November 13, 2010
USS Olympia under Attack by Economy
Commodore Dewey’s flagship and veteran of 62-years of military service across two centuries may now be scrapped due to economic reasons
By Christopher Eger, Suite101.com
The USS Olympia museum is set to close to the public on November 22, 2010. The next tours of her could possibly be only by wreck divers off of the New Jersey Coast as a best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that she either sinks at her moorings in downtown Philadelphia or is to be cut up for scrap.
HISTORY OF THE USS OLYMPIA
The USS Olympia carried Commodore Dewey during the pivotal Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. Her captain at the time, Captain Charles V. Gridley was the infamous “You may fire when ready Gridley” often quoted by biographers of Dewey. She was ordered from Union Iron Works in San Francisco just a generation after US Civil War in 1888 for the princely sum of $1,796,000. Commissioned on February 5, 1895. When she raised the US flag she was one of the most modern protected cruisers afloat during the Spanish American War. When ready for service she packed nearly a thousand tons of coal into her bunkers to feed six steam boilers generating 17,313 hp to the shafts that would propel the 5,870 ton leviathan at speeds of up to 22.2 knots. Armored with between two and five inches of steel belt to protect her, she carried four 8-inch guns, ten 5-inch guns and numerous smaller 6-pounders, 1-pounders and early Colt machine guns which were manned by her 33 officers and 378 enlisted men. For a period she was the largest and best equipped US-warship in the Pacific.
Former Regan-era Secretary of the Navy John F Lehman states that, “The Olympia is not just a historic warship. It was an engineering marvel for its time”. It was one of the first naval combatants to have electricity and a powered-steering gear. The cruiser was part of a program of ships for the “New Navy” of the 1880s and 1890s, designed to correct the deficiencies of a weakened and neglected naval force. Its innovative design included high-speed engines (Olympia was said to be the second-fastest ship in the world at 22 knots), modern armament, and armor shielding that protected the engines and the magazines”.
WORLD WARS AND RETIREMENT
She fought not only in the Spanish American War (1898-1899) where she was the flagship of Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron and best remembered for but in both World Wars as well. In World War One she was obsolete and over twenty years old but she dutifully patrolled the East Cost for German raiders and escorted the US-fleet to Russia during the Allied Intervention. She was rearmed with ten modern 5-inch 51-caliber naval rifles and repainted “battleship” haze gray. She returned from Europe carrying the Unknown Soldier from France to his final internment at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Reclassified as an auxiliary relic with pennant number IX 40 in June, 1931 she spent the Second World War as a barracks ship and was retained on the naval rolls, completing her 62nd year of service before being entrusted a non-profit organization in 1957 for use as a floating museum.
ULTIMATE FATE IN JEOPARDY
Even though the one of a kind ship is on the list of National Historic Landmarks in Pennsylvania, the National Register of Historic Places, is the oldest steel-hulled American warship afloat, the very triple-expansion engines inside her hulls are the are Historic Engineering Landmarks, she is a National Historic Maritime Landmark and is in “Official Project” status of Save America’s Treasures program, she appears to be doomed. The museum has notified the US Navy that it will no longer be able to maintain the century-old relic and plans to relinquish its ownership of the ship which it has maintained since 1957.
The organization Friends of the Cruiser Olympia (http://cruiserolympia.org or for more information contact Info@CruiserOlympia.org) is trying to raise money for preservation of the ship. The group got its nonprofit status this month and has begun receiving pledges and interest from individuals and corporations. The organization need is to raise $2.5 million by January 2011 simply to take custody of the ship and begin initial work. The Friends of the Olympia may be all that the treasured warship has between her and the deep blue sea.