USS Housatonic, Minelayer WWI

USS Housatonic (ID# 1697)

WWI Minelayer

Type: Minelayer (in 1918) Displacement: 7,000 tons. Length: 391.9-feet. Beam: 48.3-feet. Draft: 20-feet.
Speed: 15 knots. Capacity: 830 mines (900 max) Crew: 21 officers and 400 men.
Armament: One 5"/51 caliber gun; Two 3"/23 caliber guns.

USS Housatonic, a US Navy minelayer, was the former 4,664 gross ton commercial passenger-cargo ship El Rio. The El Rio was built and launched on November 14, 1899 by the Newport New Ship Building & Dry Dock Company in Norfolk, Virginia. She was owned by the Southern Pacific Steamship Company, and built for passenger-cargo trade on the New York-New Orleans-Galveston, Texas run, and operated under the flag of the Morgan Line. Her dimensions were 380.5-feet in length, with a 48-foot beam, and she drew 23.9-feet of draft. Her working career spanned from 1899 through 1922. She had a Marconi Wireless radio and some of her early operators were J. A. Daggett, Samuel Kay and W. H. Davis.

Other early officers of the El Rio were just learning the trade and one such officer was Third Mate Rasmussen. Rasmussen had just attended the Uttmark’s Nautical Academy located on State Street in New York. Captain Uttmark started this school in 1882. He writes the following letter of thanks to Captain Fritz E. Uttmark:

I am sending you a few lines to express my gratitude and to thank you for your good teaching, also for the interest you took in teaching me during the four weeks' course in navigation. I was able to pass the examination as 2nd mate coastwise and 3rd mate on any tonnage of any ocean without any trouble.

I now hold a position as 3rd mate on the SS El Rio of the Morgan Line. I will gladly recommend you to any one wishing to learn navigation, and wish you success with your school.

Berent August Rasmussen,

734 51st Street, Brooklyn, NY

The men of the El Rio took their ship seriously and took great pride in their accomplishments. Chief Engineer Bennett was not going to let another ship take their record, especially a ship from a competing line. In December of 1907 the Chief Engineer of the El Rio writes to the editor of the magazine "The American Marine Engineer" where he states:

In the issue of October 1907, I note where the San Jacinto (Mallory Line) broke the record from Galveston, Texas to New York; time 5 days. I beg to differ with this, however, as the northbound record is held by the El Rio of the Morgan Line, 4 days, 18 hours and 22 minutes, dock to dock. The southbound record is held by the El Cid of the same line, 5 days, dock to dock. This record was made 4 years ago.

H. G. Bennett, Chief Engineer, SS El Rio.

The El Rio and three of her sister ships who were all owned by the Southern Pacific Steamship Company and operated under the Morgan Line flag were taken over by the Navy late in 1917 due to urgent shipping needs because of the war. These four Morgan Line ships were selected by the navy for use as minelayers because their designs were essentially identical, and similar to those of older ships that had entered the Navy in 1898. All four were later converted to transports and used as such to return troops from Europe to the U.S. during 1919. El Rio was renamed USS Housatonic and placed into commission as a United States Naval vessel on 25 January 1918, and given the task of laying sea mines. Her new commanding officer was Captain John W. Greenslade, USN. But first there would need to have extensive changes made to her hull in order to allow for the mine laying tunnel.

Captain John W. Greenslade, USN, Commanding Officer of the Housatonic during WWI. The Executive Officer of the Housatonic, Commander Walter Frederick Jacobs, USN

Work began in earnest on 25 November 1917 at the Tietjen & Lang’s shipyard in Hoboken, New Jersey under the direction of the Fletcher Company, and her hull was painted in the dazzle paint scheme whose purpose was to make the ship difficult to see from a U-boat Captain’s eye while at sea.

Gun platforms were added for two anti-aircraft guns forward and a 5”/51 caliber gun aft. The mine laying conversion enabled her to carry mines on three decks, and included six Otis elevators individually capable of transferring two mines every 20 seconds from the storage decks to the launching deck. Stern ports were cut for launching the mines and the rudder quadrant was raised to give adequate clearance. Watertight subdivision was improved by strengthening existing bulkheads and building two new bulkheads to divide the largest compartments so the ship might stay afloat if only one compartment were flooded. Quarters were enlarged to accommodate messing and berthing arrangements for a crew of about 400. The main machinery was overhauled and auxiliary machinery was added for the elevators, for heating the berthing spaces, for refrigerated food storage, for additional fresh water distilling capacity, for magazine sprinklers and galley and washroom plumbing, and enlarged electric generators for lighting and radio communications. Existing coalbunkers on the third deck were replaced with a bunker in the hold forward of the boiler room with chutes to load coal over the mines. Larger boats and heavier anchors required larger davits and anchor windlass, and the mines required specialized handling machinery.

Many new officers came aboard the ship and got their first taste of navy life, one such officer was Stewart Shirley Reynolds. He enlisted into the US Navy on April 13, 1917 as a Seaman in the USNRF. Reynolds was then attending the Phillips Academy in Andover, Maryland. He was commissioned as an Ensign on November 20, 1918. His first duty was aboard the USS Nevada, and then transferred to the USS Housatonic where he participated in the laying of the North Sea Mine Barrage.

Once this work was completed Housatonic steamed across the Atlantic to Scotland, from where she would operate from for the rest of World War I. The essential task of the Housatonic was to, with the help of her nine other fleet mates; build a barrier of mines across the North Sea in an effort to restrict the movements of German submarines.

The idea of a mine barrage across the North Sea was first proposed in the summer of 1916 by British Royal Navy Admiral Reginald Bacon, and was agreed at the Allied Naval Conference on 5 September 1917. The Royal Navy, and in particular Admiral Beatty as Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet; was skeptical about the value of the operation and did not feel it justified the large logistical and manufacturing commitment required. But the Unites States was altogether more enthusiastic about the operation as the loss of trans-Atlantic shipping was a major domestic concern and this plan allowed the United States to play an active part in tackling this while playing to their industrial strength and with minimal risk of American casualties. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt appealed directly to President Woodrow Wilson to overcome opposition to the project from Vice Admiral William Sims, who commanded all United States naval forces in Europe.

But many in the navy knew that the mines available at the time were contact only and the logistical commitment to mine a 250-mile long field was nearly impossible. But by July of 1917 a new type of mine was developed one that used an electrical antennae-firing device. This would allow for a reduction from over 400,000 of the old contact type mines to about 100,000 of the new electrical type mines. Now the American and British navies had something they could work with.

By November 1917 the idea was ready for action and the two nations agreed to put things into motion to mine the North Sea. But first ships would be needed to lay mines with. Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss was given command of this vacant fleet. His first order of business was to put Captain Reginald R. Belknap in command of the Mine-force. Belknap was a stern disciplinarian and was experienced in the use of sea mines. Admiral Strauss used as his force flagship the USS Black Hawk, skippered by Captain R. C Bulmer.

It would be seven months before the ten-ship fleet was ready for sea. But in the early spring of 1918 the new fleet arrived in Inverness, Scotland for duty. There in Inverness awaited all the mines that the fleet would need. 

The small fleet of ten ships together formed Mine Squadron One, US Atlantic Fleet, and was responsible for the laying of the great North Sea Mine Barrage of 1918.

Mine Squadron One, U.S. Atlantic Fleet

Senior officers of the squadron, September 1918.
Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss, Force Commander
Captain Reginald R. Belknap, Commander Mine Squadron One;
Commander Bruce L. Canaga, Aide to Commander Mine Squadron One;

Captain Henry V. Butler, C.O. USS San Francisco, Squadron Flagship
Captain W. T. Cluverius, Commanding Officer USS Shawmut;
Captain Clark D. Stearns, C.O. USS Roanoke;
Captain Albert W. Marshall, C.O. USS Baltimore.
Captain Thomas L. Johnson, C.O. USS Canonicus;
Captain James H. Tomb, C.O. USS Aroostook;
Captain John W. Greenslade, C.O. USS Housatonic;
Commander Sinclair Gannon, C.O. USS Saranac;
Commander William H. Reynolds, C.O. USS Canandaigua;
Commander Daniel P. Mannix, C.O. USS Quinnebaug;

During the next five-months the American ships laid 56,571 and the British ships laid 13,606 mines. By wars end the minefield was not completed but it did have an effect on the U-boats. It was said that the men in the ships were “Living on the edge of eternity.” These sailors were packed into ships that were filled to the rails with high explosives, at any given moment they could go up in a ball of flames. A typical day would be steaming out to position, forming a line three or five ships abreast at 500-yard intervals drop a mine with 300-pounds of TNT and then return to base like it was no big deal. Captain Belknap ran a very tight operation; he had too every man’s life depended on it. Belknap remarked later, “Precision and quickness of action while at sea were imperative, from start to finish.” During the mine laying expeditions the Housatonic twice had steering gear troubles, which added to the stress already upon the crew. Steaming in a tight formation loaded with enough explosives to wipe out the ship with a disabled steering system likely made life a bit sporting in the wheelhouse for the captain and coxswain.

Once on station the time that it took to lay the mines would last anywhere from four to seven hours. Staying in formation in bad weather and or darkness was a hair-raising experience. Captain Belknap in writing to his wife remarked, “Interesting as these trips are, no sane person would take two for pleasure.” Once the ships returned back to Inverness after laying mines, relaxation was something that took a bit to work out. But through out the operation men and officers were able to keep good spirits.

But the fear of death by an explosion was not the only worry aboard the Housatonic. Just getting the mines down the tunnel off the stern of the ship and into the water carried its own risks. On May 27, 1918 Fireman 2c Roy H. Jolley was killed when he was crushed under the top arc of the rudder and the mine tunnel during a launching operation. Roy Herbert Jolley was born on September 12, 1893 and joined the navy on April 17, 1917 just eleven days after America entered the war. His sister, Florence Crawford of Watermill, NY was listed as his next of kin.

Roy Herbert Jolley, Fireman 2c USN
Accidentally killed by being crushed between rudder arc and the top of the mine tunnel aboard the USS Housatonic. May 27, 1918

While operating as part of Mine Squadron 1 out of Inverness, Scotland, Housatonic from 7 June 1918 until the close of the war on 11 November 1918, planted the following:

Planted 769 mines during the 1st minelaying excursion on 7 June,
Planted 800 mines during the 2nd minelaying excursion on 30 June,
Planted 840 mines during the 3rd minelaying excursion on 14 July,
Planted 830 mines during the 4th minelaying excursion on 29 July,
Planted 320 mines during the 5th minelaying excursion on 8 August,
Planted 810 mines during the 7th minelaying excursion on 26 August,
Planted 820 mines during the 8th minelaying excursion on 7 September,
Planted 830 mines during the 9th minelaying excursion on 20 September,
Planted 860 mines during the 10th minelaying excursion on 27 September,
Planted 840 mines during the 11th minelaying excursion on 4 October,
Planted 820 mines during the 12th minelaying excursion on 13 October,
Planted 800 mines during the final 13th minelaying excursion on 24 October.

By the end of the war the minefield had reached 230 miles long and 15-35 miles wide. Even though this field was not completed it was enough to make the stoutest German U-boat captains think twice about navigating it. At least four U-boats were sunk due to the field, which was equal to the number of U-boats sunk by American surface ships during the war. Additionally there were another four U-boats possibly sunk.

In the words of British Rear Admiral Lewis Clinton-Baker, the North Sea mine barrage was the "biggest mine planting stunt in the world's history." The United States converted eight civilian steamships as minelayers for the 100,000 mines manufactured for the barrage. The largest of these were four freighters owned by Southern Pacific Steamship Company. Southern Pacific Transportation Company had evolved from the first Transcontinental Railroad to become the dominant transportation provider in California. Owners of the original Central Pacific Railroad were known as the Big Four. Sailors similarly referred to these former Southern Pacific ships as the Big Four.

El Siglo became No. 1694 USS Canandaigua
El Dia became No. 1695 USS Roanoke
El Cid became No. 1696 USS Canonicus
El Rio became No. 1697 USS Housatonic

For his efforts during the war laying his part of the North Sea Mine Barrage, Captain John Greenslade was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal as the commanding officer of the Housatonic.

Officers and Warrant officers of the Housatonic serving under Captain John W. Greenslade during WWI were:
Lt. Commander Walter F. Jacobs, Executive Officer, USN
Lt. Commander Harry W. Lewis, Naval Reserve Force
Lt. Commander Glenn Albert Smith
Lt. Serguis M. Rilis, Naval Reserve Force
Lt. Frank Spoerr, Naval Reserve Force
Lt. (jg) John Wilson, USN
Ensign Edward Bertrand Collins
Ensign (Temporary) Ernest J. Leonard, USN
Assistant Paymaster, Daniel M. Miller, USN
Acting Pay Clerk (Temporary) Theodore W. S. Runyon, USN
Assistant Surgeon William R. Levis, USN
Chief Warrant Officer Samuel MacDonald, Jr.
Warrant Machinist (Temporary) Albert A. Elliott, USN

The Housatonic returned to the U.S. following the November 1918 Armistice and was converted to a troop transport. Housatonic was then employed by the Cruiser and Transport Force, making three trips returning American servicemen home from France. Likely at this time Captain John W. Greenslade had been re-assigned to new duty and Lt. Commander John Burns, USNRF had taken over as commanding officer of the Housatonic. Lt. CMDR John Burns was a Reserve Officer and was born on December 29, 1859, and he during the war had commanded the USS Lake Shore, which was a cargo ship acquired by the Navy during the war and was used to transport coal and mines out from the east coast to the North Sea Mine Force. And then was the first commanding officer of the USS Western Front, which was another cargo ship used to transport war material across the Atlantic to France.

The first trip returning troops while under the command of Lt. CMDR Burns began on April 23, 1919, when the Housatonic left Pauillac, France reaching Hoboken, New Jersey on May 6, 1919. The second trip she loaded troops in St. Nazaire, France and reached Newport News, Virginia on June 9, 1919. And her third trip with returning troops she left from Bordeaux, France on July 1, 1919, and reached Newport News, Virginia on July 13, 1919.

Housatonic was decommissioned on 5 August 1919 and returned to her former owner, the Southern Pacific Steamship Company. She ended her working days in 1922.

A view of the Housatonic in 1919 during her service returning troops from France. She now is painted navy gray. Medical Division of the Housatonic.

The above photo is of a fabric mat printed with the name USS Housatonic in the blue banners and the year 1919 beside the shield and Eagle. This likely was a purchased souvenir after the Housatonic ended her WWI service as a remembrance by her crew. One-hundred years later in 2019 it was purchased in an antique store in Up-State New York.

Housatonic Ships Muster

If you have a family member or know of someone who served aboard this ship, or if you have information to help tell the history of this ship please contact me.

Fireman First Class Thomas J. Kirwan

During WWI Thomas Jeremiah Kirwan served aboard the converted minelayer USS Housatonic.

Thomas Jeremaiah Kirwan was born on August 27, 1896 in Medford, Massachusetts to Elizabeth “Lizzie” Mary Morrissey (1867-1907) and Patrick Henry Kirwan (1856-1924). At the time Thomas was born, the Kirwan family lived at No. 7 Swan Street in Medford, which was right along the Mystic River. Patrick worked as a blacksmith to support his family. Both Patrick and Elizabeth were born in County Carlow, Ireland. Patrick had come to America in 1880 and Elizabeth about 1883.

By the summer of 1900 the Kirwan’s had moved up the street away from the river a bit to No. 17 Swan Street. Today this portion of Swan Street is consumed by the Mystic Valley Parkway. Thomas was the third child born to Patrick and “Lizzie,” the couple’s first child was a daughter named Katie E. born in March of 1888, then William A. born in February of 1890, and then Thomas Jeremiah born on August 27, 1896. On December 12, 1900 “Lizzie” gave birth to a daughter they named Agnes Mildred. Patrick was still working as a blacksmith shoeing horses to support his family.

There at No. 17 Swan Street the Kirwan family made their life until January 9, 1902 when a tragedy struck the family. Katie who was then 5-years old died of an unknown cause. But at the time of Katie’s death “Lizzie” was about a month pregnant. A day after Thomas’s birthday on August 28, 1902 “Lizzie” gave birth to a girl they named Veronica Theresa, and within 2-years on September 17, 1904 “Lizzie” gave birth again to a son named Andrew Joseph. But within three years a second tragedy befell the Kirwan family. On August 31, 1907 “Lizzie” died, leaving Patrick to raise the five children on his own.

By the spring of 1910 Patrick, who was a 55-year old widower had moved his family a few blocks away to No. 19 James Street in Medford. Patrick then owned his own blacksmith shop and it may have been located on James Street near the family home. The eldest son, William, who was then 20-years old helped his father run the blacksmith shop. Likely Thomas after school worked in the shop to help the family. Patrick also at the time employed a woman named Julia Sullivan who was a 55-year old widower of English ancestry in the home, so it seems the Blacksmith shop was doing ok for the Kirwan family.

It is not known for sure when Thomas Kirwan had the feeling to serve a larger cause and joined the Navy. But growing up along the Mystic River Thomas would have seen many different types of boats and ships coming and going in the river, and too, the Mystic River gave birth to a great many ships being built along its banks. Thomas many have felt the sea calling him and that may have been a big factor in his joining the Navy. Thomas Kirwan did not register for the first call up of the Federal Draft in June of 1917, and he may have felt that during the second call up he would be drafted and so he decided to enlist on his own terms, and enlisted into the Navy on December 7, 1917 at the age of twenty-one.

Seaman Kirwan underwent training and was then assigned to a ship. As it turned out his new ship was the USS Housatonic, and was newly converted for a specific new job, that of laying sea mines in the North Sea to keep the German Navy bottled up along the Danish and Norway coasts. By the time, Kirwan set foot on the deck of the Housatonic on April 2, 1918, he was a Fireman First Class. His job would have been below decks in the engine room spaces, and Kirwan may have thought he was away from the dangers of the mines they were to drop off into the sea. But really it did not matter much because of the number of mines they were carrying, it really did not matter where you were on the ship. If one mine would have exploded it would have set the others off and the entire ship likely would have vaporized from the surface of the sea. Danger lived with each member of the crew of the Housatonic every moment they were on the ship.

Fireman Kirwan would have been part of Captain John W. Greenslade’s original crew that sailed the Housatonic from the east coast to Inverness, Scotland in the early spring of 1918. Kirwan would have been aboard the Housatonic for all 13 mine laying trips, and was aboard past the end of the war on November 11, 1918. Being Kirwan was a Fireman he would have known Fireman 2c Roy H. Jolley who was killed when he was crushed under the top arc of the rudder and the mine tunnel during a launching operation on May 27, 1918.

Shortly after the war ended, the Housatonic was under orders to steam back to the east coast where she would take on a new duty, that of carrying troops back home from France. Likely Fireman Kirwan remained aboard the ship while she was being converted into a troop transport, and he also likely was aboard for all three trips carrying troops home from France. The Housatonic’s last day as a military ship was August 5, 1919 and likely Kirwan may have been aboard until the last day. It is known that Fireman First Class Thomas J. Kirwan was Honorably Discharged from the Navy on September 3, 1921.

The next phase in Thomas Kirwan’s life took place in 1920 while still serving in the Navy, when he married Alice Elizabeth Creedon (1899-1987) in Boston. Thomas and Alice bought a home at No. 41 Metcalf Street in Medford, MA, and began to raise a family. Alice gave birth to a daughter they named Elizabeth A. in 1922, and second daughter named Dorothea about 1924 and a son they named John C. Kirwan who was born on Christmas Eve of 1927.

While in the Navy Thomas learned to serve his fellow countrymen, and when he returned home and started a family he continued this feeling of service to his city of Medford. Thomas had joined the Medford Police Department and by 1930 was then serving as a Sergeant with the force. The Kirwans would live in the large two story duplex house on Metcalf Street for many years. Thomas Kirwan would be a lifelong policeman and would at the height of his career become the Chief of Police in Medford.

In the spring of 1942 as America was now involved in a second war, Thomas Kirwan registered for the Draft as he was required to do. At the time, he was a Lieutenant with the Medford Police Department and so he did not have to serve in the military, as his job with the police department was a necessary one. On the draft form, he was described as having blue eyes, brown hair, and ruddy complexion. Thomas was 5-feet, 7 ½-inches tall and weighed 170 pounds.

Being the Police Chief of Medford had its stressful times but there were also times when it was easy and someone just wanted an opinion on something. On June 15, 1960, several local newspapers printed a story that took place in Medford. It seemed that a local Medford citizen was a patriotic sort and was installing a 30x15-foot swimming pool on his property, and had an American Flag painted across the concrete patio of the pool. Local Medford authorities were alerted to this and felt it might be disrespectful to paint the flag in this way. The pool painting contractor had no idea it might be disrespectful. It seems that the matter went all the way to city hall and while the officials were making their minds up if it would be allowed or not, the opinion of Chief Thomas Kirwan was sought out on this matter. Chief Kirwan was quoted in saying “…my personal belief is that it may be a matter of etiquette rather than of law.” It was not known what the outcome of the flag on the patio of the pool was.

For the July 4th holiday of 1964 the Kirwan family was celebrating by staying near the ocean and were staying out on Cape Cod, in Hyannis, Massachusetts for the holiday. On July 3, 1964 Thomas Jeremiah Kirwan took ill and was taken to the nearby town of Barnstable where he passed away.

Growing up in the Kirwan home with your father as the Police Chief cast a large shadow on Thomas’s son John. Growing up John observed his father’s service to his fellow man and when John got the chance to show his family that he too saw this as a worthy virtue, he also would serve his countrymen. During WWII John served in the United States Navy like his father before him. And John would return back to Medford and during the 1980’s would serve as the Chief of Police just as his father did before him.

Alice would live the rest of her lives in Medford and she passed away on July 24, 1987. It is not known where Alice or Thomas Kirwan are buried, but it is assumed it in near Medford.

Donald B. Winter

Winter was attending colledge at Brown University when America endered into the First World War in 1917, and he enlisted into the United States Naval Reserve when America joined the war. Seaman Winter served aboard the USS Housatonic and was Honorably Discharged on January 30, 1919.

Steward Shirley Reynolds

Steward S. Reynolds was attending the Philips Academy and enlisted into the Naval Reserve on April 13, 1917, as a Seaman. He resigned and accepted his commission as an Ensign on November 20 1918, and served aboard the USS Nevada for a brief time before being transfered to the Housatonic for the remainder of the war.

Ensign (Temporary) Ernest Leonard

Ernest Leonard was the son of Julia and William Leonard of Richfield Springs New York, and was born on January 15, 1887. Ernest had enlisted into the United States Navy on November 21, 1907 at the grade of Machinist Mate 2c. He had served aboard the USS Connecticut when she was first commissioned and was discharged at the end of his first term with the grade of Chief Machinist Mate. His second enlistment period began in March of 1912 and he served aboard the USS Florida for two and a half years. Avter that he was transfered to the USS Ontario as her engineering officer in December of 1914. Leonard was given a tempoary commission as an Ensign on August 15, 1917, and made Lieutenant (j. g.) on MArch 1, 1918, and then to full Lieutenant on September 1, 1918. Leonard served aboard the Housatonic as her Engineer Officer from December 1, 1917 through March 15, 1919.

Seaman 2c William Joseph Welsh

Welsh was born on July 1, 1900 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and enlisted into the Navy on August 16, 1917, Seaman Welsh was place aboard the USS Housatonic on June 30, 1918. Aboard the Housatonic he served in the war zone from May 21, 1918 to the end of the war on November 11, 1918. He remained aboard the Housatonic until January 30, 1919, when he was Honorably Discharged. Welsh married Katherine W. Pruski (1913-1993), and they had two children, William J. (1933-1973), and James (1939-1980). William Joseph Welsh passed away on December 1, 1964 and was burried in the Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey, Section X, Site 3937.

Signalman First Class, George F. West

Signalman Frist Class, George F. West served on the USS Housatonic while the ship served with the North Sea Mine Squardon. In Spetember of 1918 while the Housatonic was laying mines, Signalman West was injured during a mine explosion.

Signalman 1c, George F. West of Teays, West Virginia

Machinist Mate First Class, Ernest W. Mudge

Ernest W. Mudge served in the United States Naval Reserves during World War I. He was born on November 6, 1873, in Lynn, Massachusetts. Mudge initially enlisted on April 12, 1917, and reported for duty on July 10, 1917. He was later assigned to the Mine Sweeping Division of New York City on October 25, 1917, and later to the USS Housatonic on January 24, 1918, serving through the end of the war. Machinist Mate 1c Mudge survived the war but sadly he died from disease in Fort Lyon, Colorado on April 8, 1919.

Fireman Howard H. Conley

Howard H. Conley served aboard the Housatonic during WWI and was from Buffalo, New York.

Walter S. Hawkins

He served aboard the USS Rochester and the USS Housatonic during the First World War. Hawkins was from Patchogue, Long Island, New York.

Chief Warrant Officer, Samuel MacDonald, Jr.

CWO MacDonald served as an Ordnance Gunner aboard the USS Housatonic during World War One. He was born on August 15, 1886 in Terre Haute, Indiana and passed away on February 20, 1976 in Los Angeles, California. He is burried in the Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth, California.

Fireman Walter H. Breckheimer

Walter H. Breckheimer was the son of Herman and Anna Breckheiler of Menominee County, Michigan. Breckheimer was born on August 18, 1900, Menominee County, Michigan. He enlisted into the U. S. Navy on July 29, 1917 for the duration of the war. He took his basic training at the Great Lakes Taval Training Center outside of Chicago, then upon completion was sent to Hampton Roads, and to the USS Kearsarge at Boston, MA. Later in 1918 he was transfered to the USS Housatonic, and made two trips overseas with the Transport Force returning soliders. He returned to the States on June 4, 1919 and was discharged on June 16, 1919.

Gunner Frank E. Ford

Frank E. Ford served with the United States Navy from December 5, 1913 throughout the First World War. Ford served aboard the USS Texas, USS Mongolia and the USS Housatonic. While serving aboard the Mongolia in 1917 as part of her naval Armed Guard crew, Ford was a member of the gun crew that scored America's first shot at a German U-boat, which they sunk.

Seaman Albert Simon Gilbert

When America entered the war effort in April of 1917, many young men’s lives would change in ways they could not imagine at the time. One such man was a 30-year old by the name of Albert Simon Gilbert, he was a single man and lived at No. 41 Swift Street in Auburn, New York. Albert had a good job working as a leather cutter in the Robinson-Bynon Shoe Company in Auburn. He was a short, medium built man, with dark Brown eyes and black slightly balding hair. His birthdate was January 26, 1887, and he was born in Auburn.

The United States Government began a Federal Draft to raise men who would fill the ranks of the Army and Navy for the war they were about to take part in. In the first call-up, which took place on June 5, 1917, Albert had to register and he did so in the 1st District in Auburn.

On December 5, 1917, Albert Simon Gilbert, who was nearly 31-years old at the time enlisted into the United States Navy at the Recruiting Station in Syracuse, New York.  He went home and waited five-days for his orders to come in. On December 10, 1917, he reported for duty at the Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island, as an Apprentice Seaman. Seventy-eight days later, he was ready for Active Duty and was now a Seaman Second Class. On February 21, 1918 he was assigned to the Mine Force Detail at the Newport Navy Base.

There he would learn how to handle and lay sea mines, a deadly new weapon the Navy would be asked to help lay a massive mine field in the North Sea. March 27, 1918, Seaman Gilbert reported aboard the ship that would lay these deadly mines. The USS Housatonic was a converted freight ship and now would be used as the instrument that would lay these mines into the North Sea. The sailors quickly found that the mines they carried, if accidentally set off, would vaporize them from the surface of the sea, and that the next coming months would not be a walk in the park.

Seaman Gilbert would serve aboard the Housatonic from March 27, through the end of the war, a feat he likely counted as lucky to have made all 13 mine laying trips and still be alive. After the war the Housatonic was used to transport troops back home from France. On March 3, 1919, while the Housatonic was in Boston, Seaman Gilbert was transferred from the ship and Honorably Discharged from the Navy.

After his discharge from the Navy, Gilbert went home to Auburn. He was living at the home on Swift Street, which was the home of his parents Louise Mineau, and Peter Gilbert. His father Peter was a carpenter by trade and his mother was French-Canadian by birth. Albert took his old job back at the Robinson-Bynon Shoe Company.

By 1930 Albert’s mother Louise had passed away. Albert was married by then and he and his wife Naomi Kay lived in the home at 41 Swift Street. Peter, his now 80-year old widowed father still lived in the home with them. Albert was still working at the shoe factory.

In between 1930 and 1935 Albert and Naomi had moved away from Auburn, New York and moved out to Boerne, Texas. They did not have any children and had likely moved to Texas after the death of Albert’s father and were in Texas by at least 1935. They had purchased a farm about two-miles north of Boerne, Texas on Highway 87.

During WWII Albert again had to register for the draft, and he indicated that he was self employed, although it is not known what type of work he was doing, and it may have been repairing shoes.

In the last years of his life Albert had heart troubles and on December 6, 1962 at 3:00 in the morning Dr. H. C. Day pronounced his death. On December 19, 1962 Albert S. Gilbert was laid to rest in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. His grave is located at Section PG, Site 566-C.

Lt. Commander Glenn Albert Smith

The third ranking officer aboard the USS Housatonic during WWI, was Lt. Commander Glenn Albert Smith. Smith was a graduate of the Naval Academy having entered Annapolis on July 9, 1907, and graduating with the class of 1911.

Glenn Albert Smith was the son of Francis Heagle and William Smith, and was born in Yankton, South Dakota on April 8, 1890.

Just four-months after Smith turned 18-years old he was appointed from the State of Illinois to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He would graduate with the Class of 1911 and as a Midshipmen he would server his first sea duty aboard the USS Mississippi. Smith would then serve as an Ensign aboard the USS Baltimore in 1913, and the USS Jouett in 1914. By 1914 Smith was then a Lieutenant, junior grade, and serving aboard the armored cruiser USS North Carolina. On November 14, 1914, Lt. (jg) Smith was traveling to Italy to join his next ship the Collier USS Jason.

In 1916, he served aboard the USS Dubuque as a full Lieutenant, and then during WWI served aboard the USS Housatonic as a Lt. Commander. After the war in 1919 he was serving aboard the USS Maine. By 1922 he was assigned to the Pacific Fleet with an Air Squadron. During 1931-32 he served aboard the USS Elliot. Glenn A. Smith, now at the rank of Captain, would retired on May 4, 1945, from Active Service.

Smith had, about 1917 married Mary Ida Decker, and she was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She traced her descendants to Stephen Miller who served as a Private in the 8th Albany County, NY Militia. Asahel Yale who served as a Private with the Connecticut troops. And Theodorus Van Wyck and John Brinckerhoff, both whom were members of the Provincial Congress in 1775.

Glenn and Mary began their family in Syracuse, New York about 1918 by the birth of Frances, the first of three daughters. The other two daughters were Mary and Rosalie. Being a Navy family they moved several times, and in 1940 were living in Los Angeles, California. Glenn and Mary would remain in California for the rest of their lives.

Captain Glenn Albert Smith, USN (RET) would pass away on September 1, 1976 in Riverside, California. He was buried in the Mountain View Cemetery, Riverside, California, in Section 137. His wife Mary Ida Decker Smith passed away on December 30, 1993 and she was buried next to her beloved Captain.

EN2 Guy Eugene Housholder

Guy Eugene Housholder enlisted into the United States Navy on December 1, 1917, nearly nine months after America had declared war with Germany. Housholder was from Knox County, Tennessee and likely did not register in the first call-up of the Federal Draft, which took place on June 5, 1917. It is most likely that he enlisted into the Navy.

Guy was born on November 1, 1899 to Geneva Regina Lebow (1870-1942) and Otis Householder (1870-1953). The family name was spelled “Householder” in the early days, and on the 1900 Federal Census the name is spelled this way. But sometime after this the name was changed to “Housholder” without the “e” and no one really knows exactly why. But a grandson of Guy Housholder stated that there may have been some family feud over politics, and that those in the family who leaned to the Democrat side changed to “Housholder.”

At the turn of the century in1900 the Otis Householder family, which at the time consisted of Otis and his wife, who used her middle name of Regina, and five children, Effie, Mertle, Allen, Ray and Guy. They were then living in Knox County, Tennessee in the 12th District. Otis worked as a machinist for a railroad car factory to support the family.

By 1910 the Otis Housholder family had moved to Lonsdale, which was then a small village about a mile northwest of Knoxville, Tennessee. By then the family was using the “Housholder” spelling of the last name. The home was located on Delaware Avenue in Lonsdale. Otis was still working for the railroad car factory. By then the family had grown to include Henry, Luther and Carrie.

Guy Eugene Housholder took some of his father’s mechanical skills, and when he enlisted into the Navy in 1917, his first rating was that of Fireman. After basic training Housholder saw duty aboard the old battleship USS Kearsarge for a short time, and then was transferred to the USS Housatonic. Likely he was part of the first crew when she was commissioned on January 25, 1918, under the command of Captain Greenslade.

Housholder would have been aboard the Housatonic for the duration of the war and helped to lay the 9,339 mines that the Housatonic laid during the war. By wars end Housholder had been advanced from Fireman to Engineman Second Class. After the war EN2 Housholder stayed aboard the Housatonic for the period she was used in returning troops from France. By August of 1919 the Housatonic’s days were short for the navy and her crew was discharged. Housholder was honorably discharged on August 2, 1919. His service number was 1738145 and he was awarded a WWI Victory medal upon his discharge. He also received a certificate showing he had participated in the North Sea Mine Barrage aboard the Housatonic, which was signed by the Executive Officer, Commander Walter Frederick Jacobs, USN.

After the war, Guy Housholder returned to his family then living on Central Avenue Pike in Knoxville. His father Otis was still working for the railroad and Guy also took a job there working as a tinner operator. Otis and Regina had again added to the family with three more children, Ruth, Pearl, and Mac.

Guy would eventually get married and raise a family of his own. And at the time of his death, he and his wife were living at 2530 Parkview NE in Knoxville, TN. It was on December 12, 1960 while in Marshall, North Carolina that Guy passed away. He was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery on Tazewell Pike in Knoxville, TN.

On June 21, 1961 Guy’s wife signed papers to have a flat bronze military grave marker placed upon his grave. And on July 18, 1961 the bronze marker was placed upon his grave marking the spot where an American Sailor lies resting in peace.

Pharmacist Mate Second Class, Albert Winfield Scott

In the Housatonic’s Medical Division, was a 23-year old Texas boy by the name of Albert Winfield Scott. He was a Pharmacist Mate Second Class, and would serve throughout the war aboard the Housatonic.

Scott was born on November 10, 1894 in Bird Settlement, Burleson County, Texas to Mary Sell (1875-1927) and Walker Winfield Scott (1875-1956). Albert was the eldest of three brothers, Jerald Thorton (1898-1973), and Kenneth Foree (1905-1974) were the other brothers.

Bird Settlement, in Burleson County, Texas is not a town but rather an area in Burleson County, near San Filipe, about six-miles from the Brazos River. This was an area known by the locals because of the John, Thomas and Wincey Bird families who settled in this area in June of 1830. The three Bird families had come out to Texas from Perry County, Tennessee.

In the spring of 1910 the Walker Scott family lived on a farm in the Bird Settlement area, and Walker worked as a foreman in a sawmill that made railroad ties. Albert who would have been 15-years old at the time worked with his father at the sawmill and had the job of a water-boy. Albert also picked his share of cotton in the local cotton fields.

When Albert was 22-years old America had gone to war, by joining the fight that had raged on the European continent for the last three and a half years. Albert enlisted into the United States Navy on April 30, 1917. Albert must have had some medical aptitude because in the Navy he was a Pharmacist Mate. When the minelayer USS Housatonic sailed from American waters for Scotland in early 1918, she had aboard Pharmacist Mate Second Class Albert W. Scott. PHM2 Scott remained aboard the Housatonic throughout the war and was transferred off the ship, sometime after the end of the war for other duty. On December 13, 1920, he was released from Active Duty. After that he may have stayed in the Reserves and was then Honorably Discharged on July 23, 1921.

After the war, Albert W. Scott may have been stationed at the New York Navy Yard, and that may have been how he would have met his future wife as she was from New York. About 1920 he had married a woman named Christine who was a year younger than Albert. Sometime around 1922, Christine and Albert had their first child, a son they named Winfield, who was born in New York State. Then about 1925 Christine gave birth to another son named Kenneth. He was born in Texas, and this may have been while they were visiting Albert’s family. In the Spring of 1930 it is known that Albert and Christine were living in a rented home on Lakeview Avenue in Pine Hill, New Jersey. Albert at the time was working at a local filling station pumping gas and servicing cars to support his family.

By the time America had been plunged into a second war, Christine and Albert were still in the same home on Lakeview Ave., in Pine Hill, New Jersey. Albert was then working for the Cooper Chevrolet dealership in Pensauken, New Jersey. On April 26, 1942, Albert Scott registered for the Draft, he was 47-years old at the time and was 5-feet, 10-inches tall and weighed 135-pounds. He had brown eyes and gray hair with a ruddy complexion. He also had a scar on the right side of his head, from an unknown cause.

It was sometime around 1951 that Christine and Albert moved away from New Jersey and went to live in Arizona. This may have been because Christine and Albert’s eldest son Winfield was living there. They purchased a home in or near Paradise Valley, Arizona, which is just north of Scottsdale, where for over 33-years they would live. After 68-years of marriage Christine passed away in 1989. Albert would live on in the same house for seven more years alone. It was said of Albert that he tended his garden, and was an excellent pool player, and loved to play dominos.

On November 24, 1996, at the age of 102, Albert W. Scott passed away, and he was buried in the Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery in Phoenix, Arizona.

Ensign Edward Bertrand Collins

Edward Bertrand Collins was born on March 15, 1892, and later in his life was commonly known as Bertrand Collins. He was an American author from Seattle, Washington, and served in the United States Navy during World War One.

Edward Bertrand Collins was born in Seattle, Washington to John Collins and his much younger wife, Angela. The Collins family were Catholic in faith, and on April 10, 1892, Edward Bertrand Collins was Baptized at the Immaculate Conception Church at the corner of 10th and Marion Avenues in Seattle.

John Collins had been born in Ireland in November of 1835 and had immigrated to America in 1845, gaining his American citizenship in 1854. Even as early as 1870 John Collins was amassing his wealth in America by purchasing real estate in the Seattle area. On the 1870 Federal Census, his occupation was listed as Landlord. By 1900 the John Collins family lived at 702 Minor Avenue in Seattle. John by then was 64-years old and living off of his accumulated wealth, which also supported his wife and five children. They also employed two servants in the home.

Growing up in a wealthy family young Edward, who was the fourth of the five children, had the best of everything and learned to appreciate the finer things in life. As a child, he was playmates with the lumber heiress Dorothy Stimson Bullitt, who grew-up near to the Collins' home. The year 1903 proved to be a year of change for young Edward Bertrand, as his father John passed away. Ten years after the death of his father Edward Bertrand received a disbursement of $834,000 from his father's estate. In 2015 dollars this would equate to nearly $20-million, quite a large sum of money to have at the age of twenty.

Edward Bertrand selected Harvard as the college of choice, and he would graduate with the class of 1914. After graduation Collins returned to live again at home with his mother on Minor Avenue in Seattle. Edward was working as a broker likely in real estate.

War was now raging in Europe, and by the spring of 1917 when America joined the fight, Collins the true adventurist wanted to experience it for himself. In June of 1917 the first event took place that would take his life in a new direction. He had to register for the first call-up on June 5, 1917. And the medium built man with light blue eyes and dark brown hair, walked into the 175th Precinct in Seattle and registered his name.

Seven days after he registered for the draft he was applying for a United States Passport for travel to Europe, as he had volunteered for the American Ambulance Field Service to be an ambulance driver. On June 12, 1917, he had applied for his passport and had already booked passage to Europe aboard the French liner SS La Touraine, which was set to sail from New York City for Bordeaux, France on June 30.

But Edward did not sail on June 30, for some reason. It was not until the first week of July, 1917, when he was a passenger aboard the Cunard liner Andania that sailed from New York for Liverpool. Aboard the Andania there were many Ambulance driver volunteers as well as many nurses heading to the war in France. The Andania reached Liverpool, England on July 11, and Edward was a step closer to his adventure.

It was just over a month after he arrived in Liverpool to become an ambulance driver that his adventure took another turn. It does not appear that he ever got to France to drive ambulances on the battlefields, before he was off in a new direction. Most likely through his many wealthy contacts, he somehow was appointed as an Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve Force on August 28, 1917 in England. His first assignment was to the Communications Department, U. S. Naval Headquarters, London. He was then transferred to the staff of Admiral Strauss, U. S. Mine Laying Squadron, in Inverness, Scotland on June 16, 1918.

Now his adventures were to get very real, and Ensign Collins was transferred to the USS Housatonic on September 15, and was aboard for the last five mine laying excursions. If adventure was what he wanted he was sure to get it aboard a minelayer in the North Sea.

On November 6, 1918, Ensign Collins was transferred again, this time to the Historical Section, U. S. Naval Headquarters, London where he served until released from Active Duty in England on March 6, 1919.

After his service in the navy and his return from Europe, Collins by January of 1920, was then back with his family once again living at the Minor Street home in Seattle. In the home with his mother lived Edward’s Older brother and two younger sisters. Edward was then working as a real estate broker, and his older brother, John was the manager of the family business. In the Collins home were employed three servants, two of which were women.

Edward Bertrand Collins during the 1920’s was a world traveler and traveled many times in Europe on one adventure or another. It was during this time that he began to write for magazines and also books. In 1928 Collins’ wrote a novel entitled “Rome Express” which was based on the life of his contemporary, and fellow wealthy Seattle socialite Guendolen Plestcheeff. It was also during these years then he began to be known as Bertrand Collins, and it was said of him that he would often use his privileged upbringing to engage in witty commentary in his writings that was “extremely audacious in a well-bred manner.”

Bertrand Collins had sent time again in Europe, and in Bordeaux, France on August 14, 1927 he boarded the SS Roussillon, which was bound for New York City. The Roussillon arrived in New York Harbor on August 27, and the swarthy young bachelor arrived once again into the New York social circles.

An example of his audaciousness can be found in an article that was written in the October 30, 1930 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper written by Isabelle Keating. The article was published on the front page of the newspaper, and the title of the article was “Women Will Ruin U. S., Collins Fears.” Collins was quoted in saying “they should be shooed back to the kitchen and that men should make less money and enjoy life more.” At the time, he was staying in New York City for the publication of his second novel entitled, “The Silver Swan.” Keating wrote in her article the following description of Collins. “It isn’t often that you meet a man like Bertrand Collins. He’s young and good-looking, with slightly swarthy cast to his skin and a smoldering glint in his Celtic blue eyes and a way of being extremely audacious in a most well-bred manner. He speaks with a slight British accent, the result of schooling in England, but his voice is low so that even the clipped accents are lost at times.”

Keating went on to say of Collins. “And just when you have him catalogued as ‘one of those sophisticates,’ he knocks your ideas of him into a cocked hat by revealing that he’s sailed the seas as a deckhand and taken passage in the steerage when ‘the trustees’ refused to come through with enough funds to satisfy his wandering instincts, and his somewhat studiously careless appearance is due, he admits, to the fact that he buys his clothes in water-front shops ‘where honest-to-God men sell them.’”

Once in 1934, after driving back to Seattle from New York City, Collins declared in a newspaper interview that the United States was "too big", remarking that "New England is about right... and the Pacific Coast would make a nice, other Italy" but that he didn't see any use for the rest of the country, implying the Midwest areas.

Collins would live on and off in Seattle with his mother and older brother, when he was not traveling the world. Even as late as 1940 he was still a confirmed bachelor. His usual occupation by this time was as an author writing novels and articles and the like, and being a socialite bachelor.

Back in 1930 when he was interviewed by Isabelle Keating for the article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, he had commented this about Keating’s inquiries about what an ideal American woman should be like. Collins’ reply was “I think I could only say after I’d seen one, and so far, I’ve seen everything but what I’m looking for.” And so, it seemed that by 1942 he had still not met the one he was looking for. As according to the 1942 WWII Draft Registration Card he filled out, under the section “Name and address of person who, will always know your address” Collins wrote “Mrs. John Collins - 702 Minor Ave.” This was his elder brother John’s wife. He was at the time working for the McMillan Brothers Publishers in New York as an author. On the back side of the draft card there is a section to list “obvious physical characteristics that will aid in identification,” in which the following was written: “Slight English Accent.”

Collins would remain a world traveling bachelor until his death. He did not confine his travels to just Europe, and in March of 1952, at the age of sixty he traveled to Japan. On March 29, he boarded the SS Oregon Mail in Seattle, which was bound for Yokohama, Hong Kong, Manila, Djakarta, Singapore and Penang. The SS Oregon Mail was a cargo-liner owned and operated by the American Mail Line. The Oregon Mail was then employed on the Yokohama, Hong Kong, Manila, Djakarta, Singapore and Penang routes carrying general cargo and supplemented by a small number of passengers during these trips. Being she was a cargo ship her accommodations were not like the stately ocean passenger liners. Being a man of great wealth, he traveled with the honest-to-goodness regular folks too.

Collins on this March 29 sailing of the Oregon Mail was traveling to Yokohama, Japan where he would stay for 3-months and then return to Seattle. But again, that summer of 1952 he would make the same trip to Yokohama. On August 23, 1952, he again boarded the SS Oregon Mail and went to Japan, where he only stayed about a month.

Edward Bertrand Collins was an adventurist until his last days, he lived always in Seattle, when not traveling the world. His adventures came to an end on December 16, 1964 when he passed away, ending a life of a million stories. Still a bachelor to his last day, having never met that “ideal American woman,” Collins today lies resting in peace in the Calvary Cemetery in Seattle, Washington.

Above is the photo of Edward Bertrand Collins from his U. S. Passport taken in 1919. The photo abovet comes from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper article written on October 10, 1930.

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