Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Any Port in a Storm: The Dewey in the Canaries

Updated 1/1/17 with three newly-acquired photos.

This photograph is a bit special to me. When I first got it I had no idea of the tremendous sea story it represented, an incredible feat of seamanship accomplished by the U.S. Navy early in the 20th century. In fact, since the sea story is so remarkable, and not fully told on any other website I could find, I've decided to tell the whole this is gonna be a long - but hopefully fun - article!

I had been hunting old aviation photos for my Vintage Air blog during a trip to Maryland, working my way up the coast, and ended up in the Navy mecca of Annapolis. None found in the antique shops there, but I did find this photo of a bunch of ships in harbor. Interesting, but not what I was after, yet I bought it anyway out of a sort of frustrated protest. But the more I later stared at it, the more I became intrigued by the tremendous activity and detail in it. There was something foreign about the port, and yet a number of ships were flying American flags. It was clearly taken at a time of nautical transition - tall sailing ships giving way to steamers. It seemed expected to find a nautical photo in an Annapolis antique store, but I didn't really get the importance of the connection then. Being stymied in trying to figure out where it was taken, I put it away for several years.

So I ran this photo as the "History Mystery Saturday" image on December 10th in the hope of using crowd-sourcing to figure out the back story. Ironically, it was my own brother, Eric, who saw the post and cracked the mystery. "The key is the floating drydock," he said, "there just weren't that many of them." He then identified the drydock as the US Navy's USS Dewey. Some preliminary checking showed that they Dewey had an incredible, if mostly forgotten story behind it. But the location of the photo? That still wasn't certain. "The key is the brickwork," he said, and kept up his sleuthing.

The Dewey had been built in the Chesapeake in 1905, for use in the Philippines...and the Philippines are a long way from Maryland! The Dewey was built without any means of propulsion, nor any means of even steering, so just getting it to where it was supposed to be was a supreme challenge. From several sources that give brief summaries of the Dewey's history we learned that the tow had mad a few stops: Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Gibraltar, Port Said, Suez, and Singapore, before reaching Subic Bay (back then spelled Subig). Of course, none of those places today look anything like what is shown here. But then Eric found this website for Zamakona Yards one of the shipyards at Las Palmas, and they had a historic photo taken from almost the exact same angle...even one of the smaller boats in the foreground was the same, even though all the big ships were different. So this was Las Palmas...but how does a floating drydock destined for a port on the other side of the globe end up here? That's where the story starts, so to quote an old sea shanty, "Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, the tale of a fateful trip..."

At the end of the Spanish-American War, the United States ended up with some new territories that it had taken away from Spain. One of these was the Philippines. Spain had just spent a whole lot of money fixing up the port at Olongapo, Subig Bay to support their Navy, so the US Navy took advantage of that and decided that this would make a great place to support the American fleet in the far east. The key features of the Olongapo Naval Station were to be a coaling station and a floating dry dock for effecting repairs without ships having to return to Hawaii or San Francisco. Floating drydocks with the capacity to lift America's largest warships out of the water were just coming into their own at the time (if you're interested in their history, The Evolutionary Development of the Floating Drydock by Tyler Morra is an interesting read).

The Dock

The Navy ordered up the USS Dewey, and the vessel was laid down in early 1905 by Maryland Steel Co. (later Bethlehem Steel) at Sparrow's Point, just outside of Baltimore. It was designed by Hans Hanssen and the overall project was supervised by the Navy's Chief of Navy Yards, Rear Admiral Mordecai T. Endicott (who was known as the "Father of the Navy's Civil Engineering Corps). The dock contained 11,000 tons of steel plate, over two million rivets, and 130 tons of red lead were used to paint it.

The Dewey was huge. Its length was 500 feet, with a beam of 132 feet, and a working deck surface 100 feet wide. The sidewalls reached 42 feet above the deck. The dock displaced 18,500 tons empty, but given its size, it was actually quite light, and when empty (such as when it was being towed), it only had a draft of 6.5 to 8 feet, giving the Dewey a freeboard of ten feet or so.

The three parts of the Dewey, from this article in 
American Machinist
The dock was built in three sections, or "pontoons"; the largest was the center section with 21 water-tight compartments; at 320 long, it accounted for most of the floor and all of the side-walls. There were two bolt-on 90-foot long end pontoons (each having 18 compartments) which could be disconnected, and which could together left the center section completely out of the water, should the bottom of it need to be cleaned. In turn, one of the end pontoons at a time could be disconnected, floated into the dock and lifted when they needed to be worked on. It was ingenious, but having a bolt-together sectional design almost proved fatal during the tow.

The 14-foot-thick sidewalls contained ample living spaces, staterooms for officers and quarters for the sailors, two messes, equipment and machine shops, and the steam plant to run the pumps needed to raise the dock and it's guest ship out of the water. During the voyage, the crew also built a chart house on top of one of the walls.

The Dewey was first floated and commissioned on June 10, 1905, with the christening being performed by a Miss Endicott, the daughter of the RAdm Mordecai Endicott. It was then towed south to Solomon's Island, on the Patuxent River. The Navy needed some fairly deep water to test the Dewey (the dock had to essentially sink 40 feet or so in order for a ship to enter it), and Patuxent River was the ideal location. The dock's first lift, of the armored cruiser USS Colorado (at 13,300 tons) took place on June 23rd, and was a success. Next, the Navy brought the battleship USS Iowa over on June 27th, and again the dock successfully lifted her out of the water. Both ships were lifted well within the time limits in the Navy's original specifications (a 16,000 ton ship to be lifted in four hours; both the test ships were, in turn, lifted in under two hours).
The USS Colorado during the first test of the Dewey in the Patuxent River, Maryland  (MojaveWest collection)


The testing complete, it was time to get the dock to the Philippines. There were some pretty intense discussions amongst the experts and senior Navy leadership on just how that should be done. One camp advocated for the dock to be towed by a couple of Navy's most powerful battleships, because it was pretty obvious to all that it would take some pretty brute strength to tow this beast through the high seas. Another camp believed it should be towed by colliers and a supply ship so that coal would not be an issue, as it might be with battleships.

From an article in American Marine Engineer magazine by F.E. Treder, Chief Engineer on the BrutusTreder seens 
to have taken a number of photos during the expedition, and could possibly have taken ours.
Consider the problems the tow presented: though the dock technically had a bow (the end with the swinging gates) and a stern, they were designations, not physical attributes: both just squared-off steel. Lt. Commander F. M. Bennett, the Executive Officer of the Glacier, the lead tow ship, later wrote, "The greatest obstacle to towing...was in the structure of the dock itself in presenting a perfectly square wall-like surface to be dragged through the water." Even though the Navy knew the thing would have to be towed over half-way around the world, none of the designers thought to include a hull that would readily and efficiently move through the water. Bennett went on to write:
Had this dock been fitted with sea-going ends or bows I may say with absolute certainty that the voyage to the Philippines would have been accomplished in two months less time and with much less risk of losing the dock; that thousands of dollars worth of towing gear destroyed by hard service would never have been used; that many more thousands of dollars worth of coal would not have been burned, and that the officers and men of the towing squadron would have been spared much anxiety, physical hardship, and, at times, actual peril. This, at least, is my belief after having seen the square-ended obstinate structure dragged by main strength, through fair weather and foul, across one hundred and ninety-seven degrees of the earth’s longitude.
From F. M. Bennett's long report in the Proceedings of the US Naval Institiute. Note the added arches to support the
towing cable.

And consider the sidewalls: big slabs of steel 50 feet tall by 500 feet long! That's 25,000 square feet for the wind to push on, way more surface area than the sail area of even the biggest sailing ship. And remember: no means of self-propulsion, and no means of steering.

In the end, four ships were detailed to the project, the USS Glacier (a fine-sounding name suggesting an arctic exploration ship, but no, it was simply a refrigerated supply ship, chosen in order to have adequate food supplies for the long journey), the colliers USS Brutus and USS Caesar (chosen because only colliers would be able to carry enough coal for the trip), as well as the sea-going tugboat USS Potomac, which would handle the yeoman duties. All four were modified with steam-powered towing machines on their sterns, and these would adjust for tension and slack as needed in rough seas. Generally speaking, it was expected that the three larger ships would do the towing, and that the total tow, or train, would be a mile and a half long, the longest tow on record at the time. It was also the be the longest tow ever attempted in terms of miles covered, roughly 12,000 across the Atlantic, through the Mediterranean, down through the Suez Canal, across the Indian Ocean and into the Pacific to the Philippines. In order to beat the monsoon season on the other side of the world, it was determined that the expedition needed to start from Maryland at the beginning of December at the latest.

Commander William F. Fulham (some sources mistakenly list his name as Fullam), had become the CO of the Glacier in September, and in late October was also given special duty command of the whole expedition. He set to work immediately with preparations, but was disappointed to find, upon visiting the Dewey in the Patuxent, that while the dock had been completed structurally, absolutely no provisions had been included for the equipment needed for towing. Sitting in the river, the dock was secured with four mushroom anchors, and yet there was not even the mechanisms provided to raise those anchors. Fulham was furious, and fired off a detailed and insistent report outlining all the needed to be done in a very short amount of time. Endicott's BuDocks launched a massive effort to buy, manufacture or steal (one of the windlasses was taken from the USS New York which was laid up for refit) everything needed, and to modify the dock itself, a difficult task because of the remote location in the Patuxent and the local inclement weather.

Fulham was not pleased with the manner in which the engineers chose to tow the dock, nor the progress being made, and in late November he came to conclusion that the effort was destined to fail, and so requested - and was granted - to be relieved of command. In his place, on December 11, Commander Harry Hibbard Hosley, an Annapolis graduate and the Supervisor of the Harbor of New York, was temporarily detached from that duty and given command of the Glacier and the entire expedition. Hosley had previously served as the XO of the cruiser USS Buffalo, which in 1904 was part of a large flotilla that had convoyed from Key West to the Philippines.

One complicating factor that would plague the expedition was in the nature of the crews. The Glacier had a full regular Navy crew, but most were very young; Bennett describes the crew as "sadly deficient in experience, as it was composed almost entirely of mere boys, just rated ordinary seamen, enlisted only a short time, with no sea service, and no naval experience except at the Newport training station." On the other hand, the two colliers had civilian, merchant marine crews, and while the officers were American, the seaman were almost all Chinese, and few spoke any English. The Dewey had a mixed crew, a combination of some Navy personnel, mostly engineers and technical experts, with civilian sailors, who were the rough-and-tumble "deep water" type of sailors, good at what they do, but also difficult to handle.

The three tow ships had been modified in the Boston and New York Navy yards, and finally arrived in the mouth of the Patuxent on December 15, two weeks after the expedition was originally said to have to "leave at the latest". And when they arrived, they did so in the midst of a nasty gale, not a good omen. Final preparation, including the distribution of much gear that the Glacier had brought down, had to be completed in the midst of driving snow and sleet, and several sailors were badly injured in accidents...and the expedition hadn't even gotten underway yet. They also found the dock still not prepared for the trip, the crew having been quite idle and hard to motivate; it had not even been coaled yet. "It seemed a pity that we had to do this heavy work at such an inclement season, when the dock had been there idle all through the pleasant autumn months." Bennett wrote.

Getting Underway

By December 26, it was finally time to unmoor the dock, a process which took almost two full days. With no means to haul aboard the anchors, the captain of the Brutus carefully nosed his ship up to the dock, and, carefully maintaining his position against the tideway, used his steam winches to raise each of the four anchors and deposit them on the Dewey's deck. It took most of the day on the 28th to get the tow lines in place and connected, but by 2:30 pm, the tow ships hove anchors and the squadron was slowly underway, heading down the Chesapeake. They didn't get far, before dark and storm made navigation in the waterway difficult, and they stopped for the night. With the headwind they faced, they found they could barely get better than three knots of speed (for landlubbers, you can multiply knots by 1.1 to get the miles-per-hour you're used to thinking in). This speed was found to be very disappointing, as the "experts" had predicted that they'd be able to tow at at least five knots. At three knots, it was going to be a very long trip to the Philippines!

The Brutus towning Dewey. This is a press copy photo of an earlier image. (MojaveWest collection)

At 10:30 at night on the 29th, they finally entered the Atlantic. Days during the voyage were measured from noon to noon, and from noon on the 30th to noon on the 31st, the weather was benign and relatively warm in the Gulf Stream, and they made 111 miles, which gave them hope that they'd make good speed after all. It was a false hope, though, and it would be another three months before they again covered that much distance in a single day. They did find, though, that even in light wind and with a square front and no keel, the dock had a tendency to swerve unpredictably from side to side, much like a kite does. And sometimes it would even tend to follow broadside.


During the afternoon, of the 31st, they almost met with disaster. Before the expedition started, various towing configurations had been discussed, but they would have to be tried to determine which would work best. The Brutus and Caesar were towing in tandem, and it was decided to try to adding the Glacier to the forward starboard corner (that's "right" for you non-nautical types), and the Potomac to the port corner (the left). To get into position, the Glacier cruised up about fifty feet off the starboard side of the dock, slowly overtaking it. Just as the stern of the Glacier came up even with the forward corner of the dock and lines were heaved, the Dewey started to swing to the right in one of its unpredictable oscillations, the corner heading right for the Glacier's aft end. Hosley quickly reacted ordering a hard left turn (when a ship turns, its stern moves first and in the opposite direction, and so Hosley was counting on this maneuver to get the stern away from the oncoming steel corner).

The Glacier couldn't move fast enough, though, and the Dewey hit hard, dishing in the steel plates of the Glacier, opening a seam and damaging a frame. The hole was a good twelve feet above the water line, so it wasn't an issue, but they faced a much more imminent threat: the impact pushed the stern farther over and the left turn was accentuated, so that the Glacier was now headed diagonally across the path of the on-coming dock, and headed right at the tow line.

Glacier with her distinctive bowsprit
The Glacier was originally built in 1891 as a British civilian freighter, and later purchased by the US Navy, and it had been designed during the transition period when naval architects were only starting to move away from the clipper ship form, and it still had a sailing ship-style bowsprit. That feature came in handy, because the bowsprit was able to ride down the tow line which then passed safely underneath, and the Glacier passed about thirty yards ahead of the dock. Had it been either the Brutus or the Caesar, with their much more square bows, the line might have caught and entangled the ship, causing a collision with the dock, requiring the expedition to be abandoned.

Undaunted by the near disaster, they tried again, but much more carefully, to connect to the starboard corner of the dock, and this time were successful. However, in towing off the corner like that, the line came off the ship diagonally, and had a tendency to want to pull the stern to the right, so some constant left rudder had to be carried. At this point, the weather started deteriorating and the wind and swells came up, quickly becoming gale-force, and it got to the point were full left rudder could not keep the Glacier straight, and her bow fell off to starboard, ending up being dragged backwards by the dock. All this flailing with a taught tow line caused a fair amount of damage to the gear at the back of the ship, ripping off the three arches and kingposts installed to keep the tow lines up high. Hosley had no choice at this point but to cast off the line, which was later recovered by the Dewey. Because of the dark and the storm, the colliers had no idea of the predicament that the Glacier was in, and just kept towing on. They never tried that method of towing by the corner again.


The large surface areas of the dock's walls made towing in a cross-wind difficult, and the dock would trail off to leeward, up to thirty degrees if the wind was strong enough. In a gale, it was almost uncontrollable. The towing machines were strained to the limits, and beyond. Late on January 3rd, the weather went from bad to worse, and a full winter Atlantic gale was upon them. Forward progress was practically impossible, and the two colliers had to head into the sea just with all their effort just to keep the dock from drifting backwards. Even that kind of station-keeping in such a wind proved too much, and the Caesar's towing machine started stripping gears. The cable was bitted, or locked down, and that prevented further disaster, but that whole day they only covered 21 miles.

The dock, being so long, actually rode fairly well in the rough seas, which threw the bigger ships around some, but made life aboard the small Potomac almost intolerable for its crew. On the 12th of January, they hit another bad storm, and during the night the strain of the tow in such a wind proved too much for the towing machine on the Brutus, and it failed completely, the line parting, setting the dock adrift. Just getting the broken lines - typically either 6- or 8-inch wire rope or 15-inch manila rope in 1,200 foot lengths - back aboard was an exceptionally difficult job in such a storm. The dock tended to drift away faster than the ships, so they had to scramble to recover the lines then chase down the drifting Dewey, and it wasn't until 4pm the next day that they finally caught the dock and got it back under tow. Having two ships towing the dock strained the arrangement to the limit, so the Glacier only added herself to the tow train when the weather was calm. During blows, the Caesar and the Brutus did most of the towing.

On January 25th, the weather turned bad again, starting about a month-long period of really bad luck for the expedition. With the wind blowing at gale force, the tow gave up any attempt at forward progress, and just tried to hold position, but the wind against the dock proved too much for even this, and the line from the Brutus to the Dewey parted again, this time completely wrecking the Brutus' gear, and the dock started drifting back to the north by northwest. As Bennett described it, "Released from restraint, the dock started back toward the coast of the United States at a speed rather better than we had averaged in towing it in the opposite direction, and accomplished something more than one hundred miles of the return voyage before we again got it under control." At one point, a couple of days later, the tug Potomac was able to get close enough to get a line to dock and tried to at least hold it in position, but the attempt was futile and only resulted in the tug being dragged along, stern first, by the Dewey. It wasn't until well after dark on the 27th that the lines were re-established and the tow began marching eastward once again. That progress lasted just over 24 hours when another blow came and the dock was adrift again, this time south by southwest. When it was finally recovered around noon on the 30th, the southward drift had recovered much of the distance the earlier northward drift had taken the Dewey.

The Brutus with the British HMS Isis behind her, and the white Tacoma beyond.
Through more storms they struggled for almost a month, some days literally moving backwards, but the lines held. With the Brutus' towing machines destroyed, the line had to be bitted, and was backed up with a chain attached to the ship's mainmast. But another serious problem was developing. As the dock had been built as three sections joined together, the joints had been engineered to be sufficient during normal harbor duty, but had not been designed to withstand the kind of beating that it was receiving on a daily basis in the gale-driven Atlantic. While the crew had utilized unused materials left aboard from when it was built to affect some temporary repairs, it was becoming clear that if more permanent repairs were made, and made soon, the dock might structurally fail. On top of that, with the towing machine on the Caesar damaged and on the Brutus destroyed, and supplies running low, it was very apparent that the expedition needed to quickly get to port: any port in a storm, as they say.

Illustration from the June 16, 1906 edition of Army and Navy Register.

To Las Palmas

So they headed to the nearest port, which was Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, the bad weather chasing them the whole way. Keep in mind, the Canaries are territory of...Spain, yes the country that we'd just beat in a war, and whose former islands this dry dock was heading to. Awkward!

They finally arrived in the lee of Teneriffe on February 21st, and after some rearranging of the towing lash-up (and at one point watching helplessly as the dock drifted before a fair wind towards the breakwater), the Caesar towed the Dewey into the port of La Luz. It had been 57 days since they left Maryland, three of the Chinese sailors on the Brutus had died of Beri-Beri, and the civilian seamen on the dock had had enough. The got it half moored to the east mole and then, as a group, left and headed into town, acting like the classic drunken sailors, behaving in a way that brought a level of disrepute on the expedition. Some didn't return.

And this, then, is where our photo was taken. The USS Tacoma arrived bringing replacement gear and materials, and the strange, giant steel beast became sort of a tourist attraction. Townspeople came down to gawk (you can see them promenading along the mole in fancy dress in the photo), and a crew of British midshipmen from the HMS Isis came to tour and gawk at the impossibility of what the Navy had come through with such an unseaworthy beast.

The Dewey moored at Las Palmas. The bow is closest to the camera, and men can be seen working on her deck.

Bennett described the work done at Las Palmas:
We were three weeks at that port having repairs made on the dock that would easily have been accomplished in the United States in half the time and at much less cost, but we were in contact with a breed of men that cannot be hurried and that has all its enterprise in promise for to-morrow. About 6,000 rivets were renewed, new angle bars fitted and heavier ones substituted for the old ones, so that when all was completed the dock was more seaworthy than when it left the United States. We hastened this work much by making up a working party of twenty mechanics from our ships who worked seven hours each night under the direction of the ships' engineers and accomplished a very fair proportion of all the work done. The delay was availed of to repair the damages that the Potomac and Brutus had sustained, to obtain coal and water, and to buy a quantity of cordage, for, notwithstanding the very liberal supply we were fitted out with, the vicissitudes of the Atlantic voyage had destroyed almost every thing we had from 8-inch manila hawsers down to small stuff.

Back to Sea and Storm

When the work was done, the expedition also took on some additional Spanish sailors recruited locally, and on the afternoon of March 17, under the tow of the Brutus, the dock was carefully maneuvered out of the bay between the two mole heads and the tow headed for Gibraltar. For once, luck was with the expedition, and they had favorable, following winds and seas, and made excellent time, passing Gibraltar on the 23rd. A new record was set south of Sicily, 124 miles in a single day.

From F. M. Bennett's long report in the Proceedings of the US Naval Institiute

The luck didn't hold, and soon they were facing weather even worse than what they had encountered in the Atlantic. Starting April 4th, the headwind began to cut down the forward progress, from 77 miles to 52, 24 and then all they could do was to try to hold on as the wind pushed them backwards 40 miles, then 52. On that last day, April 8th, the winds hit gale force 10, and the 2¹/₂-inch thick chain bridle attached to the dock gave way, and all the ships could do was try to keep up and not become swamped. On several occasions, as the Glacier ran before the wind, she was "pooped", meaning huge waves swamped her from behind. Bennett wrote, "The Potomac...presented a spectacle that was almost tragic." But despite her being tossed so badly, she suffered no damage beyond the discomfiture of her crew. As the storm slowly abated, the Brutus and Potomac were able to once again get a hold of the Dewey in maneuvers that Bennett described as "the most difficult and dangerous piece of seamanship accomplished during the cruise and was greatly to the credit of the two vessels that did it." The Dewey came through the storm quite a bit better than it had in the Atlantic, the structural beef-ups performed at Las Palmas meeting the test.

The Tacoma and the USS Brooklyn had both been in that region of the Med, and had received wireless telegraph signals detailing the travail, and came to render assistance, arriving as the storm died off. Tacoma stayed with the convoy as far as Port Said.

Through the Suez Canal

It took a month to cross the Med with the dock, but on April 18th, they dropped anchor off of Port Said. The canal's officials with the good news that the dock could start its transit the next morning, but then it was learned that the dock was currently drawing a draft of nearly eight feet. Back in the Patuxent, when the dock had been "completed" but not yet outfitted for the tow, it drew six feet, and the Navy had relayed this figure when negotiating the dock's passage through the canal. While the main channel of the canal was plenty deep, the dock was much wider that the normal ship traffic, and was almost as wide as the canal in places. The canal company had done some dredging in preparation, but that was based on the six-foot draft. Now, those places would have to be re-dredged, meaning a week's delay. The expedition had left a month behind schedule, and lost time all along the way, and the threat of the beginning of monsoon season in the south Pacific was real and worrisome.

The dock's transit had been the source of concern for many, both in the Navy and with the canal company. The canal operators refused to let the Navy ships do the towing, because they were all single-screw vessels, and thus were less maneuverable. Instead, the dock with be towed by the canal's tugs Titan and Vigilant, with the Potomac pushing from behind when needed. The canal operators also provided the pilots for every ship transiting, and in the pilot corps, one man was by far regarded as the most senior and expert, an old Greek named A. Pappa. Whenever a ship bearing heads-of-state or other dignitaries would  transit, Mr. Pappa was the one who was called upon. But he was also quite old and in very poor health, and should not have been called upon at all, but that's not how politics work. So A. Pappa and three of his colleagues carefully guided the dock through the canal, beginning the morning of April 27th.

It almost went flawlessly. The canal had a couple of wide spots, equivalent to sidings on a railroad, where the pilots planned to moor the dock for a short time to allow other, faster traffic through. The following day, a sandstorm hit. The sand wasn't an issue, but the wind was, it was a "beam wind", a direct crosswind, and though the lines had made tight, they couldn't hold the dock. The bollards on the shore started coming loose, and it was decided to just let the dock go, let it drift from its moorings, cross the channel and ground on the opposite side. The only damage was the blockage of the canal to other traffic for a few hours. On two of the nights during the transit, Mr. Pappa was so worn out and ill that he had to be attended by doctors. By May 1, at 6pm, the Dewey arrived at Suez, the southern end of the canal. The canal officials were elated, proud of their accomplishment, but let the Navy officers know that they sincerely hoped this was the last drydock the Navy wanted to bring through.

To Singapore

"Loaded for bear"
Some thought was given to stopping and sheltering at Aden until after monsoon season, but Hosley made the decision to press on. The expedition had learned all kinds of lessons about towing gear, and after Suez, they were, as Bennett later wrote, "Loaded for bear." The Glacier took the lead, followed by Caesar and Brutus. With the threat of monsoons, Hosley took pity on the crew of the Potomac and on May 3rd, released them, and they headed back to America. Next stop for the convoy: Singapore.

There is a tradition amongst ancient Indian seafarers that a monsoon will not set in during the period of a full moon. Whether there is any scientific truth that or not, did not matter to Hosley and his officers, they were just glad that the full moon was on the 6th of June, and records will show that in the year 1906, the monsoon came on two weeks late, and only after the moon had quartered. On June 13th, it hit ferociously, but the Dewey was only caught by the edge, and nothing untoward happened as a result. As they sailed on, more fair weather was encountered. With that, plus their improved towing gear, they started turning consistently good daily mileage totals. Singapore was reached on June 21st, and the team was exceptionally proud of the fact that, in 48 days, they'd covered about 5,000 miles without a breakdown or broken line.

Such good luck has to come to the end, and twice as they prepared to enter disaster almost struck. Previously, whenever the ships halted the tow, the draggy dock stopped almost instantly in the water. This time, however, the crews underestimated the extent to which they - and the dock - were running with the tide. The Glacier cast off and sheered off to one side to reel in its lines, and the Caesar slowed down to begin reeling in some line, not realizing how fast the train behind them was coming. The Brutus closed so quickly that it had to put its engine in reverse to avoid hitting Caesar, and that put it directly in the path of the oncoming dock, which was still moving forward with the tide at a surprising clip. Only quick thinking and nimble seamanship allowed both colliers to get moving again and get out of the way, and a collision was avoided.

It was in that instance, at least. Not so the next day. The Glacier had already anchored in the harbor, and the Caesar towed the dock to its harbor anchorage, and signaled the dock to let go the line. The signal must have been missed, however, because as the Caesar started to steam away, turning, the unreleased line became taught and turned the ship, pointing it right at Glacier. The Caesar just missed ramming the Glacier on her port side, and instead the bows hit, the Glacier's bowsprit being torn off. It was a narrow escape, as the Caesar had enough speed that if she'd hit the supply ship amidships, she would have done serious damage, probably sinking her.

The Philippines

After a week of liberty and well-earned R&R in Singapore, the expedition got underway on June 28 and entered the China Sea on the last leg of the journey. Subig Bay was reached at daylight on July 10th, to a raucous welcome by the ships and boats there. At 8:55am, the Dewey dropped anchors at her  Olongapo moorage, thus completing the longest tow of the largest floating drydock of that time.

Rear Admiral Charles J. Train, who commanded the Navy's Asiatic Fleet, was on hand on his flagship, the battleship Ohio, to welcome the convoy (sadly, less than a month later, on August 4, Train died of kidney failure). He also relayed a cable received from Navy Secretary Charles Bonaparte, who said, "Department deeply appreciates and sincerely congratulates you and the officers and men under your command upon the successful termination of such a difficult undertaking so admirably and excellently accomplished."

After the Dewey dropped anchor, the three tow ships only hung around for about four hours before heading to Cavite and a well-deserved liberty period. Hosley was detached from the Glacier on this date as well, and ordered back to the U.S.

After the Tow

The American Marine Engineer magazine contained this little item on the return of the Glacier:
After a voyage of more than 24,000 miles, the United States supply steam ship Glacier, the vessel which aided in towing the gigantic drydock Dewey from Chesapeake Bay to the Philippine Islands, reached New York Nov. 11. From her main truck was flying a home ward-bound pennant 154 feet long. The number of feet of bunting in a home ward-bound pennant varies with the length of time that a ship has been on cruise. It was nearly eleven months ago that the Glacier and her convoy sailed from the Chesapeake, and her officers and crew were enthusiastic over getting home again.
The Brutus, other than her towing engines, came through the ordeal without any breakdowns, but as soon as she was released and ordered home to New York, back the way she came, that changed. While making way from Singapore to Colombo, Ceylon, all five sections of her intermediate shaft, as well as her thrust shaft, came out of alignment, and the ship limped into Colombo severely vibrating.

Caesar returned to Norfolk, Virginia, also stopping at Singapore.

The Glacier, Brutus and Caesar were reunited in December 1907 in support of another mammoth undertaking by the Navy, the sailing of sixteen battleships, the Great White Fleet, from the Atlantic to the Pacific by way of the Straits of Magellan. Eventually, the fleet went on to circle the globe.

Commander Harry H. Hosley was lauded before Congress and Navy leadership, and acknowledged as having "performed what was without doubt the most remarkable feat of seamanship of his generation." Less than a year and a half after delivering Dewey safely to the Philippines, on January 5, 1908, he died unexpectedly and penniless. It was believed that "his health was impaired and his death resulted indirectly from the hardships of this voyage." He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery (quotes come from Arlington's web entry for Commander Hosley).

Later History of the Dewey

On May 24, 1910, Dewey sunk in 70 feet of water as it sat at its moorings. Allegations of sabotage flamed through the media. Different reports of the cause - from valves being deliberately opened to manhole covers being left off, to a large hole in the bottom, circulated, but nothing was ever conclusively proven. Navy divers went to work and refloated the dock, the job being the largest and most difficult task for the fledgling Navy Diver Corps. Initially, the job had been offered to local native Filippino divers, but they declined, the task appearing to be impossible. The Navy then brought in divers from other locations around the world.

In July, 1920, the Navy set about to completely re-classify and re-number all of its ships, and the Dewey became Yard Dock YFD-1.

The destroyer USS John D. Ford in the Dewey on October 19, 1933. Ironically, the Ford was named after then-Commander (later Admiral) Ford who served with distinction during the destruction of the Spanish fleet at Cavite.

In June 1941, as the Japanese closed in on the Philippines, the Dewey's 35-year long stay at Subic came to an end, and it was towed to Mariveles Harbor, at the end of the Bataan Peninsula, where it was thought to be safer. It was not the case, though, and as it became apparent that Corregidor Island was about to fall to the Japanese, the remaining American forces set about to burn and destroy anything that could be used by the enemy. The Dewey would have been an invaluable asset to a conquering Navy, and so it was scuttled by docking officer Lieutenant C. J. Weschler and Engineer Jose Otero.

Nevertheless, once Corregidor fell, the Japanese managed to repair and refloat the dock, and towed it back to Manila Bay. Two attacks by American Avenger torpedo bombers seem to have finally finished off the Dewey. The first, on November 12, 1944 damaged the dock, and then the next day another Avenger attack targeted the Dewey, with at least four torpedoes hitting and completely destroying the bay-side of the dock, sinking it. Years later, some if not all of the wreckage was removed during harbor dredging operations.

The Radio Experiment

The remarkable story of the Dewey can't be fully told without at least mentioning an experiment in wireless telegraphic radio communications that the Navy took the opportunity to try. During the Atlantic crossing, the Navy established a chain of ships, utilizing an armored cruiser squadron. From the main body of the squadron which included the Missouri and Maine (the flagship of Rear Admiral Robley Evans, who organized the effort, called a "search problem"), a scouting line was established including the Illinois, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado, and Maryland. The actual experiment only had marginal success in getting a message all the way to shore, but much was learned. Admiral Robley wrote in his report, "The vagaries of the wireless instruments do not seem to be fully understood as yet, for at times when there seem to be no atmospheric electricity present the nearest scout could not be heard by any one of the First Squadron, but at other times they have picked up messages apparently passing between the Dock and the Maryland." The ability to communicate with home via the Maryland and the chain was quite heartening for the convoy's crew, and they were able to communicate their equipment needs so that that Tacoma was able to show up at Las Palmas with the vital supplies.

A Final Thought on the Las Palmas Photograph

I'm sure there were plenty of photographs of Las Palmas taken over the years, and given the unusual visitor that the Dewey was, I'm sure that a number of locals took photos of it. But for a photo to be found in Annapolis, to me, suggests something more, it suggests it was taken by one of the crewmembers, probably one of the officers. Of the expedition's officers who published afterwards, only F.M. Treder, Chief Engineer on the Brutus, seems to have taken many photos. If I were him, and wanted a shot of both the Dewey, and my own ship in the photo, this is exactly how I would frame it. The Glacier is only half in frame, the Caesar not readily identiable at all, and the Potomac nowhere to be seen, but the Brutus in just right of center, the Dewey just left. So, though it's only speculation, my money is on Engineer Treder as being our photographer. So did he, or his descendents, then settle in the Annapolis area, or was this print a gift to another fellow officer, possibly someone who later shared their knowledge at the Naval Academy? Antique shops frequently get their inventory from estate sales, and one can only wonder what estate this one came from.

Old Articles Transcribed as Web Pages

The towing of the Dewey was covered extensively in long-forgotten contemporary media and trade press articles, and while these are available on the web thanks to Google's efforts to digitize vintage periodicals, the stories are buried and deserve better exposure. Since they proved so significant in the research of this post, I've also transcribed them and made them available on the following web pages:
  • "The Voyage of the Dewey" written by LtCommander W. F. Bennett, the XO of the Glacier and published in the December 1906 edition of The Proceedings of the US Naval Institute, this long article is well worth the read, and is the primary document detailing the day-to-day challenges faced by the tow crew.
  • A rebuttal to the above article, by Dewey Sailing Master J. D. Wood, also published by The Proceedings. It gives a bit of a different perspective.
  • "Across the Atlantic in a Drydock" written by an unnamed crewmember of the Dewey and published on June 30, 1906, in the New Zealand Herald. This article provides some details I've not seen elsewhere, including the mention of the HMS Isis at Las Palmas, which helped identify that ship in our photo.
  • "Towing the Drydock Dewey" an article in the March 1, 1906 edition of American Machinist which gives a nice, simplified diagram of how the three parts of the Dewey fit together.
  • "The Memorable Voyage of the Drydock Dewey" in the Baltimore Sun Almanac, 1907, includes a nice table giving the dates of the dock at various locations along its journey.
  • "Towing the Drydock Dewey - a Letter from the Chief Officer", published in the January 4, 1906 edition of Marine Review.
  • "Another Glimpse of the Towing of the Dry Dock Dewey" by F. M. Treder, the Chief Engineer of the Brutus,in the March, 1907 edition of American Marine Engineer. The article is accompanied by photos taken by Treder during the actual tow, which I've also incorporated in this post.
  • "Dewey Safely Piloted", a July 12, 1906 newspaper article detailing the contribution of the Suez's aged and highly regarded pilot.
  • "Story of the World's Biggest Dry Dock" Early article (January 29, 1906) describing the development of the dock and the upcoming tow...contains some inaccuracies, but a good read anyway.
  • "Dry-Dock Dewey at Journey's End" July 10, 1907 article relating the Navy's congratulations to Commander Hosley.
Other sources you might find interesting:

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