On Feb. 22, 1909, the Great White Fleet returned to Hampton Roads, Va., after its successful
round-the-world cruise. The voyage had not been
If the Great White Fleet had an Achilles’ heel, it was
logistics. To supply coal, the Navy had to charter more
than 40 British colliers.
The situation had not gone unnoticed in Congress. In
a speech, Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon, R-Ill.
stated: “When we read of the splendid American fleet
sailing around the world accompanied by colliers flying
foreign flags, we were humiliated. I was humiliated.”
Part of the problem was that the Navy’s colliers then
in service were basic merchant ships designed to deliv-
er coal to ships in port. As the experience of the Great
White Fleet confirmed, the logistics of sending coal
ships to meet up with warships proved challenging
when circumstances caused changes in schedules and
Ultimately, the solution would be to build ships
capable of replenishing fuel and other requirements on
the high seas.
As the Great White Fleet prepared to head across
the Pacific in mid-1908, Congress authorized the Navy
to construct “two fleet colliers of fourteen knots trial
speed, when carrying not less than twelve thousand
five hundred tons of cargo and bunker coal.”
In the pecking order of naval vessels, replenishment
ships hardly share the luster of battleships, cruisers
and other combatants. However, it can be argued that
few pairs of American warships authorized by
Congress achieved as much historical notoriety as the
two hulls authorized in 1908.
As part of Special Order 92, signed out on Sept. 12,
1908, by Secretary of the Navy Victor H. Metcalf, the
two ships were to be designated Jupiter (Fleet Collier
No. 3) and Cyclops (Fleet Collier No. 4).
Cyclops, built at William Cramp & Sons in
Philadelphia, was the first completed and eventually
mysteriously disappeared during a transit from
Barbados to Baltimore in March 1918. In his tome
U.S.S. Cyclops, author Marvin W. Barrish concurs with
speculation that “a combination of unfavorable weather and sea conditions combined with a cargo of manganese that may have been prone to shifting” may have
been responsible for the loss.
Jupiter would be laid down on Oct. 18, 1911, at the
Mare Island Navy Yard in Vallejo, Calif. The ship slid
down Mare Island’s No. 1 ways the following August
and work continued to prepare it for commissioning.
One unique distinction for Jupiter would be the Navy’s
decision to install a turbine-electric propulsion system.
Steam-turbine engines powered two huge electric
motors that drove the ship’s port and starboard shafts.
With new classes of battleships under design, the
Navy chose Jupiter, Cyclops and a third collier,
Neptune, for installation of three different propulsion
systems for evaluation. Cyclops received a three-cylin-der, vertical, triple expansion plant that was the standard for the era. Neptune featured a steam turbine plant
similar to that introduced in HMS Dreadnought.
Commissioned into the U.S. Navy on April 7, 1913,
the new fleet collier had a close call later that summer.
During a short transit near the Navy Coaling Station at
Tiburon, Calif., Jupiter nearly collided with a submarine operating at periscope depth. In taking an evasive
left full rudder, the fleet collier luckily turned into a
cove adjacent to the channel.
Having narrowly avoided running aground, the ship
then blew a fuse on its main electrical panel, locking
the steering gear. In extremis, Jupiter released its
anchor, which saved it from hitting an underwater
obstruction. With a strong ebb tide now threatening to
run Jupiter up against an astern reef, the chief engineer
was given four minutes to restore power so the ship
could again maneuver. Power was restored with 30
seconds to spare.
One can only imagine how naval aviation history
may have changed if there had been a collision or
grounding. Jupiter eventually would be converted to
become the Navy’s first aircraft carrier, Langley.
Jupiter’s first captain, Joseph Mason Reeves, would
eventually return to his reconfigured initial command
on Oct. 12, 1925, for duty as Commander, Aircraft
Squadrons, Battle Fleet. n
Source: Thomas Wildenberg, All the Factors of Victory:
Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves and the Origins of Carrier
Airpower, Brassey’s Inc., Washington, DC (2003).
Dr. David F. Winkler is an historian with the Naval Historical
First Replenishment Ships
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By DAVID F. WINKLER
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