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.
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."