Class: ST. LOUIS Displacement: 9,700 t. Length: 4266 Beam: 66 Draft: 2410 Machinery: 2 sets of vertical 4 cylinder triple expansion engins, 2 Screws, 16 Babcock and Wilcox boilers with a designed H.P. of 21,000 IPH Speed: 22 k. Coal Bunkers: 650 tons normal, 1776 tons maximum. Crew Complement: 673 peace time, 727 war time, Armament: 14-6 inch, 50 cal., 18-3 inch, 12-3 pdrs., 8-1 pdrs., 4-.30 cal. MG. Two of her 6-inch and 14 of her 3-inch guns were removed during WWI, and two 3-inch 50 cal. AA guns were added postwar. All guns were fitted with electric hoists, which would serve 6 rounds per minute to the 6 inch guns, and 15 rounds per minute to the 3 inch guns. She could carry a normal ammunition load of 519 tons. Her main battery could be fired in a 270° arc of fire. Armor: 4 inch belt, 2-3 inch deck, 2-4 inch gun protection, 3-5 inch Conning Tower.
On April 6, 1905 St. Louis Democratic Mayor Rolla Wells announced that he had selected Miss Gladys Bryant Smith to bestow the name of St. Louis upon the soon to be launched cruiser. In a letter sent to Mayor Rolla Wells a group of St. Louis brewers stated their wishes that when the cruiser was christened she be christened with a bottle of beer instead of the customary Champagne bottle. As with all things political the brewers impressed upon Mayor Wells that beer brewing was what made St. Louis famous and therefore beer should be used for this occasion. It was believed that the time-honored tradition of using champagne won out over the beer.
The fourth St. Louis, Cruiser No. 20 was launched on 6 May 1905 at Neafie & Levy Company shipyards in Philadelphia, PA. Miss Gladys Bryant Smith of St. Louis, Missouri sponsored the St. Louis as she christened her with the breaking of a champagne bottle on her bow. Along with the dignitaries on the launching platform with Miss Smith were her two Maids of Honor, Mary S. Wright and Rebecca Reeves Van Lennep. Miss Smith was a member of the class of 1906 of the Mary Institute in St. Louis. Her father is James E. Smith who was the Special Commissioner of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition to Japan. Following the launching guests were entertained at a banquet hosted by Mayor Rolla Wells.
Originally intended as an enlarged Olympia class of cruisers, the three ships of the St. Louis class (St. Louis, Milwaukee and Charleston) grew considerably in the design stage. Ongoing disputes over the merits of protection vs. speed resulted in a series of questionable ‘cut the baby in half’ compromises. The intended 8-inch main armament was sacrificed for lighter 6-inch guns and, presumably, more speed. But the "more protection" faction demanded and got more side armor at the waterline. This cost speed, which necessitated a larger and heavier power plant…and so on. Friedman's ‘American Cruisers’ mentions this class as an early example of "mission creep" during the design stage. A new feature for the St. Louis was the addition of two separate hospital wards. One of the wards could be used for isolation cases and both being capable of accommodating 30 beds in each ward.
On May 12, 1906 the St. Louis was floated out of the dry dock in Philadelphia and made her way to Rockland, Maine for the start of her official standardizing and speed trials on the Government measured course. The St. Louis was built for a government contracted speed of 22-knots and manned by a crew employed by her builders she made a full power run on the course and easily logged 22-knots in speed. She has two sets of vertical triple-expansion engines, with sixteen water-tube boilers, calculated to give 22,000 horsepower. As soon as her speed trials were finished she steamed back to Philadelphia where her finishing touches were completed before she would be fully commissioned. Her original commissioning date was set at July 11 but due to some delays that did not take place until nearly a month later.
Ownership of the St. Louis was transferred from her builders to the United States Navy on August 14, 1906. She was towed to the League Island Navy Yard form her builders slip and was received by Admiral Craig, the Commandant of the League Island Yard. St. Louis was officially commissioned into the navy on 18 August 1906, with Commander Nathaniel R. Usher in command. Following completion of her navy trials along the Virginia coast she was assigned to the Second Squadron of the Pacific Fleet.
On the day before she departed for her duties with the Pacific Fleet, Commander Usher was at the Navy Department discussing the upcoming cruise of 15,000 miles which, would take her around the Horn and finally to San Diego, California. Commander Usher commented on the report that there had been large-scale desertions from the St. Louis. He reported that the reports were very much exaggerated and that the only foundations for such a claim was from the order that he had issued prohibiting playing cards aboard the ship. All that he knew about the desertions was that 70 men out of a total crew of 630 men had overstayed their leave.
St. Louis departed Tomkinsville, New York on 15 May 1907 for Hampton Roads, VA. On 26 May she left Hampton Roads making her way along the east coast of South America in easy stages stopping at Port Castries, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo. On 23 June while in port in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil the Naval Club of Rio De Janeiro on the Mountain Cpreovado entertained the officers of the St. Louis. Brazilian Chief of Staff Admiral Maurity together with many other Brazilian naval officers accompanied the Americans to the summit. The officers of the St. Louis, after observing the beauty of the panoramic view from the mountaintop were escorted to a hotel half way down the mountain where breakfast was served. Admiral Maurity gave a toast to the health of President Roosevelt and to the American Navy, which was responded to by Commander Nathaniel R. Usher, Captain of the St. Louis. Brazilian Minister of Marine, Admiral Alencar ordered all Brazilian warships in the harbor to dress ships on 4 July in honor of the visit of the St. Louis and to accompany her to sea when she left Rio on the 4th of July 1907. She stayed in Rio until July 6 when she left for Montevideo. She departed Montevideo on 17th of July for Punta Areanas arriving there about the 22nd of July. The next day on the 23rd of July she made Valparaiso and Callao on the 8th of August. She made port in Acapulco, Mexico on the 22nd of August and finally arriving at San Diego, California on 31 August 1907.
During an abandon ship drill held aboard the St. Louis on September 24, 1907, an accident occurred where two sailors were drowned. The drill was part of the Admirals inspection of the St. Louis, and likely made for a less than satisfactory inspection report. At about 2:20 in the afternoon as the ship was under way and conducting the abandon ship drill one of the life boats is being lowered and the forward block and tackle failed and let go, thereby dumping the men into the bay. Two of the sailors in the life boat were not able to be rescued and drowned. They were Seaman William Boyd, and Seaman Harry Hoffman.
As if the drowning of the two sailors wasn’t enough this was topped off with a secondary event related to the drowning. Captain Usher from the St. Louis sent a wireless message to the Navy Yard Commander at Mare Island in order to relay the message to the police chiefs of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkley and Alameda of the deaths of the two sailors during the abandon ship drill. But ashore in Alameda, two young boys who were teenagers intercepted the news of this confidential event with the radio set they were using. It seems that the pair, Henry C. Helm, 15-years old of 1426 Park Street, Alameda, and Alfred Wolf, 14-years old of 2184 Clinton Street also of Alameda, intercepted the message and upon hearing the news of the two sailors who had drowned, rushed to the office of Police Chief Conrad of Alameda and told of the news. Hours later when the navy contacted Chief Conrad he told them he already knew of the drowning. The Navy was a bit taken back in the news that Chief Conrad knew of this already. When they inquired how he had found out it was then that the Navy learned of the two youths and their ability to read confidential naval messages.
As it turns out both Helm and Wolf each had wireless units capable of both sending and receiving messages. Both of the boy’s fathers were partners in a candy manufacturing company in Alameda and that was how they knew each other. Both of the boys learned all they knew about wireless telegraphy from books at the local library. The technical proficiency the boys had seemed to rival that of the U.S. Navy given the fact that the two boys made all the apparatus that they had. For several weeks the boys had been able to read and intercept wireless secrets of the navy. Messages passed between Admirals about the possibility of war with Japan, and confidential messages sent ashore from sailors about secret rendezvous with women ashore had been daily recorded by the two boys.
The equipment the boys built allowed them to receive messages from as far away as Acapulco, Mexico and Bremerton, Washington. Helm, the elder of the two, built his unit at his father’s candy company in a back room. Helm attached his four-wire aerial to a tall building nearby and has intercepted messages from nearly every station on the Pacific seaboard. Alfred Wolf the youngest of the pair put his aerial on a windmill in his front yard and had the receiver set up in the attic of the home. Wolf and Helm spent their entire free time jotting down messages they were getting from the navy. Helm had been for some time furnishing an evening newspaper in Alameda with some of the secrets they tapped into, which were frequently verified by subsequent official announcements from the Mare Island Navy Yard, who were none the wiser.
Some of the more unique messages they had intercepted were quite interesting. One sent from a Cruiser Captain, who remained unidentified read “Miss brown, Oakland–Can’t meet you tonight. No Shore Leave. Be good in the meantime.” Another read, “Mrs. Blank, Alameda–Will see you sure tomorrow night. Didn’t like to take too many chances yesterday. We must be discrete–The Lieutenant.” Still another message from an officer, “Honestly, couldn’t show last night. Am arranging so I can see you oftener. Will take you to dinner Wednesday afternoon–Bluebeard.” It seems that sailors were quite ingenious in the way they sent messages to the women ashore.
But not all the intercepts were of the secret love type; there were those that the subject matter was really serious. Helm told how once, just for fun as he put it, used the name of Admiral “Fighting” Bob Evans and sent a message to a cruiser and gave an order that the cruiser, which was about to sail, should delay leaving. But somehow the order was not carried out and Helm was deprived of his fun game of playing “Admiral” for the day.
Both boys were said to be able to read and transmit using the Morse code and Continental codes. Helm related that he began to study wireless codes about two-years before. Helm continued, “Wolf and some other boys we went to school with began to learn the code but we were the only ones to stick to it. The hardest thing at first was learning to read the regular telegraph messages. After we learned things came easy.” It was then that the boys began to build the equipment. Helm recounted, “At first none of the equipment worked but we kept at it and finally it came. We had great trouble getting the aerials right but found our mistakes in the end. Now everything works pretty well.” It was not known if the boys had to stop intercepting the Navy messages but it clearly seemed that the Navy had a long way to go when it came to using radios and sending messages. I’m sure the Navy recruiters knew where to find the boys when they became old enough to join the navy.
Anchored in San Francisco Bay, St. Louis is ready for her trip south to Mexican waters. But in the days before she was to sail there is time for some of the officers to return favors to those ashore who had shown them kindness. One such event took place on Sunday evening October 13, 1907.
It seems that a Mrs. Josephine Woolley and her daughter Miss Gladys Field Woolley who lived on Telegraph Avenue had entertained some of the junior officers of the St. Louis during the past weeks and the officers now wanted to repay them with a dinner aboard the ship. So, on Sunday evening a steam launch was sent down to the San Francisco Pier and picked up the two women and brought them out to the St. Louis. A lovely evening was had by all. Some of the junior officers who entertained the Woolley’s were; Lt. Carlos A. Gardiner, Lt. Ulysses S. Macy, Ensigns Charles H. Show, Macgillivary Milne and Richard E. Cassidy.
On January 18, 1908 a third sailor from the St. Louis died in Vallejo, California from the effects of drinking Wood Alcohol that was surreptitiously obtained by several of St. Louis sailors. John Harf was the third sailor to die from drinking the wood alcohol in the last week, and two other sailors are blinded and still another five sailors will likely never recover and be fit again for active service.
At noon on February 10, 1908 the St. Louis is steaming just off the coast of Sausalito, California located in the San Francisco Bay near the northern end of the Golden Gate. All things are going along well until down in the engine room an explosion occurs where several boiler tubes blew out and four sailors are badly scalded from the high-pressure steam. Those injured were; Coal Passer E. E. Scott; Water Tender F. Thompson; Fireman 1c D. Lewis and E. W. Baker. Captain Usher quickly orders his helm reversed and steams back to Mare Island with his injured men. Dispatches were sent out from the St. Louis and the Mare Island yard tug with stretchers, four nurses, a surgeon and hospital stewards, rushed out to meet the cruiser in the bay. The 4 injured sailors were transferred to the yard tug and taken to the naval hospital at Mare Island.
The St. Louis was in the Bremerton Navy Yard in the last days of the winter of 1908 awaiting her new Commanding Officer to arrive. Commander Albert Gleaves arrived at the Bremerton Yard on a Canadian Pacific train and took command of the ship on April 21, 1908. Commander Gleaves made an inspection of the ship and he found that her boilers were in a very deplorable state of repair. But the repairs to the boilers would take over 8-months to be completed, so before the heavy work on the boilers was started temporary repairs were made because the St. Louis was ordered in June 1908 to steam to Honolulu to transport the Secretary of the Interior James Rudolph Garfield back to the west coast of the United States. James Rudolph Garfield was the son of the former President James A. Garfield.
The younger Garfield had been on an official trip in his position as Secretary of the Interior visiting the Hawaiian Islands and upon his return remarked that he was “Most impressed with the American Spirit in the Hawaiian Islands, and also with the great resources of the group.” Garfield arrived aboard the St. Louis at San Francisco on July 7, 1908 after a pleasant voyage from Honolulu. Steaming from San Francisco with Rear Admiral Swinburne aboard the St. Louis arrived back at the Bremerton yard to complete her lengthy repairs to her boilers. After her repairs the St. Louis cruised in Central American waters from mid-July through October of 1908.
During March of 1909 St. Louis was at Bremerton, Washington going back into service from the winter of inactivity. She was given a new crew and they were nearly entirely green and few aboard had never even been to sea before. For many of the green boys they not only had to learn how to live on a ship at sea but also how to carry out the daily tasks and communicate with the officers. An example of how a young recruit communicated to an officer is told by this amusing story. On the way down from Bremerton to Mare Island a young sailor was standing watch when out of the blue he called out to the Officer of the Deck.
“Light-ho!” the recruit bellowed out. “Where away?” answered the seasoned O. D.
“A point off the starboard bow,” the young sailor answered smartly back.
“Can you make it out?” was the response by the O. D.
The young sailor answered back quickly, “Yes Sir, I can make it out, or else I couldn’t have reported her.”
There was not an answer from the O. D. just silence, and likely a fair amount of steam pouring from his ears! The youngster likely got a lesson in communication shortly thereafter.
In Early June 1907 while at the Bremerton Navy Yard there was an interesting event that took place among the officers of the St. Louis. Really none of this was the result of any officer aboard the ship, they just absorbed the aftermath of the downfall of a seasoned officer. It seems that Commander Harry Handly Caldwell who had been in the navy since the Spanish-American war days and who had served with distinction as Admiral Dewey’s Aide, ended his naval career in a less than honorable way aboard the St. Louis.
Commander Caldwell was assigned to duty aboard the USS Milwaukee, on November 29, 1907 as the Navigation Officer. But during the spring of 1907 Commander Caldwell had been charged with intoxication and was court martialed for this dereliction. Found guilty at his court martial his punishment was to lose 15 numbers in grade and be transferred off the Milwaukee and was to report to the St. Louis. Aboard the St. Louis, Caldwell was her Acting Navigator, but several days prior to reporting aboard the St. Louis Caldwell had submitted a letter of resignation. Just prior to the St. Louis leaving Bremerton to steam south to the Mare Island Yard, Caldwell got his response that the resignation was accepted. Commander Caldwell then packed his sea bag and quit the Navy on the spot. The officers aboard the St. Louis steamed out of the Bremerton Yard on June 9, less one Navigator and they likely felt they were the better for it too.
On June 10, 1909 the St. Louis arrived at the Mare Island Navy Yard where she went into the dry dock for re-fitting of new propeller blades. She would be in the dry dock for four-days and then she steamed to Guam.
While on the cruise to Guam there was an incident that occurred onboard that, at least in the minds of the crew, caused them to mutiny. The occurrence of this event made at least 3 newspapers around the world so this event was something that people took notice at the time. A few days before June 21 the St. Louis took aboard some calves’ heads that the cooks were going to boil and feed to the crew. It was on the evening of June 21 that the dinner of calves’ heads was served. The crew finding that the meat of the calves’ heads was unpalatable threw them overboard as well as the knives, forks and plates. This event was really not an official mutiny to the officers and no one was punished, but it was safe to say that no calves’ heads were ever served again aboard the St. Louis.
Commander Gleaves was to take the St. Louis on a summer cruise to the South Pacific and visit Tahiti, the Marquesas, Hawaii, Samoa and the Fiji Islands but due to coal shortages the Navy Department changed the cruise to just Hawaii, Samoa and the Fiji Islands. June 7, 1909 the St. Louis began her South Pacific cruise with 21 officers, 506 enlisted men and 44 marines.
As the St. Louis is steaming down the Puget Sound when they were in sight of Mt. Rainier at about breakfast time a close call to the ship occurred. By the personal accounts of Commander Gleaves the ship was saved from serious harm by one of the cabin mess attendants. The young Negro mess attendant was known on the ship as Lijah. After breakfast Commander Gleaves was in his cabin reading when Lijah looked out the port side of the ship and remarked to the captain why they were so close to land. This caught Gleaves attention and he saw they were nearly running along the beach, when they should have been in the middle of the sound. Quickly Gleaves ran to the wheelhouse and corrected the situation. Gleaves would later remark that "It was a close call and I always had a feeling of gratitude in my heart for our mess attendant Lijah."
The ship made a stop at Mare Island and then on to Honolulu. Departing Hawaii the St. Louis steamed on for 11-days rolling deeply all the while until the ship approached the doldrums. The temperatures inside of the ship reached 123 degrees in many of the passageways causing the tar to boil out of several of the seams in the deck. But then as she crossed through the doldrums it cooled off some. On July 14 they crossed the 180th meridian and gained a day. The destination was Suva in the Koro Sea, which held a challenging time of navigation due to the dangerous reefs in that area.
On Suva was the home of Thackenbau, the king of the Cannibal Islands. Commander Gleaves visited there, which was then occupied by his son. On the walls of the home were many war clubs, braided mats and sennito, and a certificate of the king's conversion to Christianity along with another that indicated that the king was a loyal subject to her Gracious Majesty the Queen of England. Also visible in the harbor was the timbers of a wreck of a very old French man-of-war, which was wrecked on the island many years before. It was said that the natives killed and ate the French crew when they were still cannibals.
When the St. Louis reached the Fiji Islands Commander Gleaves and several of the officers were ashore with the local Fiji officials dining at a luncheon. Commander Gleaves gave a toast to the Bishop of Polynesia meaning to be polite but the words chosen by the American commander did not translate well into Polynesian and visibly upset the bishop some. But Gleaves was able to smooth things over and all was well in the end.
The St. Louis returned back to Honolulu in mid-August, and when they arrived in Hawaii there was a bit of confusion over customs duty taxes from Samoa to Hawaii. According to a report in the August 12, 1909 edition of the Washington Post, several officers and enlisted men of the St. Louis were implicated in a supposed smuggling operation. In early August when the St. Louis arrived in Honolulu from Samoa charges were filed by the United States District Attorney Robert W. Breckons and E. R Stackable of the Port Authority, against several men from the St. Louis. The charges were that some Samoan Tapa cloth, which carries a stiff duty tax, was smuggled aboard the St. Louis when they left Samoa recently. This Samoan cloth had been sold to some local Chinese merchants in Honolulu stores, and that several arrests were forthcoming among the St. Louis crew. The culprit aboard the St. Louis was a Master-at arms and after the entire mess was figured out he and the local customs agent became such good friends that he presented the young daughter of the customs agent with a gold watch.
When the St. Louis departed Hawaii, they steamed to the Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco. While there the citizens of St. Louis, Missouri on September 4 1909 presented a specially commissioned silver service set to the officers and men of the ship that carried the name of their great and proud city, USS St. Louis.
On 5 November 1909, St. Louis returned to Puget Sound where she was placed in reserve on 14 November 1909 and then decommissioned on 3 May 1910. Seven days after she arrived at the Bremerton Navy Yard on November 12, 1909 Captain Albert Gleaves receives orders detaching him from the command of the St. Louis. His new assignment was to be the Naval Aide to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Winthrop.
When it came time for Gleaves to leave the ship the wardroom officers rowed him to shore in the captain’s gig. The Executive Officer secured the gig to the dock, and the paymaster disconnected the captain’s pennant from the gig and presented it to Commander Gleaves as he stepped off the captain's gig. As Gleaves stood on the dock the officers stood up and gave three cheers, which was followed by the crew of the St. Louis as they lined the rails.
In 1919 Gleaves attained the rank of admiral and was placed in the Far East as the commander-in-chief, Asiatic Station. He retired in 1922 after forty-five years of service to his nation. Gleaves continued to advocate a strong, flexible navy, not only in public appearances and lectures but also in a series of publications in national magazines and journals. He died in 1937 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. In his honor, the navy commissioned the destroyer USS Gleaves in 1940.
In May of 1910, Lt. CMDR Alfred A. Pratt, the Commanding Officer aboard the USS Pensacola receives orders relieving him of command of the Pensacola and detailing him to report to the Commanding Officer of the USS St. Louis for duty as the Executive Officer and Ships Navigator. Commander Pratt would serve aboard the St. Louis throughout 1910 and early 1911. Pratt would retire from Active Service on June 30, 1911. Within the week from his retirement Commander Pratt passed away on July 4, 1911 at the Mare Island Navy Yard. Lt. Walter E. Whitehead took command of the St. Louis on April 5, 1911 and would server as her C. O. past January 1, 1913.
St. Louis lay in a state of inactivity at the Puget Sound Navy Yard until orders were received for the St. Louis and the Oregon to make ready for a cruise to begin on October 24, 1911. The Oregon had not been to sea in over 6-years and had just been overhauled at a cost of $1,000,000. The St. Louis and the Oregon were being re-activated for service with the Pacific Reserve Fleet, which will include the cruisers Pennsylvania, Charleston, Milwaukee and Galveston. The reason for the formation of the Reserve Fleet was to train the required officers and men who would soon be needed to man the many new battleships, destroyers and submarines then in construction on the builder’s ways. These ships of the Reserve Fleet would not be fully manned but would only have about a third the crew required to take any one ships to sea. If needed these reduced crews could be quickly combined to sail any one of the Reserve Fleet ships if called on during an emergency.
St. Louis was re-commissioned, for her Reserve Fleet duties on 7 October 1911 at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. The St. Louis set sail from the Bremerton Navy Yard on December 13, 1911 bound south to Yerba Buena Naval Training Station at San Francisco where she arrived on December 17. She was to take the place of the old wooded Pensacola that was serving as the Receiving ship at the Yerba Buena Training Station.
This is a view of the USS Pensacola on the left and the USS St. Louis in the foreground taken likely in December of 1911 about the time the St. Louis arrived to replace the Pensacola as Receiving Ship at Yerba Buena. In the background there is seen an island structure with several buildings which are ship terminals with a causeway connecting this to the shore. This is likely the general area where Treasure Island sits today. This photo would have been taken before Treasure Island existed. The photo appears to have been taken from the shore of Yerba Buena looking somewhat northeast. At the time, this area was known as Yerba Buena Shoals Rock and this formed the basis of Treasure Island when it was constructed in the late 1930’s.
The old Pensacola was a wooden hulled screw steamer built and commissioned in 1859 and served during the Civil War in Admiral David Farragut’s Western Gulf Blockading Squadron. After 53-years of continuous service the navy in May of 1912, burned the hull of the Pensacola near Hunter’s Point so her metal parts could be salvaged.
After undergoing repairs, which were completed about 28 February 1912, St. Louis joined the Pacific Reserve Fleet again on 12 March. Several personal changes were made aboard the West Virginia while she was at the Bremerton Yard, and on the 13th of March 1912, Lt. Commander Leland F. James was detached from the West Virginia to assume Command of the USS St. Louis, also then at the Bremerton Yard.
From 1912 through 1915 aboard the St. Louis a young naval officer by the name of Mervyn Bennion works quietly aboard the ship. He would be a future Medal of Honor winner in WWII. Captain Bennion’s final assignment was as commander of the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48) from August 1941 until he was killed in action on her bridge during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Captain Bennion was buried at the Salt Lake City Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah. The destroyer USS Bennion (DD-662) was named in his honor and was launched on July 4, 1943.
On the 16th of March 1912 orders were received for the Armored Cruisers, California, Colorado and South Dakota to steam at best speed to the Philippines. The United States Government had become very alarmed with the situation developing in China between the growing threat between Russia and Japan. The United States State Department believed the evidence showed that Russia and Japan were going to divide China between the two countries taking advantage of the unrest in China. The United States felt it was prudent to have a military force in the area and that is why the California, Colorado and South Dakota were dispatched in a hurry. As soon as the Maryland could return to San Diego with Secretary of State Philander C. Knox and re-coal she too would sail at best speed to join her sister ships in the Philippines. The Pennsylvania was also under orders to proceed to join them as soon as she could. In addition the battleship Oregon and the St. Louis and cruiser Raleigh would also sail to join the United States force assembling in the area. This force was under the command of Admiral Murdock aboard his flagship California, giving him the second largest force in the area next to the Japanese Navy.
From 14 July 1912 until 26 April 1913, St. Louis operated in support of the Oregon Naval Militia, and then returned to the Puget Sound Navy Yard to be placed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet for a year. By October 1913 the St. Louis now under the command of Captain Waldo Evans was helping the city of San Francisco to celebrate its Portola Festival. This was a festival that had started in 1909 in celebration of the founding of San Francisco by Don Gaspar de Portola and also to serve as a celebration of San Francisco’s rebirth after the devastating earthquake and fires. The navy was invited each year and the 1913 celebration saw the Pittsburgh, South Dakota, Buffalo, St. Louis, Charleston and the gunboat Yorktown along with eight other torpedo boats anchor just south of Yerba Buena Island about half-mile from the waterfront. Chinatown was always a favorite place for the fleet to visit and each building in Chinatown was decorated with red and yellow, the colors of the 4-day festival.
In April of 1914 St. Louis was now skippered by Commander Joseph Mason “Bull” Reeves. During CMDR Reeves term as captain from April 1914 through June of 1915, St. Louis served as a training ship, Receiving Ship and as Submarine support ship. Reeves later would retire from the Navy at the rank of Admiral and distinguished himself by serving in the Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII and it was largely through Admiral Reeves foresight that the foundation of modern carrier striking forces are based on today. At the Bremerton Navy Yard the submarine USS H-3, which had just been commissioned in January 1914 was ordered moved to the Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco, California. As such it was decided that the H-3 should be towed there and on April 25, 1914 she was under-tow of the USS St. Louis steaming out of Puget Sound for California. Once Captain Reeves had delivered the H-3 to the Mare Island Yard the St. Louis was to take on stores and additional men and head to the waters off Mazatlan, Mexico.
On April 2, 1914 aboard the USS Cleveland Lt. Edmond S. Root receives orders detaching him from that ship and instruct him to proceed to the USS St. Louis where he will report to her commanding officer and become the new Engineer Officer of the St. Louis.
When the USS St. Louis arrived in San Francisco Bay in May of 1914 many of her crew took liberty and shore leave. Among them was the Chief Quartermaster Charles O. Evans. Being from a navy family Chief Charles Evans elected to stay at the home of his cousin, Mrs. E. W. Lehning, and study for upcoming navy examinations in place of traveling across the country visiting with relatives. Chief Evans is a relative of "Fighting Bob" Evans the famous Admiral. Rear Admiral Evans commanded the Great White Fleet from Hampton Roads, Virginia in its passage from the Atlantic Ocean through the Straits of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean, where he was relieved of command in San Francisco, California 9 May 1908 because of ill health. Evans legendary nickname grew from such events in his lifetime as the attacks on Fort Fisher, North Carolina during the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, Evans exhibited great gallantry under fire on 15 January 1865. He led his landing party of United States Marines through heavy fire to charge the Confederate defenses. Evans continued to fight even after his fourth wound, drawing his pistol and threatened to kill any man who attempted to amputate his leg in surgery when he was evacuated.
During the summer of 1914 while serving as the Receiving Ship at Mare Island all fourteen of the St. Louis's 6-inch guns are removed and sent east to the Washington DC armory. She will then have new guns installed replacing the old guns. And in addition, she also has her boiler tubes taken out and refitted with new boiler tubes.
All sailors love the company of pretty girls and there is no better place to meet pretty girls but at a dance. Such was the case when one sailor from the St. Louis and another from the cruiser Maryland attempted to attend a dance held by the Rice Institute on Saturday evening November 21, 1914. Coal Passer W. C. McCullough from the St. Louis and Gunner's Mate 3rd Class C. Single were refused admission to the dance by Rice officials strictly on the basis they both were in uniform.
At the time of the Spanish-American War Congress passed a law that that made it a felony to discriminate against men in uniform of the army or navy. In addition, California Civil Code provided for no persons over the age of 12-years shall be refused admission to any public dance.
This refusal of the two sailors so infuriated the commanding officer of the St. Louis that he wrote a letter of protest to the Alameda County District Attorney's office. Lt. Commander O. T. Honsboy's letter of November 30 states the following;
I have to make the following report against the Rice Institute, a dance hall on Seventeenth Street and San Pablo Avenue, Oakland, CA.
On Saturday evening, November 21, 1914 W. C. McCullough, a coal passer on this vessel, and C. Single, a gunner's mate, third class, attached to the Maryland, were refused the sale of tickets of admission at the Rice Institute except with the understanding that they would not go on the dance floor and dance. From outside information I have evidence to the effect that McCullough and Single were orderly in every way, and the objection to their dancing was based strictly upon the grounds of their wearing the naval uniform.
A letter was addressed to the manager of the Rice Institute November 23, 1914, but no reply has been received to date.
Will you be so kind as to take this matter up and advise me as to what steps should be taken in the matter in order to protect in their rights, men on shore in uniform?”
Prior to January 1, 1915 Lt. Commander Victor S. Houston was in command of the St. Louis and was still in command past January 1, 1916.
Early February of 1915 brought rainy weather to the San Francisco Bay area, and to sailors, high winds, flooding and large amounts of rain always spells caution in anchorages. Such was the case on February 8, 1915 when six sailors who were leaving the St. Louis in a launch had to be rescued while in the bay. The launch from the St. Louis was overcome by the winds and rain and signaled for help and were rescued by a passing Crowley Line tug boat, while at the same time another launch containing 42 sailors from the USS Prometheus became water-logged and needed assistance. No sailors were lost but danger is always lurking even in the safest of harbors for the men who go down to the sea in ships.
Boxing in the Navy was serious business to sailors and officers alike. The sport of boxing provided entertainment to the men and also bragging rights of one’s ship against another ship of the fleet. In 1915 aboard the St. Louis was a barber named Tony Barbaria, who could give you a haircut, shave and a pretty good “Trim’n” if you got out of line, so to speak. Barbaria was set to go a few rounds with a cocky fellow navy boxer named Jimmy Ford who had been beating “all hands” around the fleet in San Francisco in the spring and early summer of 1915. The match-up between Ford and Barbaria took place ashore at the Italian Society of All-Night Waiters and Barbaria who was of Italian heritage seemed to be the crowd favorite. Jimmy Ford was expected to clean up on little Tony Barbaria just as he did with all that had come before him, but Barbaria of the St. Louis’ barber shop was not going to have any of what Ford was dishing out. The match ended in a draw that thrilled the Italians in the crowd so much that they all wanted to make Tony Barbaria the President of their Society.
Aboard the St. Louis in Tony’s barbershop, he was known to be a bit of a philosopher. One of Tony’s sayings was that “It’s a bum barbershop that has no Police Gazette.” Aboard the St. Louis, Tony was known as “The Royal Barber to the crowned heads of Italy” and someone once asked him where he got the “crowned heads of Italy” stuff. Tony replied that once when sailor Pete slammed Charlie Grande on the head, that old Charlie became a “crowned head” of Italy. Charlie was quoted in saying “Pete never knocked me out, it was my foot that slipped.” Apparently in the barbershop of the St. Louis you either behaved or you became a “crowned head” so to speak anyway. But Tony Barbaria had other skills other than being a barber and a boxer. He was a good boxing manager too. In May 1915 Tony took three sailors from the St. Louis over to Fort Baker to take on some of the Army boys. Tony took Joe Grim, Hugo d’ Kell’, and Charlie Grand to play with them Army boys and came back with one draw and two knockouts to the credit to the St. Louis boys. Tony was quoted spoken in his broken Italian-American accent saying “All-a de time make-a de win, pretty soon-a buy de beeg-a barbair shop in Bremerton.”
Charles Monez a sailor from the St. Louis then the Receiving ship at Mare Island is on liberty and was in the water front area of San Francisco on the morning of December 6, 1915. He runs into an old shipmate quite by chance and it seems that Monez owed this shipmate $2.00 but Monez refused to make good his debt. Soon enough the pair began to square off and began to fight. The other sailor produced a leather blackjack from his clothing and gave Monez a thumping to the head. When Monez woke up over two-hours later he found himself in the sickbay aboard the St. Louis, and Monez found that he was $7.00 short and his hat and gold watch were missing. It was not known if the deal was ever squared.
New Year’s Day of 1916 the St. Louis enjoyed the holiday anchored in San Francisco Bay. Her cook’s had prepared a feast for sailors to celebrate the new-year, and was a meal that all aboard looked forward to. The menu for the New Year’s Day Dinner was; for appetizers there was Oyster Soup and selections of Radishes, Green Onions, Sweet Pickles and Celery along with Cold Sliced Tongue. The main course consisted of Roast Young Turkey with Cranberry Sauce, Giblet Gravy, Sage Dressing, Sweet Potatoes Southern Style, Mashed Potatoes, Creamed Peas, and Chicken Salad in Timbales, Full Cream Cheese and Crackers. Dessert was Neapolitan ice cream, Pumpkin Pie, Mince Pie, Apple Pie, Chocolate Layer cake, Coconut Layer Cake, Oranges, Apples and Bananas along with Nuts and Raisins. Coffee and Cigars topped off the evenings meal.
Detached from the Reserve Fleet on 10 July 1916, St. Louis departed Puget Sound on July 21st for Honolulu. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on the 29th of July, where she commenced her next duty assignment as the tender for Submarine Division Three, Pacific Fleet, with additional duty as station ship, Pearl Harbor. As such St. Louis became the first major warship to be stationed at Pearl Harbor.
The German unprotected cruiser SMS Geier at the start of WWI in 1914 was ordered by the German High Command to join Admiral Graf Spee's East Asia Squadron out of Tsingtao, China. But the SMS Geier found that Admiral Graf Spee's Squadron had already departed on a commerce-raiding mission in the Pacific, which left the Geier alone in the eastern Pacific. The Geier's captain decided his under gunned and underpowered ship's best course of action would be to seek safety in a neutral port. Honolulu, Hawaii was selected as the most suitable port and the Geier made all possible speed to the port of Honolulu. On or about October 17, 1914 the Geier makes port at Honolulu. Outside the harbor the Japanese battleship Hizen cruised the three-mile limit waiting for the Geier to steam out past the three-mile limit but the Geier’s captain stayed in port not wanting to risk destruction from the guns of the Hizen. The British Ambassador Mr. Cecil Spring-Rice writes an official document to the United States Secretary of State asking for the United States to inter the German ships SMS Geier and SMS Locksun as in his words “…She is obviously made a false declaration of destination, there appears to be circumstantial evidence that she has already been engaged in furnishing supplies to a belligerent warship…” The Locksun was a German Collier and had arrived in Honolulu with at least 1,000 tons of coal aboard her. But the Locksun was known to depart from Manila with 3,215 tons of coal on August 16, 1914 and she had received an unknown amount of coal from another vessel enroute to Hawaii, but according to her captain she only had 250 tons of coal aboard her when she reached Hawaii. So obviously she had re-coaled some vessels and had taken on additional coal during her last voyage, giving the suspicion that she was a collier for the German fleet.
This is a photo taken in Honolulu on the morning of February 4, 1917 with the USS St. Louis standing by just out side the harbor. In the foreground are two ships moored, the nearest ship is unidentified. The larger ship moored inboard is the German collier SMS Locksun. This is the first armed action the United States took during the First World War.
In an official letter dated November 12, 1914 from the United States Department of State to the German Ambassador, U. S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan informs him of the following; “I have the honor to advise you of the receipt of a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury, stating that a telegram has been received from the collector of customs at Honolulu, reporting that, on November 8, 1914, the German naval vessels Geier and Locksun were interned there.”
The Geier and Locksun spent the next three-years interned in Honolulu, when hostilities escalated between the United States and Germany in the spring of 1917. Two months before the United States declared war with Germany, local Honolulu observers saw smoke coming from the Geier and Locksun. The Honolulu Fire Department and an armed boarding party from St. Louis boarded the Geier and Locksun on 4 February 1917. The fires were put out and the crews of the German ships were arrested.
The boarding party from the St. Louis quickly discovered the Germans had not been idle during their 3-year stay in Honolulu. The German officers and crew took part in a series of messages relayed between Berlin and Mexico and Canada, in which the Germans were attempting to lead the two nations into hostile action against the United States. The German crew were taken as prisoners of war and brought to Ft. Douglas in the state of Utah. There were more than 500 German sailors held there at Ft. Douglas from the crews of the SMS Cormoran captured at Guam and the SMS Geier and Locksun.
The Geier became the property of the U.S. Navy, and underwent armament modifications to re-enter service as the USS Schurz. Subsequently, the Schurz spent most of its active duty in the Atlantic where it sank with the loss of one sailor after colliding with the SS Florida on June 21, 1918, 32-miles off the North Carolina coast.
St. Louis was then serving as the Tender for the Third Submarine Division, Pacific Fleet then based at Pearl Harbor and she was detached from this duty in the late summer of 1916. While on this duty on January 8, 1915 aboard the Armored Cruiser USS West Virginia a young officer is detached and detailed to report for duty aboard the USS St. Louis. On January 9, 1915 Ensign Albert Harold Rooks reported aboard the St. Louis. He would only serve aboard for just about a month and then was detached for duty on the USS Mohegan for submarine duty. Later in his naval career during WWII as the Captain of the USS Houston (CA-30) in 1942, Rooks would be killed in action as a result of enemy action. Houston and HMS Exeter took on a far larger Japanese force and inflicted heavy damage on two Japanese heavy cruisers, in the action Captain Rooks is severely wounded and died as a result on March 1, 1942.
St. Louis embarked on a cruise for the training of the Hawaiian Naval Militia. On September 14, 1916 she departed Honolulu on the cruise with the Naval Militia men aboard. The cruise took the St. Louis to the islands of Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii before returning again to Honolulu on September 26 after a steaming distance of 886 miles. During the cruise the St. Louis consumed 270 tons of coal while under way and 92 tons while at anchor.
During the 1916 Militia Cruise Lt. CMDR Victor Stuart Houston, USN was in command of the St. Louis. Lt. R. L. Stover, USN was the Executive Officer and also served as the Ordnance Officer and Navigator, Lt. (j.g.) R. S. Parr, USN was the Engineer Officer and Surgeon W. S. Hoen, USN was the ship’s Doctor.
|The Hawaiian Naval Militia complement for that cruise consisted of the following officers.
Ensign W. H. Stroud, Asst. Navigator
Ensign S. W. Tay, Junior officer, B Division
Ensign F. D. Gibson, Junior Officer, C Division
Lt. (j.g.) J. A. McKeown, Engine Division
Ensign L.W. Branch, Boiler Division
Ensign H. W. Engle, Auxiliary Division
Passed Asst. Surgeon, Asst. Medical Officer
There were also aboard for the cruise 76 enlisted men of the Hawaiian Militia consisting of 25 Seamen, 8 from the Deck Force, 37 from the Engineer Force and 6 from the Special Branches. During the cruise it was found that Ensign Stroud was in charge of a battalion that was very under trained for such a cruise. Of the Militiamen, officers and enlisted, who came aboard none had the proper uniforms or in some cases had any hammocks and it was necessary to obtain suitable ones from the St. Louis. This lack of readiness had delayed the cruise, which was to take place in August but due to the shortcoming of the Militia Battalion had to be delayed until September. But in short order the officers aboard the St. Louis from the Regular Navy had the Militiamen squared away.
During the cruise no gunnery practice was undertaken, but each of the Militiamen worked alongside of the regular crew of the ship and took on a real eagerness to learn their respective jobs. Once the cruise ended on September 26 the Militiamen requested that they help in re-coaling the ship. The request was granted and 800-tons of coal was loaded into the St. Louis’s holds. The next day the men were still aboard and did not leave until the ship was cleaned from the coaling. Although the cruise was undertaken with the Militia Battalion being hardly ready for such a cruise they had real benefit and valuable knowledge gained for future development of the Hawaiian Naval Militia.
Lt. Francis Alfred Vossler reported aboard the St. Louis in March of 1917, being transferred from the USS Nevada, and would serve as the St. Louis’s Engineer Officer throughout the First World War.
Placed in reduced commission in the spring of 1917, she was again raised to active status as the United States entered World War I, St. Louis departed Honolulu on 9 April to join the cruiser force engaged in escorting convoys bound for Europe. Calling first at San Diego, she took on board 517 National Naval Volunteers and apprentice seamen to bring her war complement to 823 officers and men; and, on 20 April she was placed in full commission. Captain Martin E. Trench was placed in command of the St. Louis on April 29, 1917 as her first war-time skipper. A month later, she arrived in the Panama Canal Zone and on 16 May was reported as being moored to the dock inside the mole at Balboa along with the USS Pueblo, USS Whipple and USS Truxtun. On 21 May, St. Louis transited the Canal and arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on May 24, 1917. There the St. Louis took on board the 7th, 17th, 20th, 43d, 51st, and 55th companies of Marines, and steamed north the same day. St. Louis arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on May 30, 1917 and disembarked the six companies of marines.
St. Louis' first convoy duty began on 17 June 1917 when she departed New York in escort of Group 4, American Expeditionary Force. This consisted of the following four troopships: SS Dakotan, under the command of Cmdr. C. Shackford with 101 casual troops on board, the SS Edward Lukenback, under the command of Lt. Cmdr. A. C. Pickens with 122 casual troops on board, the SS El Occidente, under the command of Lt. Cmdr. H. W. Osterhaus with 55 enlisted men of the Supply Company of the 26th Infantry and 28 other casual troops, the SS Montanan under the command of Cmdr. P. N. Olmstead with 87 casual troops. With Cmdr. M. E. Trench in command of the St. Louis, and along with the other escorts of Group 4, which consisted of the Armed Transport USS Hancock, Armed Collier Kanawha, the destroyers USS Shaw, USS Ammen, USS Flusser and USS Parker, safely escorted their charges across the Atlantic. This voyage was not without danger as an enemy submarine attacked Convoy Group 4 on June 29th at 10:30 in the morning. One torpedo passed within 50 yards of the Edward Lukenback and her captain, A.C. Pickens took evasive action to avoid being hit. The ship closest to the Lukenback was the Kanawha and her crew watched in horror thinking that the wake of the torpedo was going to hit the Lukenback. As the Lukenback made a swift change in course and the torpedo missed her, the crew of the Kanawha gave a rousing cheer as the torpedo passed clear. The Lukenback’s cargo consisted of 5,000 tons of ammunition and her deck was loaded with gasoline, hay and motor oil and oxy-acetylene tanks, which would have made for a terrible inferno if she were to be hit.
Returning to Boston for repairs on 19 July 1917, she had completed six additional voyages, escorting convoys bound from New York for ports in Britain and France by the end of the war. On October 14, 1917 Captain Trench passed command of the St. Louis to Captain Waldo Evans who had previously been the commanding officer of the cruiser USS New Orleans.
During these convoy escorts on January 7, 1918 Seaman Thomas Henry Schaeffer lost his life as he was washed overboard. And Fireman 1st Class Basil Floyd Brumbaugh passed away due to respiratory problems on January 20, 1918. In March of 1918 the St. Louis was not immune to the effects of the Spanish Influenza Pandemic. As she was at the Navy Yard at Norfolk, VA St. Louis reported 73 cases of the flu resulting in some deaths. Seaman 2c Hilbert Charles Bell died on March 6, 1918 of an unknown illness, Apprentice Seaman Charles Edward Gibson died on June 6, 1918 also of an unknown illness. Seaman 2c Elias William Whitmore dies on October 7, 1918 of respiratory disease.
Arthur Janisch was on a 30-day leave from the navy at the beginning of January 1918, and was staying at the home of his brother Edward Janisch at 1011 Arlington Avenue in Oakland, California. Arthur Janisch had joined the navy some 4-years before and had just re-enlisted while home on leave. But while at his brothers home Machinist Mate First Class Arthur Janisch had some storytelling to do about his most recent experiences in the navy.
Janisch was then serving aboard the cruiser USS St. Louis and was serving aboard when the St. Louis escorted the first American Convoy across the Atlantic during the war. This would have been the first of General Pershing's regiments to cross the dangerous waters to Europe in 1917.
Janisch stated, “I shall never forget that first trip across the Atlantic as long as I live. Every man on our vessel, and every man in the fleet, I suppose, was keyed up to the highest pitch of vigilance and excitement. We never knew what moment a submarine might come up. For twelve days we were on this nervous tension, and then one evening about 6 o’clock a smudge of smoke appeared on the horizon straight ahead. In less than two-hours we were completely surrounded by American destroyers and British patrol boats, which kept circling about us all the way into the British port.”
He continued telling about the mining of the English Channel. “The enemy was keeping a close watch on our movements, and after we had reached port, the outside channel was mined by German boats. Before we could sail out on the voyage to France, the channel had to be swept of the mines.”
“As we started the last lap of our trip, Captain Trench offered a bonus of $100, which was increased by the crew to $300, to the first man who spotted a submarine. This reward was won by a lookout in the foretop, whose name I have forgotten. He spied the periscope of a diver about 3,000 yards straight ahead. Two shots were at once fired from our forward guns, and the diver submerged at once. I don’t know whether we hit her or not, but I am willing to wager that we did.”
In speaking of the French people Janisch states, “The French people gave us a royal welcome when we entered the harbor. They certainly seemed glad to lay eyes on American bluejackets and American Khaki. Their hospitality was unbounded.”
During his time aboard the St. Louis Machinist Mate Janisch made a total of eight trips convoying ships. He stated that all eight trips were all something to write home to mother about but there was nothing like that first trip. The St. Louis narrowly missed the great Halifax Harbor explosion. They had been in the Halifax harbor just a day or so before the great explosion took place. And he missed by two days the air raid over London that killed ten people and injured many.
Before Arthur Janisch joined the navy he worked with his brother Edward aboard the USS Patterson, which was doing geodetic and coast survey work in Alaska the Hawaiian Islands, and in the Panama Canal Zone. Edward Janisch was the first assistant engineer aboard the Patterson.
Captain Evans on July 13, 1918 turned over command of the St. Louis to Captain Amon Bronson, Jr. who previously had commanded the cruiser USS Denver. Captain Bronson would serve as commanding officer until September 6, 1918 when he turned over command to Captain Gatewood Sanders Lincoln.
The stress that these voyages put on the ship and crew was hard as there was no time for normal shipyard repairs. The crew had to perform maintenance while at sea and coaling in port the ship would take on as much as she could carry. Quite often the cruisers would use every bit of coal that was in the bunkers, sometimes almost running out before returning to port. The St. Louis on one trip arrived at Hampton Roads with barely 10 tons of coal in her bunkers. After the Armistice, St. Louis was immediately pressed into service returning troops to the United States.
A storm beaten St. Louis reached New York on February 22, 1919 with 45 officers and 1,294 enlisted men of Companies E, F, and G of the 161st Infantry. Also aboard for that trip were 3 casual companies consisting of 6 officers and 325 enlisted men with another 25 casual officers. Commander R. L. Stover the Executive Officer of the St. Louis was quoted as saying “The voyage from France, from which we sailed on January 28, was one of the worst I have experienced.” On January 31 the St. Louis ran into a gale when the wind blew hurricane force winds causing the St. Louis to roll and pitch so heavily that her main mast was carried away when it snapped off just above the maintop.
On March 29, 1919 St. Louis arrived at Pier 4 in Hoboken, New Jersey at 3:00 O’clock in the afternoon with 1,323 officers and men of the 148th Infantry Regiment. It was noted that the trip across was fine until they approached the American coast, when the weather became very stormy with frequent snow squalls.
She returned 8,437 troops to Hoboken, New Jersey, from Brest, France, in seven round-trip crossings between 17 December 1918 and 17 July 1919, when she arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for repairs. Her designation was changed to CA-18 on July 17, 1920.
The Navy Department gave orders that 6 destroyers and the cruiser St. Louis be sent to the Eastern Mediterranean waters to increase the naval force in the region under the command of Rear Admiral Mark L. Bristol aboard his flagship USS Chattanooga due to the tensions resulting from the Craeco-Turkish War. The 6 destroyers and the St. Louis were then at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and the orders were received on July 29, 1920. As soon as the crews could be assembled the fleet would leave Philadelphia within 10 days’ time. On September 10, 1920 the St. Louis now under the command of Captain David. E. Theleen, in company with the 6 destroyers sailed from Philadelphia to join Rear Admiral Bristol’s force.
The fleet made stops in Sheerness, England on 26 September, disembarking military passengers, then stopping in Cherbourg, France and continued on to the Mediterranean and reported to the Commander, United States Naval Forces in Turkish Waters at Constantinople on 19 October 1920. Standing up the Bosporus River from Constantinople on 13 November, St. Louis embarked refugees at Sevastopol and Yalta, returning them to Constantinople on 16 November. The following day, her crew formed boat landing parties to distribute food among refugees quartered aboard naval transports anchored in the Bosporus River.
On the return trip back to Constantinople the St. Louis finds the Russian ship Reon stalled in the Black Sea without water or coal. They take her into tow and proceed back to Constantinople. Aboard the Reon the men from the St. Louis find 5,000 refugees from the Crimea. Conditions were so pitiful aboard the Reon that officers and enlisted men from the St. Louis brought forth $700 from their own pockets in which they bought food from their own mess and distributed it among the 5,000 aboard the Reon. Even with that there were still several women and children who had not eaten for more than two days. The Reon was crowded with over 4 times her capacity and living conditions were unthinkable, but the refugees aboard were not permitted to land in Constantinople because they had no money and there was no room for them in the already overcrowded conditions in the city. The American Red Cross was sending supplies to the city and the Reon was only one example of many such refugee ships in the harbor.
Anchored off Constantinople, Turkey on March 21, 1921 the St. Louis is host to a gathering of 150 members of the American Chamber of Commerce from the Levant regions of the Eastern Mediterranean. These Chamber of Commerce members were holding they’re annual meeting aboard the St. Louis and the United States High Commissioner; Admiral Mark L. Bristol was to give a presentation to the assembled group. But for the meeting held that day he was not aboard ship and YMCA Secretary Warren E. Bristol read Admiral Bristol’s speech to the Chamber Members. In the Admiral’s remarks he told the group, “Establish yourself in foreign markets and then become normal.” The Admiral called attention to the fact that all business had suffered severely in the Eastern Mediterranean because of the lack of peace, and that there would be no stable business until the many nations in the area were stabilized. Additionally, the formal exchange currency would not stabilize until factories and farms were working peacefully and the balance of trade restored. However, Admiral Bristol insisted that those who waited for better political conditions would be too late to take the best advantages of those who establish themselves now.
St. Louis continued her humanitarian duties at Constantinople and other Anatolian ports during the time of unrest caused by the Russian Civil War and the Turkish Revolution. In late 1921 Captain David E. Theleen relinquished command of the St. Louis to Captain William Daniel Leahy. Leahy had previously served as the navigator of the USS California from 1909-1911, and the commanding officer of the troopship USS Princess Matokia during WWI. Later in his naval career he would become the only naval officer ever to wear five stars and have the rank of Fleet Admiral.
In early August 1921 Commander John J. London, USN of the St. Louis was headed back to the United States on leave of absence aboard the United States Mail Steamer SS Old North State where he reported to those aboard the Old North State that the St. Louis and the fleet of destroyers were kept busy caring for refugees coming from various Black Sea ports. Commander London described the condition of the 150,000 Russian refugees in Constantinople as pitiful. Because of the high prices of the basic necessities of life there in Constantinople the Allied Commission under direction of Rear Admiral Bristol had set up several locations through the city where refugees could obtain items for sale at fair prices.
St. Louis departed Asia Minor for Naples on 19 September 1921. She next called at Gibraltar and, on 11 November, arrived at Philadelphia where, on completion of pre-inactivation overhaul, she was decommissioned on 3 March 1922.
During the period that St. Louis was at the Philadelphia Navy Yard being deactivated an accident took place that claimed the life of one of her crew. On January 3, 1922 at about 7:45 in the evening Seaman 1c Elmer Grady Doyle, who was the captain of the fresh water hold that day, was trying to turn a valve when the accident took place. Seaman Doyle had a rope tied about his waste and was lowered into the hold to turn the valve. In doing so Doyle fell and the rope slipped and let him deeper into the water. In the panic Doyle drowned before a rescue party could get to him.
It had been seventeen years since the St. Louis was launched into the waters of the Delaware River, she returned to those same waters and was placed out of commission for the last time at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The waters of the Delaware that gave her birth would now be the same waters where she would spend her last days. She had been only weeks before the Flagship of the American Naval Forces in Turkish Waters alive with all the trimmings of the stature of a Flagship, but now she was ending her life as a naval vessel, soon the breakers torch would be used against her hull and she would cease to exist.
In reserve until struck from the Navy list on 20 March 1930; St. Louis' hulk was sold for scrapping on 13 August in accordance with the provisions of the London Treaty for the limitation and reduction of naval armament.
|Men of the St. Louis in Halifax, Nova Scotia taking on stores, 28-30 October 1917.||Photo showing the St. Louis’s Forward 6-inch main gun being loaded and aimed as the Chief directs the men.
Note above the gun on the bridge hangs the ships bell.
|Above is a photo showing Seaman Joseph James Johnston who was serving aboard the USS St. Louis during 1912. The sailor on the left is not identified. This view is of the forward 6-inch main gun of the St. Louis shown from the starboard side of the ship. At the upper left of the photo the bottom of the ship's bell can be seen. A better view of the bell can be seen in the photo above, showing another view of the same gun.|
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 St. Louis please e-mail them to: Joe Hartwell
As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Denver & U.S.S. St. Louis during World War I he was awarded the Navy Cross. His citation reads: "The Navy Cross is awarded to Captain Amon Bronson, Jr., U.S. Navy, for distinguished service in the line of his profession as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Denver and the U.S.S. St. Louis, engaged in the important, exacting and hazardous duty of transporting and escorting troops and supplies through waters infested with enemy submarines and mines."
By Ronald L. Bassett, MSgt, USAF Retired, Grandson of Oscar Bayer
Oscar Bayer was born to German emigrant parents on 21 August 1896, at Palmdale Colony, Los Angeles County, California. He had two older brothers (Arnold and John Louis) and two younger sisters (Hilda and Mary).
When he was about four years old his father abandoned the family, and sometime after the birth of his younger half-sister (Mary) his mother became ill and the children were either taken by the county for adoption, or taken in by other families. It is unknown exactly what happened to Oscar until 1910 when he is shown at age 13 as an adopted son living with John and Francisca (Guerado) Alipaz, on the 1910 Federal Census, Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, California, taken on 25 April 1910. John was born in Mexico; his wife’s father was also from Mexico, and her mother from California. It is believed the Alipaz family took Oscar in, but this was not a legal adoption, and the 1920 Census shows Oscar, having recently returned from WWI Navy service, again living with widow Mrs. Alipaz as her “ward”.
Prior to the entry of the United States into World War I, Oscar enlisted into the California National Naval Volunteers (NNV). At that time the NNV was the naval arm of the National Guard. It is believed that his brother, John Louis Bayer, may also have been in the NNV, as he also served in the Navy during the war.
Oscar was employed as a clerk with California Hardware Company, Los Angeles, when he was called up in April 1917, and returned to that job after the war.
The following narrative was created from Oscar’s five sea-logs, with appropriate notes added by the transcriber. He was also an avid photographer and his album of over 1100 photos has added visual support to his sea-logs.
Oscar was “called out” for duty on Saturday, 7 April 1917 and reported to a Los Angeles area armory. He worked at the armory until Thursday, 12 April, when he boarded a train to Mare Island [Vallejo, CA]. The next day he was stationed on the USS Huntington, and on 17 April was sworn into the regular US Navy. On Friday, 20 April, he returned to Los Angeles for liberty, and then on to San Diego where he was assigned to the USS Saint Louis, Cruiser-20. On Tuesday, 24 April, the ship departed for Panama and the East Coast to prepare for convoy escort duty across the North Sea.
The following day the St. Louis went to the aid of the USS Brutus, which had run aground on Cerros Island, but was unable to pull the ship free. After 12 days at sea the ship arrived at Balboa, Panama, and went into dry dock to have the hull scrapped clean, during which the crew underwent several days of training, drills and had shore leave. The St. Louis entered the first locks of the Panama Canal at 12 a.m. on 20 May, and after loading coal and stores, was at sea on 22 May.
No reason was given, except the notation “in trouble,” but it seems Oscar was a guest in the ship’s brig for three days while the ship stopped in Cuba to put on 1100 Marines, then departed for the Philadelphia Navy Yard, arriving on 29 May.
After 10 days in the yard, and shore leave, the ship departed for New York on 9 June, arriving in New York harbor the next day.
On Sunday, 17 June, the St. Louis departed for it’s first convoy escort, with five transports, 13 ships in all, including six Torpedo Boats. Research indicates this was Convoy #4, 1st American Expeditionary Force, with the USS Hancock as flagship. Other ships in the convoy noted by Oscar were the SS Edward Luchenback, Montana, Dakotan, and El Oxdental.
On 28 June the ship sighted a submarine and fired at it, but missed. Oscar notes a later ship got it. The next day he notes they are in “more danger than ever.”
During the voyage the crew had gun practice and drills, and picked up several mines. On 1 July, 14 days later, the convoy arrived at Bell Island, off of the French coast and was met by French destroyers. The next day they landed at the French port of Saint Nazaire where he was able to have some shore liberty prior to the ship departing on 8 July, arriving back in New York on 19 July. The convoy included the USS Charleston, Finland, Hancock and two other transports. He noted there was an eclipse of the moon on 5 July. The following ships were in also port at St. Nazaire: SS Kenawa, USS Parker DD-48, USS Patterson DD-36, USS Hancock, USS Flusser DD-20, Perkins DD-26, and Cummings DD-44.
On 15 July he felt ill, reported to sickbay with a 103 temperature, and was given a dose of Castor Oil. For the next six days he was in sickbay as the ship returned to New York in rough seas, and reports having a 104 fever on 20 July. He felt better for several days, but was back in sickbay again on 1 August diagnosed with bronchitis, and does not return to duty until 7 August, when he was assigned to the office of the ship’s Executive Officer as a Yeoman.
On Sunday, 5 August, the St. Louis left New York for Boston, arriving at the Navy Yards the next day, and was in dry dock 27-30 August.
During the 24 days at the Boston Navy Yards Oscar was in training with the Executive Officer, and made several shore trips into Boston. He also notes when he receives and answers mail. He coded all of his mail with initials. Some are obvious to family members: J.B.: Josephine Banbury, F.J.: Francis Johnson. Both ladies were close friends, and he married Josephine, or “Jo”, after the war.
On 10 August he notes, for unspecified reasons, about 100 of his fellow NNV shipmates were “busted” at least one rate. He received a “great” gray sweater from Josephine on Monday, 13 August, and was promoted to Seaman 2nd Class on the 16th. He had messenger duty on 20 August, going to the USS Virginia and Delaware.
Pre-war photos show Oscar on early vintage motorcycles, and on 25 August he notes he left the ship and rode a “Harley.” His friend, Petty Officer Julin, kept a motorcycle on board the ship and it was used for shore trips.
On 7 September he notes seeing three Subs leaving for Chili, and three more still in port. On 13 September he is appointed as a Yeoman, visits the USS Raleigh prior to the St. Louis leaving Boston the next day for Newport, Rhode Island. The 17th he notes seeing the USS San Francisco leave Newport, and the next day his ship leaves for Hampton Rhodes and Yorktown, Virginia. On 22 September the ship was ready for gun drills and target practice with the USS Charleston at Tangier Sound, and remains in that area until 12 October.
On 26 September the USS Minneapolis arrived with mail. The St. Louis returned to Rhode Island on 13 October, and on 20 October there were 288 NNV, 63 Marines, and 681 USN on board the ship. Preparing to get underway the ship takes on 2300 tons of coal, and leaves port on 26 October for Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. On Tuesday, 30 Oct. the St. Louis, USS Huntington, and USS Balich left Halifax for Liverpool, England, carrying the Presidential Envoy Mission. This included Colonel M.E. House, Presidential Envoy; Admiral William S. Benson, USN, Chief of Naval Operations; General Tasker Howard Bliss, Chief of Staff of the Army; and their staffs. Oscar reports very rough seas and on 2 November the USS Huntington lost an engine and was not making any speed. On Sunday, 4 Nov. the USS Downes DD-45, meets the convoy as they enter the “War Zone.” Two days later they are met by US destroyers 55, 57, 64 & 65 off the coast of Ireland, and arrived at Davenport, England, on 7 Octtober. The ship was in port for 7 days and Oscar took liberty to London, and made motorcycle trips with his friends Petty Officer Julin and “Rags” (W. Ragsdale).
With the USS Huntington, the St. Louis left Davenport on 15 November and had to wait until the “nets” were open. He notes, “Seven German Subs await us out side of here. No ships left for three days. Subs lay and wait.”
Although at sea for 9 days in rough weather, Oscar and Julin managed to tear down the motorcycle’s Henderson motor. The ship arrived at Hampton Rhodes on 27 November. Oscar received a large amount of mail, and sent a cablegram to “J.B.” [Josephine Banbury] the next day.
Oscar and Julin took the motorcycle to Newport News and visited an Army camp where he saw over 200 trucks and “mules & horses by the hundreds” waiting to be shipped.
On 5 December Oscar went on board the USS Berkley to visit his brother John Louis Bayer, but found that he had been transferred to Camp Farrgunt. There is a notation here showing a code he used someplace in his mail to let friends know where he was, or had been. For New York he used a check mark; Boston a plus sign; and so on.
On 8 December he states the USS Jacob Jones had been sunk by a German sub. The next day he had a visit by his brother Louis [stationed on the USS Mississippi] and they “had good talk of old times.”
On 11 December the ship left for New York in a snowstorm, arriving the next day, and after several days liberty the ship was coaled and ready to depart for the next convoy on 19 December. This convoy consisted of the St. Louis, a troop ship and 20 “tramps” transports, including both English and French ships.
On 22 December, 1917 Oscar notes he was recommended for Yeoman and had been learning how to use the typewriter. On Christmas Day they had cherry pie, but it was “a hell of a place to spend Christmas.” In very bad weather the convoy entered the “danger zone” on 29 December, and on the 31st the transports continued to port and the St. Louis reversed course, returning to the US, arriving Old Point, Virginia, on 8 January 1918. The harbor was full of ice, and he received lots of mail, including a package from the Red Cross.
On 13 January, 1918 Oscar took a medical exam for Yeoman, made Yeoman 3rd Class on the 15th, and the weather was cold and wet. The St. Louis was called to assist the USS Denver and Texcan after they collided on 16 January, and on the 19th they joined the USS Charleston and Chattanooga at the ice covered Tangier Sound for gunnery training and target practice. The ship returned to Hampton Rhodes on the 22nd, had a large transfer of men, a visit by a “flag” [Admiral], and more drills and target practice before leaving for New York on 11 February.
On 12 February they found the English ship El Solo beached about 8 miles from Egg Harbor inlet, and then continued to New York. Their next convoy departed on 16 February with 30 ships. The same day Oscar was transferred to the Communication Department. On the 23rd the ship’s dentist started on his teeth, and two days later they were in the “danger zone” again.
While on watch on 28 February he “caught a wireless” that two German subs were not far away. That same night they turned and headed back to Hampton Rhodes, arriving Sunday, 10 March. He notes that a man named Bell died of diphtheria on the voyage.
On their arrival the USS Mississippi and Pennsylvania were at the Rhodes, on the 12th he boarded the USS Pueblo for range practice, and on the 16th went over to the USS Mississippi to visit his brother.
From 19 to 22 March the ship was again at Tangier Sound for gun training, and on the 23rd Oscar boarded the USS Denver for armed guard crew training. On the 25th he was on the USS Vega and Tacoma to put out targets. On the 27th the St. Louis had an Admiral’s inspection, and Oscar notes the Admiral stated it was the cleanest ship he had seen in 40 years. On the 30th the ship departed Hampton Rhodes for Halifax to relieve the USS San Diego for convoy duty.
The evening of 9 April the St. Louis left Halifax with 9 ships and 20,000 troops. The ships included the Justicia (with 5000 troops on board), Lapland, Saxoria, Hester, Vectorian, Tunisian, Ulira, Metagana, and Cretie.
On 11 April Oscar started training in the Captain’s office, and learned he would be transferred to another ship in May. On 15 April a periscope was sighted, and the next day the St. Louis again reversed course and returned to Halifax on 23 April.
Oscar’s record was tarnished on the 22ne when he was put on report for “keeping his bedding below”, and had to meet “The Mast” on the 24th, then a Deck Court on the 26th for “disobeying orders”. He was found not guilty by the Captain and released.
On 27 April Oscar notes the ship entered New York harbor and passed the Statue of Liberty, and the next two days he and Julin took trips on the motorcycle to Coney Island and Central Park.
The first of May Oscar is transferred to the New York receiving ship to await orders. He spent nine days there, visited Ellis Island and several lady friends. He first received orders for the USS George Washington, but that was changed to the USS Plattsburg the former Atlantic cruise liner “City of New York”.
Oscar reported to the Plattsburg on 10 May, 1918 and was assigned as the ship’s Mail Orderly. He would have been part of the initial crew, as the ship was in the Navy Yards to be fitted out for war use, and was then moved to the pier at Hoboken, New York. On 2 June the ship was moved into the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and then to Pier 62 North River on the 8th. At 8:30 am, 12 June, the sleek former luxury cruse ship left for Liverpool, England, as part of a 13-ship convoy, many with troops, with the cruiser USS San Diego as escort.
On the 21st the San Diego left the convoy, the next day eight English destroyers met them and on the evening of the 23rd they entered Liverpool. On 2 July the Plattsburg and 10 ships departed for the US, escorted by English destroyers. On the 6th two of the ships in the convoy were sunk, and the Plattsburg arrived back in New York on the 11th. The next day Oscar received the US Postal Department’s appointment as Ship’s Mail Clerk and had to take an “oath of bond.”
On 21 July the Plattsburg and Harrisburg again departed New York in convoy with 15 ships, including USS Fredrick, two destroyers, seaplanes, kite balloons, and 40,000 troops. The USS Harrisburg was the sister ship to the Plattsburg, known as the “City of Paris” before the war, and were the fastest cruise ships of the time, and first with twin-screws.
On 2 August the convoy is off the coast of Scotland, is joined by a Derrigbale, and arrives in Liverpool the next day. The ship left on the 11th for the return trip with seven other ships, and arrived back in New York on the 21st. Only nine days later, on 30 August, Plattsburg again leaves port with seven ships bound for France, including four destroyers and the cruiser USS Fredrick. The convoy arrived Brest, France, on 12 September. Oscar notes that on the 21st the USS Mauswra and eight more troop ships arrived, and on the 22nd the USS Harrisburg arrived.
On 24 September the Plattsburg, Harrisburg and five destroyers departed Brest, the destroyers left the two sister ships the next day and they kept up a speed of 17 knots for most of the return trip to New York, arriving on 2 October. With another quick turnaround, on 11 Oct. the sister ships and the USS Maine (or Maui) depart for France, meeting a convoy of 12 ships on the 19th, eight American destroyers later the same day, and arriving at Brest, France, on the 21st.
While at Brest, Oscar notes the following movement of ships: 22nd, USS Mount Vernon left; 26th, the SS Von Stuben, Agamemnon, and Great Northern arrived; 27th, Great Northern left; 1 Nov, Von Stuben left. Indications that the war was drawing to a close were noted on Thursday, 31 Oct, as Turks asked for peace and submarines flew white (flags); and on Friday, 1 November, “Austria Hungary gave in.”
On Tuesday, 5 November, the Plattsburg left France for the USA, and on Monday, 11 November 1918, Oscar’s notation reads: “Up at 7am. Washed, shaved and got hair cut. Worked up all mail. Peace at last at 3 pm today, G.M.T.”
The Plattsburg arrived at New York on the 13th and departed again on the 23rd. On the 25th the Plattsburg lost one of it’s two propeller blades. Note: The sister ships were the first ever designed with two screws, just for this reason.
On 2 December the ship arrived at Portsmouth, England, and moved to Southampton the next day. Moved again on the 10th to Cowes [Cowesea?]. On 21 Dec. the USS Great Northern arrived with the replacement propeller blade, and the next day Oscar went for his Yeoman 1st Class examinations. The 25th, Christmas Day, Oscar notes “Cowes is a terrible place to spend Christmas.” On the 31st the ship moved back to Portsmouth, and on 4 January 1919, the ship had finished coaling.
There are no other dated entries after this, however other notes in the five sea-logs show that Oscar became a Yeoman First Class (Petty Officer) on 1 January 1919, and it is assumed that he remained with the Plattsburg until it was decommissioned in the fall of 1919.
Because the ship was in England, there may have been another sea-log started after the last entry on 4 January 1919. Navy personnel records show Oscar’s enlistment was from 18 April 1917 to 17 April 1920. Family records note that he was granted a pass from his ship in England to Paris, France, on 10 August 1919, and on 9 Sept. 1919 became a life member of the Association of Army & Navy Stores.
Although his enlistment was completed in April 1920, he must have been released previous to that date as he is shown on the 1920 US Census, taken 12 January 1920, living back at home in Los Angeles, California, and working as a wholesale hardware order clerk. He was working for the California Hardware Company when he went into the service, they sent him letters and packages during the war, so it is assumed he returned to a job at that store. A year or so later he would take and pass the Los Angeles Police Department examination, serve as a policeman, motorcycle officer, and detective, and it is believed was the first living officer awarded the LAPD Medal of Valor for stopping the gang that held up the Hellman Bank, with only his side arm and riding his motorcycle.
He owned and flew his own aircraft and was perhaps the first flying policeman in the west. He was also a member of the 478th Pursuit Squadron, serving as a Master Sergeant, until his untimely death on 16 April 1929, when his new Mono Coupe aircraft crashed on take off from Clover Field, Santa Monica California. At the time his funeral was reported to have been one of the largest ever seen, with numerous aircraft flying overhead and dropping rose peddles.
Bayer’s military legacy would be carried on by his son, Air Force Colonel Oscar Bayer Jr., a Korean War and Vietnam War combat pilot; a daughter who served in the US Marine Corps; and by three of his grandson’s - two who were helicopter pilots in Vietnam, and one who retired from the Air Force after 23 years active duty. Bayer’s law enforcement role was also carried on by a grandson who served as a county deputy sheriff.
A homeless boy who loved the adventure of early motorcycles; a ready citizen sailor who served when called and became a senior noncommissioned officer in less than three years; a respected and heroic police officer; and an early pioneer of the skies. Oscar Bayer’s life was a short 32 years, but experienced and achieved more than many other lifetimes put together.
Although the project took more than 13 months, and hundreds of hours to transcribe the sea-logs, scan, edit, research, identify and organize the hundreds of photographs -- It has been my pleasure to have relived this saga through my grandfather’s notes and photographs.
It would be a disservice not to mention the support provided by Oscar’s children: my Mother, Blanche Bayer Bassett; and her brothers Colonel Oscar Bayer, USAF retired, and Roy C. Bayer, as well as those family members who contributed funds to help keep the computer fed and the project afloat. Thank You!
Ronald L. “Smokey” Bassett
MSgt & GS-12, US Air Force, retired.
Grandson of Oscar Bayer
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