US Navy Support Vessels NANSHAN and ZAFIRO

By Patrick McSherry


Click here for NANSHAN ||| Click here for ZAFIRO

Collier NANSHAN

GENERAL:

NANSHAN suplied coal for Dewey's Asiatic Squadron. She was with the squadron during the Battle of Manila Bay/Cavite, but, as a collier, was not engaged.

BACKGROUND:

As tensions rose between the U.S. and Spain, Commodore Dewey realized he was in need of both coal and ammunition if he was going to engage the Spanish fleet. The U.S. government, being notified that all good coal in Dewey's area had been purchased by other nations, ordered coal from Cardiff, Wales. Cardiff coal was considered some of the best in the world. The coal was being shipped to Dewey aboard the NANSHAN. When the vessel arrived, with the government's permission, Dewey purchased the NANSHAN. on April 6, 1898 for $155,728 from Frank Smythe, a businessman who, it seems, worked a nondescript purchasing agent for Dewey.

Secretary of the Navy, John Long had ordered Dewey to arm the vessel, but he disobeyed. Dewey's reason for disobeying the Secretary's order was quite reasonable. Had he armed the vessel, it would have become a U.S. naval vessel and subject to the the neutrality laws concerning vessels of war. As it was, the vessel could just be an American merchant steamer. The Commodore also had the paperwork prepared to clear the vessel to use Guam as its home port. All that done, the vessel could be used to purchase supplies for the Squadron through virtually any neutral British, Chinese or Japanese port, and evade the neutrality laws. This wily act was imperative for Dewey, since his closest American port for resupply was 7,000 miles away!

To co-ordinate actions at sea, Dewey stationed one officer, Lt. Benjamin W. Hodges, the sole official U.S. navy presence, and several sailors aboard who would handle signalling and fleet maneuvers. For this reason, official navy records list the NANSHAN's sole crew complement as one person, though the functional crew was about 45 men.

On April 24, in company with the ZAFIRO, BOSTON, PETREL, and CONCORD, NANSHAN left Hong Kong Harbor for Mirs Bay. Here the Asiatic Squadron gathered to prepare to steam for the Philippines.

As the Asiatic Squadron approached the Philippines, the speed of the squadron was dictated by the NANSHAN, the slowest vessel in the squadron. On paper, the ZAFIRO, the squadron's other collier, was listed a the slowest vessel, but this did not hold true in reality.

May 1, the vessel entered Manila Bay with the remainder of the squadron. During the battle, NANSHAN joined ZAFIRO under the protection of the lightly armed McCULLOCH in an unfrequented portion of Manila Bay. After the battle, she continued to provide coal for the squadron.

After the war, she continued to serve in the Far East until returning to the west coast of the U.S. in May of 1913. She coaled ships off the west coast of the U.S., Mexico, and South America. On March 31, 1914, she went out of service for repairs at Mare Island. NANSHAN was fully commissioned for the first time on August 1, 1914 and given a true navy crew. She operated in the Pacific, between the west coast of the U.S. and Hawaii throughout World War One. In February,1918 she steamed through the Panama Canal heading for Hampton Roads. She soon returned to the west coast to continue her duties there until December, 1919.

Between December 1919, and December 1921, NANSHAN served as target repair ship. She was decommissioned at Mare Island on January 18, 1922, and was sold to John A. Bercovich Co., on July 29, 1922.

ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES:

NANSHAN had the advantage of being available for Dewey to purchase before the outbreak of the war. She was slow and by no means a warship.


TECHNOTES:

Classification: Steamer converted to Collier
Built: 1896
Comissioned: No official Navy commission until 1914.
Contractor: Grangemouth Dockyard Co., Grangemouth, Scotland.
Armament: None
Length: 238 feet
Beam: 39 feet, 1 inch
Mean draft: 21 feet, 3 inches
Net tonnage: 1,344 tons
Displacement: 5,059 tons
Complement: One officer assigned. While the actual functional crew was about 45 men,
the crew complement was officially listed as one man 
(See background section above for explanation).
Speed: 11 knots

Supply Ship ZAFIRO

GENERAL:

The ZAFIRO was a collier which had brought coal for Dewey's Asiatic Squadron. Upon her April 9, 1898 arrival, Zafiro was purchased for $87,597 from the China and Manila Steamship Co. and used it as a supply ship for the Squadron. The ZAFIRO was present in Manila Bay during the Battle of Manila Bay/Cavite, but was, for obvious reasons, not engaged.

BACKGROUND:

On April 9, 1898, as tensions of war with Spain grew, the U.S. government authorized Commodore Dewey to purchase a second supply vessel, in addition to the NANSHAN, which he already purchased. Contrary to the orders of Secretary of Navy Long to arm the vessel, Dewey instead left the vessel unarmed, and kept the British crew aboard, with the crew's eager agreement.

Dewey's reason for disobeying the Secretary's order was quite reasonable. Had he armed the vessel, it would have become a U.S. Naval vessel and subject to the the neutrality laws concerning vessels of war. As it was, the vessel could just be an American merchant steamer. The Commodore also had the paperwork prepared to clear the vessel to use Guam as its home port. All that done, the vessel could be used to purchase supplies for the Squadron through virtually any neutral British, Chinese or Japanese port and evade the neutrality laws. This wily act was imperative for Dewey, since his closest American port for resupply was 7,000 miles away!

To co-ordinate actions at sea, Dewey stationed one officer,  Ensign Henry A. Pearson, the sole official U.S. navy presence, and four sailors aboard who would handle signalling and fleet maneuvers. For this reason, official navy records list the ZAFIRO's sole crew complement as one person, though the functional crew was about 45 men.

On April 24, 1898, ZAFIRO left Hong Kong for Mirs Bay, the rendezvous point for the Asiatic Squadron. On May 1, the vessel entered Manila Bay with the remainder of the squadron. During the battle, the ZAFIRO joined NANSHAN under the protection of the lightly armed McCULLOCH in an unfrequented portion of Manila Bay.

Following the battle, Commodore Dewey had communicated with the Spanish authorities in Manila that if the American forces would be allowed to use the telegraph, he would continue to allow the Spanish to use it also. The Spanish refused the offer, and Dewey had the ZAFIRO drag for the cable and cut it. This effectively cut Manila and the Philippines off from the rest of the world. The closest telegraph station was Hong Kong. Also, on May 25, Capt. Gridley of the OLYMPIA, who was terminally ill, left Manila Bay on the first leg of his trip home to the U.S. on board the ZAFIRO. Sadly, Gridley died while aboard the COPTIC in Kobe, Japan, and did not return home alive.

During the attack on the battle for the city of Manila on August 13, 1898, the ZAFIRO served as the flagship of General Merritt, the commander of the U.S. Army's forces in the Philippines at that time. Joining his as a bodyguard was Company F of the 2nd Oregon Volunteer Infantry.

ZAFIRO continued to operate in and around the Philippines until June, 1904. Immediately after the War, she was officially unmanned by U.S. forces, and continued in this odd manner until May of 1900, when Ensign L. A. Cotten assumed command. She took part in the actions against the Filippino Insurgency, and in the campaigns against the Moro tribesmen.

ZAFRIO was placed out of commission at Cavite on June 10, 1904. On October 21, 1910, she was sold to J. W. Zeeve of Seattle, Washington.

ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES:

ZAFRIO was slow, unarmed and unarmored. Her slowness was a problem when taking part in Squadron-wide maneuvers.

An unused ticket for passage on the ZAFIRO


TECHNOTES:

Classification: Supply Ship
Built: 1884
Comissioned: No official Navy commission.
Contractor: Hall Russell & Co., Aberdeen Scotland.
Hull: Steel
Armament: None
Length: 213 feet, 8 1/2 inches
Beam: 31 feet, 9 1/2 inches
Mean draft: 15 feet, 7 inches
Gross tonnage: 1,062 tons
Net tonnage: 675 tons
Complement: One officer assigned. While the actual functional crew was about 45 men,
the crew complement was officially listed as one man 
(See background section above for explanation).
Speed: 10.5 knots

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).

DeBurgh, Joseph, "A Few Reminiscences of the First Expedition of American Troops to Manila," The American Oldtimer. Vol. VII, (Manila, P.I.: Pioneers Club of Manila, November 1939) 47.

Dewey, George, Autobiography of George Dewey (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987, originally published in 1913 by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York) ISBN 0-87021-028-9.

Goldstein, Donald M. and Katherine Dillon, The Spanish-American War : The Story and Photographs. (Washington: Prange Enterprises, 1998). Source of NANSHAN image.

Healy, Laurin Hall, and Kutner, Luis, The Admiral. (New York: Ziff Davis Publishing Co., 1944).

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


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