Auxiliary Cruisers ST. PAUL and ST. LOUIS

By Patrick McSherry 
An Image of the St. LOUIS
Click here for a view of the ST. PAUL embarking troops for Puerto Rico

Click here for a partial crew roster of the ST. LOUIS
Click here for a partial crew roster of the ST. PAUL
Click here for a Biography of Capt. Charles Sigsbee, U.S.S. ST. PAUL

Click here for a biography of Ensign Wilfred Van Nest Powelson, U.S.S. ST. PAUL
Click here to read a letter from Walter Bennett of the USS ST. PAUL to William Karg of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Co. M

General:

The ST. PAUL and its sister ship, the ST. LOUIS, were ocean liners sailing with American Lines which were converted to "swift auxiliary cruisers" during the war. While serving in this role the ST. PAUL captured the British steamer RESTORMEL bound for Santiago, and the sailing vessel WARY bound for Manzanillo. Also, she disabled the Spanish torpedo boat destroyer TERROR.
 

Background:

The ST. PAUL and ST. LOUIS steamed between England and New York for the American Lines. These ships were very successful a liners, in spite of their smaller size and lesser luxury than many contemporary foreign vessels. They could each carry 1340 passengers in civillian service.

These ships were provided with seventeen watertight compartments, and additional compartments surrounding the machinery.

In 1891, Congress granted a subsidy to owners of privately owned vessels carrying U.S. Mail in an effort to create an "auxiliary navy". The act required that ship owners obtaining the subsidy make their vessels available to the navy in times of war. By 1896, twenty-nine vessels made up the "auxiliary navy". Of those vessels, ST. PAUL and St. LOUIS were the largest.

During the war, the ST. PAUL saw active duty in the waters around Cuba, operating under the command of Capt. Charles Sigsbee, who had formerly commanded the ill-fated Battleship MAINE. Also serving on her crew was Ensign Wilfred Powelson, who had aided the Sampson Board in its investigation of the loss of the MAINE. St.PAUL cpatured British steamer RESTORMEL bound for Santiago, and the sailing vessel WARY bound for Manzanillo. The RESTORMEL was an especially good capture as she carried 2,400 tons of coal, a resource badly needed by the blockading squadron. Also, it should be noted that ST. PAUL patrolled off of Santiago, Cuba, but did not notice the presence of Admiral Cervera's Spanish Squadron, though some of the ships could be seen in the harbor entrance. The vessel's cre did belatedly note the squadron's presence, but only after this had already been noted by the BROOKLYN.

In addition to service off Cuba, the St. Paul operated off Puerto Rico, blockading the port of San Juan in late June, 1898. At 1:30 pm, June 22, 1898, the Spanish torpedo boat destroyer TERROR sortied from San Juan and attacked the St. Paul. The 370 ton vessel was severely damaged by the St. Paul's fire and had to be beached. The TERROR was repaired in San Juan and left for Spain on September 14, 1898, after the end of hostilities.

After the war, the ships reverted to ocean liners. In 1900 the ST. PAUL collided with a submerged wreck and lost its starboard propeller and destroyed the starboard engine. In 1908 it collided with the HMS GLADIATOR, killing twenty-seven.

In World War I, the ST. PAUL was outfitted as the troopship KNOXVILLE, but capsized in New York before the work was completed. She was returned to American Lines. She was repaired and used until being scrapped in 1923.
 

Advantages/Disadvantages:

The one major advantage of these vessels was their speed. They could overtake slow-moving foreign merchant vessels and could outrun most foreign naval vessels. The ships had many disadvantages, stemming from the fact that they were not built as military vessels. They were undergunned for their size. They had no armor, and had a very combustible interior. Since they were not constructed as naval vessels, and were of such a large size, the communications system aboard ship was cumbersome and made it difficult for the commanding officers to maintain communication with all portions of the vessel in times of emergency.

Lastly, since the vessels were put into service as auxiliary cruisers, the crewmen were not previously familiar with the ships, nor had they previously worked together as a unit. This cohesion and innate knowledge of a vessel can be the most critical factors in the operation of a naval vessel. The crews of the ST. PAUL and ST. LOUIS did not have the time to develop these aspects of their training before being sent into action.


Technotes (for ST. PAUL):

Classification: Auxiliary Cruiser
Completed: 1895
Navy Comissioning: April 20, 1898
Rig: Two masts, schooner rig.
Armament: Six 5 inch rapid fire guns
Six 6-pounder guns
Six 3 pounder guns
Contractor: William Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia, PA.
Length: 554 feet
Beam: 63 feet
Mean draft: 25 feet
Displacement: 14,910 tons
Complement: 24 officers and 357 men.
Commanded by Capt. C. D. Sigsbee from May 5, 1898 until the end of the war. (Sigsbee was the commanding officer of the USS MAINE at the time of its loss.)
Engine type: Quadruple expansion engines generating  over 20,000 hp. Twin screw.
Speed: 22 knots
Coal bunker capacity: 2677 tons

Bibliography:

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

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. Vols. 2, 4.

Cox, Martin, Titanic Mailing List (Personal Internet Contact)

Jeffers, H. Paul, Colonel Roosevelt: Theodore Roosevelt Goes to War, 1897-1898. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996).

Miller, William H., The First Great Ocean Liners in Photographs. . New York: Dover Publications, 1984.

Rivero, Captain Angel, Crónica de la Guerra Hispanoamericana en Puerto Rico, Editorial Edil, Inc., Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, 1972 (reprint, first published 1921). Thanks to Ramiro Cruz.

The American Navy/Cuba and the Wrecked Maine/The Hawaiian Islands, (Chicago: George M. Hill Company, 1898).


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