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 "replacement" 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.
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 relatively 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.
|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|
|Beam:||69 feet 3 inches|
|Mean draft:||24 feet|
|Max. draft fully loaded:||27 feet, 1-3/4 inches|
|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.|
|Coal bunker capacity:||1,594 tons|
|Endurance @ 10 knots:||5,500 nautical miles|
|Armor:||18 inches on sides, 6 -17 inches on turrets|
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