U.S.S. Dolphin - 1885

The graceful lines of the Dolphin are evident in this view. Enlarge

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The Dolphin, the "D" of the ABCD series, was a 2200-ton unarmored steel cruiser. She was intended as a speedy aviso or despatch boat, but spent much of her career as a de facto government yacht. The first of the ABCD ships to be delivered, she was built at the Roach's yard in Chester, PA. The Roaches had been deeply into cheating the government during the corrupt 1870s and 80s and so were considered an excellent contractor to initiate the New Navy. The yard knocked out the four ships at a slow but steady pace, and the Dolphin was completed just as the firm's finances crashed in 1885. The other three ships were completed at different shipyards, or at least under different auspices. Dolphin carried a three-mast schooner rig, and participated in maneuvers under sail with the ABCD squadron -- largely as a fuel economy measure in the still-frugal Eighties.

Dolphin clock
Plan and Specifications

USS DOLPHIN schematic from Brassey's Naval Annual, 1888 ed.

Specifications for the Dolphin:
Dimensions: 256'6" x 32' x 14'3"   Displacement: 1,510 tons. Armament: (2) 4" BLR, (5) 47 mm 3-pdr guns. Propulsion: Horizontal compound engine, single screw. Speed: 16 kts. Crew: 152.

Metric specs:
Dimensions: 78.2m x 4.34m x 9.8m   Displacement: 1,510 tons. Armament: (2) 100 mm BLR, (5) 47 mm 3-pdr guns. Propulsion: Horizontal compound engine, single screw. Speed: 30 km/hr. Crew: 152.

Ship's History

Her first commander was Capt. George Dewey, already a seasoned officer by 1882. Dewey served as captain for three years, doing no harm to his own career by hosting the many Congressional visits and champagne cruises that were part of Dolphin's normal duties. After shaking down in this environment, the ship circumnavigated the globe, cruising around the Horn to visit Japan, Korea, China, India, Arabia, Egypt, and Mediterranean ports. She then voyaged home to New York and promptly was assigned to the Squadron of Evolution. After a brief period out of commission, she resumed Atlantic and Caribbean duties, frequently carrying the Secretary of the Navy on departmental business. In 1893, President Grover Cleveland reviewed an assembled fleet of 35 international warships from the Dolphin. The foreign craft were guests in New York for the first invitational maneuvers and regatta, held in celebration of the U.S. Navy's centennial. Later, in 1896, Dolphin carried President William McKinley and his Cabinet to the dedication of Grant's Tomb in New York City.

On-deck view of USS DOLPHIN in icy weather, 1916Dolphin took part in the blockade of Havana and brought despatches and orders back and forth, as an aviso will do.Dolphin On June 6, she came under fire from the Morro Battery at Santiago. On June 14, she provided fire support for the First Marine Battalion in the capture Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, contributing to the rout of the Spanish forces. Later that month, she was sent to Norfolk with messages from Sampson's fleet blockading Santiago, and so missed the Naval Battle of Santiago on July 3. The years to come were filled with more ceremonial duties and distinguished guests. Among them were ferrying government dignitaries about on cruises of state, including ambassadors, Cabinet secretaries, President Theodore Roosevelt, and Prince Louis of Battenberg (British Admiralty chief and father of Lord Louis Mountbatten). In 1905, Dolphin conveyed Japanese diplomats to the naval base at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where they negotiated the treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War, dividing day-trip and entertainment honors with the presidential yacht Mayflower. On Feb. 21, 1909, she embarked members of Congress to welcome back the ships of the Great White Fleet after their voyage of circumnavigation.

The Dolphin found herself in the midst of three episodes of Yankee imperialism in the Caribbean in the 'Teens: the 1914 Tampico Affair, the bombardment of Veracruz, and the 1916 occupation of Santo Domingo by the U.S. Marines; above left, the ship's foredeck during winter duty, 1916, showing two of her pedestal-mounted 47mm guns sheltered under tarpaulins. Dolphin was next at the heart of the transfer of sovereignty of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the U.S. in 1917, and later captured the suspicious cruiser Nordskar -- a German-crewed vessel operating under false Danish colors in the Caribbean -- after the American declaration of war that April.

Operating out of Key West, Dolphin patrolled for subs and protected trade in the Gulf and Caribbean through the War's end. After the Armistice, the ship's duties continued in a ceremonial and goodwill vein in Latin America through 1921; celebrating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Straits of Magellan; performing hydrographic research based out of Balboa; celebrating the anniversary of Guatemalan independence in 1921; and so on. In October 1921, the ship returned to the Boston Navy Yard for decommissioning, to be sold out of the service early the following year.

No Dearth of Dolphin Documentation

USS DOLPHIN colorized photo postcard

A colorized lithographic card of the Dolphin in her time of glory. The paint scheme at this point appears to have been smart black and white, not the regulation white-and-spar otherwise universal in the U.S. fleet.   Enlarge

USS DOLPHIN at anchor with row boats and gaff sloop
A festive view of the Dolphin surrounded by period small craft full of sightseers.

USS DOLPHIN hosting the Columbian Naval Review, 1893: Bow 3/4 view
Above and below: The Dolphin hosting the Columbian Naval Review, New York City, 1893.

USS DOLPHIN hosting the Columbian Naval Review, 1893: Stern view

USS DOLPHIN at anchor: Straight-up bow view
Bow view of the Dolphin showing eagle-and-shield bow crest. A regatta must be in the making.

USS DOLPHIN hosting the Columbian Naval Review, 1893: Sunny profile view
A jaunty profile view of the Dolphin at anchor.

USS DOLPHIN in her World War I rig
The Dolphin in dazzle paint just after World War I: Galveston, Texas, March 1, 1919.   Enlarge

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