Class: ST. LOUIS Displacement: 9,700 t. Length: 4266 Beam: 66 Draft: 2410 Machinery: 2 sets of vertical 4 cylinder triple expansion engins, 2 Screws, 16 Babcock and Wilcox boilers with a designed H.P. of 21,000 IPH Speed: 22 k. Coal Bunkers: 650 tons normal, 1776 tons maximum. Crew Complement: 673 peace time, 727 war time, Armament: 14-6 inch, 50 cal., 18-3 inch, 12-3 pdrs., 8-1 pdrs., 4-.30 cal. MG. Two of her 6-inch and 14 of her 3-inch guns were removed during WWI, and two 3-inch 50 cal. AA guns were added postwar. All guns were fitted with electric hoists, which would serve 6 rounds per minute to the 6 inch guns, and 15 rounds per minute to the 3 inch guns. She could carry a normal ammunition load of 519 tons. Her main battery could be fired in a 270° arc of fire. Armor: 4 inch belt, 2-3 inch deck, 2-4 inch gun protection, 3-5 inch Conning Tower.
The fourth St. Louis, Cruiser No. 20 was launched on 6 May 1905 at Neafie & Levy Company shipyards in Philadelphia, PA. Miss Gladys Bryant Smith of St. Louis, Missouri sponsored the St. Louis as she christened her with the breaking of a champagne bottle on her bow. Along with the dignitaries on the launching platform with Miss Smith were her two Maids of Honor Mary S. Wright and Rebecca Reeves Van Lennep.
Originally intended as an enlarged Olympia class of cruisers, the three ships of the St. Louis class (St. Louis, Milwaukee and Charleston) grew considerably in the design stage. Ongoing disputes over the merits of protection vs. speed resulted in a series of questionable "cut the baby in half" compromises. The intended 8-inch main armament was sacrificed for lighter 6-inch guns and, presumably, more speed. But the "more protection" faction demanded - and got - more side armor at the waterline. This cost speed, which necessitated a larger and heavier power plant ...and so on. Friedman's "American Cruisers" mentions this class as an early example of "mission creep" during the design stage.
St. Louis was commissioned into the navy on 18 August 1906, with Commander Nathaniel R. Usher in command. Following completion of her trials along the Virginia coast she was assigned to the Second Squadron of the Pacific Fleet.
On the day before she departed for her duties with the Pacific Fleet, Commander Usher was at the Navy Department discussing the upcoming cruise of 15,000 miles which, would take her around the Horn and finally to San Diego, California. Commander Usher commented on the report that there had been large-scale desertions form the St. Louis. He reported that the reports were very much exaggerated and that the only foundations for such a claim was from the order that he had issued prohibiting playing cards aboard the ship. All that he knew about the desertions was that 70 men out of a total crew of 630 men had overstayed their leave.
St. Louis departed Tomkinsville, New York on 15 May 1907 for Hampton Roads, VA. On 26 May she left Hampton Roads making her way along the east coast of South America in easy stages stopping at Port Castries, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo. On 23 June while in port in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil the Naval Club of Rio De Janeiro on the Mountain Cpreovado entertained the officers of the St. Louis. Brazilian Chief of Staff Admiral Maurity together with many other Brazilian naval officers accompanied the Americans to the summit. The officers of the St. Louis, after observing the beauty of the panoramic view from the mountaintop were escorted to a hotel half way down the mountain where breakfast was served. Admiral Maurity gave a toast to the health of President Roosevelt and to the American Navy, which was responded to by Commander Nathaniel R. Usher, Captain of the St. Louis. Brazilian Minister of Marine, Admiral Alencar ordered all Brazilian warships in the harbor to dress ships on 4 July in honor of the visit of the St. Louis and to accompany her to sea when she left Rio on the 4th of July 1907.
She departed Montevideo on 17th of July for Punta Areanas arriving there about the 22nd of July. The next day on the 23rd of July she made Valparaiso and Callao on the 8th of August. She made port in Acapulco, Mexico on the 22nd of August and finally arriving at San Diego, California on 31 August 1907. Operating off the west coast into the spring of 1908, she steamed from Puget Sound to Honolulu in June, and then cruised in Central American waters from July to October 1908. During March of 1909 St. Louis was at Bremerton, Washington.
According to a report in the August 12, 1909 edition of the Washington Post, several officers and enlisted men of the St. Louis were implicated in a smuggling operation. In early August when the St. Louis arrived in Honolulu from Samoa charges were filed by the United States District Attorney Robert W. Breckons and E. R Stackable of the Port Authority, against several men from the St. Louis. The charges were that some Samoan tapa cloth, which carries a stiff duty tax, was smuggled aboard the St. Louis when they left Samoa recently. This Samoan cloth had been sold to some local Honolulu stores, and that several arrests were forthcoming among the St. Louis crew.
On 5 November 1909, St. Louis returned to Puget Sound and was placed in reserve on 14 November 1909. Decommissioned on 3 May 1910, St. Louis was re-commissioned, in reserve, on 7 October 1911 at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. She departed Puget Sound on 13 July 1911 for San Francisco and brief service as receiving ship there. After undergoing repairs, 22 July 1911 to 28 February 1912, she joined the Pacific Reserve Fleet again on 12 March.
On the 16th of March 1912 orders were received for the Armored Cruisers, California, Colorado and South Dakota to steam at best speed to the Philippines. The United States Government had become very alarmed with the situation developing in China between the growing threat between Russia and Japan. The United States State Department believed the evidence showed that Russia and Japan were going to divide China between the two countries taking advantage of the unrest in China. The United States felt it was prudent to have a military force in the area and that is why the California, Colorado and South Dakota were dispatched in a hurry. As soon as the Maryland could return to San Diego with Secretary of State Frank Knox and re-coal she too would sail at best speed to join her sister ships in the Philippines. The Pennsylvania was also under orders to proceed to join them as soon as she could. In addition the battleship Oregon and the St. Louis and cruiser Raleigh would also sail to join the United States force assembling in the area. This force was under the command of Admiral Murdock aboard his flagship California, giving him the second largest force in the area next to the Japanese Navy.
From 14 July 1912 until 26 April 1913, she operated in support of the Oregon Naval Militia, and then returned to the Puget Sound Navy Yard to be placed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet for a year. By October 1913 the St. Louis now under the command of Captain Waldo Evans was helping the city of San Francisco to celebrate its Portola Festival. This was a festival that had started in 1909 in celebration of the founding of San Francisco by Don Gaspar de Portola and also to serve as a celebration of San Francisco’s rebirth after the deviating earthquake and fires. The navy was invited each year and the 1913 celebration saw the Pittsburgh, South Dakota, Buffalo, St. Louis, Charleston and the gunboat Yorktown along with eight other torpedo boats anchor just south of Yerba Buena Island about half-mile from the waterfront. Chinatown was always a favorite place for the fleet to visit and each building in Chinatown was decorated with red and yellow, the colors of the 4-day festival.
In April of 1914 St. Louis was now skippered by Commander Joseph Mason “Bull” Reeves. During CMDR Reeves term as captain from April 1914 through June of 1915, St. Louis served as a training ship, Receiving Ship and as Submarine support ship. Reeves later would retire from the Navy at the rank of Admiral and distinguished himself by served in the Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII and it was largely through Admiral Reeves foresight that the foundation of modern carrier striking forces are based on today.
Detached from the Reserve Fleet on 10 July 1916, St. Louis departed Puget Sound on July 21st for Honolulu. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on the 29th of July, where she commenced her next duty assignment as the tender for Submarine Division Three, Pacific Fleet, with additional duty as station ship, Pearl Harbor. As such St. Louis became the first major warship to be stationed at Pearl Harbor.
The German unprotected cruiser SMS Geier at the start of WWI in 1914 was ordered by the German High Command to join Admiral Graf Spee's East Asia Squadron out of Tsingtao, China. But the SMS Geier found that Admiral Graf Spee's Squadron had already departed on a commerce-raiding mission in the Pacific, which left the Geier alone in the eastern Pacific. The Geier's captain decided his under gunned and underpowered ship's best course of action would be to seek safety in a neutral port. Honolulu, Hawaii was selected as the most suitable port and the Geier made all possible speed to the port of Honolulu. On or about October 17, 1914 the Geier makes port at Honolulu. Outside the harbor the Japanese battleship Hizen cruised the three-mile limit waiting for the Geier to steam out past the three-mile limit but the Geier’s captain stayed in port not wanting to risk destruction from the guns of the Hizen. The British Ambassador Mr. Cecil Spring-Rice writes an official document to the United States Secretary of State asking for the United States to inter the German ships SMS Geier and SMS Locksun as in his words “…She is obviously made a false declaration of destination, there appears to be circumstantial evidence that she has already been engaged in furnishing supplies to a belligerent warship…” The Locksun was a German Collier and had arrived in Honolulu with at least 1,000 tons of coal aboard her. But the Locksun was known to depart from Manila with 3,215 tons of coal on August 16, 1914 and she had received an unknown amount of coal from another vessel enroute to Hawaii, but according to her captain she only had 250 tons of coal aboard her when she reached Hawaii. So obviously she had re-coaled some vessels and had taken on additional coal during her last voyage, giving the suspicion that she was a collier for the German fleet.
In an official letter dated November 12, 1914 from the United States Department of State to the German Ambassador, U. S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan informs him of the following; “I have the honor to advise you of the receipt of a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury, stating that a telegram has been received from the collector of customs at Honolulu, reporting that, on November 8, 1914, the German naval vessels Geier and Locksun were interned there.”
The Geier and Locksun spent the next three-years interned in Honolulu, when hostilities escalated between the United States and Germany in the spring of 1917. Two months before the United States declared war with Germany, local Honolulu observers saw smoke coming from the Geier and Locksun. The Honolulu Fire Department and an armed boarding party from St. Louis boarded the Geier and Locksun on 4 February 1917. The fires were put out and the crews of the German ships were arrested.
The boarding party from the St. Louis quickly discovered the Germans had not been idle during their 3-year stay in Honolulu. The German officers and crew took part in a series of messages relayed between Berlin and Mexico and Canada, in which the Germans were attempting to lead the two nations into hostile action against the United States. The German crew were taken as prisoners of war and brought to Ft. Douglas in the state of Utah. There were more than 500 German sailors held there at Ft. Douglas from the crews of the SMS Cormoran captured at Guam and the SMS Geier and Locksun.
The Geier became the property of the U.S. Navy, and underwent armament modifications to re-enter service as the USS Schurz. Subsequently, the Schurz spent most of its active duty in the Atlantic where it sank with the loss of one sailor after colliding with the SS Florida on June 21, 1918, 32-miles off the North Carolina coast.
This is a photo taken in Honolulu on the morning of February 4, 1917 with the USS St. Louis standing by just out side the harbor. In the foreground are two ships moored, the nearest ship is unidentified. The larger ship moored inboard is the German collier SMS Locksun. This is the first armed action the United States took during the First World War.
Placed in reduced commission on 6 April 1917, as the United States entered World War I, St. Louis departed Honolulu on 9 April to join the cruiser force engaged in escorting convoys bound for Europe. Calling first at San Diego, she took on board 517 National Naval Volunteers and apprentice seamen to bring her war complement to 823 officers and men; and, on 20 April she was placed in full commission. A month later, she arrived in the Panama Canal Zone and on 16 May was reported as being moored to the dock inside the mole at Balboa along with the USS Pueblo, USS Whipple and USS Truxtun. On 21 May, St. Louis transited the Canal with the 7th, 17th, 20th, 43d, 51st, and 55th companies of Marines, transporting them to Santiago de Cuba, then sailed for Philadelphia, arriving on 29 May 1917.
St. Louis' first convoy duty began on 17 June 1917 when she departed New York in escort of Group 4, American Expeditionary Force. This consisted of the following four troopships: SS Dakotan, under the command of Cmdr. C. Shackford with 101 casual troops on board, the SS Edward Lukenback, under the command of Lt. Cmdr. A. C. Pickens with 122 casual troops on board, the SS El Occidente, under the command of Lt. Cmdr. H. W. Osterhaus with 55 enlisted men of the Supply Company of the 26th Infantry and 28 other casual troops, the SS Montanan under the command of Cmdr. P. N. Olmstead with 87 casual troops. With Cmdr. M. E. Trench in command of the St. Louis, and along with the other escorts of Group 4, which consisted of the Armed Transport USS Hancock, Armed Collier Kanawha, the destroyers USS Shaw, USS Ammen, USS Flusser and USS Parker, safely escorted their charges across the Atlantic. This voyage was not without danger as an enemy submarine attacked Convoy Group 4 on June 29th at 10:30 in the morning. One torpedo passed within 50 yards of the Edward Lukenback and her captain, A.C. Pickens took evasive action to avoid being hit. The ship closest to the Lukenback was the Kanawha and her crew watched in horror thinking that the wake of the torpedo was going to hit the Lukenback. As the Lukenback made a swift change in course and the torpedo missed her, the crew of the Kanawha gave a rousing cheer as the torpedo passed clear. The Lukenback’s cargo consisted of 5,000 tons of ammunition and her deck was loaded with gasoline, hay and motor oil and oxy-acetylene tanks, which would have made for a terrible inferno if she were to be hit.
Returning to Boston for repairs on 19 July 1917, she had completed six additional voyages, escorting convoys bound from New York for ports in Britain and France by the end of the war. During these convoy escorts on January 7, 1918 Seaman Thomas Henry Schaeffer was lost his life as he was washed overboard. And Fireman 1st Class Basil Floyd Brumbaugh passed away due to respiratory problems on January 20, 1918. In March of 1918 the St. Louis was not immune to the effects of the Spanish Influenza Pandemic. As she was at the Navy Yard at Norfolk, VA St. Louis reported 73 cases of the flu resulting in some deaths. Seaman 2c Hilbert Charles Bell died on March 6, 1918 of an unknown illness, Apprentice Seaman Charles Edward Gibson died on June 6, 1918 of an unknown illness. Seaman 2c Elias William Whitmore dies on October 7, 1918 of respiratory disease.
The stress that these voyages put on the ship and crew was hard as there was no time for normal shipyard repairs. The crew had to perform maintenance while at sea and coaling in port the ship would take on as much as she could carry. Quite often the cruisers would use every bit of coal that was in the bunkers, sometimes almost running out before returning to port. The St. Louis on one trip arrived at Hampton Roads with barely 10 tons of coal in her bunkers. After the Armistice, St. Louis was immediately pressed into service returning troops to the United States. She returned 8,437 troops to Hoboken, New Jersey, from Brest, France, in seven round-trip crossings between 17 December 1918 and 17 July 1919, when she arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for repairs.
Designated CA-18 on 17 July 1920 St. Louis was assigned to postwar duty with the European Squadron. Because of tensions resulting from the Craeco-Turkish War St. Louis departed Philadelphia on 10 September 1920 Captain William Daniel Leahy in command, with a squadron of six destroyers for Constantinople, Turkey to protect American lives there. The fleet made stops in Sheerness, England on 26 September, disembarking military passengers, then stopped in Cherbourg, France and continued on to the Mediterranean and reported to the Commander, United States Naval Forces in Turkish Waters at Constantinople on 19 October. Standing up the Bosporus River from Constantinople on 13 November, St. Louis embarked refugees at Sevastopol and Yalta, returning them to Constantinople on 16 November. The following day, her crew formed boat landing parties to distribute food among refugees quartered aboard naval transports anchored in the Bosporus River. St. Louis continued her humanitarian duties at Constantinople and at Anatolian ports during the time of unrest caused by the Russian Civil War and the Turkish Revolution. She departed Asia Minor for Naples on 19 September 1921. She next called at Gibraltar; and, on 11 November, arrived at Philadelphia where, on completion of pre-inactivation overhaul, she was decommissioned on 3 March 1922. In reserve until struck from the Navy list on 20 March 1930; St. Louis' hulk was sold for scrapping on 13 August in accordance with the provisions of the London Treaty for the limitation and reduction of naval armament.
Men of the St. Louis in Halifax, Nova Scotia taking on stores, 28-30 October 1917.
Photo showing the St. Louis’s Forward 6-inch main gun being loaded and aimed as the Chief directs the men.
Note above the gun on the bridge hangs the ships bell.
Above is a photo showing Seaman Joseph James Johnston who was serving aboard the USS St. Louis during 1912. The sailor on the left is not identified. This view is of the forward 6-inch main gun of the St. Louis shown from the starboard side of the ship. At the upper left of the photo the bottom of the ship's bell can be seen. A better view of the bell can be seen in the photo above, showing another view of the same gun.
As I find names of men who sailed this ship I will add them here with what I know of each. If you know additional facts about these men or others who were crew of the USS St. Louis please e-mail them to: Joe Hartwell
As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Denver & U.S.S. St. Louis during World War I he was awarded the Navy Cross. His citation reads: "The Navy Cross is awarded to Captain Amon Bronson, Jr., U.S. Navy, for distinguished service in the line of his profession as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Denver and the U.S.S. St. Louis, engaged in the important, exacting and hazardous duty of transporting and escorting troops and supplies through waters infested with enemy submarines and mines."
By Ronald L. Bassett, MSgt, USAF Retired, Grandson of Oscar Bayer
Oscar Bayer was born to German emigrant parents on 21 August 1896, at Palmdale Colony, Los Angeles County, California. He had two older brothers (Arnold and John Louis) and two younger sisters (Hilda and Mary).
When he was about four years old his father abandoned the family, and sometime after the birth of his younger half-sister (Mary) his mother became ill and the children were either taken by the county for adoption, or taken in by other families. It is unknown exactly what happened to Oscar until 1910 when he is shown at age 13 as an adopted son living with John and Francisca (Guerado) Alipaz, on the 1910 Federal Census, Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, California, taken on 25 April 1910. John was born in Mexico; his wife’s father was also from Mexico, and her mother from California. It is believed the Alipaz family took Oscar in, but this was not a legal adoption, and the 1920 Census shows Oscar, having recently returned from WWI Navy service, again living with widow Mrs. Alipaz as her “ward”.
Prior to the entry of the United States into World War I, Oscar enlisted into the California National Naval Volunteers (NNV). At that time the NNV was the naval arm of the National Guard. It is believed that his brother, John Louis Bayer, may also have been in the NNV, as he also served in the Navy during the war.
Oscar was employed as a clerk with California Hardware Company, Los Angeles, when he was called up in April 1917, and returned to that job after the war.
The following narrative was created from Oscar’s five sea-logs, with appropriate notes added by the transcriber. He was also an avid photographer and his album of over 1100 photos has added visual support to his sea-logs.
Oscar was “called out” for duty on Saturday, 7 April 1917 and reported to a Los Angeles area armory. He worked at the armory until Thursday, 12 April, when he boarded a train to Mare Island [Vallejo, CA]. The next day he was stationed on the USS Huntington, and on 17 April was sworn into the regular US Navy. On Friday, 20 April, he returned to Los Angeles for liberty, and then on to San Diego where he was assigned to the USS Saint Louis, Cruiser-20. On Tuesday, 24 April, the ship departed for Panama and the East Coast to prepare for convoy escort duty across the North Sea.
The following day the St. Louis went to the aid of the USS Brutus, which had run aground on Cerros Island, but was unable to pull the ship free. After 12 days at sea the ship arrived at Balboa, Panama, and went into dry dock to have the hull scrapped clean, during which the crew underwent several days of training, drills and had shore leave. The St. Louis entered the first locks of the Panama Canal at 12 a.m. on 20 May, and after loading coal and stores, was at sea on 22 May.
No reason was given, except the notation “in trouble,” but it seems Oscar was a guest in the ship’s brig for three days while the ship stopped in Cuba to put on 1100 Marines, then departed for the Philadelphia Navy Yard, arriving on 29 May.
After 10 days in the yard, and shore leave, the ship departed for New York on 9 June, arriving in New York harbor the next day.
On Sunday, 17 June, the St. Louis departed for it’s first convoy escort, with five transports, 13 ships in all, including six Torpedo Boats. Research indicates this was Convoy #4, 1st American Expeditionary Force, with the USS Hancock as flagship. Other ships in the convoy noted by Oscar were the SS Edward Luchenback, Montana, Dakotan, and El Oxdental.
On 28 June the ship sighted a submarine and fired at it, but missed. Oscar notes a later ship got it. The next day he notes they are in “more danger than ever.”
During the voyage the crew had gun practice and drills, and picked up several mines. On 1 July, 14 days later, the convoy arrived at Bell Island, off of the French coast and was met by French destroyers. The next day they landed at the French port of Saint Nazaire where he was able to have some shore liberty prior to the ship departing on 8 July, arriving back in New York on 19 July. The convoy included the USS Charleston, Finland, Hancock and two other transports. He noted there was an eclipse of the moon on 5 July. The following ships were in also port at St. Nazaire: SS Kenawa, USS Parker DD-48, USS Patterson DD-36, USS Hancock, USS Flusser DD-20, Perkins DD-26, and Cummings DD-44.
On 15 July he felt ill, reported to sickbay with a 103 temperature, and was given a dose of Castor Oil. For the next six days he was in sickbay as the ship returned to New York in rough seas, and reports having a 104 fever on 20 July. He felt better for several days, but was back in sickbay again on 1 August diagnosed with bronchitis, and does not return to duty until 7 August, when he was assigned to the office of the ship’s Executive Officer as a Yeoman.
On Sunday, 5 August, the St. Louis left New York for Boston, arriving at the Navy Yards the next day, and was in dry dock 27-30 August.
During the 24 days at the Boston Navy Yards Oscar was in training with the Executive Officer, and made several shore trips into Boston. He also notes when he receives and answers mail. He coded all of his mail with initials. Some are obvious to family members: J.B.: Josephine Banbury, F.J.: Francis Johnson. Both ladies were close friends, and he married Josephine, or “Jo”, after the war.
On 10 August he notes, for unspecified reasons, about 100 of his fellow NNV shipmates were “busted” at least one rate. He received a “great” gray sweater from Josephine on Monday, 13 August, and was promoted to Seaman 2nd Class on the 16th. He had messenger duty on 20 August, going to the USS Virginia and Delaware.
Pre-war photos show Oscar on early vintage motorcycles, and on 25 August he notes he left the ship and rode a “Harley.” His friend, Petty Officer Julin, kept a motorcycle on board the ship and it was used for shore trips.
On 7 September he notes seeing three Subs leaving for Chili, and three more still in port. On 13 September he is appointed as a Yeoman, visits the USS Raleigh prior to the St. Louis leaving Boston the next day for Newport, Rhode Island. The 17th he notes seeing the USS San Francisco leave Newport, and the next day his ship leaves for Hampton Rhodes and Yorktown, Virginia. On 22 September the ship was ready for gun drills and target practice with the USS Charleston at Tangier Sound, and remains in that area until 12 October.
On 26 September the USS Minneapolis arrived with mail. The St. Louis returned to Rhode Island on 13 October, and on 20 October there were 288 NNV, 63 Marines, and 681 USN on board the ship. Preparing to get underway the ship takes on 2300 tons of coal, and leaves port on 26 October for Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. On Tuesday, 30 Oct. the St. Louis, USS Huntington, and USS Balich left Halifax for Liverpool, England, carrying the Presidential Envoy Mission. This included Colonel M.E. House, Presidential Envoy; Admiral William S. Benson, USN, Chief of Naval Operations; General Tasker Howard Bliss, Chief of Staff of the Army; and their staffs. Oscar reports very rough seas and on 2 November the USS Huntington lost an engine and was not making any speed. On Sunday, 4 Nov. the USS Downes DD-45, meets the convoy as they enter the “War Zone.” Two days later they are met by US destroyers 55, 57, 64 & 65 off the coast of Ireland, and arrived at Davenport, England, on 7 Octtober. The ship was in port for 7 days and Oscar took liberty to London, and made motorcycle trips with his friends Petty Officer Julin and “Rags” (W. Ragsdale).
With the USS Huntington, the St. Louis left Davenport on 15 November and had to wait until the “nets” were open. He notes, “Seven German Subs await us out side of here. No ships left for three days. Subs lay and wait.”
Although at sea for 9 days in rough weather, Oscar and Julin managed to tear down the motorcycle’s Henderson motor. The ship arrived at Hampton Rhodes on 27 November. Oscar received a large amount of mail, and sent a cablegram to “J.B.” [Josephine Banbury] the next day.
Oscar and Julin took the motorcycle to Newport News and visited an Army camp where he saw over 200 trucks and “mules & horses by the hundreds” waiting to be shipped.
On 5 December Oscar went on board the USS Berkley to visit his brother John Louis Bayer, but found that he had been transferred to Camp Farrgunt. There is a notation here showing a code he used someplace in his mail to let friends know where he was, or had been. For New York he used a check mark; Boston a plus sign; and so on.
On 8 December he states the USS Jacob Jones had been sunk by a German sub. The next day he had a visit by his brother Louis [stationed on the USS Mississippi] and they “had good talk of old times.”
On 11 December the ship left for New York in a snowstorm, arriving the next day, and after several days liberty the ship was coaled and ready to depart for the next convoy on 19 December. This convoy consisted of the St. Louis, a troop ship and 20 “tramps” transports, including both English and French ships.
On 22 December, 1917 Oscar notes he was recommended for Yeoman and had been learning how to use the typewriter. On Christmas Day they had cherry pie, but it was “a hell of a place to spend Christmas.” In very bad weather the convoy entered the “danger zone” on 29 December, and on the 31st the transports continued to port and the St. Louis reversed course, returning to the US, arriving Old Point, Virginia, on 8 January 1918. The harbor was full of ice, and he received lots of mail, including a package from the Red Cross.
On 13 January, 1918 Oscar took a medical exam for Yeoman, made Yeoman 3rd Class on the 15th, and the weather was cold and wet. The St. Louis was called to assist the USS Denver and Texcan after they collided on 16 January, and on the 19th they joined the USS Charleston and Chattanooga at the ice covered Tangier Sound for gunnery training and target practice. The ship returned to Hampton Rhodes on the 22nd, had a large transfer of men, a visit by a “flag” [Admiral], and more drills and target practice before leaving for New York on 11 February.
On 12 February they found the English ship El Solo beached about 8 miles from Egg Harbor inlet, and then continued to New York. Their next convoy departed on 16 February with 30 ships. The same day Oscar was transferred to the Communication Department. On the 23rd the ship’s dentist started on his teeth, and two days later they were in the “danger zone” again.
While on watch on 28 February he “caught a wireless” that two German subs were not far away. That same night they turned and headed back to Hampton Rhodes, arriving Sunday, 10 March. He notes that a man named Bell died of diphtheria on the voyage.
On their arrival the USS Mississippi and Pennsylvania were at the Rhodes, on the 12th he boarded the USS Pueblo for range practice, and on the 16th went over to the USS Mississippi to visit his brother.
From 19 to 22 March the ship was again at Tangier Sound for gun training, and on the 23rd Oscar boarded the USS Denver for armed guard crew training. On the 25th he was on the USS Vega and Tacoma to put out targets. On the 27th the St. Louis had an Admiral’s inspection, and Oscar notes the Admiral stated it was the cleanest ship he had seen in 40 years. On the 30th the ship departed Hampton Rhodes for Halifax to relieve the USS San Diego for convoy duty.
The evening of 9 April the St. Louis left Halifax with 9 ships and 20,000 troops. The ships included the Justicia (with 5000 troops on board), Lapland, Saxoria, Hester, Vectorian, Tunisian, Ulira, Metagana, and Cretie.
On 11 April Oscar started training in the Captain’s office, and learned he would be transferred to another ship in May. On 15 April a periscope was sighted, and the next day the St. Louis again reversed course and returned to Halifax on 23 April.
Oscar’s record was tarnished on the 22ne when he was put on report for “keeping his bedding below”, and had to meet “The Mast” on the 24th, then a Deck Court on the 26th for “disobeying orders”. He was found not guilty by the Captain and released.
On 27 April Oscar notes the ship entered New York harbor and passed the Statue of Liberty, and the next two days he and Julin took trips on the motorcycle to Coney Island and Central Park.
The first of May Oscar is transferred to the New York receiving ship to await orders. He spent nine days there, visited Ellis Island and several lady friends. He first received orders for the USS George Washington, but that was changed to the USS Plattsburg the former Atlantic cruise liner “City of New York”.
Oscar reported to the Plattsburg on 10 May, 1918 and was assigned as the ship’s Mail Orderly. He would have been part of the initial crew, as the ship was in the Navy Yards to be fitted out for war use, and was then moved to the pier at Hoboken, New York. On 2 June the ship was moved into the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and then to Pier 62 North River on the 8th. At 8:30 am, 12 June, the sleek former luxury cruse ship left for Liverpool, England, as part of a 13-ship convoy, many with troops, with the cruiser USS San Diego as escort.
On the 21st the San Diego left the convoy, the next day eight English destroyers met them and on the evening of the 23rd they entered Liverpool. On 2 July the Plattsburg and 10 ships departed for the US, escorted by English destroyers. On the 6th two of the ships in the convoy were sunk, and the Plattsburg arrived back in New York on the 11th. The next day Oscar received the US Postal Department’s appointment as Ship’s Mail Clerk and had to take an “oath of bond.”
On 21 July the Plattsburg and Harrisburg again departed New York in convoy with 15 ships, including USS Fredrick, two destroyers, seaplanes, kite balloons, and 40,000 troops. The USS Harrisburg was the sister ship to the Plattsburg, known as the “City of Paris” before the war, and were the fastest cruise ships of the time, and first with twin-screws.
On 2 August the convoy is off the coast of Scotland, is joined by a Derrigbale, and arrives in Liverpool the next day. The ship left on the 11th for the return trip with seven other ships, and arrived back in New York on the 21st. Only nine days later, on 30 August, Plattsburg again leaves port with seven ships bound for France, including four destroyers and the cruiser USS Fredrick. The convoy arrived Brest, France, on 12 September. Oscar notes that on the 21st the USS Mauswra and eight more troop ships arrived, and on the 22nd the USS Harrisburg arrived.
On 24 September the Plattsburg, Harrisburg and five destroyers departed Brest, the destroyers left the two sister ships the next day and they kept up a speed of 17 knots for most of the return trip to New York, arriving on 2 October. With another quick turnaround, on 11 Oct. the sister ships and the USS Maine (or Maui) depart for France, meeting a convoy of 12 ships on the 19th, eight American destroyers later the same day, and arriving at Brest, France, on the 21st.
While at Brest, Oscar notes the following movement of ships: 22nd, USS Mount Vernon left; 26th, the SS Von Stuben, Agamemnon, and Great Northern arrived; 27th, Great Northern left; 1 Nov, Von Stuben left. Indications that the war was drawing to a close were noted on Thursday, 31 Oct, as Turks asked for peace and submarines flew white (flags); and on Friday, 1 November, “Austria Hungary gave in.”
On Tuesday, 5 November, the Plattsburg left France for the USA, and on Monday, 11 November 1918, Oscar’s notation reads: “Up at 7am. Washed, shaved and got hair cut. Worked up all mail. Peace at last at 3 pm today, G.M.T.”
The Plattsburg arrived at New York on the 13th and departed again on the 23rd. On the 25th the Plattsburg lost one of it’s two propeller blades. Note: The sister ships were the first ever designed with two screws, just for this reason.
On 2 December the ship arrived at Portsmouth, England, and moved to Southampton the next day. Moved again on the 10th to Cowes [Cowesea?]. On 21 Dec. the USS Great Northern arrived with the replacement propeller blade, and the next day Oscar went for his Yeoman 1st Class examinations. The 25th, Christmas Day, Oscar notes “Cowes is a terrible place to spend Christmas.” On the 31st the ship moved back to Portsmouth, and on 4 January 1919, the ship had finished coaling.
There are no other dated entries after this, however other notes in the five sea-logs show that Oscar became a Yeoman First Class (Petty Officer) on 1 January 1919, and it is assumed that he remained with the Plattsburg until it was decommissioned in the fall of 1919.
Because the ship was in England, there may have been another sea-log started after the last entry on 4 January 1919. Navy personnel records show Oscar’s enlistment was from 18 April 1917 to 17 April 1920. Family records note that he was granted a pass from his ship in England to Paris, France, on 10 August 1919, and on 9 Sept. 1919 became a life member of the Association of Army & Navy Stores.
Although his enlistment was completed in April 1920, he must have been released previous to that date as he is shown on the 1920 US Census, taken 12 January 1920, living back at home in Los Angeles, California, and working as a wholesale hardware order clerk. He was working for the California Hardware Company when he went into the service, they sent him letters and packages during the war, so it is assumed he returned to a job at that store. A year or so later he would take and pass the Los Angeles Police Department examination, serve as a policeman, motorcycle officer, and detective, and it is believed was the first living officer awarded the LAPD Medal of Valor for stopping the gang that held up the Hellman Bank, with only his side arm and riding his motorcycle.
He owned and flew his own aircraft and was perhaps the first flying policeman in the west. He was also a member of the 478th Pursuit Squadron, serving as a Master Sergeant, until his untimely death on 16 April 1929, when his new Mono Coupe aircraft crashed on take off from Clover Field, Santa Monica California. At the time his funeral was reported to have been one of the largest ever seen, with numerous aircraft flying overhead and dropping rose peddles.
Bayer’s military legacy would be carried on by his son, Air Force Colonel Oscar Bayer Jr., a Korean War and Vietnam War combat pilot; a daughter who served in the US Marine Corps; and by three of his grandson’s - two who were helicopter pilots in Vietnam, and one who retired from the Air Force after 23 years active duty. Bayer’s law enforcement role was also carried on by a grandson who served as a county deputy sheriff.
A homeless boy who loved the adventure of early motorcycles; a ready citizen sailor who served when called and became a senior noncommissioned officer in less than three years; a respected and heroic police officer; and an early pioneer of the skies. Oscar Bayer’s life was a short 32 years, but experienced and achieved more than many other lifetimes put together.
Although the project took more than 13 months, and hundreds of hours to transcribe the sea-logs, scan, edit, research, identify and organize the hundreds of photographs -- It has been my pleasure to have relived this saga through my grandfather’s notes and photographs.
It would be a disservice not to mention the support provided by Oscar’s children: my Mother, Blanche Bayer Bassett; and her brothers Colonel Oscar Bayer, USAF retired, and Roy C. Bayer, as well as those family members who contributed funds to help keep the computer fed and the project afloat. Thank You!
Ronald L. “Smokey” Bassett
MSgt & GS-12, US Air Force, retired.
Grandson of Oscar Bayer