USS Olympia (C-6)
Protected Cruiser Warship
USS Olympia is the oldest steel warship still afloat - today serving as a floating museum.
Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited:
Olympia C-6 was laid down in June 1891 at the Union Iron Works, San Francisco, California. She was launched in November of 1892 at a cost of $ 1,796,000 in 1895 dollars. The Navy was expanding the fleet building Olympia and other cruisers that could be used in the open oceans beyond coastal defense. She was a type of warship labeled "protected" and built in the late 19th century. Protected refers to the 5 inch deck armor that offered defense from shrapnel caused by exploding shells or plunging fire that safeguarded important machinery below deck. To that time, the Olympia type was the largest and fastest cruiser built by the Navy, with the power being a new type of expanded triple steam engine. However the Navy still only partially trusted steam so she retained a limited suite of sails for emergency use. She was also one of the first naval ships to have electricity and powered steering gear.
Searching for Olympia's class, all protected cruisers C-1 thru C-16 were reviewed. It seems the Navy did not assign cruisers to a class until 1892 when the USS Columbia C-12 was designated the first in her class of two vessels, the second being the USS Minneapolis C-13. All 16 cruisers were built in a period between 1888 and 1895.
The Olympia is well known for two reasons, first the USS Olympia was the flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay on in 1895 during the Spanish-American War. Dewey sailed to Manila Bay, that evening; he summoned his captains and developed his plan of attack for the next evening. After sundown, the US Asiatic Squadron entered the bay, with the goal of attacking the Spanish fleet at dawn. Dewey formed his ships into line of battle with Olympia in the lead. Dewey's squadron approached the Spanish fleet's position, at 5:15 AM, the US Fleet was fired upon, Dewey decided to close the distance. When the position was right Dewey gave the famous order "You may fire when ready, Gridley," to Olympia's captain. The US Squadron was steaming in a circle allowing the ships to fire first with their starboard guns and then their port guns as they circled back. For the next 90 minutes, Dewey pounded the Spanish, destroying several boat attacks. Dewey received information that his squadron was low on ammunition and decided to withdraw into the bay to regroup. Finding the report was an error he reentered the bay around 11 am finding only one Spanish ship was firing. Dewey's ships closed and finished the battle, reducing the enemy ships to burning hulks. When the firing ended, the Spanish fleet had 371 casualties, on the other side was 9 American wounded with no losses due to enemy fire however 1 sailor died when he suffered a heart attack.
From 1902 to 1906, Olympia served in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean and she served as a United States Naval Academy training ship. Olympia spent World War I and post-war years in the Atlantic and as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. She was reclassified as CA-15 on July 17, 1920, then CL-15 on August 8, 1921. In October-November 1921, she brought home the body of WW I Unknown Soldier to America. As a point of interest Olympia was the first ship in the U.S. Navy to have a mechanically chilled fresh water dispenser. The sailors called the small barrel or butt, the Scuttlebutt. Sailors exchanged gossip when they gathered at the scuttlebutt for a drink of water so scuttlebutt became slang for gossip or rumors. Today it's the water cooler at work, gossip is the same.
The cruiser was decommissioned in 1922 and stricken in 1957. As of 2008, Olympia is a museum ship at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and is the oldest steel warship still afloat.