THE "OREGON'S" GREAT VOYAGE.
BY LIEUTENANT EDWARD W. EBERLE, U.S.N.
With Pictures by George Varian and Howard F. Sprague.
[From an 1899 Edition of Century Magazine]
During the battle of Santiago Lieutenant Eberle was in command of the forward 13-inch turret of the Oregon.
The battle-ship Oregon was hauling out of dry-dock at the United States naval station on Puget Sound on the 16th of February, 1898, as we received the startling news of the destruction of the Maine in Havana harbor. For a time the officers and men seemed horrified, as they stood about the decks in little groups discussing the disaster and recalling the names of friends and shipmates who were serving on board the ill-fated ship. But the feeling of horror soon gave way to longing for an opportunity to avenge our comrades of the navy. It was a matter of congratulation that, come what might, the Oregon was in excellent condition, that she had her bilgekeels completed, and that she was ready to sail at high speed to any part of the globe.
The "Oregon" hauling out of dry-dock at Puget Sound Naval Station. At this moment news came of the destruction of the "Maine."
We were soon hurrying down the coast to San Francisco, where we received orders to prepare immediately for a long cruise. Here Captain Charles E. Clark came on board and took command. Everybody was happy over the prospect of going either to Cuba or to Manila, and our crew worked day and night taking on board sixteen hundred tons of coal, five hundred tons of ammunition, and stores to last six months. In the early morning of March 19, 1898, after working all the previous night, the Oregon sailed proudly out of San Francisco, the harbor of her christening, on what proved to be the most renowned cruise in modern naval history. The ship was deep in the water, displacing nearly twelve thousand tons; but she seemed to be animated with the same enthusiastic and eager spirit that filled the hearts of our men as she started on the four thousand-mile run to her first port, Callao, Peru, at a good speed, which she steadily maintained for sixteen days.
As soon as everything had been "shaken down" at sea, our drills began, and morning, noon, and night we exercised at battery drill and at battle-stations. Ordinary routine and drills for parade were abandoned, and each day the ship threw off some outward disguise of peace and became more nearly what she should be, a battle-ship. After clearing the headlands of San Francisco Bay, a course was set to the southward, and we had started on our long passage. Soon the weather became very warm, and we were truly "sailing through summer seas," or, more correctly speaking, through torrid seas. All hands suffered very much from the excessive heat, and we had to abandon our quarters below and live on deck. The range of the thermometer was from 95° to 150°, according to the part of the ship.
Nothing of note occurred until we approached the equator, when we received a royal visit from his gracious Majesty King Neptune, ruler of the seas. We had on board many landsmen who had never visited the king's domains, and on the day we crossed the "line" drills were suspended, in order to pay appropriate homage to King Neptune and his court when they came on board, with elaborate ceremony, to transform our landsmen into sons of the sea. Next day the war routine and drills were resumed, and they were not again suspended during the voyage.
In the early morning of the sixteenth day out, we anchored in the harbor of Callao, and found our coal-barges awaiting us, together with orders to leave port as soon as possible. We eagerly asked for war news, and found that there had been little change in the situation since our departure from San Francisco; our relations with Spain were still much strained. In the hope and belief that we were to continue on around the Horn, our men began the disagreeable task of coaling ship with light hearts · and merry songs. The coal simply poured on board day and night, and at the end of fifty hours we had taken in eleven hundred tons, which gave us seventeen hundred on board.
Photo Left: Coaling.
The Peruvians were very friendly indeed; but as we had heard that members of the Spanish colony in Lima had made threats against the ship, we took means to prevent attack or surprise. All sentries and lookouts were doubled and supplied with ammunition; the steam-cutters were armed and sent out to patrol around the ship all night, with orders to stop any boat that should approach within five hundred yards of the ship, and to fire or ram if necessary. The searchlights and six-pounders were kept ready for instant use. Although war had not been declared, we were taking no chances. These precautions were taken in every subsequent port, and our arrival in Callao really marks the date when the ship was placed on a war footing. At Callao secret orders were received from Washington, and only the captain knew what our future movements were to be. While in port we received warning of the presence on the Atlantic coast of South America of the Spanish torpedo-gunboat Temerario, and the Peruvian papers were filled with reports of terrible things that she was expected to accomplish in the Straits of Magellan. Although the Temerario was the bugaboo of many future cable
messages, and we were continually on the watch for her, she caused us little uneasiness, as we were prepared to give her a warm reception.
On the morning of April 7, after fifty hours in Callao harbor, fifty hours of continuous hard, hot work, the Oregon set sail. For some reason, many people in Callao had anxiously inquired about our time of sailing and our port of destination; but we had courteously answered that we did not know. Strangely enough, just as we were ready to leave, a dense fog shut down upon the harbor, and we silently hove up anchor and went to sea. When the fog had cleared away and the Oregon was not to be seen, no doubt the people who were so curious to learn of our movements charged us with playing a "Yankee trick" by stealing out of the harbor under cover of the fog, thus concealing our course.
Photo Right: Loading 13-Inch Ammunition.
In the run from Callao to the Straits of Magellan we anticipated severe weather. Sure enough, as soon as we had cleared the headlands, we encountered head winds and seas, which continued throughout the passage, increasing in force as we approached the coast of Patagonia, the seas becoming long and moderately heavy. Nevertheless, the ship was forced along at a speed of from twelve to thirteen and one half knots, and she behaved beautifully, although she took much water on board at times. However, our drills were never discontinued on account of the weather. During this passage all the guns' crews had daily target practice with subcaliber and small arms. On April 16 we were running before a moderate gale, with thick, rainy weather, trying to make the entrance to Magellan Straits; and it was a relief when, about noon, through a rift in the fog and rain, we sighted the Evangelistas and Cape Pillar. We went ahead full speed in order to make an anchorage at Tamar Island before dark; but, the gale increasing, we did not arrive there until after nightfall. Consequently we could not enter the inner anchorage between the many reefs, and were obliged to anchor outside in fifty-five fathoms of water. That proved to be a very wild and stormy night--a night of great anxiety for those on watch; but with two anchors down, and engines ready for instant use, we rode out one of the most severe gales that had been experienced along that storm-swept coast for many a month. The wind blew with hurricane force, the rain drove in torrents; in fact, it was one of those nights that try the souls of seafaring men: but the good ship Oregon held on well, as if aware that she was destined to render her country distinguished service. At early daylight the ship was under way for a high-speed spurt through the Magellan Straits, in order to make Punta Arenas before dark. We were now to make a run through the waters where the Temerario was to be expected. All guns were loaded and manned, and many lookouts were stationed "alow and aloft" to keep a search for smoke and for Spanish torpedo-vessels in hiding behind points of land. The narrow, tortuous channels of Magellan Straits offer excellent opportunities for the work of torpedo-vessels, enabling them to lie quietly under cover of the many headlands, and then dart out and discharge a torpedo into a passing ship without a moment's warning. We took every precaution against surprise, and our rapid-fire guns were ready to give torpedo-boats a warm greeting at very short notice. We kept in mid-channel whenever possible, and avoided coves. If a suspicious vessel should be sighted in the open strait at a safe distance, our plan was to head away from her and give her ample warning by hoisting the international signal: "Appearances threatening; be on your guard. Do not approach closer, at your peril." If the vessel should approach after having been warned, and after we had headed away from her, the orders were to open fire and sink her. However, not a vessel was sighted to interrupt the Oregon's notable run through Magellan Straits. It was indeed a remarkable display of speed for a battle-ship to maintain fifteen and one half knots per hour for eleven hours, using assisted draft, and this with her regular fire-room force, at the end of a rough passage of twenty-six hundred miles from Callao, since her contract speed was only for fifteen knots for four hours under forced draft with every condition favorable. Even with the highest speed ever made through Magellan Straits, we did not reach Punta Arenas until after dark, and we entered that port with the ship cleared for action, all hands at battle-stations, and with four search-lights carefully scrutinizing the harbor for the Temerario or other Spanish vessels. The moment our anchor was down we hoisted out the steam-cutters, and soon we had them patrolling around the ship to overhaul the approaching boats discovered by our search-lights. The captain of the port came on board, and felt very much relieved to find an unexpected American man-of-war; for, as he told us, the entire population had been in a high state of alarm over our arrival, believing that war had been declared between Chile and Argentine, and that the Oregon was an Argentine vessel coming to bombard the town. Punta Arenas has no cable communication, but the last steamer from Valparaiso had brought news that war was imminent between the United States and Spain. We were here joined by the Marietta, and both ships were soon rushing coal on board day and night, at the same time keeping patrol-boats on duty and guns loaded ready for use. At daylight of April 21, the Oregon and Marietta sailed from Punta Arenas under sealed orders, the latter vessel steaming ahead as a scout, in order to signal the approach of any suspicious vessel. In the afternoon we spoke an American steamer bound from Montevideo to the Klondike, which signaled that there were "prospects of peace."
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