Apr 14

Remembering the Solace

Tuesday, April 14, 2020 7:19 AM

By

The USS Solace (AH-2) anchored in a harbor.
(U.S. Naval Institute Archive)

The U.S. Navy’s hospital ships are very much in the news these days. And in a bit of coincidental timeliness, 14 April marks the anniversary of the commissioning of the Navy’s first post–Civil War hospital ship, the USS Solace (AH-2).

Commissioned in 1898, she saw service in the Spanish-American War and the early 20th century. Her name and legacy lived on in World War II with the second hospital ship Solace (AH-5), which was present at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, when the Japanese attack on the U.S. fleet brought the nation into the conflict.

But back to the original Solace: Built in 1896–97 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, she began life as the SS Creole of the Cromwell Steamship Lines. The Navy purchased her on 7 April 1898, commissioned her a week later, and converted her to a vessel with a higher calling—a hospital ship.

She was just in time: On 21 April, one week after her commissioning, the Spanish-American War commenced. With Commander Andrew Dunlap in command, and flying the Geneva Red Cross flag (the first U.S. Navy ship to do so), the Solace kept constantly busy during the war, shepherding wounded and illness-stricken servicemen from the Cuban battlefront to the welcoming home ports of Norfolk, New York, and Boston.

From 1899 to 1905, she shifted mission-gears and ran mail, passengers, and provisions out of San Francisco and across the Pacific, to Hawaii, to Guam, the Philippines, China, and Japan. After a couple of decommissionings and recommissionings in the 1905–1909 time frame, she was back in action as a hospital ship in late 1909, serving in the Atlantic Fleet along the Eastern Seaboard from Newport, Rhode Island, to Key West, Florida. She also was a presence at Guantanamo, Panama, and various Caribbean ports of call.

On the first day of 1919, while stationed at New York Harbor, the Solace was ordered to make for the waters off Fire Island, New York—the Northern Pacific had run aground there, laden with wounded World War I veterans back from France. They had made the long voyage home, only to be stymied by misfortune offshore. Heavy seas impeded the Solace, but when they finally subsided, the transfer of troops began, small boatload by small boatload. In all, she took aboard 502 patients—with berthing facilities for only about 200. They put the most seriously wounded there and set up cots for the rest. By 5 January, they all had been successfully debarked.

It was, in retrospect, the final glory of the Solace; decommissioned in 1921, struck from the Navy list in 1930, she was sold for scrap. But in her day, she had served her mission well—and had offered, to those who needed her, the very thing that was her name. credit-n.ru
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