Eagle-class patrol craft

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EaglePatrolCraft 35 58.jpg
Eagle 35 and Eagle 58
Class overview
Name: Eagle
Operators:  United States Navy
Completed: 60
General characteristics
Type: Patrol craft
Displacement: 615 long tons (625 t)
Length: 200.8 ft (61.2 m)
Beam: 33.1 ft (10.1 m)
Draft: 8.5 ft (2.6 m)
Propulsion: Poole geared steam turbine, 2,500 shp (1,864 kW)
1 screw
Speed: 18.32 knots (33.93 km/h; 21.08 mph)
Complement: 5 officers, 56 men
Armament: 2 × 4"/50 caliber guns
1 × 3"/50 caliber gun
2 × .50-caliber machine guns
1 × Y gun (Eagles 4 through 7 only)

The Eagle class patrol craft were a set of steel ships smaller than destroyers but having a greater operational radius than the wooden-hulled, 110-foot (34 m) submarine chasers developed in 1917. The submarine chasers' range of about 900 miles (1,400 km) at a cruising speed of 10 knots (19 km/h) restricted their operations to off-shore anti-submarine work and denied them an open-ocean escort capability; their high consumption of gasoline and limited fuel storage were handicaps the Eagle class sought to remedy.

They were originally commissioned USS Eagle Boat No.1 (or 2,3..etc.) but this was changed to PE-1 (or 2,4.. etc.) in 1920. They never officially saw combat in World War I, but some were used during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War.[1] PE-19, 27, 32, 38, 48 and 55–57 survived to be used in World War II.[2]

Attention turned to building steel patrol vessels. In their construction, it was necessary to eliminate the established shipbuilding facilities as possible sources of construction as they were totally engaged in the building of destroyers, larger warships, and merchant shipping. Accordingly, a design was developed by the Bureau of Construction and Repair which was sufficiently simplified to permit speedy construction by less experienced shipyards.

Involvement of Ford motor company[edit]

In June 1917, President of the United States Woodrow Wilson had summoned auto-builder Henry Ford to Washington in the hope of getting him to serve on the United States Shipping Board. Wilson felt that Ford, with his knowledge of mass production techniques, could immensely speed the building of ships in quantity. Apprised of the need for antisubmarine vessels to combat the U-boat menace, Ford replied, "what we want is one type of ship in large numbers."

On 7 November, Ford accepted membership on the Shipping Board and an active advisory role. Examining the Navy's plans for the projected steel patrol ships, Ford urged that all hull plates be flat so that they could be produced quickly in quantity and he also persuaded the Navy to accept steam turbines instead of reciprocating steam engines.

At this point, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels was drawn into the project. He recognized that no facilities were available at the Navy yards for building new craft and asked Ford if he would undertake the task. Ford agreed, and, in January 1918, he was directed to proceed with the building of 100 of them. Later on, 12 more were added for delivery to the Italian government.

Construction[edit]

Ford's plan for building the ships was revolutionary. Establishing a new plant on the River Rouge on the outskirts of Detroit, he proposed to turn them out as factory products, using mass production techniques, and employing factory workers. He would then send the boats by the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic coast. However, Ford had little part in the design of the boats. Except for his insistence upon simple plans and the use of steam turbines, he contributed little of a fundamental nature to the design concept.

The assembly plant was completed in five months, and the first keel was laid in May 1918. The machinery and fittings were largely built at Ford's Highland Park plant in Detroit. At first, Ford believed that boats could be sent down a continuously moving assembly line like automobiles. The size of the craft made this too difficult, however, and a "step-by-step" movement was instituted on the 1,700-foot (520 m) line. The first Eagle boat was launched on 11 July. The launching of these 200-foot (61 m) craft was a formidable operation. Not built on ways from which they could slide into the water, the hulls moved slowly from the assembly line on enormous, tractor-drawn flatcars. They were then placed on a 225-foot (69 m) steel trestle alongside the water's edge which could be sunk 20 feet (6.1 m) into the water by hydraulic action.

The original contract called for delivery of 100 ships by 1 December 1918. Although the first seven boats were completed on schedule, succeeding ones did not follow as rapidly, even though the labor force reached 4,380 by July and later peaked at 8,000. The chief reasons were Ford's excessive initial optimism and the inexperience of labor and supervisory personnel in shipbuilding. Upon the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, the number under contract, previously raised from 100 to 112, was cut to 60. Of these, seven were commissioned in 1918, and the remaining 53 were commissioned in 1919.

The entire Eagle Boat operation came briefly under challenge by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts in December 1918. At the ensuing Congressional hearings, Navy officials successfully defended the boats as being a necessary experiment and well made while Ford profits were proved to be modest.

US service[edit]

USS Eagle 2 (PE-2) on builder's trials in 1918.
USS Eagle 57 (PE-57) in 1933.

The term "Eagle Boat" stemmed from a wartime Washington Post editorial which called for "...an eagle to scour the seas and pounce upon and destroy every German submarine." However, the Eagle Boats never saw service in World War I. Reports on their performance at sea were mixed. The introduction, at Ford's insistence, of flanged plates instead of rolled plates facilitated production but resulted in sea-keeping characteristics which were far from ideal. In the first years after the war, a number of them were used as aircraft tenders. Despite the handicap of their size, they serviced photographic reconnaissance planes at Midway in 1920 and in the Hawaiian Islands in 1921 before being supplanted by larger ships. Eagle boat 34, as related in Max Miller's 1932 book I Cover The Waterfront, shared the yearly duty alternately with the Navy tug USS Koka (AT-31) of capturing elephant seals on Mexico's Guadalupe Island for the San Diego Zoo.[3] A number of the Eagle Boats were transferred to the United States Coast Guard in 1919, and the balance were sold in the 1930s and early 1940s. These vessels were used during World War II. One was stationed in Miami as a training vessel.[4]

Ships[edit]

Designation Keel Laid Launched Commissioned Fate
PE-1 7 May 1918 11 July 1918 27 October 1918 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-2 10 May 1918 19 August 1918 11 July 1918 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-3 16 May 1918 11 September 1918 11 November 1918 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-4 21 May 1918 15 September 1918 14 November 1918 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-5 28 May 1918 28 September 1918 19 November 1918 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-6 3 June 1918 16 October 1918 21 November 1918 Expended as target 30 November 1934
PE-7 8 June 1918 5 October 1918 24 November 1918 Expended as target 30 November 1934
PE-8 10 June 1918 11 November 1918 31 October 1919 Sold 1 April 1931
PE-9 17 June 1918 8 November 1918 27 October 1919 Sold 26 May 1930
PE-10 6 July 1918 9 November 1918 31 October 1919 Destroyed 19 August 1937
PE-11 13 July 1918 14 November 1918 29 May 1919 Sold 16 January 1935
PE-12 13 July 1918 12 November 1918 6 November 1919 Sold 30 December 1935
PE-13 15 July 1918 9 January 1919 2 April 1919 Sold 26 May 1930
PE-14 20 July 1918 23 January 1919 17 June 1919 Expended as target 22 November 1934
PE-15 21 July 1918 25 January 1919 11 June 1919 Sold 14 June 1934
PE-16 22 July 1918 11 January 1919 5 June 1919 Transferred to USCG late 1919
PE-17 3 August 1918 1 February 1919 3 July 1919 Wrecked off Long Island, New York 22 May 1922
PE-18 5 August 1918 10 February 1919 7 August 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-19 6 August 1918 30 January 1919 25 June 1919 In service during WWII
Destroyed 6 August 1946
PE-20 26 August 1918 15 February 1919 28 July 1919 Transferred to USCG late 1919
PE-21 31 August 1918 15 February 1919 31 July 1919 Transferred to USCG late 1919
PE-22 5 September 1918 10 February 1919 17 July 1919 Transferred to USCG late 1919
PE-23 11 September 1918 20 February 1919 19 June 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-24 13 September 1918 24 February 1919 12 July 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-25 17 September 1918 19 February 1919 30 June 1919 Capsized in Delaware Bay squall 11 June 1920[1]
PE-26 25 September 1918 1 March 1919 1 October 1919 Sold 29 August 1938
PE-27 22 October 1918 1 March 1919 14 July 1919 In service during WWII
Sold 4 June 1946
PE-28 23 October 1918 1 March 1919 28 July 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-29 18 November 1918 8 March 1919 20 August 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-30 19 November 1918 8 March 1919 14 August 1919 Transferred to USCG late 1919
PE-31 19 November 1918 8 March 1919 14 August 1919 Sold 18 May 1923
PE-32 30 November 1918 15 March 1919 4 September 1919 In service during WWII
Sold 3 March 1947
PE-33 14 February 1918 15 March 1919 4 September 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-34 8 January 1919 15 March 1919 3 September 1919 Sold 9 June 1932
PE-35 13 January 1919 22 March 1919 22 August 1919 Sold 7 June 1938
PE-36 22 January 1919 22 March 1919 20 August 1919 Sold 27 February 1936
PE-37 27 January 1919 25 March 1919 30 September 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-38 30 January 1919 29 March 1919 30 July 1919 In service during WWII
Sold 3 March 1947
PE-39 3 February 1919 29 March 1919 20 September 1919 Sold 7 June 1938
PE-40 7 February 1919 5 April 1919 1 October 1919 Expended as target 19 November 1934
PE-41 20 February 1919 5 April 1919 26 September 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-42 13 February 1919 17 May 1919 3 October 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-43 17 February 1919 17 May 1919 2 October 1919 Sold 26 May 1930
PE-44 20 February 1919 24 May 1919 30 September 1919 Disposed of 14 May 1938
PE-45 20 February 1919 17 May 1919 2 October 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-46 24 February 1919 24 May 1919 3 October 1919 Sold 10 December 1936
PE-47 3 March 1919 19 June 1919 4 October 1919 Sold 30 December 1935
PE-48 3 March 1919 24 May 1919 8 October 1919 Sold 10 October 1946
PE-49 4 March 1919 14 June 1919 10 October 1919 Sold 20 September 1930
PE-50 10 March 1919 18 July 1919 6 October 1919 Sold 11 June 1930
PE-51 10 March 1919 14 June 1919 2 October 1919 Sold 29 August 1938
PE-52 10 March 1919 9 July 1919 10 October 1919 Sold 29 August 1938
PE-53 17 March 1919 13 August 1919 20 October 1919 Sold 26 August 1938
PE-54 17 March 1919 17 July 1919 10 October 1919 Sold 26 May 1930
PE-55 17 March 1919 22 July 1919 10 October 1919 In service during WWII
Sold 3 March 1947
PE-56 25 March 1919 15 August 1919 26 October 1919 In service during WWII
Torpedoed by U-853 off Portland, Maine, on 23 April 1945
PE-57 25 March 1919 29 July 1919 15 October 1919 In service during WWII
Sold 5 March 1947
PE-58 25 March 1919 2 August 1919 20 October 1919 Disposed of 30 June 1940
PE-59 31 March 1919 12 April 1919 19 September 1919 Sold 29 August 1938
PE-60 31 March 1919 13 August 1919 27 October 1919 Sold 29 August 1938

PE-61 through PE-112 were canceled on 30 November 1918. PE-5, PE-15, PE-25, PE-45, PE-65, PE-75, PE-86, PE-95, PE-105, and PE-112 were allotted for transfer to Italy, though this plan was cancelled and none were ever delivered.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Cianflone, Frank A. "The Eagle Boats of World War I" United States Naval Institute Proceedings June 1973 pp.76–80
  2. ^ Silverstone, Paul H. U.S. Warships of World War II, Doubleday & Company (1968) p.252
  3. ^ "I Cover The Waterfront, Chapter II (Max Miller, 1932, serialized in The San Diego Reader, February 19, 2004". 
  4. ^ Sears, David, The Last Epic Naval Battle: Voices from Leyte Gulf, NAL Caliber 2005 pg. 16

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. See here for text