USS Mercury

USS Mercury, WWI Troopship

Formerly the North German Lloyd Line SS Barbarossa

SS Barbarassoa

Her original displacement was 10,769-tons, but was modified in 1902 by enclosing her bridge and a few other alterations, and her new tonnage was then rated at 10,915-tons. Her length was 526.4-feet, with a Beam of 60-feet, and she drew a draft of 26 feet. She had a maximum speed of 15.3 knots, and had two funnels, two masts and twin-screws. During the winter of 1905-06 she had upgrades made to her engines, which gave her a new maximum speed of 15.5-knots. Her quadruple expansion engines had 8 cylinders of 25 14”, 37”, 54 3/8” and 77 5/8-inches in diameter in pairs. The stroke of the cylinders was 54-inches which gave a nominal total 7,000 horsepower, and her engines were built by the Blohm & Voss Company.

Early Life as the SS Barbarossa of the North German Lloyd Line

In 1895 the Norddeutscher Lloyd (North German Lloyd) Steamship Line had envisioned a new line of steam ships that would be radically different from the ships of the time. The aim of this new class of vessels was to provide for a large quantity of freight, as well as a large number of passenger cabins consisting of three classes. But what made these ships different was that the passenger cabins were to be kept separated from the freight spaces. This arrangement would concentrate the passenger space in a large block in the superstructure amidships contained in three decks, which would be nearly 256-feet in length. This gave the passenger cabins the most favorable and quietest position on the ship. The class of ship was named in honor of the lead ship the Barbarossa, and each ship to be constructed would accommodate at least 250 First Class, 300 Second Class, and 1,600 Steerage passenger capacities.

This class of ships would have two sets of quadruple expansion engines, which would give the two large propellers the capacity to obtain 14-15 knots speed. The freight holds would have four large hatches both fore and aft making eight holds in all. Each was provided with 16 hydraulic or electric cranes. In all there would be 9 ships in this general class constructed for the North German Lloyd Line, by 3 different shipyards. The ships were; Friedrich der Grosse, Barbarossa, Konigin Luise, Bremen (2), Grosser Kurfurst, Koing Albert, Prinzess Irene, Hamburg, and Kiautschou.

At the Blohm and Voss Yards in Hamburg, Germany the Barbarossa is laid down and she is launched on September 5, 1896. Once finished fitting out she made her maiden voyage to Australia via the Suez Canal on January 8, 1897. She was put on several different routes during her early years steaming on the Bremen-Southampton-New York run, the Genoa-Naples-New York run, and Bremen to Australia route. Also she ran the Bremen-New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Galveston route.

Now in her first year of her working career the Barbarossa is in Hoboken, New Jersey in early June of 1897 loading freight and passengers. Most of the freight is normal items loaded in crates and other normal shipping containers. But on the dock that day were a number of items that were of a different nature altogether. There were a number of live elk, deer and buffalo, waiting on the dock that were to be transported to the Zoological Museum in Leipzig, Germany. In charge of this group of “Cargo” was Otto Eising from the Zoological Gardens at Saxony. But Mr. Eising had a bit of a problem because his shipping manifest did not match the number of animals he had on hand. During the night as the animals were being transported on the Erie Railroad one of the elks gave birth and now he had a newborn baby doe to deal with. While Eising was looking after the newborn doe in the morning one of the male elks became agitated and attacked Eising by goring him in the side with his horns. But his assistants rescued Mr. Eising from the elk, and his injuries were not serious. Eising was able to sail with his animals when the Barbarossa sailed several days later.

Sailing from Southampton on August 1, 1897 the Barbarossa is making her way westward across the Atlantic bound for New York. The trip is an easy one until August 17 when the Barbarossa suddenly runs into trouble. There is a terrific vibration on one of her propeller shafts and upon further investigation it was found that she had lost one of the massive blades from one of the propellers. Word reached New York of this when the SS Saale another North German Lloyd line ships made port. The Saale’s master Captain Blanke reported he had passed the Barbarossa and they had received the news she had lost a blade but was still making headway and did not need assistance.

Down on the North German Lloyd docks in New York on October 8, 1897 several detectives are waiting for the Barbarossa to come in and dock. They had with them warrants to arrest a man known as Carl Faber, who was the cashier of the Oelrichs & Company. Oelrich was an import agent for the North German Lloyd Company but operated separately from the Steamship part of the business. It turns out that Faber had been charged with stealing $10,000 from the company. It was reported that Faber was traveling aboard the Barbarossa with his wife and was unaware that the detectives would be waiting for him when he got off the ship.

On May 18, 1899 the Barbarossa pulls away from the pier in Hoboken, New Jersey at 11 o’clock out bound for Bremen. But by 4 o’clock that afternoon had returned back to the pier with a raging fire in her forehold, and her bow badly damaged as a result of a series of collisions in the North River on her way back to the pier.

The fire was discovered in the port side forehold at a few minutes past noon as the Barbarossa was steaming down the ship channel, just beyond the Narrows. On the bridge of the Barbarossa her Master Captain Richter notices a faint cloud of smoke and orders an investigation into what the cause was. Soon enough a petty officer reports to Captain Richter “Sir, the ship is on fire.” Richter orders the Fire Signal Flag hoisted to alert other ship that he is on fire and continues on to the Southwest Spit where he is able to turn his vessel.

By this time a crowd of steerage passengers had rushed on deck yelling that there was a fire. Smoke was now pouring from the ventilators. Captain Richter orders all hands forward to fight the fire. Passengers are now swarming the deck and are kept away from the area.

In the forward hold are thousands of bales of cotton, the most dreaded of cargos because of the fire risk. Signals are radioed out “Fire in vessel’s cargo! Need Immediate assistance.” Chief Officer G. Wolte located the flames in Compartment No. 3, which was just above the ribs of the ship on the forward port side. This was not a good place for a fire, as a hot fire would easily spring the outer plates and cause devastating flooding. By this time the forward steerage cabins were filled with very thick smoke. The only available fire hose in the general area was quickly secured but it was found useless as it was old and rotten and burst open when the water pressure was turned on.

To make matters worse the No. 3 compartment ventilators did not have caps and so could not be closed in order to snuff out the fire. The crew in the excitement of the moment found old pieces of jute bags and tarps to close off the vents.

Ashore at the Sandy Hook observatory the Barbarossa is seen slowing to make her turn and smoke was seen pouring from her. This news was flashed back to the city and created much excitement among the men on the docks. The fireboat Zophar was ordered to go out to assist the Barbarossa and the fireboats Robert A. Van Wyck and New Yorker are put on high alert. The Sandy Hook Life station sends a boat out to help the Barbarossa, which by now had made the turn and was coming back in.

By 2:30 in the afternoon the Barbarossa was nearing Quarantine point and was met by a throng of vessels ready to help in anyway they could. Captain Richter sends a message out that he has the fire under control. The North German Lloyd Line tug E. M. Maillard with several company officials and the Chief of the Hoboken Fire Department aboard arrive at 2:45 but again Captain Richter tells them that he has things under control.

At 3:00 the fireboat Mills is along side the Barbarossa to assist her in the river, but there is a strong flood tide running at the time. The Barbarossa moves toward the east shore in order to make a broad turn toward her pier. But in doing this she headed toward the Cunard Pier No. 40 at the foot of Clarkson Street. It soon was evident that something was wrong but just as it looked as if the Barbarossa was going to hit the Cunard Pier and hit the Campania moored there she missed to port. But at the same time this was happening a Pennsylvania railroad ferryboat was passing by and the erratically swinging Barbarossa seemed doomed to collide with the ferryboat. Captain Richter was yelling to let go of his anchors but this order was not understood in the confusion of the moment. The Barbarossa had managed somehow to miss the ferryboat but as luck would have it along came yet still another barge but this time the Barbarossa’s bow bit into the second barge sending it spinning toward shore. This got the passengers on the deck of the Barbarossa very excited and panic began to break out. By now the bow of the Barbarossa had continued on and was now tearing away several feet of Pier No. 41. But the momentum of the Barbarossa carried her on to Pier 42 where a large French liner the La Bretagne was docked. In an instant the bow of the Barbarossa was slicing into the French liner La Bretagne just aft of her mainmast making a gash nearly twenty-five-feet deep exposing 3 decks. The force of the collision drove the La Bretagne forward breaking off all her gangways from the pier. The La Bretagne moved forward with enough force to cut a barge in half that was directly forward of her moored to Pier 42. Men who were working in that area were running for their lives. One of the halves of the barge cut in two by the La Bretagne was sent flying with such force that it sank another nearby barge.

After the collisions the Barbarossa slowed up and tugs were able to get her under control once again. It was said that the strong flood tide had much to do with the chain of events. The tugs brought the Barbarossa back to her pier and the Hoboken Fire Department came aboard and opened the vents there by giving new life to the fire again. The smoke became so intense at that point it overcame Chief Engineer Rose of the Barbarossa, who was carried unconscious to the deck, where he soon recovered.

It seems that the crew was in such a state that the Chief Mate could not get them under control. Captain Richter had to go below and help fight the fire. But due to the rotten condition of many of the fire hoses from the ship things got worse. But finally cooler heads prevailed and someone ordered the hold to be flooded. By 9 o’clock that evening things were looking up.

In the end it was found that some machinery that was also loaded in Compartment No.3 was packed with greasy rags and spontaneous combustion had set the rags afire, thus causing the nearby cotton bales to catch on fire. The Barbarossa was made ready and she was able to sail with just a few days time. Shortly after the fire and collision with the La Bretagne Captain Richter was removed as Master of the Barbarossa’s and her new Master was Captain F. Mentz and her radio call sign was QGJC.

On September 14, 1907 in one of the detention rooms on Ellis Island sat a 12-year old boy. His name was Chain Shlome Kleinman and was from near Warsaw, Poland. He was a stowaway aboard the Barbarossa and was caught getting off the ship. Chain’s story was that a few years ago his mother and brother and sister had left Chain’s father in Poland and had come to New York, but Chain and his father were left in Poland. That was about the time that Chain’s father began to work Chain harshly and feed him meager meals. Little Chain had had enough and one day he resolved to come to America to find his mother. One day Chain left his father with only two Rubles in his pocket for which he would come to America. Two Rubles only amounted to about a dollar and a half, hardly enough to make it to America. But he was able to make his way to Bremen, Germany and stowaway on the Barbarossa. Chain says that he will die if he is sent back to his father in Poland to work in the slate mines. It was not known if he was ever able to find his mother or if he was sent back to Poland.

In late 1908 there was a large earthquake in Italy on the Island of Sicily. In New York being there were many Italians living there, the citizens were working on collecting various forms of aid for the Sicilians.  Nathan Straus who was well known for the distribution of pasteurized milk, was heading up the relief efforts and needed a way to get these various supplies transported to the region. On January 4, 1909 Mr. Straus’s chief assistant, Dr. Green sailed aboard the Barbarossa bound for Naples with a load of medicines, and food provisions consisting of hams, sides of bacon, and bags of flour. Officials from the North German Lloyd Line helped out by transporting these relief supplies free of charge aboard the Barbarossa. They even had enough supplies to load another one of the North German ships the Hamburg, which sailed a day after the Barbarossa.

Customs Officials arrested a man and his wife from the Barbarossa on September 10, 1910. August Muller and his wife were Germans and were going to Nebraska to visit relatives. But when a customs official noticed that the pair seemed un-naturally fat they were questioned. It was found that Mr. Muller had wrapped over 350-yards of fancy lace embroidery material to his body and Mrs. Muller had an additional 60-yards hidden under her dress. Upon inspection of the baggage they had it was found that there was an additional 750-yards of lace along with seven boxes of cigars. All of which the Muller’s had not declared to the customs agents. There were several other persons aboard the Barbarossa who had also violated the Duty Taxes and all were fined and let go.

The Barbarossa arrived in New York 4-days late on February 21, 1914. She had come from Bremen and on the trip across the Barbarossa’s master Captain R. Meyer, reported that they had passed dangerously near a floating wreck of an iron vessel on Thursday morning past. The wreck was floating in the path of the Atlantic liners and posed a hazard to navigation to all ships. Chief Officer W. Kohiken, who was on the bridge of the Barbarossa when the hulk was sighted, stated the weather was clear and the sea calm. The men in the lookout crow’s nest rang down that they had spotted a huge whale or something right ahead of the ship. Chief Officer Kohiken looked through his glasses and saw the object floating about six or so feet out of the surface, dipping gently into the swells. He ordered the Quartermaster to starboard so they would pass about 200-feet away from the object. On closer investigation they saw that it was a wreck of an iron vessel with about 40-feet of her starboard side showing above the water. They could not determine what the name of the vessel was, and no clues were found floating near it. Several other ships passing the same area also noted this same wreckage. A United States Revenue Cutter was dispatched to look for the floating wreck and destroy it.

On July 7, 1914 the Barbarossa began her last trip from Bremen to New York when war was declared in Europe. Once she arrived in New York she remained there for refuge or risked being sunk or captured, as she was a German ship. Early after the beginning of hostilities the British Royal Navy and the Canadian Navy began to conduct patrols along the east coast of the United States thus preventing the sailing of any German or Austrian flagged ships. The Barbarossa was anchored off Stapleton, which was along the waterfront of the Upper New York Bay.

Along with all the interred German and Austrian crews the crew of the Barbarossa was not able to leave the ship. They could not go ashore as they have no immigration status nor can they get back to their home country. The Shipping companies they worked for are bound to pay them but cut their wages to shore pay. But as the war begins to seem like it will not be over in a few weeks the shipping companies cut the wages to 1/3 pay for single men and 2/3 pay for married men. The food aboard ship is meager at best. Every morning coffee and bread is served at 6 o’clock then breakfast is served at 7:30, then coffee, cold meats and soup at noon. Dinner is served at 3 o’clock consisting of roasted meat, potatoes and coffee, and at 6 O’clock in the evening sausage and pumpernickel along with more coffee.

By February of 1915 the food had gotten to such a revolting affair that many of the crews protested against their companies stating that the butter they were served made them sick. In Hoboken alone there were nearly 1,600 men on German vessels, and as time went on many during the day got off the ship and found day jobs on shore and then returned to the ship for the night, only to repeat the process the next day.

All that changed when America declared war with Germany in April of 1917, and the German ships were confiscated and the crews removed and given a choice to renounce Germany and become United States citizens or be put into a prisoner of war camp. Many chose the first option.

In early August 1915 the Barbarossa is secretly loaded with coal and other items for delivery to German warships just off the coast of the United States. And on the evening of August 9 at 9 o’clock that evening in the cover of darkness the Barbarossa try’s to make her way to sea to rendezvous with an unknown ship to make her delivery. But a patrol boat on neutrality patrol stopped her and made her return to port. This cargo was then quickly off loaded from the Barbarossa and shipped by express train to Philadelphia where it was put aboard the German ship Brandenburg the next night and quickly puts out to sea with the secret cargo. But the American neutrality patrol boats quickly caught on to the ways of the Germans and soon enough had stopped these secret shipments.

Some American and British officials believed that the German Government before hostilities began in Europe planned to have these German and Austrian ship sail to America to be interred on purpose. After all there were 66 German and Austrian ships being held in America. The plan may have been to use them as secret store ships for German combatant ships off shore, and also men from the German ships could spy on America and relay information back to Germany. One example of the spying aspect came from a “self-confessed deserter” from the Barbarossa. Anton Hillke from the Barbarossa had “deserted” his ship in January of 1915 and traveled about the country until he was caught on April 1, 1917. Hillke was caught in New Orleans while “loitering” near the docks in New Orleans. National Guardsmen then on duty caught Hillke and took him to the immigration station in New Orleans where he was held. In Hillke’s possessions he had a number of photographs of public and private buildings in and around New Orleans. In his pockets he only had about $25 in currency.

When it was believed by the officers of the Barbarossa that the ship would be confiscated by the United States Navy in April of 1917 due to the fact that Germany was now at war with America, they gave orders that the ship must be damaged in such a way that would cause the greatest harm to the ship with out sinking her. This was done so that America would not be able to use the German ship or cause the most effort and time to get the ship working again. So in the days before the Barbarossa was taken over the German crews set about their devilish work in destroying the machinery of their former “home” for the last years.

USS Mercury

The fourth Mercury (SP-3012), was built as Barbarossa by Blohm and Voss, Hamburg, Germany, in 1896, and was operated by the North German Lloyd Line until she took refuge in Hoboken, N.J., at the outbreak of war in 1914. There she remained until seized by United States officials when the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. Prior to April 6 her German crew tried to damage her machinery so the United States Navy could not use the German ship.  The main damage to the Barbarossa was in her engine room spaces. It was found that her crank pin bolts had been slacked off, three of her high-pressure cylinders had been cracked and both of her main steam injectors had been damaged.

After the Barbarossa was taken over she was moved from her berth in Hoboken to the Erie Basin in Brooklyn and turned over to the Robins Dry Dock & Repair Company. Under supervision of the United States Shipping Board the men of the Robins Yard began to repair the damages the Germans had inflicted on their former ship. Barbarossa remained there at the Robins Yard until August 3, 1917 when she was placed in full commission for the first time as a United States Naval vessel, attached to the Transport Force and under the command of Commander Harry L. Brinser USN. On August 24, 1917 Lt. CMDR Prentiss P. Bassett reported aboard the Barbarossa for duty as Executive Officer. On September 6, 1917 Captain Brinser was sent a message from the Bureau of Navigation stating the name of Barbarossa was to be stricken and the name of USS Mercury was to be used in its place.

Captain Brinser had two major problems he had to deal with in order to get his ship ready for sea. First there was the machinery of the ship, which was coming along in a timely manner and secondly there was getting a crew together and getting them accustomed to handling the former German ship. Gangs of workmen were kept working around the clock with repairs and installing her four, six-inch, 40-calibre guns. Experienced armed guard crews from the USS Minnesota manned these guns.

The crew that had been assembled for the USS Mercury consisted of about 15% experienced regular navy men, and the balance being Naval Reserves who had enlisted for the war, untrained to a great extent. In order to train the men and make them ready to handle any emergency that may come upon them at sea, schools were held each evening and all were instructed in the ways of the ship and the need of being on the job each minute. Morning and afternoon, with weather permitting, infantry drills were held on shore.

By December 19, 1917 the repairs had been completed and the crews were about ready to get under way. At 11:25 in the morning Captain Brinser moved the Mercury for the first time and proceeded to sea for compass compensation and trial runs. Once out at sea just off the Ambrose Channel Light Ship, the Mercury commenced swinging the ship for the compass compensations, which ended about 5 o’clock on the afternoon of December 20. The Mercury then began her trial trip and on the morning of December 21 began to fire her deck guns for the first time at practice targets. Additionally the ship tested a smoke box installed on her deck. This was used to produce a smoke screen when needed at sea to escape from the enemy visually.

Once finished with target practice, Captain Brinser gives orders for a full power run on the engines. At 10 o’clock on the morning of December 21 they begin the run and for the next 2-hours the Mercury churns along in the Atlantic. During the last hour of the run she made her best speed of 13.9-knots. The crew is pleased with her speed and after the run they return back to New York where they tied up to Pier No. 2 in Hoboken, New Jersey at 4:30 that afternoon.

The morning of December 22, the crew begins to take on cargo and stores needed for the first trip across the Atlantic with troops. This continued until December 28 when all cargo was aboard the ship. On the morning of December 30 at 11 o’clock in a flurry of snow and foggy conditions Captain Brinser takes the Mercury fully loaded out to sea for one last trial run with a full load. She handled well and they were out at sea the night and returned on December 31 to Pier No. 3 in Hoboken at 3:30 that afternoon.

Officially inspected by the Commander of the Cruiser and Transport Force on January 2, 1918, Mercury is deemed ready for troops and sea. At 9:15 on the morning of January 3 troops begin to walk up her gangways for the first time. It is not until 5 o’clock that afternoon that all troops were on board. They consisted of 105 Army officers and 2,250 enlisted men along with 4,348,868 pounds of general cargo in her holds. Final cargo is loaded and the ship is coaled one last time and ready for her first trip with troops aboard.

First Voyage

At 2:37 PM on January 4, 1918 Captain Brinser orders all lines taken in and they are underway heading down river where they will anchor just off Fort Wadsworth to await the convoy and the cover of darkness before heading out into open seas. The Mercury waits until the USS Seattle, their escort for the trip, meets with them at 10:45 that evening. The USS America, also loaded with troops joins with the other two and together all three ships head out to destinations only known as “Somewhere in France.”

After that first night at sea in the morning on January 5, 1918 the troops aboard the Mercury are for the first time instructed in abandon ship drills, and from that time on each day of the trip Captain Brinser orders abandon ship drills to be held daily. The troops are instructed to quickly and quietly proceed to the assigned stations, and are instructed to wear life preservers. On the sixth-day of the trip the convoy begins a zigzag course designed to elude an attack from a German U-boat.

As morning broke on January 10 the Mercury sighted a two masted schooner, which appeared to be riding very low in the water. A signal was sent to the cruiser Seattle and she came along the schooner to investigate. The Seattle soon found the schooner to be the A. Crownwell skippered by W. F. Johnson of Newfoundland, and she was leaking and had lost her rudder. The Seattle took her crew aboard and they stated they had been manning the pumps for 12-days straight and were not making progress. Being that the A. Crownwell was now a hazard to navigation the Seattle set her on fire to sink her.

During this first crossing the first death aboard the Mercury occurred. On January 12, 1918 one of the Army troops aboard, Corporal H. G. Fairlamb of Depot Detachment, 446th Engineers died from the results of Pneumonia.

On the evening of January 15 the officers of the Mercury became lost from the convoy due to sailing at night with no lights but at daylight were able to pick up the other ships and once again regained the safety of the convoy. It was at 8:07 AM that the first destroyer the USS Ericsson was sighted, likely a sign of relief to the crew of the Mercury. Later that day 5 more destroyers joined the convoy, as this was the point in which the cruiser Seattle turned over escort duties to the destroyers. The Seattle then turned back westward to pick up another eastbound convoy. The destroyers USS Ericsson, Tucker, O’Brien, Balch, Wadsworth and Parker then escorted the Mercury and America to St. Nazaire, France.

At 1:12 in the afternoon of January 16 the enemy was sighted. Just off Belle Isle near St. Nazaire, France off the port beam of the Mercury was a German U-boat swinging her bow to bring her front tubes to bear on the convoy. The submarine flag was ran up instantly by the signalmen on the bridge to alert the other members of the convoy. The Parker was right on the job and cut across the bow from the starboard side of the Mercury quickly and opened fire on the U-boat. The U-boat was plainly visible and was likely the same U-boat that had given the Nianza a good fight in the same location just a few days before.

On the bridge of the Mercury the U-boat was seen by Captain Brinser, Commander Bassett the XO, Lt. E. A. McIntyre, the officer of the deck, the Chief Quartermaster and the signalmen then on watch. As the Mercury sped by, the sub was seen submerging and seemed to have escaped the blistering firing the boys on the Parker were giving her at the time. Just as fast as it began so ended the first encounter with the enemy, one that would not be quickly forgotten by those who witnessed it.

By 8:30 that evening the Mercury was in the relative safety of the harbor of St. Nazaire. They remained in the outer harbor through out the night and at 8:30 the next morning moved to the inner harbor basin where they unloaded the cargo and off loaded the troops. Once the troops and cargo were unloaded the Mercury took on sand ballast for the return trip back across the Atlantic.

At 1:55 on the afternoon of January 27 she got underway and stood out of St. Nazaire with 49 Army officers on the return trip. Also aboard were 42 Army prisoners. The Mercury then anchored off Quiberon, France to await other westbound ships. On January 29 at 3:05 in the afternoon the Mercury along with the USS Madawaska and several other ships began the westbound trip under escort of several destroyers.

The day had not yet ended when at 8:30 that evening the starboard relay station reported that a torpedo had just passed under the stern of the ship. Chief Yeoman Smith and Yeoman 3rd Class A. E. Martell both had witnessed the torpedo pass under the stern of the Mercury. Both men were not green recruits and had made several crossing previous to this one and were certain it was a torpedo and not some fish of some kind.

Now out at sea on January 30th the barometer began to fall and bad weather began to blow in. The next day the seas were heavy and the Mercury was encountering heavy rollers, which did carry away two lifeboats from the deck. By February 3 the ship was still in heavy seas, which caused her to burn more coal and make less headway. Captain Brinser gave an order at 8:55 in the morning to his helmsman to change course and head south for the Azores. The navigator plotted a course for Ponta Delgado, Azore Island, making best possible speed under the current weather. At 9:20 on the morning of February 5 the Mercury arrived in Ponta Delgado and proceeded to replenish with coal and fresh water. They took on board 104-tons of water and 700-tons of coal. She stayed in Ponta Delgado until 2 o’clock on the afternoon of February 7 when she got under way again for the United States, now under escort from the USS Stockton and the USS Isabel. The weather had only improved slightly and squalls were frequently encountered.

The Ambrose Channel Light Ship was sighted on February 16th at 6:05 in the morning, and the Mercury entered the channel anchoring off Tompkinsville at 9:10 that morning, thus completing that first voyage. On February 18th she moved to Pier No. 6 at Bush Terminal in Brooklyn, where she stayed until February 22 when she moved to the dry dock at Erie Basin in Brooklyn, where some minor repairs were made. Once repairs were completed on February 27 the Mercury moved to Pier No. 3 in Hoboken, New Jersey to reload for the next trip to France.

Second Voyage

On March 6, 1918 at 1:04 in the afternoon the Mercury moved away from Pier No. 3 loaded with 84 Army Officers and 2,275 enlisted men with 3,176,124 pounds of general cargo. Again as the last trip she anchored off Fort Wadsworth to await darkness and the convoy. On March 7 at 4:38 in the afternoon the Mercury along with the Madawaska, Mongolia, and the Tenadores got underway, escorted this time by the USS North Carolina. This trip the weather was fine allowing for easy zigzag courses and daily Fire Control and Gun drills in the mornings and Repel Attackers and Abandon Ship drills in the afternoons.

Smooth sailing was the order of the day and on March 18 at 7:58 in the morning the transfer point was easily reached. By 9:10 that morning the North Carolina had turned over escort duty to 7 destroyers. The four stacks of the North Carolina quickly faded away into the western horizon as the convoy pressed ever eastward.

But the easy trip was broken quickly for at 2:50 in the afternoon on March 19 the Submarine Warning flag was run up on the signal mast of one of the destroyers. 800-yards off the port quarter of the Mercury the destroyers were dropping depth charges on a yet unseen U-boat. At 4:00 that afternoon the convoy split with the Madawaska and Mongolia heading to St. Nazaire, and the Tenadores and Mercury headed southerly to Bordeaux, France.

But the troubles of the day were not yet over for at 11:45 that evening the telemotor steering gear of the Mercury broke and the captain had to resort to steering the ship by hand from the rear steering room, aided by the use of the engines. Once the Mercury reached the Gironde River Captain Brinser felt it was too dangerous to enter the river with the broken steering gear. The USS Nakomis, a converted Yacht was dispatched to assist the Mercury while in the river. At 2 o’clock on the afternoon of March 20 the Nakomis met the Mercury and assisted her to anchorage in Pauillac, France for repairs to her steering gear.

Once the repairs were completed she got underway again on March 21 and started up the river but had to anchor at 12:27 to await the proper tide flow in the river. By 10:05 that evening she was again on her way finally docking at Bassens, France at 5:35 in the afternoon on March 23. She began to disembark her troops and cargo.

On March 27 she received 31 civilians and 1 Army officer for transport to the United States. Mercury got underway at 5:45 that evening and anchored off Point de Grave at 10:43 that evening to await a convoy. There she remained until April 2 at 4:10 in the afternoon when she got underway with the USS Henry R. Mallory, Tenadores and the Floridian under escort of the destroyers USS Wadsworth and Drayton.

The convoy was sailing westward unescorted for two days in relative calmness until 10:50 on the morning of April 4 when the Tenadores suddenly ran up the Submarine Warning flag. Tenadores began to fire her deck guns quickly followed by the Armed Guard crews of the Mallory as they too fired on a target. This continued for nearly 10-minutes at the two submarines that had been sighted by officers from the Tenadores. They had fired 31-shots at the first U-boat that was sighted, and the Captain of the Tenadores rang for full speed and headed for the U-boat. The Mercury did not fire her deck guns, as she was not in position to fire safely at the U-boat for fear of hitting the Tenadores or Mallory. Both U-boats in the end were able to elude the attacking ships.

Sailing on the convoy press westward until April 5 at 9 o’clock in the morning when the convoy disbanded, each ship to make the best way to their respective ports. On April 8 the Mercury passed a 21-ship east bound convoy heading to France. By then the weather was blowing up a rough sea causing the ship to roll an average of 20-degrees to either side, but by the end of the day the seas were moderating.

Foggy and drizzly weather followed on April 11-12. The captain ordered hourly deep-sea soundings after 10 o’clock on the morning of the 12th until they sighted the Ambrose Channel Light on April 13 at 7:05 in the morning. By 11 o’clock that morning they were safe at pier No. 4 in Hoboken, New Jersey. And then the process of replenishing for the next trip began all over.

Third Voyage

By April 22 the Mercury had loaded 105 Army Officers and 2,414 enlisted men along with a draft of 55 Naval men for stations abroad. On April 23 they sailed direct to sea to meet with the Huron, Aeolus, Henry R. Mallory, Siboney, Tenadores and Henderson escorted by the USS North Carolina and steamed eastward.

The convoy was steaming east with relative ease until 8:30 in the evening on April 25. Suddenly two ships of the convoy collided. The Huron broke her steering gear and she collided into the Aeolus, which caused both ships to turn back to New York but the rest of the convoy continued on with out them. Aboard the Mercury the routine of the trip settled in with drills each morning and evening, with fine sailing weather. On April 29 the Mercury was able to tow a target for the Armed Guard crews aboard the Tenadores to practice on. This was a great source of entertainment for the Army troops aboard watching the guns of the Tenadores hit the target they were towing.

On May 4 at 6:40 in the morning the recognizable little destroyers joined the convoy and the North Carolina again turned back to the west. At 2:25 on the afternoon of May 5 two of the transports and three destroyers broke off from the main body of the convoy heading for other ports. Later the same day at 8:15 in the evening a target was identified and fired on by other ships in the convoy. They were too far from the Mercury this time to cause any concerns and the evening passed without any troubles. The next day on May 6 the Mercury had reached Brest, France and by 1:15 that afternoon had begun the process of unloading her troops and cargo.

Once her troops were offloaded she took on ballast for the return trip and on May 8 left alone under escort of the destroyer USS Roe. That evening at 10:23 lookouts spotted a periscope on the surface, distance 2-miles bearing 75 degrees. Captain Brinser ordered General Quarters but did not open fire. At 11: 00 PM G.M.T. the USS Roe left the Mercury and she preceded the rest of the way alone. The weather was excellent and they made good time on course for a record trip until 5:20 in the evening on May 16th. Like a bolt from the sky orders were received to change course and proceed to Newport News, Virginia. Off Cape Henry, Mercury runs headlong into a fog bank and fell in with the USS Mayrant who assisted in piloting the Mercury into the unfamiliar port of Newport News. That evening at 5:28 the Mercury was tied up at Pier No. 12 where she began taking on coal and stores.

Fourth Voyage

Once finished loading coal and stores for her next trip she on May 24 began to load troops, which numbered 116 Army officers and 2,783 enlisted men. The troops spent two nights aboard the Mercury before leaving the pier. It was not until may 26 at 3:35 in the afternoon that lines were hauled in and the Mercury began to leave the dock. Once again she was under way and heading out to sea where she met her familiar escort, the North Carolina. It was on May 28 that the Mercury and North Carolina met up with the New York based ships. On this convoy the ships were Mercury, Von Stuben, Siboney, Ulua, Tenadores, Henry R. Mallory, Huron, Henderson, Mongolia, America all under escort by the North Carolina and one destroyer.

Aboard the Mercury life was much the same as the previous trips across, with daily drills. With the warmer months comes calmer seas and smooth sailing again was with them. The first real excitement of the trip happened on June 1 when the convoy held target practice for the armed guard gun crews. In the early morning hours the Mercury towed a target for the Huron to fire at and then later in the morning the Huron towed a target at which the Mercury’s gun crews shot at. Life returned to the daily drills until the next event occurred on June 4. At 5:53 in the morning one of the ships in the convoy broke down and being it was dark and still not in the danger zone the disabled ship turned on her boat deck lights so as to be seen in the crowded formation of the convoy. This was greatly appreciated by the officers in the wheelhouse of the Mercury as they skillfully maneuvered the Mercury around the stricken vessel narrowly avoiding a collision with the disabled ship.

By June 6 the convoy had reached the transfer point and at 6:50 that morning the first of the escorting destroyers were sighted. By 11 o’clock that morning all nine of the destroyers were with the convoy and the North Carolina made her turn back west alone.

The next day on June 7 at 2:35 in the afternoon lookouts spot a small boat adrift off the port beam of the Mercury. It was empty and no ship stopped to investigate fearing it was a decoy or just an empty left over from a tragic sinking of an unwary merchantman. Sailing on the convoy separated later that evening at 5:26 PM, and the Mercury, Siboney, Ulua, Tenadores and the Henry R. Mallory breaking away to the south, bound for Bordeaux, France. The ships reached the mouth of the Gironde River at 2:47 on the afternoon of June 8 and anchored off Point de Grave at 7:18 that evening to await the proper tide in the river in order to navigate. On the way to the anchorage the ship directly ahead of the Mercury lost a man overboard at 6:55 PM. A patrol boat picked up the man and he was once again aboard his ship, albeit just a bit wet and cold.

By 7:10 on the evening of June 9 the troops were starting to unload from the Mercury onto the dock at Bassens. Once unloaded the Mercury on June 13 at 8:07 in the morning started her way back down the river to meet with the ships that would make up the return convoy. By 5:13 that evening the Siboney, Tenadores, Mallory, Floridian and the Mercury were steaming out into open waters under the watchful eye of the USS Bridge and several destroyers.

The convoy steamed on westward until 8:30 on the morning of June 15. At that time the escorting destroyers broke away being that they were out of the danger zone and went to pick up the next incoming east bound convoy. Shortly after the ships in the Mercury’s west bound convoy split with the Mercury, Tenadores and Floridian sailing together to Newport News and the others north to New York. At 2:15 that afternoon the Tenadores reports picking up a floating lifeboat but did not report if anyone was in it. The weather was fine for the rest of the trip with the exception of two days of misty overcast weather.

Lookouts on the Mercury on June 18 at 4:12 in the afternoon report a sighting of a periscope on the surface and the Submarine Warning flag is sent aloft to notify the other ships. The navigator marks the approximate position at Lat. 42 degrees 53 minutes North: Long. 37 degrees 4 minutes West, bearing 140 degrees, distance 2,000-yards. Captain Brinser calls for General Quarters and the Armed Guard gun crews open fire on the target. Results inconclusive as the U-boat appeared to get away undamaged. Total firing time was only about 10-minutes.

In the early morning light of June 24 at 6:30 AM the lookouts again sight a periscope and a small boat, which was apparently meant as a decoy, bearing 330 degrees, distance 2,000-yards. General Quarters was sounded and the Mercury changed course to the starboard to bring the guns to bear on the target. The gun crew was only able to get off one shot as the U-boat went under and the Mercury steamed out of range. Obviously there was U-boat activity in the area, and that would not be the last they would see on this trip. At 45-minutes past noon more evidence of U-boat activities were encountered when lookouts sight a two-masted schooner ablaze, distance about 10-miles bearing 330-degrees. For the next 40-minutes the Mercury passed through a field of floating lumber and wreckage obviously from the victim of the U-boat. A fact that was well understood by every man aboard the Mercury, that this could be his fate at any moment.

By 3:10 that afternoon the Mercury’s lookouts see a welcome sight, that of the Cape Charles Light House and they proceed up the bay anchoring off the Custom House Wharf in Newport News. Safety was once again in the hands of the crew of the Mercury. But once again on June 25 they were re-coaling and making ready for another trip into the hands of the unknown.

Fifth Voyage

The routine of the crossings with troops became second nature to the crew of the Mercury, and at 1:03 in the afternoon of June 30, 1918 the Mercury was once again leaving the pier with troops. On this trip there were 79 Army officers and 2,880 enlisted men and in the holds of the Mercury were stores 1,177.5-tons of cargo. As before she met her escort, the USS Seattle and they together met up with the New York section of transports on July 1st at 23-minutes past noon. This convoy consisted of the Mercury, President Grant, Mongolia, Mount Vernon, Madawaska, Siboney, Zeelandia, Calamares, Sigourney and several other ships. During this trip the convoy had two cruisers as escorts, the Seattle and the Frederick and several destroyers.

Once the entire convoy was assembled the day would not end before the enemy was encountered. At 7:08 in the evening a U-boat was sighted off the starboard quarter and General Quarters was sounded. Several destroyers swiftly cut across in front of the Mercury and began to work over the U-boat by dropping several depth charges. Things returned to normal, if there ever is such a thing on a crossing during wartime, until the next event took place. At 7 o’clock in the evening on July 2 the Henderson, one of the other ships in the convoy, was observed to be on fire. Within an hour she had dropped out of formation with a destroyer standing watch over her while they returned back to port.

On July 4, 1918 as the convoy is making way eastward a flash is sent to the ships in the convoy from the flagship to dress the ships in honor of the Nations Birthday. And so at Noon the Mercury was fully dressed with flags and sporting events were held on deck. There were also boxing bouts held for the entertainment of the troops. For the briefest of moments each man felt like they were safe. But for the next two days the weather turned to heavy fog until noon on July 6.

Later in the evening at 6 o’clock on July 6, the flagship of the convoy on the horizon from the Mercury was observed firing several shots, but it was not known as to what the target was. At about the same time aboard the Mercury the fire alarm was sounded as a small fire had broken out in a linen locker. Any fire aboard ship, now matter how small is a big concern, and it was extinguished before any serious damage had taken place.

Three days of relative smooth sailing passed until the next event took place. On July 9 at 1:18 in the afternoon one of the escorting destroyers thought they had detected a U-boat and raised the submarine warning flag alerting the rest of the convoy. Quickly the destroyer broke out of formation to track down her prey, but by 1:30 the destroyer had resumed her place back in formation.

Now on July 11 the convoy reached the hand-off point and the Seattle turn back once the 13 destroyers had took control of the convoy. By 6 o’clock on the evening of July 12 the convoy had sighted the coast of France and at 10:30 that evening the Mercury was anchored in the harbor in Brest to wait her turn at unloading. Bright and early the next morning at 8:14 AM the first troops began to disembark off the ship onto lighters that had come along side of the Mercury.

Two days later on July 15 at 5:05 in the evening the Mercury gets under way for her return trip. The destroyers USS Nicholson and Reid are escorting the Mercury and the Ohioan, Czar, Vauban and the Dutch Freighter SS Roepat. Within a short time the 16,100-ton Roepat falls behind and falls in line behind the Mercury as one of the destroyers keeps a watchful eye on her.

The convoy is progressing westward easily until 6 o’clock on the morning of July 17 when the USS Reid sends up the submarine warning flag. The Reid had sighted a U-boat at 5,000-yards distant and opened fired on the sub. Captain Brinser on the Mercury orders a 60-degree turn to port and rings for full speed. By then the U-boat had managed to fire one torpedo, which narrowly missed the Reid. Nothing more is seen or heard from the sub and the convoy steams away into the vastness of the Atlantic. After steaming the entire day the convoy was past the danger zone and at 8:45 that evening the destroyers leave the convoy. After another day of steaming at 7 o’clock on the evening of July 18 the SS Czar breaks away from the convoy to proceed to her destination and the Ohioan, Vauben and Mercury steam on together.

In the Mercury’s radio room on July 25 a message is received that was good news to all the crew. The message was ordering them back to the New York group and word was quickly passed through out the ship. Most of the crew was from the New York area and being based out of Newport News, Virginia was not well liked by many of the crew. This news cheered up the crew as they had begun to believe that the Statue of Liberty was non-existent these past months. She would be a beautiful sight to see in a few days. The men passed the time on the Mercury by towing a target for the armed guard crews aboard the Ohioan on July 26. The news of going to New York once again must have been equally well received on the Ohioan because they were excellent marksmen; one shot even lifted the target completely out of the water.

Nearing the coast the small convoy passes an eastbound convoy of ships on July 27. And within a few more hours they sight the Ambrose Channel Lightship at 5:35 that evening. Soon enough the Mercury drops anchor off St. George on Staten Island. On July 28 the Mercury moved up the North River and anchored off 128th St. in New York for the night. On the following day she moved across the river to Pier No. 16 in Hoboken, New Jersey for some repairs to her ventilating system.

The first anniversary of the commissioning of the Mercury came on August 3, 1918 and Captain Brinser gave an order that a holiday should be declared. The ships cooks held a big dinner for the crew, which was followed by speeches and vaudeville show put on by some of the crew. Two days later on August 5, Captain Brinser receives a dispatch from the Bureau of Navigation stating that he, Commander Harry L. Brinser, Commanding Officer of the USS Mercury was detached from the Mercury to take command of the cruiser USS Columbia and command of the ship be turned over to Commander Prentiss P. Bassett his Executive Officer. Captain Brinser assembled his officers one last time and read aloud his orders and command was passed to the Mercury’s new skipper Commander Bassett.

Lt. Commander William B. Brereton, Jr., Captain Bassett’s new Executive Officer, reported aboard the Mercury on August 10. In need of additional repairs the Mercury on August 23 was moved to the Erie Basin Dry Dock, and then on August 28 she was moved again to the Morse Dry Dock and repair Companies yard where she stayed undergoing repairs until September 5 when repairs were completed. She then moved once again to Hoboken to load once again with troops and cargo for France.

Sixth Voyage

September 7, 1918 the familiar sound of the boots of Doughboys marching up her gangways could be heard once again. This trip there was 105 Army officers and 2,632 enlisted men along with a Naval draft of 196 men and 1 officer to be transported to a Naval Station in France. The Mercury’s hold was loaded with 1,976,950 pounds of cargo. One of the most valuable items on board was 1,285 bags of mail for the doughboys fighting in the mud and blood in France.

Sharply at 8:15 AM on the morning of September 8, Captain Bassett gave his first orders to take in all lines and the Mercury began her first trip under his experienced command. This time she was under escort of the cruiser USS Huntington. Just as before daily drills were held to keep everyone sharp and ready for anything that might come their way. The convoy met with the Newport News transports and together the Mercury, Madawaska, Zeelandia, Huron, Henry R. Mallory, two Italian ships the Desna’ D’A, and Bruzzi D’Itallia, steamed eastward under escort of the Huntington and the destroyers USS Walke, and Preble, and the USS Rochester and Taylor. Later in the afternoon the Rochester and the Preble left the convoy and returned back to New York.

Several days into the trip on September 17 at 8:12 in the morning a U-boat is sighted, bearing 230 degrees, distance about 200-yards. Captain Bassett orders his ship to swing her stern toward the U-boat to give the Mercury’s stern deck guns the best angle of attack and the gun crews open fire with the 6-inch guns, firing two shots. Results unknown but likely close enough for the U-boat’s skipper to break off attack. The next morning at 9:55 AM came another U-boat sighting. General Quarters was sounded and Captain Bassett quickly changed course 45 degrees to port and went to full speed as his gun crews open fire on the sub. Again as the previous day no shots hit the sub but it was sufficiently close to make the U-boat think twice about mixing it up with a 6-inch deck gun at close ranges.

By September 19 the hand off point had been reached and 12 destroyers joined the convoy at 5 o’clock in the morning. Shortly after the Huntington and Walke made the turn back west and faded from the ever-eastward convoy.

Night time at sea was not any less dangerous than day time, and at 37-minutes past mid-night on September 20 another U-boat periscope is seen breaking the dark surface two-points forward of the starboard beam of the Mercury. The lookouts sharply picked up the white trail of the periscope on the dark surface of the sea about 700-yards distance. The officer in charge at the time ordered a 45 degree turn to port and rang for full speed, sounded General Quarters and rang the siren to alert the other ships. Due to the darkness the deck guns did not fire for fear of hitting another of the transports or escorts.

The day would not end before more U-boats are seen. At 5 o’clock in the evening another U-boat is seen two points off the port bow of the Mercury. The Submarine Warning flag is ran up the Mercury’s mast signaling the rest of the convoy of the danger and she went to General Quarters again. The destroyers were right on the job and quickly began dropping depth charges on the last reported position of the U-boat. Within just a few minutes nine of the escorting destroyers were actively seeking to destroy the German’s under the surface. As morning of September 21 broke the Mercury found herself just outside the harbor of Brest, France, and at 9:55 that morning she had anchored and began offloading her troops onto lighters that had come along side.

Once finished off loading she got underway on the return trip at 3:15 on the afternoon of September 23 under escort of six destroyers. Along with the Mercury on the return trip were the Huron, Manchuria, Zeelandia, Henry R. Mallory, Madawaska, and the Italian ship D’A Bruzzi. Aboard the Mercury were 7 officers and 93 enlisted men returning to the States.

The westbound convoy was only one day out when at 6:45 in the morning the lookouts on the Mercury sight another U-boat astern and raise the Submarine Warning flag. The stern guns open fire and the Mercury swiftly steams away. The following day on September 25 the escorting destroyers left and the convoy splits with the Mercury and Zeelandia steaming on together. Out of the danger zone on September 26, the Mercury tows a practice target for the gun crews aboard the Zeelandia. And then several days later of October 1 the Zeelandia tows a target for the Mercury’s gunners.

Early on October 4 Captain Bassett orders depth sounding taken as they approach Newport News. By 11 o’clock that evening the Mercury is ties up at Pier No. 4 in Newport News, Virginia. A few days rest and then on October 8 Mercury moved to Pier No. 10 and commenced coaling ship at 7 o’clock in the evening.

Seventh Voyage

Bad luck strikes the Mercury on October 13 as they load 87 Army officers and 2,355 enlisted men. The Spanish Flu had hit the ship and 53 of her crew are stricken and removed from the ship to the shore hospital during the day and night. But on October 14 they managed to get underway at 9:40 that morning with troops and 1661.1-tons of cargo. But the bad luck was still with the ship for at 10:05 that morning the Mercury drifted 35-feet too far to the north side of the western entrance of Newport News and grounded in the mud. This was not going to be one of Captain Bassett’s best starts to a trip. It was not until 1:35 in the afternoon that with the help of 11 tugs and the use of the Mercury’s engines that she was pulled loose of the grip of the mud. Finally floating freely she moved warily down the bay and joined the convoy already out at sea at about 7 o’clock that evening.

Joining the New York section of the convoy of October 15 the major ships consisting of the Mercury, Zeelandia, Huron, Madawaska, Henry R. Mallory and several others were escorted by the cruiser USS Huntington and the destroyer USS Fairfax. Captain Bassett ordered the usual routines of daily drills but also this trip he ordered semi-daily spraying of nose and throat mists to combat the enemy with in his hull, the flu.

The radio operators aboard the Mercury on October 18 picked up a SOS call from the SS Lucia not far from the present position of the convoy the Mercury was steaming in. The destroyer Fairfax is dispatched to render assistance to the former Austrian freighter. The Lucia had been torpedoed by the U-155 and was sinking. The Lucia was a former Austrian merchant freighted that had been taken over by the United States Government and had been fitted with a new device known as the “Donnelly Boxes” which was supposed to make her unsinkable. But these would prove to be of no use as the Lucia sank as a result of the torpedo attack. The deck of the Lucia was filled with crates of automobiles and the Lucia was riding dangerously low in the water when the Fairfax arrived. The crew was able to abandon ship and the Fairfax transported the survivors back to the convoy and off loaded them to the larger Huntington, where they proceeded on with the rest of the convoy.

The Mercury still had not escaped the bad luck of this trip because on October 19 the flu was still attacking the men aboard ship, and claimed the life of Lt. (j.g.) James Sterling, USNRF who died from the effects of influenza. By October 26th land was sighted and by noon the same day the Mercury was finally at the end of the eastbound crossing as she was beginning to off load her troops in Brest, France. But the bad luck still had not left the Mercury because on October 27 Lt. E. E Belcher, Medical Corps, USN died from the effects of the flu and still the flu reached Lt. Commander Brereton, the Executive Officer, who was taken ill from the flu. On October 28th, Lt. CMDR Brereton was transferred to the USS Agamemnon for transportation back to the States on sick leave because of the flu.

Beaten and battered from the Influenza that had ran amuck through the Mercury, they at 9:56 in the morning of October 28th got underway with 86 patients on board for the west bound leg of the trip. She and the Huron traveled under escort until 6:oo o’clock on the morning of October 30 when their escorts released the two liners to travel on alone. On the 31st they passed an eastbound convoy in the afternoon and on November 2 passed an American merchantman flying a distress flag but did not need assistance from the two liners. Possibly the bad luck had now left the Mercury, only time would tell. From that point on until they sighted land on the morning of November 9th sailing was smooth and uneventful, and so it seemed they had rid themselves of the bad karma.

Passing the cape Henry Light the Mercury steamed up the bay and at 9:20 AM moored to Pier No. 4 in Newport News, Virginia, with a collective sigh of relief that they had made it back.

On November 10 at 4:35 in the morning the weary crew began the task of coaling the ship for the next trip. By 9:00 o’clock that evening they were finished coaling and moved to Pier No. 10 for the night. On November 11, while making preparations for the next crossing the news was flashed to the ship that the Germans had signed the armistice, thus effectively ending hostilities.

Before the armistice on November 11, 1918, the Mercury had completed seven voyages to France, carrying over 18,000 passengers. After the armistice, she reversed the flow of troops, making eight crossings to return more than 20,000 doughboys back to the United States. After completing her last crossing as a United States Navy Transport ship on September 19, 1919, she was decommissioned and turned over to the Army Transport Service on September 27, 1919. The Army turned her over to the U.S. Shipping Board in August 1920. Though subsequently sold to the Baltic Steamship Corporation of America for a proposed service between New York and Danzig, they defaulted in November of 1920, and the Mercury came back to the Shipping Board in January of 1921 and was laid inactive until she was sold for scrapping in February of 1924. On February 20, 1924 the Mercury moved for the last time, arriving at the Boston Iron & Metals Company yard in Baltimore were the old ship met her fate and was broken up for scrap.

A restored photo of the port side of the USS Mercury. This photo was restored by Alan Richard who had
done the work for a customer who had two relatives that were crewmen on her.
The names of the men were:
Francis C. Smith - Grandfather
Oliver Smith - Great Uncle.

Photo of the Mercury taking a depth reading. The crewman on the right side is "Heaving the Lead" as it says on the photo. This is a process where a lead weighted wire is lowered to the bottom and the depth of the water is measured. Also samples of the bottom would be brought up and noted on the ships log.

One of the Mercury's Armed Guard gun crews. The gun captain of this gun is thought to be Seaman Paulick.

Below are listed some of the Mercury's Crossings and the troops she carried.

Sailing Date Unit Name
Enlisted Men
January 4, 1918 116th Trench Mortar Battery, 41st Division
21st Aero Squadron
446th Depot Engineers
Mechanical Repair Shop No. 301
March 6, 1918 416th RR Telegraph Bn Co., D & E
Mobile Laboratory, 3rd Division
Headquarters Battalion, AEF
April 23, 1918 5th Division Casuals
76th Artillery, (less 2nd Bn), 3rd Division
HQ Co. San. Tn, 77th Division
308th Amb. Co., 77th Division
302nd Trench Mortar Battery, 77th Div.
Expert Electricians & Engineers, Q.M.C.
Expert Accountants, Q.M.C.
Evac. Amb. Co., No.4
Hospital Train No. 25
Railway Transport Corps
Automatic Replacements Coast Artillery
Automatic Replacements Infantry
Automatic Replacements Field Artillery
Automatic Replacements Engineers
May 26, 1918 Casuals, 27th Division
320th Infantry, 80th Division
313th Machinegun Battalion, 80th Division
314th Machinegun Battalion, 80th Division
305th Field Signal Battalion, 80th Div.
4 Field Hospitals, 80th Division
June 30, 1918 2d Pioneer Infantry Cos, A-K inclusive

Bandsman George Stuart Bradley

George Stuart Bradley, Bass Drummer, top row center.

George Stuart Bradley was a member of the USS Mercury's band and he made at least 5 round trip crossings on the Mercury. Bradley was the base drummer and is pictured in the above enlargement of the photograph below that was shared by his grandson Mike Bradley. George S. Bradley along with being a band member also served as a Machinist aboard the ship. The band is in the center of this photo directly under the bridge windows first and second rows down. This photo was taken in 1919. George Stuart Bradley was born on December 8, 1899 in Rock Island, Illinois.

Entire ship's company of the USS Mercury assembled below the ships bridge taken during 1919. Note the four life rings on the Bridge are painted "USS Mercury." The 17th officer from the left end seated in the front row is Commander Prentiss P. Bassett, the Commanding Officer of the Mercury at the time. To Commander Bassett's left and right are both Lt. Commanders, one of these two officers is Lt. CMDR William B. Brereton, Jr. the Executive Officer. Each officer seated in the front row has his officers cutlass visible except Commander Bassett who seems to be holding a dog on a leash with his left arm, this may have been his personal dog or the ships mascot. The head of the dog is barely visible in this view but when enlarged it can be seen that it is a dog.

Ensign Paul Fleming Paige

Paul Paige was a Petty Officer First Class before the war started. He made Chief and was later commissioned and was an Ensign. He served on the Mercury during the war (1917-1919). He was the assistant pay master on the USS Mercury. The below photos are from the collection of Ensign Paul Paige.

A group of Ensigns from the USS Mercury. Ensign Paige may be among this group but it is not known which one.

Another group of seven Mercury Officers and one Army Officer.

Ensign Walter Merrill Shipley

Most young boys are interested in the workings of engines of all types, and such was the case with a young Canadian boy named Walter Merrill Shipley. Young Walter was the son of Charles Shipley who was an engineer and it is likely that Walter picked up this love of all things mechanical from his father.

Walter Merrill Shipley was born on March 24, 1880 in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, Canada, in a small town named Athol, to Charles Prescott and Caroline M. (Hillier) Shipley. Walter was the eldest of nine children born to Charles and Caroline.

Athol, Nova Scotia is a very small community with a lumber operation and several blueberry farms. Not nearly enough to support a growing family, nor enough to support Charles love of the mechanical things. So sometime in 1888 the Charles Shipley family, which at the time consisted of Charles and Caroline, and children Walter, Bessie, and Margaret made the move from Canada to the United States. They settled in Norfolk County, Massachusetts where in Hyde Park the family made their home at 262 East River Street. Charles took a job as an engineer in a mill to support his family.

By the turn of the century the Charles Shipley family had grown to include five more children; William, Carrie, Emily, Mary and Charles D., named after his father. Walter who was 20-years old at that time was now following in his father’s footsteps and was a machinist for a manufacturing company in the Boston area. It is said by the family that Walter would test steam boilers used for automobiles by driving them at full speed and pressure along a long straight road in Milton, Massachusetts. Walter’s love of mechanical things was growing and being that he lived and worked near the Boston Navy Yard the sight of all those big naval ships and their many steam boilers was calling to Walter.

This call became loud enough that Walter enlisted into the United States Navy sometime in 1901. He enlisted with the guarantee that he would be given the rank of Petty Officer. He underwent six months of basic and Petty Officer training at the Naval Recruit Training Center in Newport Rhode Island and then a cruise on a Naval training ship.  Because of his experience with steam boilers Walter was put in the navy’s engineering division as a machinist. This would be the start of a career in the navy that would propel him through the next 44-years, and through two world wars serving under nine Presidents.

Walter M. Shipley became a Naturalized citizen of the United States on June 3, 1902. It was recorded on Certificate No. 253-7 on that day in the United States District Court in Boston, MA, and Walter’s naturalization papers were made official and he formerly gave up his allegiance to Great Britain.

Shipley was then transferred to the Asiatic Fleet and served in Philippine waters aboard a gunboat. Walter tells of knowing the future famous WWII Admiral’s Chester Nimitz and John S. McCain Sr. during this time, as well as several other young officers who would later become Admirals. Nimitz, McCain, and Walter Shipley were then serving aboard the many small US Navy Gunboats used to patrol the waters of the Philippine Islands. This force was a small close-knit group, and it is known that the then Ensign Chester Nimitz took as his first command the gunboat USS Panay on January 7, 1907 and serving aboard the Panay with Nimitz was another future famous Admiral, John S. McCain, Sr. Family stories relate how Machinist Shipley may not have served aboard the Panay, which was one of the ex-Spanish gunboats, nor under the command of Nimitz and McCain but he did in fact know them from this time. It was thought that Shipley did not serve on one of the captured Spanish gunboats, but possibly one of the American gunboats such as the USS Concord (PG-3) or the USS Helena (PG-9).

One of the family stories about Walter’s time in the Philippines states that he was involved in a small action chasing the Moro’s on land in the Philippines. The exact time frame of this is not known. According to family stories this was Walter’s involvement in chasing the Moro. Some of the U.S. Army troops ashore who were detailed to hunt down these Moro asked for the use of a machine gun from the ship Walter was serving on. The request was granted by the Captain of the ship under the condition that Petty Officer Walter Shipley would accompany the naval gun crew as they were attached to the army troops. The combined forces of the naval gun crew and army troops spent several days chasing close behind the Moro spotting their campfires and taking the chase anew again. They only made contact with them as they were leaving the island in boats.

Another picture of Walter’s early years in the navy comes from his marriage to Ellen “Nellie” Barry in August of 1909 while Walter was a machinist stationed at the Boston Navy Yard. “Nellie” was working as a laundress on Minot Street just down from St. Anne’s Church in Dorchester, MA. It would be in St. Anne’s Church on August 18, 1909 that Father John S. McCrone would marry “Nellie” Barry and Walter Shipley. The couple would have a son named Walter Prescott Shipley later in 1910 but sadly little Walter would only live a short time and would pass away in February 1911.

Walter Shipley lived in Boston with his wife "Nellie" with her widowed mother Ellen (Winterscale) Barry, and sister Alice Howsberger. Ellen (Winterscale) Barry was an English citizen who came to the Unites States when she was born on an English ship that was anchored in New Orleans harbor, which was owned and captained by Ellen’s father. Alice Howsberger’s husband was named Benedict, who worked as a foreman in an upholstery factory, and they had two young girls, Eleanor and Alice aged 5 and 2 years. Additionally in the home was Benedict Howsberger’s widowed father, 52-year old John Howsberger who was a baker by trade. There are other colorful stories that tell of the character of the man Walter Shipley. He had purchased a new multi family home in Dorchester, MA and put it in his wife’s “Nell's” name. Shipley did this in case something happened to him while at sea, “Nellie” and her mother would have some security and she would have family to stay with. Walter Shipley would maintain a home for all of them, even when he and “Nellie” lived in San Diego and New York, until he built his home in Milton, MA in 1934.

Other glimpses of this period come from the 1910 Federal Census, where his name appears as a crewman aboard the USS Birmingham. During this time the Birmingham was serving with the Atlantic Fleet through June of 1911 when she went into reserve at the Boston Navy Yard. Walter Shipley was said to have been aboard the Birmingham on the morning of November 14, 1910 when civilian pilot Eugene Ely made the first ever airplane take-off from a warship in a Curtis Model D bi-plane. He was still serving aboard the Birmingham through at least January 20, 1911 as the family has a post card dated on that date from the Birmingham. It was shortly after this that Walter was granted compassionate leave because his son was critically ill.

Machinist Shipley’s time aboard the Birmingham ended and in late 1911 or early 1912, he was assigned to duty aboard the battleship USS Georgia. While aboard the Georgia Shipley was the 65th ranking machinist on active duty and his U. S. Navy signal number at the time was 4089. From 1911 to 1913, the Georgia continued to train and serve as a ceremonial ship, and on June 5, 1913 she participated in a 2-month practice cruise for Naval Academy Midshipmen. The Georgia then returned to the Boston Navy Yard for an overhaul period.

On February 2, 1914 Machinist Shipley was once again aboard the Birmingham as she resumed operations as Flagship of the Atlantic Fleet Torpedo Flotilla. During April-May 1914 the Birmingham was ordered to Mexican waters where she flew her Curtis Model F flying boats in support of the American Operations off Vera Cruz, Mexico. Machinist Shipley was aboard the Birmingham when she became the first navy ship to conduct a mission using an airplane on April 25, 1914.

Once the Birmingham returned from Mexican waters Shipley served at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Navy Yard as a Chief Machinist from at least May 22, 1914 through January 1, 1915. By August of 1915 he was serving aboard the battleship USS Delaware.

While still based out of the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Chief Machinist Walter M. Shipley receives a formal notice of promotion. Now that America is formerly entered into the European War the Navy Department needs many new officers to lead the coming wave of enlisted men who will swell the ranks of the navy. He is to receive a commission and is promoted to rank of Ensign on July 6, 1917.

America had confiscated several interred German passenger liners and was in the process of converting these former German ships into troop transports. One of these ships was the German liner Barbarossa. The Navy re-named her USS Mercury and Ensign Walter M. Shipley was ordered to report to Captain Harry L. Brinser aboard the Mercury. Together with several “new” Ensigns, one of who was Ensign Paul F. Paige, reported for duty getting the damaged German liner ready for duty as a United States Naval transport.

Ensigns Shipley and Paige developed a friendship while serving together aboard the Mercury. Under the command of Commander Harry L. Brinser they made seven crossings of the Atlantic bringing troops to France. Then after the war made several more return crossings bringing the boys back home. After released from the Mercury, Shipley would stay in touch with Ensign Paige for the rest of his life, and it would not be the last time Shipley would serve under Commander Harry L. Brinser.

After his days aboard the Mercury, Shipley was ordered to special assignment with the General Electric Company, Turbine Division. Shipley was now a Lieutenant in the Navy and his duties with GE were inspecting turbines under naval contracts. This was in Schenectady, New York because according to the 1920 Federal Census in January he and Nellie were living in a rented apartment in Schenectady. 

Once the duty with GE was finished Lt. Walter Shipley was transferred back to duty once again aboard the USS Delaware where they conducted fleet maneuvers and a practice cruise from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Caribbean waters with midshipmen from Annapolis in mid 1922. Detached from the Delaware, Shipley was then stationed back at the Portsmouth, NH Navy Yard. It was about this same time that he joined the American Society of Naval Engineers.

By 1923 Lt. Shipley had been transferred to the San Diego, California Navy Base, and by March 1923 had been assigned to the USS Rigel (AD13/AR11). The Rigel had been converted for use as a Destroyer Tender and was then under the command of a familiar officer, Captain Harry L. Brinser, Shipley’s old skipper from the USS Mercury.

In 1923, when Lt. Shipley’s ship, the Rigel was based in San Diego, he invited his wife Ellen to join him for lunch in the wardroom. Of course, the other ship’s officers would be there, too. The meals served were always excellent with ice cream for dessert and a fine wine to accompany it, but Walter did not take into account his wife’s feelings on liquor. When the steward began pouring the wine, Ellen announced she would have to leave; as she could not be a room where alcohol was being consumed. Captain Brinser and other officers chuckled and the wine was taken away, while Shipley was overwhelmed with embarrassment. Total humiliation came when, with coffee, the men relaxed and most lit cigarettes. However, they were quickly extinguished when Shipley’s wife said she could not tolerate smoking. As Shipley and his wife rose to leave he cringed when the Captain Brinser leaned over and said, “Walter, I hope you’ll bring your charming wife to lunch again.”

There are family stories that speak of the kind of man Shipley was and one such story, although unknown what the ship or date it was, tells of how Shipley once received an official reprimand for evicting an unscrupulous merchant from the ship he was stationed on in Norfolk, Virginia. It seems that this merchant was harassing a member of the crew who had been the victim of a scam. When the merchant and the local Sheriff wanted to come aboard Shipley, who was OOD (Officer of the Deck) at the time, felt he must stick up for the honor of the fellow shipmate and very stridently refused, for which he was given the official reprimand. Many years later when relating the story Shipley said, “I don’t regret the reprimand but if I had it to do over again I would have done it differently. I would have given permission and when they were on the gangway, had them thrown overboard.”

By July of 1924 Lt. Shipley had been transferred to the USS Melville (AD-2). The Melville was another Destroyer Tender and throughout the remainder of 1924 and much of 1925 Lt. Shipley was assigned to her. By 1926 Shipley had transferred back to the Boston Navy Yard for duty there.

Lt. Shipley then was assigned to sea duty, this time aboard the fleet oiler USS Sapelo (AO-11). Shipley began his cruise on the Sapelo during 1927 and remained aboard throughout 1930. For the next three years, the Sapelo maintained a schedule of runs from the east coast to the gulf coast, and to the Caribbean with runs, at least twice a year, into the Pacific to carry fuel, supplies, and personnel from California to the Canal Zone and Nicaragua. In 1929, she interrupted this schedule to carry fuel and torpedoes to the Philippines before returning to the United States to resume her previous operations.

Once Lt. Walter Shipley’s duties aboard the Sapelo were finished he closed out his naval career at the Brooklyn Navy Yard retiring after 30-years of active service on July 1, 1931.

Shipley, now a civilian, moved to Milton, Massachusetts where in 1934 he built a new house for his wife. For the next seven years the ex-sailor now turned landlubber, life was routine and steady. But during a family dinner one Sunday morning all that changed in an instant. On the morning of Sunday December 7, 1941 the day started out like the hundreds of Sunday mornings before it, but from the family radio set came words that would stir the old sailor back to the sea again. Walter Shipley’s great-nephew, a young boy at the time, remembers him vividly on December 7, 1941.

“I was 11-years old and my family had been invited to Sunday dinner at my great uncle Shipley’s house. Uncle had a small radio on the dining room buffet to hear a program he never missed and just before 2:30 in the afternoon he turned it on. At the table there was casual conversation, but after only a few minutes we heard ‘We interrupt this program to bring you a special bulletin...’ My uncle Shipley immediately left the table and shortly reappeared, as I had never seen him before; he was wearing the uniform of a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He was at the time 61-years old and until that moment I thought of him as just my old uncle, but suddenly he had become a dashing figure, resplendent in blue and gold. I was awe struck! He told us to relax and continue our meal, but he was leaving for the Boston Navy Yard. For the next four years, soon a Lieutenant Commander, he was always in uniform until he retired at the end of the war. But he never became my old uncle again; I always remembered him as he was on December 7th, 1941 when he became my hero.”

Once back on Active Duty Shipley was promoted to the rank of Lt. Commander and was given command of the South Boston Annex of the Boston Navy Yard. There would need to be many ships built in order to defeat Japan and Lt. CMDR Shipley was going to do his duty. During the war years there were 49 destroyers built at the Boston Navy Yard and at least 20 of them saw action either in the Pacific Theater or the European Theater.

The Boston Navy Yard was established in 1800, and the main yard was located in Charlestown between the Mystic and the Charles rivers, in Boston Harbor; the South Boston Annex to the yard was located on the main ship channel to the harbor, 2 miles seaward from the main yard.

Both the Boston Navy Yard and the South Boston Annex were built, to a large extent, on filled flat land. The area of the main yard, which was 123 acres before war expansion began, was increased to 143 acres in 1941 and 1942. The annex was increased from 106 acres to 231 acres. One of the principal Boston assignments in World War II was the construction of destroyer escort vessels.

At the South Boston Annex, in December 1941, work was started on a graving dock, 693 feet long, 91 feet wide at entrance, and 32 feet deep over the blocks, for the repair of cruisers. This dock, which was built inside a cellular steel pile cofferdam, was completed and placed in service in March 1943. The cofferdam was later incorporated as part of Piers 5 and 6.

Work was also undertaken in 1941 on a 500-man barracks for ship's crews, necessitated by the facts that with three-shift repair work, the crews could not be quartered aboard. The expansion of the Annex continued with the construction of an additional 900-foot pier, started in the fall of 1942, a rigger's shop, a paint shop, and a general shop, started in November of that year, and extensive improvements and additions to utilities, streets, tracks, and equipment.

In October 1942 LT. CMDR Shipley, stationed at the Boston Navy Yard, witnessed a large gray ship enter into the cruiser dock. This large gray ship was none other than the famed British liner, HMS Queen Mary, now fitted out as a troop ship. The fact that she was there for repairs was a military secret and the people in England and United States were kept unaware of it. On October 2, 1942 the mighty liner had plowed into HMS Curacoa, a light cruiser, and sliced right through the stern sending the ship to the bottom; out of 430 crewmembers on the cruiser only 101 survived. The Queen Mary had orders to never stop because of the danger of submarines and could not pick up survivors. The liner had been nearing her English port and the light cruiser was sent to protect her. The Queen was traveling at 28 knots and both ships were zigzagging when she struck the Curacoa. There was damage beneath the waterline so the Queen Mary was given a temporary patch and sent to Boston for repairs to her bow.

Shipley was sent to inspect the damage, he was checking to see how many men and what skills would be needed from the thousands of civilian employees he had at his disposal. Since she had sat on the ways before her launching, it was one of the few times anyone had seen the immensity of the great ship and Lt. CMDR Shipley was awe struck by her size. Repairs were quickly made and in December 1942, and Shipley watched as tugs returned the Queen Mary to the sea once again. Sword to secrecy Shipley did not tell his family about the unique event until the war was over.

Shipmates never really depart once they get off the ship they have served on with. Twenty-four years after Shipley and Paul F. Paige served together on the USS Mercury during WWI, Shipley gets a post card from Paige. On April 20, 1943 at the home of Walter Shipley the Postman delivers a post card from Paul Fleming Paige in Cleveland, Ohio addressed to Commander Walter Shipley, which reads; “Dear Shipley, Ran across this in my desk today. Had a letter from Father Hagen the other day. He's Senior Chaplain in the Boot Camp at Great Lakes, two and a half Striper after a stretch in the Army Reserves. Regards Paul F. Paige.” Father Hagen was Lieutenant (j.g.) John Hagen, USN, Chaplain Corps, who was also a fellow shipmate from the USS Mercury.

Lt. CMDR Shipley’s efforts in expanding the South Boston Yards earned him the Navy “E” and a Meritorious Service Certificate in 1942 from the Boston Yard Commandant, Rear Admiral Wilson Brown. At the end of the war in 1945 Massachusetts Governor Maurice J. Tobin recognized Lt. CMDR Shipley’s outstanding achievements and gave him an official State Commendation. At war’s end it was once again time for Shipley to hang up his uniform and put on Civilian clothes. And so once again after service to his country Walter Shipley retired for the second time in late 1945 and returned to his wife in Milton, Massachusetts.

The last chapter in the life of Lt. CMDR Walter M. Shipley, USN (Ret.) was written in 1964 when he, at the age of 84-years, passed away from cancer. His great nephew, himself a Navy veteran, made sure that the “Navy Hymn” was played at his “Hero’s” funeral. His body was buried in a cemetery in Milton, Massachusetts.

An undated photo showing Walter Shipley second from the left. In the photo the five officers are in a motor launch and Shipley appears to be in the uniform of a Ensign or Lt. (j.g.)
Lt. Walter Shipley poses alone for the camera in another undated photograph. He appears to be setting on a canvas covered hatch cover on a ship. Behind him can be seen an inflatable liferaft with a wooden slat floor.
Walter Shipley shown second from the left back row standing. This is a early photo of a group of Chiefs, and Shipley is wearing the uniform of a Chief.
Another undated photo showing Shipley seated on the bench third from the left. In this photo is is wearing the summer whites and appears to be wearing the shoulder boards of a Lieutenant.

Chief Quartermaster G. L. Cluff

Joachim Peters had contacted me about a distant relative who served on the USS Mercury during WWI. His name was Chief Quartermaster G. L. Cluff. Unfortunately, Joachim does not have any other information at this time about Chief Cluff's tour of duty.

This is the uniform of a WWI Navy Chief and on his right sleeve can be seen the rating badge of a Chief. This photo may have been taken while at home on leave or after the war. Notice at Chief Cluff's feet is a cat.

Chief Cluff may have been from the Toledo, Ohio area. His sister, Marion Cluff, was married to George Allyn Zang and they lived in Toledo, Ohio. The picture was probably taken by Marion during a family visit. Another point of interest about Marion Cluff and George Zang is that both of them were involved in Vaudeville back in 1910 – 1920 years.

Captain Harry L. Brinser, Commanding Officer USS Mercury

In Arlington National Cemetery in Section 7, Site 10092-D lays the grave of Rear Admiral Harry Lerch Brinser. He was born to Jewish parents on November 11 of 1876 in Middletown, Pennsylvania. His fathers name was Christian L. Brinser and his mothers name was Mary A. Lerch, and Harry’s middle name of Lerch came from his mother’s maiden name.

Christian L. Brinser was born in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania on August 31, 1849. Mary A. Lerch was also born in Dauphin County, her birth being in April of 1849. Christian and Mary would live their entire life in and around Dauphin County. Christian was a butcher by trade, and together he and Mary would raise four children: Claude E. born in May of 1874; Harry L. born in November 1876; Anna V. born in November of 1878, and Elise born in September of 1893.

In June of 1880 the Brinser family lived in the borough of Steelton in Dauphin, County. Steelton is located about 3-miles southeast of Harrisburg and was the location of the Pennsylvania Steel Company. Several brickyards, flouring mills and machine shops along with the massive steel mill all were located along the Susquehanna River in Steelton. Christian Brinser being a butcher would have been a busy man cutting meat for all the workmen and their families growing up and working along the river in the factories. This was where young Harry Brinser grew to be a man and from these same streets also came another young man who would serve his Country with distinction in the military as Harry Brinser did. Homer Litzenberg was also born in Steelton and during the Korean War Litzenberg commanded the 7th Marine Regiment during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

Harry Brinser grew into a young man and felt the calling to serve his Country, but we will never know exactly what drew him to the United States Navy for sure. We do know that on September 6, 1895 he entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland as a Freshmen Cadet.  During the Spanish-American War Naval Cadet Harry L. Brinser was sent to sea duty aboard the famous battleship USS Oregon. Cadet Brinser’s duties aboard the Oregon in 1898 were looking after the supplies in the after parts of the Oregon. At the time all Midshipman were sent for sea duty for 2-years before becoming Commissioned as an Officer in the Navy. Of the officers who served aboard the Oregon during the Spanish-American war at least 7 would go on to serve as flag officers in the US Navy, Cadet Brinser was among this group. One of the other Naval Cadets serving along with Brinser was William D. Leahy who during WWII would become the Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt. Interestingly enough Cadet Leahy’s duties aboard the Oregon were to oversee the forward Hydraulic Pump Room. After his duties were finished on the Oregon Cadet Brinser was sent to the USS Brooklyn (CA-3).

The Brooklyn after the Spanish-American War was detailed for Asiatic duty, and she sailed for the Philippines on October 16, 1899. Aboard the Brooklyn were six Naval Cadets, and among the six was Midshipman Harry L. Brinser. The Brooklyn became the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet under command of Rear Admiral George Dewey and later in 1900 took part in the North China Relief Expedition commonly known as the Boxer Rebellion.

Once Midshipman Brinser was fully commissioned as an Ensign into the United States Navy in 1901 he continued on in active service. Brinser advanced from Ensign to Lieutenant, junior grade, and was transferred from the Brooklyn to the USS Marietta (PG-15), which was a Schooner-rigged gunboat of 189 feet in length. Lt. (j.g.) Brinser would have served aboard the Marietta during 1902-03 while she was serving in Caribbean waters. The Marietta spent a year and five months cruising these waters protecting American interests in Columbia, Haiti, Jamaica, Venezuela, Trinidad, Curacao, and Honduras. She also had the duty of making mail runs for the American Legations stationed in that region.

Lt. (j.g.) Brinser briefly served aboard the cruiser USS Columbia in 1903 as part of Rear Admiral Royal B. Bradford's Atlantic Training Squadron. This would be the first of two times that Brinser would serve aboard the Columbia, in 1918 he would serve as her commanding officer.

Lt. (j.g.) Brinser on January 1, 1905 was advanced in rank to full Lieutenant. At the time his signal call letters were EDBQ and in March of 1906 was assigned to duty aboard the USS Vermont (BB-20).

By April of 1910 Brinser is living at the Bachelor Officers Quarters at the Naval Academy. At the time he was a 34-year old single man, and he was taking a post-graduate course in Engineering at the Academy.

During 1911 Brinser is now serving at the rank of Lt. Commander and was now serving aboard the new battleship USS Wyoming (BB-32). Lt. Commander Brinser serves aboard the Wyoming for the next 4-years. In June of 1915 Brinser is transferred from the Wyoming to duty as the Recorder for the Board of Inspections and Survey, and is made full Commander on September 30, 1916.

By 1917 Brinser has had over 15 total years of sea duty and was advanced to the rank of Captain on May 22, 1917. In late July 1917 Captain Brinser received orders to proceed to Hoboken, New Jersey to take command of a former German passenger liner that was confiscated by the United States Government due to Germany and America being in a state of war. The German vessel was named SS Barbarossa and on August 3, 1917 the vessel was formerly commissioned into the United States Navy under the command of Captain Harry L. Brinser. Captain Brinser received an order from the Navy Department on September 6, 1917 to change the name of the former German vessel from Barbarossa to USS Mercury. The newly named ship was to be used to carry United States Army troops to France and join the battle, which was already in its third year of bloodshed.

Aboard the Mercury Captain Brinser made five round trip crossings with troops to France, until he received his next assignment. On August 5, 1918 Captain Brinser is handed a dispatch that orders him to turn over command of the Mercury to his Executive Officer Lt. Commander Prentiss Bassett and report to Captain Frank Upham, the Commanding Officer of the cruiser USS Columbia to take command of that ship.

During the war years Captain Brinser makes many crossings of the Atlantic both in the Mercury carrying troops and aboard the USS Columbia escorting these troops. For his service during those dangerous days he is awarded the Navy Cross for distinguished service in the line of his profession as commanding officer of the USS Mercury and the USS Columbia, engaged in the important, exacting and hazardous duty of transporting and escorting troops and supplies to European ports through waters infested with enemy submarines and mines. He also was awarded the Legion of Merit medal and an official letter of commendation was placed in his personal file.

During 1919 Captain Brinser fell in love with Natalie Meylert Bulkley (b. May 15, 1891 d. March 6, 1966), and in early November 1919 they were married in the home of Natalie’s parents on 19th Street in Washington, DC. Together Harry and Natalie would have one son named Harry Meylert Brinser, and he would follow in his father’s footsteps and serve in the Navy. Harry M. Brinser was a naval officer and served during the Second World War in combat in the Pacific theater.

Sometime during 1920 a group of Army and Navy officers began to feel the need for a school for boys who were 14-years and younger. This group of officers joined together and laid the groundwork for a school that would be modeled after both of the service academies at West Point and Annapolis. Once officially formed the group began to work on the funding of the school and Captain Harry L. Brinser served as its Vice-President. The school was to be known as the National Military and Naval Academy.

After his service aboard the Columbia is over Brinser turns over command of the Columbia to Captain William B. Wells and is ordered to report to Lt. E. G. Affleck aboard the Destroyer Tender USS Rigel (AR-11) to take command of that vessel. On June 26, 1922 Captain Brinser relieves Lt. Affleck and takes command. He is captain of the Rigel until February 24, 1924 when his term is up.

Captain Brinser attended and graduated from the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island in 1928. And on June 14, 1932 Captain Brinser again was assigned to sea duty. He relieved Captain Edward B. Fenner as the commanding officer of the battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41). The Mississippi operated off the west coast of the United States, and she frequently sailed into Caribbean and Atlantic waters for exercises during the winter months. Captain Brinser was relieved when his term as commanding officer was up by Captain William D. Puleston on July 5, 1932. Later in 1932 Captain Brinser was advanced to Rear Admiral.

Brinser’s next assignment was a shore duty assignment, and during 1933-1934 he was the Director of Navy Yards. This was a relative new position in the navy being created in 1911. The Director of Navy Yards job was to oversee and manage standardized work methods of all Navy Yards, track and manage all cost of work, and to manage civilian work needs and labor issues.

While serving as the Director of Navy Yards RADM Brinser in January of 1933 is selected as a member of a board consisting of nine Rear Admirals and one Commander as the recorder, which was directed by the Navy Department to select 44 Lt. Commanders out of 450 that would be advanced in grade to full Commander.

On March 22, 1934 Rear Admiral Brinser was detached from his present duty and ordered to take command of Cruiser Division 4. His flagship was the heavy cruiser USS Chester (CA-27). During his command of Cruiser Division 4 RADM Brinser transported George Dern, the Secretary of War along with his party to the Philippines for the inauguration on November 15, 1935 of Manuel L. Quezon, the President of the Philippines Commonwealth. Brinser’s Cruiser Division also had the honor of escorting President Franklin Roosevelt sailing aboard the President’s favorite ship the USS Indianapolis, on a good-will tour to Buenos Aires, Argentina, Montevideo, and Uruguay in mid November of 1936. After returning from the South American cruise Cruiser Division 4 remained off the West Coast of the United States and took part in training cruises to Hawaii and Alaska.

While Commanding Officer of Cruiser Division 4, RADM Brinser’s division was anchored in San Pedro Bay just off Los Angeles, California on April 4, 1936. That day a gale force wind was blowing with winds of 46 knots producing very rough seas in the bay. At about 1:30 PM RADM Brinser was in his barge making way along side the USS Northampton, one of the other cruisers in the bay. Brinser was going aboard the Northampton and was along side the cruiser when the sea produced a large swell and carried the bow of the barge under the gangway of the Northampton, thereby lifting the gangway and ripping the gangway ladder away from the cruiser’s side. The force of this threw RADM Brinser into the sea between the barge and the hull of the Northampton placing him in mortal danger of being crushed or drowned. Instantly a Yeoman by the name of Charles Edward Emrick of the USS Chester, without thinking of the danger he was putting his own life into, jumped into the dangerous waters and rendered assistance to Admiral Brinser. Then Harry C. Smith, Yoeman 1st Class assisted both Yoeman Emrick and the Admiral to a position on the lower platform of the gangway, which was clear of the sea, thereby saving both lives.

For his actions Yeoman Emrick received an official letter from Admiral William H. Standley, the acting Secretary of the Navy. In the letter Admiral Standley stated in part: “The commander, Cruiser Division 4, Scouting Force, has brought to the attention of the Navy Department your commendable action in rescuing Rear Admiral Brinser from drowning or severe injury in San Pedro Bay on April 4, 1936.” Admiral Standley went on to say, “The department commends you for your prompt and courageous action on this occasion. Such action is in keeping with the best traditions of the naval service. A copy of this letter will be made a part of your official service record.”

After his duty as Commander of Cruiser Division 4 was over Brinser was again assigned to duty with the Board of Inspections and Survey from July 1937 through December of 1940. In January of 1938 RADM Brinser was the senior member of that board. On March 21, 1939 RADM Brinser sails aboard the cruiser USS Phoenix from Boston Harbor for sea. It was unknown what this cruise was but because there were a large number of civilian naval engineers aboard it may have been connected with the salvage and inquiry of the submarine USS Squalus that sank off the Isle of Shoals at 07:40 on May 23, 1939.

As president of the Board of Inspections and Survey Brinser presided over the Court of Inquiry held in September 1939 into the sinking of the Squalus. The Board wanted to determine the exact cause of the sinking in order that something may be learned from this event. In most cases, the ship would have been written off. But with the threat of war slowly becoming apparent in Europe, the U.S. Navy was determined to salvage the sunken sub not only to discover exactly what went wrong with what was essentially the forerunner of a whole new line of submarines, but also to return her to service. After several attempts, the Squalus was raised on September 13, just over one hundred days after the ship’s sinking. Refloated, the bodies were removed and the sub was brought to the Portsmouth Shipyard, where the faulty valve, which caused the sinking, was discovered. A new valve design replaced the defective part, a move that undoubtedly made later US submarines safer for their sailors, who would help win the war in the Pacific.

On January 3, 1949 RADM Brinser and five other officers of the Board of Inspections and Survey made a routine inspection of a new destroyer recently completed at the Charleston Navy Yard. The destroyer was the USS Sterett (DD-407) and she would during her distinguished career earn 12 battle stars and the Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation for World War II service.

Nearing the end of his naval career, Brinser on November 1, 1940 while serving with the Board of Inspections and Survey was the 21st ranking officer in the navy. In December of 1940 Rear Admiral Harry L. Brinser retired from active service with the navy. But the following December he was recalled to active service after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and pulled the United States Navy into war once again. During the war RADM Brinser served as the Inspector of Naval Material in New York City. This position he held until his death on December 9, 1945.

As the Inspector of Naval Material RADM Brinser had to deal with many private corporations that supplied materials and parts to the navy. One such company was the Worthington Pump and Machinery Corporation of New Jersey. They had had a working relationship with the navy that dated back to 1847 and the building of the first USS Powhatan. In 1943 the Worthington Corporation was awarded its 19th Navy “E” and in a speech RADM Brinser gave in speaking of the Worthington company he said in part, “ You are one big company that has turned out everything on time, you have never been a problem for the Navy. You’ve delivered the goods.”

Admiral Brinser’s wife, Natalie survived him and she passed away on March 6, 1966 and was buried next to her husband the Admiral, in Arlington National Cemetery.

Rear Admiral Harry Lerch Brinser, USN (Ret.) The Admiral is shown posing for the photographer setting on the arm of a chair.
In his left hand he is holding a cigar and he is wearing a ring that is likely his Naval Academy ring.

Storekeeper 1st Class Homer Russell Eldridge

He was born in Lafayette, Indiana on January 28, 1895 and prior to America entering the First World War Eldridge enlisted into the United States Navy. Prior to enlistment Eldridge was a photographer in civilian life. He enlisted at Miles City, Montana and on May 18, 1917 he reported aboard the Receiving Ship at Puget Sound, Washington.

He served aboard the Puget Sound Receiving Ship until June 2, 1917 when he received his first assignment aboard a ship. On that date he was assigned to the battleship USS Connecticut then at Norfolk Navy Yard where he spent 18 days until his next orders came. On June 20, 1917 he was transferred to the USS Solace where he served 3 days until he was sent to the Naval Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. Once released from the Naval Hospital on June 30, 1917 he was again assigned to the USS Connecticut where he served until July 7, 1917.

From July 7, 1917 he was again served on another battleship the USS Ohio, which only lasted until August 20 when he was sent back to the Receiving Ship at the New York Navy Yard. There at the New York Navy Yard he waited until he was assigned to the USS Mercury on August 31, 1917. He would serve on the Mercury through the duration of the war. While the Mercury was being fitted out and readied for sea Eldridge was again in the Naval Hospital this time at the New York Navy Yard from September 8-22, 1917, when he was again back aboard the Mercury.

He spent his first 91 days in the navy at the rank of Fireman 3rd Class and then was advanced to Fireman 2nd Class. About mid summer 1918 Fireman Eldridge was moved to Ships Cook 3rd Class still aboard the Mercury, which was not the last job he had on the ship. Sometime after that he was moved to the rank of Storekeeper 1st Class. Once the Mercury was finished with her navy duties the US Navy crews were discharged and she reverted back to civilian duties. Storekeeper Homer R. Eldridge, Service Number 1403732, USN was then Honorably Discharged from the Navy at Salt Lake City, Utah on September 26, 1919. He was awarded the WWI Victory Medal with a Transport Clasp.

Homer Russell Eldridge passed away on October 14, 1995 and is buried in section J in the Colfax Cemetery in Placer County, California.

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