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USS Ericsson, DD-56

WWI "Thousand Tonner"


Displacement: 1,050 tons, length: 305'3", beam: 31'1"; draft: 9'6"; speed: 29 k, crew: 101 in peace time, 132 war time, armament: 4 four-inch 50 cal. guns, eight 21-inch torpedo tubes in 4 twin-deck mountings, class: Cushing


Ericsson as seen on 10 May, 1915 during her Speed Trials

The second Ericsson (DD-56) was launched 22 August 1914 by the New York Shipbuilding Co., Camden, N.J. and was sponsored by Mrs. J. Washington Logue. USS Ericsson was formerly commissioned into the United States Navy on 14 August 1915, under the command of Lieutenant Commander William Lee Pryor. The Ericsson belonged to a class of 40 destroyers that were unofficially known as "thousand tonners" due to all 40 ships in that class had a gross tonnage of 1,000 tons. She had a designed H.P. of 16,000 hp provided by 3 sets of Parsons turbines with reciprocating engines. She had four Thornyercoft Boilers with 26,936 sq. feet of heating surface that gave her a speed of 29.29 kts on her speed trials. She burned fuel oil and had a capacity of 309-tons in her bunkers. Of the 6 destroyers in the Cushing class, the Ericsson and O'Brien differed in that they had very low main masts.

From October through December 1915, Ericsson operated out of New York and Newport, R.I., on drills, in training, and on the Neutrality Patrol. With the Torpedo Flotilla of the Atlantic Fleet she sailed 7 January 1916 for maneuvers in the Caribbean, using Key West and Guantanamo Bay as bases. She returned to Newport 23 May 1916.Ericsson's neutrality patrols along the east coast intensified, and on 9 October 1916, she sighted a German submarine close by Nantucket Shoal Lightship, with a Dutch merchantman hove to. A few minutes later, a U-boat fired three shots across the bow of a British merchantman, and ordered her to abandon ship. Ericsson took off this ship's passengers and crew, while other destroyers rescued the Dutch ship's people and those of three other ships ordered abandoned and then sunk by the U-boat that day.For the first 3 months of 1917, Ericsson again joined in exercises in the Caribbean, and then returned to New York City and Newport to prepare for distant service.

During World War One three different skippers commanded the Ericsson. The Navy had the habit of changing commanders of ships of the line frequently during war times as this gave more commanders war time experience in handling ships, thereby giving the officers much valuable experiences. The three commanding officers during those years were Commander Laurence N. McNair, Lt. Commander Murphy J. Foster and Commander Charles T. Hutchins, Jr., the son of Rear Admiral Charles T. Hutchins.

On 7 May 1917 the Ericsson sailed from Boston for Queenstown, Ireland, with a full war-time ships company of 101 men to join the pioneer American Destroyer Squadron 8 which had reached Queenstown on 4 May 1917. Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig commanded destroyer Squadron 8. When the British Navy commander, Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly asked Cmdr. Taussig when his squadron would be ready for service, Taussig gave his famous reply "We are ready now, Sir."

She began patrol duty in the war zone in early May 1917. It was on May 21, 1917 at 1:00 o'clock in the afternoon that the Ericsson comes upon a U-boat on the surface at Position 51.00N 08.20W, that had just sunk a sailing vessel and was at the time shelling a second vessel. Once the U-boat saw the Ericsson aproaching they quickly fired off a torpedo at the ship they were shelling. The Ericsson fired a torpedo at the surfaced German but missed. This gave enough time for the U-boat to dip under and make an escape. The Ericsson lost contact and then rescued a total of 48 men from the two ships, then brought them to Queenstown.

The SS Indian is at position 51.04N 11.16W on June 12, 1917, and is carrying a valuable cargo when they are attacked at 5:57 in the afternoon by a U-boat. The destroyers USS Patterson and Tucker speed to her assistance. The Patterson sights the U-boat and the German quickly ducks under to make an escape. The Tucker renders assistance to the Indian which is still afloat. The Ericsson then arrived on the scene and escorted the Indian to safety.

During two harrowing days the destroyers USS Shaw, USS Rowan, USS Jacob Jones, USS Ericsson, USS Trippe, and USS Wainwright successfully defended attack by German U-boats in a running battle on an army convoy from 19-20 of August 1917. Nearly a month later on September 28 the Q-ship HMS Cullist had caught a German U-boat and damaged it. The U-boat made a run for it but unknown to the U-boat, they were heading in the direction of the USS Ericsson and USS Jenkins. Promptly both the Ericsson and Jenkins gave chase, and in fading light the boys from the Ericsson got off two shots, which missed. The Skipper of the Ericsson then attempted to ram the injured U-boat but this too was a miss. It was believed that the German got away.

She continued on patrol and escort duty, and on 28 September, at night, sighted a surfaced submarine, at which she fired. Ericsson dropped depth charges, but before she could carry out her plan to ram the German boat, lost contact in the darkness. Ericsson continued to sail out of Queenstown on patrol and escorting convoys, many times attacking submarines, standing by damaged ships, and rescuing survivors.

As the American destroyers were operating out of Queenstown, not all the danger to these destroyers comes from the German U-boats. There was equal danger in the relative safety inside the harbor as there were a large number of collisions due to the crowded harbor and heightened activity level of war patrols. One such event took place on August 21, 1917 when the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Zinnia collided with the American destroyer USS Benham (DD-49). It is unclear if this collision took place out at sea or in the harbor but the Benham sinks in the harbor in Queenstown from the damages inflicted in the collision with the Zinnia, and the Ericsson comes to assist the Benham and ties up along side her, sandwiching the Benham between the Ericsson and another ship. The Benham is raised and continues to endure the rest of the war.

After June 1918, Ericsson was based out of Brest, France, and during that summer, usually sailed about 3 miles ahead of convoys, towing aloft a kite balloon used for observation.

On August 11, 1918 at 3:05 in the afternoon an unknown German U-boat attacked the troopship USS Henry R. Mallory. The U-boat fired one torpedo and missed the Mallory. In a report filed by the USS Conner, one of the escorting vessels this is what happened. The Mallory was traveling in a convoy of 8 ships and 10 escorts. The 8 ships were the USS Henry R. Mallory, SS Calamares, USS Maui, USS Siboney, USS Tenadores, and the Italian ship Re D'Italia, SS Orizaba and the SS American Italian. The USS Siboney was flagship for this convoy. The escorts were the USS Conner, USS Winslow, USS Dayton, USS Porter, USS Warrington, USS McDougal, USS Fanning, USS Roe, USS Ericsson and the USS Tucker.

That day August 11, 1918, the weather was misty the sea was smooth and visibility was 7,000 yards. The convoy was traveling on a base course of 108 degrees and had just changed course 45 degrees to port on account of the destroyers were dropping depth charges off the starboard side of the convoy. At 3:08 in the afternoon a torpedo track in the water was sighted off the port side of the Mallory. The torpedo missed ahead of the Mallory. Two minutes after that a periscope was sighted by one of the other ships in the convoy. The USS Maui fired one shot at the sub from her port side deck gun. The escorting destroyers USS Fanning, Ericsson, and Roe searched the spot where the sub was spotted and the convoy disappeared off into the mist. The Fanning dropped 14 depth charges, Ericsson dropped 8 depth charges and the Roe dropped 5 depth charges on the U-boats position.

At the close of the war, Ericsson was overhauled at Liverpool, but returned to Brest in time to take part 13 December in the welcoming honors rendered for President Woodrow Wilson, arriving in France in the transport USS George Washington. On 21 December, she was homeward bound, arriving at New York 8 January 1919. In May 1919, Ericsson sailed to the Azores to observe and support the historic first aerial crossing of the Atlantic, made by four Navy seaplanes on 8-31 of May. These were the Curtiss (NC) Flying Boat nicknamed the "Nancy Boat". Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and a leading proponent of the flight, petitioned Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels for approval of the flight. Roosevelt traveled to Rockaway Beach prior to the transatlantic flight, asked for and received a ride in the number 3 plane, NC-3 piloted by his boyhood friend Lt. James L. Breese, USNRF Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd, USN, invented aerial navigation instruments that made the flight possible and later used them in his polar explorations. There were 61 station ships on the route to assist in navigation and weather information and to supply fuel and supplies. The Ericsson was one of 13 ships stationed in the Azores to Lisbon section. Of the four Navy Curtiss Flying Boats only one, the NC-4 made the historic trip. The other 3 planes were damaged and could not finish.

After exercises along the east coast and in the Caribbean, she entered New York Navy Yard for repairs, and there was placed in reserve, still in commission, 7 August. She was laid up in reduced commission at Philadelphia and Charleston in the years that followed, and put to sea only during the summer of 1921, when drills and exercises took her to Newport.

Ericsson was decommissioned at Philadelphia 16 June 1922, and while with the reserve fleet Ericsson on 1 July 1923, was one of 6 Destroyers in Destroyer Division Two, Destroyer Squadron One.

On January 16, 1919 the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and there by made the Law of the Land ushering in the era of Prohibition. As such it fell to the United States Coast Guard to stop the smuggling of intoxicating liquors into the United States from vessels at sea once the law took effect on January 16, 1920.

These patrols were commonly known as "Rum Patrols" and to deal with this problem twenty-five formerly mothballed WWI US Navy destroyers, were transferred by the United States Navy to the Treasury Department for duty with the Coast Guard. The Ericsson was formerly commissioned into the United States Coast Guard on May 28, 1925 and was now known as "CG-5 USS Ericsson."

It was thought that adapting these older vessels for Coast Guard service would be less costly than building new ships. In the end, however, the rehabilitation of the vessels became a saga in itself because of the exceedingly poor condition of many of these war-weary ships. In many instances, it took nearly a year to bring the vessels up to seaworthiness. Additionally, these were by far the largest and most sophisticated vessels ever operated by the Coast Guard, and trained personnel were nearly nonexistent. As a result, Congress authorized hundreds of new enlistees for duty in the Coast Guard, and these inexperienced men generally made up the destroyer crews. While serving in the United States Coast Guard the Ericsson was commanded by LCDR Lloyd T. Chalker, USCG in 1926 and LCDR Merlin O'Neill USCG, during 1927.

The Ericsson served on the "Rum Patrols" until she was released from service with the Coast Guard on April 30 of 1932.

Returned once again to the United States Navy custody on May 23, 1932, Ericsson was deemed obsolete, and she was scrapped and her salvaged material sold 22 August 1934, in accordance with the London treaty, reducing naval armaments.

The Ericsson during 1924-1932 when she was used by the Coast Guard. CG-5

Henry Rakowski, Crewman of the Ericsson

Andrew De Cusati shared with me this information and photos of Henry Rakowski that he has in his collection. Andrew had bought a large photo of Henry Rakowski at an antique shop in Meriden, Connecticut where Rakowski was from. The dealer then brought out other items of Rakowski's and Andrew bought them. Andrew contacted Rakowski's son who then sent Andrew a photo of Henry on the deck of the USS Covington. Andrew has Rakowski's uniform and some photos of Racowski who was on the Covington when she sank. He later served on the destroyer USS Ericsson after the Covington was lost.

The photo on the right is Henry Rakowski on the deck of the USS Ericsson. Henry served on this ship after the Covington was sunk.

Mr. Schrimms Builds A Ship Model for Chuck Haacker

Chuck Haacker shared with me this priceless story. Oh what Chuck would give to have that model today! This is Chuck's story:

"When I was about 11 or 12, in the early 1950's, my grandmother had a priceless handyman named Mr. Schrimms. (Spelling correct I hope. I never knew his first name.) He could do literally anything with his hands."

"One day he brought over a six-foot long ship model hull, all ribbed and planked out of cigar box wood from a time when cigars had been housed in real cedar boxes. He said it was a WWI "four-piper" named USS Ericsson, and he was going to finish it in my grandmothers basement."

"Mr. Schrimms was a quiet man so he didn't talk much about the ship. He said it was a lend-lease vessel, or he may have said it was of the type we sent to Britain early in WWII to help escort the convoys through the blockade before the U.S. entered the war late in 1941. I see that the actual Ericsson was never a lend-lease ship and died in the breakers yard. Mr. Schrimms never indicated he'd actually served in Ericsson, but he was certainly of an age that he could have been a sailor in the Great War."

"He took that beautiful hull and covered it with fine muslin which he painted onto the wood using ordinary lead-based house paint, the way we'd cover a hull today with fiberglass and resin. He used gray paint, then snapped a waterline around her and painted her bottom bright red. He showed me how to make a template from cardboard to craft a stand for the hull. He made decking out of a thin plank and decked her over. Then he started to add superstructure, bridge, and the four-pipes made from toilet paper rolls, masts and deck houses."

"Very little was "store-bought." He made railings from tiny wire brads for stanchions that he ran fine copper wire down for the rails. It was the first time in my life I'd heard the word "stanchions." He made the 4-inch guns from scrounged thimbles and sawed-off 10-penny nails. Torpedo launchers were made from bits of dowel glued together in rows. Everything from deck houses to splinter shielding on the navigation bridge was ordinary shirt cardboard, Duco glued and painted. Most of the paint was house paint except for small parts, which he painted with hobby enamels. Davits were made from bent wire. Ventilators and boats were carved from balsa wood (I even made a whaleboat myself but it was a very sloppy job, we used the one Mr. Schrimms carved)."

"He did buy some small pieces from a hobby shop. There was a spoked wheel and a pair of telegraphs on the navigation bridge, and anchor capstans were beyond him so he bought them along with the anchors. I recall that he wasn't totally true to the original in that she lacked the foward-fire cutaways on the foredeck to allow the guns abaft the bridge to fire forward, but she also lacked the guns abaft the bridge. He'd carefully drawn a full size deck plan on butcher paper but he may have been working from memory, and that would have been at least 35 years after the fact so the model was probably a conglomeration of 4-piper classes."

"He fitted her out with twin engines and screws powered by four big dry cell batteries that also ballasted her. He bought all the running gear except the rudder, which he cut from brass sheet stock."

"And then he gave her to me!"

"I really hadn't expected it, but my Dad had recently died and I think he was childless, possibly even a lifelong bachelor. He was like another grandfather and I realized he had brought the ship over and finished her specifically for me. By 1953 cigar boxes were no longer made of wood, but cardboard. He'd probably had that hull around for years but never had the impetus to finish her until my dad died."

"Did Mr. Schrimms serve in USS Ericsson in WWI? I'll never know, but he was so specific about her name I can't imagine that he didn't at least know the ship. He never painted a hull number on her either, and I see from many photographs that this class seems not to have had the classic big hull number in the Navy in wartime. How else would he have known that if he hadn't served, if not in Ericsson, then at least in the Navy in WWI?"

"I won't say what finally happened to the model because it's worse than dying in the breakers yard. I was a kid and not as appreciative at the time of a work of art and love as I ought to have been. She only sortied a few times and she was badly underpowered (all ahead one-third at best) because my stepfather was never able to figure out how to wire up the big dry cells in series so she never ran on more than one. She would have been a terrific model to add radio control to. At six full feet length overall she was impressive as hell on any lake, even just poking along. (And wouldn't it have been something to see her with a bone in her teeth?) I don't suppose there are any old crew lists someplace that could find out whether a sailor named Schrimms was on her roster?"

Chuck Haacker


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This page was created on 14 February, 2004 and last modified on: Sun, Feb 23, 2014

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