Mar 19

USS Oregon (BB-3) Begins Her “Dash” Around South America, 19 March 1898

Saturday, March 19, 2011 12:01 AM

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USS Oregon (BB-3) was commissioned in San Francisco, California, in 1896, and was serving on the West Coast in 1898 when she was ordered to the Atlantic for service in the impending Spanish-American War. Departing San Francisco on 19 March, Oregon coaled in Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Barbados, and experienced severe weather along the way that included a dangerous storm in the confining Strait of Magellan. Oregon arrived in Florida on 24 May, 66 days and 14,000 miles out of San Francisco, and by 1 June was in the war zone off Cuba.

This epic voyage—conducted without radar, radio, or underway logistics, and with the power for every knot delivered by stokers moving coal with shovels—caught the attention of the American public. It demonstrated the ability of Navy ships to operate in all conditions, and underscored the need for a Central American canal between the oceans. Five years later, construction on what is now the Panama Canal began.

Oregon returned to the Pacific in 1899 and supported the Army during the Philippine Insurrection. The rest of Oregon’s career was anticlimactic. The battleship alternated between periods out of commission and quiet peacetime service between 1906 and 1917, and played only a small role in World War I. By the end of 1919 the ship had been decommissioned for the last time. Oregon was loaned to the state of Oregon in 1925 and was on public display in Portland until 1942. The Navy retrieved the ship for her scrap value, but changed its mind and converted the ship to an ammunition storage hulk for use at newly reconquered Guam. The ship remained at Guam past the end of the war, although in 1948 a typhoon broke the ship from her moorings, to be recovered several weeks later and 500 miles away. Oregon’s hulk was sold for scrapping in 1956.