Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Figure 1: USS Santee (1917-1918) painted in "dazzle" camouflage, circa late 1917 or early 1918. Formerly the S.S. Arvonian (British Freighter, 1905), this ship became HMS Bendish in mid-1917. She was loaned to the U.S. Navy and placed in commission in late November 1917. Soon renamed Santee and employed as a "decoy ship" (or "Q-ship") for anti-submarine patrols, she was torpedoed on 27 December 1917. After repairs she was returned to the Royal Navy and again named Bendish. The freighter resumed her commercial career after World War I and during the next four decades bore the names Arvonian, Brookvale, Spidola and Rudau. She was broken up in 1958. Courtesy Captain David C. Hanrahan, USN, November 1929. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: Ship's officers of the USS Santee wearing civilian clothing as part of Santee's disguise as an anti-submarine "decoy ship", circa late 1917 or early 1918. Seated in front are (left to right): Lieutenant John R. Peterson, Jr., Executive Officer and Navigator; Commander David C. Hanrahan, Commanding Officer; and Lieutenant Robert E.P. Elmer, Gunnery Watch. Standing are (left to right): Acting Pay Clerk John P. Killeen; Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Arthur D. Warwick, First Lieutenant of Watch; Assistant Surgeon Thomas L. Sutton, Medical Officer; Lieutenant (Junior Grade) James P. Compton, Torpedo Watch; and Machinist Charles C. Roberts, Engineer Officer. Courtesy Captain David C. Hanrahan, USN, November 1929. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: View on board the USS Santee taken after she was torpedoed on 27 December 1917, showing damage over her engine room hatch and boat destroyed by the torpedo explosion. HMS Bluebell is faintly visible in the right distance. Courtesy Captain David C. Hanrahan, USN, November 1929. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Santee’s after well deck awash while being towed into Queenstown, Ireland, after receiving torpedo damage on 27 December 1917. Note the wrecked motor launch and debris on the water washed deck. Courtesy Captain David C. Hanrahan, USN, November 1929. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: Torpedo damage to the Santee’s hull, by her number six hold at the engine room bulkhead, taken while she was in drydock at Queenstown, Ireland, after being torpedoed 27 December 1917. The hole was 20 x 21 feet in size. Courtesy Captain David C. Hanrahan, USN, November 1929. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
The USS Santee was originally the SS Arvonian, a 2,794-ton freighter built in 1905 by Stockton-on-Tees, England. For its first 12 years, the Arvonian was part of the British Merchant Marine and then in mid-1917 she was obtained by the Royal Navy and renamed HMS Bendish. In November 1917 the ship was loaned to the US Navy and she was given a crew of volunteers and renamed the USS Arvonian. In December, her name was changed yet again to the USS Santee.
The US Navy was in the process of converting the Santee into a “Q-ship,” which was a decoy designed to lure U-boats to the surface so that guns hidden on board the Q-ship could be used to sink the German submarine. While engaged in exercises off the coast of southern Ireland on 27 December 1917, the Santee was actually torpedoed by a German submarine, even though it wasn’t searching for one! Although no one was killed in the incident, the ship was badly damaged and was towed to Queenstown, Ireland, for repairs. Evidently, the US Navy did not think much of the Q-ship program because, after the Santee was repaired, the ship was decommissioned and given back to the Royal Navy in April 1918. The Royal Navy gave her back the name HMS Bendish and she spent the rest of the war working as a cargo ship.
In 1919 the ship returned to the British Merchant Marine and she reverted back to her old name SS Arvonian. However, her name was soon changed to Brookvale and in 1928 she was sold to a Latvian owner who changed her name to Spidola. The Spidola was briefly confiscated by the Soviets after the Baltic States were invaded by Russia in 1940, but then the Germans captured her in 1941 after taking the Baltic States away from Russia. Germany renamed the ship Rudau and she served as a cargo ship for the Germans until the end of the war. In 1947 her name reverted back to Spidola (although it’s unclear who actually owned her at this time) and in the 1950s she ended up in Costa Rica. Her career finally came to an end in 1958, when this amazing ship was scrapped in Hamburg, Germany, the same country that torpedoed her when she was the USS Santee in 1917.
Few ships survived two World Wars, let alone several different owners on opposing sides of those wars. Given all of the merchant shipping that was sunk during World War II, as well as all of the German tonnage that was destroyed during the war, it’s amazing that the Santee even remained afloat. It is also interesting to note that even though the US Navy gave up on the Q-ship during World War I, President Roosevelt tried to bring it back in World War II. It is a pity because the entire crew of another American Q-ship, the USS Atik (AK-101), was lost during World War II as a result of not heeding the lessons from a previous war.
Posted by Remo at 9:19 AM