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Great White Fleet: USS Kearsarge (BB-5)


Great White Fleet: USS Kearsarge (BB-5)

USS Kearsarge (BB-5)

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Kearsarge (BB-5) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: Newport News Shipbuilding
  • Laid Down: June 30, 1896
  • Launched: March 24, 1898
  • Commissioned: February 20, 1900
  • Fate: Sold for scrap, August 9, 1955

USS Kearsarge (BB-5) - Specifications

  • Displacement: 10,470 tons
  • Length: 375 ft., 4 in.
  • Beam: 72 ft., 3 in.
  • Draft: 23 ft., 6 in.
  • Propulsion: 2 x vertical triple-expansion steam engines, 2 x propellers
  • Speed: 16.8 knots
  • Complement: 555 men


  • 4 × 13 in. guns
  • 4 × 8 in. guns
  • 14 × 5 in. guns
  • 20 × 6-pounder guns
  • 8 × 1-pounder guns
  • 4 × .30 in. machine guns
  • 4 × 18 in. torpedo tubes

  • USS Kearsarge (BB-5) - Design & Construction:

    Designed as a follow-on to the earlier Indiana-class (USS Indiana, USS Massachusetts, and USS Oregon), the Kearsarge-class of battleship was intended for coastal defense. Consisting of two ships, USS Kearsarge (BB-5) and USS Kentucky (BB-6), the new class featured four 13 in. guns mounted in twin turrets. This armament was supplemented by four 8 in. guns contained in twin turrets which were situated atop the 13 in. turrets. Additional firepower was provided by fourteen 5 in. and twenty 6-pounder guns. Powered by two vertical triple-expansion steam engines, the class' armor utilized the Harvey process which made it thinner but stronger than that on its predecessors.

    Authorized on March 2, 1895, the contract for Kearsarge and Kentucky's construction was awarded to the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Virginia. Laid down on the same day, June 30, 1896, construction of the two vessels proceeded in parallel. Named for the Civil War screw sloop of the same name which defeated CSS Alabama, Kearsarge slid down the ways on March 24, 1898 with Elizabeth Winslow serving as sponsor. Work progressed on the battleship as the Spanish-American War raged and it reached completion in 1900. Commissioned on February 20, Captain William M. Folger assumed command.

    USS Kearsarge (BB-5) - Early Service:

    Becoming the flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron, Kearsarge operated along the East Coast and in the Caribbean for the next three and a half years. In June 1903, the battleship commenced a brief tenure as flagship of the European Squadron during which time it was visited by Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Prince of Wales (future King George V). Returning to the United States, Kearsarge resumed its role with the North Atlantic Squadron and was present when American forces took possession of Guantanamo Naval Reservation in Cuba. In March 1905, USS Maine (BB-10) supplanted the battleship as flagship of the squadron. The following year, Kearsarge suffered an accident while cruising off Cuba when a powder charge exploded killing ten.

    USS Kearsarge (BB-5) - Great White Fleet:

    In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt became concerned about the US Navy's lack of strength in the Pacific due to the growing threat posed by the Japanese. To impress upon the Japanese that the United States could shift its main battle fleet to the Pacific with ease, he began devising a world cruise of the nation's battleships. Dubbed the Great White Fleet, Kearsarge, commanded by Captain Hamilton Hutchins, was assigned to the force's Fourth Division, Second Squadron. Departing Hampton Roads on December 16, 1907, the fleet sailed south making port calls in Brazil before passing through the Straits of Magellan. Steaming north, the fleet, led by Rear Admiral Robley Evans, reached San Diego on April 14, 1908.

    Following a pause in California, Kearsarge and its consorts crossed the Pacific to Hawaii before arriving in New Zealand and Australia in August. After enjoying festive visits, the fleet turned north for the Philippines, Japan, and China. Completing port calls in these nations, the American battleships crossed the Indian Ocean before transiting the Suez Canal and entering the Mediterranean. Here the fleet dispersed to show the flag in numerous ports. Steaming west, Kearsarge made visits to Malta and Algiers in January 1909 before the fleet rendezvoused at Gibraltar. Crossing the Atlantic, the battleship arrived at Hampton Roads on February 22 where it was inspected by Roosevelt. Having completed its circumnavigation, Kearsarge received orders to proceed to Philadelphia for an overhaul and modernization.

    USS Kearsarge (BB-5) - World War I:

    Entering the yard, Kearsarge left commission on September 4, 1909. Over the next two years, workers replaced the ship's boilers, installed two cage masts, and mounted four additional 5 in. guns. In addition, Kearsarge saw sixteen 6-pounder and all of its 1-pounder guns removed. Re-commissioned on June 23, 1915, the battleship operated in the Atlantic and that September delivered a detachment of US Marines to Veracruz, Mexico. With the US entry into World War I in April 1917, Kearsarge assumed a training role and provided instruction for engineers and armed guard crews. Operating on the East Coast, the battleship rescued the survivors of the Norwegian vessel Nordhav in April 1918 after it was sunk by U-117. Obsolete at the end of the conflict, Kearsarge spent the summer of 1919 as a training ship for midshipmen at the US Naval Academy.

    USS Kearsarge (BB-5) - Later Service:

    Decommissioned in May 1920, Kearsarge was converted into a crane ship with the new designation IX-16. This changed to AB-1 in August. Mounting a crane capable of lifting 250 tons, Kearsarge spent the next nineteen years supporting naval operations and was based at Boston and Bremerton. In 1939, the former battleship's crane aided in the salvage of the submarine USS Squalus. On November 6, 1941, Kearsarge's name was changed to Crane Ship No. 1 so that it could be assigned to a new Essex-class aircraft carrier then under construction. This vessel later became USS Hornet (CV-12) and the Kearsarge name was given to CV-33 in 1944. The crane ship served throughout World War II and shifted to San Francisco in 1945. Returning to Boston three years later, the old battleship remained there until being sold for scrap on August 9, 1955.

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