Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The waters of Southern California yield up a ghost

The wreck of a Coast Guard cutter that played a key role in a major Pacific battle of the Spanish-American War has been positively identified off Point Conception on the southern California coast, officials with the Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday.

The biggest vessel in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service when it was commissioned in 1897, the McCulloch drew the first enemy fire — and suffered the only American crewman to die during the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War.
Approaching the Spanish positions in early morning darkness of April 30, 1898, a sudden fire of coal soot in  the McCulloch’s stack attracted the Spanish gunners’ attention. Chief Engineer Frank Randall was fighting the fire when he succumbed to heat and exhaustion, according to a NOAA history of the ship.
Led by Adm. Thomas E. Dewey on the cruiser Olympia, the U.S. squadron destroyed the Spanish fleet, where 381 sailors died in the one-sided outcome. That victory confirmed the U.S. as a major power in the Pacific — Dewey dispatched the McCulloch, his fastest vessel, to Hong Kong to spread the news. The McCulloch then returned stateside, to a career patrolling the eastern side of that sea frontier from its base at San Francisco.
The cutter ranged from the Mexico border up to Cape Blanco in Oregon. She later became part of the Bering Sea Patrol, enforcing fur seal regulations around the Pribilof Islands, and serving as a floating courtroom for federal authority in the Alaska territory.
Built at a cost of $200,000 by William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, Pa., in 1896, the McCulloch was rated for ice, with a hull built using wood planks over steel framing. With a single triple-expansion marine steam engine, the McCulloch had a cruising speed of 17 knots — and was still rigged for sail for extended range, as a barkentine with three masts.
On June 13, 1917, the cutter was proceeding cautiously in dense fog, returning from San Pedro, Calif., to San Francisco and four miles west-northwest of Point Conception, when Capt. John C. Cantwell and Ensign William Mayne heard a steamer’s fog signal off the starboard bow, according to a NOAA history.
“Nearby, the passenger steamship Governor was southbound from San Francisco to San Pedro. Captain Howard C. Thomas, master of the Governor, heard McCulloch’s fog signal and gave the order ‘full speed astern’ and to blow three whistles to indicate the vessel’s movement full speed astern,” Cantwell recounted. “McCulloch was off the Governor’s port bow when the two ships collided, striking the McCulloch’s starboard side forward of the pilot house, holing the cutter. All of McCulloch’s crew were taken safely aboard Governor before the cutter sank to the sea floor 35 minutes later.”


  1. A hull built to resist ice - but not ramming.

    1. Should'a used those torpedoes while there was still time.