the command of Captain Emery Rice and officials of the American Line refused to admit that she did sail keeping her actual sailing time and date a secret. The Mongolia completed the first trip to England and back in twenty-eight days, covering a distance of 7,006 miles.

When the Imperial German Government placed into effect the famous submarine blockade in March of 1917, tensions between the United States and Germany grew stronger. And so partly as a result of this action by the German Navy, President Wilson on March 12, 1917 decided to arm American merchant ships that would be sailing the Atlantic war zone twenty-five days before the United States would be at war with Germany. Wilson then called for a special session of Congress to be held on April 16 to discuss this action, which he believed was in his Constitutional authority to do so. Little did he know by the time this Special Session of Congress was to be held a state of war would exist with Germany. Orders were sent to the Navy Department and arming of the merchantmen began immediately. The Navy Department issued an appeal to the American newspapers to refrain from publishing any information concerning any information about what ships may have been armed in order to protect the identity of the ships. The Mongolia was armed with three six-inch guns and her gun crew of one officer and twenty-two enlisted men reported on board on 17 March 1917.

The Mongolia left America for a British port on April 4th with a crew of 116 with 67 of her crew being Americans. During this trip on April 19, 1917, the Mongolia encountered and engaged a German submarine in the English Channel, seven miles southeast of Beachy Head, which apparently ended disastrously for the submarine. This was the first American shot fired on the high seas after the declaration of war. Captain Rice on April 25th cabled his headquarters in New York and reported his safe arrival of the Mongolia but made no report of his ship sinking a German U-boat. But the United Press Association did carry a story in the morning newspapers that the Mongolia did sink a U-boat during the trip. The International Mercantile Marine Company, the owners of the Mongolia down played this story wanting to be sure of the facts before letting it out.

The next day on the 26th of April Captain Rice did tell of the attack and sinking of the U-boat. “For five days and nights I had not had my clothes off and we kept a big force of lookouts on duty at all time,” commented Captain Rice in an interview with the press. “It was twenty-two after five o’clock in the morning of the 19th that we sighted the submarine. The officer commanding the gunners was with me on the bridge where, in fact we had been the most time throughout the voyage.” Captain Rice continues, “There was a haze over the sea at the time. We had just taken a sounding for we were getting near shallow water and we were looking at the lead when the first mate cried: “My God, there’s a submarine off the port bow!"

“The submarine was close to us, too close in fact for her purpose, and the boat was submerging again in order to maneuver into a better position for torpedoing was where we sighted her.” Rice continues “We saw the periscope go down and the swirl of the water. I quickly ordered the man at the wheel to put her to starboard and we swung the nose of the ship toward the spot where the submarine had been."

“We were going at full speed ahead and two minutes after we first sighted the U-boat it emerged again about 1,000 yards off. Its intention probably had been to catch us broadside, but when it appeared he had the stern gun trained full on it. The gun crew commander, Lieutenant Ware gave the command “1,000 yards, Scale 50” and the big gun boomed. Gunner’s Mate James A. Goodwin was on the gun at the time and he actually fired the shell that hit the U-boat. We saw the periscope shattered and tumble end over end across the water and the submarine disappeared. I can’t speak too highly of the cool manner in which the lieutenant handled his crew of gunners. It was a fine exhibition of the efficiency of American Naval men.” The whole encounter lasted only about two minutes. Lt. Ware gave the order to fire, and Gunner’s mate Goodwin pulled the lanyard firing the first shot, which missed. Reloading quickly, the gun crew fired again, and this time they were right on target hitting the conning tower of the U-boat. This shell exploded and hit area of the conning tower. Quickly in a foamy froth of bubbles the German slipped beneath the sea. America had just inflicted its first blood at sea against Germany, and it was over as quickly as it had started.

Captain Rice continues, “I assure you we did not stop after the incident, but steamed away at full speed, for it was not improbable that there was another submarine about. The one I got undoubtedly had been lying on the bottom at the spot waiting for the ship and came up when it heard our propellers. I immediately sent a wireless stating that a submarine had been seen.” Rice ended his statement with this “That’s about all the story except this. The gunners had named the guns on board the Mongolia and the one which got the submarine was called “TEDDY” after Theodore Roosevelt; so Teddy fired the first gun of the war after all.” Captain Rice stated that Teddy Roosevelt was from Allison, Massachusetts and that the encounter with the submarine occurred on the date when Massachusetts was celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington.

After the war was over facts on what U-boat the Mongolia had hit on the 19th of April came to light. In fact the U-boat hit was the UB-40 and suffered little damage during the action with the Mongolia and survived until October 5th 1918 when she was scuttled just off Ostende during the German retreat from Belgium. At the time of the attack by the Mongolia the UB-40 was under the command of Oblt. Hans Howaldt.

Later in the month on the 24th of April Captain Rice and Lt. Bruce R. Ware, Jr. who commanded the gun crew that hit the submarine were guests of the American Luncheon Club in London. They received a tremendous ovation from the nearly 200 persons present in recognition of the sinking of the German U-boat on April 19th. Captain Rice commented when called on “I’d rather take the Mongolia through the war zone then make a speech. All I will say is that I’m ready to go again and I hope I get another chance at a U-boat again.” The crew of the Mongolia was also guests of the club at a theatre that evening.

Here are the names of the first Armed guard aboard the Mongolia. All are US Navy men put on board this merchant vessel when she was fitted with her 3 deck guns in 1917. The Naval Armed Guard aboard the Mongolia:

Commander of the Armed Guard, Lt. Bruce R. Ware of Newton, MA
Coxswain Rudolph J. Holly, Brooklyn, NY
Gunner’s Mate James A. Goodwin, Portsmouth, VA
Seaman Ernest Atkins, Basic City, VA
Seaman Franklin T Baird, Brooklyn, NY
Seaman Vern V. Byers, Anna, IL
Seaman James Conley, Brooklyn, NY
Seaman Arthur L. Conrad, Frankford, IN
Seaman Donald F. Core, Bartlettsville, OH
Seaman Frank B. Ford, Brooklyn, NY
Seaman Sam W. Freeman, Ceder City, KY
Seaman Norris Harries, New Orleans, LA
Seaman Francis Howard, Decatur, IN
Seaman Henry J. Lexa, Newark, NJ
Seaman Eugene P. Reedy, Fall River, MA
Seaman George E. Schulkins, Pittsburgh, PA
Seaman John G. Tubenski, Bay Shore, NY

Navy Lt. Bruce R. Ware Jr. was one of the first officers to volunteer for duty of commanding gunnery crews aboard merchantmen. He is one of the most knowledgeable young officers in this duty. He had taken a postgraduate course at the Naval Academy where Gunnery and Engineering were his strong points. He is the author of a handbook on engineering that has received considerable commendations and has proved of practical value. Lt. Ware is married and was 30 years old at the time of the sinking of the U-boat. Lt. Ware was appointed to the United States Naval Academy in 1903 from Massachusetts.

Red Cross Nurses Killed

When the United States entered WW I on April 6, 1917 there were 403 Army nurses on active duty including 170 reserve nurses who had been assigned to duty with Gen. John J. Pershing's 1916 expedition on the Mexican border. One month later on 8-19 May 1917, six base hospitals with more than 400 Army nurses sailed on 5 transport ships for France for service with the British Expeditionary Forces.

The following is a list of the ships and the units that sailed on the 8-19 May 1917:

Ship Name Sailing date Units Officers Nurses Civilians Enlisted men Totals
Orduna 8 May, 1917 Base Hospital No. 4 and Reserve Nurse Corps 34 98 4 156 292
Saxonia 11 May, 1917 Base Hospital No. 5 28 76 0 157 261
St. Louis 12 May, 1917 Base Hospital No. 2 29 65 6 153 253
Mongolia 19 May, 1917 Base Hospital No. 12 29 70 14 151 264
St. Paul 19 May, 1917 Base Hospital No. 21 28 65 0 149 242
Base Hospital No. 10 27 64 4 157 252
Orthopedic Unit 22 0 0 0 22

On May 20, 1917 when the Mongolia was 250 miles out from New York, the Mongolia’s Naval Armed Guard held target practice with the aft six-inch gun and for some inexplicable reason the shell exploded and caused the casing to shoot into a group of nurses and doctors who had gathered to watch the gun fire. Edith Ayers and Helen Wood, nurses with Base Hospital 12 from Chicago under command of Major Frank Besely, were killed, and another nurse Emma Matzen was wounded. They were the first women killed in the war. A United States Revenue cutter was dispatched to return the bodies of the two nurses that were killed in the explosion. The Mongolia returned to New York after the explosion where she unloaded the injured and off loaded her ammunition. She reloaded with new ammunition and sailed again on May 23 with the same passengers from before and headed out across the Atlantic again. It was on June 2, 1917 when the Mongolia reached Falmouth, England and safety unloaded her passengers.

Both Mrs. Ayers and Miss Wood were experienced Red Cross nurses having been under training for three years. This no doubt left a very vivid impression on those nurses like Miss Freda Larson from Sheridan, Wisconsin and Miss Florence Hinton of Illinois who gathered there that day to watch the gun crews at work, that this war was going to be a long and deadly war.

The two nurses that were killed are Mrs. Edith Ayers, 37 years old of 2112 Sedgwick Street in Chicago, IL and Mrs. Helen Burnett Woods of 1144 Sherman Ave., Evanston, IL. The nurse who was severely wounded was Miss Emma Matzen of Columbia, Nebraska. It was the same gun named “TEDDY” that only one month before had sank the German U-boat and had gained much fame from this sinking. The shell, according to the gun crews left the gun intact when it was fired. It was seen to strike the water and disappear. Then instantly splinters from the casing came hissing back. Each of the victims was hit with such force that they were knocked off their feet and one of them was thrown into a deck chair behind her.

An investigation was held and conducted by Rear Admiral Earle, Chief of Ordnance into the explosion that killed the two Red Cross Nurses. On May 22 in a report to Secretary Daniels it was found that the shells that were being used were made during the Spanish-American War. Very similar explosions had also happened on the armed merchant ships, St. Louis and St. Paul but without loss of life. The investigation showed that the shells were of an unsuitable type to be used in the guns, which were on these ships. These shells were made in 1898 and not suited for the newer guns then in use. The report recommended that shells made before 1900 should not have been used. The United States Senate on May 28th officially passed the Frelinghuysen resolution, which called for a senatorial inquiry into the explosion that happened on the Mongolia that killed two Red Cross nurses. A naval affairs committee was then named to make this inquiry. And on June 27th they ruled that the Armed Guard was void of any responsibility to this accident and was due solely to the outdated shells.

Mongolia tangles with her second U-boat

On her next trip from New York to London after her fateful trip in which the two Red Cross nurses were killed the same Gun named “TEDDY” redeemed itself. On May 25, 1917, the Mongolia then 225 miles out from her destination port in England bagged her second German U-boat. The present commander of the US Navy Armed guard on the Mongolia, Lt. Seymour, USN, believed they had sunk another sub on that passage. On board were 200 American Red Cross workers who witnessed this event when the ships alarm brought them on board to their muster stations.

Lieutenant Seymour, Philip, USN Armed Guard, S.S. Mongolia
Date of Action: June 1, 1917
Navy Cross Citation:
The Navy Cross is awarded to Lieutenant Philip Seymour, U.S. Navy, for distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commander of the Armed Guard of the S.S. Mongolia. On June 1, 1917, an enemy submarine fired a torpedo at that vessel, which through quick maneuvering missed the ship. Four shots were fired at the periscope, when the submarine disappeared.

The Mongolia dodged three torpedoes when she found herself in the thick of a U-boat nest. According to Boatswain Mate First Class Roy Stilwell of the gun crew, “one of the torpedoes missed our stern by about 10-yards. Then the German must have thought we had been hit and rose to the surface. As it did we fired three shots in quick succession. The first shot only was necessary though. The shell crashed into the side of the sub and it quickly sank.” As the “Teddy” gun shot and hit the first U-boat then 1,500 yards off the ship, one of the Mongolia’s other deck guns caught another U-boat only 100 yards off the ship. They fired at the second U-boat, which hit the sea close to the periscope but missed the sub. The Mongolia saw traces of three torpedoes in the water but all three missed her passing close astern. Again, as in the first sub attack in April the pre-determined zigzag pattern worked out by Captain Rice and Lt. Ware had eluded the sub’s attack. Hearing the Mongolia’s shots, a nearby escorting British destroyer raced at flank speed to attack the U-boat but when she arrived it was all over with.

Boatswain mate Roy Stilwell went on to tell how all the nurses who were up on deck watching let out a big cheer when we hit the U-boat. In his words, “The way they cheered reminded one of a ball game. Nobody showed any signs of fear or excitement.”

News of these attacks traveled fast and the rumor mill was not all the accurate in its stories either as seen in a letter written home from an engineer with the 5th Engineers stationed in England. In just about two months’ time from the first attacks on the Mongolia, Corwin Waite writes his parents back home in a letter dated 23 July 1917. He states; “We heard that the Detroit Engineers on the USS Mongolia lost 800 by being torpedoed. We were lucky I guess.” Nothing could have been farther from the truth as the Mongolia had made it safely and was still bringing more men and supplies across despite the efforts of the German U-boats.

Continues her service as a US Navy vessel

In March of 1918 she was chartered by the U. S. Army to carry supplies and on April 27, 1918, she was taken over by the U.S. Navy where she was subsequently fitted out as a troopship at the New York Navy Yard. Mongolia was then commissioned into the US Navy as USS Mongolia and given the designation of ID-1615.

Having taken on a full load of troops on May 26, 1918 she proceeded to the rendezvous to wait the assembling of the convoy, and later got under way in company with the Henderson, Siboney, America, Mallory, Tenedores, Mercury and Huron, with the Cruiser North Carolina and Von Steuben as escorts. On that trip, she carried 6 Officers and 23 enlisted men of the HQ Co., 159th Infantry Brigade, 80th Division also 109 Officers and 3,408 enlisted men of the 317th Infantry, 80th Division, and 10 Officers with a Detachment of the 313th Field Artillery.

Her neutrality paint she had worn from 1915 was painted over and on 28 June 1918 she received the new pattern camouflage paint for warships. Within two days the Mongolia had taken on troops and at 10:30 in the morning on the 30th of June she sailed from Hoboken, NJ for France. Her troops she carried on this trip were: 2 Officers and 79 enlisted Casuals, 15 Officers and 502 enlisted men of the 28th Engineers, Company C & D, 13 Officers and 509 enlisted men of the 57th Engineers, Company A & B, 34 Officers and 1,594 enlisted men of the 66th Engineers, 94 Officers of a school detail of the 79th Division, 4 Officers and 154 enlisted men of the 227th Aero Squadron, 3 Officers and 154 enlisted men of the 255th Aero Squadron, 16 Officers and 888 enlisted men of the 531st Service Battalion.

Of the men in Company C, 28th Engineers under the command of Captain Frederick S. Cook, it is worth noting that there was a man named Lewis Crosley. He was the brother to Powel Crosley who was a famous Industrialist from Cincinnati, Ohio. Powel Crosley started one of the first radio stations in Cincinnati, WLW, which is still in operation, and he built radios, refrigerators, and the Crosley car in the 40's and 50's. Powel Crosley had also owned the Cincinnati Reds baseball team.

Her new pattern camouflage paint did not keep the U-boats from seeing her as on the 2nd of July at 7:40 in the evening lookouts sighted a U-boat 900 yards away. Her escorting destroyers opened fire on the U-boat but it submerged and got away. And then again on the 9th of July she sighted another U-boat, which the escorting destroyer gave chase and the Mongolia skirted away unharmed. Finally, at 7:45 on the evening of July 17, she made port at Brest, France safely.

Her next trip across the Atlantic was on 11 September 1918 when she carried 233 casual officers and 67 civilian cadets that were probably Aero Cadets. They reached Liverpool, England on 1 October 1918.

The 74th Artillery, C.A.C. received orders on 14 December 1918 to move out for the trip back home. That day they sailed from Brest, France aboard the Mongolia along with their sister regiment the 73rd Artillery, C.A.C. On December 22, 1918, they reached New York Harbor on a miserable foggy, rainy day and on the 23rd went ashore and went to Camp Mills, New York for a short stay and then moved to Ft. Totten, New York.

Back in New York on the evening January 2, 1919 there is time between trips across the Atlantic for the Officers and Enlisted men of the Mongolia to hold a formal Ball at the Hotel Astor in New York. It was a gala event not to be missed with several hundred in attendance. The band for the evening was a 20-member band provided by the Army.

January 18, 1919 the Mongolia was the only ship in the harbor at St. Nazaire, France and at 4:30 in the afternoon of the 20th of January she pulled out of the basin heading for New York. On board, she had 4,911 men and among them were elements of the 344th Machine Gun Battalion. Some of the men on this trip were “shell-shocked” men and they were kept below decks most of the time and were only allowed to be on deck in the wire cage on the upper deck of the ship. On the 26-28 of January the sea got rough and the men were not allowed up on deck making for some rough times. But the seas soon calmed down and on the 30th she docked at Pier #1 New York Harbor. Sailors were allowed off as soon as they docked but the Army troops stayed until the next day and finally debarked at 8:30 the next morning on the 31st of January.

After she finished her wartime service she was on September 11, 1919 decommissioned by the US Navy and returned to her former owners and chartered to American Line for the New York to Hamburg route. Originally, she was a coal-fired ship but late in 1919 her new owners converted her to an oil-fired configuration. Then she was transferred in 1923 to the Panama Pacific Line, New York for the New York to San Francisco run.

On her last voyage on this route in October of 1929 there was a suicide of a young man in tourist class and a 37-year old woman passenger passed away. In 1929, she was sold to the Dollar Line of San Francisco for Round the World service and renamed SS President Fillmore. The Dollar Line reconditioned her and fitted her with 300 first class cabins and her new ship tonnage was now classified as 15,575 tons. In 1931, she was laid up in New York and in 1940 sold to Cia Transatlantica Centroamericana, Panama, a company owned by a German man named Arnold Bernstein and was renamed Panamanian. She kept this name until she was scrapped in Hong Kong.

Panamanian was badly damaged by fire while loading flour at the north wharf at Fremantle, Australia in January of 1945. The fire commenced when a Hessian bag ignited and the flames spread to an oil slick beside the Panamanian, then to the ship's superstructure where the bridge, saloon and promenade deck were soon ablaze. Ammunition for the 4-inch gun mounted on her stern and the anti-aircraft armament began to explode as the U. S. depot ship Maidstone, loaded with torpedoes, ammunition and dieseline, with her bridge alight was towed clear and the flames extinguished. After more than twelve hours the fire on the Panamanian was brought under control until an easterly wind sprang up and rekindled the flames. During this second outbreak one of the firefighters fell down a hatchway into a hold full of blazing cargo and lost his life. By evening the second fire had been extinguished leaving a legacy of one fatality and a damage bill to ships, cargo and wharf of more than £600,000. Many local Fremantle firemen fought this dangerous fire with bravery. One such fireman was Raymond Fearn who was not allowed to enlist into the Australian military because his duties as a fireman were deemed to important. For his efforts in fighting the Panamanian fire, Fearn was awarded the Australian Diligent Service Medal. Although Panamanian was repaired after the fire she was scrapped at Hong Kong in 1947-48.

The Story of The First Shot.

Lt. Bruce R. Ware, Jr., The Officer Who Gave the Command to Fire.

A slender young man in the uniform of the United States navy stood before 130 cheering and proudly jubilant army and navy veterans at a New York hotel and told how he had fired the first shot for America in the war. He was Lt. Bruce R. Ware, Jr., who on April 19, 1917, the anniversary of the battle of Lexington gave the command from the deck of the Mongolia that sent a six-inch shell spinning through the periscope of a German U-boat bent on the liners destruction.

All evening Lt. Ware and Captain Emery Rice, commander of the Mongolia had listened to words of praise from the other speakers and the Lieutenant was smiling when he arose, but his voice broke with emotion as he swept into his story, and at times he repeated his commands to his men as if he were still standing on the Mongolia’s bridge with his eyes glued to his glasses.

Day and Night Watch Kept.

“It is a wonderful pleasure to tell you how I fired the first shot and drew first blood.” He said. “Captain Rice and I formulated a war doctrine, and one of the first things we did was to begin a night and day watch when we were six days from our destination. This event happened five and a half days later.”

“We had been up continually, the men had all been at their guns, and we had not had our clothes off. Captain Rice and I were always on the bridge; there was a gunner’s mate always ready and a telephone always at my elbow. We were always ready and we were ready at 5:22 AM on the 19th of April.” The Lieutenant was forced to halt for a moment as the room rang with shouts as the guest rose to their feet and waved napkins and small American flags.

U-boat Sighted

“The sun came up one minute before 5 o’clock and it began to get a little thick,” he continued. “We were then off Beachy Head Light, twenty miles from the Dover strait. Looking to the port, I saw the chief officer turn around. He could hardly speak the words. ‘My God,’ he cried, ‘look at it!’ I said, ‘it’s a U-boat, and he’s got us!”

“We threw in the starboard control. Zigzag I said to Captain Rice. I didn’t tell him which way to go, because that had all been doped out. We charged. We made that snake that came creeping in toward us go down.”

“I rushed to the chart house and telephoned No. 3 gun, train on the starboard quarter! Report when you see submarine. The gun crew reported almost instantly. ‘There it is.’ Then, “Now it’s gone; there it is again.’ I trained my glasses and picked it up.”

Conning Tower Hit

“I ordered No. 3 gun to commence firing. ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’ And they did, and I picked up the six-inch shell as she left the gun, and I saw it travel through the air, and I saw it strike eight-inches to a foot in front of that fellow’s periscope.” And then in contradiction of the German dispatch to the effect that the submarine was not sunk but limped into a home port, badly crippled, Lt. Ware fairly shouted these words: “And it went into that conning tower, I saw the flakes of metal flying into the sea. I saw smoke. I hit the enemy.” When applause had subsided a gray haired, bespectacled and bearded man arose and asked if he might say a word. “Sure.” Came the answering chorus.

Ware Senior Proud of Son

“You.” He said, “have been proud of my son since April 19th. I’ve been proud of him since February 27, 1887.” And Bruce R. Ware, Sr. with moist eyes and flushed face sat down again, amid the cheering of more than 100 fathers who envied him that proud moment of his life. Captain Rice was called upon but blushingly excused himself. “I’d rather take the Mongolia through the war zone any day then make a speech,” he said. “All I can say is that I hope we meet that U-boat again if she is still able to navigate.” Most of those present were old friends of Captain Rice when he sailed the Pacific Steamship service between San Francisco and Oriental ports.

Lieutenant Bruce R. Ware, USN Armed Guard, SS Mongolia
Date of Action:  April 19, 1917

Navy Cross  Citation:
The Navy Cross is awarded to Lieutenant Bruce R. Ware, U.S. Navy, for distinguished service in the line of his profession as commander of the Armed Guard of the S.S. Mongolia, and in an encounter with an enemy submarine. On April 19, 1917, a submarine periscope was sighted and a shot fired which is believed to have hit the submarine which was not seen further.

The Captain of the UB-40

Oberleutnant Hans Howaldt of the Flanders Flotilla ranked high on the German list of WWI U-boat aces. He and UB-40 had sunk 49 Allied ships, totaling more than 80,000 tons. Howaldt got UB-40 safely back to his base at Bruges, but when the Germans were forced to evacuate Flanders in October 1918, she was one of four damaged U-boats blown to pieces by men of the Flanders Flotilla to avoid them falling into Allied hands. The U-boat UB-40 was launched on 25 April 1916 and had during her career 4 Captains, Howaldt being her second captain. All tolled the UB-40 had 28 war patrols and accounted for 133,358 tons of shipping sent to the bottom.

Hans Howaldt was born 1888 in Kiel, Germany and was the youngest son of the shipyard founder George Howaldt and his third wife Helene Bammel. After High School in Kiel in the spring of 1907, Hans was made a sea-cadet of the Imperial German navy. Cadet Howaldt in 1910 was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and in 1913 made 1st Lieutenant. In 1914 Lt. Howaldt served on the S.M.S. Liner Elsass.

After the attendance of the submarine school in Muerwik he was ordered in 1916 to the submarine Flotille Flanders after Zeebruege and was commander of the submarines UC 4, UB 40 and UB 107, which sank 76 ships totaling 150,000 tons under his command in the English Channel. Howaldt was distinguished with the Iron Cross 1st Class and 2nd Class. In December 1917 Hans Howaldt received also the Koenigl Preuss Medal Pour le Mérite and on 18 January 1918 he became a captain second lieutenant.

After the war, Hans Howaldt in 1931 entered into private business and was partner of the Heinrich Zeiss (Unionzeiss) AG. With the Olympic summer games of 1936 Howaldt worked with the crew of the Krupp yacht Germania III and for Germany won the bronze medal of the international 8-Meter class.

During the Second World War Howaldt was again called to active service first as the oldest commander of the mine ships and was then served in the headquarters of the German navy. After the war, he together with its sons, worked on the reconstruction of the private company Heinrich Zeiss AG that he had worked for after the First World War. Hans Howaldt died in 1970.

Images of the Mongolia

December at sea in the cold Atlantic. This is a view of the troops aboard the USS Mongolia on the return trip from France with the 73d and 74th Artillery Regiments. Note the many wooden crates. These are box life rafts that would be used to throw over and be lashed together for the men to climb on to and hopefully save them from the cruel icy waters of the Atlantic.
Again another view of the return voyage on the USS Mongolia 14 December - 22 December 1918
Panoramic photo of the USS Mongolia as she arrives in Boston on 6 July 1919. Her war time dazzle paint has been replaced by the standard navy grey paint and she shows many streaks of rust giving evidence of her many trips across the Atlantic returning troops to the States. This photo was taken by the Pyle Photo Company of Waltham, MA. This photo was shared with me by Jim Weaver. His grandfather, who was in Company A, 601st Engineers was aboard when this photo was taken.

Photo of the Mongolia as she looked during her Panama Pacific days sometime between 1923-1929 on the New York to San Francisco, California via Havana, Cuba and the Panama Canal route.

Stern view of the Mongolia. Her name can be clearly seen on her stern, and she is shown in her war time dazzle paint scheme. This photo appears to be taken during colder weather and so may be winter 1917-18 or 1918-19. The Mongolia’s port side is against the dock and there is another ship forward of her that is barely visible and another on the dock off her starboard side. The location of this photo is unknown, but in other identified period photos of St. Nazaire, France, the building on the left side appears to be the same in this photo, possibly identifying this as the harbor of St. Nazaire. Photo coursity of Britt Callison.
A Jewish Welfare Board Post Card of the Mongolia during her WWI trooping days.
USS Mongolia's Wheel House and ships compass.
A view amidships of the Mongolia.
The music room of the Mongolia.
The officers' ward room of the Mongolia.
Deck Gun of the Mongolia.
The Sick Bay of the Mongolia.
The Operating room of the Mongolia.
The Detention Brig of the Mongolia.

The Crews Muster

As I find names and information of men who served on the Mongolia I will list them here in this section. If you have a relative who served on this proud old ship please let me know and I will add their names with the others below.

Seaman 2c Eugene Shawley

Seaman 2c Eugene Shawley, served on the Mongolia during WWI. This was submitted by his grandson Mike Chilson. Mike relates that his grandfather was born in 1896 in Oklahoma. Eugene had a brother named Dewey Shawley that was also in the Navy and it was known by the family that the brothers both served on the Mongolia. Dewey's rating was a cook. Eugene's first wife was Eliza and they were married for 12 years and then divorced. His second wife was named Emma Marie Hall and she was born in Kansas. According to the 1930 Federal Census Eugene was working as a salvage labor man.

Cook Dewey Shawley

Cook Dewey Shawley, brother to Seaman 2c Eugene Shawley above. Together with his brother Eugene and Dewey crossed the Atlantic 13 times on the Mongolia.

Gun Pointer 1c, Richard "Otto" Clark

Gun Pointer 1c R. "Otto" Clark. According to his son Richard Clark, Raymond Otto Clark was born in Garden Grove, Iowa, January 28, 1898. After enlisted into the Navy in 1917, Clark went to Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago. He was assigned to duty on the USS Mongolia and remained on the ship until after the war was over. He recalls his dad saying that it was a sad sight to see soldiers packed like sardines in that old tub. Many were seasick and it seems all were understandably depressed. He said anyone caught complaining about the food would have to do KP duty. He remembered one guy who yelled, "Jesus Christ those beans are salty... But that's just the way I like 'em!" Fortunately, he enjoyed sleeping in a hammock fastened on the ships wall. When Richard was a child, his dad had several postcard photos of the Mongolia and the Arizona that he was also aboard for a short stint. The photos were of Otto standing with several others by a gun, but does not know if it was on the Mongolia or the Arizona. Those photos have long since disappeared. Otto had to stand watch on many occasions, and he spoke of a certain fish that would swim straight toward the ship, and looking like a torpedo. But the fish would suddenly reverse its direction before making contact. A great relief! When the Mongolia arrived home from France, the war was over, so Otto simply got off the boat and went back to Iowa where he was born and raised. Somehow, the Navy took a dim view toward that decision. In 1961 Richard Clark managed to restore his fathers discharge to honorable, and he received his pension. Otto Clark died at Blaine, Washington, August 10, 1973.

Gun Pointer 1c R. "Otto" Clark, USS Mongolia. On his sleeve can be seen the rating badge of the Gun Pointer First Class (the star and the circle crosshair) and another marking below which may be the Expert Rifleman badge.

Harry Moats

Harry Moats was born on May 3, 1892 on a farm in Hoosier Township in Kingman County, Kansas to Richard and Myrtle Moats. Harry’s father Richard was a farmer and was born in Illinois in November of 1861 and his mother Myrtle was born in Crawford County, Ohio, (near Bucyrus) in December of 1865. Richard and Myrtle were married in 1887 and their first daughter Della was born in April of 1888. Then in August of 1890 Anna was born and Harry followed in May of 1892. Myrtle had given birth to 5 children but only Della, Anna and Harry were living as of June 1900. Richard Moats died of a heart attack in Meade County, Kansas in June of 1919. He is buried in Walnut Hill Cemetery in Kingman, Kansas. Richard and Myrtle's daughter, Anna who died in 1916 while giving birth, is buried in the same plot in Walnut Hill Cemetery.

As America was entering into the World War, Harry registered in the first Draft on 5 June 1917 in Meade, Kansas. Harry at the time was working for himself as a farmer in Meade County, Kansas. Harry was married at the time he registered for the Draft and he was of medium height and build with brown eyes and black hair. Harry’s son Richard H. Moats relates about how “it was never spoken about in the family but we did believe my father [Harry] was married to a woman from Kansas when he went into the Navy. My family was rather secretive about some of the events in their lives. Maybe with good reason!”

Harry’s War Service Certificate that his son now has shows that Harry was in the Navy from 14 December 1917 thru 10 March 1919 and indicates he was on the USS Mongolia. When Harry entered the Navy he took his basic training at the Great Lakes, Illinois Naval Training Center. His son Richard states that Harry “made at least one trip to France, because I remember him talking about being there.” His War Service Certificate also mentions the North Light Station, so he may also have been stationed there.

After Harry was separated from the Navy in March of 1919 he returned to Kansas and Sometime during 1919 married his second wife. Her name was Mabel Finke and she was born July 23, 1896 in Brooklyn, New York to Oscar Finke and Albertina Voges Finke. Oscar was a German immigrant, and Albertina's father, Gustav Voges, was also a German immigrant. Not long after the death of Harry’s father in June of 1919, Harry and Mabel, his mother, Myrtle, and his sister, Della, moved to Western Oregon, where Myrtle's mother, and some of her brothers and sisters lived.

Mabel and Harry had their first son Richard H. who was born on 26 September 1919 on a farm in the Scoggins Valley, just a few miles from Gaston, Oregon. Gaston was a small farming and logging town then, and it still is a small town in a farming community in Washington County, Oregon.

Richard had a younger sister named Betty J. who was born on a farm near Dayton, Oregon in Yamhill County, on July 16, 1921 and just passed away on March 1, 2006. Richard related of his early life in Oregon and the move to Washington; “In November of 1926 we moved to Washington, eventually settling on a farm in the Skookumchuck River Valley, about 7 miles from the town of Tenino in Thurston County. On March 9, 1933, my Dad [Harry Moats] died suddenly after a short illness. The doctor's diagnosis was complications of quinsy, but I suspect he may have had a heart attack. He and my mother worked very hard on the farm, trying to make a go of it in the midst of the Depression. My Dad was a proud man, so he only sought government help for food one time, and he worked to pay back for it. On Harry’s WWI Draft Card it mentioned that he was of medium height, but even for those days he was short. In fact, he became stuck with the nick-name, "Shorty" My mother was also diminutive and she stood about 4' 9" and probably never weighed over a hundred pounds in her life, but she worked right along with my Dad, doing as much as she could.”

As America was being pulled into the Second World War, Harry’s son Richard Moats joined the Army and served overseas with the 3rd Infantry Division in 10 campaigns in North Africa, and Europe.

Mess Attendant 1st Class, Rigaude Prout,

Rigaude Placide LaTrobe DeMontalt Prout was born in St. George, Barbados, B.W.I, in 1893.  He spent his early years on the nearby island of St. Lucia, B.W.I., where his father, Alexander Prout, was stationed as a  policeman.  His two younger brothers, Alexander McMahon and Grandville Kitchener Prout were born in St. Lucia.  In 1904 his mother, Sarah Louisa Forster,  died and the family eventually returned to Barbados.

When he was eighteen “Placide,” as he was called, left Barbados on the S.S. Rio de Janeiro and arrived in port of New York on July 31, 1911.  He initially lived in Brooklyn, New York but  moved to the upper westside.  Placide worked as a clerk until 1918 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was called to serve on board the USS Mongolia. While on the Mongolia Placide kept a diary from April 12, 1918 to July 13, 1918 with details of his time on the Mongolia.

Prior to going overseas he married Edith Edmunda Nurse, from Christ Church, Barbados, B.W.I..  The couple had two daughters, Marjorie Eloise and Gloria Edith Prout.  After WWI, Placide worked as a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service in the Bronx, New York until he retired.

He and his wife moved to Rockaway Beach, New York once he retired.  This enabled him to be close to the sea.  On August 10, 1972 “Placide” died of complications suffered after a fall from a jetty while he was fishing.

Photos and story of Rigaude Prout shared by his granddaughter Andrea Ramsey.

Rigaude Prout posing on one of the Mongolia's three, Six-inch deck guns. While in the navy Riguade kept a diary and wrote small glimpses of what life was like for him in the navy at the time. The diary is very torn and tattered today but it speaks to us who read it these many years later. There are basically 5 written pages and the last two were written in lead pencil and are quite hard to read. I have did my best to transcribe what was written.

Below is the transcript of the diary Rigaude kept while in the navy. The entries date from April 13, 1918 thru the middle of July 1918.

April 13, 1918: I enlisted in the U.S.N.R.F.

May 4, 1918: I was notified to report for active duty at the Federal Rendezvous. Foot of 52nd St., Brooklyn, NY.

May 7, 1918: I reported for active duty.

May 8, 1918: Blood test was taken.

May 12, 1918: The Board of Health reported favorably on my blood and I got my equipment. Federal Rendezvous. 52nd St. Brooklyn, NY. The treatment over here very firm, everything that goes to make one comfortable is here, being treated fine.

A day at the Armory.

Reveille 5:30 A.M. Bugle call all hands out of bed.
6 A.M. Bugle Call, Monkey Drill (or morning exercising) which lasts until 6:30 A.M.
6:31 Stand by to scrub and wash clothes (or take clothes off the line)
6:50 Bugle Call for chow (or breakfast)
8:30 A.M. Assembly call. Inspection etc. Drilling etc.
10 A.M. Rest Period.
10:15 Fall in at your cots. After inspection, lecturers or drilling until 11:30 A.M.
11:50 Afternoon chow.
1:30 P.M. Assembly Call.
3:00 P.M. Rest Period.
3:30 Assembly call.
4:30 P.M. The end of the day.
4:50 P.M. Evening chow.
9:00 P.M. Bed Taps all hands in bed by 9:15 P.M.

June 8, 1918: I was transferred the Receiving Ship. Co W Morse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

June 10, 1918: I was transferred to Ellis Island (Segregation)

June 11, 1918: I was sent in a work party to the USS Leviathan.

June 13, 1918: I was transferred to the USS Great Northern.

June 15, 1918: Left USS Great Northern for Ellis Island.

June 16, 1918: Liberty from 4 P.M. to 7:20 A.M. 17 June.

June 26, 1918: Drafted to go on the USS Mongolia.

June 27, 1918: Left for the Mongolia.

June 30, 1918: at 10:30 A.M. left Hoboken on the USS Mongolia for France.

June 30, 1918: 1:30 P.M. Very wavy, fog boat had top stop and await it’s clearing.

June 30, 1918: 2:30 P.M.: All hands ordered to put on life jackets. We are being convoyed by 4 destroyers and 2 battleships. A fleet of 12 troopships.

July 1, 1918: Was inoculated at 10:45 A.M., 1:30 abandon ship drill. 2:45 P.M. Abandon ship drill. 7:45 P.M. Abandon ship drill. 3:55 A.M. Abandon ship drill.

July 2, 1918: At 7:40 P.M. sighted submarine about 900 yards off. Destroyer opened fire and submarine submerged.

July 9, 1918: Sighted submarine at 1:45 A.M. Abandon ship drill at 2 A.M. and 4 A.M. am having a severe headache. 1:25 P.M. destroyer sighted submarine and gave chase but got out of sight. Abandon ship drill.

July 10, 1918: Abandon ship drill at [?] A.M., Lost notebook. General Inspection in P.M., 1 colored soldier 572nd Engineers died of Pneumonia.

July 15, 1918: Abandon ship drill at 3:40 A.M., Lost our convoy a fleet of 3 destroyers. Notebook found and returned to me at 9:20 A.M. by a soldier.

July 17, 1918: Abandon ship drill at 3:20 A.M., Sighted land at 6:00 A.M., Arrived at Brest, France at 7:45 P.M.

July [?] 1918: [unable to read diary] at 3:20 A.M., Had misunderstanding with Naval Ensign.

Lt. Ephriam W. Higgins

Ephriam Willis Higgins was born in Eastham, Massachusetts on January 21, 1875. He was the youngest child of Orin and Eliza Higgins of Eastham. Orin and Eliza had 8 children and in 1880 the Higgins family consisted of eldest son Joshua, Mary E., Herbert E., Edgar A., Orin W., Lizzie D., Ione E., and finally Ephriam W. All together Orin and Eliza had 13 children, five of which had not lived into childhood.

Ephriam’s father Orin was a fisherman and in 1880 he and his eldest son Joshua fished together and this is where Ephriam got his calling to the sea. As a young boy growing up in Eastham, which is Located on the lower Cape, the town is bounded on two sides by land, the other two by water, the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay, Ephriam likely would have joined his father and older brother on many fishing trips.

Ephriam’s early education came from local schools on Cape Cod but later he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

By June of 1900 the only Higgins left living in the family home was Orin and his wife Eliza and Ephriam who was now a 25-years old single man. Orin was still working as a fisherman and Ephriam worked as a farm laborer. During this time in Ephriam’s life he went by his middle name and was more commonly known as Willis Higgins.

By 1906 Ephriam had married to Linnie Burton of Boston, MA. She was born about 1881 in Canada where she immigrated to the States in 1898 and was granted citizenship in 1901. Ephriam and Linnie’s first and only child a daughter named Harriet Burton Higgins was born on March 25, 1907. During 1910 the Higgins family was living at 28 Lexington Avenue in Somerville, Massachusetts. Ephriam was working as a provisions storeowner.

As America entered into the First World War Ephriam joined the Navy. He may have already had several years at sea before the mast and was selected to become an officer in the US Navy. On May 1, 1918 Ensign Ephriam W. Higgins reported for duty aboard the USS Mongolia. She had the distinction of sinking the first German U-Boat of the war and was already a veteran of several Atlantic crossings and had seen action with the enemy at sea when Ensign Higgins reported aboard. While on the Mongolia he was advanced through the ranks from Ensign to Lieutenant Junior Grade and finally to full Lieutenant by the time he was released from the Mongolia on September 11, 1919.

Ten years later in 1920 Ephriam, Linnie and Harriet were living in a rented home located at 21 Park Place in Newton, MA. And at the time Ephriam was working as a Mate on a steamship. Like his father and oldest brother before him Ephriam was making sea life his life.

This may have taken a toll on his marriage as on the 1930 Federal Census Linnie B. Higgins is listed as living in Arlington, Massachusetts and was listed as divorced. She was living with her 23-year old daughter Harriett who was working as a Legal Secretary and at the time she was single. Ephriam was at the time a Sea Captain working for the United States Steamship Lines.

It was known that for six and a half years he was the master of the United States Lines flagship the SS Leviathan. She was a German ship that was taken over during WWI. Captain Higgins retired from active service with the United States Lines in 1941. By the time of his retirement from sea service he had completed some 150 crossings of the Atlantic.

During WWII Higgins was called to duty for his country again. Now in his middle sixties Ephriam Higgins was made Marine Superintendent of the US Army base in Boston, MA. He served in this capacity for the five years. After the war he was associated with the American Stevedore Corporation for a time. Higgins later in life was a member of the Boston Yacht Club, the Stone Horse Yacht Club in Harwichport, and the Harwhich-Dennis Rotary Club. He was a member of the Federal Lodge AF&AM in New York City.

Higgins together with Roscoe H. Prior, who was active in the Boston Port affairs, together purchased the Schooner D. J. Lawlor that had been built in 1896 in Gloucester and was the Boston Pilot boat until she was retired in 1934. It is not known when he and Prior purchased the D. J. Lawlor but in 1989 Heather E. Braging-Smith made an oil painting of the D. J. Lawlor.

During his retirement he moved back to his beloved Cape Cod area. This was the area he was born into and it would be the place he would pass away. In his obituary printed in a local newspaper it states his wife Mrs. Loretta Higgins survived him. According to this he must have re-married after his divorce from Linnie his first wife.

On March 7, 1959 Captain Ephriam W. Higgins passed away in Harwichport, Massachusetts and was buried in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston.

Lieutenant Seymour, Philip, USN Armed Guard, S.S. Mongolia

Date of Action: June 1, 1917
Navy Cross Citation:
The Navy Cross is awarded to Lieutenant Philip Seymour, U.S. Navy, for distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commander of the Armed Guard of the S.S. Mongolia. On June 1, 1917, an enemy submarine fired a torpedo at that vessel, which through quick maneuvering missed the ship. Four shots were fired at the periscope, when the submarine disappeared.

Chief Watertender Thomas A. Cotter

Very few men who served in the United States Navy were able to participate in the Great White Cruise of the U. S. Battleship fleet in 1908-09, and served on Active Duty during the First and Second World Wars. One such sailor is Chief Watertender Thomas Anthony Cotter.

Cotter was born on November 6, 1887 in Newport, Rhode Island to Mary Donovan and William J. Cotter (b. June 1859). Thomas’ father was an Irish immigrant and had come to America in 1870. About 1882 William J. Cotter married Mary Donovan who was believed to be born in Connecticut. The Cotter family was of the Catholic faith but two years before they were married, in November of 1879, Mary gave birth to the couple’s first child a daughter they named Agnes. Then came Dorothy in October of 1882; William B., in September of 1884; and lastly Thomas Anthony who is the subject of this history.

But sometime after the birth of Thomas in November of 1887, the Cotter family moved from Rhode Island to Hartford, Connecticut. According to the 1900 Federal Census William J. Cotter was the head of the household and was listed as being married but Mary was not listed on the form and nothing more is known about Mary. The Cotter family home was located at No. 82 Madison Street in Hartford. This was a large 4-family unit home, which still stands today. William J. was working as a machinist in a local Hartford screw manufacturing company, and Agnes the eldest daughter worked at the same company and so did 15-year old William B who was a clerk at the company. Thomas who was then 13-years old was still in school.

Having been born and spent his early years in the seaside city of Newport, young Thomas was well acquainted with things of the sea as the citizens of Newport were connected to the sea in one way or another. And later on, when the Cotter family lived in Hartford, Connecticut, with the Connecticut River running through the city, which emptied out into the Atlantic Ocean, Thomas would have seen boats and barges going down river to the Atlantic. He may have wondered where were these boats going and the sea may have been calling to Thomas during his formative years. And so, it was only natural that Thomas, when he was of age would join the United States Navy and make it his life.

Thomas Cotter would enlist into the U. S. Navy on June 28, 1906, and after his enlistment, Seaman Cotter was in San Francisco, California in the fall of 1906 several months after the great earthquake took place, and he witnessed the great devastation to the city firsthand.

Cotter’s first ship he was assigned to would have been the USS Missouri (BB-11) the Maine-Class Battleship built in 1901. As a new recruit Seaman Cotter would have seen the Battleships of the Great White Fleet, all painted in their distinctive White and Spar colors, steam into San Francisco Bay on May 6, 1908, as the city was packed with thousands of greeters, many brought in by special trains from outlying communities just to see the fleets arrival. Little did Seaman Cotter know that when the fleet would leave San Francisco, he would be sailing aboard the Missouri. The fleet cruised up and down the West Coast for the next 3-months and by the first days of July they were once again assembled in San Francisco Bay.

Now the fleet was making ready for the next leg of the cruise across the Pacific. As such the ships of the fleet took on new men to replace the ones who had been transferred off the ships. As such Seaman Cotter who had by then had been advanced to the rating of Fireman First-Class, was assigned as a new crewman on the USS Missouri, under the command of Captain Robert M. Doyle, USN. Cotter would cruise across the Pacific Ocean from below the waterline of the Missouri down in the boiler rooms of the ship as part of the “Black Gang” as they were called. On July 7, 1908 the fleet bid farewell to San Francisco and steamed out into the vast Pacific Ocean bound for Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Philippine Islands, Japan, China, Ceylon, Egypt, Gibraltar, and out across the Atlantic Ocean before finally reaching Hampton Roads, Virginia on February 22, 1909.

Now having completed a cruise aboard the Missouri nearly three-quarters of the way around the earth, FM1C Cotter was once again on the East Coast of the States with his first term of enlistment nearing its end. Cotter’s first enlistment term would have ended about June of 1910, and it is believed that he enlisted again for his second term. On the 1910 Census form taken on May 17 aboard the battleship USS Connecticut there is a Fireman First Class “Thomas J. Cotter” listed. He is believed to be Thomas Anthony Cotter as the fact that his rating of FM1C is correct, his age of 24-years is also correct, his father was listed as being Irish born is also correct. The only things that do not match are the middle initial of “J” and that his mother was listed as being born in Massachusetts. On the 1900 census his mother is listed as having been born in Connecticut, but being that his mother was not living or very little of her was known to Thomas, he may have believed she was from Massachusetts. And the difference between the middle initials may be explained as “J” and “A” sound similar and possibly the person filling out the form heard wrong or made a mistake. So, in this light the man serving on the Connecticut on May 17, 1910, is believed to be Thomas Anthony Cotter.

FM1C Cotter would have then served out his second term of enlistment which would have taken him to at least June of 1914. It is assumed that at the end of his second term he went back to his civilian life and was then living as a boarder in the home of a Mrs. Sterrett living on Fitzwater Street in Philadelphia where he was working as a licensed engineer in the city of Philadelphia. This is known from a note written on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Veteran’s Compensation Application form that was filled out on April 10, 1934, and signed by Thomas Anthony Cotter. Thomas Cotter worked as an engineer until a little over a month after America entered the war in 1917. On May 15, 1917, Thomas Cotter went down to the Philadelphia Navy Yard and signed his name for a third term of service on Active Duty in the Navy.

But previous to America’s entry into the war, the U. S. Navy was building and improving her fleet of submarines. During this time the navy was also building submarine tender ships and the USS Bushnell was one of these submarine tenders. The Bushnell was launched on February 9, 1915, by the Seattle Construction and Dry-Dock Company in Seattle, Washington. FM1C Thomas Cotter who was now serving with the rating of Watertender First Class was assigned to duty aboard the Bushnell.

Under the command of Lt. D. F. Boyd the Bushnell was assigned to the Submarine Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet, as the tender to L-Class Submarines. Watertender Cotter likely would have been aboard the Bushnell in the early months of 1917 when they escorted several submarines across the Atlantic to the base in the Azores. In December of 1917 WT Cotter would have been aboard the Bushnell when she escorted Submarine Division No. 5 and arrived in Queenstown, Ireland on January 27, 1918, where they then operated out of for the remainder of the war. The Bushnell was then serving as the tender for Submarine Division No. 5 during the operations in Queenstown. Thomas Cotter was now serving in Ireland, which was the country of his father’s birth.

Additionally, at the same time the Bushnell was serving in the Azores, Cotter served temporarily aboard the USS Conestoga (SP-1128), which was an ocean-going naval tug. Assigned to the Submarine Force, Conestoga carried out towing duties along the Atlantic coast, transported supplies and guns, escorted convoys to Bermuda and the Azores, and cruised with the American Patrol Detachment in the vicinity of the Azores.

At wars end in November of 1918, Cotter had been advanced in rating to his last and final rating of Chief Watertender. About the end of 1918, Chief Cotter was transferred off the Bushnell and reassigned to duty aboard the USS Mongolia, which was then employed in returning troops from France after the war. After the end of the war in November of 1918 the Navy gave honorable discharges to many of the men who were serving in the Naval Reserve. This then left many ships needing men to fill the spots vacated by the Reservists going home, and as such the men of the regular Navy were then left to pick up the duties of the newly discharged men. As Reservists were sent home from the Mongolia regular navy men were reassigned to take their place, which is likely how Chief Cotter came to be aboard the Mongolia. As the war had ended the submarine force was sent home as they were not needed, but what was needed was ship transportation for the million-men then in France who needed to be taken back home. The Mongolia was a passenger liner and was a valuable asset in helping to return soldiers from France. The Mongolia had the honor of drawing the first blood from the Germans during 1917. She spotted and fired upon and hit a surfaced German U-boat in early 1917, there by being the first American vessel to attack a German combatant ship during the war.

Chief Cotter would serve at least nine-months after the war ended during 1919 aboard the Mongolia returning troops and wounded soldiers back home after the war. On September 11, 1919, Chief Cotter was transferred off the Mongolia while at New York and given an Honorable Discharge as his term of enlistment had expired.

It is unclear if between September 11, 1919, and July 31, 1922, if Thomas Cotter was still serving on Active Duty or not. But for sure the next event in Cotter’s life came on July 31, 1922. Weather he re-enlisted or was still on Active Duty the fact remains that on that day, July 31, Chief Cotter was assigned to his next ship, the USS Prometheus (AR-3). The Prometheus was a Repair Ship of the U. S. Navy and was stationed at the New York Navy Yard when Chief Cotter reported for duty. Cotter would serve aboard the Prometheus until November of 1923. During the time Cotter was aboard she made one cruise to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during the winter of 1922-23 as part of the Atlantic Fleet. And then in the early spring of 1923 Prometheus was ordered to transit to the west coast for operations there. Chief Cotter would have been aboard for this cruise to San Pedro, California arriving there on April 17, 1923. By November 26, 1923, Chief Cotter had been reassigned and reported to the Receiving Ship at the New York Navy Yard for his next assignment.

Cotter’s next ship was the newly built cruiser USS Memphis (CL-13). She had just been put into commission on February 4, 1925, under the command of Captain Henry E. Lackey at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. On March 31, 1925, Chief Watertender Thomas A. Cotter reported for duty aboard the Memphis. In June Memphis joined ships of a scouting fleet off Honolulu, Hawaii, for a cruise to the South Pacific through September, with visits to Australia and New Zealand.

After returning from Australia and New Zealand, the Memphis was shifted to the West Indies as her operational area. Chief Cotter had during the fall of 1925, been suffering with a chronic ear infection and as the Memphis was transiting to the West Indies Chief Cotter was sick enough to be transferred off the Memphis and put in the hospital with the ear infection. On October 18, 1925, Chief Cotter arrived at the U. S. Naval Hospital at League Island in Philadelphia for treatment. He remained in the hospital until November 4, 1925, when he was released again for Active Duty. Chief Cotter would not return to the Memphis and he would spend about 3-months stationed at the Receiving Ship at the Philadelphia Navy Yard until he was reassigned to another ship.

During this time, at the end of 1925 and the first months of 1926, Thomas Cotter became married. His wife’s name was Helen A. O’Donnell and she was born in Pennsylvania about 1898. Little is known of her family except that her mother was named Anne and she had a half-brother and half-sister Richard J. and Anna. The only other information about Helen comes from the 1920 Census form that tells she was living in a boarding house on 36th Street in Philadelphia and working as a sales lady in a department store. Helen was just then 21-years old.

In the last week of February 1926, Chief Cotter received orders detailing him to report to another light cruiser the USS Trenton (CL-11). On February 25, Chief Cotter reported for duty aboard the Trenton possibly joining the ship in the Panama Canal Zone. For the next six weeks, the Trenton participated in combined maneuvers with units of both the Battle Fleet and the Scouting Fleet. In mid-March 1926, the units of the Scouting Fleet returned to their home yards for repairs before leaving for summer training cruises with naval reservists and tactical exercises in the area around Narragansett Bay. By mid-September 1926, Chief Cotter aboard the Trenton had returned to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for winter maneuvers.

Thomas’ wife Helen living in Hartford, Connecticut, and it was there in Hartford, that on September 7, 1926, Helen gave birth to their first child a daughter they named Gladys Theresa, while Chief cotter was serving aboard the Trenton.

Trenton participated in maneuvers until just before Christmas of 1926, when the units of the Scouting Fleet dispersed to their home ports for the holidays. Early in 1927, she joined the Scouting Fleet in combined maneuvers with the Battle Fleet near Guantanamo Bay. It was on February 17, 1927, that Chief Cotter was transferred off the Trenton likely at Guantanamo Bay. Cotter took transportation north, and ten days later on February 27 reported at the Receiving Barracks at Hampton Roads, Virginia for new orders.

On March 31, 1927, Chief Cotter retired from Active Duty and was transferred to Fleet Reserve duty. He then returned to his wife Helen who was living in Hartford, Connecticut. Then on January 29, 1929, they had a son named Thomas Anthony, Jr. At that time Thomas and Helen and the two children were living in a rented home on Humphreys Street in Hartford. Thomas at the time was working as a truck driver for a construction company.

Sometime during 1932 Thomas took a job with the United States Post Office, where he started out working as a fireman keeping the boilers going in the old U. S. Post Office and Customs House on the corner of Main and Worthington Streets in Springfield, Massachusetts, which was built in 1891. In June of 1954, Cotter was appointed foreman of laborers at the new Tapley Street Annex, and would retire as the station assistant in November of 1957 after working for the Postal Service for 25-years.

Helen gave birth in 1933 to another son they named William, and then a third son named Francis in 1937. But tragedy befell the Cotter family during the birth of Francis. Complications arose during the birth or in the days after, and both Helen and baby Francis died. Helen and Francis were then buried in the Mount Saint Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

When America entered the Second World War, Thomas went down to the recruiting office and enlisted again for Active Duty service. By then Thomas Cotter was 54-years old, and the Navy let him back on Active duty. Chief Cotter would become the Chief Recruiter at Springfield, Massachusetts and serve in this capacity throughout the war years, finally retiring on April 8, 1947.

Thomas Cotter was married a second time after the death of Helen and his baby son Francis. Julia Margaret Isdale (1913-1999) was his second wife and they were married in 1948. She was born on March 31, 1913, and together they had two sons and a daughter, David, Ralph, and Monica.

Thomas Cotter had served on Active Duty in the navy for over 34-years and navy life was such a part of his life that about 1959 or so he tried to enlist again but being 72-years old the navy felt he had given above and beyond and was turned down due to his age.

In his golden years Thomas Cotter would serve as the president of the Fleet Reserve Association Branch No. 42, and because of his working for the Post Office he had a hobby being an avid stamp and coin collector in his later years. It was said of his collections that they were one of the best collections in all of new England. He even was a member of the American Numismatic Society and was a charter member and founder of the Pioneer Valley American Philatelic Society. Thomas Cotter was always a good Catholic and was a member of the Holy Name Church in Springfield.

On January 3, 1984, Thomas A. Cotter was a patient at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Northampton and passed away at the age of 96-years. He was buried in the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts with full military honors. His grave is in Section 2; Site 1427. At the time of his death he had six grown children; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Gravestone of Helen O’Donnell Cotter and baby Francis Cotter located in the Mount Saint Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Gravestone of Thomas Anthony Cotter, Chief Watertender (Ret.) USN located in the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts. Section 2; Site 1427.

The Mongolia's War Time Passenger

Below is listed information on passengers who sailed aboard the Mongolia.


Sgt. Gamache
Sgt. George E. Gamache, Co. D, 36th Machine Gun Battalion, 74th Infantry, 12th Division. Doug Belknap contacted me about his Grandfather George E. Gamache who returned to the United States on the Mongolia after the end of WW1. George was a sergeant in Company "D" 36th Machine Gun Battalion, 74th Infantry, 12th Division stationed at Camp Devens. The 12th never made it overseas but his Grandfather did. Doug had some notes from his grandfathers plus his boarding passes for both his departure on the SS Balmoral Castle and his return trip on the USS Mongolia. Sgt. Gamache was selected to attend Officer Candidate School in England and France when the war ended. Sgt. Gamache sailed for England on 27 October 1918 aboard the SS Balmoral Castle and arrived in Liverpool and then went to Camp Knotty Ash, England. After the war he left England 12 November 1919 to Cherbourg, France. Unfortunately the next thing his grandson could document was his return on the USS Mongolia where he was assigned to compartment 4J, Berth Number 194. According to the known sailings of the Mongolia he may have sailed on the 14th of December 1918 along with the 73rd and 74th Artillery, C.A.C.

The Civilian Crew and Passengers

Beatrice Elizabeth Moore and Henry G. Moore

Cherry Tiffney shared with me that she believes her great-grandmother, Beatrice Elizabeth Moore worked on board the Mongolia, presumable after WWI. She possibly was a female purser but that's only word of mouth, so she could not be sure in what position. Beatrice left Australia, together with four of her children and settled in San Francisco. One of her sons, Henry G. Moore, was also believed to worked on board the Panama run. Henry who later lived in New York city, had something to do with the convoys during WWII. During WWII the CIA investigated him & his wife prior to this job.

Yee Hong Pon

Susan Yu shared with me that her grandfather, Yee Hong Pon who came to the United States from China in 1915 on the SS Mongolia.

Susan relates about her grandfather, "My grandfather, Yee Hong Pon came to the United States from Lo Bak San, Toisan, Canton, China in 1915 on the SS Mongolia. I did some research several years back when there was so much less information on the web. I was quite surprised and delighted to find all the additional information and pictures on the Mongolia. My grandfather's Certificate of Identity, dated November 4, 1915 states he arrived in San Francisco October 27, 1915, so this was must have been the last Pacific voyage before the Atlantic Transport Line bought the Mongolia. He went to the Pittsburgh, PA area and ran a laundry there with other Yee relatives. He went back to China in 1928 and stayed a year, then bringing back my 10 year old father, Quin Shen Yu on the SS President Madison in 1929, again landing in San Francisco and then traveling by train to Pittsburgh. When my Dad came with my granddad in 1929 they came through Angel Island. A lot of the Chinese immigrants had to go through a lot of tests and questions before being allowed in the US. Many languished there for months or years. My Dad said he had to stay there for six weeks by himself. Meanwhile my grandfather had to get a lawyer and pass some money to people to get him out. Imagine being a 10 year old kid, a long ocean voyage, by yourself in a strange place. But, what a country and what a life he was able to have here. Sadly, my grandfather died in 1934 in Pittsburgh of a carbuncle, a serious staphylococcal infection. My Dad said he refused to go to the hospital because it would have cost too much money. My Dad never saw my grandmother again, who starved to death in China in 1946. My Dad stayed in Pittsburgh, graduated from Duquesne High School and started at Carnegie Tech but went back to China as a civilian to help with the war effort working for GM on the Burma Road. He met my Mom Helen there and came back to Pittsburgh in 1944 where he graduated from Carnegie Tech and worked for US Steel for the rest on his career as a mechanical engineer. He died November 5, 2003. He was a mensch (a mensch is Yiddish. I always use it to mean someone you can look up to or aspire to be like). I never knew either of my grandparents, but I really think about them a lot and about the sacrifices my family made so I could have a better life. There were probably another million stories about the Mongolia before and after the war. That old ship had quite the history!"

Yee Hong Pon's Certificate of Identity

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This page was created on 8 February, 2004 and last modified on: November 13, 2019
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