The California Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
California's Ships
California's Training Ship –USS Marblehead
By Major Norman S. Marshall
California Center for Military History
The U.S.S. MARBLEHEAD was the fifth in a line of ships loaned by the United States Navy to the Naval Militia of the State of California. She was formally loaned pursuant to a written agreement dated February 2, 1915, between the Governor of the State of California and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as acting Secretary of the Navy.

The ship was placed in service in 1910 prior to its administrative loan and was used by the state's Naval Militia as evidenced by an article in Sunset Magazine of September 1914, describing its service.

Its history is found in the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. In 1916 MARBLEHEAD was turned over to the State of Oregon as a training ship for its Naval Militia.

Maritime design changes had an almost bewildering rapidity between 1860 and 1914, from broadside to central battery to turret arrangement of guns, from all around, to "Citadel" to "Armored Deck" arrangement; of protection from wrought iron to case hardened composite quality of armor; from piston to turbine engine power; from coal propulsion to oil.

In 1913, modern battleships were achieving speeds of 25 knots from turbine engines fired by oil.

MARBLEHEAD was launched in 1892. It was already behind the curve in terms of speed and armament. Only two years afterwards, the battleship OREGON (later to become part of California's Naval Militia history) was launched in Oakland and was attaining speeds of 16.791 knots. MARBLEHEAD was only about one knot faster, although the role of a light cruiser was to serve as the eyes of the fleet and seek out enemy squadrons well in advance of the main body, speed was essential to run away from a stronger force. She had little reserve capacity.

In looking at the MARBLEHEAD she almost seems to harken back to the days of Lord Nelson. There is no center turret armament. The guns are in broadside placement mounted in barbetts, with the exception of stern chaser mounted aft. The bow chaser in an open mount is not visible.

During her state service between 1910 and 1916, the MARBLEHEAD participated in coastal cruises up and down the Pacific Coast and in the summer of 1910, while staffed with 26 officers, four warrant officers and 236 Naval Militiamen plus six U.S. Navy Shipkeepers, she called at ports of call in the states of Washington and in Portland, Oregon. On July 11, 1910, she called at Portland, Oregon with her crew participating in a parade as well as helping to subdue a fire in the business district on the night of July 14. The ship put ashore a party of two officers and 56 men with fire hoses who served with credible distinction. She left the port to meet operational commitments at 6:00 A.M. that morning.

MARBLEHEAD was eventually replaced in 1916 with the loan of the battleship OREGON to the state and she was transferred to the State of Oregon for use by her sister state's Naval Militia.

She was scrapped in 1920 and replaced by the third MARBLEHEAD which served with distinction through WWII.


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