USS Erie (PG-50)

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USS Erie
USS Erie in 1940
United States
Name: Erie
Namesake: City of Erie, Pennsylvania
Ordered: 1 November 1933
Builder: New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York
Cost: $6,047,216
Way number: Dry Dock #1
Laid down: 17 December 1934
Launched: 29 February 1936
Sponsored by: Mrs. Edmund A. Knoll
Commissioned: 1 July 1936
Struck: 28 July 1943
Identification: Hull symbol: PG-50
Honors and
Fate: Torpedoed and beached on 12 November 1942; capsized during attempted salvage, 5 December
General characteristics [1][2][3]
Class and type: Erie-class gunboat
  • 2,000 t (2,000 long tons) (standard)
  • 2,830 t (2,790 long tons) (full load)
  • 328 ft 6 in (100.13 m) o/a
  • 308 ft (94 m) p.p.
Beam: 41 ft 3 in (12.57 m)
Height: 104 ft 11.25 in (31.9850 m)
Draft: 14 ft 10 in (4.52 m) (full load)
Installed power: 6,200 shp (4,600 kW)
Speed: 20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h)
Range: 8,000 nmi (9,200 mi; 15,000 km) at 12 kn (14 mph; 22 km/h)
Complement: 231
Sensors and
processing systems:
Aircraft carried:
Aviation facilities: Derrick

USS Erie (PG-50) was the lead ship in a class of two United States Navy patrol gunboats. Launched and commissioned in 1936, she operated in the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea until torpedoed and fatally damaged by a German submarine in 1942.[2][5]

Construction & Commissioning[edit]

Erie was ordered in June 1933 and laid down at the New York Naval Shipyard on 17 December 1934. This marked a couple of "firsts" for the New York Navy Yard. One, was that the first rivets driven into Erie's keel were by civilian employees rather than ranking Navy officers. This included, Rober H. Hanlon, labor foreman, was the rivet heater, William H. Jennings, master electrician, was the rivateer, Charles E. Botts, master rigger, the holder-on, and Victor Carissime, master boilermaker, and Frank Connors, master ship fitter, were the rivet-passers. The other was that the ship was built in the Yard's No. 1 Dry Dock instead of on a slip. Rear Admiral Yates Stirling, Jr., Commandant of the Third Naval District and the New York Navy Yard, Captain Charles Dunn, industrial manager of the Yard, and Mrs. Edmund Knoll (née Ida May Illig), Erie's sponsor, were all present for the keel-laying ceremony. Mrs. Knoll wouldn't be formally announced as the sponsor until October 1935.[6]

Within six months, June 1935, most of the structural work on the hull, platform, second, and main decks were complete. After Commander, later Vice Admiral, Edward Hanson graduated from the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1935, he was directed to the New York Navy Yard with orders to see the fitting-out of Erie and also captain the ship when she was commissioned. The next 7 months, June 1935 to mid-January 1936, saw significant progress in the construction of the main deck components, the navigational bridge, the pilothouse, and the chart house. By January 1936, 80% of the hull work was complete with about 50% of the machinery and equipment installed. On 24 January, Rear Admiral Sterling's Office formally announced that Erie would be launched in the afternoon of 29 January. The Erie Club of New York assumed responsibility for the launching ceremony. A contingent of notables from the City of Erie, headed by John Mead, Jr., Vice President of the Times Publishing Company, along with Erie's sponsor, Mrs. Knoll, attended the ceremony.[6]

The flood valves were opened for Dry Dock No. 1 at 3:30 PM before 1,000 spectators, braving bitter cold temperatures, to witness the launch of Erie, on 29 February 1936.[7] Seawater from the Navy Yard Basin slowly began to float Erie off her keel blocks. After brief speeches by John Mead and Rear Admiral Stirling, Mrs. Knoll stepped forward at 4:20 PM to cut the long ribbon bearing the ceremonial champagne bottle, christening Erie. However, when the bottle hit the bow, it failed to break, so, after three unsuccessful tries, a Navy Yard construction worker finally succeeded in shattering the bottle on the bow plates which was followed by wild cheers from the crowd. Rear Admiral Stirling hosted a private reception for the dignitaries at his residence and in the evening the Erie Club hosted a dinner honoring the Admiral and the officers of the newly launched gunboat.[6]

1 May 1936 had been set as the expected commissiong date, and while work had continued at a fast pace, it became apparent though that the state of construction would not allow this. Rear Admiral Joseph Taussig, Acting Commandant of the Third District, requested, and received, permission from Admiral William Harrison Standley, Chief of Naval Operations, to move the ceremony to 1 July 1936.[6]

Sergeant Henry E. Bucci formed up Erie's sea-going Marine Detachment of sixteen men at the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia in early June. On 15 June after traveling by rail from Virginia to the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York, 2nd Lt. Donald J. Decker took command of the Detachment.[6][8]

Dwarfed by the heavy cruiser, Indianapolis, being overhauled across the dock from her, and with Erie still only 98% complete, her six-inch guns hadn't been installed yet, the commissioning proceeded on 1 July 1936. The brief, but highly traditional, commissioning ceremony began at 1:00 PM with the piping aboard of Admiral Harris Laning, the newly appointed Commandant of the Third Naval District, and Captain Roe Adams, Captain of the New York Navy Yard. The Admiral read the formal orders directing him to place Erie in full commission, while her crew stood at attention on the afterdeck. Then Commander Hanson, Erie's first captain, signed the formal receipt for the ship and read his orders that assigned him command of the gunboat, with his first official order being, "Sound the colors." Erie's Marine detachment[9] presented arms, while the boatswain pipe sounded, and the national ensign and commissioning pennant were hoisted aloft. With this, the 2,000-ton gunboat U.S.S. ERIE PG-50, was officially added to the US Navy List.[6]

The Yard managers reported on 1 August 1936, that the hull was 98.8% complete and the machinery spaces were 95.1% complete with an expected end of construction date set for 15 August. Erie left the New York Navy Yard on 17 August, and sailed into the Atlantic for her first day at-sea. Although her initial sea trials were generally satisfactory some malfunctions were discovered in her propulsion system. After more repairs, resulting from problems found in her formal power trials on 26 August, Erie once again put to sea on 2 September and returned two days later to the Yard.

Commander Hanson received a communication from Admiral Standley on 14 September, providing the operational orders for the remainder of the year. Further tests and trials, at sea and in port, would be performed and the vessel would be fitted out and prepared for her shakedown cruise to Europe, where Erie would serve with the Navy's Special Service Squadron 40-T. She was also directed to participate in the Navy Day festivities on 27 October, in New York Harbor, and the special ceremonies commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty on 28 October.

Erie's 6" guns and their blast shields were mounted, both fore and aft, by the first week of October and on 19 October, she departed for a cruise to the Norfolk Naval Operating Base. Arriving late in the day on 20 October she retraced her route two days later returning to the New York Navy Yard on 23 October, just in time to prepare for her participation in the 1936 Navy Day festivities.

For three days, 25–27 October, Erie, the cruisers Indianapolis and New Orleans and the destroyers Mahan and Flusser held open houses, for the general public, while docked in the Yard.

For the Statue of Liberty celebration Indianapolis and Erie greeted President Franklin D. Roosevelt with twenty-one gun salutes as he approached Bedloe's Island, both vessels being decked out in bright bunting. Along with the destroyer Taylor the crews of all three ships lined the rails at stiff attention. A second twenty-one gun salute was given by Indianapolis and Erie when President Roosevelt departed. After this Erie returned to the Yard to prepare for her 31 October, shakedown cruise.


The armament for Erie varies according to what year is being referenced.[4][7][10] Some list the "as built" armament, some list "refit" armament, some even list "as planned" armament, and then there is a mix of all of these. Without any clear reference to what was added or removed during any certain refit pictures can be used to get an idea of what was on the ship at different times of its service. A few things become clear though when going through the many references that are available. For one, the four 6"/47 Mark 17 guns and the two 3-pounder (47mm)/47 cal, saluting guns, were mounted on Erie for its entire career. Also, the 0.5 in (13 mm) Browning Machine Guns, were only temporary while waiting for the 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal, to be produced. As for the six 20 mm (0.79 in) anti-aircraft guns, these would have been mounted in 1942 if Erie's "Seagull" were removed. Erie and Charleston were supposed to have their aircraft removed in 1942 and replaced with either 4 or 6 Oerlikons. However, the last official photos[11] of Erie after its last major overhaul show it with a "Kingfisher" on its aircraft deck and depth charge racks mounted, there is reference of them being used in June 1942,[12] and pictures of Charleston show the racks mounted at the rear of the ship also.


Erie-class gunboats were designed and built as flagships and a floating diplomatic embassy. Some of the additions to help with these missions were a large Admirals cabin located aft on the main deck behind the captain's cabin and two guests' cabins on the second deck. Erie-class gunboats also had large uncluttered fantails that could be covered with a canvas awning for hosting diplomatic envoys as could the aircraft deck. A large movie projector room was located in the aft superstructure and with a portable screen set up on the aft fantail and portable chairs set up on the afterdeck the crew or diplomats could watch movies.[6] The ships boasted bands, made up of crew members, and they had Marine detachments for diplomatic duties.[10]


Admiral 1 Chief Petty Officers Including
Staff 4 Flag (3), Aviation (1), Marine (1), Ship (13) 18
Captain 1 Others Flag (33), Aviation (4) 37
W.R. Officers (Including Marine Officers) 11 Marines (44), Crew (132) 176
Total Officers 17 Total Crew 231
18 December 1938.

Service History[edit]

Inter-war period[edit]


Spanish Civil War & Shakedown Cruise[edit]

Sailing from New York on 31 October 1936, Erie spent November and December 1936 on her shakedown cruise, in temporary duty with Squadron 40-T, protecting American interests and citizens during the Spanish Civil War.

Arriving in Plymouth Sound on 11 November, Erie was greeted with both a twenty-one and seventeen gun salutes before being tied up at Pier 1 in the Royal Navy Dockyard.

After a week in Plymouth, Erie stood out for Antwerp, Belgium, at 1400 (2:00 pm) on 18 November. Several Belgian Army Generals extended a warm welcome and inspected the full Marine Honor Guard of Erie upon her arrival. During her stay at Antwerp many of the officers and enlisted men spent their time sight-seeing in Brussels and traveling to Waterloo to see the battlefield where Napoleon was defeated. Erie's Marine Guard accompanied Commander Hanson at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Soldiers' Monument, a tribute from the US Navy.

On 22 November, Erie set out once again, heading south for Le Havre, France, where on 26 November, Erie's Commander reported for formal duty with Squadron 40-T. The crew was once again granted shore leave where most used their time to visit Paris.

Leaving Le Havre for La Rochelle on 3 December, Erie anchored in La Pallice Harbor where two days later she received her orders call on a number of ports along the coast of northern Spain, the Basque Republic, to check on American citizens and other foreign nationals with orders to remove them, if need be. Erie was sailing with three US consular officials, including William Chapman, consul, and Manuel Codoner, vice consul, at the US Consulate in Bilbao and Walter C. Thurston, counselor for the American embassy in Madrid. These men were tasked with accrediting travel documents of Americans or other nationals that were seeking evacuation from Spain, they essentially converted the Erie into a floating consulate, one of the duties she had been built for. Erie dropped anchor in Bilbao, Spain on 13 December, where she was welcomed by HMS Fearless, whose crew would later come aboard for a nighttime viewing of a movie on her quarterdeck. While in Bilbao Erie flew ensigns, well illuminated at night, on both of her masts. Negotiations between the US, British and Basque government officials were also held while in port which led to the release of $400,000 in security assets owned by the New York City based International Utilities Company, this amounted to some 5,000 certificates, weighing 120 lbs., being conveyed to Erie for transport back to New York City.

España Incident[edit]

Leaving Bilbao on 15 December, Erie set sail for the Bay of Santander and Gijon to check on the status of US nationals living in these towns. She arrived in Port Musel, Gijon, around 0800 (8:00 am) on 17 December, and began preparing a shore party, immediately, that would bring back aboard any persons seeking evacuation. Around 0830 (8:30 am) Erie found herself in the path of a naval bombardment launched by the rebel Spanish battleship España, her twelve-inch guns lofting three rounds into the harbor, one landing within 300 yards of Erie. General Quarters was called on Erie with preparations made to evade España's shelling, no return fire was ordered, and almost immediately España steamed away in the direction of the Bay of Biscay.

Newspapers back in the United States declared the incident as an attack on Erie, some going as far as saying that as many as seven rounds had been fired at Erie, with one landing as close as 100 yards (91 m) from her. However, it appears, and Commander Hanson agreed, that the battleship's actions were merely part of an ongoing operation against loyalist forces that controlled Gijon. When Commander Hanson radioed his initial report to Washington he stated that Erie was not hit and that there was no basis to conclude that España's target was Erie. Because of his report the U.S. State Department decided to deem the incident inadvertent and that no retaliation was required by the U.S. Government.

Erie's Executive Officer, Lt. Commander Herman P. Knickerbocker, made the only detailed public statement, shortly after returning to the New York Navy Yard. This was published in the New York Times on 3 January 1937 as follows:

"At 8 AM we dropped anchor behind the breakwater at Port Musel near Gijon in the Basque Republic, a Loyalist stronghold overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Our mission was to evacuate Americans and other accredited nationals.

Mist surrounded the horizon to the seaward and clung above the snow-capped Cantabrian Mountains inland. Boats were dipping alongside the lowered gangway as we prepared to send a party ashore. Twenty or thirty men stood by on deck.

The Officer of the Deck called attention to a rising plume of dirt on the hillside a mile away, thought it blasting in the quarry. We heard no sound. Some reported a second upheaval, but still we paid little attention.

Nearby, a second later, the crashing sound of a large shell landing was accompanied by the sight of harbor water and sand cascading on high. The distance away was equivalent to seven short city blocks. A trolley passing leisurely along the waterfront leaped forward, clanging madly, as the motorman drove to safety.

We supposed the town was under bombardment. It never occurred to us that we might be the target. Commander Hanson ordered all hands to stand by and to move out of range. Large United States ensigns flew at the flagstaff aft and on the foremost top, although it is doubtful if they could be recognized far away.

Identification of a battleship's silhouette six miles at sea indicated the intruder was the rebel warship ESPANA. At any event, before we changed position, she sailed off on a westerly course in a cloud of black smoke."

Evacuation of refugees & return to the U.S.[edit]

Beginning on 18 December, Erie retraced her route across the northern coast of Spain to San Juan de Luz, landing eight Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Polish evacuees, along with the consular officials.

Erie then received orders dispatching her from Squadron 40-T and to immediately return to the United States. She set sail through heavy seas for the Azores, reaching Ponta Delgada on 22 December. On 23 December she set course for the New York Navy Yards and headed out into high seas and gale-force winds of the Atlantic. The Erie was severely battered on her return crossing that several of her hull plates were damaged. The weather made setting up the mess tables impossible so Christmas 1936 was less than memorable in the mid-Atlantic. Erie arrived and moored up at the New York Navy Yard on the morning of 30 December, she had completed her two-month long shakedown cruise.

It was concluded that all the ship's systems and power plant had performed well during her shakedown, though her cruising speed had been kept well below her maximum speed of 20 knots. Her raked clipper bow had done well in keeping green water off the forward 6" gun turret, even in the very rough sea conditions that had been encountered. Although, in addition to the damage to her hull plates, there were some issues with Erie's radio direction finder, these were dealt with in early 1937 as she prepared for standardization trials.[6][13]


Ohio Valley Flood Relief[edit]

Erie had to return to dry dock to repair the damage to her hull. She also had her systems checked and was refitted in preparation of her formal standardization trials.

From 13 to 24 January, the lower Ohio Valley was devastated by heavy rains, 16 in (41 cm) total, resulting in massive flooding. President Roosevelt established a Disaster Board, in response, made up of the heads of six different federal agency heads, this included the Navy Department, to assist the Red Cross in relief efforts.

The Navy Department's response was to call to action 102 sailors from Erie, Mahan, and other Navy vessels docked at the New York Navy Yard, as well as 22 power boats from these vessels, were assigned to the relief efforts. After being transported to Jersey City, New Jersey, on 28 January, they joined a contingent of 40 Coast Guardsmen, and another 15 boats, bound by train for Cairo, Illinois. They worked throughout the Ohio and Mississippi valleys for several weeks in February on flood relief detail. However, this was not without consequence. Eleven of Erie's crew member's lost or had their clothing stolen while working the flood relief detail. This necessitated special federal legislation in the summer of 1937 to reimburse them and the 29 other Navy personnel for their personal effects that had been lost.


By late February Erie was still in dry dock but after having had a number of rivets replaced and seams recaulked, her hull was repainted and she was ready to head out to sea on 1 March to dock at Tompkinsville, NY. On 2 March, she got underway for a brief voyage to the Naval Operating Base at Norfolk, VA, returning to New York on 5 March. It was then that her commander learned that Erie would be assigned duties at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in May. She would be the lead vessel for the Coastal Cruising Detachment taking members of the Academy's Second, Junior, Class on cruises to North Atlantic ports throughout the summer.

6 March, saw Erie again depart New York, this time for her formal sea trials at Rockland, Maine, anchoring in the harbor on 8 March. Erie's Board of Inspection and Survey convened for its first meeting mid-morning on 9 March. This board consisted of 10 members, presided over by Rear Admiral John D. Wainwright, along with two Navy observers and seven civilian assistants from the New York Navy Yard.

Erie proceeded to the trial course shortly before noon in West Penobscot Bay where draft and displacement recordings were taken before 10 standardization runs were made at the speeds of 9, 12, and 15 knots. Erie anchored again in Rockland Harbor at the conclusion of the runs. Erie returned to the trial course in West Penobscot Bay at 0558 the following morning to perform another 6 standardization runs, this time at 15 and 20 knots. She also teasted her anchor gear at this time. At the conclusion to these tests she sailed to Portsmouth Navy Yard in order to re-fuel, she arrived at 1712. At 0529 on 11 March, Erie got underway and proceeded to sea for a four-hour endurance and fuel oil consumption rate trial at 15 knots. A further 6 standardization runs at 17.5 and 20 knots were performed after the noon meal and she returned to Rockland Harbor at 1827. On 12 March, Erie spent most of the morning performing standardization runs at 9 and 12 knots followed by another four hour endurance and fuel oil consumption trial then tests of the steering gear and engine reversals while operating at full power, anchoring again in Rockland Harbor at 1842. Erie finished her formal trials on 13 March, with a three-hour endurance and fuel consumption trial at 12 knots, returning to Rockland Harbor later that day.

Commander Hanson was given a lengthy memo on 14 March, from the Board of Inspection and Survey, that requested that Erie's machinery be opened and exhustively inspected as soon as practical, as well as the report on the 26 items that had been presented to the Board were detailed in the memo. Erie returned to the New York Navy Yard on 15 March.

The intensive examination of Erie's machinery that the Board had requested was begun immediately at the Yard and about a week later Commander Hanson submitted his preliminary report on the findings made to date. On 9 April he submitted his formal response to the Board's 14 March request. He noted that after all the inspections were made, the internal parts cleaned, re-machined or replaced, that the Erie's machinery was generally in excellent condition.

Also during this time, on 6 April, Erie's aviation unit, SOC-2 scout plane, left for a one-month shore-based service at the Naval Air Station at Norfolk.

Erie put to sea on 4 May, for the Norfolk Naval Operating Base where shortly after arriving on 6 May, her aviation unit re-boarded.

Annapolis Naval Academy[edit]

From 7 May to 25 October 1937, she trained midshipmen, operating out of United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, on afternoon training cruises during academic months then on an east coast cruise during June, July, and August.

Erie got underway on 7 May, bound for the Naval Academy where she would be utilized by midshipmen for routine drills while docked and on short afternoon training crusises in Chesapeake Bay.

On 11 May, while returning from a drill, Erie rammed the Santee dock while being berthed. The crash put a foot-deep indentation in her clipper bow that would necessitate repair before she could leave on her June cruise with the Coastal Cruising Detachment.

To celebrate the friendship visit of Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan in 1853, the Naval Academy hosted Japanese officials at a colorful re-enactment pageant on the Severn River and the Dewey Basin on 29 May. Erie, along with the destroyers Manley and Decatur, illuminated the festivities with their searchlights. They, and a number of sub chasers and small patrol boats, also paraded around the basin after a fireworks display that was enjoyed by 10,000 spectators.

First Cruise[edit]

The first third, 200+ midshipmen, departed on 7 June, on a 24-day tour of Eastern U.S. ports, aboard Erie, in command, and the destroyers Claxton, Fairfax, Jacob Jones, J. Fred Talbott, and Roper. The Coastal Cruising Detachment made stops in Dahlgren, Newport, New London, New York and Norfolk, before returning to Annapolis 2 July.

Second Cruise[edit]

On 6 July the Coastal Cruising Detachment left with another third of the Second Class. After departing Dahlgren for Newport, while at sea on 9 July, Seaman 2nd Class, on Erie, disappeared from her deck around 1700. Four hours were spent by the Detachment searching for the missing sailor before being ordered to proceed to Newport. A Navy Board was convened on Erie, during her weeklong layover in Newport, where the Navy concluded that the Seaman's disappearance was not an accident and that his suicide was most likely related to having been chronically despondent.

The second cruise was highlighted by an overnight cruise up the Hudson River on 20 July, where the Detachment "attacked" the United States Military Academy at West Point. This visit was purely social, even though the midshipmen may have gained some river navigation experience. The 210 midshipmen and almost 600 other Navy personnel were able to enjoy a movie, observe the Corp of Cadets parading and were entertained at a dance while at West Point before heading back down the Hudson and back out to sea.

The Detachment returned to Annapolis on 30 July.

Third Cruise[edit]

The third and final cruise for the Second Class was highlighted with the Detachments participation in the festivities surrounding the America's Cup yacht races. Departing Annapolis on 2 August they were in Newport from 4 to 16 August. Erie was used as a spectators' boat during the races. When the Detachment departed on 16 August, Senator David Walsh, Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services boarded Erie and later disembarked at New York on the return trip.

During this cruise Erie received what would be the first, of a number of communications from the Chief of Naval Operations, regarding her deployment to the Panama Canal Zone to relieve her sister ship Charleston and serve as flagship for the Special Service Squadron headquartered in Panama. The first date of departure was proposed for 18 October 1937, but after being altered a number of times in the ensuing months it was ultimately set for late January 1938.

Fall 1937[edit]

With the final summer cruise over Erie set sail for Oyster Bay, Long Island on 26 August to participate in festivities relating to the international yacht races held there from 27 August to 3 September, when Erie departed for the New York Navy Yard where she would receive some upkeep from her crew and Yard employees for the next few weeks.

The American Legion held their annual convention in New York City from 20 to 23 September. Erie, along with the sister battleships Texas and New York and the destroyers Dahlgren, J. Fred Talbott, Jacob Jones, and Roper were moored at the 125th Street and 135th Street piers for public tours. Erie and the other six ships even probided a 30-minute searchlight demonstration for the visiting Legionnaires on 22 and 23 September while anchored in the North River.

On 25 September Erie departed New York for a 10-day cruise to Nantucket, Gloucester, and Boston, Massachusetts, during which she was able to conduct general training and gunnery drills during daylight hours.

By 6 October, Erie was once again berthed at Annapolis, where she reported for duty with the Superintendent of the Naval Academy, Admiral David F. Sellers, for afternoon training sessions until 25 October, when she left for the Washington Navy Yard to participate in Navy Day festivities in Washington, D.C. on 27 October.

Erie again departed for the New York Navy Yard on 29 October, for a 2 1/2 month overhaul and ordinance installation. At this time she was also made ready for her service as flagship for the Special Service Squadron, SPERON, at the Panama Canal Zone.


On 24 January, with her overhaul finished, Erie got underway for Balboa, C.Z., homeport of SPERON, with a first stop at the Naval Operating Base at Norfolk to turn in her aviation equipment and spares, and to take ammunition aboard. She set sail for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on 26 January and arrived four days later. Only spending a brief overnight she got underway for Panama on 31 January and arrived at Cristóbal on 3 February 1938. Not wasting any time she immediately transited the Panama Canal for the first time and berthed at Balboa, the Canal's Pacific terminus, and reported for duty with SPERON. This would be her homeport until being transferred to the Offshore Patrol-Atlantic of the Panama Sea Frontier, and subsequently, to the Caribbean Sea Frontier Task Force in 1942.

21 February saw the removal of Erie's, and her sister ship Charleston's, SOC-2 "Seagull" biplane scouts, and the aviation units decommissioned. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William Leahy, would state in his fiscal year 1938 report that the planes were removed because of technical difficulties in handling the aircraft. At some point later, however, they were replaced with monoplaneOS2U "Kingfishers".

It wasn't until 1 March 1938, that the formal transfer of the SPERON flag, the squardron Commanding Officer, Rear Admiral Yancey S. Williams, and all of the flag personnel to Erie occurred. This was the same the same day that she would she her sister Charleston sail north for her home yard at Charleston, South Carolina.

On 27 April Erie would see her first commander, Commander Edward Hanson, depart to serve as the island's 28th Naval Governor, on 26 June 1938, afterward, in July 1940, he would assume command of the Naval Station at Tutuila, American Samoa. He would be replaced with Commander Allan W. Ashbrook, who had come aboard earlier in the month, after being reassigned from duties at Mare Island, California, in order to take command of Erie.

The only other major events for Erie would be spending the rest of April through 21 July on a three-month goodwill tour of ten ports in eight Central and South American countries. She would then finish out the year on a special mission to the Galapagos Islands, in December, to explore their suitability for enhancing the defense of the Panama Canal.[5][13]

Central and South America Goodwill Tour[edit]

Erie unmoored at Balboa on 27 April 1938, and got underway for Guayaquil, Ecuador, with Commander Ashbrook commanding and Rear Admiral Williams and his flagstaff aboard. On 29 April the Erie's first "Crossing the Line" ceremony was held, which saw all of her Navy and Marine "Pollywogs" initiated into the "Ancient Order of the Deep." Erie arrived in Guayaquil on 30 April for an 8-day stop, during which she hosted Equadorian officials and made shore visits that were both political and social in nature.


On 21 January 1939, Erie participated in search-and-rescue efforts related to the ditching and sinking of the Imperial Airways Short Empire flying boat Cavalier in the Atlantic Ocean. She transferred a doctor to the commercial tanker Esso Baytown, which rescued the airliner's 10 survivors, but because of the high seas and darkness had to discontinue the search for the other three people who had been aboard Cavalier.[14]

Panama Canal Zone[edit]

Erie arrived off Manzanillo, Mexico, on neutrality patrol, 19 October 1939. For her work of monitoring the movements of the German freighter Havelland until 11 December, she was commended from Special Service Squadron Commander Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox, Jr. for her work as "the outstanding event" of offshore patrol work conducted by the Squadron.[15][16]

On 24 January 1940, Erie assisted the destroyer J. Fred Talbott at Wreck Bay, Galapagos Islands, with transferring the US tuna boat City of San Diego's chief engineer (pneumonia) aboard and sailing him to Balboa for medial treatment the following day.[17]

On 3 August 1940, Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox, Jr. was relieved by Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt as Commander Special Service Squadron on board Erie. 9 August, Erie departed the Panama Canal Zone on a goodwill to Ecuador, arriving at Guayaquil on 12 August.[17]

17 September 1940, the Special Service Squadron, under Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, consisting of Erie (PG-50)and her sister ship Charleston (PG-51) and the destroyers J. Fred Talbott (DD-156) and Tattnall (DD-125) is disbanded.[17]

21 September 1940, Erie is assigned to the Fifteenth Naval District. Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt hauls down his flag as Commander, Special Service Squadron.[17]

World War II[edit]

At the outbreak of World War II Erie was stationed Balboa, Panama, at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. On 13 December 1941, Erie picked up 50 Japanese internees at Puntarenas from the Costa Rican government.[18] On 14 December, Erie boarded MV Sea Boy and removed a Japanese on board, and ordered Sea Boy into Balboa the next day.[18] On 16 December, she boarded MV Santa Margarita and ordered her to Puntarenas, and later the same day, towed a disabled motor boat, Orion, into the same port.[18]

In June 1942, Erie was transferred to Cristóbal, at the Atlantic end of the Canal, and joined the Battle of the Caribbean against German U-boats operating between Panama and Cuba.

On 12 June 1942, Erie rescued the master and 45 other survivors of the British steamship Fort Good Hope at location 10°12′0″N 80°14′30″W / 10.20000°N 80.24167°W / 10.20000; -80.24167 after having been sunk by U-159 at location 10°19′0″N 80°16′0″W / 10.31667°N 80.26667°W / 10.31667; -80.26667. Erie joined with a patrol plane, after salvaging the lifeboat, in prosecuting a submarine contact, she would ultimately drop six depth charges, but with no result. Erie then went on to transfer Fort Good Hope's survivors and their lifeboats to submarine chaser PC-209.[12]

15 June 1942, Erie rescued the master and 22 survivors of the US bulk carrier Lebore, off St. Andrews Island, after it had been sunk by U-172 the day before. After embarking the merchant sailers at 12°35′N 81°42′W / 12.583°N 81.700°W / 12.583; -81.700Coordinates: 12°35′N 81°42′W / 12.583°N 81.700°W / 12.583; -81.700 Erie sinks their lifeboat with gunfire so they won't be a menace to navigation. The next day, along with the destroyer Tattnall, Erie rescued 8 Armed Guards from Lebore along with 49 survivors from the Dutch steamship Crijnssen which Lebore had rescued on 11 June after their ship had been sunk by U-504 at 18°14′0″N 85°11′0″W / 18.23333°N 85.18333°W / 18.23333; -85.18333.[12]

Torpedo Attack[edit]

On Tuesday, 10 November 1942, Erie left Port-of-Spain, Trinidad leading convoy TAG-20 on route to Guantanamo Bay. Erie was accompanied by the destroyer Biddle, corvette Spry, and three PC-461-class submarine chasers PC-545, PC-573, and PC-573.

Two days out they approached Curaçao. At 1130 Van Kinsbergen, PC-583, and PC-589, SC-497-class submarine chaser SC-533, and a PT boat had left from Willemstad to patrol the area while Queen Wilhelmina left with additional ships that were to join the convoy.

At 1635 the subsidiary convoy meet up with the main convoy. At 1703 Erie was struck by one of three torpedoes fired by U-163. The captain had taken the conn at 1702 and ordered "right standard rudder" to investigate spray on the starboard beam. It was then that a torpedo was sighted 2,000 yd (1,800 m) out. "Left full rudder" was ordered but two more torpedoes were sighted abaft the starboard beam, the siren was sounded and as the Erie swung left she was struck in the starboard quarter. She had been struck in one of her oil bunkers and immediately started burning with all engines stopping and loss of electrical power. By 1740 Erie was listing to starboard and down by the stern with partial power restored and the starboard engine in use. At 1744 the starboard engine was stopped and the #2 boiler cut in. Then at 1745 two severe explosions in the #4 gun shelter rocked the Erie followed at 1749 and 1750 with two more explosions in the #4 gun shelter. At 1755 "all stop" was ordered and three motor whaleboats were lowered to search for casualties with an additional boat lowered at 1800 with injured personnel. The ship began moving forward again at 1801 on the port engine heading for the beach. The crew began heaving the powder from the #3 ready room overboard at 1812 to prevent it from exploding too. Again at 1818 "all engines stop" was called with the main deck under water by 1820. At 1823 the Erie hit bottom and "back full" was called as Erie beached itself 100 yards off shore. With oil on the water around the ship on fire at 1825 the captain called for "all hands abandon ship" at 1826. The explosion and fire had killed 7 crew and wounded a further 11. She was beached to prevent her sinking, and burned for days.[12]

Biddle, Spry, and SC-533 searched the area around Erie. SC-533 "dropped destructive barrage" ahead of Erie as she headed east toward the beach.[19] The PT boat also dropped depth charges and was seen to be fired upon by a merchantman. Three airplanes joined the search. PC-545 reported seeing a submarine and opened fire. PC-624, Van Kinsbergen and Queen Wilhelmina circled around to join the hunt about six miles out but were unable to get a fix on the contact. Spry followed Erie toward Curaçao with Biddle attempting to come along Erie to help with her fire fighting but because of the explosions was unable to get close enough.

It was later believed that the u-boat had escaped by going under the convoy to disguise its sound and was able to flee the area.


A couple of weeks later, on 28 November, Erie was raised and towed to the inner harbor of Willemstad. On 5 December, during further preparations for salvage, Erie capsized at her moorings. The wreck was left in place until 1952, when it was partially raised, towed out to sea, and sunk in deep water.[12]


Commander Edward William Hanson (1 July 1936 – 27 April 1937)
Commander Allen W. Ashbrook (27 April 1937 – 1940)
Commander Andrew Robert Mack (1940 - 5 December 1942)

Awards and decorations[edit]

Bronze star
American Defense Service Medal with "FLEET" clasp
American Campaign Medal with one battle star
World War II Victory Medal


  1. ^ Lenton 1974, pp. 3–4
  2. ^ a b Wolfgang Hechler, Ron Reeves and Joe Radigan. "Erie (PG-50)". NavSource Online. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  3. ^ "U.S.S. ERIE: SHIP SPECIFICATIONS". U.S.S. ERIE (PG-50). USS Retrieved 19 March 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Baker III, A.D. (November 1997). "Historic Fleets" (PDF). Combat Fleets of the World. U.S. Naval Institute. p. 55. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "Erie (PG-50) ii". Dictionary of American Naval fighting ships. United States Navy. Retrieved 17 January 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "SHIP HISTORY". U.S.S. ERIE (PG-50). USS Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Egan, Robert S (Spring 1969). "Erie Class Gunboats" (PDF). Warship International. pp. 115–122. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Bloom, Jim (December 2007). "Armed and Alone: America's Century-Long Love Romance With Gunboats" (PDF). Sea Classics. pp. 57–62. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  11. ^ "Ship Photos". USS Retrieved 29 March 2015. 
  12. ^ a b c d e "The Official Chronology of the US Navy in WWII". Chapter IV:1942. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  13. ^ a b "Erie ii (PG-50)". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  14. ^ "Air Liner Sunk in Atlantic - Three Lives Lost". News. The Times (48210). London. 23 January 1939. col C, p. 12. 
  15. ^ "GERMAN FREIGHTER ACCOSTED BY U.S. GUNBOAT" (Press release). The Sydney Morning Herald. 26 October 1939. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  16. ^ "The Official Chronology of the US Navy in WWII". Chapter I:1939. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  17. ^ a b c d "The Official Chronology of the US Navy in WWII". Chapter II:1940. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  18. ^ a b c Cressman, Robert (2000). "Chapter III: 1941". The official chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-149-3. OCLC 41977179. Retrieved 18 December 2007. 
  19. ^ "Loss of USS Erie - 12 November 1942" (PDF). US Navy. 17 November 1942. Retrieved 14 April 2015. 
  • Egan, Robert S. (Spring 1969). "Erie Class Gunboats". Warship International. Vol. VI no. 2. pp. 115–123. 
  • Lenton, H.T. (1974). World War 2 Fact Files: American Gunboats and Minesweepers. London: Macdonald and Jane's. ISBN 0-356-08064-1. 

External links[edit]