USS Augusta (CA-31) - Asiatic Fleet

Asiatic Fleet

Steaming along the Northern Pacific "Great Circle" route from Seattle to Shanghai, Augusta moored in the Whangpoo River, at Shanghai, on the morning of 9 November 1933. That afternoon, Admiral Frank B. Upham, Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet (CinCAF), broke his flag on board the newly arrived cruiser, and his old flagship, Houston, sailed for the United States.

Soon after she broke Admiral Upham's flag and Houston sailed for home, Augusta proceeded south from Shanghai in December 1933, and, over the next few months, operated in the Philippines, interspersing training with her yearly overhaul at Cavite and Olongapo.

That spring, Augusta returned to China waters, "showing the flag", and then steamed to Yokohama, Japan, arriving there on 4 June 1934. At 0730 the following morning, Admiral Upham left the ship to attend the state funeral ceremonies for the late Fleet Admiral Heihachiro Togo; Augusta commenced firing 19 one-minute guns in honor of the Japanese naval hero at 0830. Departing Yokohama with Admiral Upham embarked on 11 June, the cruiser then visited Kobe (12 June to 15 June) before she proceeded to Tsingtao, arriving there on 17 June, departing for Chinwangtao 10 September, departing for Chefoo 24 September, then departing for Shanghai 25 September, arriving 26 September.

Augusta remained in Chinese waters, then departed Shanghai for Guam on 5 October 1934, under command of Captain Chester W. Nimitz, arriving there on the 10th. Sailing the next day, she proceeded to Australian waters for the first time, reaching Sydney on the 20th. Total complement at this time was 824: 64 officers and 760 enlisted. She remained there a week, while Admiral Upham visited the capital of Australia, Canberra, on 25 October and 26 October. With CinCAF back on board on the 26th, Augusta cleared Sydney the following day for Melbourne, arriving there on 29 October. She remained there, observing the city's centenary ceremonies, until 13 November, when she sailed for Fremantle and Perth. On 20 November she sailed for the Dutch East Indies.

Augusta reached Batavia (now Jakarta) on 25 November and remained there until 3 December, when she sailed for Bali, arriving at the port of Lauban Amok on 5 December. Underway again on the 8th, Augusta touched at Sandakan (14 December to 16 December), Zamboanga (17 December to 19 December), and Iloilo (20 December to 21 December), before reaching Manila on the 22nd.

The heavy cruiser remained in the Philippine Islands, receiving her usual yearly overhaul at Cavite and drydocking at Olongapo, in Dewey, before she re-embarked Admiral Upham and sailed for Hong Kong on 15 March 1935. Arriving on the 16th, Augusta remained there until the 25th, while CinCAF was embarked in Isabel for a trip to Canton (17 March to 20 March 1935). (The cruiser's draft did not permit her to make the passage up the Pearl River to Canton.) Augusta got underway again on the 25th for Amoy and stayed there from 26 March to 29 March, before she proceeded thence to Shanghai, arriving at that port city on the last day of March.

Augusta remained at Shanghai until 30 April, when she sailed for her second visit to Japan, reaching Yokohama on 3 May 1935. The ship remained there for two weeks. Steaming thence to Kobe, and arriving there on 18 May for a week's sojourn, Augusta sailed for China on 25 May, and reached Nanking, the Chinese capital, on the 29th.

The flagship remained at Nanking until 4 June, then sailed for Shanghai, arriving the following day. "Augie Maru", as her crew had affectionately nicknamed her, stayed at Shanghai until 27 June, and sailed for North China, reaching Tsingtao on the 29th. She remained there, carrying out exercises and gunnery practice, for the rest of the summer.

Augusta departed Tsingtao on 30 September for Shanghai, arriving on 1 October, where, four days later, Admiral Orin G. Murfin relieved Admiral Upham as CinCAF. On 8 October, with the new CinCAF embarked, Augusta departed Shanghai for points south. Admiral Murfin transferred to Isabel to visit Bangkok (15 October to 22 October), while he returned to the heavy cruiser to visit Singapore (24 October to 30 October). Subsequently touching at Pontianak and Jesselton on Borneo, (31 October to 1 November and from 3 November to 5 November respectively), "Augie Maru" visited the southern Philippine ports of Zamboanga (6 November to 8 November) and Iloilo (9 November to 10 November), before she returned to Manila on 11 November 1935.

While Augusta underwent her annual overhaul at Cavite and Olongapo, Admiral Murfin flew his flag in Isabel from 14 December 1935 to 27 February 1936. Soon afterwards the heavy cruiser, again having CinCAF on board, sailed for the a succession of Philippine ports and places: Catbalogan, Cebu, Tacloban, Davao, Dumanquilas, Zamboanga, Tutu Bay, Jolo, and Tawi Tawi, before the ship returned to Manila on 29 March.

On 31 March Augusta sailed to Hong Kong, arriving on 2 April, remaining there until the llth. During this time, Admiral Murfin embarked in Isabel for the trip up the Pearl River to Canton (6 April to 8 April), returning on the latter date to reembark in his flagship to resume his voyage up the China coast. Visiting Amoy on 12 April and 13 April, Augusta then paused briefly at Woosung on 16 April before proceeding up the Yangtze, reaching Nanking on the following day. While Augusta dropped back down the Yangtze to the Whangpoo River, and Shanghai, Admiral Murfin continued up the Yangtze to Hankow in Isabel, flew to Ichang, then in Panay to Crossing 22, and finally back to Hankow and Shanghai in Isabel, where he rejoined Augusta on 4 May.

Augusta sailed for Japan on 21 May, for her third visit to that country, arriving at Yokohama on the 25th. The Asiatic Fleet flagship remained at that port until 5 June, when she sailed for Kobe, arriving there the following day. She remained in Japanese waters until 13 June, when she got underway for Tsingtao, arriving on the 16th.

Augusta remained at Tsingtao, operating thence on exercises and training, for two months, then sailed for Chefoo, North China, on 17 August. Arriving the same day, she departed Chefoo on the 21st, and returned to Tsingtao, remaining there into mid-September.

Underway for Chinwangtao, the port at the foot of the Great Wall of China, on 14 September, Augusta reached her destination on the 15th, where Admiral Murfin disembarked to visit the old imperial city of Peiping (Peking). Following his inspection of the Marine Corps legation guard at that city, CinCAF returned to Chinwangtao by train and reembarked in his flagship on 25 September. Underway from Chinwangtao on the 28th, Augusta visited Chefoo (28 September) before returning to Tsingtao on the following day, 29 September 1936.

Augusta stood out of Tsingtao on the same day she arrived and reached Shanghai on 1 October. At the end of that month, on 30 October, Admiral Murfin was relieved as CinCAF by Admiral Harry E. Yarnell. Shortly afterwards, with her new CinCAF embarked, Augusta stood down the Whangpoo River on 3 November 1936 on her annual southern cruise.

Augusta again visited a succession of ports: Hong Kong (5 November to 12 November), Singapore (16 November to 23 November), Batavia (25 November to 1 December), Bali (4 December to 7 December), Makassar (8 December to 12 December), Tawi Tawi and Tutu Bay (14 December), Dumanquilas Bay (15 December), Zamboanga (15 December to 16 December), and Cebu (17 December), before she returned to Manila on 19 December. Admiral Yarnell transferred his flag to Isabel on 2 January 1937, when Augusta entered Cavite Navy Yard for repairs and alterations that included the fitting of splinter protection around the machine gun positions at the foretop and atop the mainmast. The CinCAF used Isabel as his flagship through March, rejoining Augusta at Manila on 29 March 1937.

Augusta remained in Philippine waters for the next several days, at Manila (29 March to 2 April) and Malampaya (on 3 April and 4 April) before she returned to Manila on the 5th. Touching briefly at Port San Pio Quinto on 7 April and 8 April, the Asiatic Fleet flagship sailed for Hong Kong on the 8th, arriving at the British Crown Colony the following day. Shifting his flag to Isabel for the trip to Canton, Admiral Yarnell returned to Augusta on 13 April, and the heavy cruiser sailed for Swatow on the 18th. The ship visited that South China port on the 19th, and Amoy the following day, before the CinCAF shifted his flag again to Isabel for a brief trip to Pagoda Anchorage (21 April to 22 April), rejoining the heavy cruiser on the 23rd.

Augusta stood up the Whangpoo River on 24 April and arrived at Shanghai that day, mooring just upstream from the city proper. She remained at Shanghai until 5 May, when she sailed for Nanking. The flagship remained at that Yangtze port from 6 May to 9 May before she got underway on the latter day for Kiukiang, further up the Yangtze. Shifting his flag to Isabel, Admiral Yarnell then visited Hankow and Ichang in that ship, transferring thence on 22 May to Panay at Ichang for the voyage up the Yangtze through the gorges and rapids that lay above that port. After visiting Chungking, the CinCAF returned to Ichang in Wake (PR-3), where he rejoined Isabel for the trip to Hankow and Nanking. Admiral Yarnell eventually rejoined Augusta at Shanghai on 2 June 1937.

Clearing Shanghai on 7 June, Augusta sailed for North China, and reached Chinwangtao on the 9th, where Admiral Yarnell disembarked with members of his staff to journey to Peking by rail, where the admiral would conduct the yearly CinCAF inspection of the legation guard. The admiral rejoined the cruiser at Chinwangtao on 22 June and the ship sailed for Chefoo (visiting that port on 24 June and 25 June) and Tsingtao, arriving there on 26 June for the summer.

Augusta was conducting her usual training from Tsingtao when events elsewhere in that region took a turn for the worse. Political relations between China and Japan had been strained for some time. The Chinese attitude toward the steady and unrelenting Japanese encroachment into North China in the wake of the 1931 seizure of Manchuria was stiffening. Chiang Kai-shek, China's leader, asserted that China had been pushed too far, and launched strenuous efforts to improve his nation's military posture.

On the night of 7 July 1937 Japanese and Chinese units exchanged gunfire near the ornate Marco Polo Bridge in the outskirts of Peking (now Beijing). The incident quickly escalated into a state of hostilities in North China, with the Japanese taking Peking against little resistance by the end of July. Against this backdrop of ominous developments, Admiral Yarnell considered cancelling a goodwill visit to the Soviet port of Vladivostok, but was ordered to proceed.

Keeping a wary eye on developments in China, Admiral Yarnell sailed for Vladivostok in Augusta on 24 July, accompanied by four destroyers. After passing through the edge of a typhoon, Augusta and her consorts reached that Soviet port on the 28th, and remained there until 1 August, the first United States naval vessels to visit that port since the closing of the naval radio station there in 1922. As Yarnell later wrote, "The visit of this force evidently has meant a great deal to these people", as both officers and men were lavishly entertained.

Departing Vladivostok on 1 August, Augusta and the four destroyers sailed for Chinese waters, the latter returning to their base at Chefoo and Augusta returning to Tsingtao, where Admiral Yarnell continued to receive intelligence on the situation in North China and, as events developed around Shanghai, where increasing Chinese pressure on the comparatively small Japanese Special Naval Landing Force led to a build-up of Japanese naval units in the Whangpoo River leading to that port. Hostilities commenced within days after the death of a Japanese lieutenant and his driver near a Chinese airfield on 9 August. With considerable American interests in the International Settlement of Shanghai, Admiral Yarnell deemed it best to sail there, on the morning of 13 August 1937, to make it his base of operations.

Her passage slowed by a typhoon which caused the ship to reduce her speed to five knots (9 km/h) and which produced rolls of 30 degrees and washed away the port 26-foot (8 m) motor whaleboat and its davits, Augusta reached her destination the following day, and stood up the Whangpoo. En route to her moorings she passed many Japanese warships, principally light cruisers and destroyers, which duly rendered the prescribed passing honors to Augusta's embarked admiral.

Meanwhile, at Shanghai proper, Chinese Air Force Northrop 2-E light attack bomber aircraft had tried to bomb Japanese positions in their portion of the International Settlement; the bombs fell short and caused extensive damage and heavy loss of life in the neutral portion of the settlement. One plane which had retained its bombs proceeded down the Whangpoo and dropped two bombs which exploded in the water off Augusta's starboard bow. Large American flags were then painted on top of Augusta's three main battery gunhouses to identify her as neutral.

On 18 August Augusta unmoored, moved further upstream, and moored off the Shanghai Bund, assisted by tugs. She remained there, in a prominent position off the famous "Bund", into January 1938, observing the Sino-Japanese hostilities at close range.

Initially, there was the problem of evacuating Americans from the war zone. American merchantmen called at Shanghai to do so, passengers travelling downstream to waiting steamships on the Dollar Line tender guarded by sailors from Augusta's landing force. The flagship's Marine detachment, meanwhile, went ashore to aid the 4th Marines in establishing defensive positions to keep hostilities out of the neutral enclaves. On 20 August 1937, while the flagship's crew gathered amidships on the well deck for the evening movies, a Chinese anti-aircraft shell landed amongst the sailors, killing Seaman 1st/Class F. J. Falgout and wounding several others. Ten days later Chinese planes bombed the American Dollar Line SS President Hoover off the mouth of the Whangpoo, with one death and several wounded. American ships ceased calling at Shanghai as a result, and Admiral Yarnell's attempts to get a division of heavy cruisers to carry out the evacuation met resistance from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

At Shanghai Augusta's officers and men could observe the war. Her moorings proved a good vantage point from which Americans could size up the Japanese Navy and judge how well its ships and planes operated, an opportunity not lost on Admiral Yarnell, who sent insightful intelligence reports back to Washington, striving to alert the United States Navy to the character and capabilities of the navy many regarded as the future enemy.

On 12 December 1937 Japanese naval planes sank the US gunboat Panay and three Standard Oil tankers north of Nanking, in the Yangtze River. Soon afterwards the ship's survivors arrived at Shanghai in Panay's sister ship, Oahu, which moored alongside Augusta on the 19th. They spent Christmas with 'Augusta's crew.

On 6 January 1938 Augusta departed Shanghai for the Philippines for her yearly overhaul. Admiral Yarnell, however, his presence in China deemed necessary to uphold American prestige in the Orient, remained in Shanghai with a token staff on board Isabel. He ultimately rejoined Augusta when she returned to Shanghai on 9 April 1938 after her overhaul.

Proceeding north along the China coast, Augusta visited Tsingtao (12 May to 13 May) and Chefoo (14 May) before she arrived at Chinwangtao on 15 May. There, Admiral Yarnell disembarked and entrained for Tientsin and Peking, inspecting the Marine detachments in both places before ultimately returning to Chinwangtao to reembark in his flagship on 29 May. Proceeding thence via Chefoo, Augusta reached Shanghai on 6 June; the CinCAF transferred his flag to Isabel on 23 June, and sailed for Nanking and Wuhu, returning to Shanghai and Augusta on 27 June.

Returning to Tsingtao on 3 July 1938, Augusta operated in North China waters, between Tsingtao and Chinwangtao, for the remainder of the summer and through early October. Sailing for Shanghai on 10 October, the cruiser arrived at her destination two days later, and remained there through Christmas. She sailed again for the Philippines on 27 December 1938; once again, Admiral Yarnell remained in Shanghai with his flag in Isabel.

Following her yearly navy yard overhaul, and training in Philippine waters, Augusta visited Siam, French Indochina, and Singapore en route back to Shanghai, making port at her ultimate destination on 30 April 1939. Again flying Admiral Yarnell's flag, she lay at Shanghai until 8 June, when she got underway for Chinwangtao. Arriving there on 10 June,she touched at Chefoo (24 June to 25 June) and Tsingtao (26 June to 16 July) before she sailed down to Shanghai, arriving on the 18th.

On 25 July 1939 Admiral Thomas C. Hart relieved Admiral Yarnell as CinCAF. The heavy cruiser then sailed for North China port Tsingtao, on 2 August. She remained based there—and was moored there on the day war broke out in Europe with the German invasion of Poland—through late September 1939. During this period, the ship twice visited Shanghai (5 September to 7 September and 15 September to 19 September), and also visited Chinwangtao, Chefoo, and Peitaiho. Late in September, Admiral Hart disembarked at Chinwangtao and inspected the Marine detachments at Peking and Tientsin.

Returning to Shanghai on 12 October, Augusta remained there through mid-November; during this time Admiral Hart shifted his flag to Isabel and proceeded up the Yangtze to Nanking on an inspection trip (3 November to 7 November 1939). Sailing for the Philippines on 21 November, she visited Amoy en route (22 November to 23 November 1939), and ultimately reached Manila on 25 November, reminaing there through early March 1940.

Augusta operated in the Philippines through early April, visiting Jolo and Tawi Tawi. Admiral Hart wore his flag in Isabel during March, for cruises to Cebu, Iligan, Parang, Zamboanga, and Jolo, rejoining Augusta at Jolo on 19 March. Transferring his flag back to Isabel at Tawi Tawi two days later, Admiral Hart cruised to Malampaya Sound, ultimately rejoining his flagship on 26 March at Manila. Augusta then sailed for Shanghai while Admiral Hart, who had again transferred his flag to Isabel on 13 April, visited Swatow and Amoy, ultimately rejoining Augusta and breaking his flag on board the cruiser on 22 April.

Following a month at Shanghai, Augusta sailed for North China, visiting Chinwangtao (12 June) before beginning her cycle of training operations from Tsingtao soon afterwards. Augusta operated out of Tsingtao into late September. Circumstances requiring Admiral Hart on several occasions to visit Shanghai, he travelled once to Shanghai in Isabel and back in Augusta; to Shanghai in Porpoise and back to Tsingtao in Isabel; and one round trip to Shanghai and back in Marblehead. Augusta departed Tsingtao for the last time on 23 September, arriving at Shanghai on the 25th.

Moving on to Manila, arriving there on 21 October, Augusta remained there into late November, to be relieved by her recently modernized sister ship Houston as Admiral Hart's flagship on 22 November 1940. Augusta sailed for the United States, clearing Manila Bay that same day.

On 24 November 1940, she was ordered to search the waters north of the Hawaiian chain, to investigate reports of the activity of "Orange" (Japanese) tankers in the vicinity. At this point on her way back from the Asiatic station, the cruiser encountered bad weather—heavy swells and fresh-to-strong cross winds—that rendered searching by her aircraft "impracticable." As she neared the focal point of her search (35 degrees north latitude, 165 degrees west longitude), Augusta darkened ship and set condition III. As she passed between the two designated points on her search, she posted special lookouts from dawn to dark. Although the visibility varied between 8 to 15 miles (15 and 28 km), Augusta's Captain John H. Magruder, Jr., estimated that his ship had swept a belt approximately 25 miles (45 km) wide, maintaining radio silence until well clear of the area searched. "Weather conditions were such that fueling at sea in the area would not have been practicable", Captain Magruder reported later, alluding to the reason why his ship had been dispatched to those waters, "and submarine operations at periscope depth would have been difficult due to the danger of broaching."

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