Wednesday, September 12, 2018

US Navy Ships Named USS Somers

US Navy Ships named USS SOMERS after Richard Somers

As one of the first midshipmen in the US Navy, serving under Commodore John Barry aboard the frigate USS United States, and dying in one of the most daring raids against the Barbary Pirates in Tripoli, Richard Somers has had six U.S. warships named after him, each with its own history.

1-      Schooner USS Somers (1812)

A schooner similar to the first USS Somers that saw action against the British during the War of 1812

The first USS Somers was a schooner that fought on Lake Erie and Huron during the War of 1812, and harassed the English ships until it was captured by the British in 1814.

There is not much information available about this first USS Somers, but I will try to make up for that as soon as I can. Somers’ family built Schooners at Mays Landing, and one of the last things he did before leaving for Tripoli was to launch a schooner – the Gourd Blossom.

Small and swift, the schooner was the perfect ship to fight the Barbary Pirates on their own seas – as Lt. Sterrett displayed when his schooner the Enterprise, soundly defeated the pirate ship Tripoli, and Stephen Decatur’s schooner that captured the pirate ship that became a prize and rechristened USS Intrepid. Richard Somers sailed the schooner Nautilus to join the fleet.

US Navy Ships named after Sterret, Decatur, Nautilus, Intrepid and Somers have distinguished themselves over the years since then.

Many of the young officers who served during the Barbary Wars were ships’ Captains by the War of 1812. Some of them chipped in and paid for the construction of the Elaborate Italian Marble Tripoli Monument that includes the names of the Navy officers who were killed during the Barbary Wars, including that of Richard Somers. That monument, originally stationed on the Capitol grounds, was damaged when the British captured Washington during the War of 1812, and was later moved to the Navy Academy at Annapolis. Some of those veterans of the Barbary Wars distinguished themselves in the War of 1812, especially in action on the Great Lakes, including Captain Lawrence, of Burlington, New Jersey, whose battle cry “Don’t give up the ship!” is still recalled by school teachers today.

2 – Brig USS Somers.  The second USS Somers (1842) was a brig that entered service during President John Tyler’s administration. It is most famous for being the only US Navy ship to experience a mutiny.  
Length: 100′ - Construction started: April 16, 1842- Launched: May 12, 1842

The U.S.S. Somers (brig) was an experimental school ship for naval apprentices. It sailed from New York on September 13, 1842 with Alexander Slidell Mackenzie in command. The vessel’s course took it first to the west coast of Africa and from there to the West Indies before returning to New York. On November 26, while near St. Thomas, Lieutenant Guert Gansevoort reported to Mackenzie that he had learned of a plot to murder the officers and most of the crew and turn the Somers into a pirate ship.  According to Gansevoort’s information, Acting Midshipman Philip Spencer, the son of the Secretary of War, was the ringleader of the conspiracy. After a brief drum, and based on dubious evidence, Mackenzie hanged Spencer, Boatswain’s Mate Samuel Cromwell, and Seaman Elijah Small at the main yardarms on the recommendation of the officers of the Somers who had determined that the three men were guilty of mutiny.

The vessel returned to New York on December 14 and two weeks later the Navy convened a court of inquiry. On January 19, 1843, the court adjourned, exonerating Mackenzie, but Secretary of War John C. Spencer wanted the commander tried in civil court. Instead, Secretary of the Navy Abel P. Upshur prepared charges and specifications against Mackenzie for a court martial. The proceedings began on February 1 and ended on April 1, and Mackenzie was acquitted. At the time, the verdict was controversial, and to this day there is debate over whether the commander acted properly or was guilty of murder.

The incident led directly to the abandoning the practice of training midshipmen at sea and the establishment of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, where the Tripoli Monument, with Somers’ name engraved, is now located.

A Currier and Ives engraving of this USS Somers, with the sailors hanging from the yardarm.

Somers was in the Gulf of Mexico off Vera Cruz at the opening of the Mexican-American War in the spring of 1846; and, except for runs to Pensacola, Florida, for logistics, remained in that area on blockade duty until the winter. On the evening of 26 November, the brig, commanded by Lt. Raphael Semmes (later the celebrated commanding officer of the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama), was blockading Vera Cruz when Mexican schooner Criolla slipped into that port. Somers launched a boat party which boarded and captured the schooner. However, a calm wind prevented the Americans from getting their prize out to sea so they set fire to the vessel and returned through gunfire from the shore to Somers, bringing back seven prisoners. Unfortunately, Criolla proved to be a US spy ship operating for Commodore David Conner.

On 8 December 1846, while chasing a blockade runner off Vera Cruz, Somers capsized and foundered in a sudden squall. Thirty-six of her 80 crew were lost. Eight survivors were rescued by HMS Endymion. Eight more swam to shore and were taken prisoner. English and French vessels rescued the other survivors. On 3 March 1847, Congress authorized gold and silver medals to the officers and men of French, British, and Spanish ships-of-war who aided in the rescue.

Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick – whose first cousin, Lt. Guert Gansevoort, was an officer aboard the brig at the time of the Somers Affair – may have been influenced by the notorious events involving the Somers mutineers. Melville may have used elements of the story in his novella Billy Budd.
The incident is detailed in the novel Voyage to the First of December by Henry Carlisle, written from the viewpoint of the naval surgeon on duty (from his old journals).

The story of the Somers Affair and the subsequent trial is dramatized in the penultimate episode of the sixth season of the television series JAG. The presentation takes place as a dream by Lt. Col. Sarah MacKenzie, while she prepares to give a lecture at the United States Naval Academy, which came into existence as a result of the Somers Affair. The regular cast portrayed the people involved. Trevor Goddard played the role of Mackenzie, and Catherine Bell (in a play on the identical surname of her usual role in JAG) played Mrs. Mackenzie.

In 1986, an expedition led by George Belcher, an art dealer and explorer from San Francisco, California, discovered the wreck, and in 1987 archaeologists James Delgado and Mitchell Marken confirmed the identification of the wreck. In 1990, Delgado, along with Pilar Luna Erreguerena, co-directed a joint Mexican-US expedition, which involved archaeologists and divers from the US National Park Service, the Armada de Mexico, and the Institute Nacional de Antropolog√≠a e Historia. The project determined that unknown people had looted the wreck sometime after the 1987 expedition. The wreck remains as a site protected by legislation.

The most notable legacy of the Somers Affair is the US Naval Academy which was founded as a direct result of the affair. Appalled that a midshipman would consider mutiny, senior Naval officials ordered the creation of the academy so that midshipmen could receive a formal and supervised education in Naval seamanship and related matters.

USS SOMERS Torpedo Boat 22/TB-22 / Coastal Torpedo Boat #9 - 1897 - 1920




The third USS Somers (Torpedo Boat No. 22/TB-22/Coast Torpedo Boat No. 9), a steel torpedo boat built as a private speculation by Friedrich Schichau, Elbing, Germany, was launched in 1897 as yard No. 450; purchased for the United States Navy on 25 March 1898; commissioned on 28 March 1898, Lieutenant John J. Knapp in command; and named Somers the next day.

Purchased through Schichau's London representative as the U.S. prepared for a possible war against Spain, Somers sailed for England on 30 March, manned by a German contract crew. On 5 April, she arrived at Weymouth, whence she was to be escorted across the Atlantic by the gunboat Topeka. However, the British crew contracted for the voyage thought Somers was unsafe and refused to take her out to sea. A second attempt to sail also failed, and the torpedo boat was ordered laid up at Falmouth until the conclusion of the Spanish–American War.

Somers arrived at New York, on board SS Manhattan, on 2 May 1899 and remained at the New York Navy Yard until 8 October 1900, when she got underway for League Island, Pa. Subsequently decommissioned there, she was reassigned to the Reserve Torpedo Flotilla at the Norfolk Navy Yard, where she was based from 1901-1909. On 26 June 1909, she was loaned to the Maryland Naval Militia and made periodic training cruises from Baltimore until returned to the Navy in 1914.


Scheduled for transfer to the Illinois Naval Militia, Somers was recommissioned on 17 August 1914 for the passage to Cairo, Ill, where she was decommissioned and transferred to the state of Illinois on 13 October. Later renamed and redesignated Coast Torpedo Boat No. 9 to allow the name Somers to be given to destroyer number 301, she served as a training ship until returned to Navy custody after the end of World War I. She was commissioned for the passage back to the east coast and returned to Philadelphia where she was decommissioned on 22 March 1919. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 7 October 1919, and her hulk was sold for scrapping on 19 July 1920 to the U.S. Rail and Salvage Company, Newburgh, N.Y.

1920 – 1930 – USS Somers DD-301

The fourth USS Somers (DD-301) was laid down at Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation and Union Iron Works in San Francisco on July 4, 1918 and launched on 28 December 1918, during World War I.  A Clemson-Class destroyer, H. G. Gearing, Jr., in command, it was engaged in peacetime operations with the Pacific Fleet from 1920 until she was scrapped under the London Naval Treaty in 1930. She was the fourth ship of the United States Navy named for Richard Somers.

The Somers remained in the north for summer exercises with the Battle Fleet and, on 25 July and 26 July, carried staff officers of President Warren G. Harding from Seattle, Washington to Vancouver, British Columbia, during the president's Alaskan trip. Harding died, apparently of food poison, aboard a train while returning from Alaska.

On 27 August, she departed Puget Sound with her squadron for San Francisco and San Diego; but in a fog on 8 September, mistakes in navigation caused Somers and eight other ships of the squadron to run aground at Point Honda, in what is known as the Honda Point Disaster. Somers escaped disaster by conducting an emergency turn and, although she grazed a rock, suffered only moderate damage to her bow. 

When the fog lifted the next morning, Somers discovered ships that ran aground on an offshore rock. Together with a passing fishing vessel, Bueno Amor de Roma, the destroyer rescued survivors.
On 10 April 1930, Somers was decommissioned and struck from the Navy list on 18 November 1930, scrapped at Mare Island in 1930 and 1931, and her materials were sold on 19 March 1931.

1937 – 1945 – USS Somers DD-381 – the lead ship of the Somers-class destroyer


The fifth USS Somers (DD-381) was a destroyer commissioned in the United States Navy from 1937 to 1945. 

She was the lead ship of the Somers-class of destroyers, named for Richard Somers.
Built by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry-dock Company in Keamy, N.J., it was laid down on June 27, 1935 and launched on March 13, 1937, co-sponsored by Miss Marine and Miss Suzanne Somers. With CDR James E. Maher in command, the Somers transported a consignment of gold from the Bank of England to New York. On 6 November 1941, she and the cruiser USS Omaha captured the German freighter Odenwald which was carrying 3800 tons of scarce rubber while disguised as the American merchantman Willmoto. A legal case was started claiming that the crews of the two American ships had salvage rights because the Odenwald crew's attempt to scuttle the ship was the equivalent of abandoning her. 
The court case, settled in 1947 ruled the members of the boarding party and the prize crew was entitled to $3,000 apiece while all the other crewmen in Omaha and Somers were entitled to two months’ pay and allowances. This was the last prize money awarded by the US Navy.

During World War II, this The Somers was active in the South Atlantic, the North Atlantic, and the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

In November 1942 Somers, with USS Milwaukee (CL-5) and USS Cincinnati (CL-6), intercepted another German blockade runner, the Anneliese Essbergr, near Brazil.

In January 1943 Somers and USS Memphis (CL-13) moved to Bathurst, Gambia in West Africa to support the Casablanca Conference between President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Free French.

At the end of the month Somers relocated to Dakar, Senegal and assisted in escorting the Free French warships Richelieuvand Montcalm to the United States. By March Somers was based in Trinidad on patrols to Brazil as before. On New Years Day 1944 Somers intercepted the German blockade runner Westerland, which scuttled itself. In May Somers escorted a convoy to England as part of the buildup for the Normandy invasion.

Somers next participated in the invasion of Normandy as a convoy escort. Then in August, she participated in the Southern France invasion, providing naval gunfire support as well as serving in the anti-submarine screen. On 15 August 1944, four hours before H-Hour, D-Day, along the French Riviera, Somers encountered and sank the German corvette UJ6081 and the sloop SG21 at the Battle of Port Cross. 

Following this action, she moved inshore to give gunfire support to the invasion. For two days she bombarded enemy strong points off the coast near Toulon with 5 inch (127 mm) shells and then exchanged fire with enemy shore batteries east of Marseilles. Somers sustained some damage during this action.
For the next month, the destroyer operated in the Mediterranean Sea, visiting ports on the southern coast of France, Ajaccio, Corsica, and Oran, Algeria. She steamed out of Oran on 28 September and arrived in New York on 8 October. Somers was overhauled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard until 8 November, and then moved to Casco Bay, Maine, for training. On 23 November, she joined the screen of a Britain bound convoy for the first of four transatlantic voyages which closed Somers' combat service. She returned to the United States on 12 May 1945 at the end of her last voyage to the United Kingdom. For the remainder of the war, Somers operated along the eastern seaboard and, in July, made one summer cruise to the Caribbean to train midshipmen.

On 4 August 1945, she put into Charleston, South Carolina, for overhaul and remained until 11 September. Instead of returning to active duty, Somers reported to the Commandant, 6th Naval District, for decommissioning and disposal. She decommissioned at Charleston on 28 October 1945 and was retained there until removed by her purchaser, Boston Metals of Baltimore, Md., on 16 May 1947. Somers was struck from the Navy list on 28 January 1947.

Somers earned two battle stars during World War II. "The Last "Prize" Awards in the U.S. Navy?" (#205, 20 July 2008).  Oldenwald was taken to Puerto Rico. An admiralty court ruled that since the ship was illegally claiming American registration, there were sufficient grounds for confiscation. At that point, some sea lawyers got into the act. Observing that the attempt to scuttle the ship was the equivalent of abandoning her, they claimed that the crews of the two American ships had salvage rights, to the tune of $3 million. This led to a protracted court case, which was not settled until 1947. At that time it was ruled that the members of the boarding party and the prize crew were entitled to $3,000 apiece, the equivalent today of over $25,000 according to the Consumer Price Index, but easily nearly twice that on the basis of the prevailing minimum wage, while all the other crewmen in Omaha and Somers were entitled to two months’ pay and allowances at their then current rate.

1959 – 1966 – USS Somers DD-947 – the fifth ship named after Richard Somers, a Forest Sherman-class destroyer.


The sixth USS Somers (DDG-34, ex-DD-947) was a Forrest Sherman-class destroyer. Her keel was laid down at the Bath Iron Works on 4 March 1958; she was launched on 30 May, and commissioned on 3 April 1959.

The sixth Somers was laid down on 4 March 1957 by the Bath Iron Works Corp., at Bath, Maine; launched on 30 May 1958; sponsored by Mrs. Charles E. Wilson; and commissioned on 3 April 1959, Comdr. Edward J. Cummings, Jr., in command.

On 1 June 1959, the destroyer sailed from Boston, Mass., to Newport, R.I., before departing the United States five days later for her maiden voyage which took her - via Argentina, Newfoundland - to the ports of northern Europe. On her itinerary were Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Portsmouth, England; and Kiel, Germany, where she represented the Navy during the "Kiel Week" festivities. Somers took leave of Europe at Portsmouth, England, and-after stopping briefly at Bermuda and training for five days out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba-transited the Panama Canal on 19 July. She arrived at her home port, San Diego, Calif., on 27 July and conducted shakedown training along the California coast for the next six weeks. She underwent final acceptance trials on 17 September; then, completed just over a month of overhaul from 1 October until 8 November.

Over the next six and one-half years, Somers alternated between operations out of San Diego and deployments to the 7th Fleet in the Far East. In all, she deployed to the western Pacific four times during this period, remaining on the west coast in 1962 and 1964.

Her first three tours in the Far East were relatively uneventful, peacetime assignments, consisting of 7th Fleet operations and exercises with units of the navies of the SEATO allies of the United States. During her second and third deployments, in 1961 and 1963, Somers steamed to Australia to participate in the celebrations commemorating 19th and 21st anniversaries of the Battle of the Coral Sea. During her fourth tour of duty with the 7th Fleet, the destroyer saw her first wartime operations as American involvement in the Vietnam War escalated. She plied the waters of the Tonkin Gulf, plane guarding for USS Coral Sea, USS Hancock, and USS Ranger as their aircraft pounded enemy supply lines in North Vietnam.

On 30 July 1965, Somers got underway from Yokosuka, Japan, to return to the United States. She arrived in San Diego on 12 August and, after a month of leave and upkeep; she resumed normal operations along the west coast. She continued to be so engaged until 11 April 1966 when she entered San Francisco Naval Shipyard to begin conversion to a guided missile destroyer. On that day, she was decommissioned at Hunters Point.

 From then until February 1968, Somers was in the shipyard having 90% of her superstructure replaced, installing the AN/SPS-48A 3D air search radar, receiving the Tartar surface-to-air missile system and the ASROC antisubmarine rocket system. In addition, her engineering equipment was completely overhauled, and she received a lot of additional electronic gear. On 10 February 1968, Somers was recommissioned at Hunters Point as the Navy's newest guided-missile destroyer, DDG-34.

DDG-34 1968-1982





The sixth USS Somers also became the seventh such ship after she was converted into a guided missile destroyer. 

Her conversion was completed on 16 May 1968, and she departed Hunters Point the next day for her new home port, Long Beach, Calif. For the rest of 1968 and most of 1969, the guided-missile destroyer ranged the west coast from Mexico to the state of Washington, conducting trials and exercises.

On 18 November 1969, she got underway to deploy again to the western Pacific. She stopped over in Hawaii from 24 to 28 November and loaded ammunition at the Oahu Naval Ammunition Depot. Continuing westward, she paused at Midway on 1 December to refuel and at Guam on the 8th. She made Subic Bay in the Philippines on the 11th. During this deployment, Somers returned to the Gulf of Tonkin alternately plane guarding Hancock and serving on the gun line. During late March and early April, she joined units of the Australian and New Zealand navies in the SEATO exercise, "Sea Rover." After that, she returned to plane guard duties, this time for USS Constellation. Two days after joining the carrier, however, Somers was detached to return to Subic Bay. She arrived on 19 April and remained until the 24th, when she got underway for the United States.

Somers arrived at Long Beach on 8 May 1970. After an availability period and an extended leave and upkeep period, the guided-missile destroyer embarked 35 Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps midshipmen for five weeks training during PACMIDTRARON 70. The cruise commenced on 22 June and was concluded on 6 August at Long Beach. She resumed operations out of her homeport until 13 November when she got underway for another deployment to the western Pacific. Somers was assigned to the 7th Fleet from December 1970 until 4 May 1971. During that time, she plane guarded the carriers on six occasions, rendered naval gunfire support on three, and once stood watch on the northern search and rescue station. In between line periods, she visited Keelung, Taiwan; Hong Kong; Singapore; and Penang, Malaysia, in addition to putting in periodically at the naval station at Subic Bay.

USS Somers was in the official waters of the Republic of Vietnam from December 27, 1970 to January 9, 1971; January 23, 1971 to February 2, 1971; February 7, 1971 to March 3, 1971; March 9, 1971, to March 27, 1971; April 3, 1971 to April 11, 1971; April 25, 1971 to May 5, 1971; May 1, 1972 to may 7, 1972; May 10, 1972 to June 8, 1972; June 22, 1972 to July 1, 1972; July 4, 1972 to July 31, 1972; and from October 1, 1972 to October 13, 1972. 

She cleared the Gulf of Tonkin on 4 May, headed back to the United States, and made Long Beach on the 23d. Somers resumed operations out of Long Beach until 9 July when she began a month of pre-overhaul preparations. On 9 August, the guided-missile destroyer entered Long Beach Naval Shipyard to commence regular overhaul. The overhaul lasted until 3 December and, following that, she went into a period of restricted availability which carried her through 31 December. Somers completed her restricted availability on 3 January 1972 and began trials, tests, and exercises which lasted through 31 March. After nine days of preparations, she headed west on 10 April to rejoin the 7th Fleet.

Sailing via Pearl Harbor and Guam, Somers made Subic Bay on 29 April. After a voyage to Singapore and back, she joined the carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin on 9 May. Her tour of duty in the Far East lasted until late October. She cruised with the aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin five times during this deployment, rendered naval gunfire support three times, and stood duty on the south Talos station and PIRAZ station once each. Between line periods, she normally put into Subic Bay, but managed to visit Sasebo, Japan, and Hong Kong. Somers returned to Long Beach on 9 November 1972.

Two periods of operations from her home port separated by two months of restricted availability at Long Beach took up the first nine months of 1973 for Somers. On 9 October, she got underway to deploy to the western Pacific. On 15 October 1973, SOMERS arrived at her new homeport, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, en route to her eighth Western Pacific deployment. On this deployment, she made Subic Bay on 5 November. She remained on duty with the 7th Fleet until mid-May 1974, when she reentered Pearl Harbor.
SOMERS deployed in November 1978 for her tenth Western Pacific deployment. Upon her return from deployment, she entered the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard to undergo a scheduled overhaul (ROH). SOMERS remained in the shipyard for fifty-one weeks and returned to sea on 4 August 1980.

The months following her return to sea were devoted to Engineering, Operations and Weapons System shakedown, tests and ultimate certifications which demonstrated her worthiness to return to Fleet Service.
In early 1981, SOMERS joined Battle Group Charlie and participated in READIEX 5-81 in preparation for the Battle Group s deployment. SOMERS was also a participant in the July 1981 FLEETEX 1-81, the largest U.S. Navy exercise in history.

On 3 November 1981, she deployed with Battle Group Delta headed by USS CONSTELLATION (CV-64). During her eleventh and final deployment, SOMERS operated primarily in the Indian Ocean and made port calls in Guam, the Philippines, Diego Garcia, Bunbury Australia, Maldive Islands and Singapore. After successfully participating in READIEX 2-82 in May 1982, she returned home arriving in Pearl Harbor on 16 May 1982. After returning from this deployment, she was preparing for more operations, when preparations were cut short by the notice that she was to be decommissioned. Somers was decommissioned on November 19, 1982.

During her service, USS SOMERS earned two Marjorie Sterrett Battleship awards, a meritorious Unit Commendation, three Battle Efficiency E awards and presently wears departmental excellence awards.for Supply, Gunnery, Missiles, ASW, CIC, Communications, Electronic Warfare and Damage Control.
SOMERS was relocated to the Inactive Ship Facility at Pearl Harbor until approximately 1988. From there, she was sold to the U.S. Maritime Administration. She was in use at Port Hueneme, California for many years as an experimental ship.

On 20 May 1998, Somers was towed from Port Hueneme for the last time. On 21 July 1998, two United States Air Force B-52 Stratofortresses from the 20th Bomb Squadron fired missiles at Somers – adrift in the Pacific Ocean about 30 nautical miles (34.5 miles; 56 km) northwest of Kauai. Hawaii – as part of the Rim of the Pacific 1998 exercise. Each B-52 crew launched one AGM-142 Have Nap missile, and both missiles hit Somers. On 22 July 1998, an explosive ordnance disposal team rappelled from a helicopter to Somers and sank her with explosive charges; this was shown in a video issued by the RIMPAC 98 public relations officer. Her final resting place is off the coast of Kauai, at 22°21′N 160°58′W. She rests at a depth of 2800 fathoms (16,800 feet; 5,121 meters).

The Somers was decommissioned 11 April 1966, and converted at San Francisco Naval Shipyard. On 15 March 1967 she was reclassified as a guided missile destroyer, and was re-commissioned 10 February 1968. She was decommissioned on 19 November 1982 and on 26 April 1988, she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. On 22 July 1998, she was sunk as target near Hawaii.

The last active USS SOMERS was decommissioned after more than 23 years of service on November 19, 1982. She was stricken from the Navy list on April 26, 1988, and on July 22, 1998, the SOMERS was finally disposed of as a target north of Kauai, HI, at:  022° 21' North, 160° 58' West.

The next USS Somers should be commissioned as soon as possible, and the members of the Association of USS Somers Crewmembers should have an important role to play in making that happen.




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