USS Tennessee (ACR-10)

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USS Tennessee (ACR-10) ca. 1907.
Career 100x35px
Name: USS Tennessee
Builder: William Cramp and Sons
Laid down: 20 June 1903
Launched: 3 December 1904
Commissioned: 17 July 1906
Renamed: USS Memphis (1916)
Struck: 17 December 1917
Fate: Wrecked, 29 August 1916
Sold for scrap, 17 January 1922
General characteristics
Class and type: Tennessee-class cruiser
Displacement: 14,500 long tons (14,700 t) (standard)
15,715 long tons (15,967 t) (full load)
Length: 504 ft 5 in (153.75 m)
Beam: 72 ft 10 in (22.20 m)
Draft: 25 ft (7.6 m)
Installed power: 23,000 ihp (17,000 kW)
Propulsion: 2 × vertical triple expansion steam engines
16 × Babcock and Wilcox boilers
2 × screws
Speed: 22 kn (25 mph; 41 km/h)
Complement: 887 officers and men
Armament: 4 × 10 in (250 mm)/40 cal Mark 3 guns (2x2), 16 × 6 in (150 mm)/50 cal Mark 8 guns (16x1), 22 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 cal guns (22x1), 4 × 21 in (530 mm) submerged torpedo tubes
  • Belt: 3–5 in (7.6–13 cm)
  • Deck: 3–6 in (7.6–15 cm)
  • Turrets: 5–9 in (13–23 cm)

The second USS Tennessee (ACR-10), also referred to "Armored Cruiser No. 10", and later renamed Memphis and renumbered CA-10, was a United States Navy armored cruiser, the lead ship of her class.

She was laid down by the Cramp Shipbuilding Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 20 June 1903, launched on 3 December 1904, sponsored by Ms. Annie K. Frazier (daughter of Governor James B. Frazier of Tennessee and later the foundress of the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy), and commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 17 July 1906, Captain Albert Gleaves Berry in command.

Operational career

The new armored cruiser departed Hampton Roads on 8 November 1906 as escort for Louisiana in which President Theodore Roosevelt had embarked for a cruise to Panama to check on the progress of work constructing the Panama Canal. After a brief visit to Puerto Rico on the return voyage, the warships arrived back at Hampton Roads on 26 November. Tennessee was present for the Jamestown Exposition held in 1907 to commemorate the tricentennial of the founding of the first English settlement in America.

On 14 June, Tennessee sailed for Europe and reached Royan, France on the 23rd for duty with the Special Service Squadron. She returned home in August but departed Hampton Roads on 12 October for the Pacific.

Tennessee then patrolled off the California coast until 24 August 1908, when she sailed for Samoa, arriving at Pago Pago on 23 September to resume service with the Pacific Fleet. On 15 May 1910, she arrived at Bahia Blanca to represent the United States at the centenary celebration of the independence of Argentina. On 8 November, the armored cruiser departed Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and proceeded to Charleston, South Carolina, to embark President William Howard Taft for a round trip voyage to Panama to inspect further progress on the canal. She returned to Hampton Roads on 22 November and then engaged in battle practice off the Virginia coast into February 1911. Following a Mardi Gras visit to New Orleans and a visit to New York early in March, the ship steamed to Cuban waters for two months of operations out of Guantanamo Bay.

Placed in reserve at the Portsmouth Navy Yard on 15 June 1911, she remained on the east coast for 18 months before departing Philadelphia on 12 November 1912 for the Mediterranean. Arriving off Smyrna (now İzmir), Turkey on 1 December, she remained there protecting American citizens and property during the First Balkan War until 3 May 1913, when she headed home. After reaching Hampton Roads on the 23rd, Tennessee operated on the East Coast until entering the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Philadelphia on 23 October. On 2 May 1914, she became receiving ship at the New York Navy Yard.

On 6 August, Tennessee sailed from New York for duty in Europe through the first half of 1915 supporting the American Relief Expedition. In August, she transported the 1st Regiment, Marine Expeditionary Force, and the Marine Artillery Battalion to Haiti. From 28 January-24 February 1916, the cruiser served as flagship of a cruiser squadron off Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In March, she embarked a group of dignitaries at Hampton Roads for a two-month, round trip cruise to Montevideo, Uruguay.

On 25 May, Tennessee was renamed Memphis, honoring a city of Tennessee, so that the name "Tennessee" could be reassigned to a new warship, Battleship No. 43.

In July 1916, under the command of Captain Edward L. Beach, Sr., the ship got underway for the Caribbean arriving at Santo Domingo on 23 July for peace-keeping patrol off the rebellion-torn Dominican Republic.


Memphis was at anchor .5 nmi (0.58 mi; 0.93 km) off a rocky beach in 45 ft (14 m) of water in the harbor of Santo Domingo on the afternoon of 29 August 1916 with two of her 16 boilers operating in case she needed to get underway; the gunboat Castine also was anchored in the harbor. Shortly after 12:00, Memphis began to roll heavily and Captain Beach observed an unexpected heavy swell developing. Memphis and Castine both made preparations to leave the harbor and began to raise steam; Memphis expected to be able to get underway at about 16:35.

File:USS Tennessee ACR-10 - photo NH59921.jpg
The wreck of Memphis at Santo Domingo on 29 August 1916.

Conditions in the harbor had deteriorated badly by 15:45, when Memphis sighted an approaching 75 ft (23 m) wave of yellow water stretching along the entire horizon. By 16:00, the wave was closer, had turned ochre in color, and had reached about 100 ft (30 m) in height; at the same time, Memphis was rolling 45°, so heavily that large amounts of water cascaded into the ship via her gun ports and water even was entering the ship via ventilators 50 ft (15 m) above the waterline. By 16:25, water began to enter the ship via her funnels, 70 ft (21 m) above the waterline, putting out the fires in her boilers and preventing her from raising enough steam to get underway. She began to strike the rocky harbor bottom at 16:40, damaging her propellers just as she was raising enough steam to begin moving, and her engines lost steam pressure. At about this time, the giant wave Memphis had seen approaching over the past hour arrived; she rolled into a deep trough and was struck immediately by what proved to be three very large waves in rapid succession, the highest of them at least 70 ft (21 m) tall, completely swamping her except for her highest points, and washing crewmen overboard. The waves rolled her heavily, caused her to strike the harbor bottom, then pushed her to the beach .5 nmi (0.58 mi; 0.93 km) away. By 17:00, she had been driven under cliffs along the coast of the harbor and was resting on the harbor bottom. She was battered into a complete wreck in 90 minutes. Castine, meanwhile, managed to reach safer waters by getting underway and putting to sea through the large waves, although damaged by them and at times in danger of capsizing.[1]

Memphis's casualties, including a boatload of her sailors returning from shore leave, numbered some 40 men dead or missing and 204 badly injured. Due to their heroic actions during this incident, Chief Machinist's Mate George William Rud, Lieutenant Claud Ashton Jones, and Machinist Charles H. Willey were awarded the Medal of Honor.

Alternative explanations for the wreck

In his 1966 account of the incident, The Wreck of the Memphis, Captain Beach's son, Edward L. Beach, Jr., ascribed her loss to an unexpected tsunami (possibly a rogue wave) exceeding 100 ft (30 m) in height,[2] and this explanation has been carried forward by most sources discussing her loss.[3] More recent research, however, has called this explanation into question. No record of any seismic event in the Caribbean on 29 August 1916 that could have triggered a tsunami has been found, and the rate of advance of the large wave Memphis reported — about an hour to cross the distance from the horizon to the ship — matches that of a wind-generated ocean wave; a tsunami, in contrast, would have covered the distance in only a few minutes. The periods of the three large waves that struck Memphis also are characteristic of large wind-generated waves rather than tsunamis.[4]

A likely source for such large, wind-generated waves in Santo Domingo Haror on 29 August 1916 does exist, in the form of several hurricanes active in the Caribbean prior to and on that date. Waves arriving from these various storms and being focused together in the harbor at Santo Domingo could well have combined to create a series of freakishly large waves like those that struck and wrecked Memphis, and such a circumstance appears to explain the loss of the ship better than the tsunami theory.[5]

Final disposition

Memphis was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 17 December 1917 and sold to the A. H. Radetsky Iron and Metal Company of Denver, Colorado on 17 January 1922 for scrapping.


  1. For a description of the loss of Memphis, see Smith, pp. 67-70.
  2. Beach, The Wreck of the Memphis.
  3. See, for example, Gardiner, Robert, ed., Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1860-1905, New York: Mayflower Books, Inc., 1979, ISBN 0-8317-0302-4, p. 149, for another citation of the 100-foot tsunami explanation.
  4. For a discussion of the lack of evidence for a tsunami and the more compelling evidence for freak wind-generated waves having wrecked Memphis, see Smith, pp. 68-69.
  5. For a discussion of the lack of evidence for a tsunami and the more compelling evidence for freak wind-generated waves having wrecked Memphis, see Smith, pp. 68-69.


This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

  • Alden, John D. American Steel Navy: A Photographic History of the U.S. Navy from the Introduction of the Steel Hull in 1883 to the Cruise of the Great White Fleet. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1989. ISBN 0870212486
  • Beach, Edward L., Jr. The Wreck of the Memphis. New York, New York: Holt, Rinear, and Wiston, 1966. Naval Institute Press Classics of Naval Literature 1998 re-print ISBN 1-55750-070-3
  • Friedman, Norman. U.S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1984. ISBN 0870217186
  • Musicant, Ivan. U.S. Armored Cruisers: A Design and Operational History. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1985. ISBN 0870217143
  • Smith, Craig B. Extreme Waves. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 2006. ISBN 0-309-10062-3.
  • Taylor, Michael J.H. (1990). Jane's Fighting Ships of World War I. Studio. ISBN 1-85170-378-0. 

External links

es:USS Tennessee (ACR-10) it:Classe Tennessee (incrociatore) ja:テネシー (装甲巡洋艦)