U.S.S. OREGON

By Patrick McSherry

Click herefor a crew roster of the USS OREGON!

Click here for the account of OREGON's epic runa round South America
Click here for the diary of Fireman George W. Robinson
Click here for Ordinary Seaman Bertram Willard Edward's account of life aboard OREGON
Click here for William Reitzel's Manual for Operating the Oregon's Triple Expansion Seam Engines
Click here for William Reitzel's records of the OREGON's Travels from Sept. 1898 - Sept. 1901
Click here for the biography of Capt. Charles Clark
Click here for the biography of Asst. Engineer Joseph Mason Reeves
Click here to read the wartime letters of Asst. Engineer Joseph Mason Reeves
Other views of the OREGON: Bow view ||| Broadside

GENERAL:

The USS OREGON was one of the newest American battleships in 1898. Her run from the Pacific to the Atlantic at the outbreak of hostilities was a highlight of the conflict. OREGON took part in the destruction of the Spanish Fleet at Santiago, Cuba, and is credited for actions against the Spanish vessels INFANTA MARIA TERESA, VISCAYA, ALMIRANTE OQUENDO, PLUTON, and FUROR in that engagement.
 

BACKGROUND:

The USS OREGON was one of the new fleet of battleships promoted a special board created in 1890 to recommend the manner in which to update the U.S. Navy so that it could defend adequately against the imperial world powers, as well as by the nations of South America (several of which had larger vessels than any in the U.S. Navy). The board realized the need for battleships with a long-range cruising capability. However, many members of the United States Congress were in favor of Isolationism, and opposed long-range battleships as they were obviously not intended strictly for coastal defense. To assuage fears of the Isolationists, the new class of vessels were called "Sea-going coast-line Battleships". The name, an all-covering oxymoron, was thought to be particularly brilliant and useful by Theodore Roosevelt after he became Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy. Three ships were authorized for construction, INDIANA BB-1, MASSACHUSETTS BB-2, and OREGON BB-3, making the OREGON one of the United States' first true battleships. The three ships were authorized on June 30, 1890.

At the outbreak of the War, OREGON was transferred from the Pacific Coast to the waters off Florida. The 14,700 mile cruise, under the command of Capt. Charles Clark, was done with the utmost speed, but still took sixty-seven days. The ship did not even put into port when a coal bunker was discovered to be on fire adjacent to a magazine. The race of the USS OREGON around South America and through the stormy Strait of Magellan to join the Atlantic Fleet was closely followed by the American public. The voyage was of the factors that drove home the need for a canal linking the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

During the Battle of Santiago, OREGON was very actively involved. OREGON was the only vessel in the American Squadron that was able to obtain and exceed her rated speed, as a result of a combination of factors, reflecting Clark's preparedness. The vessel had kept all of her engibes engaged rather than disconnecting some as some vessel commanders had ordered to save coal. In addition, Clark had preserved his best coal for use in an engagement. It was the guns of the OREGON, which bracketed the CRISTOBAL COLON, that caused the COLON's commander to decide to beach the vessel, ending the battle.

In 1900, OREGON carried troops to China during the Boxer Rebellion. She was decommissioned in April, 1903. OREGON was recommissioned in August, 1911 but remained mostly inactive and was placed in reserve in September, 1914. Returned to full commission in January 1915, she reverted again to reserve status in Feburary, 1916. America's entry into World War I saw OREGON return to full commission on April 7, 1917. During the war she was flagship of the Pacific Fleet and escorted troop transports to Vladivostok, Russia. Folling the war, she was decommissioned in June, 1919, but was recommissioned for ceremonial duties from August to October, 1919. Under the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty, OREGON was rendered incapable of service and reclassified IX 22 on January 4, 1924.

In 1925 she became a floating monument in Portland, Oregon. Well cared for and used as a meeting place and military museum by local veteran's groups, OREGON's survival for posterity seemed certain. Alas, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Governor of Oregon, in an ignorant grandstand play, offered her back to the Navy as a "replacment" for some of the battleships lost on December 7, 1941. A proposal to outfit her for convoy escort duty had at least some merit, as she was theoretically faster than the "Liberty Ships" then under construction. This was not pursued, however, and in 1943 OREGON was towed to Kalama, Washington, down the Columbia River from Portland, gutted, stripped to the main deck and brought back into service as a floating ammunition magazine.

After the war, the unmanned hulk broke lose from her moorings at Guam during a hurricane. She was found, undamaged, five hundred miles away! The remains of USS OREGON were scrapped in Japan in 1956. Her mast had been preserved during the war and is now displayed near her former mooring on the waterfront at Portland.

ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES:

The greatest advantage of this class of battleships was the capacity of the coal bunkers, allowing the ships to cross the ocean without recoaling. They were the first American vessels that combined this capability with heavy armor and armament, a great advantage in times of war.

The armor thickness and size of the main battery exceeded any that on any other ship in the US fleet, including the newer classes of battleships.

One disadvantage of OREGON and her sisters was a relativly low freeboard, which made the guns difficult to operate in heavy seas.

The main gun mountings were not centralized, so when the guns were aimed to the side, the ship would submerge farther on the side of the vessel to which the guns were aimed. This limited the elevation the guns could attain. Also, this resulted in the main armor belt being lower one side than designed and higher on the other when the guns were being aimed in this manner. The situation was eventaully rectified by adding counter-balances to the rear of the turrets. The mountings themselves continued to be a source of mechanical difficulty.

The ship rolled excessively until retrofitted with bilge keels.

As was typical for ships of this time period, coal bunkers were placed along the exterior hull of the ship to act as additional armor protecting the magazines. The proximity of the coal bunkers to the magazines created a danger that could result in the loss of the vessel. Spontaneous combustion of coal dust was not unusual, and a coal bunker fire could ignite an adjacent magazine. The OREGON was faced with such a fire on its race to join the Atlantic Fleet. However, the fire was extinguished without incident.


TECHNOTES:

Classification: Sea-Going Coast-Line Battleship, BB-3
Keel Laid: November 19, 1891
Completed: November 19, 1893
Comissioned: July 15, 1896
Rig: One military mast.
Armament: Four 13" barbette guns
Eight 8" barbette guns
Four 6" guns
Twenty 6 pounders
Six 1 pounders
Two Colt Gatling Guns (for landing parties)
One 3" field piece (for landing parties)
Three Whitehead torpedo tubes
Contractor: Union Iron Works, San Francisco, CA
Length: 348 feet
Beam: 69 feet 3 inches
Mean draft: 24 feet
Max. draft fully loaded: 27 feet, 1-3/4 inches
Displacement: 10,288 tons
Complement: 32 officers and 441 enlisted men Commanded by Capt. C. E. Clark until August 6, 1898 when Capt. A. S. Barker assumed command.
Engine type: Vertical triple expansion engines with a 42 inch stroke,
generating 11,111 hp. Twin screw.
Boiler type: Four double-ended and two single ended cylindrical boilers.
Speed: 16.79 knots
Coal bunker capacity: 1,594 tons
Endurance @ 10 knots:  5,500 nautical miles
Armor: 18 inches on sides, 6 -17 inches on turrets
Cost: $3,180,000

Bibliography

(As a service to our readers, clicking on title in red will take you to that book on Amazon.com)

Blow, Michael, A Ship to Remember , (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992)..

Clerk of Joint Comittee on Printing, "The Abridgement of Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress", Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899. 4 vols. (all are documents relating to the war)

Gardiner, Robert, Ed., "Conway's History of the Ship: Steam, Steel & Shellfire - The Steam Warship 1815-1905", London: Conway Maritime Press Ltd., 1992.

McCullough, David, Path Between the Seas : the Creation of the Panama Canal, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977).

Naval History Department, Navy Department, "Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships", Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1959.

Reynolds, Francis J. "The United States Navy", New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1918

Sternlicht, Sanford, McKinley's Bulldog, the Battleship Oregon . (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, Inc., 1977).


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