Report of Action, USS Chester, Vera Cruz April 21-22, 1914
USS Chester. Vera Cruz, Mexico. April 22, 1914.
To: Commander Detached Squadron, U.S. Atlantic Fleet [Admiral Fletcher], U.S.S. Prairie, Flagship.
Subject: Report of Action - Vera Cruz, Mexico, April 22, 1914.
1. The Chester left her anchorage in the Panuco River above the city of Tampico at 9:08 A.M., April 21, 1914. She was cleared for action and the crew at general quarters. Off Arbol Grande, passed Mexican gunboats Bravo and Zaragoza. They were partially cleared for action, but did not apparently expect to be attacked. Exchanged usual ceremonies in passing.
2. Arrived outside the River at 10:40 A.M.; anchored between Connecticut and Minnesota and transferred companies “A” and “C” USMC, and their equipment. Received the following order by radio from Admiral Mayo: “After transferring Connecticut’s and Minnesota’s marines proceed Vera Cruz with dispatch”.
At 11:31 A.M., got underway and proceeded full speed for Vera Cruz.
3. After passing in Adentro Passage [when arriving at Veracruz, around 11:30 pm], went to general quarters, proceeded into inner harbor and anchored bow and stern between the city and No. 3 breakwater.
[Translator’s Note (T/N): “No. 3 breakwater” must be the one (on the yellow tower) that forms the inner harbor, starting from shore near Fort Santiago.]
Darkened ship and prepared for attack on port hand, expecting possible artillery fire. (About 9:00 P.M., a radio had been intercepted ordering the San Francisco to be prepared for firing from the southeast breakwater when she entered).
[T/N: The San Francisco arrived at Veracruz around 8:30 pm, about 3 hours ahead of Chester.]
The marines were disposed on the entire port side on main deck with rifle magazines loaded;
the Mexican Naval Academy was abeam – distance about 1850 yards. At the quarantine Buoy on our port bow was the Norwegian steamer “HAAKON”, and on the port quarter, the Mexican steamer “EL GOBERNADOR”, the latter having no flag hoisted. The British cruiser “ESSEX” was anchored off our starboard bow.
All vessels had their flags flying. Immediately after the ship was anchored she was struck by rifle bullets; one missed Major Butler, who was on the Bridge, by about a foot, striking the foremast and breaking a voice tube.
4. At 1:40 A.M., received orders to land Marines and ship’s landing force. The Marines were landed first under command of Major Butler and the following officers: Lieut. H.W. Stone, Lieut. E.A. Ostermann, Lieut. A. A. Vandegrift. Attached hereto, marked “A”, is a list of the names of Marines landed.
Immediately after, the ship’s landing force under command of Lieut. George E. Lake and Ensign Franklin S. Steinwachs, U.S. Navy, was landed; names of men attached hereto marked “B”. This landing force was equipped with rifles and two Benet-Mercie guns.
5. The ship was struck repeatedly during the night; was kept darkened and battle ports closed; guns ready for action. Men not needed at the guns and other stations were armed with rifles and kept standing by.
6. […] obedience to signal, the Commanding Officer. […] arrival, called on Admiral Fletcher on the Prairie and was informed of the disposition of our forces and the Mexicans on shore.
7. An attack on the ship was expected by daylight and preparations made for it. At daylight fire was opened on the Chester with small arms on both quarters and the port side, from shore and small vessels anchored to the southward of No. 3 breakwater. As soon as this firing could be located it was returned with rifle fire, but continued and increased.
As day became brighter, men were seeing firing from a tug on the starboard quarter and the starboard quarter 3-inch gun was, at my direction, fired point blank at her, striking immediately under her pilot house, racking her fore and aft, exploding just forward of the fire room, breaking her main steam pipeline and doing considerable damage. Eight people hastily left the tug in fishing schooners that were alongside.
Soon after, men were seeing firing from a barge on the port quarter. She was fired on, at my direction, and people on her left immediately and firing ceased.
These two shots had the effect of nearly stopping fire from the small vessels in the vicinity. Later on, an armed boat’s crew in command of Chief Boatswain [Gustav] Freudendorf was sent to search them but no arms were found; they had doubtless been thrown overboard.
As objects became more distinct the fire directed at the ship was located; a group was discovered firing from behind a lumber pile where No. 3 breakwater joins the shore. The after 5-inch gun was fired, striking the top of the lumber pile and dispersing the men behind it. These three shots had a very quieting effect upon the neighborhood to the south and southwest of the ship, and firing from that direction practically ceased.
8. The exact location of our forces on shore as they advanced was not known, but Mexican soldiers were seeing firing in the open space between the ship and Hidalgo [sic: Juárez?] Monument. A 5-inch shell was fired at this force, striking the ground and exploding. It afterwards developed that this shot materially assisted the marines advancing under Lieutenant Stone, USMC.
Another Mexican force was seen at the base of this monument firing towards our forces and a 5-inch shot was fired striking and exploding near the base of this monument. No more Mexicans were seen in this vicinity after this shot was fired.
Mexican soldiers in uniform, were seeing firing from the corner of a street south of the monument and a 3-inch shell was fired from the after port gun, striking the corner building and exploding; no more firing was seen from this vicinity.
9. A force was discovered firing from or near, the baseball [?! ]park which was fired on with the after starboard 3-inch gun.
Later, forces were discovered entrenching near and beyond the slaughter house and fired on. There were some cavalry with this force, and it took several shots from the starboard 3-inch gun to make them entirely disappear.
Firing was then seen from Fort Santiago at which several 3-inch shells were fired, also from the south wing of the Naval Academy and one 3- inch was fired into it.
The above is a gener [sic] discription [sic] of what occurred during the morning.
10. […] as soon as firing was located […] and if this did not stop it to fire […] . This rule proved very effective. There were a number of other shots fired, but the first shot in every case was directed, personally, by the Commanding Officer, especially before opening fire on private residences in which case every shot fired was authorized by him.
11. Nearly abeam of the ship, in the question shown on the chart, are three private residences. The one on the south said to have been occupied by a German family, the next, by a Mexican family and the one to the north had flying over it the Venezuelan and Uruguayan flag, and over the doorway the coats-of-arms of those countries.
Fire was first observed from the middle one of these houses which is a white concrete structure with a red roof and tower. This fire was observed from the top window in the tower and immediately afterwards from all windows. A 3-inch shell was put in the top window, and as the firing continued from the others, each window was fired at in succession and the firing ceased. This building was visited the day following and a quantity of empty shells were found all over the house especially in the upper part.
The Consular Building having consular flags flying over it, was not under suspicion and a great surprise was felt when rifle fire was observed coming from it. When reported to the Commanding Officer he personally examined it with powerful glasses and saw the firing himself. Three 3-inch shells were put in the left side of this building. The firing ceased and people in the building appeared immediately after in the doorway with a white sheet. This building was visited the next day by the undersigned and a party of officers from this vessel.
The inmates of the house assured him that there had been no firing from this building. An officer was sent to inspect the roof and said that it had just been swept clean.
The undersigned has since been informed by Lieutenant I.C. Johnson, USS New Hampshire, that he was fired on when about twenty yards away by a group of men from the top of this building when he was trying to administer first aid to the wounded.
After our forces advanced and were seeking cover behind coal and lumber piles on the seawall, a heavy small-arms fire was seen coming from windows of the southern house, so the Commanding Officer ordered fire opened from the after port 3-inch gun.
There was a box freight car between the ship and the house and some of our men were lying immediately behind the car, necessitating great accuracy of fire, so that the first shot was fired high and it struck the center of the roof. The next one struck under the gable and the next to the right of the center window. The firing from this building ceased. The shooting of the gun-pointer, an ordinary seaman, was exceptionally good, for had he struck the box car it probably would have resulted in a great loss of life to our men. He was rated seaman immediately.
12. At about 8:30 or 9:00 o’clock, a regiment of our forces, afterwards ascertained to be the Second Regiment, landing forces of the New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont and New Jersey, appeared in column formation from behind the lighthouse building and marching to the southward immediately in front of the new Market.
The regiment proceeded in this direction, passing in front of and close to the Naval Academy Building. The men were observed to be at “port arms” and “shoulder arms”, apparently not expecting attack. From their actions it appeared that our forces must have taken this building so that it was feared to open fire.
13. […] firing had been seen from this ship from the Naval [Academy], but it was under suspicion and the after 5-inch [the?] after 3- inch and port waist guns were trained on the second story of the building; the 5-inch gun been given the central portion. There was not time to give further directions but Chief Boatswain Freudendorf, in charge of the waist gun, directed the fire without any orders, showing excellent initiative. The Regiment proceeded and went column right down the street immediately to the south of the Naval Academy [presently, Calle Esteban Morales].
About two companies had passed down the street when a heavy and vigorous machine-gun and small arm fire opened, coming from the roof and windows of the Naval Academy. Chester opened fire practically simultaneously with the opening of the fire from the Naval Academy, firing directly over our forces.
The firing was very accurate: the first 5-inch shot struck the southeast corner of the building under the gable and made a large hole in the roof which had a most decided moral effect on the people firing from the roof.
The Chester continued firing for some time, until the building had become enveloped in a reddish dust and the firing from it ceased.
The order to «Cease Firing», was received by radio at 8:20 A.M.; to «Cease Firing 5-inch» at 9:10 a.m. In general, the guns directed their fire from window to window, an occasional shot being fired at the roof.
After the regiment fell back, a few 3-inch shots were fired at the lower story. The firing was exceptionally good especially as it had to be done over our own forces.
The Officers and men, especially the gun pointers, were cool and not excited. Previous firing in the morning was of great benefit in steadying nerves and getting the initial range. Considerable rifle firing was done from the main deck and from the 3-inch gun ports. In the morning, people near the seawall were seeing firing.
After the ship had ceased firing in obedience to orders, firing had opened up again from shore and was returned by small-arms fire.
The Regiment previously referred to had meanwhile fallen back to the seawall and opened fire on the Naval Academy with field pieces and later marched to the south and directed fire on the Naval Academy Annex to the left.
14. Referring to the Mexican and Norwegian steamers; neither one interfered with our fire to any extent. During the morning the ship was being repeatedly struck by a fire from apparently close range, but its origin could not be detected.
At 8:00 o´clock a signal was received from shore signed “Anderson”, saying, “That vessel on your port bow is firing at us”.
The Officer of the Deck, by my direction, hailed the “Haakon” and told him that he had been reported for firing and if we saw him fire he would be immediately sunk.
An armed boat was sent to the vessel without her flag flying, which from her name, “El Gobernador”, was assumed to be a Mexican, and it was believed more likely that the fire was coming from her and not from the HAAKON”.
Lieutenant (J.G.) A.D. Turnbull, searched the ship with his party, but found only one revolver. The Master of the vessel was not on board and it was in charge of the first Officer. Lieutenant Turnbull ordered the Mexican to move and go to the outer harbor, but the acting Master stated that he could not as his machinery was disabled. He was then informed that if any fire came from his ship he would immediately be fired on and sunk.
The following signal was received from shore at 8:47 a.m.,
[…] vessel with a “W” on her stack has fired at us and wounded […al”], signed “Anderson”.
By my direction, the Officer of the Deck again hailed the “HAAKON” and told her to put to sea immediately or she would be sunk. She promptly cut her stern lines, got up anchor and proceeded to the outer harbor.
15. The conduct of the Officers and men of the Chester was exemplary and eminently satisfactory in every way; this applies to all branches, engineer’s force, mechanics, signal force as well as the deck force. A number of the engineer’s force were members of the landing force, some [stayed] on board with rifles and some at the guns handling ammunition.
The fine spirit of everyone from the time the tension began at Tampico until and during the engagement at Vera Cruz could not have been better.
Special recommendation will be made in separate letter for advancement in ratings of men deserving it that cannot be rated under the regulations.
16. Although the ship was being struck by bullets and bullets could be heard passing in the air and two men were wounded at the guns, no nervousness whatever was observed even among the signal force who were the most exposed and were located where the ship was being struck more repeatedly. In fact, trouble was experienced in making the men expose themselves as little as possible. By actual examination of the ship, about one hundred were discovered.
17. There were two casualties; Arthur Bernstein, seaman, who was opening ammunition boxes at the after 5-inch gun, being shot through the right forearm, and Alvin M. Johns, coal passer, being struck by a bullet on the dorsum of the left foot while near the port waist 3-inch gun.
18. The commanding Officer directed the fire of the three after guns in general. The Executive Officer was in general charge and Lieutenant Turnbull at times directed the fire of the after 3-inch gun. Ensign Holt was in charge of the after 5-inch and was also Officer of the Deck. Ensign Gates and Chief Boatswain Freudendorf were in charge of the two 3-inch waist guns and Ensign Gates also assisted in signals forward. The conduct of these officers was eminently satisfactory and gallant and this applies with equal force to the gun-pointers, gun’s crews and entire ship’s force: everyone showing a desire to do everything he could.
19. There were no misfires or any casualties to the material. So far as could be ascertained from an examination of the buildings, etc., on shore, all shells fired by Chester exploded, the fuses working perfectly. Their sensitiveness was shown in the shell fired at the tug which struck comparatively frail woodwork and exploded in engine room. A number of noses and bases of shells were picked up in buildings, the remainder of the shells apparently breaking into small pieces.
20. The following rounds of ammunition were fired:
After 5” No. - 16 rounds. Port “ 3” No. 2 50 “ Stbd “ 3” No. 1 24 “ Port Waist 3” No. 6 54 “ Stbd Waist 3” No. 5 16 “
Total rounds 160
21. The Commanding Officer records his appreciation of the readiness, spirit, zeal, promptness, alertness, willingness and in general, the high efficiency and preparedness shown by Major S. D. Butler, his officers, Lieut. H. W. Stone, Lieut. E. A. Ostermann and Lieut. A.A. Vandergrift and the men under him, Company “D”, 2nd Advance Base Regiment, USMC, during their stay on this vessel. The undersigned has never seen a finer body of soldiers, and from his recent experience will always be opposed to any proposal to remove marines from on board ship. Major Butler, by his counsel, enthusiasm and high spirit was of great aid and assistance to the undersigned during his stay on board and at Tampíco.
22. A list of the Officers and men on Chester at time of engagement is attached, marked “C”. Reports by the following officers are enclosed herewith:-
Lieutenant L. J. Wallace, U.S. Navy Lieutenant (j.g.) A. D. Turnbull, U.S. Navy Ensign J.H. Holt, Jr., U.S. Navy Ensign H.G. Gates, Jr., U.S. Navy Asst. Surgeon, S.D. Hart, U.S. Navy Ch. Boatswain G. Freudendorf, U.S. Navy
23. A copy of signals sent and received, marked ”D”, is attached herewith.
W. A. MOFFETT