USS Yorktown (PG-1)
Steel-Hulled Gunboat Warship
The USS Yorktown PG-1 gunboat of 1889 was commissioned and decommissioned several times in her career before official retirement in 1919.
Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited:
The USS Yorktown (PG-1), or "Patrol Gunboat" (also recognized as a "third class" cruiser) was the lead ship of her Yorktown-class, having a 32-year service record and was the second ship named for the Battle of Yorktown of the American Revolution. USS Yorktown proved a steel-hulled gunboat, the next logical and evolutionary step between the 1839 wooden-hulled USS Yorktown sloop-of-war and the first true destroyer vessel, the USS Bainbridge (DD-1) of 1903. The gunboat was a blue and brown water vessel, meaning operations in both deep and shallow sources, that became the symbol of the period of colonial imperialism known as "Gunboat Diplomacy". The European powers would intimidate other countries like China and Japan into granting trade concessions or naval bases on their shores with such vessels - weaker nations with little to say against a foreign gunboat patrolling their rivers and harbors.
The US Navy department also saw USS Yorktown as a "dispatch boat" when she was assigned to the fleet, carrying dispatches, or mail, to larger ships or from ship to and from shore posts. Smaller, fast ships of the fleet, like the Yorktown, acted the way the Army used runners to deliver their land-based dispatches for, at this time, the communication between ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore was done by semaphore, bells and flashing lights but these, of course, were limited to line-of-sight (LoS) in fair weather or ships in close range. The wireless telegraph was not invented until the last half of the 1890s and, by the turn of the century, all major navies were adopting this improved form of communications technology on ships to reduce the need for a dispatch boat.
Yorktown's hull was built from steel and was 244 feet, 5 inches (74.50 meters) in length with a beam of 36 feet (11 meters). She was considered to have a shallow draft, drawing only 14 feet (4.3 meters) of water under the keel, allowing her to navigate major rivers and stay close to the shore line even with a displacement of 1,710 tons standard. Her primary source of propulsion was two sets of triple expansion boilers developing 3,200 horse power and resulting in a maximum water-going speed of 17 knots through rotation of twin screws under the hull. Her internal storage capacity had room for 400 tons of coal, a sufficient amount to enable the ship to stay at sea for approximately 36 days on steam power (sails complementing the steam propulsion) allowing for an operational range of 8,500 miles at 10 knots.
Yorktown's secondary form of propulsion was the tried-and-true method of sailing. She was rigged as a three-masted schooner allowing her to unfurl up to 6,000 square feet of canvas. Yorktown would use her sail power to augment her coal usage and to stretch her fuel greatly while cruising opens ea. This practice would allow Yorktown to stay at sea for many weeks beyond the true supply of coal aboard. It was only when the coal supply had run its course that she would be returned to port for resupply, giving up her power on the sea and allowing enemy navies to keep track of her whereabouts. The Navy paid $445,000 per ship of this class.
Yorktown's primary design function was as a gun platform with her main armament of 6 x 6" /30 cal (15.2cm / 152mm) main guns firing a 105lb (47.6 kg) shell with a muzzle velocity of about 1,950 feet per second (590 m/s). The 6" shell had a maximum range of about 9,000 yards (8,200 meters) when fired at maximum elevation. The armor-piercing (AP) shells could penetrate up to 13" of iron plate particularly at close range. Two of the 6" batteries were forward and two held aft with one managed along portside and the other along starboard close to amidships. All six batteries were fitted with steel shields to protect the gunnery crew. The secondary armament consisted of 2 x 6-pounder (2.7 kg) guns, 2 x 3-pounder (1.4 kg) guns, 2 x 1-pounder (0.45 kg) guns and 2 x 0.30" (7.6mm) machine guns used for repelling boarders. Her weaponry would naturally change over time and become more consolidated through the refits of 1905, 1910, 1911, 1914 and 1918.
Yorktown was one of the first ships to have a hull and deck constructed of steel. The design was to place a 0.5" steel deck from the bow to stern, down on the hull below the water line. This steel deck reinforced the hull and protected the internal machinery spaces, shell and powder magazines as well as crew living quarters and steering gear. Her conning tower managed 2" of armor protection.
After her sea trials, Yorktown was assigned to the Squadron of Evolution (the "White Squadron") that was comprised of the newest United States Navy ships of steel hulls and steam propulsion. She participated in the Baltimore Crises of 1891 when sailors of the USS Baltimore were attacked by Chilean citizens - two sailors were killed and eighteen injured. President Benjamin Harrison and the United States Congress applied pressure on the Chilean government to pay $75,000 in gold as reparations to the sailor's families.
Yorktown was then transferred to the Asiatic Squadron to lend aid to British vessels attempting to stop the slaughter of seals in the North Pacific. Yorktown arrived at Port Townsend, Washington, at the end of April 1892 and, after resupply and coaling, the gunboat sailed near the ice flows of the seal rookeries of the Pribilof Islands. Over a hundred schooners were involved in killing the seals for their valuable hides. Yorktown guarded the passes to the Bering Sea against the sealers, not returning to the United States until 1898.
In dire need of repair due to the rigors of operating in arctic waters, she was decommissioned for one year as fixes were applied. In 1899, after being crewed and supplied, she sailed for Baler Bay in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War. She reached the mainland on the west coast of Luzon, on April 11th, 1899. From there, Yorktown departed Manila in early April of 1900, bound for China during the Boxer Rebellion in support of the China Relief Expedition forces in the area. In 1903, she returned to America for repairs and remained out of commission until 1906. In 1907, she returned to Alaskan waters and continued seal patrol duties during the sealing seasons and patrolling the west coast of Latin America until 1912.
Recalled for repairs once more, this time in July of 1912, Yorktown returned to sea in April of 1913. She returned to coastal patrol off the west coasts of Central and South America with her main port being San Diego and Mare Island until 1918. In April, she was ordered to the Port of New York via the Panama Canal, arriving at New York on August 20th. Yorktown patrolled the east coast and provided security for convoys ranging from the Port of New York to Halifax. This duty took her through the end of World War 1 (1914-1918). Nearing the end of her useful service life, Yorktown was ordered to return to San Diego, California by way of the Panama Canal and arrived there in February of 1919. In June, she was decommissioned and sold off in 1921 for scrap.