The United States Ship (USS) California was the second of that name; She was an Armored Class Cruiser, assigned number 6. She was laid down in 1902 and launched 28 April 1904 by the Union Iron Works, San Francisco, Calif.; sponsored by Miss F. Pardee; and commissioned 1 August 1907, Captain V. L. Cottman in command. She was powered by two coal burning, four cylinder, triple expansion steam engines, which drove her two 37,000 pound bronze/magnesium propellers.
Joining the 2d Division, Pacific Fleet, the California took part in the naval review at San Francisco in May 1908 for the Secretary of the Navy. Aside from a cruise to Hawaii and Samoa in the fall of 1908, the cruiser operated along the west coast, sharpening her readiness through training exercises and drills. In December 1911 she sailed for Honolulu, and in March 1912 continued westward for duty on the Asiatic Station.
After this service representing American power and prestige in the Far East, she returned home in August 1912, and was ordered to Corinto, Nicaragua, then embroiled in internal political disturbance. Here she protected American lives and property, and then resumed her operations along the west coast; she cruised off California, and kept a watchful eye on Mexico, at that time also suffering political disturbance (1).
In September 1914 the California was renamed the San Diego to make her original name available for assignment to a battleship, as directed by Congress. She served as flagship for Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, intermittently until a boiler explosion put her in Mare Island Naval Ship Yard in reduced commission through the summer of 1915 (1).
On 21 January 1915 the San Diego suffered a boiler explosion. While taking the half hour readings of the steam pressure at every boiler, Ensign Robert Webester Cary Jr. had just read the steam and air pressure on number 2 boiler. He had just stepped through the electric watertight door into number 1 fire room when the boilers in number 2 fire room exploded. In fire room number 2 at the time was Second Class Fireman Telesforo Trinidad, of the Philippines and R. E. Daly, along with one other man. Ensign Cary stopped and held open the watertight doors which were being closed electrically from the bridge, and yelling to the men in No. 2 fire room to escape through these doors, which 3 of them did do. Ensign Cary held the doors open for a full minute with the escaping steam from the ruptured boilers around him. For His extraordinary heroism Ensign Cary was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor2,3. He would later retire with the rank of Rear Admiral. Fireman Telesforo Trinidad was driven out fire room No. 2 by the explosion, but at once returned and picked up R. E. Daly, Fireman Second Class, whom he saw injured, and proceeded to bring him out. While coming into No. 4 fire room, Trinidad was just in time to catch the explosion in No. 3 fire room, but without consideration of his own safety, passed Daly on and then assisted in rescuing another injured man from No. 3 fire room. Trinidad was himself burned about the face by the blast from the explosion in No. 3 fire room. For his extraordinary heroism Fireman Second Class Trinidad was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor also for this incident (2).
The San Diego returned to duty as flagship through 12 February 1917, when she went into reserve status until the opening of World War I. Placed in full commission 7 April, the cruiser operated as flagship for Commander, Patrol Force Pacific Fleet (1).
On April 6, 1917, California Governor William D. Stephens received a telegram from the Secretary of the Navy calling the States Naval Militia into Federal Service. Upon the Governors orders the Naval Militia was immediately directed to assemble at their Armories and prepare for muster. The following organizations were mustered in as National Naval Volunteers: First Division, San Francisco; Second Division, San Francisco; Third Division, San Diego; Fourth Division, Santa Cruz; Engineer Section, Fourth Division, Santa Cruz; Fifth Division, Eureka; Sixth Division, Santa Barbara; Seventh, Eight, and Ninth Divisions, Los Angeles; Aeronautic Section, Ninth Division, Los Angeles; Tenth Division, San Diego; Eleventh Division, Los Angeles; First Engineer Division, San Francisco; Second Engineer Division, Los Angeles; and the First Marine Company, Los Angeles. The entire organization was subsequently mobilized on board the USS Oregon, USS San Diego, USS Huntington (4) and USS Frederich (5).
On April 15th Lieutenant Adolph B. Adams and his 5th Division, California Naval Militia left with the San Francisco and Santa Cruz Divisions for Mare Island. At Mare Island the Division reported to George W. Williams on the USS Oregon and were assigned to the Armored Cruiser USS San Diego. On April 17th, sixteen men of the division were transferred to the USS Frederich (5). Between May 31st and July 18th 1917 those of the Division that were aboard the USS San Diego participated in Convoy duty along the California coast. One mission was a trip from Honolulu, Hawaiian Territory to Port Townsend with an interned German vessel under convoy escort (6). These duties entitled all the members of the ship to the Escort bar for their World War I Victory Medals.
On 18 July, the USS San Diego was ordered to the Atlantic Fleet. Reaching Hampton Roads, Virginia on 4 August, she joined Cruiser Division 2, and later bore the flag of Commander, Cruiser Force, Atlantic, which she flew until 19 September. San Diego's essential mission was the escort of convoys through the first dangerous leg of their passages to Europe. Based on Tompkinsville, New York, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, she operated in the weather-torn, submarine-infested North Atlantic safely convoying all of her charges to the ocean escorts1. Prior to the sinking of the USS San Diego, Lt. Adolph B. Adams was transferred off the ship and assigned to the USS Tallahassee at the Panama Canal Zone (6).
On 8 July 1918, the San Diego left Portsmouth, New Hampshire, en route to New York. She had rounded Nantucket Light and was heading west. On 19 July 1918, she was zigzagging as per war instructions on a course for New York. The Sea was smooth, and the visibility was 6 miles. At 11:23 AM, a huge explosion tore a large hole in her port side amidships. The explosion crippled the port engine. Captain Christy immediately sounded the submarine defense quarters, which involved a general alarm and closing of all watertight doors. Soon after two more explosions ripped through her hull. These secondary explosions were later determined to have been caused by the rupturing of one of her boilers and the ignition of one of her magazines. The ship immediately started to list to port. Captain Christy ordered the starboard engine rung up to full speed and headed toward the shore in an attempt to ground the San Diego in a salvageable depth of water. Soon afterward the starboard engine quit. The Officers and crew quickly went to their battle stations. Guns were fired from all sides of the warship at anything that could be a periscope or submarine. Her port guns fire until they were awash. Her starboard guns fired until the list of the ship pointed them into the sky. Under the impression that a submarine was in the area, the men stayed at their posts until Captain Christy gave the order All hands abandon ship after the starboard engine quit. At 11:51 AM the San Diego sunk only 28 minutes after the initial explosion. As per Navy tradition Captain Christy was the last man off the ship. As the Captain left the ship, the crew in the lifeboats gave him a cheer and burst in to signing the National Anthem. As the Officers and crew watched from their lifeboats the San Diego capsized and sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean about 8 miles off Long Islands south shore. Today she lies in water ranging from 65 to 116 feet deep.
Other ships in the area picked up most of the survivors, but four lifeboats full of men managed to row ashore, three at Bellport, and one near Lone Hill Coast Guard Station. The USS San Diego was the only major warship lost by the United States in World War I. A special note is the fact that the only California Naval Militiaman to died in World War I was a member of the Fifth Division, California Naval Militia. He was Engineman 2nd class James Frances Rochet, of Blue Lake, California.
The original casually report ranged from 30 to 40 men. Apparently, the muster rolls on the San Diego were not saved. The only list of men on board was the payroll of 30 June 1918, but since the end of June, they had received and transferred over 100 men. When the Navy finalized the casualties, the official count was six deaths, and six wounded.
The deaths from this sinking were ( Footnote 7):
|James Frances Rochet||Mrs. C. H. Dean, Blue Lake, CA||Mare Island, CA||Engm 2cl, USNNV|
|Clyde Chester Blaine||Bertha Blaine, Lomita, CA||Los Angeles, CA||Engm 1cl, US Navy|
|Paul John Harris||John W. Harris, Cincinnati, OH||Cincinnati, OH||Seam 2cl, US Navy|
|Thomas Everett Davis||Alma Davis, Mansfield, LA||New Orleans, LA||Engm2cl, US Navy|
|Andrew Munson||Karna Munson, St. Paul, MN||Minneapolis, MN||Machm2cl, US Navy|
|Thomas Oran Frazier||Lockard Thomas, Charleston. WV||Parkersburg, WV||Machm2cl, US Navy|
The exact type of enemy action is not known. Much debate has taken place since the sinking, whether it was a torpedo, German mine, or sabotaged by a German Agent named Kurt Jahnke. Captain Christy wrote in his final log that they had been torpedoed. The Navy, however, found and destroyed five to six German mines in the vicinity. So the official reason listed by the Navy for the loss is considered a mine laid by the U-156. The U-156 did not return from this war patrol, she many have been sunk by a U.S. mine. Therefore, there are no concrete facts about the role the U-156 played in the sinking of the USS San Diego.
As for the German Submarine U-156s activities the following is known (Footnotes 8 and 9):
July 19, 1918: U. S. S. San Diego (armored cruiser), displacement 13,680 tons; possibly sunk by mine, probably laid by German submarine U-156, 10 miles from Fire Island lightship; six killed, six wounded..
July 21, 1918: Perth Amboy, tug, gross 435 tons; attacked with gunfire by German submarine U-156 in western Atlantic, three miles off Orleans, Massachusetts; salvaged; no casualties.
July 21, 1918: Lansford, barge, gross 830 tons; sunk with gunfire by German submarine U-156, in western Atlantic, three miles off Orleans, Massachusetts; salvaged; no casualties.
July 21, 1918: Barge No. 403, gross 422 tons; sunk with gunfire by German submarine U-156 in western Atlantic, three miles off Orleans, Massachusetts; salvaged; no casualties.
July 21, 1918: Barge No. 740, gross 680 tons; sunk with gunfire by German submarine U-156 in western Atlantic, three miles off Orleans, Massachusetts; salvaged; no casualties.
July 21, 1918: Barge No. 766, gross 527 tons, sunk with gunfire by German submarine U-156, in western Atlantic, three miles off Orleans, Massachusetts; salvaged; no casualties.
July 22, 1918: Robert & Richard, schooner, gross 141 tons; sunk with bombs by German submarine U-156, in western Atlantic, 60 miles southeast of Cape Porpoise; no casualties.
August 2, 1918: Dornfonstein, Canadian Lumber Schooner, gross ? tons; looted and burned by German submarine U-156 (U-56 in newspaper article) in the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, no casualties.
August 3, 1918: Rob Roy, Canadian Fishing Boat, gross 111 tons; sunk with bombs by German submarine U-156 (U-56 in newspaper article), East of the Bay of Fundy, no casualties.
August 3, 1918: Muriel, Canadian Fishing Boat, gross 120 tons; sunk with bombs by German submarine U-156 (U-56 in newspaper article), East of the Bay of Fundy, no casualties.
August 3, 1918: Annie M. Perry, Canadian Fishing Boat, gross 116 tons; sunk with bombs by German submarine U-156 (U-56 in newspaper article), East of the Bay of Fundy, no casualties.
August 20, 1918: A. Platt Andrew, schooner, gross 141 tons; sunk with bombs by raider Triumph (Triumph had prize crew from U-156) in western Atlantic, 52 miles southeast of Cape Canso, Nova Scotia; no casualties.
August 20, 1918: Francis J. O'Hara, schooner, gross 117 tons; sunk with bombs by raider Triumph, manned by prize crew from U-156, in western Atlantic 52 miles southeast of Cape Canso; no casualties.
August 21, 1918: Sylvania, schooner, gross 136 tons; sunk with bombs by raider Triumph, manned by prize crew from U-156, in western Atlantic, 90 miles southeast of Cape Canso; no casualties.
August 25, 1918: J. J. Flaherty, schooner, gross 162 tons; sunk with bombs by German submarine U-156 in western Atlantic; no casualties.
One of the newspaper articles published in the Halifax Herald said that the German U-boat Captain told the captured crew of the Gladys M. Hollett the following: He had orders to sink the Lunenburg Fishing Fleet, He had knowledge of the Lunenburg fleet, and taking the captives further into his confidence told them that at one time he had commanded a Gloucester fishing vessel. Further articles relate that this Captain claimed to have been employed in the Fishing fleets from 1896 to 1916, and had a summer home in Maine (8).
On 26 July 1918, the USS Passaio arrived over the wreck. Two divers were sent down to report on the condition of the San Diego. They reported the following: many loose rivets lying on the bottom Masts and smoke stacks are lying on the bottom under and on the starboard side of the ship Ship lies heading about north depth of water over starboard bilge is 36 feet Air is still coming out of the ship from nearly bow to stern. It seems likely that as the air escapes and she loses buoyancy, she may crush her superstructure and settle deeper. From this report the Navy concluded that the vessel was not salvageable. As quoted from their letters to the Chief of Naval Operations. In view of the reported condition and position of the San Diego, the Bureau is of the opinion that an attempt to salvage the vessel as a whole, or to recover any of the guns, would not be warranted. They did have concerns about the site being a hazard to navigation and the possibility of dynamiting her to increase the depth of water over the wreck. On 15 October 1918 the USS Resolute took another sounding on the site. It found that the wreck had 40 feet of water over her, so the wreck was not blown up (10).
In 1962, the salvage rights to the San Diego were sold for $14,000. The salvage company planned to blow up the wreck and sell it for scrap metal. Several groups including the American Littoral Society, Marine Angling Club, and National Party Boat Owners Association banded together and lobbied. After a lot of bad publicity, public outcry and financial compensation, the salvage company agreed to give up the salvage rights. Today the wreck is a National Historic Site (10).
As for the mystery of the sinking of the USS San Diego, a new angle has been added to the equation. In the winter 1999 edition of Endeavor Magazine, a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill appeared an article entitled Why She Sank by Mark Briggs. The article was about Dr. Russell Van Wyk, a professor of History and Assistant Dean the School of Arts and Sciences at Chapel Hill. In the article Dr. Van Wyk explains how he gained access to a 70 page Soviet Report that included Official German documents and the 1945 interrogation of German Spy Kurt Jahnke and his wife Johanne-Dorotheja. The report led Van Wyk to report that Jahnke had arranged for one of his agents to place explosives in the boiler room of the USS San Diego, which caused the sinking of the Armored Cruiser (11).
In response to this article Raymond Mann, a historian at the Naval Historical Center in Washing, D.C., and editor of the Dictionary of American fighting Ships, said Van Wyk's findings appeared "extremely apocryphal" although he had not seen Van Wyk's work. Mann went on to say "It's pretty generally accept wisdom around here that it was a mine laid by U-156 that got her". It appears the Navy is staying with their original theory that the USS San Diego struck a mine laid by the German submarine U-156, which caused her sinking (12).
In support of the Navys theory I offer the following information from the Monday, 5 August 1918 issue of the Gloucester Herald Newspaper (8).
From this article it is evident that the U-156 (U-56 in newspaper article), was aware of the sinking of the USS San Diego by a mine, and were taking credit for the incident.
|Displacement (weight)||13,680 tons|
|Complement||829 officers and men|
|Armament||4-8", 14-6", 18-3", and 2-18" torpedo tubes.|
#1. Website: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. II, 1977.
#2. Website: Iterim Awards of Medal of Honor 1915-1916.
#3. Website: Robert Webster Cary Jr. Rear Admiral, United States Navy.
#4. Report of the Adjutant General (State of California) 1920.
#5. Newspaper article from the Humboldt Standard 23 March 1958, Naval Reserve, Long a part of Humboldt, by Charles H. Hurlbut, HMC Historian, USRN Electronics Facility, Eureka.
#6. Newspaper Article from the Humboldt Times 14 March 1930, Attack Fatal to Prominet Eurekan, Obituary of Lieutenant Adolph Berry Adams.
#7. Website: Ancestry.com database: U.S. Naval Deaths, World War I.
#8. Website: Website called Out of Gloucseter
#9. Website: U.S. Ship Sinkings in World War 1.
#10. Website: Sinking of USS San Diego in World War 1.
#11 Website: Mark Briggs Article on Dr. Van Wyk and the German Spy Kurt Jahnke.
#12. Website: News atricle carried on AOL and Associated Press by Joe Wheelan.
#13. Website: Photos listed as from Navy Historical Center
All were enrolled into the National Naval Volunteers on 18 April 1917 (4)
Adolph Barry Adams, Lieutenant (Commanding)
W. E. Torry, Lieutenant Junior Grade
Carl T. Wallace, Lieutenant Junior Grade
H. S. Acorn, Yeoman 2nd Class
F. T. Blondin, Electrican 2nd Class
F. B. Garner, Yeoman 3rd Class
L. J. Guglemetti, Yeoman 3rd Class
J. H. Hillflicker, Electrician
T. F. McGeorge, Electrician 3rd Class
I. L. Brown, Seaman
J. G. Brooks, Seaman
A. J. Bell, Seaman
C. L. Brown, Seaman
F. E. Bulfinch, Seaman
R. C. Benefield, Seaman
J. A. Burrows, Seaman
H. D. Connett, Seaman
G. W. Carl, Seaman
W. Chilcott, Seaman
R. A. Coats, Seaman
W. F. Diehl, Seaman
F. D. Davis, Seaman
W. R. Dean, Seaman
L. Delgrandy, Seaman
C. Delgrandy, Seaman
W. Day, Seaman
L. Evans, Seaman
E. Eckholm, Seaman
C. Foss, Seaman
J. T. Foster, Seaman
J. R. Flowers, Seaman
H. W. Griffin, Seaman
F. E. Helms, Seaman
R. Harmout, Seaman
L. S. Hanley, Seaman
J. F. Haney, Seaman
J. D. Jones, Seaman
J. L. Judd, Seaman
G. H. Kerr, Seaman
G. R. Kern, Seaman
M. E. Kniss, Seaman
A. R. Klemp, Seaman
W. R. Manning, Seaman
A. Marks, Seaman
A. E. Norton, Seaman
J. L. Neff, Seaman
W. H. Nickolson, Seaman
F. W. Petersen, Seaman
S. L. Porter, Seaman
C. G. Ramsdell, Seaman
J. F. Rochet, Seaman
R. C. Shortridge, Seaman
J. O. Sanders, Seaman
R. I. Shields, Seaman
H. J. Saffell, Seaman
A. A. Sundfers, Seaman
J. W. Wyatt, Seaman
C. Williams, Seaman
Earl Anerson, Seaman 2nd Class
G. D. Brittain ,Seaman 2nd Class